Today: Top 10 best things to see & do on the Greek island of Zakynthos (Zante)
Spectacular beaches (including world-famous Shipwreck Beach), endangered sea turtles, a 24/7 party vibe, and family friendly hotels make the Greek island of Zakynthos – or Zante as the island is known internationally – a favorite holiday destination. The southernmost and third largest island in the Ionian Sea (after Corfu and Kefalonia), Zakynthos often touts itself as one of Greece’s greenest islands. Zakynthos’ north and west coast is made of towering sandstone cliffs dropping in the turquoise sea, while much of the south coast is a nature reserve where endangered loggerhead turtles hatch in the sand. The east coast is where most of the island’s tourist resorts and facilities are located, including its main city, Zakynthos Town. From exploring hidden sea caves to visiting one of the world’s most fabulous beaches, here’s my top 10 of the best things to see & do in Zakynthos (Zante).
There is more information below the slideshow. Think I missed one? Share your favorite attraction in Zakynthos in the comments section.
I made a YouTube video with the highlights of my holiday in Zakynthos, which you can watch here:
10. ENJOY A FUN DAY ON THE BEACH IN TSILIVI
Zakynthos’ east coast town of Tsilivi features one of the island’s most popular (and unfortunately crowded) beaches. Awarded with the Blue Flag, the beach is mostly sandy with a few parts with small pebbles. The waters of Tsvili are shallow so they are safe for small children. The beach also offers a great variety of activities, including jet-ski, pedal boats, banana rides, parasailing, scuba diving, and so much more here. There are sunbeds and sun loungers in front of hotels and dozens of lively bars that offer an entertaining atmosphere. Tsilivi is also home to Seacret Beach Club, the island’s most upscale beach club. Under the tree shades and in the comfort of a gazebo, with the sea breeze blowing to keep things cool, guests can relax on sun loungers or in cabanas with the option of having a seaside massage or dining in the club’s restaurant.
9. EXPLORE IDYLLIC VILLAGES & HISTORIC MONASTERIES
Zakynthos Island’s east side offers a gorgeous mountainous scenery that is great for hiking, biking or an exciting road trip. Highlights include picturesque villages such as Loucha, dark green forests full of pine trees, high cliffs offering stunning views of the island, and the pristine silence of the mountainous environment. A popular site to make a stop is the medieval Anafonitria Monastery, which represents an excellent example of Byzantine architecture. Cracks in the wall, the crumbled courtyard, and the clock tower make for a charming scene. Anafonitria Monastery was founded in the 15th century and is dedicated to the Holy Virgin Mary. Don’t forget to go inside the buildings, where the walls are decorated with frescos that date back to the 1500s. Other examples of traditional, sleepy stone villages are Agios Leon, Exo Chora and Maries.
8. SPEND A FEW HOURS IN ZAKYNTHOS TOWN
The island’s capital – called Zakynthos Town – has 15,000 residents. Vibrant and modern, the city has managed to preserve the traditional spirit of the past, visible in the main squares of Saint Marcus and Solomos. Exploring the city center you will find traditional picturesque shops owned by the locals, full of homemade food and handcrafted items. The 1953 earthquake that shook the island was the reason for the reconstruction of lots of areas of the capital. This is why today, the architecture of Zante’s capital is a unique mix of the traditional and the contemporary, blending both spirits into one charming town. Do not forget to visit the ruins of the Venetian fortress, which lie above town, overlooking Zakynthos’ harbor. The fortress is called Kastro, which means castle in Greek, and adds to the city’s charm with a view of the past.
7. BOOK A TOUR TO MARATHONISI ISLAND
Marathonisi Island is a tiny, uninhabited and completely underdeveloped islet in Laganas Bay, a few nautical miles from the southern coast of Zakynthos. The remoteness of the island offers crystal clear waters and a pristine environment. Marathonisi Island is also called “turtle island” due to its shape similar to a turtle. Maybe this is why Marathonisi beach – the largest beach on the island – is also one of the places where Caretta-caretta turtles choose to breed (cf below). Due to the presence of turtles, the island is part of the National Marine Park and guarded by volunteers that protect the growth of the turtle population. The other side of the island – which can be reached by hiring a small boat – is home to hidden beaches and caves, an ideal place for swimming and total relaxation under the sun.
6. TAKE A SUNSET CRUISE
Watching the sun set over the Ionian Sea from a yacht is one of those must-do Zakynthos experiences. Most sunset cruises – such as the ones offered by Ionian View Yachting – explore the gorgeous coastline of the Keri peninsula located on the south west of Zakynthos. The area features some of the most secluded and quiet beaches of Zante Island (ideal for snorkeling and diving). While relaxing in the water do not be surprised if you spot a monk seal swimming next to you! Zakynthos is the only place in the Mediterranean region where monk seals are still to be found. A highlight on any sunset cruise is the exploration of two giant rocks called ‘Mitzitres’, which will bask in the warm light of the golden hour right. According to a local legend, if you go there with your loved one and you look into each other eyes while passing between the rocks, you will stay together forever.
