General Information on Zakynthos
Zakynthos is the southernmost of the Ionian islands and has approximately 41,500 inhabitants and a surface area of 406km². The island is almost triangular in shape, with two green mountainous promontories extending into the sea to form the huge bay of Laganas. Increased precipitation in winter and lots of sunshine during summer are the reasons for Zakynthos’ rich vegetation. The island is very fertile and its agricultural production is important.
Zakynthos is a popular tourist destination because of its untouched natural environment and amazing golden sandy beaches. It is also famous as the reproduction area of the endangered sea turtle Caretta Caretta. Because of this, many beaches on the island have been declared protected areas and have kept their natural beauty, while others have become lively tourist resorts.
History of Zakynthos
Zakynthos has been inhabited since Neolithic Times as archaeological excavations have proven. According to Homer, the first inhabitants of the island were the son of King Dardanos of Troy, called Zakynthos, and his men who arrived there between 1500 and 1600 B.C. In the 5th century during the Persian Wars, Zakynthos remained neutral; still it participated in the Peloponnesian War as it joined the Athenian Alliance. Later, the island became part of the Kingdom of Macedonia and afterwards of the Roman Empire. After some years during which the administration of the island was organized according to Roman laws, Zakynthos gained some autonomy. The inhabitants had the freedom to establish their own laws, and had their own municipality, parliament, legislature, and currency with a local symbol. This era led to great cultural development in Zakynthos at the time.
Constantine the Great, during the Byzantine Times, included Zakynthos in the province of Illyria. During this time, the island suffered from pirates and, later, from the Crusaders. Then, Zakynthos, along with the other Ionian islands, fell under Venetian rule (1084 A.D.) and, from the end of the 12th century until 1357, by the French. In the 15th century, the Ionian islands, unlike the rest of Greece, weren't occupied by the Ottomans and remained under the rule of Venice. With the French Revolution in 1789, the Zakynthians brought the ideals of social equity and justice on the island. In 1798, the Ottoman fleet besieged Zakynthos. Two years later, Turks and Russians signed a treaty which established the first independent Greek State of the Seven Islands. While Zakynthos was the titular capital of the Ionian State –the British fleet had occupied the island in 1809– the rest of Greece was under Ottoman rule. With a base in free Zakynthos, the Philiki Eteria (secret society) promoted the rebellion against the Ottomans.
In 1830, Greece became independent and, on 21 May 1864, the Greek flag was raised on the island. The devastating earthquake in 1953 destroyed most of the monuments on the island.
Towns & Villages in Zakynthos
Zakynthos Town (Zante): the capital and main harbor of Zakynthos is called Zakynthos Town, or Zante. The town had a particular architecture influenced by the Venetians, the French and the English who occupied the island in the past. However, the earthquake of 1953 destroyed most of those elegant buildings. The new town was built on the ruins of the ancient one in an attempt to preserve the traditional architecture. Unfortunately, this promising undertaking didn’t work except for a few areas. Today, the capital has a population of about 10,000 inhabitants and it is very lively and crowded during summer season.
Maherado: The village of Maherado is the second largest village of the island. It is located 10km west of the capital and remains quite traditional as the tourism hasn’t developed here. Its main attraction is the 14th century church of Agia Mavra with its impressive Venetian belfry.
Volimes: The village of Volimes consists of two villages: Ano and Kato Volimes. Together, those villages form a large mountainous village which lies 30km northwest of Zakynthos Town. It is a traditional village still untouched by tourism.
Exo Hora: it is a small mountainous village located 36km from the capital and it is one of the few villages which kept its traditional old houses after the earthquake of 1953.
Kampi: The village is situated high on the western cliffs. The village is nice but it’s full of ugly advertising boards showing the way to cafes and taverns; these offer an amazing sunset view.
Keri: It is a traditional village, located 20km southwest of the capital, and boasts several picturesque old (pre-earthquake) buildings. The central square of the village is really charming and has a magnificent view over the Ionian Sea.
Alykes: The village of Alykes is very compact, just a couple of streets with few tourist shops and plenty of pleasant taverns and bars. The village took its name after the salt pans that surround the village.
Beaches in Zakynthos
Navagio (=Shipwreck): This beach is the most famous of Zakynthos and one of the most famous across Greece. The beach took its name after a ship which illegally transported cigarettes and was washed ashore in 1983. Navagio Beach is situated at the eastern part of the island near the village of Anafotiria. Huge cliffs of white rocks surround the white sand beach creating a unique and enchanting image. The only way for you to reach the beach is to take the taxi-boat from the port of Porto Vromi and you will be there in 30 minutes.
Agios Nikolaos: It is a small bay in the beautiful natural surroundings of the Volimes region. The beach owes its name to the little chapel that stands on the far left end. It is a lovely beach, very popular among younger people, very busy with sea sport facilities and scuba diving courses.
Banana: It is located in the area of Vassilikos and it is very long and sandy, with a corridor of pebbles just in front of the sea. The area around is undeveloped and only few beach bars “disturb” the peace. The beach also has sunbeds and umbrellas.
Laganas: The huge beach of Laganas is the most popular and developed beach of Zakynthos. It is situated on the south coast, 11km from the capital of the island. The village of Laganas has an unbelievably large number of bars. As for the beach, it is sandy and 9km long with shallow waters and it is fully organized. The most important thing, though, is that this beach is one of the main nesting areas of the endangered species of the sea turtle Caretta Caretta. In recent years, this popular resort has been a topic of dispute between conservation lobbies, on one hand, and local authorities and shop owners involved in the lucrative tourist trade, on the other. It is quite controversial that Laganas is both a protected area of the National Marine Park and the biggest tourist resort of the island.
