Zakynthos is one of the most beautiful Greek islands located in the heart of the Ionian sea, around 20 kilometers west of Peloponnese and 15 kilometers south of the island of Kefalonia. It is one of the seven principal Ionian islands and the third largest one. The capital city of Zakynthos is Zante (or Zakynthos; the capital city is called both Zante and Zakynthos) and is situated in the south-east of the island, at the foot of Bochali hill.
I had the opportunity to work in Zakynthos for three months as a tour guide, which allowed me to discover both landmarks of the islands and hidden gems that not many tourists know! I would like to dedicate this article to the best excursions you can take in Zakynthos that will let you discover the best of the island and admire its most remarkable spots. But first, I would like to give you some tips on practical things you should know before planning your trip to Zakynthos.
WHEN TO VISIT ZAKYNTHOS?
The summer season in Zakynthos is very long, from May to early October, due to the island’s mild Mediterranean climate and sunny, hot weather. The maximum temperature often exceeds 30 °C (86 °F) and can easily reach up to 35 °C (95 °F), especially in August, but the humidity is not that excessive. There is often a sea breeze blowing, so you don’t feel the heat as much. The sea is warm until early October, so if you are looking into avoiding the intense summer heat and still get to swim and enjoy the pleasant sea temperatures – you might consider Zakynthos as an option!
BEST TIME OF YEAR TO VISIT ZAKYNTHOS
If you are planning to visit Zakynthos and get the most of it, I would highly recommend you to visit the island either in June or September. The island has gorgeous beaches, many natural treasures, important historical sites, and breathtaking viewpoints, as well as many activities and events taking place. All of these can be challenging to admire, visit and enjoy in the high season (July and August), whereas in June or September is less crowded, so you would have the comfort of enjoying the places in a more relaxed atmosphere.
For example, Navagio beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and the number one attraction in Zakynthos is extremely busy during the high season, particularly the viewpoint from where you can admire the beach and its surroundings. When I was guiding the tours to Navagio viewpoint in June, it wasn’t crowded at all and it took on average 5 minutes to wait in line before getting to the viewpoint place from where you can catch the best view. On the contrary, in July it was so crowded that some of the people from my group didn’t manage to take their turn and didn’t even get to the viewpoint.
Besides being less crowded, In June and September is cheaper than in the high season. You can get good hotel and package deals, as well as cheap rent-a-car and flight ticket prices.
The water is clearer and maybe a little bit cooler, but still very pleasant and enjoyable. I definitely recommend you consider visiting Zakynthos in June and September, as you’ll get the most of the island (rather than struggling to find a free chair and umbrella at the beach in July and August).
HOW TO GET TO ZAKYNTHOS?
There are several ways to get to Zakynthos, based on the time of year you want to visit the island.
A direct charter flight
Zakynthos Airport “Dionysios Solomos” is located 5 kilometers from the capital of Zakynthos, and it takes 10-15 minutes bus ride to reach it. During the tourist season, which means from June to late September, there are many direct charter flights to Zakynthos.
When I worked on the island, my groups were coming by a direct charter flight from Belgrade (Serbia), organized by the tour agency I worked for. I also had a couple of friends who were coming over to visit me, and they used only the charter flight service of the tour agency, without the need to book a package holiday to Zakynthos.
There are many good flight deals even in the high season, so that’s one of the quickest and most comfortable options. More information on flights, visit https://www.skyscanner.net/ and the official Zakynthos airport website: https://www.zth-airport.gr/
A flight to Athens, and then a domestic flight to Zakynthos
This is always an available and good option if you want to visit Zakynthos at any time of year. Aegean Airlines, Sky Express, Olympic Air are several airlines that have flights from Athens to Zakynthos, and the flight lasts around 1 hour.
A ferry ride from the port town of Kyllini to Zante
Kyllini is a port town in Peloponnese and the main place to embark on a ferry that would get you to Zakynthos island. Kyllini is located around a 4-hour drive from Athens (287 kilometers) and a ferry ride from Kyllini to Zante is about a 1-hour long. If by any chance, you are arriving with a car, your car is transported on a ferry for an extra fee. The details and the pricing regarding the ferry, you can check here: https://www.directferries.com/kyllini_zakynthos_ferry.htm
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO GET AROUND ZAKYNTHOS?
