The Ionian Islands: An overview of the archipelago

La plage du Naufrage à Zante - © Laure M.

The Ionian Islands are not like other Greek islands. Spread between southern Albania, Italy and the west coast of Greece, they are steeped in history and a unique blend of cultures. Greener and less touristy than the Cyclades, the Ionian islands have a special charm that invites you to relax, escape into nature and enjoy the pleasures of the table. Sometimes called Heptanese, from the Greek Heptanisa (the 7 islands), they include from north to south: Corfu, Paxos (and Anti Paxos), Lefkada or Lefkada, Cephalonia, Ithaca, Zante or Zakynthos, Kythera (and Anti Kythera). Follow us on this short tour of the Ionian archipelago and find your next travel destination!

Corfu, the pearl of the Ionian Sea

The island of Corfu in Greece: practical information
The island of Corfu © Laure M.

The island of Corfu is famous for its natural beauty and for its architectural heritage inherited from the Venetian period. Its splendour has inspired many artists and writers over the centuries, including Goethe, Alfred Sisley and Lawrence Durrell. In fact, at the end of the 19th century, Empress Sissi had her summer residence built here: a palace she named “Achileon” after Achilles, the hero of the Trojan War.

The old walled town of Corfu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its exceptional character. Its three Venetian forts, built to protect it from the Ottoman Empire, bear witness to the island’s rich history.

Today, Corfu is a very popular vacation destination in Greece. Discovering Corfu by boat and enjoying the island’s culinary traditions are among the activities not to be missed!

Find all our tips for organizing your getaway to Corfu and finding the best accommodation addresses.

Paxos, the smallest of the Ionian islands

paxos gaios church main square
Paxos © Sophie B.

With its 25 km² and 2,500 inhabitants, tiny Paxos is a treasure trove of greenery in the middle of the sea. During the Venetian domination that began in 1386, the Republic of Venice gradually transformed the island into a large olive forest to take advantage of the excellence of its oil.

The landscape of Paxos is still marked by this vast undertaking. Over the centuries, the island’s inhabitants have done a remarkable job of terracing, picking up the stones that littered the arable land one by one. Today, kilometers of low white stone walls on both sides of the trails bear witness to this work.

Hiking through olive groves to reach the island’s hamlets and small ports is one of the best experiences you can have on Paxos. Admire the beautiful stone houses and ancient oil presses dotted along the way.

Check out our best addresses for accommodation and culinary delights on the island of Paxos!

Lefkada, the most accessible island in the archipelago

Lefkada, Ionian island, blue sea and long beach
Lefkada © Virginie W.

The splendid island of Lefkada is just a 5-hour drive from Athens. What makes it special? It is linked to mainland Greece by a floating bridge that allows cars to pass through. It’s a dream destination for a short road trip from the Greek capital!

Fortunately, Lefkada’s rare accessibility has not altered its authentic beauty. Its heavenly beaches are famous for the white chalk cliffs that encircle them. Porto Katsiki and Egremni are said to be among the most beautiful in the world.

Lefkada is also distinguished by its pronounced relief. Don’t hesitate to get away from the seaside and visit the charming mountain villages of Karia and Eglouvi.

Find all our practical tips for visiting Lefkada in this article.

Kefalonia, the largest of the Ionian islands

Myrtos beach in Kefalonia, one of the most beautiful beaches in Greece
Myrtos beach © Virginie W.

Kefalonia, or Céphalonie in French, is a large island of 780 m² that deserves several days’ exploration. It is famous for its beautiful Venetian mansions and translucent beaches. The capital Argostoli offers many points of interest, with its colorful old houses, historic monuments and lively town center in the evenings. The villages of Fiskardo and Assos are also noteworthy.

Among Kefalonia’s most beautiful beaches, Myrtos is particularly noteworthy. This vast expanse of white pebbles is surrounded by high cliffs and plunges into an almost fluorescent milky-blue sea. An absolute wonder!

Take advantage of your stay to visit the caves of Kefalonia. The Melissani cave can be visited by boat, while the Drogarati cave boasts stalactites and stalagmites. The Zervati caves, lost in the wilderness, are open to the public.

Discover all the practical information you need to visit Kefalonia in our article.

Ithaca, the most legendary of the Ionian islands

century-old olive trees on the Greek island of Ithaca, sea in background
Ithaque © Sophie B.

The island of Ithaca is well known from Greek mythology. Homer’s Odyssey recounts the adventures of its king, Ulysses, on his fabulous voyage. Enthusiasts will be delighted to discover the traces of Homeric legend scattered across the island in Mycenaean times: the Fountain of Arethusa, the Palace of Ulysses and the Cave of the Nymphs.

Today, Ithaca is a wild, mountainous island with few tourists. And yet it offers a wealth of opportunities for off-the-beaten-track activities.

The charming ports of Vathy and Kioni are nestled peacefully in pretty bays sheltered from the wind. A number of hiking trails allow you to explore the island’s beautiful landscapes and come across interesting archaeological remains. Ithaca can be explored on foot, by bike or by boat.

Prepare your stay with our hotel and accommodation recommendations!

Zante, the most photogenic island in the archipelago

What to do in Zakynthos
Naufrage beach, Zakynthos – © Laure M.

The island of Zante, or Zakynthos in Greek, is a small paradise for travelers and wildlife alike. Laganas Bay is a haven for loggerhead turtles, who come here to lay their eggs. A national marine park now protects the reproduction of this precious species.

Zakynthos is also known for its breathtaking beaches. Some are worthy of the most incredible postcards, such as Naufrage beach. This stretch of white sand surrounded by cliffs will leave you breathless. It is home to the beached wreck of a smuggler’s ship, the Panayotis. A real movie set!

With its small, winding roads winding through picturesque villages, Zakynthos is a pleasure to explore by motorcycle. You’ll be free to explore its lush green landscapes covered in vines, pines and centuries-old olive trees!

Find all the practical information and accommodation tips you need to prepare your visit to Zante.

Kythera, the most secret of the Ionian islands

The island of Kythera - Kythira
Cythère © Laure M.

Beautiful Kythera, or Kythira in Greek, is a small, discreet and unspoilt island off the Peloponnese. It’s the perfect stopover if you’re dreaming of peace and quiet, nature and idleness. It’s also the ideal Ionian island for a family getaway.

You’ll be charmed by the serene atmosphere of Chora, the island’s capital. Narrow, shady streets, typical white and blue houses and several Byzantine churches: everything here invites you to rest and contemplate. For a breathtaking view of the bay, head for the Kastro, the great Venetian castle overlooking the city!

Kythera also has some beautiful beaches and a few good restaurants where you can enjoy a dish of fresh fish while watching the sea. Let yourself be lulled by the Greek dolce vita!

Find out all our tips for a successful stay in Kythera in our article.

We hope that this overview of the main Ionian islands has given you sweet dreams of escape… Now you can choose your island and plan your next trip to Greece!

Sandra B.

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