The Venetians called Zakynthos Fiore di Levante, the Flower of the East and its nobility and fertility made it the jewel of their empire. Today’s visitors to the southernmost Ionian island would agree, though they come mostly for its iconic beaches – Lagana, Tsilivi, Argassi, Kalamaki, Alykes – where British, French and Italians know how to have a good time.
Looking for lifelong memories? You’ll find them when you swim at the famous Shipwreck Beach, watch the sunset from the cliffs of Keri and Kryoneri, listen to the islanders sing their cantatas and see the endangered caretta caretta sea turtles lay their eggs in the island’s white sands. Welcome to Zante – or Zakynthos, as it’s known in Greece, the Ionian island that has it all.
What to do on Zakynthos island
Choose a different beach every day of your holiday
From your seat on the caique that does the circuit of Zente, you’ll see a procession of beaches and coves, each seemingly more magical than the last. Laganas, Gerakas, Vasilikos, Marathonisi, the Blue Caves ... all rank among the most splendid in Greece. Not forgetting, of course, Shipwreck Beach, with its famous beached vessel that adds drama to the sandy setting, white cliffs and turquoise water. Come early in the morning, or drop anchor the previous evening, so you can enjoy your first dive before the rest of the world arrives.
Take a boat trip to Shipwreck Beach
Search for sea turtles in Zakynthos’ marine park
The sea around Zante was picked for Greece’s first marine park. This is where the rare caretta caretta sea turtles lay their eggs. In spring, these endangered creatures set off for Zakynthos from the Libyan Sea and the southern Adriatic, not because they like the swim but because nature tells them to lay their eggs in the sands of Gerakas, Dafni, Kalamaki, Marathonisi and, especially, Sakania, east of Laganas, as they always have. If you’re lucky enough to witness this spectacle, please don’t disturb these beautiful creatures or their eggs.
Prepare your Instagram feed for panoramic views
Zakynthos is not only beaches. Take a stroll through lovely Bokhali, 2km from the centre of town, and you’ll find yourself stopping every few minutes to admire the panoramic view of the harbour, Argassi and the Bay of Laganas. Or to photograph the alleys lined with old houses and traditional cafes. Walk a bit higher and you’ll come to the castle, camouflaged by all manner of plant and shrub, where the Venetians had their island capital.
Pay a visit to Zante’s miraculous St Dionysios
The church of St Dionysios draws Orthodox Christian visitors throughout the year as it houses the relics of the saint of the same name (also the island’s patron saint). The impressive church was built in 1926, with a three-aisled basilica and inner arch. Zakynthos’ catastrophic earthquake of 1953 left it virtually undamaged. Miracle or just solid foundations?
Hidden gems of Zante island
The Strofades, more islands to explore
Only 37 nautical miles from Zakynthos, these two islets are unknown to most tourists, Greek or foreign. A mystery surrounds the 15th-century fortified monastery here. It houses an icon of the Virgin that washed up here undamaged after being thrown into the sea by 13th-century Orthodox Christians in Constantinople to save it from the iconoclasts who were destroying all paintings with human figures.
Was Zakynthos the original rolling stone?
Locals claim that Mick Jagger hails from the village of Kiliomeno (which translates as rolling) and that’s why he named his band The Rolling Stones. This is a big local tease but nobody’s kidding when it comes to singing the virtues of this delightful settlement. Take your time to admire the traditional architectural style of Zante and old homes which resemble fortresses.
A final cheers to Zakynthos at the wineries
Set aside some time for a visit to a local winery, some of which go back centuries. Hundreds of hectares are devoted to vineyards and there are more than 60 different grape varietals.
FAQs about Zakynthos, Greece
Are Zakynthos and Zante the same place?The Ionian island goes by both names, Zakynthos which is its Greek name and Zante, its name in Italian. It was first mentioned as Zakynthos thousands of years ago in Homer’s epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey.
What is Zakynthos, Greece known for?The most famous sight in Zakynthos is Navagio beach, meaning shipwreck in Greek. The island is also the breeding place of the endangered caretta caretta turtles.
What is the best area to stay on Zakynthos island?If you are seeking lively nightlife, then Laganas is the best place to stay. Its beach parties and seaside clubs are legendary. For more peaceful holidays on Zante, other places like Limni Keriou offer more low-key entertainment.