I spent two months traveling around Greece during the times of Coronavirus. It was absolutely unreal to visit all these islands in the summer months without the typical summer crowds.
I had only been to the island of Crete before this trip which I absolutely loved so I knew coming back would the right decision. The Ionian islands are among the most beautiful islands you’ll find in Greece. Picture perfect beaches, incredible green nature landscapes, mountains, and more
The Ionian islands are not to be confused with the more popular Cyclades islands famous for places like Mykonos and Santorini. The Ionian islands have an entirely different flavor, look, and feel but is well worth the visit.
Greece is my favorite country in Europe and I traveled extensively through the country. If you need inspiration for other parts of Greece, make sure to read my Ultimate Greece Travel Guide that details everything yo need to know about Greece and the places I’ve been to.
Where I went in The Ionian Islands, Greece
I’ve been to all of the Ionian islands but at different times. There are many direct flights from Frankfurt to the Ionian islands on Ryanair which made it easy to visit these islands at different times. It’s unlikely that many people travel the whole of the Ionian islands in one go but this itinerary will show you how it’s done. Of course if you don’t have 2-3 weeks to dedicate to the Ionian islands, then perhaps it’s best to just choose 1 or 2 of the ones you want to see the most. Read my guide to the Ionian islands to choose accordingly!
In total, this itinerary is anyone that has about a week or so to dedicate to this itinerary. Of course this itinerary can be shortened or lengthened depending on your schedule. I visited the following areas on this itinerary
If these places ring a bell and sound like the places you want to visit, this is the perfect itinerary for you! This post will have a general itinerary and summary of these islands so make sure to read the detailed posts in the links above for restaurant recommendations, accommodation options, and more.
What do I need to know about traveling in the Ionian Islands?
The Ionian archipelago is one of the most famous and beautiful parts of Greece. It’s very developed and is quite easy to travel through. Regular ferry connections are possible between the islands and there are nice paved roads in every place.
The food in Greece is among the best in the world so no matter where you go, you will be well fed with fresh Greek food and delicious Greek wines.
Generally, most people come to Greece in the summer months which are its warmest and busiest. However, if you aren’t into big crowds, traveling during the shoulder months might suit you better.
How to structure your island hopping Ionian island trip?
Structuring your trip properly can mean saving an extra day or two just from catching the ferries correctly. The itinerary I will list out is indeed the islands I visited but not in the order that I visited. What I will write on this post is the optimal route for traveling the Ionian islands.
If you look at a map, the islands are conveniently located north to south in a straight line. Therefore, if you want to see all of them, it’s best to start in Zakynthos (the furthest south island) or Corfu (the furthest north). If you want to see only 1 or 2 islands, it’s better to make sure they are located next to each other, aka Corfu + Lefkada or Zakynthos + Kefalonia.
The islands are very large
The Ionian islands are very large in size. Corfu, Kefalonia, Zakynthos, and Lefkada are big islands and it can take up to 2 hours to get from one end to the other. Paxos is the exception which is probably why it’s one of my favorite islands. They are much bigger than their counterparts in the Cyclades which is famous for its white houses and blue doors. While I always rented a scooter or ATV to travel around the Cyclades, I find that a car rental is much better for the Ionian islands. The distance you must travel is a bit too much for a scooter in my opinion.
Because of the large size of the islands, I would dedicate a bit more time to explore them than I would an island in the Cyclades. 3-5 nights is a good amount of time to dedicate to an island.
How to travel between the islands?
Well there is no island hopping without a way to get between the islands. Thankfully, Greece has one of its most extensive and serviced ferry system in the Ionian islands. It’s not as comprehensive as say the Cyclades but there are regular connections during the tourist season (May to Oct)
Ferries are the only way to get between islands. In the summer months, they run frequently with multiple ferries coming into an island per day. There are multiple companies to choose from which is great for keeping costs reasonable.
Most of the islands in the Ionian sea have their own airports. There are no flights between the islands so you’ll have to take the ferry for this purpose
There’s so much to know about the Greek ferry system that I’ve written an entire post dedicated to this topic. Make sure to read that so you know what to expect when you arrive!
