Zakynthos, Greece (sometimes called Zante by the British tourists) has quickly become a popular Greek island getaway. This is mainly due to images of “Shipwreck” beach circulating the internet; a white beach at the base of towering cliffs, surrounded by stunning blue water and topped with, you guessed it, an old shipwreck. This stunning landscape has become a huge attraction for the island and while it is undoubtedly a highlight, there is more to Zakynthos than shipwreck beach. Ready to dive in? Here are the best things do to in Zakynthos, Greece.
*Important note: The famous ‘shipwreck’ beach is closed for the season of 2023 due to fear of landslides.
Getting to Zakynthos
Zakynthos is part of the Ionian island chain of Greece which is further west. It does have its own airport which offers frequent flights from Athens and Thessaloniki as well as some international destinations. You can also arrive by ferry if you are coming from mainland Greece or another Ionian island.
Getting Around Zakynthos
Zakynthos is big enough that you will want to get out and explore, however, compared to some other Greek islands, getting around isn’t too easy if you don’t plan on renting a car. There is a local bus company but the schedule is wonky and the stops are limited. For example, there is no public bus from the airport, despite the fact that it is close to several towns. Instead, you will need to arrange for a car rental or hire a taxi.
Car rentals in Zakynthos, like with other Greek islands, are mainly manual. There are very few, if any, automatic cars on the island. So if renting a car isn’t an option then your best bet is to do a combination of tours (recommendations to come), taxi rides (which can get costly for sightseeing), and the free shuttles. The free shuttle buses are limited but there are ones that will take you to Banana Beach and St. Nicholas Beach. You can find the schedule for the free shuttle buses here.
The Best Time of Year to Go to Zakynthos
Like all Greek islands, Zakynthos is very seasonal. The main season runs from April to October with the busiest months being July and August. The ideal time to go is the shoulder season, so April and May and into early June, then September or October. The weather is still nice during these months and there are significantly fewer crowds. Travelling during this shoulder season also means you can save some money as well. Prices increase significantly during the summer months.
Where to Stay in Zakynthos
There are a number of options on what area to stay in Zakynthos depending on what you are looking for.
Zakynthos town is the biggest city on the island. It’s not as cute and picturesque as some of the other old towns in Greece mainly because, well, it’s not so old. Many of the towns and buildings on the island of Zakynthos were heavily damaged and destroyed during an earthquake in 1953. As such, the new buildings are newer and not quite as charming as what you will see in other islands, but it’s still probably the most picturesque town on the island. Zakynthos town is a main hub with lots of shops, restaurants, and hotels. There is a small local beach and it is very central for tours and getting to the airport. I stayed here for 3 nights and while it took a bit of warming up, I did grow to like the town and it was very convenient for tours and getting around without a car.
Looking for suggestions on where to stay in Zakynthos Town, try:
One of the more popular areas to stay in Zakynthos is Laganas. However, it’s the main party area for the young 18-early 20s crew. Many people described this area as “Young Brits gone wild”. However, if it’s the party atmosphere you are looking for, then this is the place to stay. There are plenty of bars in this area as well as the largest and most developed beach on the island, Laganas Beach. Laganas is part of a national marine park as well as this area is home to the famous Caretta-Caretta turtles who nest in the area.
Want to stay in Laganas? Try…
If you are looking for something more quiet, relaxing or maybe romantic then I suggest using Tsilivi as your base. It’s a bit of a mix here with a busier town area with lots of bar and restaurant options, but also plenty of beautiful resorts above in the hills. I stayed here for my final two nights.
Want to stay in Tsilivi? Try…
- Hotel St John Suites Adults Only (I stayed here and it was fabulous)
- Olea All Suite Hotel
- Lesante Classic
The Best Things to do in Zakynthos
I’ll be honest. Compared to other Greek islands like Santorini and Rhodes, there aren’t a ton of things to do in Zakynthos. However, it still makes a great stop for a few days with several things to do to keep you busy, especially if you love beaches.
Navagio “Shipwreck” Beach ****closed in 2023 due to fear of landslides
Let’s be honest, if you are coming to Zakynthos it’s probably because you saw a photo of this famous beach and thought to yourself “I want to see that!” That’s what brought me here and Navagio Beach definitely did not disappoint. Of course, the real story of the wreck isn’t quite as exciting as one would hope when they see a huge wreck on a secluded beach, but it still makes a fun and unique spot to visit.
Navagio Beach is best visited from two spots. The first is the viewpoint that looks down on the beach. It does require a bit of a walk and it’s quite rocky so I suggest wearing good shoes, not just cheap flipflops. Also, please be very careful here as it can be incredibly dangerous.
After taking in the view from above, you’ll want to visit the beach itself. This is best done by boat. Now, I was told by a local that the beach gets to crowded in the summer that sometimes tours cant land, they just take you out to see it. Another reason why you should visit during the shoulder season. However, it can still be pretty busy then so if you are travelling as a group and can rent a private boat for the day, look into that option and visit later in the afternoon or evening instead of the morning or mid-day. By this time, the majority of the day tours have gone. Also, try to plan your visit on a weekday instead of a weekend as locals love this beach too.
