7 Things I Loved About Zakynthos (And 2 That I Didn’t)

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Zakynthos is a classic beach destination with beautiful nature and an easy-going appeal.

One of the seven main Ionian islands off the west coast of Greece, the island’s main draw is the world-famous Navagio Bay – also known as Shipwreck Beach – which graces postcards and Instagram feeds around the country.

It’s by no means the only stunning beach, with plenty of sands attracting sun-worshippers from around Europe.

There must be some downsides though?

Here are 7 things that I really loved about Zakynthos (and 2, not so much):

The Vasilikos Peninsula

Agios Nikolaos beach in the Vasilikos Peninsula.

Charming taverna in Agios Nikolaos.

It’s no secret that the Vasilikos Peninsula is by far and away my favourite part of the island.

Located a short drive to the south of Zakynthos Town and the airport, it’s filled with cypress pines and olive groves which give it a serene and rustic feeling. You could almost be in Tuscany at times.

It’s also home to some of the best sandy beaches on the island like Banana Beach and Agios Nikolaos yet it’s not built-up. The busier beaches are on the north-east shore and attract plenty of day-trippers, whereas the southern beaches are wilder and several are protected turtle-nesting zones. 

With lots of tavernas and stores selling local produce, it’s a great area for exploring by car or a base for a villa holiday.

Read more: Vasilikos Peninsula – (Shhhh, It’s The Nicest Part of Zakynthos)

The Turtles

Plastic turtle outside Zakynthos Turtle Island.

Did you know that Zakynthos is home to one of the biggest loggerhead turtle nesting sites in the world? These marvellous creatures are also known locally as caretta-caretta

The long sandy beach at Laganas Bay is a prime spot for nests during the summer season. You’ll often see small cages on the beach to protect nests.

The sea in this area is now a protected marine park, including the tiny island of Marathonisi (which is often referred to as Turtle Island).

The Zakynthos Sea Turtle Rescue & Information Centre is on the southern tip of the peninsula, next to Gerekas beach, and is well worth a visit.

If you want to see turtles in the wild then make sure to book with a responsible company whose boats won’t disturb or harm the turtles – I recommend the Eco-Friendly Turtle Spotting Tour through Nefis which has a guide from the Sea Turtle Protection Society on board.

Nikos’ Beach Bar

This little beach cafe gets a point all to itself because it remains some of the best Greek food I’ve ever tasted.

Nikos’ Beach Bar Restaurant is down a dirt track on Porto Roma beach. The bread and desserts are homemade, and the wine and ceramics are also sourced from the local area. It really tastes like food made with love and I would return to Zakynthos just for the gemista here, no joke!

The Rugged West Coast

Few people come to Zakynthos and don’t visit Navagio Bay. This small beach has a rusty shipwreck (the MV Panagiotis) at its centre and is encased by steep cliffs. The drama is enhanced by the bright turquoise water and ice-white pebbles. 

You’ll need a boat to visit (don’t worry, there are plenty of boat trips on offer) or to drive to the viewpoint above.

But the whole of Zakynthos’ west coast is rugged and pocked with rocky coves and caves to discover.

Don’t miss Porto Vromi, Porto Limnionas, Plakaki, Porto Roxa, Porto Steniti, and the Cliffs of Keri.

The Sandy Beaches

Shallow water at Kalamaki beach.

Kalamaki beach, Laganas.

Zakynthos is definitely one of the best Greek islands for beaches. As a rough guide, the entire west coast is rocky and amazing for swimming and exploring.

But everywhere else? Sand. You’ll find many fine-grained beaches with shallow and translucent waters on the south and east coasts.

Evenings in Zakynthos Town

Glass of wine in a quirky bar in Zakynthos Town.

Capital of the island Zakynthos Town suffered heavy damage during  earthquake of 1953 – it was almost completely levelled. So much of what you see is modern development, although some of the public buildings have been rebuilt in the traditional Ionian style.

Whilst it lacks the obvious historic charm of Corfu Town, it does have a thriving town square surrounded by busy tavernas and bars. Not many visitors stay in town itself, but it’s easy to reach on the bus and is a great place to feel the beat of local life. 

There are lots of quirky little cafes and shops down the side streets, and at night families fill the square and musicians play local music in the tavernas. It’s a refreshing contrast to the touristy resorts.


Alykes beach.

If sunset cocktails and beach bars are your thing then you’ll love the chilled vibe at Alykes. Located up in the north of the island, this was one of my surprise favourite places. It would be my pick if you wanted to stay somewhere right by the beach.

The sand here is ridiculously fine and pale, almost like ash. It’s wider than some of the other resort beaches and doesn’t get as busy, perhaps because Alykes is quite far north and out of the way.

The water is crystal clear and shallow. You can hire paddleboards on calm days. 

So far so good. So what are the downsides?

The Crowds

Crowds on Navagio beach.

Zakynthos has an international airport, a big package tour operator presence, and is popular with Italians who come over on the ferry. It attracts around 1 million visitors annually.

This is great for easy access, bad news if you want to find a quiet spot to yourself on the beach.

The beaches are generally pretty busy. Compared to neighbouring islands Corfu and Kefalonia it’s harder to find beaches devoid of crowds and sun-loungers. Some of the few remaining wild beaches are closed to the public to protect the turtles.

It’s also worth noting that Navagio Bay gets extremely busy as all the boats arrive at the same kind of time. This is because the cliffs are so steep there are only a few hours when sunlight falls on the beach and gives the sea that dazzling colour.

Tourism vs Conservation

Laganas beach.

Laganas is an 18-30 style cheap party resort and is one of the biggest and busiest resorts on the island. 

Unfortunately it also happens to be located right on a prime turtle nesting beach.

Whilst it does sit within the Marine Park protected area and is subject to regulation, sadly there are plenty of mercenary business practises to be found. There seems to be general reluctance to comply with existing regulation.

As a tourist it’s difficult to tell which boats are unlicensed, which beach bars have sprung up overnight without permission, which restaurants aren’t adhering to proper garbage disposal regulations.

Tourism needn’t be at odds with conservation. Hopefully one day they will go hand in hand. Until then, don’t encourage it by staying in Laganas.  There are plenty of other lovely places on the island (like Alykes and Tsilivi). Inform yourself at the turtle centre. Book eco-friendly tours like those through Nefis Travel.

Read more:

Where to Stay on Zakynthos: Ultimate Beach Resort Guide

7 Day Itinerary for Exploring Zakynthos

10 Best Sandy Beach Resorts in Greece

How to Island-Hop in the Ionians

10 Most Beautiful Beaches in the Ionians

Image credits:

Coastal scenery on Zakynthos with text overlay '7 things I loved about Zakynthos - and 2 that I didn't'.

All images © The Mediterranean Traveller