This Underrated Greek Island Has an Adorable Town, Incredible Food, and a Famous Shipwreck Beach — How to Visit

Here’s the ultimate guide to Zakynthos, the Ionian wonder famed for its picture-perfect Shipwreck Beach.

Zakynthos, Greece. Traditional greek windmill on Zakynthos island.

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Instantly recognizable by its astounding luminous turquoise seas enclosed within soaring craggy bluffs, Greece’s Insta-famous Shipwreck Beach is Zakynthos’ claim to global fame. An unwavering favorite among Travel + Leisure readers, the beach, known in Greece as Navagio, frequently tops best beach lists

Situated off the Mediterranean country’s western mainland, Zakynthos is a member of the Ionian island group, a dreamy blend of blues and greens. The seas that wash Zakynthos and its neighbors range in hue from pale aqua to teal, while the landscapes are cloaked in olive trees, numbering an estimated two million, along with pine trees, citrus orchards, and rare flowers like sea daffodils. Bougainvillea and jasmine bring vivid color and aroma to the isle which its former Venetian rulers named Fior di Levante (the flower of the East).

While Zakynthos has long been known, particularly among young British holidaymakers, as a wild party isle, many locals have worked hard over the years to shrug off this reputation. Most bars that give the island this name are limited to the southern beach town of Laganas. So, you may want to avoid this part of the island altogether. 

Most visitors to Zakynthos are drawn to its diverse beaches — some sandy, others lined in fine pebbles or rocky, and caves ideal for snorkeling. The island is unique because it hosts the most important nesting ground for the endangered Mediterranean loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta). In fact, the National Marine Park of Zakynthos was established in 1999 to safeguard this delicate habitat, particularly on beaches in the south, as well as other wildlife, including the Mediterranean monk seal. Rubys Sakis Kandilas, CEO of Explore Zakynthos and a licensed tour guide, told T+L that environmental organization volunteers work diligently to raise awareness among locals and visitors of the need to safeguard turtle nest locations. 

Beyond its natural attractions, Zakynthos is evolving into an enticing culinary destination, according to Sophia Kladis, manager of Windmill Bay Hotel. From traditional family-owned tavernas sourcing organic produce from their own farm to upscale seaside restaurants reinventing recipes with deep-seated Venetian roots, there is plenty to keep foodies curious. 

Rounding out the experience, Zakynthians make for the utmost hosts, going out of their way to ensure you savor every minute on this wondrous isle. 

Longing to lounge on Zakynthos' fine beaches? Here’s how to plan an unforgettable vacation on the island. 

Top 5 Can’t Miss

  • Capture the surreal beauty of Navagio (Shipwreck) Beach — known worldwide as one of the most beautiful in the country.
  • Swim in the Blue Caves and remote coves via a skippered charter or self-drive around the island.
  • Explore Zakynthos town.
  • Take a boat tour to the north or south to spot sea turtles and see coves only accessible via water.
  • Dine at an electricity-free taverna on Dafni Beach, where family-run restaurants serve fresh local food.

Best Hotels and Resorts

Interior details of Lesante Cape

Courtesy of Lesante Cape

Olea All-Suite Hotel

A fluid free-form pool connects the 93 rooms at the minimalist, adult-focused, five-star Olea All-Suite Hotel, ensconced amid silvery olive and carob trees on a hillside in Tsilivi facing the Ionian. Organic materials such as bamboo, rattan, and oak grace the soothing indoor-outdoor living spaces that merge effortlessly. Set aside plenty of time for spa treatments featuring Babor products. 

Lesante Cape

Situated in Akrotiri, this upscale seafront resort echoes classic Zakynthian architecture in the form of stone-built arches framed with white bands and terracotta-tiled rooftops. Suited to families and couples alike, Lesante Cape features 55 rooms and 10 villas dressed in neutral hues, infinity pools, five restaurants sourcing ingredients from an organic garden, a spa, and even a cultural museum showcasing the island’s heritage. 

