Zakynthos (or Zante) lies 20km off the south-west coast of Greece amongst the Ionian Islands, a group which also includes Corfu, Kefalonia, Paxos, Lefkas and Ithaca. The devastating earthquakes which hit the southern Ionian Islands in 1953 caused the death of around 600 residents and destroyed most of the infrastructure on Zakynthos and neighbouring Kefalonia. The majority of those who survived emigrated to the Greek mainland or to other countries leaving a small population to rebuild their islands.
Today’s visitors will see fairly modern architecture in Zakynthos Town as only three buildings survived the earthquakes. There have been a number of further earthquakes over the last 20 years but thankfully the improved building techniques have ensured that they only caused minor damage.
Port of Zakynthos
Cruise ships arriving in Zakynthos tend to dock just off the island’s capital (which is named after the island) and provide tenders to shore. The town lies within a stone’s throw of your disembarkation point so you can simply walk into the small centre. As you stroll into town you will spot the Church of Saint Dionysios which is one of the buildings which survived the 1953 earthquakes. The other two were the National Bank and the Church of St. Nicholas which are both located on Solomos Square in the town centre.
Other local attractions include a couple of excellent museums and Zakynthos Castle. If you’d like to explore further afield there are some interesting shore excursions to other parts of the island which are usually made available by cruise lines. Alternatively, you can arrange an island tour with one of the local taxi drivers.
Zakynthos Airport lies just 5km south of the port area so is easily accessible for visitors who are beginning or ending their cruise here. The vast majority of airlines serving the island only do so during the summer months although there are a couple of scheduled operators providing domestic flights to Athens throughout the year. Taxis are available to meet incoming flights or you can reserve a private transfer from Zakynthos Airport to your cruise ship or any other destination around the island.
Main Tourist Attractions
Highlights of Zakynthos Town:
Church of Saint Dionysios: Saint Dionisios (St.Denis in English) is the patron saint of Zakynthos who is buried in this beautiful church located on the seafront. You’ll spot its bell tower as soon as you approach the port area and can visit it as you wander towards the nearby town centre.
Church of Saint Nicholas: The focal point of the town centre is Solomos Square where you’ll see this Venetian-style church which dates back to the 17th Century. The square itself is an ideal meeting point for cruise ship passengers.
Museums: The Byzantine Museum on Solomos Square is the town’s main cultural attraction whose major exhibits include Byzantine icons and a series of renaissance paintings. Located in St. Marco Square, the Museum of Dionysios Solomos and Andreas Kalvos is dedicated to two well-known local poets who are buried in its mausoleum. It displays many artistic works created by local people.
Bochali Castle: If you look to the north-west from Solomos Square you’ll see Bochali Hill which is home to the ruins of a Venetian fortress. Getting there on foot is hard work as it’s a fairly steep climb but the views over the bay from the top make the effort worthwhile. Otherwise you can get a taxi which will take you to the top.
Excursions Beyond Zakynthos Town:
Blue Caves: Right on the northern tip of the island some 37km from where your ship arrives is Cape Skinari which is where the beautiful Blue Caves are located. To get there you’ll need to travel to the small port of Agios Nikolaos where you join a scenic boat trip to see what is undoubtedly the main natural attraction in Zakynthos.
Shipwreck Beach: After visiting the Blue Caves it’s only another 15km south-west to get to the crystal-clear waters of Navagio Beach. The view of this cove from above is stunning but the only way to access the beach is by boat. The beach is so named due to the cargo ship which ran aground here in 1980 and remains abandoned there.
Turtle Island: The small island of Marathonisi in Laganas Bay to the south-west of Zakynthos Town is part of the Zakynthos Marine Park. It is an important breeding ground for endangered sea turtles which reproduce here during the summer months. Tourist boats take passengers to its lovely beaches from where there’s a good chance of spotting the turtles but visitors are not permitted to explore the island so as to protect them.
One Night in Zakynthos
If you’re in port overnight the best way to spend your evening is by having dinner at one of the fine restaurants in Zakynthos Town. The pick of the bunch is Prosilio Zakynthos (A. Panton & 15) where you can savour modern Greek creations in a cosy outdoor courtyard accompanied by fine wines. Look out for a dry white wine called ‘Verdea’ which has been produced locally since the beginning of the 19th century. For more traditional cuisine you should try Ammos Taverna (46 Agiou Dionissiou) on the seafront which specialises in typical Greek cuisine including some excellent seafood dishes.
And finally, for the most beautiful location you can imagine, jump in a taxi and head 4km north of town to Bassia Restaurant (Akrotiri) which is located on a clifftop overlooking the sea. They serve high quality Greek-style dishes with a focus on seafood in the most stunning of locations.
About Shuttle Direct
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