Zakynthos is a Greek island that sits in the Ionian sea. In the past decades Zakynthos has become a popular vacation island for international tourists, especially those from Great Britain. It is also a popular summer destination for Italians that come here on a direct ferry from Italy (the ferry route works only in summer). You can easily spot Italians in Zakynthos on their cute scooters. Zakynthos is a very interesting place to explore, and much different than the more popular Cycladic islands of Mykonos and Santorini. There are many hidden gems all over Zakynthos and if you do some research, you are going to see some of the most fantastic places in your life. So, here is the complete guide to Zakynthos, a mysteriously wonderful Greek island that should definitely be on your bucket list.
Due to the popularity of Zakynthos there are a lot of direct regular and charter flights from Europe to Zakynthos that operate mostly in summer. Some of them can cost you as little as $10 if you are taking Wizz Air or RyanAir and don’t have checked baggage.
There are also lots of flights from Athens on Olympic Air, which is the domestic branch of Aegean Airlines, so that is a good option if you want to get some miles back.
There are also ferries that you can take from Brindisi, Italy to Zakynthos island (these ferries operate just in summer), and port of Killini (Greek mainland) if you want to come with a car from other parts of Europe.
Zakynthos island, like many islands in Greece, is very popular in summer. Tons of tourists are coming here to enjoy the warm weather and beautiful sea. Therefore if you don’t like big crowds, but still want to enjoy the warm weather, the best time to come to Zakynthos will be the shoulder season. Although I would recommend coming here between the end of August and beginning of October, since in April/May the water hasn’t warmed up yet.
Zakynthos island has many great areas to spend your time at. Here you can find something for everyone: a quiet place for a family holiday, a party spot for music lovers, empty hidden beaches for couples and long shallow beaches for kids.
On Zakynthos island people can have a very active vacation, or a very relaxing and lazy one. It all depends on what you are looking for.
Zakynthos Island has a few main spots where you can spend your time, and to make a proper list, I stayed at the 4 most popular:
Zakynthos Town is a great place to start your vacation. It is located around 5 km from the airport and it is pretty easy to get to. Zante is a great example of old Venetian architecture and modern Zakynthian style.
Zakynthos Town is the capital city of Zakynthos island. It is not a main tourist spot, but nevertheless there are a few things to see and do in this city.
I would recommend staying there for at least a day or two during your vacation. From my experience 2 – 3 days are enough to explore the city, try a few great tavernas and see all the historical sites like Venetian clock towers, old churches, the castle, and other things. You can also read my full review of Zakynthos Town and determine for yourself if you would like to stop at this location.
Agios Nikolaos is located on the north of the island. It is a very small village that operates just in summer and in winter it is completely dead.
I really liked this place, it is a charming spot with a small port, a few good restaurants, nice beaches, and a few things to do. I would recommend staying at Agios Nikolaos for at least 2 nights and visiting Madrakia Tavern with its amazing view.
The main attraction in Agios Nikolaos is a boat tour to Shipwreck beach and the blue caves, which is a must see thing here. The boat tours usually start at 10 AM or 12 PM and last about three hours. You can book your tour in the center of Agios Nikolaos for €20 per person.
There are also other things to do in Agios Nikolaos, including visiting one of the most beautiful beaches on this island.
Keri is a great place for those who are seeking a quiet and relaxing spot. The area around Keri lake is the best choice. It is close to the sandy beach, not as many tourists compared to Laganas, and you can find a few pretty good restaurants as well.
Actually Keri is a perfect spot for those who travel with kids. The beach here is sandy and quite shallow for about 200 meters. Due to this the water here gets very warm. There are not a lot of people like at Laganas beach and maybe that is why the water seems way cleaner at Keri than at Laganas or Agios Sostis.
Keri is also the best place if you want to rent a private boat and have fun exploring the coast of Zakynthos. It will cost you around €80 for 6 hours.
Agios Sostis and Laganas Beach are located next to each other and offer pretty much the same things: a shallow, long sandy beach, easy access to Cameo island, lots of tourists (mostly young people). So if you are looking for a party area, Laganas beach or Agios Sostis is for you.
We actually chose to stay at Laganas beach at the end of our trip. It is pretty close to the airport and there are medical offices where you can do your Covid tests.
After Keri, Laganas beach seemed to be quite crowded, and a bit dirty. It is a great spot if you are in college or university and you want to have parties every night.
