Situated off the western coast of Greece, not far from Italy, the Ionian Islands are some of the most beautiful of the Greek Isles. Rich in history and natural beauty, the six main islands attract many tourists every year but still retain a sense of authenticity and charm.
The islands are believed to have once made up part of mainland Greece before they tore away and floated into the sea. Looking at the dramatic and craggy coastlines of the islands, it certainly seems likely, while beautiful sandy beaches and tree-topped hills soften the overall look. They are also surrounded by some of the deepest oceans in the Aegean, which is a playground for animals including turtles and seals.
The most well-known of the major Ionian Islands is Corfu, while Paxos and Zante (Zakynthos) are also popular. The other major islands – Lefkada, Kefalonia, and Ithaca are a little more peaceful and relaxing, as are the minor islands south of Zakynthos. Here, you’ll find almost deserted beaches and picture-perfect traditional villages.
Having been occupied by the Romans and Venetians at various times throughout history the Italian influence is evident in the architecture, wine, and even some of the food. As well as the natural beauty, you can also expect to spy on remnants of the island’s fascinating history. In particular, the Old Town of Corfu is a cobblestoned wonder with Renaissance, Baroque and Classical elements.
Ionian Islands hopping
The islands in the Ionian group are spaced far apart and some of them are very big, so designing an itinerary to explore them can be challenging.
There is only one ferry a day, the Lefkada Palace, that travels between Corfu in the north and Zakynthos in the south, stopping at several of the main islands along the way, and the end-to-end journey takes 13 hours.
The island of Kythira is the furthest away and is not connected to the others by ferry at all. The only way to visit Kythira is on a flight from Athens or by ferry from the Peloponnese towns of Neapolis or Gythios, or from Crete.
It is also possible to travel between the islands partially by ferry and also by car or bus. For example, you can catch a small local ferry from Fiscardo on Kefalonia to Vasiliki in Lefkada, and then pick up a hire car or catch a bus up to the city of Igoumenitsa where there are regular ferries to Corfu and Paxos. There are also ferries from the beautiful town of Parga to Paxos.
The other way to get between the islands is to fly. Kefalonia, Zakynthos, and Corfu all have small international airports, but all flights within Greece will be via a connection in Athens, so this often takes just as long as the other options.
Ionian Island itinerary
To see all of the Ionian Islands, and do them justice, you would need many weeks if not months.
Due to the size and the geography it makes sense to do them in clusters if your time is limited. For example:
Corfu – Paxos – Antipaxos
Ideally you would spend a week on Corfu and a further 3-5 days on Paxos with a day trip to Antipaxos
Kefalonia is huge and even with two weeks you likely won’t see everything. You could include a day trip to Ithaca or include it for a night or two.
Lefkada – Kefalonia
5 nights minimum on each island and preferably more. From Lefkada you can also visit the island of Meganisi or even explore parts of the Epirus region of the Mainland, which is a fascinating part of Greece.
Zante needs at least 5 days and can be joined with Kefalonia for a further 5, minimum.