The third largest of the Greek Ionian Islands, Zakynthos – also known as Zante – is well known for its beauty. With white sand beaches lapped by turquoise seas and dramatic rocks plunging into the blue, there is an obvious reason for wanting to visit this island. Even the Venetians – who ruled the island from 1484 to 1797 – called it ‘the Flower of the Levant.’
But it wasn’t just the Venetians who conquered this stunning island; after them, it was awarded to France. It has also been under Russian, Ottoman, and British rule. All the while, the island has remained distinctly Greek. However, in 1953, a devastating earthquake reduced many of the island’s buildings to rubble; Zakynthos Town was rebuilt with its classic Venetian style in mind and is today more than a transport hub.
Map of Zakynthos
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Long known for its party atmosphere, Zakynthos is awash with places to eat, drink, and make merry – not least at the infamous party capital of Laganas. But for those who enjoy a more relaxing, cultural, and natural stay on this charming island, there are plenty of places to do that. Beaches and incredible coastlines make up the Vasilikos peninsula, while in the north, there are traditional fishing villages to discover – not to mention the ancient ruins dotted around the island.
Arrive by ferry or by plane – thanks to the international airport – get around by taxi or rental car, and stay at a myriad of accommodation options. Studios and apartments offer private, independent places for families to stay, while simple guesthouses and resorts provide budget-friendly rooms and package deals. Zakynthos has a lot to offer anybody who is toying with the idea of paying a visit.
On the west coast of Zakynthos is the island’s main town of the same name. Like the island itself, it is sometimes known by the name Zante.
This is the central transport hub of the island. Facing the mainland of Greece, there are a few different ferries plying routes back and forth; one even goes all the way to Brindisi in Italy.
But this town is more than just a convenient place for travel. The houses of Zakynthos Town curve around the harbor, overlooked by a ruined castle – a remnant of the island’s time under Venetian rule.
There are a few choices when it comes to accommodation in Zakynthos, with mostly affordable and good quality options being the norm. If you want to stay in the commercial center with cafes and restaurants to enjoy, this town is a good choice. The international airport is close by to the south, too.
When people talk about ‘going to Zante’ this is the place they usually mean. Famous for its parties, it is popular with youngsters and students on holiday who are looking for a good time. With that in mind, the places to stay in Laganas range from self-catering apartments to family-friendly resorts; from affordable to fairly high-end.
There are also several bars and clubs in town, which means the streets can get reasonably rowdy – especially during the summer.
Laganas is situated south of Zakynthos Town, meaning that it is also close to the airport. If the concentration of nightlife gets too much for you, head a few minutes out of town to Agia Sostis, where you can walk across a footbridge to the beautiful Cameo Island. That said, Laganas’ beach is a protected bay where loggerhead sea turtles come to lay their eggs under the careful eye of ecologists.
Famous as being the location for the nearby Tsilivi Water Park, this town is located on the west coast of the island just a little further north of Zakynthos Town. This beachside location boasts a whole lot of accommodation, all of which has more or less easy access to the sea. Choose from a selection of lodgings, from luxurious villas to self-catering apartments ideal for family holidays.
Tsilivi Beach is a family-friendly Blue Flag beach, with calm, shallow waters, lifeguards, and plenty of sun loungers and beach umbrellas to go around.
Go jet skiing, parachuting, or even arrange a speedboat tour to the incredibly stunning Navigio Beach – a beautiful cove complete with shipwreck.
You won’t need to worry about getting hungry in this town; Tsilivi boasts a number of cafes, restaurants, and bars – from beachside and upmarket to more central, local tavernas with plenty of Greek music and dancing.
Vasilikos is situated on the very tip of a peninsula of the same name that juts out to the southeast. Comparatively untrodden, this somewhat remote area of the island is home to a few lovely beaches.
One of the best is the beautiful St. Nicholas Beach. With the picturesque whitewashed church of Hagia Nikolaos overlooking this stretch of sand and deep blue water, it makes for a tranquil spot to spend the day and is suitable for snorkeling, too.
A cosmopolitan area, families with older children and couples will enjoy Vasilikos. Other beaches in the area include the compact Mavratzi Beach and the longer Paralia Gerakas, known for its sea turtles; the Zakynthos Sea Turtle Rescue & Information Centre is located nearby.
Polished studios, villas, hotels, and other high-end options leave you to your own devices in style.
Practically on the doorstep of Zakynthos International Airport, not too far east from the party capital of Laganas, Kalamaki is known for its massive stretch of sandy beach. A resort with a convenient location and all the amenities you need to enjoy your stay, the town of Kalamaki is popular with families and those looking for a romantic getaway.
The proximity to Zakynthos Town is a plus, and so is the laid-back atmosphere, compared to nearby Laganas. You won’t find any villas, hotels, or guesthouses on the beach here; because of the precious sea turtles who come to lay their eggs, this section of beach is protected. Because of that, you won’t find any watersports, either.
Most accommodation is located further inland and comes in all shapes and sizes. Kalamaki is not as quiet as you may think; however; there are plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from in this resort town.
On the southern tip of Zakynthos, with Laganas town to the northeast, Keri combines crystal clear waters with mountainside villages for a rustic retreat on this island. There is a lot on offer in this town in terms of the natural world, including walking the coast and scuba diving.
The village of Keri is a charming place to wander around, with traditional streets and sights like the 18th century Church of the Virgin Mary of Keriotissas to discover.
With accommodation consisting mostly of well-maintained self-catering apartments and studios – most of them with beautiful views – Keri is an excellent option for independent travelers.
This village, though set away from the main road, is still easily reachable via taxi from many other towns; for instance, Zakynthos Town is around 13 kilometers away.
Alykes is set on the northeastern side of Zakynthos and is a good place to come for families. The golden sands of the beach here feature a gently sloping shelf, meaning shallow waters that are ideal for little ones to splash around in.
Simple hotels and more stylish aparthotels can be booked in Alykes for affordable prices. Neighboring Alykanas is set just around the bay from Alykes; the two areas almost merge together.
Alykanas is more like a traditional seaside village, however. A relatively undeveloped location compared to many other towns on Zakynthos, there are local tavernas for evening meals here and a charming seafront to stroll along before returning to your studio or apartment.
There’s also Rasa Beach with a handful of bars and restaurants. Historically, Alykanas is also important; there is an archaeological site here which has uncovered Mycenaean remains – a civilization which predates the ancient Hellenic Greeks.
Head east along the coast from the central hub of Zakynthos Town to find a host of things to make your trip to this Ionian island a memorable one.
Alongside a varied selection of eateries – from the vintage feel of Portokali to the beautiful views you can soak up as you dine at Agnanti – the location of Argassi means many beautiful beaches are within striking distance – including the sprawling Banana Beach, the longest on the island.
Cafes, bars, and upmarket beach clubs like Barrage Club make up the eclectic nightlife of Argassi.
When it comes to choosing where to lay your head for the night in Argassi, this town boasts lovely apartments and laid-back hotels, informal lodgings and 3-star, seafront hotels.
For something a little closer to nature, head up to Skopos mountain inland and discover the ruins of Panagia Skopiotissa, a centuries-old monastery (said to be the oldest church on the island), and admire the fantastic views.