The relatively unexplored Greek island of Zakynthos (Zante Greece) is begging for people to discover it. Its iconic Shipwreck tourist attraction is the spot of millions of photos annually; however, there are parts of the island that is still relatively unexplored. Standing in a local village, untraveled by any tourists, you will still witness cultural traditions that can’t be found in the hot tourist areas. Forested wilderness and untouched landscape still exist in a destination that is visited by ten times as many foreigners than it has residents. It’s entirely possible to find things to do in Zakynthos to make it into whatever kind of vacation you would like.
If you prefer, it still has the beautiful white sand beaches and rugged cliffs that it is famous for. Take a swim in its turquoise Ionian Sea water where you will find a variety of marine life including its abundance of the infamous Caretta Caretta Loggerhead sea turtles. Tired of the beach? Stay at one of Zakynthos’ luxurious seaside resorts and receive catered treatment while you soak in all the relaxedness you can imagine.
Greece is a country geographically placed in southeastern Europe. It borders its Bulgarian neighbors to the north, Turkish neighbors in the east, and shares a bit of its border with a couple other European countries. It is, truly, very well-located for any American tourist backpacking through Europe routes. Its capital, Athens, is located only a day’s travel on the Zakynthos ferry to the east of Zakynthos. Zakynthos to Athens is the most popular backpacking route. However, Zakynthos to Santorini is also a very common route.
My top advice for backpacking Zakynthos is to rent a four-wheeler the first day you arrive. Nothing saved me more time and allowed me to see more of the island than that decision. I’ve been traveling and living in Europe for almost three years and it has given me the ability to see over half of the continent. Along the way, I’ve picked up some knowledge on how to travel in Europe efficiently and on a budget. I’ve written a series of guides for Flying and Travel to help you get the most out of your trip abroad.
Things to do in Zakynthos Greece
There are plenty of things to do in Zakynthos that can keep you busy for as long as you want to stay. Personally, I think you can get a full experience in less than a week, however, if you love to laze around the beach, you may want to plan your itinerary around that. The multitude of itinerary options is part of the reason Zakynthos makes an excellent stop on anyone’s ‘Euro Trip’.
Here are a few must-see places that should be on everyone’s Zakynthos itinerary:
Porto Beach – It is one of the most hidden places and maybe for this reason more beautiful and wild of the entire island. To get there you have to pass through the mountains village of Agios Leon and from there following the signs, driving down a recently asphalted road running down to the sea and ending in a small square where you can park. Porto beach is one of the top things to do in Zakynthos.
Navagio Beach – Navagio Beach in Zakynthos Greece, or Shipwreck Island Greece, is an exposed cove, sometimes referred to as “Smugglers Cove”, on the coast of Zakynthos, in the Ionian Islands of Greece. Navagio Beach was originally known as Agios Georgios. Zakynthos car rental is the best way how to get to Navagio Beach. It’s one of the best beaches in Zakynthos Greece and, perhaps, tops the list of things to do in Zakynthos.
Keri Caves – Kerì Caves, accessible only by the sea with private boats or tourist excursions, develop along the promontory of Marathia Cape, in the South-West area of the island. A boat tour is one of the most popular things to do in Zakynthos.
Kalamaki Beach – Kalamaki beach is also protected by Greek legislation, as one of the places where the endangered Loggerhead turtle lays its eggs. For this reason, Kalamaki beach is a part of the National Maritime Park of Zakynthos. Kalamaki is ideal for family or romantic holidays, as it is pretty close to Zante Town and one of the best beaches in Zakynthos Greece.
Blue Caves – The Blue Caves are one of the islands most famous natural attractions and were discovered in 1897 by Antonio Komouto. The caves attract thousands of visitors each year and are located just below the lighthouse at Cape Skinari. It’s one of the must-see things to do in Zakynthos.
Agios Dionisios Church – This church, dominant at the port, is dedicated to the Saint of Zakynthos and it is a landmark not only for the town but for the entire island of Zakynthos. It was rebuilt in 1948 after being destroyed by an earthquake in 1893. Along with St. Denis Church, Agios Dionisios is one of the few churches that survived in Zakynthos Greece.
Marathonisi (Turtle Island) – The small islet is situated in Laganas bay and provides one of the nesting homes for the loggerhead turtle Caretta Caretta. Its turtled-shape formation has evoked a number of myths over the years. Seeing the turtles is one of the best things to do in Zakynthos.
