Flower Of The East
Far from the more well-known islands like Mykonos and Santorini lies a whole different Greek island experience—Zakynthos, dubbed by early Italian visitors as “Fiore di Levante”—Flower of the East. And it’s not hard to understand why. Zakynthos island is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty.
Zakynthos is the third-largest Greek island in the Ionian Sea—off the west coast of Greece as opposed to the Athens-adjacent Aegean Sea off the east coast. Here the villages resemble not the whitewashed ramparts of the Cycladic islands, but the Romanesque piazzas and cobblestones of nearby Venice. While you won’t find the postcard-perfect cliffside towns on Zakynthos, the natural beauty more than makes up for it.
Leave the bustling towns, and you will discover an island paradise on a whole other level—secluded beaches, mysterious caves, sapphire-blue water, sea turtle nesting sites, seaside fine dining, and five-star resort hotels with infinity pools that overlook the far horizons of the Ionian at sunset.
How to Get to Zakynthos
Quin and I visited Zakynthos in May of 2021 a week after the Greek Islands opened back up for tourism. As a result, many places were still in the process of opening and quite a few of the ferries weren’t running. For that reason, and because we were coming from Milos (on the other side of the Greek mainland), we flew.
Aegean Airlines and Olympic Air offer regular service from Athens to Zakynthos Airport (ZTH) year-round. In the summer months, various airlines offer direct service from other European cities to ZTH. For example, British Airways offers direct seasonal service from London, while Volotea Airlines offers seasonal direct flights from several Italian cities.
Various coastal cities in Greece offer ferry services to Zakynthos. Check FerryHopper for ferry routes, schedules, and prices. While flying is the faster and more efficient option, taking the ferry to Zakynthos has the added benefit of being breathtaking. If you can spare the time to take the long route, you will be rewarded with stunning views of the eastern Peloponnesian coast, as well as the coast of Zakynthos on approach.
Best Time to Visit Zakynthos
The best times of the year to visit Zakynthos are spring and fall. This is the sweet spot of the temperate climate that Zakynthos enjoys. Summers on Zakynthos tend to be hot. It is also the high tourist season. Winters on Zakynthos can be cold, and while snow is uncommon, rain is not. The balmy spring and autumn months fall on Zakynthos like a dream.
The Best Things To Do On Zakynthos
1. See Navagio Beach (“Shipwreck Beach”) from Above
How many beaches have an actual pirate ship beached and crumbling for all to see? In the 1980s, a smuggling ship ran aground on this gorgeous strip of sand surrounded by cliffs on the northeast coast of the island, earning this beach the moniker “Shipwreck Beach.”
Navagio Beach is located on the north-western shores of Zakynthos. Many tourists take the required boat ride to see the shipwreck up close. But if you want to avoid the crowds and snag a priceless photo op, you’ll need to drive or take a cab to the viewpoint above the beach. You can search for “Navagio Beach View” in your navigation to get directions.
At the official viewpoint, you’ll find a little balcony with safety railings that allow you to get a little glimpse of Navagio Beach far down below. The better views however require a little more work. The best views require you to take a ten-minute walk along a rocky path north toward the headlands. Eventually, you will reach a bench that serves as a memorial for someone who presumably fell or jumped from the cliff. This should serve as a somber reminder to exercise extreme caution while moving around and taking photos. There is no need to go any further down the headland. This general area provides the best vantage point, with a breathtaking view of the beach, the bay, and the Ionian Sea beyond.
UPDATE: A few people have sent me messages recently to let me know that this viewpoint may no longer be accessible. Apparently they have built a fence and there is now a security guard preventing people from taking the trail to this specific vantage point. You can still get an aerial view of Navagio Beach from the official viewpoint, but you wont see this exact perspective.
2. Explore the North Side of Zakynthos by Boat
There’s scenery to spare on Zakynthos, but the northern coast is particularly notable for the “Blue Caves”— twin cliff arch formations that align just perfectly for a fun photo op. Plus, when the late morning sunlight hits, the water clarity and the white rocks below combine to express dazzling blue color palettes.
Most tours of the North Side combine the Blue Caves with Shipwreck Beach and a few other stops as well. Quin and I actually weren’t particularly interested in spending time on Shipwreck Beach (we’d already taken in the views from above a number of times), so we asked our LuxurE Travel Zakynthos captain to take us to some more remote beaches. We would cruise along and point out any spot that we thought we might like to photograph. This ended up being one of my favorite days of the entire trip! There are so many stunning beaches and coves along the North Shore to explore and we had them all to ourselves. I still don’t understand why everyone just heads to Shipwreck. But to each their own!
