The island of Zakynthos is the most southern of all in the Ionian. It is not as mountainous as its neighboring islands, but it still has an abundance of greenery and lush landscapes. People most commonly go to Zakynthos by ferry boat from the port of Kyllini in the northwest point of the Peloponnese, about a three-hour drive from Athens. The boats arrive at the main port in Zakynthos Town on the east side of the island. It will be crystal blue and clear when you have arrived because of the incredible color of the water. Alternatively, there is also an airport on the island which can allow for an easy and short flight from Athens.
Zakynthos was always a desirable getaway, as noted in myths which spoke of sibling Gods Apollo and Artemis spending time there. Although the role of Zakynthos was notable in mythology, later civilizations began to take even more notice of the island and its neighbors. In the 15th century AD the Venetians took control of Zakynthos, which lasted for about four hundred years. The architecture and culture on the Ionian islands were heavily influenced by the Venetians as shown by existing fortresses and the overall style of structures.
Such a structure can be found on the outskirts of Zakynthos Town. The Zakynthos castle erected during Venetian times sits on the hillside behind the town. This theme is continued a few kilometers north of town, where you will find a Venetian watch tower right along the coast. It is located near the small village of Tsilivi where there is a sandy beach and primarily hotels and villas.
Zakynthos Town is the most densely populated area on the island and is where you will find the most options and variety for your choice of dining and shopping. Along the port and the seaside, there are taverna restaurants and travel operators selling boat tours or rental vehicles. It is a typical small town with a cozy feel and neighborhoods full of family homes. A gathering place for locals and visitors is the Platia Markou, the town square with shops and restaurants all around its perimeter. In this square there is a museum called the Museum of D. Solomos, which honors prominent people who have hailed from Zakynthos. About a block away is another town square with the same namesake as the museum. Solomos Square is right at the water's edge and borders the island's main port. A small church named after Agios Nikolaos sits on the side of the square as well as the Byzantine Museum of Zakynthos. Solomos Square is the largest in town and is visibly beautiful, with its marble paved flooring and the classically designed buildings that surround it. Dionysios Solomos was a very popular poet who was born in Zakynthos and in the early 19th century.
About a fifteen-minute drive south of the main port and town is the coastal town Laganas. This area is most frequented by younger tourists. There are plenty of cheap hotels and rooms in Laganas, as it is a seaside town and draws many crowds. The scene here is mostly quirky bars and shops that have been styled to appeal primarily to tourists. It is a very specific crowd that gathers here, and it does have feel like a true Greek island vibe. The next town over called Agios Sostis is a bit more upscale and is not overrun with touristy gimmicks.
Away from town but still on the south side of the island is the popular Banana Beach. A chic restaurant-bar on a golden sandy beach with a fairly long coastline and calm water is what characterizes this must see spot.
If you are coming to Zakynthos, you are certain to have heard of one beach in particular, and that is Navagio or Shipwreck Beach. Navagio is located on the northwestern side of the island and reachable only by boat. In 1980 a ship by the name Panagiotis was washed ashore during bad weather, and has been left there as a kind of monument ever since. Stories tell of possible cigarette and alcohol smuggling operations the ship may have been involved in which is why the beach is often called Smugglers Cove. Boat tours to the beach can be purchased in Laganas or Zakynthos Town and there are many advertisements posted for companies operating the tours and where to find them. Be aware however that the weather directly affects excursions because high winds can make it dangerous for the boats to venture out. If that is the case, there is also a viewpoint high up on the mountain where you can view Navagio Beach and get some really cool pictures.
Another stop on these boat tours are the Blue Caves. The caves are located at the very northern tip of Zakynthos, and are naturally carved out of the limestone rock. The water is an almost unreal shade of turquoise and blue and reflects off of the white stone inside the caves. You can hear the waves echoing inside as the boat passes through each arch. The north side of Zakynthos is not extensively developed and consists of small villages, forests, and fields.
While the east side has some cliffs, it is mostly made up of seaside towns. The west coast is much more mountainous with tall cliffs. Hiding between these cliffs are rocky beaches that are small enough to give a sense of exclusivity. Porta Roxa and Limnionas Beaches are close by to each other and have access by road. I highly recommend exploring this part of the island, because the drive through the mountains is full of incredible views.
Zakynthos and the Ionian islands have their own unique vibe and culture, influenced by the landscape and the important figures who developed the moral code to be followed by generations to come. In Zakynthos the history of great individuals who sacrificed their lives for the safety of the people has instilled in the island's inhabitants with a distinct spirit.