5. EXPLORE COASTAL CAVES
A journey to Zakynthos is never complete without an exploration of its famous coastal caves: the Blue Caves and Keri Caves. Situated on the northern tip of the island, near the port of Agios Nikolaos, the Blue Caves are a complex of natural arches and water-caves that have been cut out by tides over thousands of years. Their name is due to the particular reflections of the water in the caves. The Keri Caves are located on the southernmost tip of Zakynthos, where water and wind have transformed the limestone walls into a maze of caverns and natural gates hanging above the sea. Both cave complexes can be visited with a boat trip and some tour boats even sail under these stone arches (for your information, most boat tours to Navagio Beach will make a stopover at the Blue Caves).
4. SWIM IN THE FJORDS OF THE WEST COAST
The west coast of Zakynthos offers spectacular and rugged scenery. Most beaches on this side of the island are only accessible by boat, with the exception of a few fjords which can be reached by car. One of them is Porto Limnionas, a rocky cove with crystal water. Porto Limnionas does not have a beach but visitors can swim from the rocks and use the local tavernas sun beds to lounge in. Just south of Porto Limnionas is another stunning cove, Porto Roxa, where daredevils can dive from the platform into the deep blue sea, while those who prefer to relax can sip their coffee or drink and sunbathe on the free sun loungers. Another highlight in the area is the municipality of Kampi, a sleepy village that offers the island’s most impressive sunset views. I recommend having dinner here at one of the local tavernas that are built right on the cliff’s edge, from where you can watch the sky change colors while enjoying traditional Greek food.
3. STAY AT A LUXURY HOTEL
Most people visit Zakynthos to enjoy a summer holiday under the Greek sun, and there’s no better place to do that than in one of the three 5-star hotels owned by the Lesante Collection: family-friendly Lesante Classic, adults-only Lesante Blu, and cliffside Lesante Cape Resort & Villas. Especially the latter two resorts are a great choice for discerning travelers.
- Lesante Cape is located in Akrotiri village, a place of great historic value that previously housed manors of the island’s noblemen. The new property is perfectly positioned on a cliff with extraordinary Ionian Sea views. Guests are welcomed into a traditional Greek village as soon as they step foot on the property. A center square was purposefully created for socializing and festivities and includes a café, taverna, shops, folklore museum and church. Traditional Zakynthian architecture is displayed throughout the property, and a range of villas and suites offer contemporary amenities and ample privacy. Read my review o Lesante Cape here.
- True to its name the Lesante Blu Exclusive Beach Resort is surrounded by spectacular views of the Ionian Sea offering privacy and peace of mind to the experienced traveler. At Lesante Blu, the defining premise is, “it’s all about you.” This attentive and caring approach is manifested through the adults-only concept, as much as it is through private pools and the state-of-the-art suites. Fine dining restaurants with Mediterranean flavors prepared by the Executive Chef George Plotas enhance the culinary offerings.
2. SPOT LOGGERHEAD SEA TURTLES
Loggerhead sea turtles (also known as Caretta-caretta turtles) are the second most famous attraction of Zakynthos Island, after obviously the famous Shipwreck Beach (cf below). From June till mid September, during the night time, these cute creatures rush to the shore on the tranquil beaches around the bay of Lagana in southern Zakynthos where they lay about 100 eggs each into the sand. After two months, the eggs hatch and the tiny hatchlings make their way to the sea. For the protection of this natural process, numerous beaches are closed at night and guarded by volunteers of the Sea Turtle Protection Society. It is not easy to spot the Caretta-caretta turtles since they are very vulnerable and easily frightened by noise and bright lights. To view them up close, take one of the organized tours that depart from the port of Agios Sostis or Porto Koukla.
1. VISIT SHIPWRECK BEACH (NAVAGIO BEACH)
Shipwrech Beach is the main reason why travelers visit the island of Zakynthos. And it’s a good one as Shipwreck Beach – also known as Navagio Beach – is one of the most famous and beautiful beaches in the world. The wreck of an old smugglers’ ship rests on the golden sand. According to the locals, the shipwreck’s story began in 1980 when the ship called MV Panagiotis, carrying a freight of contraband cigarettes and being pursued by the Greek Navy, encountered stormy weather. The ship ran aground in a shallow cove on the north-west coast of the island, with the crew abandoning ship. The shipwreck lies gracefully on the beach to this day. The turquoise waters that embrace it together with the gold sand create a fabulous setting, one that you will never forget. The beach can only be reached by boat (there is ban on landing though since 2022) and you can reach the viewing platform (from where to take that famous picture) by car.