Plan a Day Sight-Seeing Day Trip Around the Island
Zakynthos is quite pretty with plenty of viewpoints and beaches to explore. This is easiest if you have a car but if not, you can take an island day tour which is what I did. We had a full day driving around the island with several photo stops (including the viewpoint over Navagio Beach) and some time at Navagio Beach as well. We also got to swim in some of the Blue Caves and visit a local olive farm and winery. I highly recommend this tour which you can book here.
Visit Marathonisi “Turtle” Island
Zakynthos is known for it’s turtles, the Caretta-Caretta, who can be found in the marine part surrounding Laganas. Marathinisi Island, which actually kind of looks like a turtle, is where they come in the summer to nest and lay their eggs. The island, which is really an islet, also has a beautiful sandy beach that tourists can visit. However, due to the fact that it is a hatching ground, the island is uninhabited and there are no facilities. Just a couple of boats on the shore which sell drinks and snacks. It’s a fun place to come for a couple of hours but keep in mind, everyone has to leave before sunset for the turtles.
Note: there are turtle tours where you can drive around the bay and see them. I did one and was incredibly disappointed. The boat was quite large and there ended up being three of them surrounding one poor turtle all so everyone could look and take a photo. It didn’t feel like responsible or ethical animal tourism so I don’t recommend it. Instead, consider renting a kayak or even a small boat and going out to explore and look for the turtles on your own. Remember to keep a respectful distance and do not touch.
Swim in the Sea Caves
Zakynthos Island has plenty of cliffs which means there are lots of sea caves. Not only are they pretty to see but they also make great places to swim. Lots of the day tours and boat cruises will stop here for you but you can also choose to rent a boat and explore on your own.
There are the Blue Caves which I visited in conjunction with Navagio Beach. One cave even had some cliff jumping inside which was a lot of fun. You can book a tour to visit both here.
There are also the Keri Caves closer to Marathonisi Island. You can book a tour to visit both here.
Explore Zakynthos Town
Zakynthos Town is definitely worth some time exploring. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not as old and picturesque s you would think an Old Town on a Greek Island should be, but there’s still a good amount of things to see and do to keep you busy and interested for a few hours.
You can walk along the pier and grab a cocktail or cold beer from one of the restaurants. The Church of Agios Dionysios is the largest in the city and somehow survived the earthquake. The bell tower was built to resemble that of San Marco’s Basilica in Venice. You can also climb (or drive up to) the hills above Zakynthos Town where you will find a couple of different viewpoints. One by old castle ruins and the other in the small town of Bochali which is also worth spending some time in.
Zakynthos Town comes most alive in the evening when everyone comes out to dinner and to experience the nightlife. Restaurants I enjoyed here include Paradosaiko Traditional and Allontino. Also, make sure to stop in at Artogonia bakery for Greek pies and other sweets.
Take a Day Trip to Kefalonia
Kefalonia is the neighbouring island to Zakynthos, only a 90-minute ferry ride away. The island is quite large but also known for its beaches, caves, feta cheese, and robola wine. You could easily spend a couple of days here but if you are short on time like I was, a day trip is a good option. We visited a couple of towns, Paralia Mirtos Beach (which is stunning), as well as Drogarti Cave which is 150 million years old and Melissani Lake, home to the legendary Greek nymphs. You can book a day tour to Kefalonia here.
Have a Beach Day…or Two
Zakynthos is known for its beaches so you’ll want to enjoy at least a couple during your time here. As mentioned above, there are free shuttles to Banana Beach and St. Nicholas Beach. These are two of the largest beach which have plenty of facilities including beach bars, washrooms, and water sports activities. They also tend to be incredibly busy.
If you are up for more of an adventure, seek out some of the island’s smaller beaches. Xigia Beach is unique because of the sulphur which released collagen in the water which is great for the skin. It’s nicknamed the spa beach though, be warned, it also comes with a smell.
Another beautiful beach is Makris Gialos Beach. The colour here is almost more green than blue and there are plenty of caves along the cliffs to explore.
Final tips for Zakynthos
Zakynthos was a fun island to spend a few days. I ended up spending five full days here and exploring, although for my final day I took advantage of my private pool for the day. I would say that compared to other Greek islands I have been to, Zakynthos isn’t quite as exciting when it comes to things to do and see. However, the island is famous for its beaches and they are absolutely stunning. So if you are a beach bum, this is a great Greek island for you. I do highly recommend bringing beach shoes though, most of the beaches are rock beaches which can be very hard (and hot!) on bare feet.
A Note on Travel Insurance in Greece
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine multiple times. While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance as they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found, plus, they are who I use and I have had great experiences with them. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.