The birthplace of revered poet Dionysios Solomos, who wrote Greece’s national anthem, Zakynthos offers no shortage of things to do. Also known as Zante, this laid-back island is surrounded by the deep blue Ionian Sea, home to a huge sea turtle population and awash with silky sand beaches, world-class diving sites and diverse architecture – influenced by the Byzantines, Venetians, French and English. And since this was where the Subwing water-sports craze was created, you can expect plenty of high-adrenaline activities, too.
Rebuilt in the Venetian style after an earthquake destroyed many of the buildings in 1953, Zakynthos Town is a hotchpotch of elegant architecture, cool cafes and streets packed with boutique stores. Make sure you visit the 17th-century mansion of Alexander Roma – former president of the Greek parliament – near Solomos Square, which is packed with family portraits, works of art and period furniture. For a little retail therapy, head to Alexander Roma Street, crammed full of jewellery stores and indie boutiques. If you’re here in August, don’t miss the festival dedicated to patron saint Dionysos, which coincides with a huge, open-air flea market that lasts for over a week.
Zakynthos is the birthplace of the Subwing, the boat-towed underwater board invented by teen-genius Simon Sivertsen, which lets you glide through the waves like a dolphin. Apart from trying this super subwater sport at the Peligoni Club, adrenaline addicts can get their kicks base-jumping at hard-to-reach Navagio (also known as Shipwreck) Beach, or flyboarding and parachuting above Banana Beach.
It might sound cheesy, but Zante’s cute little tourist train is a great way to sit back and see more of the island. After taking you out to see the main sights of Zakynthos Town, the toy train plies various routes. To see ceramic makers in a local workshop, visit the laid-back Kalamaki beach resort, or pay a visit to the city’s Venetian castle and a traditional perfume workshop. Look out for other little trains on the island, including the Trainaki leaving from Alykes Beach, which takes you to visit traditional mountain villages.
For the best views over the harbour of Zakynthos Town and the distant, beach-studded Vasiliki peninsula, hike the steep, winding road to Bohali Castle. Once you’ve wandered the ruined battlements of this 15th-century castle repaired by the Venetians, descend to nearby Bohali village, and order a beer and local meze snacks in one of the small cafes. Take water with you – it’s a thirsty climb, and there are no cafes at the top.
Zakynthos was dubbed Il Fiore di Levante (Flower of the East) by the Venetians. Even now, if you visit one of the island’s parks you’ll see brilliant carpets of wildflowers, or aroma-filled areas covered with wild herbs – depending on the season. The best of the bunch is Askos Stone Park, where you can wander out along wooded hiking trails and encounter wild animals, including endangered platonia deer.
Looking for more? Make a weekend of it and book a stay at one of the best hotels in Zakynthos. Too pricey? These great budget hotels are a more affordable option. Best of all, you can make your booking right here on Culture Trip. During the day, you can take it easy and relax on one of the best beaches in Zakynthos. To top it all off, you can end your night with a delicious feast at one of these great restaurants.