3. Explore Hidden Treasure Cave
One of the highlights of a trip to Navagio Beach is a boat tour of the mysterious “Hidden Treasure Cave,” a navigable cave system with blue waterways like something out of a fantasy novel.
Unfortunately, Quin and I didn’t get the chance to photograph this spot because we didn’t know where it was and didn’t know the name. After we had left, I continued to do a bit of research and was devastated to find that we had missed out on this spot. Anyway, don’t be like us. Do yourself a favor and google images of “Hidden Treasure Cave,” and then make sure that your boat captain takes you there!
4. Cruise the South Side of Zakynthos by Boat
The southern coast of Zakynthos is also worthy of its own dedicated boat tour. This was actually the first area that we explored with LuxurE Travel. Our first stop was the sub-island of Marathonisi, aka “Turtle Island,” a priceless nesting site for endangered Caretta-Caretta sea turtles. From there we explored the stunning Keri Caves, eventually making it all the way to Mizithres Rocks. But the best part was having the freedom and flexibility to stop at as many white-sand beaches, turquoise coves, and white cliff caves as we could along the way.
5. Go for a Swim in the Prettiest Water you have Ever Seen
Zakynthos has nothing if it doesn’t have gorgeous beaches—white-sand nooks framed by soaring cliffs with views of crystal-clear water that stretch for miles. You can hardly go wrong with any of the magnificent beaches on Zakynthos, but here are a few to get you started:
- Plakaki Beach. This glorious rock beach, 2.5 km west of Paleochora, is protected from the harsh winds that sometimes hammer the Greek islands. The water is calm and clear, while the surrounding cliffs offer respite from the harsh sun whenever you need a break to cool your heels.
To get to Plakaki Beach you’ll need to follow a small path down from the parking area until you find a rickety old staircase. The stairs are a bit uneven, so use caution while you descend. Trust me, it will be worth it!
- Korakonissi Beach. Geological forces have formed Korakonissi Beach into a natural marvel—a rocky island with a twenty-meter arch. It’s a fun spot to cool down and sun bathe. Plus, there are some interesting photo ops. That being said, we were a bit disappointed by the amount of garbage we found at this particular beach.
- Porto Limnionas Beach. To avoid crowds, travel 7 km from Agios Leon and walk down a rock formation that forms a natural staircase. When you arrive at Porto Limnionas Beach, you will find flat rocks to sun on and sparkling cold water perfect to cool off or go diving. This beach is slightly more developed than some of the others on this list, giving it that quintessential “European Summer” vibe.
- Porto Vromi. Situated between the villages of Anafonitra and Maries, Porto Vromi is a diver’s playground. The water gets deep quickly and features an underwater dropoff festooned with sea urchins, as well as discarded anchors, seats, and other decaying parts from long-ago ships. The magical beach is made of white pebbles the size of quail eggs. You won’t have this beach to yourself, it’s a popular spot for people and boats alike. But that doesn’t detract form its beauty.
- Filippoi Beach. One of the best-kept secrets on Zakynthos, and my favorite of the trip, Filippoi Beach is 15 minutes by car from the village of Volimes. Brave the rocky approach, and you will find mysterious caves, epic rock formations, and crystal blue water. If you’re lucky like us, you will have the beach all to yourself.
6. Get on Google Earth and Find your own slice of paradise.
If you truly want to leave the beaten path and claim some unique memories, forget tourist maps and go straight to the source—Google Earth. Google’s collection of Satellite images can reveal sequestered beaches and overlooks that tourists have yet to descend upon. When you see something that looks promising, jump in your rental car and go! This is how we found Filippoi Beach, Plakaki Beach, and so many other gems.
7. Rent a paddle board and explore the coast at your own pace.
The gentle waters off Zakynthos are perfect to explore by paddleboard. Unencumbered on crystal blue water, you can explore caves, cliffs, and beaches inaccessible by road, with no one but your inner voice to tell you when to stop.
We rented our paddleboards from Paddle Surf Zante in Alykes Beach. The owner was incredibly nice and spent the time to drop pins on my Google Map App with all the best places to paddle. He also made sure to steer me away from areas where the infamous Greek winds tend to be the strongest.
Best Photo Ops on Zakynthos
1. Keri Lighthouse
Built in 1925 to keep ships from running aground, this nine-meter-high tower overlooks a 200-meter cliff and a stunning view of Mizithres beach and its two dramatic rock formations rising from the Ionian. A drink and a meal at sunset from Keri Lighthouse is a photographer’s dream.
Unfortunately for us, the Keri Lighthouse still had not opened when we were there in May. There were a number of people there sprucing the area up though, so I’m sure it opened shortly after we left. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise though because if it hadn’t been closed, we probably wouldn’t have found the view of Mizithres Beach right next door.
