Heading to the Greek island of Zakynthos (also known as Zante) this year? Here’s a complete rundown on where to stay on Zakynthos – to help you choose which part of the island to stay in, which town, resort or beach is for you, and the best beach hotels, whether you’re booking DIY accommodation or looking for a package vacation.
This resort guide will cover:
- BEST LUXURY HOTELS: Olea All Suite Hotel
- BEST HOTELS ON THE BEACH: Zante Maris Hotel & Spa, The Bay Hotel & Suites
- BEST LUXURY VILLAS: Porto Sante Villas & Spa, Zante Maris Suites, Emerald Villas
- BEST FOR FAMILIES: Periyali Creche and Children’s Club
- BEST FOR COUPLES: Lesante Blu Exclusive Beach Resort (adults-only), Avalon Hotel (adults-only)
- BEST BOUTIQUE HOTELS: Nobelos Seaside Lodge
- BEST PLACE FOR NIGHTLIFE: Laganas, Tsilivi, Zakynthos Town
- BEST QUIET VILLAGE: Limni Keri, Vassilikos Peninsula
- WHERE TO STAY NEAR THE AIRPORT: Kalamaki
Thanks to its perfect powder-soft sandy beaches, Zakynthos is one of the most popular summer holidays destinations in the Mediterranean (especially for Brits and Italians).
It’s home to some of the best beaches in Greece, coupled with incredibly blue waters and some spectacularly rugged scenery that delights visitors. And most famous of all is the iconic Shipwreck Beach, featured on postcards (and Instagram accounts) around the country.
In the decades after 70% of the island’s original buildings were damaged in the great earthquake of 1953, Zakynthos followed Corfu’s lead in embracing this model of mass-market tourism.
Unfortunately, the development that followed went unchecked and some areas – Laganas in particular – are grim and commercial, with bad ecological practices and little to recommend them except their beach (and cheap prices if that’s what you’re looking for).
On the flip side, Zakynthos is also home to some of the swankiest villas in the Ionian islands – perched on mountainsides for incredible views. And the north of the island is wild and undiscovered.
The main excursions are:
- boat trips to Shipwreck Bay
- boat trip to the Blue Caves
- island bus tour
- trip to Kefalonia or Ithaca
The public bus service (KTEL) is scant and difficult to use for touring the island but it’s possible to get between the main resorts and beaches.
Check the KTEL Zakynthos website for bus routes and timetables.
The main ferry connection is Zakynthos Town – Kyllini on the mainland. From here you can connect to Kefalonia. In high season there is also a ferry from Agios Nikolaos (north) to Kefalonia-Pessada, however, there is no public transport to Ag. Nikolaos.
WHICH PART OF ZAKYNTHOS TO STAY IN?
- NORTH – empty and mountainous, with a cluster of luxury villas around the northern cape
- SOUTH – busy and developed with Laganas and turtle beaches in the gulf between two scenic peninsulas
- EAST – developed sprawl on either side of Zakynthos Town, rugged and quiet at either end
- WEST – empty and mountainous, awesome Cliffs of Keri are a top sunset spot
Of all the capital towns in the Ionian islands, Zakynthos Town was one of the hardest hit by the earthquake, compounded by fires which raged on for days. Previously, it had been known as the Venice of the South for its elegant architecture.
Unfortunately, almost nothing remains of the old Venetian architecture (only 3 buildings), although the rebuilding in the waterfront area is pleasant and retains some of its Italian heritage. The pillars of Ionian architecture are present, with smart belltowers, shady squares and pale yellow colours, converging around the main squares of Platia Solomos and Platia Agio Markou.
Overall it has the feeling of a pleasant working port town, with the two squares and the harbourfront as its focal point. Just be aware of the traffic noise if you choose a harbourfront hotel though, as that road gets busy.
The rest of town is your typical modern Greek concrete sprawl, particularly along the coast where it merges into beach resorts.
