The idyllic Ionian island of Zante encompasses a breathtaking terrain of startlingly sheer cliffs and beaches flecked with golden grains of sand. So it’s not surprising that Zante has such a store of natural riches for sightseeing.
When aiming to explore the attractions of the island, you should start at its coast. It’s here you’ll find stunningly beautiful sights such as the Navagio Beach, also known as Smuggler’s Cove. One of the most photographed spots in all of Greece and only accessible by boat, this cove of powdery sand is surrounded on all sides by immense white rock faces topped with evergreen pines. But beyond its beauty, the beach is the site of a shipwreck named MV Panagiotis with an interesting story to tell. It is believed to have been a smuggler’s ship that was chased by the Greek Navy, running aground on the shore back in 1980. It has remained on the beach ever since, its rusting orange metal hinting at its dramatic history.
Venture onwards to the northernmost point of Zante and you’ll uncover yet more impressive feats of nature at Cape Skinari. Wandering close to the island’s edge upon silvery grey stone, you’ll see an endless azure horizon, where a 19th century lighthouse and a rustic cobbled windmill peer over the sea. It’s also around this stretch of coastline that you’ll witness the astounding Blue Caves. Best seen by boat, you can actually sail right through the stone arches of the caves, including the biggest, Kianoun Cave. Up close, you’ll see strands of sunlight glimmering on the radiant blue waters under the caves.
Amazingly, Zante’s manmade attractions are just as enchanting as its natural wonders. This is especially the case at the churches you’ll see dotted all over the island. For example, the whitewashed 15th century Byzantine Monastery of Skopiotissas sits amongst the weathered ruins of the ancient Artemis Temple, while the crumbled ruins of the old churches in Gaitani carry all the atmosphere of a deep spiritual history. However, perhaps the grandest religious building is Zante Town’s St. Dionysius Church. With an elegant white bell tower lit up beautifully at night, the church’s interior is just as stunning, adorned with gilded columns, chandeliers and artistic engravings.
If your interest in the history of the island is ignited by these impressive churches, you’ll be fascinated with the Byzantine Museum of Zakynthos. Its stark, open rooms create a strong focus on the elaborate wood carvings and paintings dating from the 12th to the 15th centuries. You’ll even have the chance to see intensely detailed crosses and statues, and post-Byzantine artworks from the 17th and 18th centuries.
While you’re in the capital of Zante (aptly named Zante Town), as well as admiring the Byzantine Museum you should check out the Solomos Museum. Zante is famed as the birthplace of Greece’s much-loved poet Dionysius Solomos, who was the writer of the Greek national anthem. As well as exhibits and artefacts about his life, his understated white stone tomb is also in the museum, being transferred here from Corfu after he died in 1857.
Fun Seekers in Zante
As in island that’s been welcoming British tourists to its shores for many years, Zante has an abundance of activities and ways to have fun! There’s definitely a focus on high-octane enjoyment at the F1 Go Kart in the lively resort of Laganas. This large, winding track is 610m long, taking in super speedy straights and breathtaking hairpins along the way! You’ll also have a great time here if you’re a group, as the go-karting centre can arrange parties and special tournaments too. The karts range from children’s 120cc engines to 300cc vehicles for the pros, so everyone of all ages can get involved.
Spend some more time in Laganas and you’ll really love it when the sun comes down! That’s because this party hotspot has over 100 bars and clubs all packed into a neon-soaked strip. Throughout summer the nights buzz with activity and the bass-heavy sound of dance beats, while cheap drinks deals and free club entries ensure you won’t blow your budget!
During the day, there’s every opportunity to dive into the enticing sapphire waters surrounding Zante. The crystal clarity of the sea creates the perfect viewing conditions for scuba diving, where you’ll have the chance of seeing barracudas, eels, tuna and even the island’s indigenous endangered loggerhead turtles. One of the best diving sites is considered to be at the Keri Caves, where the cavernous rocks uncover vibrant sea life of every colour imaginable. In fact, the unique sea creatures in Zante’s waters have led to it having a protected National Marine Park. Back on dry land, one of the best ways to explore Zante’s lush green forestlands is by horseback. You have several options from where to start your journey here with stables based at the Horse-Riding Centre in both Argassi and Laganas. You’ll truly discover the island’s amazingly varied terrain, as you ride over golden sand dunes and grassy fields.
But fun isn’t only found in the natural scenes of Zante. Head to peaceful Kalamaki or the capital Zante Town and you’ll get a well-deserved dose of retail therapy. The shops in Zante Town are particularly exciting, as the main shopping area named Alexander Roma Street has a selection of branded shops and local handicrafts, while its side streets lead you to designer boutiques and glittering jewellers.
Despite being a fairly small island, Zante has a fabulous range of festivals. One of the most famed is the Zante Jazz Festival, which takes place every July in Zante Town. Pop along and you’ll enjoy toe-tapping jazz sure to be accompanied with the soothing sounds of the saxophone!
Many of Zante’s other major festivals follow a deeply religious theme, but they’re often open for tourists and locals alike to enjoy. The Feast of the Virgin Mary is a popular celebration across not just Zante but all of Greece. Every year on the 15th of August there’s mass dancing, drinking and eating until the early hours.
One event that is unique to the island is the Feast of Agios Dionysius. As the patron saint of Zante, Greek people from the island and beyond come to celebrate his life. From around the end of the August, the event rolls on for three days!