Full Ionian Islands Itinerary
This itinerary starts in Zakynthos, the furthest southern island of the Ionian sea. There are many international flights that visit Zakynthos in particular from Germany and the UK. Zakynthos is home to the ultra famous shipwreck beach which is sure to impress any traveler
From Zakynthos, take a ferry north to the island of Kefalonia to explore the most mountainous and largest of the Ionian islands. Kefalonia is incredibly beautiful and has some of the most beautiful villages of the Ionian islands. A day trip to Ithaki is also a must when in Kefalonia by using the island hopper ferries.
From Kefalonia, take another ferry to Lefkada which has the most beautiful beaches in the Ionian and perhaps the most beautiful beaches in all of Greece.
Finally from Lefkada, you can take the ferry to Paxos or Corfu (whichever you prefer) and finalize the itinerary by spending the last week in these two islands. Corfu is definitely the most developed and touristy of the Ionian islands and was probably my least favorite.
Finally, book a flight home from Corfu island.
If you don’t have three weeks to dedicate to this itinerary, don’t worry. I will go into many different options at the end of the post to help you structure your trip.
Day 1-5: Zakynthos
The itinerary starts in Zakynthos.
If you don’t know anything about Zakynthos, you probably have still heard of the Shipwreck Beach. If you’ve never heard of Shipwreck Beach, it’s likely you’ve seen the pictures in your Insta feeds, blogs, magazines, postcards, or literally anywhere else.
Outside of the Acropolis in Athens, the blue domes of Santorini, the Shipwreck beach may just be the most iconic photo of Greece. Yes, it’s located on Zakynthos and no trip to this island is complete without visiting this absolutely beautiful place.
It’s one of the magical and impossibly beautiful places that look even more amazing in person if that’s even possible. The pictures already induce the most amount of wanderlust possible, but yes it gets even better!
History of Shipwreck Beach
Reading about the history of the beach is absolutely fascinating. The beach itself is of course spectacular in beauty but the huge rusting boat in the middle of the beach adds that dramatic factor that you can’t find anywhere else. It’s perhaps the most famous shipwreck in the world.
How this ship got there is quite the story. In 1980, the Merchant ship named “Panagiotis” was smuggling cigarettes from Albania to Italy. They were caught by Greek Authorities and chased down to this beach in Zakynthos before crashing and forming the beach we all know and love today. I wonder what prompted the authorities to leave the ship on the beach. Perhaps it was just too much of a mess to move or did someone have the foresight to realize what a beautiful site it would form in the future?
Regardless, a few illicit cigarettes has led to one of Greece’s most lucrative tourist attractions so it worked out in the end.
Viewpoint of Shipwreck Beach
The viewpoint of Shipwreck beach where all the iconic photos are taken is easily reached by car. It’s in the northwest of the island and is roughly 45 minutes driving from Zante Town.
It’s an absolute must like I’ve already said. From the parking lot, just follow the trail to the cliff edge where you will be afforded the most beautiful views of the beach! During normal times, this place is very packed but not the case when I visited!
About 10 minutes from the parking lot, you will see a Greek Flag which is a great area to take photos. If you walk past the Greek flag, there will be less people and a great place to get photos without the crowds.
It’s a VERY steep drop here and there have been plenty of people that have died chasing that elusive Instagram photo. The rocks here regularly break off so don’t mess around. I tried getting one of those legs hanging off the cliff type of photos which more than ramped up my adrenaline!
The best time to come here is in the late morning and early afternoon. This is because in the early morning, the sun hasn’t fully risen over the beach yet and you won’t get the same stunning water color until it is fully covered by the sun. However, there really is no bad time to visit; it is stunning at all times.
To visit the Shipwreck beach, you will need to go by boat. There is no way of getting there by land. I heard some people actually tried climbing down from the viewpoint at the very top which after being there in person, is a big WTF? They of course died.
There’s zero way of walking down to this beach because it’s literally a vertical sheer drop. So you heard it here first, don’t try this!
