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Ionian Islands Greece – Island Hopping, Routes, Itineraries & Beaches
Green and lush, home to breathtaking landscapes and facing the Italian and Albanian coasts, the Ionian Islands are a popular vacation destination in Greece for many European residents who choose them for their convenient characteristics.
Most of the Ionian Islands are easy to reach with a direct flight from many European capitals, often saving a trip to Athens and a ferry trip in the Aegean. Besides, most of the islands in this cluster are good family destinations, offer affordable accommodation facilities, great restaurants, and tons of entertainment.
Although island hopping in the Ionian is not as popular as it can be in the Cyclades or the Dodecanese, it is fairly easy to design your own itinerary with a map, a good and trustworthy ferry search engine, and — of course — some of our guides.
There are seven main islands in this western archipelago. There are also many smaller ones you can visit in less than a day. The most important islands in the Greek Ionian are Corfu, Zakynthos, Kefalonia, Lefkada, Ithaka, Meganisi, and Kythira. While the first four are very popular and often overcrowded in summer, the last three are lesser-known, more tranquil, and less visited. The smaller islands in the Ionian are Antipaxos, Syvota, and Antikythira, among others.
Most of these islands have always shared a strong connection with Italy in terms of history and culture, with a remarkable Venetian influence. Many of the old towns in the Ionian Islands, Greece share a striking resemblance to Venice since the Venetian Republic occupied many of them for centuries.
Some of the Ionian Islands host unique beaches, many of them famous worldwide, such as the green Paleokastritsa in Corfu or the imposing Navagio Beach in Zakynthos.
So, without any further ado, let’s first take a general look at the islands in this group, discover their most beautiful beaches, and combine them in interesting island-hopping ideas.
Corfu is the most crucial island in the Ionian and the northernmost spot in the group. It is third after Crete and the Cyclades when it comes to popularity, and it offers an interesting and varied landscape, with impressive beaches, high mounts and hills, beautiful old settlements, and one-of-a-kind gastronomy. It is a hot tourist destination and features hundreds of things to do and discover.
Corfu’s northernmost island has an old town with architectural styles varying from Renaissance, Baroque, Classical buildings, churches, and home towns. In Corfu’s old town, there’s also a magnificent promenade, the Liston, featuring unique cafés and shops, arcades, and a beautiful square. The city also has a fantastic fortress dating back from the fifteenth century, which kept the island safe from foreign and pirate invasions.
Corfu is an island with great archaeological sites and some of the best interactive museums. The beaches are pretty safe, while many protected bays make Corfu a truly kid-friendly destination.
Best Beaches In Corfu
Looking for crystal clear waters, evergreen plants and trees, and seaside tavernas and bars for great food and entertainment? Or maybe in search of a remote pebbled cove with stunning views and a little isolated?
No matter which is your beach style, rest assured that Corfu will be able to offer everything you need and more, including seaside resorts and family hotels, water sports centers, and much more. Down here, you have some of the top beaches you can check in Corfu.
Paleokastritsa: This is a group of amazing coves with stunning seaside caves that can be explored by boat. Most shores are organized and offer water sports such as diving and snorkeling. Paleokastritsa is an essential village in Corfu, not really far from the capital, home to some of the most stunning shores in Greece.
Nissaki Beach is probably the next amazing beach to visit in Corfu after Paleokastritsa; Nissaki is popular for its diving club and its stunning deep blue and green waters. It is a popular and well-organized destination, especially for families.
Agios Gordios Beach: This is another popular resort on the island, loved both by couples and families due to its fantastic soft sand and blue seas. The beach is organized and surrounded by incredible rock formations.
Kavos Beach: This popular resort is in the southern area of the island, a bit less than 50 km from the center of the capital. Here, people can practice water sports or book a sunbed and umbrella to spend the whole day. It is a popular beach among young crowds, where music tends to be loud and partying is common.
Canal d’Amour beach: Located in the western area of Sidari, this beach is in the northern part of the island, about 39 km from the capital. Canal d’Amour is a romantic destination with imposing white cliffs and deep turquoise waters, making it one of the most popular spots on the island for photos.
Ever wondered where in Greece you’d be able to find that impressive Shipwreck Beach with stunning turquoise waters and a backdrop of jaw-dropping white cliffs? Well, Zakynthos is the answer.
But there is more than this worldwide famous beach to the exotic Zakynthos, including spectacular landscapes, many more stunning white-sand beaches, and, believe it or not, some remarkable nightlife that often puts the island among the favorite destinations for families with teens as well as among young adults from all over Europe.
But you will undoubtedly find more. In fact, the island features some of the most beautiful landscapes in the Ionian, with unique hilltop settlements, lonely chapels, historic monasteries, fantastic hiking paths, woods, and more.
The island’s capital, Zakynthos Town, offers unique monuments to visit, interesting museums, and more. Also conquered by the Venetians, the Italians have left an unforgettable mark in the local cuisine and architecture. Big enough to be a destination of its own, Zakynthos can be easily reached from Italy and some of the other Ionian Greek islands.
