We took a leap of faith and decided to explore the less-charted waters of the Ionian Islands on our first trip to Greece. And guess what? It was the best decision we could’ve made. Our goal was to avoid the well-trodden paths of the Cyclades archipelago and enjoy a less crowded and more authentic side of the Greek Islands. And that’s exactly what we achieved by traveling to the Ionian Islands on the west coast of Greece.
We were completely blown away by these islands. And would recommend them to anyone looking for the road less traveled – and less inflated – of the Greek Islands. In fact, they remain our all-time favorite islands in Greece. Even after having visited the country 3 times and explored multiple islands in different archipelagos. So, with the intention of inspiring and helping you plan a trip there, I prepared this super curated and comprehensive travel guide to the Ionian Islands. Use the index below to guide you through the post and let’s discover this magnificent corner of the earth!
- Short intro to the Ionian Islands
- How long to stay in the Ionian Islands
- Best time to visit the Ionian Islands
- How to get Ionian islands
- Best Ionian Islands to visit
- Island-hopping the Ionian Islands with a car
- Island-hopping the Ionian Islands without a car
- How to budget for the Ionian Islands
- What to pack for the Ionian Islands
Short intro to the Ionian Islands
Nestled between Greece and Italy, the Ionian Islands are located on the shores of Ionian Sea on Greece’s West Coast. In the local language, they’re known as “Eptanisa”, which means “seven islands”. This title points to the seven primary islands amid the thousands of islets dotting the Ionian Archipelago. They are Corfu, Paxos, Antipaxos, Lefkada, Kefalonia, Ithaca, and Zakynthos.
Each of these seven islands boasts its unique geography and natural allure. However, they all hold the promise of breathtaking beaches and landscapes. Picture turquoise coves surrounded by majestic cliffs and lush landscapes comprised of cypresses, pine, and olive groves – it’s the most authentic version of a Greek paradise. One that we’ll never get tired of!
Unlike other regions of Greece, you will find in the Ionian Islands remnants of the Venetian Empire occupation. As well as traces of the French and British occupiers, which ruled some of these islands for centuries. And let’s not forget the rich Greek mythology ingrained in some of these islands. Especially the tales tied to Ithaca and Corfu!
Be it in the cuisine or in the architecture of the small villages. The diverse heritage of the islands can be noticed. And will make any trip to the Ionian Archipelago a more culturally rich and interesting experience than you’d anticipated.
Find all travel guides about the Greek Islands here. You’ll surely get the inspiration to book your dream trip!
How long to stay in the Ionian Islands
You need at least 20 full days to island-hop around the 7 main Ionian Islands in a relative rush. And between 25 to 30 days to explore all of them well, spending enough days in each island. It’s possible to get around with fewer days if you reduce the number of islands to be visited. Or if you reduce the number of days spent in each of the islands. I’d personally recommend the former option, as it’s always better to travel deeper in fewer destinations than superficially in many!
We didn’t have the time to cover the 7 main islands. Instead, we planned a 13 days trip between Lefkada, Kefalonia, Ithaca. It was a dream itinerary, which I recommend to anyone traveling through the Ionian Islands with time constraints!
Best time to visit the Ionian Islands
European Spring and Summer are the best seasons to travel to the Ionian Islands, as well as other Greek Islands. But that’s just stating the obvious, right? So, let’s get more precise:
The end of spring (May to June) and late summer (September to early October) are particularly great periods to visit the Ionian Islands, as the crowds are fewer and the rates lower compared to peak summer. During these months, temperatures are as comfortable as it gets in Greece around summer. Expect to see termometers marking 25 to 30°C, but not much higher than that!
In early May and late October, rainfall tends to be a bit higher, but definitely not a problem. I could consider visiting the Ionian Islands during these months, but that would not be my first choice. Between June and August, it’s possible to best of Greek Summer. Very long and warm days, a vibrant atmosphere, and a fully functioning tourist infrastructure are to be expected. However, during these months you will be met with heftier costs and more crowded beaches. Especially in August which is the main summer vacation month for Europeans.
With this in mind, my advice to you is: plan a trip to the Ionian Island during the last weeks of May, the whole of June, early July, or the whole of September. And if possible, try to avoid traveling in late July and August. As these are the most crowded and expensive weeks in Greece. We visited the Ionian Islands during the 2 first weeks of July and had a really good experience!