What I actually enjoyed was the selection of restaurants they had and the deal that they offer for renting sunbeds. You don’t actually need to pay rent for sunbeds and umbrellas at Laganas and Agios Sostis. There are many restaurants along the beach with their umbrellas, you just choose one to stay at. The only requirement is you need to order food from them (no buying beers from the grocery store). This is actually very nice, because you still need to eat lunch or you’ll want to order a drink. And the prices at those restaurants are pretty fair as well. I highly recommend using the sunbeds of Brusco, a new restaurant with amazing food and comfortable loungers. We parked ourselves there 3 out of our four days, and even had dinner there one evening!
Public transportation on Zakynthos Island is not great; frankly it’s not even good. There are no regular public buses that you can take from one village to another. Therefore for those who drive you better rent a car.
On the island are very popular ATVs and you often can see tourists on them. However I would not recommend renting one of those, since every year there are reports of people getting into accidents.
For those who don’t drive, you will have to take taxis everywhere and book private tours to distant locations.
Shipwreck beach (Navagio) is the most popular place on Zakynthos island. It is also the most iconic picture of Greece that you probably have seen. Maybe only the windmills of Mykonos or the buildings of Santorini are more iconic with holiday makers.
Shipwreck beach was named after the nearby monastery (Agios Georgios) until 1980 when a cargo ship got stuck on this beach during stormy weather. Since then Navagio beach is known as Shipwreck beach. Some say that this ship had illegal cargo (cigarettes) and after it crashed, the cigarettes were floating around that area for many days. However this story was never confirmed by the government, so now it is just a romantic story.
Shipwreck beach is located on the north of the island and there are two ways to see it. You cannot go down to the beach by foot. The beach is surrounded by 200 meters high cliffs. So the only way to get on the beach is by boat. There are many boat tours around Zakynthos island that offer to take you to Shipwreck beach. But the best way is to stay in Agios Nikolaos for a few days and directly from there take a boat to the Shipwreck beach.
Note: Sometimes (more often than you think) due to strong winds, all the boat tours to Shipwreck beach are cancelled. So it is better if you have a few days to spare.
Another way that you can see Shipwreck beach is from the cliff. Although I must say that it is a bit tricky and you need to know a few rules.
First of all you need to know that there is an “official” viewpoint with a small platform that hangs over the cliff. And you also need to know that it sucks (sorry for my language). From this viewpoint you cannot see the whole beach, nor the whole ship. You also cannot take any of those great pictures you have seen on instagram.
The best viewpoint to see Shipwreck Beach is actually prohibited by the government. Well, it is prohibited until 6pm when the security guards leave. However it is an open secret so if you really want to take the best pictures for your Instagram or Facebook, you’ll have to plan a sunset trip to Shipwreck Beach (Navagio).
The walk to the “proper” viewpoint will take you about 10 – 15 minutes. The walk is not super easy, there are lots of rocks and thorny bushes that can cut your legs and feet, so if you have sneakers, wear them!
Note: Remember that although it is always great to have amazing pictures, they aren’t worth your life! So, if you feel dizzy or unsure in yourself, better not come too close to the end of the cliff.
There are hundreds of blue caves in Zakynthos, so you might as well visit some of them. The most popular ones are on the north-west of the island, on the way from Agios Nikolaos to Shipwreck beach. Many of the boat tours will offer you a stop at those caves.
The blue caves are a geological formation that allows light to hit the water in a certain way that makes it look like light is coming from the bottom of the cave. Those caves can be different sizes. Some you can get into on the boat and in the other ones you will have to swim in and watch your head.
Overall it is a very fun activity, if you are of course can swim and are not claustrophobic.
Porto Limnionas beach is another ‘hidden’ location that is hard to get to and for that reason it is a must-see. At one point Porto Limnionas was just a fishing spot and no more. Nowadays it is a popular location for swimming, jumping from the rocks and exploring caves.
To get there you need to drive through Agios Leon and down to the Porto Limnionas beach following the signs. Porto Limnionas beach has just recently become a tourist spot. The government made an asphalt road and someone built a popular restaurant.
Note: Porto Limnionas is a rocky inlet, so don’t forget to bring your water shoes if you don’t want to cut your feet. Another thing that you can bring is a snorkeling mask for exploring the bottom of this place, and of course don’t forget your sunscreen. The water in Porto Limnionas is quite refreshing and you never feel that your back is roasting.