There are a few ways to visit the island of Zakynthos, which I highly recommend because the island offers much more than beautiful beaches.
Take a guided excursion
When I worked as a tour guide, my agency was offering several optional tours to our guests. The tours are always a great option because you would have a professional tour guide with you who can provide you with insider information and show you the best of the island. Scroll down for my recommendations for top tours in Zakynthos.
Rent a car
If you are adventurous and enjoy moving around on your own terms and at your own pace, renting a car is a perfect option! There are many car rental agencies in Zakynthos, and you’ll find their counters at the Zakynthos airport as well. I’ll dedicate a separate article on what to visit in Zakynthos by car, as there are so many things to be listed.
As for the car rental prices, it depends. If you are coming during the official tourist season, they will be higher than in June and September. The prices vary based on the type of car and the number of days you are renting. The cheapest cars you can find for 30 EUR, which is a very good price given that on other Greek islands you would pay much more.
Get a motorbike
Besides car rentals, motorbike rentals and quad rentals are also an option. During the high season, it can get crowded, so motorbike can be easier to get around and find a parking spot in extremely busy places, such as Navagio viewpoint. The prices also cheaper compared to car rentals.
WHERE TO STAY IN ZAKYNTHOS?
There are several places mostly located in the south and east of the island where you can have a great time and find good accommodation:
This is a party destination, packed with younger crowd and clubs open until the dawn. The beach is sandy and long, full of beach bars, and very crowded during the tourist season. The main street is full of restaurants, cafes, bars, shops, clubs, and hotels. For those in search of active holiday, parties, noise and crowd, this is the best place to go. Laganas is located less than 5 kilometers from Zakynthos airport and is one of the nearest resorts to reach if you are coming to the island by plane.
This is a couple-friendly and family-friendly resort. It is also packed with tourists, but the place is calmer in comparison with Laganas and more suitable for families. The beach is Tsilivi is sandy, long, and beautiful. The water is warm and crystal clear, ideal for swimming and water activities. There are many hotel resorts along the beach, offering all-inclusive service, and several of them are really good (at least I got positive feedback on them), such as Tsilivi beach hotel, Porto Planos beach hotel, Planos beach hotel. Sofos and Justine apartments are also great options if you are not looking into all-inclusive service. Tsilivi is located 12 kilometers from Zakynthos airport (around a 15-minute drive).
Vasilikos is a peninsula in the southeastern part of the island, where you can find fabulous sandy beaches and luxurious hotel resorts. It is a must-see part of Zakynthos and the best way to explore Vasilikos is by a local bus from Argassi and Zante town, by car or by motorbike. The trip to Vasilikos takes at least a-30 minute drive to reach the nearest beach.
Vasilikos doesn’t have fancy resorts like Laganas and Tsilivi. It is a mountainous area of breathtaking beauty and intact nature, so if you decide to stay in Vasilikos, you would pretty much be stuck in your hotel (if you don’t take a car) because there is nothing around, just nature. My opinion is that Vasilikos is ideal for those who are searching an ultimate peace and want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the town and everyday life. There is one hotel that I‘ve had very good feedback on – The Bay Hotel & Suites, located near St. Nicolas Beach. The hotel is surrounded by lush nature, it’s based on all-inclusive service and has its own private beach. The Zakynthos airport is located a 30-minute drive from Vasilikos (around 20 kilometers).
Argassi is the resort with the best location on the island. The distance between Argassi and Zakynthos Airport is around 8 kilometers, or up to a 15-minute drive. Argassi resort is located between Zante town and Vasilikos; basically, in order to get to Vasilikos, you need to pass through Argassi, which can be congested in July and August as there are many tourists around. Argassi is full of restaurants, shops, bars, and on the road from Zante town to Argassi there are some of the best nightclubs on the island: Barrage, Minima, and others.