Domes Aulūs Zante 

This all-inclusive five-star hotel, equally accommodating of families and couples, sits at the edge of a pine forest that opens to a sandy beachfront. Conscious of its location in Kalamaki, at a nesting ground for loggerhead sea turtles, guests of Domes Aulūs Zante are encouraged to contribute to local sustainability initiatives.  

Best Things to Do

Zakynthos is a Greek island in the Ionian Sea.

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See Navagio (Shipwreck) Beach 

You’ll never forget the first time you saw Shipwreck Beach, known as Navagio in Greek. A rusty shipwreck, now split in half, lies half-submerged in bright white sand surrounded by vertical cliffs and washed by luminous cyan seas. The views are equally awe-inspiring, whether you peer down from the top, stay within the confines of a safety platform, or take in the views from the sea. While landslides in recent years have closed off the beach to visitors, you can reach the bay by boat and swim offshore at a safe distance. 

Reach Secret Beaches by Boat

Boat tours ply the northern and southern coasts and offer the opportunity to swim and snorkel in translucent waters. Those headed north pause at Shipwreck Beach and the Blue Caves and stop at secluded coves accessible only by sea. Those heading south visit Marathonisi (Turtle Island) in Laganas Bay, picturesque Cameo Island, and the Keri Caves. Those lucky enough may catch a glimpse of a sea turtle. Kladis recommends choosing one itinerary or spreading it over two days rather than a full-day island circumnavigation, which can be tiring. Alternatively, rent a self-drive boat or hire a skippered motorboat.

Visit the Turtle Rescue Center 

At Zakynthos’ southeastern tip, you’ll find Gerakas Beach, one of the island’s most important nesting sites for loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta). There, you can visit the Zante Sea Turtle Rescue & Information Center, open May to October free of charge, and learn more about the endangered mammal and how to reduce your impact on their life cycle and habitat. Most importantly, you’ll find out what you should do if you see a turtle in the sea or hatchlings leaving their nest. 

Best Restaurants

Tables by the sea at Nobelos

Courtesy of Nobelos


In Agios Nikolaos, on the northeast coast, yachties drop anchor at family-owned Nobelos, at the edge of a pine forest. Spend a day lounging on sunbeds on a petite, sandy beach, then relish stellar sea-to-fork fish, seafood, and firmly traditional Greek fare in stylish yet welcoming surroundings. Produce is sourced from the owners’ organic farm, and fish are transported via wooden caique. Bookings are recommended.


Located beside Solomos Square in Zakynthos Town, Prosilio is the island’s definitive fine dining destination. Talented young chef Kristy Karageorgou crafts whimsical dishes with distinctive Zakynthian ingredients that look almost too good to eat. Try the cuttlefish ravioli stuffed with sauteed greens (tsigareli), langoustine, and kourkoutzelia, an edible violet wildflower, or the signature pork ragu with local tavla cheese foam.


In the south, head inland to Ampelostrates in Kiliomenos village for wholesome Zakynthian dishes in an atmospheric stone-built farmhouse-turned-mezedopolio amid grape vines, lemon trees, and wandering chickens. “It’s traditional but quirky. The type of place where the owner will serve a wine they produced this year,” said Kladis. “They make pies with wild greens and kouneli ladorigano (rabbit with olive oil and oregano), one of their special dishes.”

Porto Mela

On Dafni Beach, which falls within marine park boundaries, family-run old-school tavernas like Porto Mela are run on generators as electricity isn’t permitted. Kandilas recommends the in-house bread baked in a wood-fired oven and served with olive oil from the owner’s grove, tomato, and garlic. Stifado, a hearty rabbit stew made with onions, and ladotiri, a slightly spicy native cheese made with sheep and goat milk and matured in local olive oil, is a must-try, he added.