When to Photograph Keri Lighthouse:
Keri Lighthouse is located on the Southwestern tip of Zakynthos and is best photographed in the late afternoon or at sunset. If you are wanting to capture the bright blue water show up earlier rather than later.
2. Mizithres Beach
Get a different angle on the majestic rocks you saw from Keri Lighthouse by veering left instead of right toward the restaurant. The location you are looking for is actually labeled “Scenic Viewpoint” on Google Maps and is located directly above the Mizithres Rocks. This is one of the most dramatic and iconic photo ops on Zakynthos. There’s no mistaking it, and the memories will last a lifetime. Just be careful on the edge!
When to Photograph Mizithres Beach:
Like Keri Lighthouse, Mizithres Beach is located on the Southwestern tip of Zakynthos and is best photographed in the late afternoon or at sunset. If you are wanting to capture the bright blue water show up earlier rather than later.
Note: You are not driving all the way up the road. Stop when it looks like you are parallel to the Mizithres Rocks on your map. Get out of your car, walk to the edge, and prepare to have your mind blown.
3. Shipwreck Beach Overlook
The sight of that wrecked smuggler ship on pristine Navagio Beach is one of the most iconic sights in Greece. Hike out to the highest vantage point over Navagio Beach for priceless images of this arresting vista.
When to Photograph Shipwreck Beach Overlook:
Due to the high cliffs surrounding the beach, there will be a strong shadow across the water in the morning. Mid-day is a great time to photograph Shipwreck Beach if you want to capture the stunning blue water at its brightest. This is also the time of day that the cove and beach will be the most crowded with people and boats – which could be a bad or a good thing depending on what you are going for. I actually preferred the scene with some boats because I felt that it gave some much-needed perspective and scale. Late afternoon and evening is also a lovely time to be there. The water won’t be quite as bright, but there’s something magical about that soft golden hour light.
Note: You need to drive to the overlook for the view looking down on the beach. The viewpoint is NOT accessible from the beach.
4. Potamitis Windmill Stairway
On the northern tip of Zakynthos lies Potamitis Windmill, as charming and picturesque a Greek whitewashed windmill as you’ll find on Zakynthos. Operated as a family-run bed-and-breakfast with three units, you don’t have to stay the night to memorialize the sight in photographs. Pay a small fee and you can grab some shots of the beautiful stairway that winds its way down to the spectacularly blue water below. Make sure to put aside some extra time to cool down in the water and maybe even try out the diving board!
5. Blue Caves
The Blue Caves on the northern coast of Zakynthos, accessible by boat or paddleboard, are evocative locations for photographers to play with light, shadow, and every shade of blue imaginable. Because it’s located on the northeastern side of Zakynthos you’ll get the best lighting in the late morning. In the afternoon, this side of the coast will likely be in the shade.
6. Every random beach you pass on a boat excursion!
You can’t go wrong on this magical island. With a charter boat, kayak, or paddleboard, amazing photo ops can be found around every rocky corner. Ditch the itinerary, awaken to the moment, and follow your heart to a photo op that’s all your own!
Where To Stay On Zakynthos
During our trip to Zakynthos, we stayed at Olea All-Suite and Villa Amara Airbnb. Because I know that these options are not for everyone, I decided to do something I’ve never done for a blog post before and do some crowdsourcing with my Instagram community to find out where people’s favorite restaurants and hotels on Zakynthos are. So now, you don’t have to just take my word for it! Below you will find the most frequently recommended hotels from people who have actually stayed there.
Nestled in an olive orchard ten minutes from Zakynthos Town, this five-star resort boasts 93 guest suites and three gourmet restaurants and is ten minutes on foot from Tsilivi Beach—the perfect place to relax in splendor and the perfect jumping-off point for any Zakynthos adventure.
We spent one night here, and it was definitely a highlight of the trip. That being said, I’m glad we didn’t stay there any longer or I may have never wanted to leave and explore the island!
Located a mere 80 meters from Tsilivi Beach, Lesante offers five-star accommodations with many rooms overlooking the sea, as well as a piano lounge where you can sip cocktails or champagne while listening to jazz music.
Wild Fig Retreat (AirBNB)
For a different approach to luxury accommodations, book an apartment at this boutique Airbnb, set amid olive trees and grapevines in the northwest reaches of the island. You can enjoy a sprawling pool and hot tub, yoga, and massage services, without another house in sight.
Crystal Beach Hotel
Situated in Zakynthos National Marine Park, a stone’s throw away from Caretta-Caretta sea turtle breed grounds, Crystal Beach Hotel is perhaps best known for the excellent Pelouzo Restaurant, where you can dine on exquisite cuisine with views of the islands of Pelouzo and Marathonisi. The party town of Laganas is less than two kilometers away—close enough to enjoy, but far enough to escape.