To visit the island you have to go by boat. You can either:
- Join a group tour that visits the beach and blue caves
- Rent a private boat and go there by yourself.
The first option is roughly €30-€35 per person. During normal times, they crammed 100 people into these boats and now about half capacity during Coronavirus times. I saw one of these boats leaving the beach as I was arriving to the beach. I can safely say that I am very happy I did not book one of these.
I rented a boat for the day with a captain and we went to this beach as well as a bunch of other equally beautiful and deserted beaches. I’d highly recommend getting your own boat. It’s so much more relaxing. I paid roughly €50 per hour which included the captain and guide. If all you care about is just going to the Navaggio Beach, then simply rent a boat from the Porto Vromi beach which is 15-20 minutes from the shipwreck. If you’re more than 2 people, it’s a no brainer to do this because it will be cheaper and an infinitely better experience!
There are many more things to see in Zakynthos so make sure to read my Zakynthos Travel Guide.
Day 5-9: Kefalonia
From Zakynthos, you’ll want to go to the very north where the ferry station is. From here, there are daily and sometimes twice daily ferries from Zakynthos to Kefalonia. The total travel time is about 1 hour.
Like all Greek islands, you’ll never go bored traveling in Kefalonia. It’s an extremely geographically diverse island with huge mountains and the most idyllic beaches. In addition, there are the cutest little villages in Kefalonia left over from when the Venetians controlled the island.
As the island is quite big, I’d recommend really planning out where you’re going for the day as it can take 1h+ to get from place to place.
My biggest advice for Kefalonia is not to rush it. The island might look small on a map but there’s so much to see. It’s all about relaxing and enjoying the natural beauty of the island and two days will not be enough. I’d recommend at least 4 nights here to really unwind and enjoy it.
Without a doubt, this is the most well known and most beautiful beach in Kefalonia. It’s ranked up there with the Shipwreck beach in Zakynthos for must visit sights and natural beauty. It’s consistently ranked as one of the top beaches in Greece and it’s not hard to see why!
Located in the northwest of the island, this beach is nestled between two cliffs and boasts 1km of white pebbly beach front. The water is the deepest shade of turquoise you can imagine.
From the main highway, you can pull over and take some amazing pictures of the beach from above. This is for sure the ultimate Instagram location if that’s something you care about.
Expect huge crowds here in the summer months as it is very popular. However, traveling during Coronavirus ensured that the crowds were never too bad. As well, travel here in the offseason in the months of October or November and while the water won’t be super warm, the surface temperature will still be plenty warm to enjoy the natural beauty.
Another must visit are the Melassani Caves in Kefalonia. Located near the port town of Sami, the caves are as enchanting as they are beautiful.
The cave lake is the result of geological process called karstification, in which the limestone bedrock is dissolved by groundwater creating subterranean caverns. The existence of a karstic network across the island was proven in a 1963 experiment, in which green dye dumped into sinkholes on the other side of the island (Katavothres) resurfaced 14 days later in Melissani lake.
Nowadays, the lake is easily visited by tourists and a ticket gets you into a rowboat that takes you around the cake and its absolutely crystal clear waters. The cost is €6 per person and the boats depart quite regularly as they just wait until it fills up. The whole boat ride only takes 15 minutes.
Try to visit the caves in the middle of the day so the sun shines straight down giving the water that intense turquoise color.
The fishing town of Fiscardo is a favorite of yachters and flotillas and is also an artist colony and was the only village not devastated by the 1953 earthquake. Once a quiet village it has now been ‘discovered’ and the lobsters which were so easily found and caught by anyone with a mask and snorkel and flippers have now become rare and only found in the local fish restaurants.
Because it was spared the destruction of the earthquake many of the old Venetian buildings still survive and in the off-season it is a beautiful and enjoyable place to visit. But like most of the island, July and August can be a frustrating time to be here.(more on that later). Hotels are a little expensive and generally unavailable during the tourist season.
Restaurants are reasonably priced and most are around the waterfront. Frommers recommends the Faros, while Lonely Planet recommends The Captain’s Cabin and Taverna Nicolas, but hint at the near impossibility of finding a table in the summer unless you get there early.
