Image Credit: Ellen Knockeart/Unsplash
The island is a Greek dream waiting to be discovered in the Ionian Sea between Italy and Greece, with its famous shipwreck on the shore, turquoise waters, world-renowned Navagio Beach, and stunning sunsets ranging from red to fuchsia. With its picturesque beaches, virgin covers for umbrellas, delicious budget-friendly cuisine, and villa rental options with stunning views, Zakynthos is rightfully one of the most popular among the 6,000 Greek islands.
The island, which was under the rule of the Venetian Empire for 300 years, is a handsome Italian-Greek hybrid. Although the island is now completely Hellenized, it still carries Italian DNA from its architecture to Piazza San Marco, from its cuisine to its carnival. Its only shortcoming is that it does not have photogenic settlements like Rhodes, Crete, or Santorini, but it compensates for this with its natural wonder beaches and landscapes.
We suggest allocating at least 3 days to explore the island and 5 days to enjoy it. Couples, groups of friends, and families with children over the age of 12 will be very happy on the island, but it is not suitable for those who prefer resort-style places.
Since what you will see and read in a moment will instantly make you want to close your suitcase, we leave you to read our Zakynthos travel guide without further ado.
Note: Kefalonia cannot be imagined without Zakynthos, and Zakynthos cannot be imagined without Kefalonia.
How Can I Find Cheap Flights to Zakynthos?
Air Travel to Zakynthos Island
There is an international airport in Zakynthos. However, as you can imagine, there are no direct flights from Turkey. There are daily connecting flights from Athens Airport to here. However, flight times are not very frequent. There are at most one or two flights per day. Therefore, the times may not be very suitable for your Turkey-Athens flight, especially if you prefer the evening hours. Still, know that you have this option. If your flight times match, you can consider it.
Road + Sea Travel to Zakynthos Island
Renting a car from Athens Airport and coming to Kyllini Port in 3.5 hours and then getting on the car ferries that depart almost every hour and last about 1 hour is the most practical way to get to Zakynthos. The frequent ferry services allow you to plan according to your flight to Athens.
You can buy your ferry tickets online from Levante Ferries’ website. When you download the tickets as a pdf to your phone, the gate officer just needs to scan the QR code. When you arrive at the port, you will encounter a huge queue of vehicles but don’t panic because the ferry leaves at the exact time since everyone has a ticket, so no one is left outside.
The ferries are nothing like the ones we have. Especially if you come across the new models, you feel like you’re traveling in a luxury sea bus, but if you come across an old model, it is even more comfortable than ours. There are plenty of options at the buffet. There are plenty of clean toilets. There is even wifi internet.
Which Area Should You Stay in Zakynthos?
Artemision: The region where the most beautiful accommodation options are located is on the island. It is close to the center, dining options, and places to visit, as well as quiet and peaceful. It’s a great place where you can find wonderful options from villas with sunset views and pools to centuries-old stone houses among olive groves. We chose to stay in this area and were very satisfied.
Elaiton: Elaiton, located in the north, is the region where the most beautiful villas with infinity pools for rent are located on the island. Of course, being in the north means that it is a bit far from the center of the island and other places, but when you see the options available here, you will agree with us.
Places We Don’t Recommend Staying: We do not recommend staying in the center of the island, Zante, due to its excessively touristy and crowded nature, nor in Laganas, the second most touristy place on the island.
Car Rental: For a weekly automatic car rental, the cost is around 600-700 euros, and for a manual transmission, it’s about 500-600 euros. If you plan to travel to the islands with your rented car from Athens, you will also need to pay an extra insurance fee so that the teams can come to the islands and help you in case of any problems.
Highway Tolls: If you rent a car from Athens and travel to the islands, you will pass through 7 toll booths on the highway during your 3.5-hour journey to the port. The prices for these tolls range from 2.80 to 3.30 euros, and the total cost for the one-way trip is 17.90 euros. The return trip on the same route costs around 11 euros.
Gasoline: As of July 2022, gasoline costs about 2.5 euros per liter. You can fill half a tank of gas for around 55 euros, and approximately 1.5 tanks of gas will last you for 8-9 days.
Ferries: You need to take ferries to reach the islands. If you rented a car from Athens, you will also need to pay for the ferry to transport it. If you’re traveling without a car, the round-trip cost per person is around 24 euros. However, if you have a car, you will need to pay 45 euros per direction or a total of 90 euros for the car. Of course, if you’re traveling with a group of friends, you can split the cost.
Beaches: There is no entrance fee for the beaches. You can rent two sun loungers and one umbrella as a package for 15 euros, or 7.5 euros per person. In many places, you can also rent just an umbrella for 5 euros and spread your towel on the sand. Alternatively, you can find a shaded spot under a tree.
Breakfast: You can have a delicious breakfast of avocado toast with eggs on top and coffee for 10 euros per person.
Dinner: You can have a nice dinner with a glass or two of wine or ouzo for around 20 euros per person.
