While a vast majority of Ionian islands feature right at the top of the must-visit lists of all avid travellers, the expansive island of Zakynthos often misses the cut. But that has begun to change in recent years. Ever since the fame surrounding the shipwreck beach put Zakynthos on the map, more appreciation has followed. And that's rightly so! Immense work has been put in rebuilding the island following the devastating 1953 earthquake, and the results show for themselves.
Today, the island boasts of a few great resort towns, its beaches and stunning coves are drawing in bigger crowds and even the smaller inland villages have begun making the best of their heritage as erstwhile Venetian towns! Here, we have listed some of the best neighbourhoods of Zakynthos and what they might have in store for you traveller!
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Easily the most lively part of the island, Laganas is the go-to choice for travellers looking for an exciting beachside vacation. A resort town by design, it is centred around the Laganas bay and in turn the eponymously named sandy strip that has become a popular venue for sunbathing and water sports. And while those might sound like reasons enough to visit the Laganas beach, it is actually the sheer number of quality bars and clubs with live music and late night parties that set this part of the island apart!
But that's not to say that Laganas is only meant to cater the night owls and party animals. Underneath the glitzy outlook of the resort town also lies a lesser talked about side - one which will have you explore the lush landscape. You can choose between going on a diving excursion at the quieter Agios Sostis beach or walk up a footbridge to the nearby Cameo Island or even take a relaxing stroll along the less crowded parts of central bay!
As one of the main tourist-oriented resort towns on the island, Laganas can get crowded during the peak season (mostly around summers). Access is easy as transport runs to and from all major towns on Zakynthos; you can also always hail a private cab for comfort. It also has one of the highest number of hotels and accommodation options of all the towns on the island.
Next on our list is the quieter and more serene town of Kalamaki, which lies just slightly northwest of Laganas. If traversing through the natural surroundings and getting to see the island wildlife are the things that are on the top of your to-do lists, this is the place for you. But before we get to that, a special shout-out to the Kalamaki Main Road - the one exception to the generally quiet experience of the town. This is the area where you can find all sorts of eateries and drinking holes such as grill houses, pizzerias, cocktail bars and taverns.
And now talking on the natural bounties of Kalamaki! Start your local tours from the eponymous beach, home to the National Marine Park that also serves as a nesting site of the endangered loggerhead turtles. The beach does not allow water sports as part of the protection program, but you can still get a sunbed and spend a relaxing afternoon here. Nearby, small cliff and pine cone forests offer quick changes in scenery; rental bikes are a great way to find your way around the less trodden paths in the vicinity!
Kalamaki has the unique distinction of being in close proximity to all major centres on the island; the International Airport, Laganas and the capital city are all within a 10-15 minute ride from the town and that makes it a great place to base yourself at. There's several studio apartments and homestays that offer a more intimate experience than the ones on the offing at big island resorts.
The capital city of Zakynthos Town, which once boasted of an immaculate Venetian cityscape faced heavy losses following the 1853 earthquake. But it has since been tastefully rebuilt, and now reflects a completely different sort of modern charm.
The central Solomon Square brings a lot of the city's best elements together; the waterfront plaza offers sweeping views of the sea, easy access to both the port and city street networks, as well as a great outdoor cafe. You can always tread along the waterfront in search of more cafes and bistros or roam about the neighborhood's narrow inland streets for more diverse eating options!
And even in the midst of all the takeout joints, indie boutiques, merchandise stores, Zakynthos Town still packs a lot of character. The streets are still laden with cobblestone and lined with houses that resemble an old-world plan: pastel colours, floral facades and small arched entrances. Many have been homes to local artists and today house museums with memorabilia. All of that, without even mentioning the ruins of Venetian castle sitting atop a small hillock and the amphitheatre at the nearby Stranis Hill!
Zakynthos Town has the most diverse range of options when it comes to choosing accommodation, as several boutique hotels, luxury resorts and inexpensive hostels dot the area. By the virtue of being the island's capital city, it also tops the list in terms of connectivity. Both the factors combined make Zakynthos Town the best choice for first time travellers heading to the island!
Just about 5 kilometres north of the capital city lies the family-friendly town of Planos, sometimes referred to as Tsilivi. The main attraction of the town, which has been developed while keeping the vacation prospects in mind, is the Tsilivi Water World. A vast amusement park, it draws huge crowds to its gigantic pools and waterslides. Also extremely busy are the theme park and miniature course at the nearby Fantasy Mini Golf, another feature that rounds up Planos' appeal for families.
In addition to that, Planos also has all the perks that come with a seaside Greek town. You will have two great beach options to choose from: the eponymously named sandy strip bustling with activity and the more quaint pebble beach Paralia Mpouka. And sandwiched between the two is a much smaller patch of sand, which is the site of an unrestored watch tower. It is one of the best places to visit during the wee hours, or to spend an evening marveling at the boisterous sea.