Keri Lighthouse (Keri Village) – Don’t forget to visit the lighthouse of Keri, one of the best places in Zakynthos to watch the sunset. It’s near many of the best beaches in Zakynthos Greece and one of the most interesting things to do in Zakynthos.
St Dennis Church – The St Denis Church is one of the few churches that survived the earthquake of 1953 in Zakynthos. Luckily – because it’s one of the top things to do in Zakynthos Greece!
Banana Beach (Vasilikos) – Banana beach is a very long and wide beach with shallow water and exotic style. The golden sands of the beach and the deep blue and blue flag standards Sea, completes its existence, with the signing of the Banana Baya. An area characterized irresistible for style, hospitality. The kitchen ”choose” the freshest and the most superior quality materials, paying particular based on local products. Although it’s a day trip away, Banana Beach can still be considered one of the best beaches in Zakynthos Greece.
Best time to travel to Zakynthos
Zakynthos is a great place to travel to year round. Whether you are looking for beach refuge during the hot summer or a cold winter escape – Zakynthos is your place.
In the summertime, Zakynthos is buzzing with action and tourists flock to the island – outnumbering the locals more than 10:1. However, in the wintertime, although too cold to swim and only lasting a few months between the summer season, Zakynthos can offer a much more authentic appeal with fewer crowds and a quieter island.
Where to stay in Zakynthos?
When I traveled to Zakynthos, it was the height of the summer season and accommodation was limited. Booking in advance is definitely good advice when traveling to this summer beach destination. There are no hostels, but a few budget hotel options.
You would be best suited to maximize your time by staying near Laganas or in Zakynthos City. Depending on what you plan on doing, both should be a top priority. If you plan on spending your days lazying around on the beach, the shallow waters of Laganas Bay and the long stretch of white sand beach is your best bet. If you are interested in sight-seeing, perhaps Zakynthos City is more well-located.
What to eat in Zakynthos
If you want a taste of the local cuisine, try these traditional foods:
A Gyro is the Mecca of Greek cuisine. It’s sliced meat prepped in a certain way with loads of spices, fries, salads, and a secret sauce that is to die for. It’s all wrapped up in a warm pita wrap and given to you for a cheap price. A Greek Gyro is a gift from the Greek gods.
Moussaka has gained worldwide fame over the decades. It’s a dish made from eggplants, minced meat, and béchamel.
Souvlaki is a mixture of meats and vegetables on a skewer and coated with spices and lemon juice. It’s probably the second most popular Greek food after the gyro. I preferred the gyro only because it was more filling for the same price. Locals told me that tasting proper souvlaki is one of the things to do in Zakynthos that they’d recommend first.
Stifado is a casserole-baked Greek stew made with meat (beef or lamb), tomatoes, pearl onions, white wine, garlic, cinnamon, and oregano. It wouldn’t have been my first pick of Greek food, but I had to try something other than fast food snacks while in Greece.
Shipwreck – the journey to Zakynthos’ most popular attraction
I knew from the first moment I arrived what my main purpose of visiting the island was. I had wanted to see an attraction known as Shipwreck that is located in Zakynthos from the moment I started traveling. Actually, seeing pictures of the place was part of my inspiration to travel abroad.
On my first day on the island, I realized it would not be possible (at least, it’d be extremely difficult) to reach Shipwreck by public transport. Therefore, my only option was to rent a 4-wheeler from Zakynthos car rental and make my way across the island that way.
The ride to Shipwreck is quite beautiful. Along the coastline and high up in the Zakynthos hills, I rode with very little traffic and needing very little reference to direction. It’s pretty straight-forward to get around in Zakynthos. It’s a two-lane, one highway kind of place.
Judging from the lack of traffic I saw on the way to Shipwreck, I was assuming I’d have the place to myself. However, a few tour buses proved me wrong. I believe Shipwreck (being the most popular attraction of Zakynthos) is always crowded. There was a long line to take a picture from the man-made balcony overhanging the cliff.
However, it’s not too hard to escape the rush at Shipwreck no matter how many people are there. If you want a different, better, and less-touristy view, take the walking trail that’s not so clearly marked behind the balcony. There, it’s easy to find a spot for your own and take in the unbelievable view at peace.
The Tale of the Tape on Zakynthos, Greece
Zakynthos is a Greek island located in the Ionian Sea. It is the third largest island in size in the Ionian Sea. The island has 74 miles of coastline with the clearest blue water you’ve ever seen. That and its international airport make it a very popular tourist destination.