Accommodation in Argassi is quite decent, you can find some really good deals, but the only thing I dislike in Argassi is the beach: in most of the parts of Argassi, the beach is so narrow that you can’t even put your towel properly. Tourists coming to Argassi know that, so they usually go to the beaches in Vasilikos as there is a direct public bus to get there and it takes less than a 20-minute drive. However, in Argassi there are some nice beach hotels with a pretty decent private beach, so if you are staying in one of those, you won’t be affected much.
the capital of Zakynthos is called both Zante and Zakynthos, which sometimes creates confusion. The town is small and particularly beautiful at night when you can climb the Bochali hill situated above the town and admire the view over Zante while enjoying delicious Greek specialties in one of its numerous restaurants.
Among many cultural and historical monuments, Zante also has to offer many hotels and private apartments, where you can find decent accommodation for affordable prices. Zante is well connected by public bus to Tsilivi, Argassi, and Vasilikos, so it’s relatively easy to get around. For those who prefer the hustle and bustle of the city, this is the best place to stay. Zante also has a nice beach further down the town center, so you don’t have to move from the city in order to get a dip into the sea. Zante is located 6 kilometers from Zakynthos airport, which is around 10-15 minutes’ drive.
Alykes and Alikanas
These are the two resorts situated toward the north of the island, a bit further than Zante town, Tsilivi, Laganas, and Argassi. It takes about a 30-minute drive to reach the resorts from the Zakynthos airport. They are well connected to the rest of the island, but as I said, it takes a little bit of time to reach.
Alykes and Alikanas have very nice beaches, many beach bars, tavernas, villas, and apartments to stay, so you might consider these resorts as an option as well.
4 BEST EXCURSIONS IN ZAKYNTHOS
As I mentioned earlier, the best way to get around Zakynthos is either by car (in that case, you should plan an itinerary, which will be the topic of my next article) or to book tours that would show you the top attractions of the island.
When I was in Zakynthos, I worked as a tour guide and I was in charge of guiding the local tours as well. Read below my recommendations for the best excursions in Zakynthos. Please, note that these are not the official tour descriptions and I am not a travel agent. I just want to share with you my opinion on the best tours and experiences you can get in Zakynthos (based on my own experience as a tour guide):
1. CRUISE AROUND THE ISLAND ON A PIRATE BOAT
This is the tour that I definitely prefer. You get to cruise around the island, learn about its history and culture, swim in its turquoise water, see the best beaches and admire the spectacular landscapes along your way.
Please, keep in mind that this description below is not the official tour description. I am not a travel agent and I don’t have any benefits from recommending this tour. It’s only based on my personal experience as I used to spend three months in Zakynthos as a tour guide.
This Pirate ship tour normally departs in the morning from the port of Zante town and lasts all day (finishes around 5-6 pm). The boat features the pirate ship theme, it is authentic, and even the crew members are dressed in pirate costumes. It’s quite large and can fit several hundred people.
The boat starts cruising toward the north, passing along the beaches of Tsilivi, Alikanas, and Alykes, before reaching the first stop for swimming – Xigia beach, located in the northeast of the island.
Xigia beach is a small, rocky beach, usually packed with people due to its popularity and health benefits: the main attraction is a marine cave with a sulfur spring that has healing and therapeutic properties. Sulfur is said to be extremely beneficial for the skin and health in general, so many people come here just to inhale the sulfur. The water here is quite cold and a bit green, and there is a very intense smell of sulfur coming from the cave. If you don’t mind, you can do snorkeling as well or just cool off in deep clear waters.
Continuing up to the north, the next place you’ll pass along is Agios Nikolaos or St. Nicholas, a picturesque port in the north, a starting point for the boat trips to Blue Caves and Navagio beach.
Already from there, you’ll be able to spot the island of Kefalonia in the north, which you can reach by taking the ferry boat in Agios Nikolaos to Kefalonia. The ferry boat ride lasts about 1 hour and you should book it in advance as the departures are not that frequent.
After you pass Agios Nikolaos, you’ll reach breathtaking Blue Caves, one of the must-see attractions of the island. The best way to visit the caves is by the small boat because the small boat can enter inside the caves.