Right on the port in Zakynthos Town, Varkarola is not simply a taverna beloved of locals and visitors alike but “one of the last remaining families keeping Zakynthos’ Venetian kantada (serenade) tradition alive,” Kandilas said. Immerse yourself in the heartfelt song, accompanied by mandolin and acoustic guitar, as you dine on house specials, veal sofrito, and slow-roasted beer-marinated pork shank. 

Best Time to Visit

 Creative Images Images Creative Editorial Video Creative Editorial Search by image or video The reef near the Keri's Lighthouse

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Zakynthos’ warm-weather season runs from April to October, with July and August proving the busiest and hottest months of the year. In August, boat trips, restaurants, and even sun loungers on the beach need to be booked ahead, Kladis said. Toward the end of the month, a feast day celebrating the island’s patron saint can cause traffic jams on the roads leading into Zakynthos Town. Kladis recommended visiting in early June or in September. “It’s not over-crowded, it’s still warm, and there are just enough people to bring the island to life,” said Kladis. “You can see and experience everything you’d like to without having to book a week in advance.” 

How to Get There

The quickest way to reach Zakynthos is by plane. Flights from Athens International Airport (Eleftherios Venizelos) to the island take about 60 minutes and operate daily. From the mainland, ferries depart from Kyllini port in the northwestern Peloponnese four times a day in summer and take one hour and 15 minutes. Zakynthos features on cruise line itineraries, including those of Atlas Ocean Voyages, Norwegian, and Azamara. 

Areas to Visit

 Creative Images Images Creative Editorial Video Creative Editorial Search by image or video Old streets Zakynthos (Zante) town

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Zakynthos Town

Spend a day in the capital, Zakynthos Town. “Start at Zakynthos port, where you can see yachts in the harbor,” Kandilas said. Marvel at the grandeur of Agios Dionysios Church and its bell tower. Dedicated to the island’s patron saint, its Catholic architectural style contrasts with the Orthodox domed style. “Then head to Solomos Square to view the statue of poet Dionysios Solomos, who composed Greece’s national anthem. On Agios Markos Square, visit the museum dedicated to him and other eminent Zakynthians,” Kandilas said. Pore over portraits, photographs, and period furniture. Also, head to the Venetian castle ruins atop Bohali Hill for panoramic sea views.

Northern Zakynthos

Kladis recommended venturing to the island’s north by car or boat. “There are some villas and houses and a few traditional preserved buildings, but, mostly, it’s very natural,” she said. “The beaches are rockier than in the south, and the waters are deep and blue. It’s just so calming and picturesque.”

Southern Zakynthos

Heading south, you’ll encounter warmer seas and sandy beaches that shelve gradually, making them more kid-friendly. Vassilikos is home to some of the island’s best beaches, according to Kandilas. Sweeping Laganas Bay, a popular swim spot, forms part of the strictly-regulated National Marine Park of Zakynthos. This protected area is home to over 300 fauna species, including loggerhead sea turtles and Mediterranean monk seals, and more than 170 types of marine flora.


Heading inland from the southeastern seaside resort of Argassi, an essential lookout during Venetian rule, you’ll find one of Zakynthos’ two domed churches. Stroll around the ruins of the 15th-century stone-built Panagia Skopiotissa Monastery built on an ancient temple dedicated to goddess Artemis and take in Ionian views from atop Skopos mountain. Closer to the town is the 16th-century Domeneghini Tower, which is closely associated with Greece’s 1821 War of Independence. 

How to Get Around

Cameo island, Zakinthos, on horizon Turtle island in Mediterranee

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By Rental Car: Book a rental car in advance, particularly if visiting during summer. “It’s safest to travel by car. In summer, it’s hot, and distances are long, so you want to be comfortable,” said Kandilas.

By Taxi: Between May and October, silver taxis operate 24 hours a day on the island. Cab ranks operate at the airport, Zakynthos Town, and the port and in popular resort areas on the eastern and southern coasts. They may cost more if booked in advance or via a hotel. There are fixed fares for numerous routes. It costs around 15 euros to reach Zakynthos Town from the airport.

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