Although the island is only home to around 40,000 people, it pulls in well-above 500,000 tourists annually. I suppose it’s hard to resist a vacation to a sunny beach and a Gyro on a Greek Island.
How to get there/get around:
Personally, I saw it fit to rent a 4-wheeler at the beginning of my stay in Zakynthos. With it, you’ll be able to reach all the top destinations with ease and it is a bit more fun and reliable than Zakynthos public transport.
However, if you’d like to stick with buses, Zakynthos makes it possible to reach almost every destination by public transport. It will just take a little bit more patience and you may not see all the things to do in Zakynthos this way.
American Survival Guide
Traditional Greek Meal
A traditional dinner near Laganas Beach will cost you nothing out of the ordinary; $10-$12 will usually cover a delicious traditional entrée.
A Night Out
A beer in the heart of Laganas Beach district (Zakynthos’ most popular nightlife) isn’t exactly cheap, but it also won’t break your budget. You can buy a pint for about $3.50 per. A stroll down to Laganas Beach at night was one of my favorite things to do in Zakynthos.
A Gyro joint in the middle of Laganas Beach district will cost you about $2.50 for a nice budget lunch. The price is even a little lower as you get further out from the busy tourist parts. This is an absolute pleasure food!
Bus or Train
Public transport is fairly inexpensive in Zakynthos when compared to other cities more regularly on a backpacking itinerary. It costs $1.40 for a single ride ticket and it’s even cheaper to get dropped off at some of the islands most popular resorts.
However, the trouble becomes the consistency of Zakynthos public transport system. As most people elect to rent cars on the easy-to-navigate roads, most tourists don’t use the public buses and so they don’t come around nearly as much as they should for the tourist’s advantage. Just pick up a Zakynthos Greece map before you go!
Car, ATV, Moped Rental
As the public transportation in Zakynthos is quite lackluster and the island is too big to explore on foot, I highly recommend vehicle rental while staying in Zakynthos.
To rent a 4-wheeler for 72 hours, I paid less than $60 including the gas fill-up. It takes a bit of bargaining, but if you don’t like the price one rental company offers, just move to the one next door. There are rental companies all over the island!
Zakynthos AirBnB doesn’t have the widest selection. The selection they do have is fairly spread out, price-wise, depending on where you want to stay. Generally speaking, you can usually find an entire apartment for anywhere from $30-50 on a nightly basis.
For an individual room, one person can normally find a bed for less than $20 per night.
The residents of Zakynthos are Greek speakers with their own dialect. Check out this basic Greek language guide before you go! However, overall, everyone can speak pretty clear English on this island as most are foreigners themselves.
If you want cell service, it’s important to check with your provider about international charges. In addition, it’s always a good idea to alert your provider (and your bank) that you’ll be traveling internationally.
Credit Card Transaction Fees
It’s important to check your credit company’s policy on international transactions before using it abroad. There are plenty of credit cards available that advertise “No International Transaction Fees”. If you want to get a new card before leaving, find one like this.
Things to have before you arrive
It’s not imperative; however, I’ve always found travel much more relaxing when you arrive without a dire need of any essentials. Here are a few of them:
- Electrical Adaptors
- Power Bank
- Offline Map (app)
- Directions to your accommodation
Zakynthos – or Greece, in general – is a country a part of the European Union – which means Americans are granted 90-days in a 180-day period to travel freely throughout the E.U. This means if you plan to be in Europe for longer than three months, you should take a look at this.
There are a lot of stereotypes that Americans have adopted over time. There are, also, a lot of stereotypes we have made about Europeans that just aren’t true.
With that being said, there are some cultural differences in everywhere you go. Embrace those – they’re the best part about traveling because those differences educate you.
In Greece, tipping is common if the restaurant doesn’t round its bill to include a tip. A 5-10% tip is an acceptable amount. Be careful that gratuity isn’t already included on your bill!
Discover Zakynthos and Top Things to Do in Zakynthos
Zakynthos left me wanting more. I wouldn’t say I was disappointed, but it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. The beaches weren’t all that I had imagined and the island itself was fairly quiet for a summer season. However, I know there are still plenty of things to do in Zakynthos if I ever return.
If you want to find out more about how to travel Europe on a budget, and all that it has to offer, click on over to our Europe travel blog page dedicated to tips for backpacking Europe! You will find these to be informative, giving you excellent insight into planning a trip through this multi-cultural continent.