How to get Ionian islands
The Ionian Islands are not so far away from mainland Greece. Or the east coast of Italy for that matter. Therefore, they can be easily accessed by car, ferry-boat, or flight, regardless of where your trip is starting. Since each of these islands has its own best ways to get to, I would recommend checking their individual guides by clicking here. But in a nutshell, you should know that:
- By car from mainland Greece, the only island you can get to is Lefkada.
- By ferry-boat, you can get to Corfu, Paxos, Antipaxos, Lefkada, Kefalonia, Ithaca, and Zakynthos coming from the mainland ports of Kylinni, Patras, Astakos, and Igoumenitsa. From Italy you can take a ferry-boat to Igoumenitsa or Patras from the ports of Bari, Brindisi, Ancona or Venice. Alternatively, you can take a ferry boat to Corfu from Sarande in Albania.
- By flight, you can get directly to the islands of Corfu, Kefalonia, or Zakynthos departing from most countries in Europe. Alternatively you can fly to the mainland airport of Aktion/Preveza airport, which is 25 km away from Lefkada. From there, it’s possible to drive and/or take a ferry boat to the islands.
From Athens to the Ionian Islands
If you are leaving from Athens by car, you can drive directly to the island of Lefkada. Or to the ports of Kylinni, Patras, Astakos, Igoumenitsa on the west coast. From there, you may hop on a ferry-boat to the Ionian Islands.
If you prefer flying, you can reach the islands of Corfu, Kefalonia, or Zakynthos directly departing from Athens. Low-cost companies and the national airlines Aegian Air fly daily to these destinations during summer.
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Best Ionian Islands to visit
Picking the single most beautiful Ionian Island is a hard task. They are all equally gorgeous and full of amazing beaches and landscapes. Which means it all boils down to a personal opinion. But if you ask mine, I’d have to go with Kefalonia, an island that seem to have it all. In addition, I’d recommend Ithaca, as this small island really surprised me with its lush landscapes and perfect secret coves on the coast!
To help you assess the most interesting island for your trip, I prepared the summary below. Starting with my beloved Ithaca:
Secluded coves, charming villages, beautiful landscapes, and great restaurants. That’s what you will find in this small, but diverse island in the heart of the Ionian Archipelago. Ithaca has managed to fly under the mass tourism radar so far. So it remains one of those places where you can enjoy an authentic Greek atmosphere combined with jaw-dropping landscapes.
But that’s not all, Ithaca is also one of the most important islands in Greek Mythology. Having been featured in Homer’s Odyssey as the Island of Odysseus, being an iconic island for history lovers and anyone interested in mythology!
As a relatively small island, Ithaca has a limited selection of accommodations. Which naturally ensures a sense of exclusivity and prevents overcrowding. This selectiveness, however, also positions Ithaca as the priciest among the Ionian Islands when it comes to lodging. It’s rare to snag a hotel room for under 90€ a night. While Ithaca prices may be higher for Ionian Island measures, I’d say it’s quite reasonable when compared to other European summer hotspots!
Ithaca can be visited as a day trip from Kefalonia. But that’s something I strongly advise against given the rich array of attractions the island boasts. Ideally, you should spend between 3 to 5 days in the island to enjoy its attractions, beaches, and delightful vibe!
How to get to Ithaca: Ithaca does not have an airport, but it is quite close to the island of Kefalonia, where the nearest airport (Anna Pollatou) is located. From Kefalonia, you can rent a car and hop on a 30 minutes ferry to Ithaca that leaves twice a day from Sami Port. Alternatively, you can arrive in Ithaca by ferry boats coming from/going to the Ionian neighbor islands or mainland ports. If you are interested, you will find detailed information on how to get to Ithaca in this complete post!
What to do in Ithaca: I have talked in detail about the best things to do in Ithaca in this post. But, in a nutshell, I’d say you can’t miss renting a boat and exploring the secluded coves on your own, visiting Kaminia, Aspros Gaialos, Kaminia, and Kourvoulia Beaches, as well as visiting Panagia Kathariotissa monastery and Kioni village.
Where to stay in Ithaca: If you are planning on staying for 2 to 3 days, I’d recommend booking your accommodation in Vathi, the capital of the island. The Odyssey Apartments was our choice and we loved it! If you are planning on staying 4 days or more in Ithaca, I recommend splitting your time between Vathi and Kioni.
Read the complete travel guide to Ithaca here
Kefalonia is hands-down one of the most beautiful, surprising, and diverse islands in Europe. A place where you will find caves, mountains, vineyards, and jaw-dropping beaches. Not to mention amazing cuisine, charming villages, and a good selection of hotels. Such a gem!