Boat trip boats leave from the harbourfront in the morning. Behind the harbour lies the main commercial streets of Zakynthos Town.
The main attractions in Zakynthos Town are:
- Kastro/Daphni Castle – ruins of the Venetian castle that destroyed in 1480 and restored in 1515, climb up Bohali Hill (about 1 hr from town) – worth it for the views
- Museum of Zakynthos – focus on the Byzantine period but also has a model of the town before the earthquake and some artworks from the Ionian School of Painting
- Solomos Museum – dedicated to famous Zakynthians (and writer Dionysios Solomos in particular)
- Christos Negos Open Air Cinema
The KTEL bus station is at the back of town. If you plan on exploring the island by bus then Zakynthos Town is the best place to stay as most routes run out of town in a hub and spoke system.
Most of the bars are concentrated around the squares, but clubs are out on the main road out to Argassi.
TSILIVI AND PLANOS
Keep moving north from Zakynthos Town and it merges into the first proper resort town along the coast, Tsilivi. This is package tourism central and Tsilivi is one of the quickest growing resorts on the island.
The land here is flat coastal plain, with plenty of room for family entertainment such as a waterpark and crazy golf – the foliage concealing a sprawling resort that extends back for several blocks where it blends into the village Planos.
The 2km Blue Flag beach is sandy and organised, with shallow seas popular with families. Watersports are available, and almost every kind of amenity you can think of. Restaurants are a mix of Greek and international, with plenty of lively bars for the evening. And there’s a wide range of accommodation, from basic to luxury. It’s a good option for those with older kids as there’s plenty to do.
The small village of Akrotiri is inland and uphill from Tsilivi, Zakynthos Town is a 20-minute drive, and the bus services here are frequent.
AMMOUDI AND PSAROU
Psarou and Ammoudia are two quieter beaches wedged between the bigger resorts of Tsilivi and Alykes. The sand here is a fine medium gold with a few pebbles. There are a few sunbeds but it doesn’t get too busy, making it a useful escape from the nearby resorts, however, there are a few places to stay overnight.
It’s walking distances to Alykanas for a wider selection of tavernas.
ALYKES / ALYKANAS
The main resort on the northeast is the twin villages of Alykes and Alykanas.
It’s a worthwhile alternative to Laganas for those looking for package holidays with all of the amenities without the spring break atmosphere. The 3km beach is Blue Flag rated and one of the best sandy beaches on Zakynthos. It’s also one of the cheapest places to stay.
A river channel divides the beach between Alykes and Alykanas. Of the two, the latter is windier and more low-key. Alykes has some smart beach bars with a laid-back family-friendly vibe.
Alykes is lively in the evening with a wide mix of international restaurants and bars, and watersports are available on the beach.
It’s a 25-minute drive to Zakynthos Town.
AGIOS NIKOLAOS (SKINARI)
There’s not much development past Alykes, as the terrain becomes increasingly mountainous.
The main village in the north is the small port of Agios Nikolaos (not to be confused with the beach of the same name in the south). To add to the confusion, it also goes by Skinari – which is the name of the cape. During the summer, ferries leave from this port to the neighbouring island of Kefalonia. Public transport doesn’t run this far though so it will only be of use to you if you’re popping over in your car (note that most rentals don’t offer dropoffs on other islands).
It’s also worth noting that it’s not the last place where you can pick up a boat to the nearby Blue Caves, despite what anyone tells you.
Agios Nikolaos is a slightly scruffy fishing village that is in the process of being gentrified into a rather nice little resort village. It’s tiny but with an increasing number of places to stay – particularly up in the hills towards Korithies, with private villages and suites making the most of the epic sea views.
It has a small beach of white pebbles and electric blue water and is not far from the picturesque Makris Gialos And Xigia beaches.
In the other direction, the road south of Zakynthos Town brings you to the popular resort of Argassi.