Unfortunately, the Pirate boat is very large, so you’ll manage to get close enough only to take pictures. Normally, the captain tries to approach as much as close, and the pirate music is being played, so the whole impression is truly magnificent.
There is usually no stop for swimming in the Blue Caves, as winds can be strong in this area. Only if you are coming with a small boat the swimming is possible (weather permitting), but not with the Pirate one as it can be too risky.
The Blue Caves are the most beautiful when viewed from the sea; it is also possible to reach the area by car and jump into the water from the land, but it’s not as impressive as when you come by boat.
The next stop following the Blue Caves is the famous Navagio beach, or the “Shipwreck” beach (“Navajo” means “shipwreck” in Greek). The beach got its name after the ship MV Panagiotis which wrecked in a shallow cove on the west coast of Zakynthos in 1980, due to the storm and bad visibility, pursued by the Greek Navy as it was though the ship crew was smuggling cigarettes. Even though the official story denies it, there is a legend that local inhabitants have been smoking cigarettes on the island of Zakynthos in the following years for free. The shipwreck has stayed in the cove and today is one of the main attractions of the island.
Navagio beach is said to be among the top 10 most beautiful beaches in Europe. It is surrounded by high white cliffs and can be accessed only by boat. It is a white pebble beach with crystal clear, deep water. It’s got waves due to its location and water is quite cool.
It’s almost always packed with people (except for the early morning time when there are not many people around) and boats, so you can’t really enjoy it: most of the people try to make as many pictures as they can in front of the shipwreck, and you’ll see many of them climbing the shipwreck which is not very wise and recommended, as it can be dangerous. If you are coming on a boat tour, your time on Navagio beach will be limited so try to get the most of it. If you are coming by Pirate ship tour, normally you stay there more or less 1 hour.
Your cruise will continue down along the west coast of Zakynthos. This is the part where most of the passengers get hungry, so you may enjoy the delicious Greek barbecue on board the ship.
You’ll admire the rocky sceneries of the west coast and upon reaching the south, you’ll get to Keri Caves – this is the moment when you’ll be blown away by the extraordinary beauty of Zakynthos island! Keri caves are spectacular, and the best way to visit them is by the small boat as you can get inside the caves and go swimming.
With the pirate ship, you’ll only get the chance to pass by, but even in that case, it’s absolutely worth it!
Your cruise will continue toward the southern bay of Laganas, where you’ll spot Laganas in the distance. The bay is part of the protected area of the Marine National Park which spreads along the southern coast of Zakynthos. It is known for Caretta-Caretta turtles which lay their eggs in the warm sands of Laganas bay, and the Mediterranean Seals Monachus-Monachus. You might be able to spot some, but rarely, as the pirate ship is large and they run away from it!
Following the Laganas bay, the cruise will continue along the coast of Vasilikos, where you can admire golden sandy beaches of the peninsula. Soon after that, your cruise will finish in Zante town.
This is a full-day tour that I suggest you book at the beginning of your Zakynthos vacation, as the cruise will give you an idea of the island in general and the best places to see. After that, you can either rent a car and visit some of the places on your own, or you can take another excursion.
Once again, I’d like to highlight that the description of the tour is not official, it’s only based on my personal opinion and experience as a tour guide.
2. CARETTA-CARETTA TURTLES
Most of the local tour agencies in Zakynthos offer boat trip to Keri caves, including a stop to Marathonisi island, also called turtle island due to Caretta-Caretta turtles which lay their eggs in its sands. The island itself has a shape of a turtle and is a part of the Marine national park. You’ll find many barriers on Marathonisi island with the main purpose of protecting turtle eggs, so please be respectful and don’t get too close to it.
Caretta-Caretta tour is nice and very family-friendly. It normally starts in Laganas bay where you embark on a small boat and start to cruise along the bay of Laganas in the direction of Keri caves. Once you reach Keri caves, you’ll get a swim break so you can enjoy the spectacular views of the cliffs, take a dip into crystal clear turquoise water, or go snorkeling inside the caves.
On the way back, you normally stop in the middle of the bay and captain does his best to find the turtles; if you are lucky, you might get a very knowledgeable tour guide who will share a lot of stories and information on the turtle’s nesting process and life in general.