As the biggest island in the Ionian Archipelago, Kefalonia requires some time to be well explored and enjoyed. I’d day 5 days is the minimum time you need to visit the different regions and the most popular beaches in Kefalonia. But 7 to 10 days are ideal for a comfortable trip around the island. The best way to get around is with a rented car or scooter, so please make sure to book your vehicle in advance to avoid steep rates.
How to get to Kefalonia: You can fly directly to the airport of Kefalonia (Anna Pollatou) from Athens or other destinations in Europe. Or, you can get to Kefalonia by ferry boats coming from the Ionian neighbor islands, such as Zakynthos, Ithaca, Lefkada, or from the mainland ports of Patras, Astakos e Kilinni.
What to do in Kefalonia: You can’t miss visiting Mythos, Fteri, Amidi and Vouti beaches. The villages of Fiskardo, Assos, and Sami should also be on your plans, as well as the magnificent Melissani cave! In this post, you will find details about the above-mentioned attractions, as well as other great things to do in Kefalonia!
Where to stay in Kefalonia: To explore well the island you should plan at least 3 different bases: one in the north (I would recommend Fiskardo and Agnatia Bed & Breakfast), one in the east (around Petani Beach and Petani Bay Hotel), and one in the west (village of Sami and Stalaktites Studio).
Lefkada is one of the few Greek Islands accessible by car, and therefore, one of the easiest to travel to coming from Athens or Thessaloniki. Yet, Lefkada remains one of the most secluded islands in Greece and a perfect place for those looking for authenticity combined with natural beauty, as there you can find some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe!
Lefkada is an island I recommend to anyone looking for the most genuine, gorgeous, and less crowded side of the Greek Islands. Also, to those who enjoy alternative sports such as windsurf and kitesurfing, and paragliding. And gourmet travelers, as there are amazing restaurants on this island!
I recommend staying for 5-7 nights if you want to explore Lefkada well, or 3-4 days if you are in a rush. The best way to get around is with a rented car or scooter, and you should book in advance to avoid overpaying.
How to get to Lefkada: Lefkada might be the easiest Greek Island to get to, as it can be reached directly by car, by flight to the nearby airport of Aktion, or by ferry boat coming from the neighboring islands. In this post, you will find all the detailed and complete instructions on how to get to Lefkada.
What to do in Lefkada: I have talked in detail about the best things to do in Lefkada in this post. But upfront, I can let you know that the beaches of Porto Katsiki, Egremini, Milos, and Agios Nikitas are unmissable. So are the villages of Nydri and the Dimosari Waterfall!
Where to stay in Lefkada: The villages of Agios Nikitas, Kalamitsi, Chortata, and Nydri are considered the best areas to stay in Lefkada due to proximity to the most sought-after beaches and attractions on the island. We stayed at T’Aloni and definitely recommend it!
Zakynthos is definitely the most famous and crowded of the Ionian Islands. Perhaps one of the most popular islands in Greece. Its appeal mostly comes from the world-renowned Navagio Beach, which features amazing blue waters and a sinking ship at the beach. But that’s not all, Zakynthos has secluded coves, great restaurants, and charming villages to offer too!
If you are planning to visit, make sure to find off-the-beaten-path attractions and beaches to focus on, as the most popular spots can become too crowded in the high season. And to make the most of the island I recommend staying for 3-5 nights and rent a car or scooter to explore.
How to get to Zakynthos: It’s possible to fly directly to Zakynthos departing from many cities in Europe or Athens. Alternatively, you can get to Zakynthos by ferry-boat coming from the Ionian neighbor islands of Kefalonia and Lefkada or from the mainland port of Kilinni.
What to do in Zakynthos: In Zakynthos, you can’t miss the opportunity to rent a boat and explore the jaw-dropping coves and the uber-famous Navagio Beach. You should also visit Mizithres, Filipoi, and Xigia Sulfur Beaches as well as Plakaki BeachTurtle Island.
Where to stay in Zakynthos: The north shore of the island is considered the best region to stay, as there you will find quiet villages and won’t be too far from the main attractions. Great accommodation options are Nobelos Seaside Lodge and The Bay Hotel & Suites.
5 & 6) Paxos and Antipaxos
Paxos and Antipaxos are home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Greece, with special mention to the Voutoumi Beach which features one of the most crystal clear waters in Europe. These islands are off the mainstream tourism route in Greece and can be fairly calm even in high season months. To explore them, you will need to book between 3-5 nights in Paxos and from there take a taxi-boat to Antipaxos and enjoy its amazing beaches!