Zante Town is a popular place at the end of August, as it’s also the site of the annual Wine Festival. Zante has a fantastic reputation for the quality of its local wines, and here you’ll get to sample many of its regional varieties.
Rather unusually, Zante hosts a Backgammon & Poker Festival every June. It sees backgammon and poker enthusiasts coming from all over the world, but all abilities are welcome.
Family Fun in Zante
With calm, shallow waters and warm, friendly restaurants, Zante is a very welcoming place for families. Plus, there are plenty of activities that sure to keep the kids happy.
One great example of Zante’s family-friendly approach is the sheer number of water parks and mini-golf courses on a surprisingly small island. For splashing great fun, the Water Village is a great choice. The water park features a great selection of colourful slides, including spiral chutes, tandem slides and a sheer drop kamikaze! It’s ideal for helping the whole family cool off during Zante’s warm summer days. The clean and modern Splash Fun Water Park in Tsilivi is also very highly rated, and has an even bigger choice of attractions, such as a lazy river, waterfalls and a jungle-themed water playground.
When it comes to mini-golf, you’re certainly spoilt for choice in Zante! Kids and adults alike will love the Fantasy Mini Golf, also based in Tsilivi. Spread across an impressive 4 acres, there are actually three courses to choose from according to difficulty, with each having original features like cascading fountains and a huge volcano! You can even stop off for a drink in the Irish pub after your game too!
The golfing fun continues at World Tour Mini Golf in Argassi. This 18-hole course has the ingenious idea of taking you on a whistle-stop tour around the world during your game of golf. While you play, you’ll see miniaturised versions of iconic landmarks such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Empire State Building.
There are also great opportunities for families to enjoy learning about nature in Zante. For example, the Helmis Natural History Museum lies in the heart of the island in a quaint village named Agia Marina. Here you’ll find out all about the unique landscape of Zante, and how it is the ideal habitat for rare turtles, fish and birds. You’ll see still life scenes of animals, plants and flowers up close, while there are even ancient rocks and fossils on show.
However, if you’d prefer to see an even bigger range of live animals wandering open enclosures, you should visit the Askos Stone Park in the mountainous north of the island. Spread across 124 acres of parkland, you’ll see free-roaming sheep, ponies, rabbits, turtles, cows, pigs, goats and chinchillas! As well as watching animals enjoy a thoroughly natural environment, the Park is lined with cypress, fir and olive trees and old stone walls and structures that date back as far as 600 years.
With heart-warming sights both inland and by the coast, romantic scenes are never far away from you in Zante. During the day, couples will love heading to the island’s dreamy beaches. Zante has more than seventy miles of sandy coastline, so you’ll certainly be spoilt for choice. One such peaceful stretch is Kalamaki Beach, where its thin strip of dusky golden sand leads to pine-fringed cliffs. A favoured nesting ground for loggerhead turtles, it’s a beautiful place to relax with your partner. You’ll also adore the golden arc of fine sand at Tsilivi Beach, where a crumbling old Venetian watchtower (known as a vardiola) adds a pretty, historic backdrop. Alternatively, choose to nestle down at Argassi Beach and you’ll enjoy the elegant ruins of a 19th century cobbled stone bridge, arching out from the crystalline water.
But for an entirely original experience, you should head to Xigia Beach. Rivalling the Smuggler’s Cove for its beauty, huge rock faces encircle you an all sides for an idyllic sense of isolation. Relax on its white-gold sands, or bathe in its warming sulphurous waters, said to be extremely soothing for your skin.
Beyond its beaches, Zante offers an intensely romantic atmosphere at its charming inland villages. Lithakia is one of the oldest on the island, composed or narrow streets, canary yellow townhouses and old churches, built will all the charm you’d expect of a place once preferred by the Venetians when they occupied the island. Keri Village is also a settlement of great beauty, where vines and roses curl around cobbled walls. The Venetian influence continues in Zante Town, as its central harbour and piazza have an uncanny resemblance to inviting open space of Venice’s St. Mark’s Square, and indeed it even shares the same name! It’s also a captivating capital for enjoying the rich, fresh flavours of the local Greek cuisine. Enjoy candlelit dinners by the marina, sampling creamy feta cheese, juicy herb-infused souvlaki (kebabs) and slow-cooked stifado (a thick meat stew).
And if your delicious dining options leave you with a thirst for fine wine, you’ll find the Callinico Winery serves you well. A tour of this lush vineyard takes in the old wooden machinery once used to create wine, as well as the chance to taste a selection of the wines, which have a crisp fruity character and evocative floral notes.
Top Tips for Zante
For the best views of Zante’s most photographed landmark, Smuggler’s Cove (or Navagio Beach), you should look out for the signposts to the Agios Gergio Kremnao Monastery. Make your way to the top of this road and you’ll reach a viewing platform more than 600ft above the beach. You’ll then be able to take some picture perfect snaps of its steep chalky cliffs surrounding the turquoise-toned water.
To pick up some truly authentic souvenirs, head to the remote village of Volimes. Its market features traditionally made handicrafts like rugs, ornaments and ceramics. After your visit, you could then carry on to the Askos Stone Park animal enclosure, which is in the same area.
While you’re in Zante, you’re also surprisingly close to one of the major historical sites of mainland Greece. Olympia is just a short ferry ride away from Zante and, as the place of the original Olympic Games, it has a huge number of ancient monuments and temples dating back to 600BC.