Kalamaki: It is located on the end of the eastern side of the bay of Laganas, 7km south of the capital. It is a small but crowded beach resort with soft sand, shallow waters and impressive rock formations. As Laganas, Kalamaki beach is a nesting area and some parts of the coast are now part of the National Marine Park, providing turtles and wildlife much needed protection, which is sadly missed at nearby Laganas.
Alykes: the area of Alykes is located 18km northwest of the capital of the island. The beach is 3km long with golden sand and attracts many visitors. The waters are shallow at first but deepen suddenly, making it fine for children, and great for surfers who take advantage of the big waves that appear when the wind blows in the right direction.
Alykanas: it is a tourist resort, right next to Alykes. It is less busy than its neighbour with a relaxed atmosphere. Akykanas beach has soft golden sand, crystal clear waters and a small harbor with fishing boats.
Porto Zoro: it is a lovely beach situated 17km from the capital of Zakynthos. The beach is sandy with clear waters and rock formations of great beauty. As it has recently been “discovered”, the beach tends to be very crowded.
Gerakas: is one of Zakynthos’ finest beaches. The long sandy beach has turquoise waters and an untouched natural beauty, as it is a major turtle breeding ground. The beach is off limits from dusk till dawn.
Porto Vromi: the bay is very small with a small harbour and a narrow strip of white pebbles. The place is very picturesque and it is worth spending a bit of time here.
Top Things to Do in Zakynthos
1. The Venetian Fortress of Zakynthos: The Venetian Fortress is situated on an evergreen hill at the district of Bohali. The fortress was built on the site where documents pinpoint the wall of the ancient acropolis. The strong earthquakes that have frequently struck the island destroyed the fortifications and they were constantly being rebuilt. An important program of conservation and reparation of the walls and the buildings of the fortress was carried out by the English in 1812 while they were in control of the island. In 1970, the Archaeological Service undertook the consolidation of those sections of the walls and gates of the fortress which were in danger of collapsing. Excavations, which started in 1984 and are still underway, revealed many churches, dating between the 11th to the 18th centuries, as well as a sophisticated system for gathering rainwater. Most of the finds in the fortress date to the Byzantine period, up to the time of the English occupation.
2. Caves: The northern coast of Zakynthos is full with caves and water-eroded cliffs. The most spectacular of all is the Kianoun Cave which bathes in a light of shimmering blue best viewed in the early morning. However, the most well-known and visited caves of the island are the Blue Caves, which are situated at Aspros Vrahos of Krimnos, on the Skinari cape, in the northernmost part of the island, 35km away from the capital. The Blue Caves can be visited by boat from the nearby port of Agios Nikolaos.
3. Stofadia islands: The two small deserted islands of Stofadia lie 22 nautical miles south of the island of Zakynthos. On the largest of them, an impressive monastery was founded in the 13th century under the auspices of Irene, daughter of the Byzantine Emperor, Theodoros A’ Laskaris. The island can be reached by boat from the town port.
4. Limnionas & Navagio Beach: These two beaches are definitely worth a visit, as they are both quite unique. Limnionas is reachable from the village Agios Leon. It is a small bay which has a rough U-shape with plenty of nooks, crannies and small caves. There is no sand at all, but you can sit on the flat rocks around the sea. Navagio Beach is situated near the village of Anafotiria. The beach has white sand, huge vertical cliffs around it and in the middle there is a shipwreck that the sea washed out many years ago.
5. Museums: The Byzantine museum is located in the capital and houses an impressive collection of ecclesiastical items, which were found in churches after the earthquake. Also located in the capital, the Museum of Solomos is dedicated to Dionysios Solomos (1798-1857), who was born in Zakynthos and is regarded as the father of modern Greek poetry. The museum houses memorabilia associated with his life. The Ventzagio Folk Museum is located in the Pigadakia village, 2km away from the village of Alykes. The museum is a reconstruction of a traditional house: a dining room, a kitchen and a bedroom decorated with traditional furniture and everyday utensils.
How to Reach Zakynthos
Air: Zakynthos is connected to Athens on a regular flight schedule all year round.
Bus: Several buses daily connect Zakynthos Town to Patra (3 ½ hours) and Athens (7 hours). There are also weekly services to Thessaloniki. Ticket prices include the ferry fare between Zakynthos and Kyllini in the Peloponnese.
Ferry: There are many ferries during summer, operating daily from Zakynthos Town to Kyllini in the Peloponnese (1 ½ hours).
Getting Around in Zakynthos
To/From the Airport: there is no shuttle bus service between Zakynthos Town and the airport.
Bus: Frequent buses go from Zakynthos Town’s bus station in Filita, to Alykes, Tsilivi, Argasi and Laganas. Bus services to other villages and beaches are scarce. The current schedule is at the bus station.
Weather in Zakynthos
The weather in Zakynthos is a typical Mediterranean climate consisting of hot, sunny summers and mild, rainy winters. During summer, rainy days are very rare, but in winters, rainfall is quite high as is the level of humidity.
Top 10 Destinations in Zakynthos
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Map of Zakynthos