How to get to Paxos: You can get to Paxos by ferry-boat from the island of Corfu or from the mainland port of Igoumenitsa. During summer, you can travel to Paxos from Lefkada with the passengers-only ferryboat Azimut. Antipaxos can only be reached by taxi-boat leaving from Paxos at various times during the day.
What to do in Paxos: On Paxos Island, you should visit Erimitis Beach, Tripitos Arch, and the villages of Gaio, Lakkae Loggos. In Antipaxos, the Vrika and Voutoumi Beaches are simply unmissable.
Where to stay in Paxos: There are no accommodation options in Antipaxos, so you will need to book your stay in Paxos. Gaios is typically considered the best village to stay in Paxos due to the proximity to restaurants and attractions, but if you have a car, it would be a good idea to explore the options all around the island. Anassa Mare Villas & Residences, Ranias Apartments, and Nandia Studio & Apartment are great options to stay in Paxos!
Corfu is the northernmost island on the west coast of Greece and a perfect place to start or end your island-hopping itinerary around the Ionian Islands. It’s a place where beautiful beaches meet charming villages and an impressive cultural and historical heritage from the various empires that ruled Corfu over the centuries – such as the Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, British and French empires.
Expect to find not only jaw-dropping beaches and dramatic landscapes in Corfu, but also plenty of historical sites, such as fortresses, palaces, and museums. And this diversity is what makes the island a perfect holiday destination for anyone looking for a full-package island where it’s possible to soak in the sun, bathe in emerald crystal water and visit world-class museums on the same day!
As it is such a special island, Corfu attracts thousands of visitors every season and it’s very popular amongst package-holiday goers. So, if you want to find the calmest and most authentic side of the island, you will want to look for out-of-the-beaten path activities to do during your stay and go beyond the traditional sites. To explore the most traditional activities of Corfu and the least known sites, you will need 4-6 full days and to rent a vehicle to facilitate your trips within the island.
How to get to Corfu: Since Corfu is a popular package holiday destination, it’s possible to fly directly to it from most capitals in Europe, with charter flights companies, main airlines, or low-cost companies. Alternatively, it’s possible to get there by ferry-boat coming from the mainland ports of Igoumenitsa and during summer, you can get there from Kefalonia and Lefkada with the passengers-only ferryboat Azimut.
If you are leaving from other countries, you can take a ferry-boat to Igoumenitsa from Bari, Brindisi, Ancona or Venice in Italy and from there hop on a ferry to Corfu. Alternatively, you can take a ferry boat directly to Corfu from Sarande in Albania.
What to do in Corfu: Corfu is full of amazing beaches, but Agios Georgios, Paradise, and Afionas Beaches are some of the most well-regarded ones. The Palaiokastrita Monastery, the New and Old Fortress, as well the Achillion Palace, and the UNESCO World Heritage Old Town including the Spianada square are not to miss.
Where to stay in Corfu: As one of the most popular islands in Greece, Corfu is filled with great and affordable accommodation options. In the heart of the Old Town Corfu, Locandiera is a good option, and across the island, Tereza’s Sunset Hotel and Philoxenia are tempting accommodation options.
Island-hopping the Ionian Islands with a car
Rent a car in Athens and drive for 3 and a half hours to Kyllini port, where you can catch a ferry-boat to Zakynthos. The trip will cost you 15€ per person and 40€ per car and in less than 2 hours you will arrive on the island of Navagio Beach.
Spend the next 3 to 4 days in Zakynthos exploring its beaches, villages, and restaurants.
From Zakynthos, hop on a ferry-boat to Kefalonia. It will take 1 and a half hours to reach the port Sami and the trip will cost you around 12€ per person and 40€ per car.
Spend 5 to 10 days in Kefalonia exploring all corners of the island, with a special focus on the north and west sides. For more info, check the complete Kefalonia Travel Guide here.
You can opt to visit Ithaca on a day trip from Kefalonia or spend 3 to 5 full days there exploring this gorgeous island. The trip will cost you around 3 € per person and 20€ per car.
Stay at least 3 days exploring the beaches and villages. For more info, check the complete Ithaca Travel Guide here.
From Kefalonia (or Ithaca if you decide to stay) you can hop on a ferry-boat to Lefkada and explore the most amazing beaches and restaurants on the island. The trip will cost you around 15€ per person and 45€ per car.