The west coast ofthe island is known for having the best beaches as well as the most beautiful landscape. If you start at Fiscardo and travel south you will come to the village of Assos with it’s port, one of the most picturesque in Greece, pastel colored houses and it’s Venetian fortress.
Assos is located only a few kilometers from Myrtos Beach so be sure to visit both together. Assos is an even smaller place than Fiskardo and there really isn’t much to do here besides admire the perfect little houses. I think there are better options to be had if you are looking for a place to eat.
Make sure to also admire the beauty of Assos from the main road high above the town!
Perallia Patani Beach
If you liked Myrtos Beach, then you will for sure also love Patani Beach. Located on the little peninsula to the west of the mainland, this beach is almost like a sister to Myrtos Beach. It is usually less crowded than Myrtos but also has the stunning water colors.
Go to the far left side of the beach for beautiful caves, and beach.
Day 9-13: Lefkada
From Kefalonia, there are numerous ferries that will make the journey north to Lefkada. Lefkada is perhaps one of the least visited islands in the Ionian islands and I don’t now why. The beaches are incredible and if you visit during the shoulder seasons, you can sometimes have these beaches all to yourself.
Without a doubt, Porto Katsiki is the most famous beach in Lefkada. It is also one of the top ranked beaches in Europe. Similar to the Myrtos Beach of Kefalonia, Porto Katsiki has that perfect crescent shaped beachline with a dramatic mountain backdrop.
Porto Katsiki is particularly dramatic as its crystal clear water is matched with the giant exposed rocky backdrop of the mountain. Not only is it an absolutely stunning beach, but it photographs supremely from the little bridge near to the parking lot.
You’ll want to come here early in the morning to avoid the crowds and you can bet the crowds come here in full force. You don’t need to do any hiking to get here. Simply park the car and walk down the steps. As the beach faces west, the sun wont’ fully light up the ocean or mountains until noon. If you want the best pictures, you’ll want to stay until at least 1pm or so.
After spending the morning in Porto Katsiki beach, I thought it couldn’t get much better than this. I was mistaken.
Next door to Porto Katsiki is the even more famous and much more stunning beach of Egremni. This is literally one of the most picture perfect and out of this world beaches I’ve ever seen.
The first glimpse I had of it was from the main road in front of the Taverna Oasis restaurant. You are 500 meters above sea level and you see this endless strip of sandy beach with water so blue and so clear that it looks absolutely fake.
Once you make your way closer, you can see that it is a never ending stretch of white pebbly beach with a jagged cliff backdrop and perfectly baby blue water. Egremni stretches on for a straight 3km so this mirage of otherworldly beach never ends. There are no sunbeds, bars, or restaurants here so come prepared beforehand. Given its size, you shouldn’t have any problems finding an empty area even in busy season.
In 2015, an earthquake hit Lefkada and destroyed the road leading up to the beach. The only way to visit the beach was via boat. However, as of 2021, they have fixed the road and the steps leading to the beach and you can now visit by car.
There is no hiking involved to reach this beach which makes it the winner if you want the most stunning beach with the easiest accessibility.
Don’t worry, if those two beaches don’t satisfy you, the west coast of Lefkada has more to offer. Located in the northwest near the town of Agias Nikitas is the unspoilt Mylos Beach.
This beach requires some hiking which you can start from Agias Nikitas Town. It is a 20 minute hike over a hill and through bushes. It is a bit of a trek but not overly difficult. However, the reward outweighs the costs. This beach is like Porto Katsiki but with much smaller crowds. The work required to get here will deter the average beach goer, especially as Agios Nikitas beach is next to it.
There are a few incredibly stunning villas right behind Milos Beach which have stairs leading directly to the beach. Unfortunately, you will have to stay at these villas in order to make use of the stairs. Milos Dream Villas is one of these villas where I was able to check out.
Megali Petra Beach
Pegali Petra, meaning big rock is one of the quieter beaches of Lefkada. Named after the huge rocks found on the shore, Megali Petra Beach is divided into two parts, the organized section with sunbeds and the untouched section. Surrounded by wild greenery, dramatic cliffs, Megali Petra offers seclusion for a relaxing day by the deep blue waters.