Where To Eat On Zakynthos
Adjacent to Zakynthos Port, Madisons is the beating heart of Zakynthos gastronomy, obsessed with fresh ingredients and creative takes on classic Greek flavors. I don’t think I’d be exaggerating if I said that we ate at Madisons for probably 1/3 of our meals. Granted a lot of restaurants were still closed, but we really enjoyed the diversity of different food Madisons offered. Especially the smoothies!
It’s worth the trip to Alykes just to eat at Paradosiako. Since 1996 they have been offering fresh takes on classic Zakynthian cuisine—honoring the traditions of the island but adding something as well.
In business since 1976, this quintessential Zakynthian tavern is packed with soul and authenticity—the true flavor of Zakynthos.
You haven’t had a romantic dinner until you have toasted to love with your sweetheart at Nobelos, a bistro carved into the rocks above a private beach. One of the most swoon-worthy restaurants in the world.
Things To Know Before You Go To Zakynthos
1. Rent a car to get around Zakynthos.
Zakynthos is a relatively large island and it can take up to a couple hours to get between destinations. With a rental car at your disposal, you can explore the beaches, villages, and crevices of Zakynthos at your own pace, without having to conform to the schedule of a tour group or shuttle service. You can rent a car in Zakynthos Town, or ferry your mainland Greek rental over to the island.
2. You may need an International Drivers License to hire a car in Greece.
US citizens must apply for and receive an International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive legally on Greek roads—Zakynthos included. Rental companies might not demand to see your IDP … but a police officer might demand to see it if you get pulled over. If you don’t have it, you might face additional fines. You can apply for an IDP while still in the US through organizations like the National Automobile Club (NAC) or AAA.
3. Avoid Laganas unless you’re there to party.
Locals may direct you to Laganas, a resort town on the shallow and calm shore of Laganas Bay. Known for its lively nightlife, Laganas is great for a party, but not much else. If you’re here to relax and discover epic scenery, leave Laganas to the party crowd.
4. Pack your Dramamine for boat excusions around Zakythos.
Many of the most spectacular sights and activities on Zakynthos are accessible by boat, or at the end of winding roads. If you are susceptible to motion sickness, nausea could throw a big wet blanket on what otherwise might be a once-in-a-lifetime delight. Stock up on Dramamine to calm your stomach at the moments that matter.
5. Avoid Group Tours on Zakynthos.
Group tours of Zakynthos are available, but they tend to be crowded and focus on “touristy” attractions. Moreover, the tours might not conform to your schedule—they could make you set alarms when you wish you could sleep in, or make you leave a magical destination before you are ready. Trust your instincts and strike out on your own. Whether it’s hidden beaches, off-the-map cafes, or the cobblestoned byways of Zakynthos Town, Zakynthos is best when you allow yourself to get lost.
6. If you’re on a budget, don’t rent a boat through an agency.
Many agencies allow you to charter a rental watercraft online in advance of your trip. This may be tempting—you don’t want to be left high and dry by the time you get there! But resist that temptation—renting from the port is far less expensive. If you time your vacation right, there will be plenty of boats available.
7. Expect delays. Ferries don’t always run when you expect them to.
If you’re a punctual person, you might find the ferries to, from, and around Zakynthos frustrating. Greek islands tend to be flexible about schedules. Relax—most likely, you are here to kick back and relax, so start by unplugging from the anxiety of punctuality. You’ll get there! The journey is half the experience.
8. Google Maps is not always your best friend on Zakynthos.
If you are like many plugged-in modern people, you are used to whipping out Google Maps on your phone to find nearby stores, restaurants, or the best route to a destination. This doesn’t always work on Zakynthos. The Google Business listings may not be updated or may be non-existent. Google might not be able to find the destination you are looking for or the best route to it. Don’t hesitate to ask for directions if need be!
9. Be aware of the Meltemi, the infamous Greek winds.
Greek islands like Zakynthos are notoriously buffeted by Meltemi, dry north winds that can make it uncomfortable to be outside. The winds tend to pick up in the afternoon and dissipate by nighttime. Be careful, though—sometimes Meltemi can blow for days on end.
10. Don’t drink the tap water on Zakynthos.
Tap water is safe to drink throughout Greece, but island tap water can be salty, and drinking it could dehydrate you. Plus, it tastes horrible. It shouldn’t contain harmful bacteria or parasites, so you are safe to shower in it and brush your teeth. For drinking, stick to bottled water.
That’s it! I hope you have an amazing trip to Zakynthos. If you have any other tips for the island I would love to hear about them in the comments below.
Photos In Collaboration With Quin Schrock