Spend 3 to 5 days in Lefkada exploring its marvelous beaches and indulging in the delicious local cuisine. For more info, check the complete Lefkada Travel Guide here.
From Lefkada, you can drive to Igoumenitsa port, where you can hop on a ferry-boat to Corfu. The trip will cost you around 13€ per person and 50€ per car and take less than 2 hours.
Spend 4 days exploring Corfu’s beaches and learning about the history of the island.
6) Paxos & Antipaxos
From Corfu, you can take a ferry-boat to the pristine islands of Paxos and Antipaxos and spend the next 3 to 6 days exploring these hidden gems of the Ionian Sea.
From Paxos, you can take a ferry to Igoumenitsa Port, and from there drive back to Athens to return the rental car or head to your next destination in Greece.
Island-hopping the Ionian Islands without a car
If you are traveling without a car and want to island-hop around all the 7 main Ionian Islands, you should plan to fly into Corfu and fly out from Zakynthos (or vice-versa) which are the northern and southernmost islands in the region respectively.
You will, anyway need to rent a vehicle to explore the islands, and that’s why we suggest doing the whole itinerary using the same car. If that’s not possible, you can rent cars in each island and commute between islands as a passenger using the Azimut route or any of the big ferry-boat that also transports cars.
If you fly into Corfu, you can take a ferry boat to Paxos and from there visit Antipaxos. From Paxos, you can take the Azimut ferry to Lefkada, and from there take the Ionionpelagos or Levante Ferries to Ithaca. With the same ferry companies, you can travel to Kefalonia and from there take the Azimut or Levante Ferries to Zakynthos. From Zakynthos, you can fly out to Athens or other destinations in Europe.
How to budget for the Ionian Islands
After seeing how amazing these islands are, you must be wondering how much does a trip to the Ionian Islands costs. Right? Well, prices can vary between islands and months of visit, but in general, you should budget for:
- Around 70€ per night at a simple, but comfortable accommodation like T’Aloni in Lefkada
- Around 200€ per night at a luxury/boutique hotel like Emelisse Nature Resort in Kefalonia
Food in Greece is very reasonably priced compared to other countries in Europe, and that’s especially true for the Ionian Islands. These islands are places where you can indulge in delicious and fresh sea-food meals paired with fantastic local wine without it costing you an “arm and a leg”.
And to get the most of the experience, I recommend visiting local tavernas, ordering various small dishes to share pairing with house local wine. You can budget considering the following:
- Starters at a local taverna vary between 3€ to 12€
- Main meals at a local taverna vary between 8€ to 20€
- Local house wine won’t cost you more than 5€ per 500 ml
Most of our meals were comprised of a few starters, two mains, wine, and beers, and the total costs varied between 50€ to 70€ – which we considered good prices for filling and diverse meals in Europe. If that sounds too much for you, fear not, my friend: it’s totally possible to eat well in Greece for less than 30€ a day if you make conscious choices. And so, there is quite some room to budget according to your financial availability for the trip!
- A car rental will cost you around 40€ per day and you can book in advance here. A motorcycle won’t cost more than 25€ per day and you can book upon arrival.
- A private and self-skippered boat will cost you around 100€ per day + the fuel you consume.
What to pack for the Ionian Islands
As you will be visiting the Ionian Islands during spring or summer in Greece, you should be prepared for very sunny and warm days. Hence, my suggestion is that you pack light and fresh clothes, beachwear, and casual shoes. Aim for beach attire and bring a light jacket just in case – chances are that you are not going to need it!
For women: you should pack summer and fresh dresses in various styles, from flouncy to long ones. Skirts, linen pants, fresh tops, and shorts are also great items to bring to Ithaca. Flat and comfortable shoes should be your way to go and you absolutely won’t need high heels or heavy makeup.
For men: You can pack linen shirts and fresh fabric shirts, as well as t-shirts, shorts, and fresh pants. Shoes should be casual and comfortable, with no need for fancy items.
You will also need:
- Beach shoes for pebble beaches
- Sun screen with maximun UV protection
- Sun hats
- A beach bag
- Beach towel or blanket
- Long Sleeve UV Sun Protection Shirt
- Beach tent or a beach umbrella
Other items to pack to the Ionian Islands are beach floats, board games, books, a beach tennis kit, and a cooler bag to bring beverages and snacks to the beaches.
I sincerely hope this guide inspired you to visit the Ionian Island, our favorite in Greece. If you’re interested in exploring other Greek archipelago click here and found out the best options. Should you need further insights or have any queries about Kefalonia, drop a comment below.