Zakynthos island is the beautiful green gem of the Ionian sea in western Greece. But there is more to Zakynthos than its amazing beaches.
Crystal clear waters, breathtaking cliff beaches, verdant mountains and delicious food make the perfect recipe for a fantastic vacation. The island can be an excellent destination for all travellers, either single, couples or families. Here are the best things to see and do in beautiful Zakynthos!
Cruise the famous Blue Caves
The waters around Zakynthos could arguably be called the most beautiful in the world. I was awestruck by their beauty, colour and clarity. The Blue Caves are the best place to see these great waters. The only way to go to the Blue Caves is by boat. Many companies offer full or half-day cruises around the caves. It is possible to swim in most of them. The water is so crystal clear at places that it is possible to see the grains of sand at the bottom, in a depth of several meters from the surface, like a natural swimming pool.
This probably doesn’t need much introduction. It is famous the world over. Often called the “Smugglers’ Cove”, it is the site of an actual shipwreck in the 1970s. The only access to this beach is by boat. Over the years, the sand has built up around the shipwreck and has transformed the cove into a unique, clean beach. Better take a hat and sunscreen with you because the cliffs don’t offer much shade.
Nevertheless, the experience of swimming in this secluded cove is unforgettable. The waters, as ever in Zakynthos, crystal clear and calm. Navagio beach might be busy with visitors in the height of summer, but it is worth visiting regardless.
See the wild and rare sea turtles near Laganas
A rare kind of sea turtles, called Caretta caretta, have their home and breeding ground in the waters near Laganas beach. Nowadays, the area is a protected sea park. Therefore, boats have to approach the area with engines turned off, and swimming is forbidden. However, as the turtles have to come up to the surface to breathe, keep your camera ready for the incredible experience of watching these magnificent and rare creatures from up close.
See the mosaics of St Dionysios cathedral
The protector saint of the Zakynthos, St Dionysios (or St Dennis), has a beautiful cathedral dedicated to him in the centre of Zakynthos town. It has beautiful paintings and mosaics inside. Unfortunately, the building was destroyed by the earthquake of 1893 and rebuilt afterwards. The saint is celebrated with festivals and parades twice a year: on August 24 and December 17.
Watch the sunset from Kampi
Kampi is a small mountainous village near the cliffs of Schiza bay. The cliffs offer a spectacular view of the open sea from a height of 300 metres. It is a popular spot to have an afternoon coffee and watch the sun dive into the horizon at sunset.
Enjoy dinner and Kantades singing
One thing that is specific to Zakynthos and sets it apart from other Greek islands is its Italian influence. Zakynthos was occupied by first the Normans and then the Venetians from the 12th till the 18th century. This gave the island a culture that is a mixture of Greek and Italian cultures. For example, traditional folk songs or “kantades” are sung with mandolins and guitars. Their sound is similar to Italian songs and is primarily romantic love songs. In the past, they used to be sung by lovelorn youths under the balcony of their beloved lady. Still, nowadays they are a popular tourist attraction at the harbour’s tavernas.
Visit the museum of Solomos & Kalvos poets
The Museum Solomos and Kalvas contains a mausoleum with Greek national poets Dionysios Solomos and Andreas Kalvos. The former, in particular, was the poet who wrote the words for Greece’s national anthem. In addition, the museum houses the portraits of eminent Zakynthian citizens from the past. It gives fascinating insights into the life in Zakynthos in the time of Venetian occupation. There is also period furniture, folk and historical artifacts and many photos. The museum is located at St. Markus Square.
See the place where the national anthem of Greece was written
At a short drive from the harbour and main town of Zakynthos, about 2km, you’ll find Strani hill. From atop the hill, it is possible to see mainland Greece on a clear day. During the 1821 revolution against the Turkish occupation, the national poet and eminent Zakynthian Dionysios Solomos often came here to rest and write poetry. As it was possible to hear the cannon shots from the siege of the rebel town of Messolonghi in the mainland by the Ottomans (the British poet Lord Byron was among the besieged fighters), Solomos was inspired by the tragedy of the besieged to write a poem that later became Greece’s national anthem. A monument on Strani hill commemorates the event to this day.
Have coffee at Mpohali hill with a view of the harbour
A favourite part of the town for locals and tourists alike, Mpohali hill offers impressive views of Zakynthos town and harbour. Local cafeteria and restaurant owners have taken a bit advantage of this fact, unfortunately. Coffee can be expensive and service slow, but you’d definitely miss out if you didn’t go. The Instagram likes your photos will get will be compensation enough.
Eat lots of rabbit stew, Zakynthos’ most famous dish
I hope you’re not a vegetarian. If so, your life in Zakynthos can be a bit difficult. Of course, there are plenty of vegetarian dishes, but the local specialty by far is rabbit stew. There are rabbit farms on the island nowadays to cater for popular demand for this dish. Vegetarian sensitivities aside, this is a delicious dish indeed. As a matter of fact, the cuisine of Zakynthos as a whole is delicious and rich, with many stews and pasta dishes. As the island is green and fertile, there is an abundance of game, meat and dairy produce.