Alcohol: The cost of cocktails at the best places ranges from 8-10 euros. Greek beers like Fix and Mythos cost around 4-5 euros, while imported beers like Corona cost around 6 euros.
Do You Need to Rent a Car?
This is not specific to Zakynthos, but we recommend renting a car for all island holidays. Otherwise, your mobility will be very limited. The places to visit on the island are all in different locations, and it is ideal to have a car to see them at your own pace. You can rent your car either from the mainland or the island, but remember that the options on the island are limited, so you may be left with no car available. Renting your car from Athens and coming to Kyllini Port and then taking the car ferry to Zakynthos is the most practical way to reach the island.
Combine Your Vacation with a Trip to Kefalonia Combining your Zakynthos holiday with Kefalonia, one of the must-see islands in the Ionian Islands according to us, is the most ideal holiday program. You can plan your vacation for 3 days in Zakynthos and 4 days in Kefalonia because Kefalonia is almost three times larger than Zakynthos. There are also ferry services between the two islands. You can start imagining your days there by looking at our Guide to Places to Visit in Kefalonia.
Consider Airbnb or Booking.com Options Instead of Hotels As you will notice while exploring Zakynthos Island, there are wonderful rentable villas with pools, country houses, and natural stone houses on the island. When you do a little research, you can find a nice independent accommodation option for every budget. However, good places do not wait until the last minute. Because Zakynthos is one of the most popular summer destinations for European tourists. We recommend that you complete your reservations at least 2 months in advance to find a place that suits you in terms of price, ambiance, and location. Below, in the section where we describe the island region by region, you can also find some great accommodation options that we discovered on the island.
Bring Your Water Shoes The island’s beaches are generally rocky. Therefore, you may want to consider bringing a pair of water shoes in your bag.
Get Yourself a Beach Umbrella The most essential thing you will need on the island’s beaches is a beach umbrella to anchor to the stones or sand. Instead of constantly renting umbrellas for 5 euros each at the secluded beaches you visit, you can consider buying a cheap one and throwing it in your car’s trunk.
Places to Visit
Navagio Beach Viewpoint
Potamitis Bros Boat Tours
Xigia Sulfur Beach
Korakonissi Natural Pools
St. Dionysios Church
Food and Drink
Sunset Michalis Taverna Family Tavern Nireas Madrakia Goumas Estate Winery – Art & Wine Paradosiako Alykes lete sunset bar Grampsas Winery & Restaurant Ampelostrates Callinico Winery Pirounaki Restaurant Keri “Lighthouse” Restaurant Prosilio Restaurant Saveur Solomos Wines Winery Beaches
Makris Gialos Beach Xigia Pigadi Beach Porto Niova Beach Madrakia Beach Porto Limnionas Beach Porto Roxa Beach Hamsa Beach Bar & Restaurant Brusco Kitchen & Bar The Isles Kalamaki Beach Porto Zorro Beach Porto Azzuro Beach Bar Ionio Restaurant & Beach Bar
Places to Visit in the North of the Island of Elation
Shipwreck Beach, one of the world’s most iconic beaches, is famous for its shipwreck landmark. You can’t have missed this bay on Instagram at some point in your life. Of course, the fact that the whole island is marketed as Europe’s most famous beach plays a big role. It has been declared the best beach in Europe by some travel authorities. One of the most beautiful turquoise waters you will ever see is not in the Maldives but in our neighboring Greece. Take the blue of Lake Salda and put it in the sea, that’s the shade of blue we’re talking about. Of course, what makes this bay so famous is not just the incredibly blue waters. The shipwreck wreckage that washed up on the shore also adds to the beach’s fame. In 1980, the trading ship “MV Panagiotis,” suspected of alcohol and cigarette smuggling, was chased by the Greek police, caught in a storm, and crashed in this bay, running aground. Over time, the area around the shipwreck filled with sand, creating Zakynthos’ most photographed spot.
Pay Attention to These Details!
Swimming in Navagio is truly a unique swimming experience, but only in the right weather conditions and at the right time. If your trip coincides with the full moon period, you can’t swim here because the tide creates both a current and waves in the water. So if you want to swim in Navagio or go to the beach, you should avoid scheduling your trip a few days before and after the full moon.
Also, since there are no facilities in the bay, if you plan to go to the beach, you should bring all your necessities with you. To avoid excessive crowds, it is best to arrive before noon or after 3 p.m.
Note that the beach was closed for a short time in 2018. In the summer of 2018, on a day when the beach was full, one of the massive rocks above the beach slid down due to a landslide, causing many people to be injured and boats anchored on the beach to be damaged.
The Blue Caves that You Must Visit with a Boat Tour
One of the most beautiful features of Zakynthos Island is that there are various caves of different sizes that you can swim in, with stunning blue colors all around the island. Most of these cave formations are located in the north of the island, but there are also a few visible spots in the south. We especially loved the ones in the north of the island. They have such beautiful shades of blue! Some of the rock formations even resemble Marvel characters and animals, like elephants and bats. Time flies by while you explore them.