Best Beaches In Zakynthos
Navagio (Shipwreck) Beach: The most famous beach on the island, and the rest of Greece, this unique white sand shore can only be reached by boat. The imposing landscape is enhanced by the dramatic towering cliffs that embrace the bay, while the old, abandoned shipwreck that gives its name to the beach has become a must stop for pictures when spending your day in the area.
Gerakas Beach: One more remarkable beach on the island, this shore is known for two different reasons; on one side, it has impressive turquoise waters, and on the other, it is one of the most important shelters on the island for the Caretta Caretta turtle.
Banana Beach: Authentically family-friendly, this is a great organized beach, less than 15 km from Zakynthos Town, where it is possible to swim and give water sports a try. The shore is quite long and ample, which provides you with the idea that Banana Beach is never crowded, even during the peak of the summer.
Laganas Beach: No article about Zakynthos can be complete if there is no mention to Laganas. Since Laganas is the busiest beach resort on the island, it is really popular among all kinds of travelers. This beach features a diving club and organized facilities and is suitable for solo travelers, families, and couples alike. It offers the possibility to have an active holiday thanks to the many water sports facilities and rest and relax by the sea.
Charming, popular, and refined, Lefkada has often been described as the Greek Caribbean, and with good reasons. Exotic and unique, home to breathtaking beaches and landscapes, Lefkada features some of the most impressive turquoise shores that you can dream of.
This island is a good place to enjoy a myriad of water sports, including anything from snorkeling to windsurfing, kitesurfing, and scuba diving. Playing beach volley or simply relaxing on the shores are some of the best things you can do in order to spend a relaxing vacation.
Around the island, it is possible to discover dozens of small, heavenly islets, including the well-known Skorpios, among others. Also during a visit, it’s a good idea to visit the different seaside villages, the unique waterfalls of Dimosari, and the fun and entertaining Lefkada Town.
Lefkada Town is the capital of the island, and it’s the place where visitors can taste the super tasteful local dishes in one of the traditional tavernas or admire the museums and the castle facing the sea.
Best Beaches In Lefkada
Porto Katsiki: Arguably the best beach on the island and occupying a remarkable spot among the beaches in Europe, this is the most popular spot in Lefkada and a place that you should not miss. It is about 45 km from the capital of the town.
Egremni Beach: This is another great beach in Lefkada. Egremni is a family-friendly beach with a huge sandy coastline where to find the right spot to relax. Although the beach has some organization, the fact that you need to climb steps both up and down to visit may put off some families, mostly when traveling with toddlers or small kids.
Kathisma Beach: Another partly organized, sandy beach that families prefer when visiting Lefkada, Kathisma is close to the capital (about 16 km) and offers some of the finest sand on the island.
Agios Ioannis Beach: Belonging to the village of Agios Ioannis, this famous beach is just a stone’s throw from the capital of Lefkada; therefore, it is quite popular among visitors. It is a great spot for windsurfing and has excellent organization.
Nidri Beach: Well organized and not so far from Lefkada Town, Nidri Beach is about 17 km from the capital. In the area, there is plenty of accommodation (including hotels, luxury resorts, and convenient studios); besides, the beach features several centers for water sports and some tasty tavernas for a typically Greek lunch or early dinner.
Although not as popular as other islands in this archipelago, Ithaka can be a fantastic island-hopping destination in the Ionian Sea. It is located close to Lefkada and Kefalonia, so putting the three of them together in an island-hopping itinerary can only prove a winning idea.
Ithaka has been long known for being the home of Odysseus, the mythical hero that Homer described in his literary masterpiece. But the island has, even more to offer to its visitors. Like most of its sister islands in the Ionian cluster, Ithaka is green and lush, and it treasures some unique traditions in its extraordinary small settlements. The island also features unique beaches with an exotic yet very charming flair.
Ithaka is a grand island to discover the local culture. Despite being quite a popular summer destination, most of Ithaka is still relatively calm and traditional, with quaint settlements and traditional Medieval villages having managed to prevail against the advance of mass tourism.
On the island, popular activities for families and couples include swimming, hiking, and sightseeing. Let’s take a look at the best beaches you need to discover in Ithaka when you visit.
Best Beaches In Ithaka
Green and attractive, the beaches in Ithaca often showcase fantastic turquoise waters, unique surrounding landscapes, and a calm atmosphere.
It is not hard to find secluded bays and coves on the island and several more popular beaches with organized facilities, including those amenities you need for a good, relaxing holiday, such as hotels, resorts, cafes, bars, and Greek restaurants. Here, we bring you the best beaches that you should not miss in Ithaka.
Agios Ioannis Beach: This fantastic family-friendly shore in Ithaka features golden sand and emerald seas. It is quite family-friendly, and it is about 9 km from the center of Vathy.
Frikes Beach: Home to a harbor receiving boats with tourists intending to explore this shore, Frikes is a popular beach with impressive crystal waters. The small bay is not organized; therefore, packing every essential for a beach day is a must when heading there.