Everyone knows about shipwreck beach in Zakynthos, but it is not the only amazing place here. My favorite actually was Mizithres in Keri.
Mizithres is a beach that was created fairly recently by an earthquake. Part of a cliff just slid down into the sea and turned into an amazing beach.
There are also two ways to see this place: by boat and from the view point. To get to Mizithres by a boat you can rent a boat from the Keri lake area. Then you can drive yourself to this fantastic place. To drive such a boat you don’t need a special license and it takes around 20 minutes to learn. To rent a small boat will cost you around €80 for 6 hours.
If you want to see Mizithres from the cliff, which I strongly recommend, you need to drive or get a taxi to Keri “Lighthouse” restaurant. There will be a parking area before the restaurant. You of course can see Mizithres from the restaurant, but I advise you to do something else.
Take a path on the left before the restaurant that will take you through the field to the hidden viewpoint. This is usually very quiet and there are no people at all. It is an amazing spot to see Mizithres, but also it can be quite dangerous. There is no platform, no handrail, no anything that can stop you from doing something stupid, so be smart about it and don’t put your life in danger!
Xigia Sulfur beach is exactly what it sounds like, a sulfur beach. This is a place where you can smell rotten eggs and still enjoy being there. Xigia Sulfur beach is located 15 minutes drive south from Agios Nikolaos. It is a very beautiful beach with an amazing water color.
People on Zakynthos say that swimming in this water is good for your skin and for your health in general. That is why this beach can get pretty crowded in the high season. I am not sure how true it is about the health stuff, but you definitely can heal emotionally by looking at something so beautiful and relaxing at such a place. So you should make a stop there and see for yourself what it will help you to heal: your skin or your soul.
On almost every island in Greece you can find “the oldest olive tree in Greece”, Zakynthos is not an exception. And although I always laugh at things like this (people like to feel special), I also enjoy visiting these places.
Exo Chora is a village where you can find the oldest olive tree in Zakynthos. It is believed that this tree is 2000 years old and it is still alive. The tree is located in the center of the village and you can easily find it.
The tree looks like it is from an enchanted and ancient forest. Its trunk is huge and weirdly shaped. It looks like the tree tried to look around so it twisted its trunk.
Next to the tree you can find a small shop with farm goods. The family that owns this shop also owns the oldest olive tree and every year they collect the harvest from this olive tree and others that they have, and make olive oil. You can find these olive products at their shop, together with home made cheese, raki, bread, and other products. The prices here are reasonable and you can have a small tasting of all the products before buying anything.
The Olive Press museum is another place I recommend to visit. Since olive oil is one of the most important products this island is famous for, it is always good to learn more about how it is actually made.
The Olive Press museum is actually a factory, and a place where locals bring their olives to make oil. It usually takes a day or two and as a payment the Olive Press museum collects 5% of oil for themselves to produce their own products.
All of those products you can find at the museum. There are oils of course with different additions like garlic or rosemary, there are also some lotions and soaps based on olive oil, and other products.
Outside the Olive Press museum you can find an exhibition of all the tools that people used throughout time to make olive oil, and inside you can explore modern technologies.
It doesn’t cost anything to visit the Olive Press Museum, but maybe you will find a thing or two that you want to buy there.
Cameo island is another popular place to visit on Zakynthos island. And it is the second most recognized place on Zakynthos after Shipwreck beach.
Cameo island is a private island next to Agios Sostis. You can get there by driving or if you are staging at Laganas beach (popular tourist area) you can just walk along the shore.
To enter Cameo island you need to pay a fee – €5 per person. Before the ticket to Cameo island also included a free drink, but nowadays it includes a key chain with your picture on it. As soon as you pay you are going to meet a photographer who will take a picture of you and in 30 minutes there will be a key chain waiting for you.
Cameo island has a few bars/restaurants with a big sitting area. There are public toilets and showers that you can use. Their beach looks more like a patio. There are no sunbeds where you can lay down, just a few chairs, and if you are lucky you might get it to put your stuff on while swimming.
If you are planning on swimming at Cameo island, you absolutely need to bring your water shoes. The rocks can be very sharp and they are everywhere. So watch your feet and watch your knees as well, you never know when you can hit a big underwater rock.
I have to say that it really does feel like a tourist trap, however for only 5 Euros it’s most likely worth it, and a decent way to spend an hour or two.