Planos is a short 10 minute drive from both Zakynthos Town and international airport, furthering its status as a popular choice for travellers. The neighborhood also has many great hotel and resort options to choose from, so take your sweet time picking.
Perched at the northernmost end of the island's eastern coast is the town of Agios Nikolaos, a great choice for travellers looking to get away from bustling crowds of mainstream locales without having to miss out on any of the major luxuries. The rugged landscape in this part of the island has resulted in fewer developmental activities, but Agios Nikolaos remains an exception! Be it a relaxing getaway vacation at a seaside town, or a cruise holiday, or a weekend in an obscure Greek village setting, this town has it all.
Several waterfront restaurants line the rocky shore around the port and the Madrakia beach. The taverns here are amongst the best for trying out the local cuisine so make sure to go through them all! This is also where you can contact the local service providers for cruises and boat rides to the small island of Vardiola St. Nicholas, lying just off the shore. And lastly, put in the extra effort of travelling a little north and you will be delighted to see the natural beauty of the small hillside village of Korithi!
The village is the farthest out north of all the listings here and can be a little harder to access. It is still connected to the capital via road and can also be accessed through ferries which will get you to the main port. Cottages and villas around Korithi are among the best anywhere in Zakynthos and even offer balcony views of the ocean!
Next on the list is the small region of Elatia, home to the famed shipwreck beach. Although situated inland, this small village is the closest to the Navagio beach and its adjacent coves. It is here that the rusty shipwreck sits, surrounded by steep cliffs on three sides and the open sea on one. While there is no way to reach the beach from land (you have to take a boat from one of the main ports), you can find your way to the cliffside viewing points that are accessible by road.
Sister towns of Volimes and Anafonitria, both of which lie in the vicinity, have a unique charm of their own. Mountainous and austere, they seem to originate out of ruined Venetian towns and are a delight to visit. Volimes, the bigger of the two, has a few interesting sites including the Temple of Saint Spyridon and a few small church complexes. Anafonitria, on the other hand, takes the win with its lovely coffee shops and terraced cafes - all running out of small stone housing covered with flower beds and bougainvillea trees!
The towns are all within 10-15 minute rides from each other; access to other parts of the island is straightforward as public transport runs between Anafonitria and the capital city. You can also always hail a taxi to drive you to your hotel/homestay (many of which are centred around the main village thoroughfares).
Koiliomenos is another scenic inland village, one which is centred around the beautiful church. And the Church Agios Nikolaos, with its majestic stone tower and bright red roof is only one of the many highlights of the town's central square. The street leading up to it is lined with souvenir shops and small coffee shops, all of which run out of rustic-looking single story buildings. Koiliomenos itself sits in the backdrop of a lush green scenery, which only accentuates the town's old-world charm.
And when you're not spending time rummaging through the old shops, or sipping coffee with the sides made up of local favourites, you can find your way to the nearby village of Agalas. Known for its mountain caves and dramatic landscape, this part of the island is best suited for the lovers of the outdoors. Make sure you go out for a hike in the surrounding areas (there's even a few marked trails dotted with cliffside benches) and drop by the Damianos Caves - for unparalleled views of the island's mountain ranges!
As one of the few inland villages on the list, it would be our suggestion that you look for a nice hilltop villa to make the best of your experience here. Koiliomenos lies in the southwestern part of the island, but it is still fairly close to the Zakynthos Town and Laganas.
And for the last neighborhood on the list, we are heading back to the basics: a stunning Ionian seaside village with a lush scenery and a stunning shoreline, Keri. Several small coves with sparkling turquoise water can be found in the vicinity of Keri, but none can quite match up to serenity of the Keri caves. Accessible only via boat, this is the place where the water is at its clearest and in stark contrast with the lush scenery. Diving excursions are a popular activity, but even a quiet afternoon exploring the spotless white caves here can be quite rewarding!
Keri mountainous setting ensures a well rounded appeal, which could otherwise be mistaken for just another small port town. The Keri cliffs make up the southwestern shoreline of the island and are among the most popular walking trails and viewings points in all of Zakynthos. The biggest Greek flag is amongst the most frequented ones, but look a little harder and you will end up finding a couple of great cafes with similarly breathtaking views.
The town is in close proximity to Laganas and can be easily accessed from most other parts of the island. It even has its own port near the eponymously named Keri Beach, which is also surrounded by a slew of accommodation options. While in Keri, you can also choose to stay in a villa closer to the western side of town.
And that's our complete list from Zakynthos, traveller. Take your picks and get packing for your next vacation; a pristine Ionian paradise awaits!