The Ultimate Ionian Islands Travel Guide

Corfu island, Greece – Photo by Calin Stan on Unsplash

Are you getting ready to go on a Grecian vacation? There’s plenty to do on the mainland. However, the Ionian Islands, located off the western coastline and south of the Peloponnese peninsula, are also worth including in your travel itinerary.

Never heard of the Ionian Islands? Not sure which ones to visit or what to do during your stay? Read on to learn more.

The Ionian Islands: The Basics

The Ionian Islands are found in the Ionian Sea, which sits off of the west coast of mainland Greece. This collection of Greek islands is unique, in part, because it is much lusher and greener than many other islands.

The Ionian Islands also have a mild, temperate climate. This makes them great places to visit at any time of the year.

Throughout history, these islands have been influenced by multiple cultures. They’ve been invaded and colonized by the Roman and Ottoman Empires, as well as Venetians, French, and British settlers.

The Ionian Islands are featured in many different pop culture works, too. For example, they’re the setting for both the novel and movie “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.” Some scenes from “For Your Eyes Only,” the James Bond film, were set here as well.

Places to Visit and Things to Do

You now understand a bit more about the location and history of the Ionian Islands. Next, let’s break down the seven largest and most popular islands.

1. Corfu

Corfu, Greece – Photo by Chris Karidis on Unsplash

Of all the Ionian Islands, Corfu (or Kerkyra) is considered the most cosmopolitan. It’s also one of the first Greek islands to open up to tourists.

For those who want to see the sights while on their trip, Corfu is full of incredible Venetian architecture. The thousands of visitors who travel to the island each year also love to visit the beaches and stay at the famous Paleokastritsa resorts.

Corfu has an international airport and is accessible by plane. Ferries also frequently arrive from the ports in Igoumenitsa and Patra, Greece, as well as Bari, Ancona, and Venice, Italy.

2. Paxi

Antipaxos, Greece – Photo by Calin Stan on Unsplash

Paxi (also known as Paxoi) is a small island group located to the south of Corfu. It’s known for its lush, green landscapes, emerald green waters, calm beaches, and picturesque villages by the sea.

This is a relaxing, family-friendly destination, especially for those who have a penchant for hiking and spending time in nature. While there, visitors can also take a short boat trip to Antipaxos, an islet with exotic waters that will make a beautiful backdrop for photos.

Paxi is accessible by ferry. Most visitors access it from Corfu, although ferries also leave daily from Igoumenitsa, one of Greece’s largest passenger ports.

3. Lefkada

Lefkada, Greece – Image by Karl Egger from Pixabay

Lefkada is a great place to visit during the summer and is known for its nearly two dozen postcard-worthy beaches.

Of all the beaches on the island, Porto Katsiki, Egremni, and Kathisma are the most heavily photographed. These beaches are great for sunbathing and swimming, as well as more adventurous activities like windsurfing and kitesurfing.

Lefkada is actually linked to mainland Greece with a bridge and can be reached by car or bus. Ferries are also available from Ithaca and Kefalonia, and an airport is easily accessible as well.

4. Kefalonia

Kefalonia, Greece – Photo by Paolo Chiabrando on Unsplash

After serving as the setting of a Hollywood film, “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin,” the island of Kefalonia (or Cephalonia) has quickly become one of the most popular Ionian destinations.

Kefalonia is considered one of the best places for families and couples to visit. It’s home to several beaches, including Myrtos, which features turquoise waters, plenty of lush vegetation, and is the most photographed.

Kefalonia has an international airport, so visitors can travel there directly. It’s also accessible by ferries from several other locations, including Patra, Zakynthos, Ithaca, and Paxi, Greece, and Brindisi, Italy.

5. Ithaca

Ithaca, Greece – Image by Stevan Aksentijevic from Pixabay

Ithaca (Ithaka or Ithaki) is famous for being the home of Odysseus, the hero from Homer’s “Odyssey.” This charming island has much more to offer, though, such as striking green backgrounds and lovely villages with unparalleled sea views.

For those who are looking for a relaxing and romantic island visit, Ithaca is a great destination. There are plenty of outdoor activities, too, including swimming at Filiatro Beach and Skinos Bay or going for hikes to secret coves and more secluded destinations.

Ithaca is accessible by ferry, and boats arrive at and leave the island frequently throughout the day.

6. Zakynthos

Zakynthos, Greece – Photo by Andrey Shevard on Unsplash

Zakynthos (also known as Zante) is best known for its stunning beaches and relaxing resorts. 

It’s a popular travel destination for people of all ages. However, the island’s nightlife and multiple clubs and bars make it especially appealing to younger visitors.

Another one of the most frequently visited tourist attractions on Zakynthos is Navagio Bay, which features a gorgeous beach and a rustic shipwreck located on its shore.

Zakynthos is home to an international airport, so tourists can fly there directly. It’s also accessible by ferry for those visiting from the mainland or another island.

7. Kythira

Kythira, Greece – Photo by August Politis on Unsplash

Finally, let’s talk about Kythira.

Kythira (also known as Cythera) is a secluded island located on the southern side of the Peloponnese peninsula. It’s known for being a relaxing destination that offers a sense of purity and calmness.

You won’t find large crowds of tourists here. However, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy nature at Kaladi beach or Diakofti beach. There are also interesting sightseeing opportunities, like the Castle of Chora and the seaside village of Avlemonas.

Ferries arrive at Kythira daily from the Neapoli port, as well as from Athens and Gythio. A national airport is located on the island, too.