Last but certainly not least, Avali Beach is the hidden beach of Lefkada locals don’t want you to know about! This secluded beach looks like it came straight out of the South Pacific, with its turquoise clear waters and exotic landscape and flora. As New York Times put it, “Avali is the place you feel like heaven on Earth.” Right before the beach there is a small café/restaurant that has the most relaxed and Bali-like vibes you’ll find on the island. With home cooked vegan food, relaxing hammocks and board games to play with friends and family, this cozy spot is a haven of itself.
Day 13-16: Corfu
Corfu, known as the Emerald island, is definitely the most popular and well known of the Ionian islands. Located in the very north of the peninsula, Corfu is actually directly across the sea from Albania where you can see the cities of Sarande and Ksamil. There is a ferry from Corfu to Albania that runs quite frequently.
Corfu is a hugely popular getaway for British and German tourists with multiple flights daily between Corfu airport and the numerous cities in those two countries. Corfu is also the most developed of the islands given that it is such a popular destination for tourists and retirees alike.
I visited Corfu last on my Ionian islands adventure and while it is still very visually beautifull, I found it to be the least impressive of the main Ionian islands. I think if Corfu was the first island I visited, I would have a different opinion but I didn’t find anything especially unique or anything that stood out to me.
The beaches of Corfu are not very impressive and the mountain landscapes no more impressive than any other islands. In addition, it was by far the busiest of the islands I visited which took away from its charm I think.
Read my detailed Corfu travel guide.
Day 16-19: Paxos and Antipaxos
I spent four days in Paxos and went all over the island multiple times. There are so many beautiful things to see and do so here is the list!
I rented a scooter to get around the island which I’d highly recommend you do as well. There is public transportation that travel between the towns but you’ll need a scooter, quadbike, or car to visit the beautiful beaches and viewpoints.
In general, the most stunning part of the island in my opinion is the western coast. This is where you’ll find beautiful beaches and huge dramatic rock cliffs that the Ionian islands are famous for.
It combines the wildness of a rocky scenery that one finds in the west coast together with the lush vegetation that surrounds the east coast. The beach here is calm with warmer waters but it is not as stunning as the other beaches on the island. There is a nice taverna on the beach preparing delicious Greek dishes.
Located just south of the town of Lakka is the beautiful Plani Beach. This beach is another rocky beach but the views of the cliffs here are just absolutely stunning. I actually didn’t spend much time on the beach but opted to climb the rocky cliffs to get some amazing shots of the beautiful sea colors and cliffs. The rocks here also have many flat parts which makes for a great sunbathing spot.
This is also a great place to watch the sunset. Grab some beers or wine and watch the sun set directly in front of you.
The Cave View
This is a bit of a hidden gem that I only found out about after speaking to a random fireman while stopping to get water. Located between Plani Beach and Erimitis beach is the famous cave view viewpoint. You’ll need to follow the directions on Google Maps closely as you’ll pass through small roads.
However, once you reach this unassuming viewpoint, you’ll be greeted with the most dramatic views in Paxos. You are at one of the highest points on the western coast and you can see the beautiful rock formations over the sea and views out into the ocean as far as you can see. This is the perfect sunset spot as well.
Without a doubt, Erimitis beach is the nicest of all the beaches in Gaios. It’s located on the western side of the island just next to the town of Magazia. The road that goes to the beach is a bit sketchy but doable via scooter or car. There is a small stone pathway that leads to the beach.
It’s a rocky beach like most of the other beaches in the Ionian islands but it is surrounded by towering white rocky cliffs on all sides of the beach. The water is a light blue which contrasts so perfectly with the rock formations.
I spent most of time in Erimitis beach because it is more secluded than other beaches allowing you a bit more privacy.
Without a doubt the most amazing and unique sight to see in Paxos is the Tripitos Arch. Located in the south of the island, the Tripitos Arch is one of the largest natural rock arches I’ve ever seen. It is over 20 meters high and sticks out far into the sea over beautiful turquoise waters.