Set in the foothills of Mt Skopos, Argassi is that curious thing – a beach resort that doesn’t have a beach. The seafront is mostly rocky and lined beachfront bars and tavernas. That said, there are a few small stretches of dark sand that might charitably be called a beach.
Argassi’s main attraction is its central location between Zakynthos Town and the Vassilikos Peninsula – where there are some excellent beaches – and its cheap prices. If you’re happy to explore by car (or stay by the pool) and favour international cuisine and evening entertainment then it’s a good bet.
Zakynthos Town is walkable along the main road for those with no mobility issues (4km), or you can hop on the bus or tourist train. Car/scooter rental is also available.
The name ‘Vassilikos’ refers to the whole southeastern peninsula that juts out south of Argassi. The area is home to some of the most beautiful beaches on Zakynthos, as well as scenic views and vast olive groves.
Many luxury resorts are located in this peninsula, but there are also pockets with a more traditional agricultural feel and lovely walks – ideal for slow travel. There are a few beach bars and tavernas but mostly it’s a quiet area.
West-facing Gerekas is a big undeveloped sandy beach and turtle nesting zone. It’s popular with day visitors and here you’ll find the volunteer-run Sea Turtle Rescue & Information Centre.
The other popular beaches in the area are Porto Zorro (picturesque and loved by Italians), Banana Beach (huge and sandy), and Agios Nikolaos (popular for watersports). There are plenty of smaller beaches to discover too, Ionio, Dafni, Kaminia, and Porto Roma to name just a few.
It’s ideal for those who are happy to rent wheels and want a choice of beaches on their doorstep.
Kalamaki has a 5km beach of vibrant gold sand and a chilled out vibe. The western end of the beach eventually becomes Laganas.
It’s popular with young families (thanks to the shallow waters) and those looking to stay somewhere quieter than Laganas but with easy access for nights out.
The beach (as with Laganas) is a nesting ground for Caretta Caretta turtles during the summer, which means that the beach is closed in the evening and powerboats are banned. So there are no watersports, beachfront bars or tavernas here.
The upside is that the beach feels undeveloped compared to other resorts. Development is concentrated along the main road set back from the beach, where you’ll find all the usual suspects – sports bars, karaoke, souvenir shops, mini markets.
It’s also very close to the airport – just 10 minutes in the car – so perfect if you’re looking for a quick transfer, but be aware of the aircraft noise on the western side.
By far the biggest (and noisiest) beach resort on Zakynthos, and the best place to be for nightlife, is the town of Laganas.
It’s situated in the middle of the south coast on a broad sandy beach (which is 9km long), with the liveliest parts of the strip a few blocks back on Main Street.
Laganas is cheap package deal central, attracting the Club 18-30 crowd.
On the western side of Laganas is the smaller quiet resort of Agios Sostis.
It’s 2km from Laganas so a walkable distance for some, but its proximity to two of the areas main attractions – Cameo Island and Turtle Island – mean it gets busy with daytrippers.
Cameo Island is a picturesque islet connected by a wooden bridge to the mainland – it looks like something straight out of Mamma Mia!
In the distance is another island, Marathonisi (Turtle Island).
Again, I recommend a kayak trip if possible so as to disturb the turtles as little as possible.
If you’re looking for a small and quiet beach resort on Zakynthos, away from the crowds and with just a handful of tavernas and lovely views, then Keri fits the bill.
Located to the west of Laganas, near the beautiful cliffs of Keri, this is a small developed village with a narrow beach of small pebbles.
There’s a small harbour and you can rent boats to visit the caves and rock formations in the area.
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Shipwreck Beach: © GKor / Adobe Stock
Zakynthos Town: © Feel good studio / Adobe Stock
Porto Zorro: © Samuel B. / Adobe Stock
Laganas: © milda79 / Adobe Stock
Cliffs and boat: © samott / Adobe Stock
All other images © The Mediterranean Traveller