This tour normally includes the swim break at Marathonisi island, after which you’ll finish your tour in Laganas.
This tour is a half-day tour (up to 3 hours, depending on the local agency).
Please, keep in mind that this is not the official tour description and if you are willing to book it, you need to contact travel agents or a local tour agency in Zakynthos.
3. ISLAND TOUR
If you are adventurous and want to soak in the history and culture of the island, this tour is perfect for you. Many local travel agencies offer it, and I think it’s absolutely worth it!
This is usually a full-day trip which includes lunch and several stops on your way through the island. Tour agencies have different itineraries, but roughly these are the places that the tour usually includes:
Alykes viewpoint, where you can admire the view over the salterns and Alykes and Alikanas beach. Alykes in Greek means “saltern”, and this area supplies salt to the entire island.
Agios Nikolaos and boat ride to Blue Caves: This tour also includes a stop at Agios Nikolaos port in the north of the island, and from there you can take a boat ride to Blue Caves. Weather permitting, there will be a break to swim and snorkel inside the caves.
Navagio viewpoint: This tour takes you to the famous viewpoint from where you can enjoy the spectacular panorama of Navagio beach. The area is quite busy in the tourist season, so you might be struggling to take your turn to take a picture. The actual platform from where you can see the beach is very narrow and only a few people can fit on it at the same time, so don’t be surprised if you need to wait 30 minutes in line to get to the viewpoint. In the area where the Navagio viewpoint is, there are several kiosks where local people sell refreshments, and it’s packed with buses and cars, so if you are coming by car you might have difficulty in finding a parking space.
Volimes: it is the most important town in the northern part of the island, well-known for the local handcraft. Volimes is not equipped with tourist facilities; it is a quiet place with only several snack bars and mini markets for local people, and stalls selling local products such as honey, oil, spices, but also tablecloths, carpets, and other hand-made products. For those of you who would like to explore authentic Zakynthos countryside and see how locals live, this is the best place to go!
Anafonitria monastery: Zakynthos is a very religious island and there are many cultural monuments all across the island. The monastery dates back to the 15th century and inside is being kept the icon of the Virgin from the 15th century, coming from Constantinople and of priceless value. The monastery is also important because St. Dionysios, the patron saint of Zakynthos, took refuge and lived in the monastery as a monk. The monastery is old and beautiful, and in my opinion, it’s an absolute must-see place on the island.
Exo Hora: this is the village where you can admire traditional Zakynthos houses and Agios Nikolaos church from the 17th century. The main road is passing by the square, where you’ll come across the oldest and biggest olive tree in Greece, more than two thousand years old. Its twists and curves are truly impressive, as well as legends and stories connected to it, so you should definitely visit the village and take a unique photo in front of the tree.
There are also several other stops, but as I said, the itinerary mainly depends on the tour agency offering the tour. I think this tour is worth a shot, as you will get to know the soul of the island, its countryside, nature and beautiful sceneries that you will remember for a lifetime!
4. ZANTE BY NIGHT
Visiting the capital city of Zakynthos at night is a must-do thing! If your accommodation is further away from the town, usually there is a tour organized and includes the visit to the main highlights of Zante, such as St. Dionysios church, the symbol of Zante and its main religious landmark; Solomos square, the central town square; Bochali hill, from where you can admire one of the best views of the island; the main pedestrian street Alexander Roma, full of the restaurants serving typical Greek food and fresh seafood, shops, and bars.
Of course, you don’t need the tour to visit Zante, but if you want to learn about its history and culture, it’s good to have a tour guide to explain to you all you would like to know.
ZAKYNTHOS, A HOLIDAY DESTINATION YOU RETURN TO
To conclude, I would like to say that Zakynthos is one of those islands and holiday destinations where you feel so welcome that you already feel like a local after only a few days spent there. The island’s countryside, traditions, gorgeous beaches, the coast, reasonable prices and welcoming Greeks… everything makes you feel at home and that’s why so many people choose Zakynthos as their permanent, returning holiday destination.
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