To get here, you’ll want to follow Google Maps to the Tripitos Arch and park your car or scooter where the road turns into a stone and dirt trail. From here, you’ll walk 10-15 minutes before you’re greeted with the most stunning views of the Ionian.
You can also come here by boat but I would not approach the arch too closely as there are many shallow rocks lurking about.
Day trip to Antipaxos
Antipaxos is very small and there isn’t much to do on the island itself. Most people come here for the mind blowing beaches. Voutoumi beach is the one that you’ll want to visit. This bay has some of the most crystal clear waters in all of Greece. It’s like you’re swimming in the Maldives or something. You can anchor your boat here and then visit the two tavernas on the beach for a delicious lunch break.
Day by Day breakdown of my Ionian island itinerary
Here is a day by day breakdown of the Greek island itinerary. It’s pretty involved each day so absolutely feel free to spread it out over more days if you have the time!
Day 1: Land in Zakynthos, explore Zakynthos
Day 2: Zakynthos (Shipwreck Beach)
Day 3: Zakynthos
Day 4: Zakynthos
Day 5: Zakynthos to Kefalonia
Day 6: Kefalonia
Day 7: Kefalonia
Day 8: Kefalonia
Day 9: Kefalonia to Lefkada
Day 10: Lefkada
Day 11: Lefkada
Day 12: Lefkada
Day 13: Lefkada to Paxos
Day 14: Paxos
Day 15: Paxos
Day 16: Paxos to Antipaxos day trip
Day 17: Paxos to Corfu
Day 18: Corfu
Day 19: Corfu
Day 20: Flight home
One week Ionian Island Travel Itinerary
If you have one week to travel the Greek islands, here are some options for you to consider. Let’s just assume this week is dedicated to the islands and Athens won’t be in the picture.
Of course with just a week, you won’t be able to visit that many islands especially if you want to spend three nights in each island. Nevertheless, I think if you want to explore as much as possible, it’s totally acceptable to do two nights in an island. Just be mindful of the ferries because if you are traveling long distances, this could eat up most of a day.
Zakynthos and Kefalonia
Zakynthos and Kefalonia are perfect to pair together. The ferry ride is short and I’ve done this exact same trip. I even rented my car in Zakynthos, took it onto the ferry to Kefalonia, and returned home to Zakynthos. I’m not sure if this is actually allowed by the rental agencies to take a car from one island to the other but no one said anything.
I would structure this trip in such a way:
Day 1: Arrive in Zakynthos
Day 2: Zakynthos
Day 3: Zakynthos
Day 4: Zakynthos
Day 5: Zakynthos to Kefalonia
Day 6: Kefalonia
Day 7: Kefalonia
Day 8: Kefalonia to Ithaki Day Trip
Day 9: Kefalonia to Zakynthos ferry, flight home
Corfu and Paxos
Corfu and Paxos are the perfect pairing of islands for a one week trip. The ferry between the two islands run regularly and is just a short ride away.
Day 1: Arrive in Corfu
Day 2: Corfu
Day 3: Corfu
Day 4: Corfu to Paxos
Day 5: Paxos
Day 6: Paxos
Day 7: Paxos to Antipaxos ferry
Day 8: Paxos back to Corfu, flight home
- A Guide To All The Ionian Islands, Greece: Which Island Is The Best?
- Ionian or Cyclades Islands: How To Choose Between Greece’s Most Beautiful islands
- Visiting Lefkada And The Most Beautiful Beaches In Greece
- The Ultimate Corfu Island, Greece Travel Guide
- Paxos and Antipaxos: Travel Guide For The Hidden Ionian Gems
- The Ultimate Travel Guide For Kefalonia, Greece
- The Ultimate Travel Guide For Zakynthos, Greece
- The Perfect Travel Itinerary For Northern Greece
- Singapore Island Hopping: Visiting St John’s and Kusu Island
- The Perfect Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini Travel Itinerary
- Why Santorini is my Least Favorite Greek Island
- Mykonos Vs Santorini: How To Decide Between Greece’s Most Popular Islands