If you have the opportunity to take only one boat tour, we recommend that you save it for the Blue Caves in the north. Don’t worry if you’re afraid of boat tours. You can take a cave tour with Potamitis Bros Boat Trips, which departs from the northern end of the island, Skinari, for a reasonable price.
Alternatively, you can also consider taking a boat tour from Agios Nikolaos port, which takes you to the Blue Caves, Navagio Beach, Navagio lookout point, and other iconic places on the island, offering a comprehensive daily tour. They also provide a swimming break in one of the caves during the tour.
Caves around Porto Vromi
Porto Vromi is one of the closest points to Navagio Beach, making it one of the classic starting points for boat tours. You can rent a 4-6 person boat from here to visit Navagio Beach, nearby blue caves, and swimming spots only accessible by boat, such as Sfoggio Beach. As we mentioned before, if you only have one boat available, use it for the tours in the far north of the island. However, if you don’t have enough time for those tours, you can choose the more compact tours that depart from Porto Vromi. Heart and Poseidon’s Face shaped caves are waiting for you on this side of the island.
Xigia Beach: If You Can Handle the Sulfur Smell
We’re not sure whether to recommend this place or not. We were also in doubt about it. The only reason for this is the smell caused by the sulfuric sources that give the bay its unique feature. Even rotten-boiled eggs wouldn’t be enough to describe what this smell is like. Yes, sulfur is a mineral that is known to be good for the skin, but only if you can tolerate the smell. We couldn’t bear it for too long, so we just took a quick photo break and left. However, if you stay long enough, your nose will get used to the smell. The water and the view are incredibly beautiful, and this tiny beach has become a popular spot for boat tours, making it very touristy and crowded. There is also a café and a restroom right above the beach where you can grab a bite to eat.
Potamitis Windmills and Stairs Leading to the Sea
Image Credit: booking.com
There are some very cute traditional windmills in the Potamitis area on the far north of the island, some of which have been converted into Airbnb homes. The stairs leading down from the windmills offer a beautiful swimming experience. There are also options to eat while enjoying the view of the surrounding scenery. We have left more detailed information about this area in the accommodation section below. This area is home to the most luxurious design villas on the island.
Image Credit:Lukasz Grudzien / Unsplash
Where to swim in Elation?
Makris Gialos Beach: A beach that will appear after a while past the sulfuric Xigia Beach mentioned above. You can rent sunbeds and umbrellas on the beach, but if you stay past noon, you can rent an umbrella for 5 euros and sit on your towel. It is a beautiful but small and limited beach. You can use the restaurant across the road for your toilet and shower needs. There is also food and drink service on the beach from there.
Xigia Pigadi Beach: A small but enjoyable beach that will appear just before the sulfuric beach. It is a modest business where you can rent two sun loungers and an umbrella for 10 euros. It is less crowded than other places. You descend to the beach with stairs. There is a cafe right at the beginning of the stairs.
Porto Niova Beach: It is another modest beach option in the bay, where there are only a few sun loungers and umbrellas, and a small buffet. It has a pebble beach. It is ideal for those looking for simplicity and tranquility.
Madrakia Beach: It is a turquoise cove near the Agios Nikolaos port where boat tours depart for Navagio Island. There are no sun loungers or umbrella rental facilities, but there is a restaurant with the same name right next to it. You can make it your place and both eat, drink and swim.
Our recommendations for eating and drinking in Elation:
Sunset Michalis Taverna: It is a classic Greek tavern located on the top of a blue cove on the northwest coast, with a beautiful view, although the food is not amazing.
Family Tavern Nireas: It is a family-run business on the northeast coast where you can taste Greek classics with a sea view.
Madrakia Tavern: It is an address where you can satisfy your seafood cravings, located on Madrakia Beach mentioned above.
Goumas Estate Winery – Art & Wine: It is a winery where you can taste island wines among the vineyards.
Paradosiako Alykes: It is one of the most popular restaurants on the island. It is not in the north, but it is located in Alykes, which is its starting point. The restaurant is always full. If you make a reservation before you go, you won’t have to wait at the door.
Our recommended hotels and rental villas in Elation:
The Lux Nature Villa $$: A private villa in Korithion with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a total of 6 people can stay, a private pool, and sea views. It has air conditioning, wifi, a TV, and a kitchen.
Nobelos Seaside Lodge $$: A lodging option in Agios Nikolaos, located by the sea, offering suites with sea views and balconies, ranging from 4 to 2 people. The suites have air conditioning, a TV, and a bathroom.
PanoPlagia Villa $$: Another villa suitable for accommodating 6 people in Agios Nikolaos. The villa has 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a TV, a private pool, a fully equipped kitchen, a spa bathtub, a garden, and wifi.
Potamitis Windmills $$: Historical Zakintos windmills operated as an aparthotel in Korithion. There are two windmills, one made of stone and the other white. They have wifi, a private bathroom, air conditioning, and TV, but no kitchen. Breakfast is included.
By Megan Cole