Pisaetos Beach: A name that it’s important to keep in mind if you’re visiting from Kefalonia since the beach hosts a small port receiving boats and visitors coming from this nearby Ionian Island. The beach is less than 10 km from the center of Vathi, and it is quite popular even when the organization is virtually non-existent.
Dexa Beach: This small sandy beach is probably the most convenient beach to visit since it is only 2 km from Vathi. The shore has some organization, but being so close to the capital, you feel that tavernas and cafés are not needed in the area.
Fairly remote and quite off the beaten track, Kythira is a top Greek destination in the Ionian Sea for those looking to get lost entirely, relax, and rest from every day stressing routines.
Kythira is pretty close to the island of Crete and the coast of the Peloponnese. The island has a remarkable collection of Medieval monasteries, castles, churches, incredible secluded beaches, and outstanding natural hikes that you can explore at your own pace.
Among the best things you can discover, a fantastic Venetian castle overlooks the whitewashed main town, Chora. From the castle, you will be able to enjoy panoramic views of the coast of the Peloponnese, as well as the rest of the Aegean: Amazing for sunset!
Getting to Kythira is more accessible from the coast of the Peloponnese. Boats depart from the port of Neapolis and offer daily ferry crossings. A trip from Neapolis to Kythira can last from 1.5 to 2 hours.
For those who need to reach Kythira from Athens, it is a good idea to keep in mind that there are just a couple of ferries reaching Kythira from Piraeus, so the best thing to do would be to do to travel by bus to Neapolis and then board the ferry.
Best Beaches In Kythira
Some remarkable beaches in Kythira should be included in your visit; the following ones are the shores that we personally recommend (and the most beautiful ones, of course!).
Kaladi Beach: One of the best beaches in Kythira and quite popular, the beach has small pebbles and crystal clear turquoise waters. The beach is on the eastern part of the island, and it’s divided into three different parts, one of them being an impressive cave. When visiting with the family, keep in mind that the beach is not organized.
Diakofti Beach: Located in what could be defined as the most exotic area on Kythira, the beach has shallow and turquoise waters and fine white sand. It is found on the northeastern side of the island, and it’s a fabulous spot for young children since it’s calm and shallow. The organization is relatively limited, but there are some local tavernas in the area.
Avlemonas Beach: Ideal for families with children, Avlemonas is the beach of a village with the same name, and it is so safe that most families with small kids come here to teach them to swim. The area is well organized, and there are several tavernas for meals, drinks, and cold coffee.
Kapsali Beach: A good spot for swimming, diving, and snorkeling, this beach has both pebbled and sandy areas; it is well organized and not really far from Kythira’s Chora.
Putting Everything Together: Island Hopping The Ionian Islands
The Ionian Islands are connected by a local ferry line, making it uncomplicated to explore several Ionian Sea islands and for travelers to design and follow their own customized island hopping experience. Although a dream until not so much time ago, it’s been about four years since a local ferry line by the company Ilida Paxos connects all the Ionian Islands.
Island hopping is made super easy since passengers can now travel from Corfu to Paxos, the Port of Vasiliki in Lefkada, the port of Pisaetos in Ithaka, Kefalonia, and Zakynthos. Including all of these destinations in one trip is a good idea, provided you have at least ten days available to explore at a slow pace.
However, Kythira remains relatively off the beaten track even when it comes to island hopping, so we suggest discovering Kythira on its own to cut travel time during the trip or combine it with a visit to the western area of Crete.
The service usually runs three times per week, but schedules are often subject to change according to the season ad the weather conditions.
The Ionian Islands In Greece Routes
Available At The Time Of Writing Include:
- Corfu – Paxos is ideal for those with only a week available and limited time to explore. The highlights of Paxos can be explored in just one day, while the six remaining days could be devoted to exploring Corfu.
- Kefalonia – Ithaka is a perfect combination for nothing but peaceful holidays, while you should definitely include Zakynthos in the itinerary if looking for some night fun.
- Zakynthos – Kefalonia is a perfect and balanced combination for a bit of fun and relaxation.
Keep In Mind The Following
Since Lefkada is the Ionian Island located in the middle of the Ionian Sea, it is a good idea to combine a visit to Lefkada with Zakynthos, Ithaca, and Kefalonia. As an alternative, it is possible to visit Lefkada and Corfu, Paxos and Antipaxos.
Islands In Ionian Sea & How To Get To Them
The islands of Corfu, Zakynthos, and Kefalonia have airports, so you can directly fly to any of them and then board a ferry boat to keep moving in the area.
It is also possible to fly to Athens and from there board a plane to Corfu, Zakynthos of Kefalonia. Traveling from Athens is also possible by car or bus. You will need to reach the port of Patras, and there, board a ferry to Zakynthos, Kefalonia, or Ithaka.
The road trip is about 3 hours, and you need to also keep in mind that from Patras to Corfu, you need at least 5 hours by boat.
So tell us, which of these islands in the Ionian sea will you sail to first?
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