Things to Do in Ionian Islands
A regular on lists of the world’s best beaches, Myrtos Beach (Paralía Mirtos) is a 0.5-mile (700-meter) expanse of gleaming white sand curving between two high promontories on Cephalonia’s north coast. While the stunning color comes from rounded pebbles and coarse sand, not fine powder, the view from the blue Ionian Sea is spectacular.
With white sand and marble cliffs, Navagio Beach (Shipwreck Beach)makes a striking setting for swimming and sunbathing. Set on sun-soaked Zakynthos island off the coast of Greece, Navagio Beach is a popular day trip destination. The beach’s centerpiece is a long-abandoned freighter—the remains of a smuggler’s shipwreck—that still languishes on the sands.
The bright turquoise waters of the Greek Islands have inspired many a postcard, but perhaps no spot is more idyllic than Blue Caves of Zakynthos. Visit these sea grottoes, carved by thousands of years of erosion, to bask in the glow of the cobalt-blue water that creates a magical reflection on the caves' pale stone walls.
According to legend, the Greek village of Paleokastritsa (Palaiokastritsa) is where Odysseus was shipwrecked and met Nausicaa in Homer’s epic tale theOdyssey. It’s a suitable setting for mythical romance, with a string of beaches, olive groves, and cypress forests set against the glittering Mediterranean Sea.
This 14th-century Venetian fortress is a striking sight in Corfu, sitting atop the promontory between the Gulf of Kerkyra and Garitsa Bay and separated from the mainland by the Contrafossa moat. Today, the Old Fortress (Palaio Frourio) is home to a Byzantine art collection, Church of St. George, and panoramic lighthouse.
Once the capital and heart of the Greek island of Corfu, Kanoni today is a quarter of Corfu Town, the island’s modern day capital. The name Kanoni is derived from the canons that protected the city near the entrance to the lagoon, which once featured the main port of Corfu. With a steep, rugged coastline covered in trees, Kanoni has just two beaches for visitors to enjoy, but there is plenty else worth seeing.
On a small island connected to Kanoni by a long causeway is the church of Panagia Vlaherna. Built in 17th century, the church with a red-tiled roof boasts an impressive wood-carved iconostasis and many beautiful frescoes. Fishing boats depart regularly from Vlaherna Island for Mouse Island, which is about a five minute boat ride away and home to the 13th century Byzantine church of Pantokrator. According to legend, Mouse Island was formed when the boat carrying Odysseus home to Ithaca was turned into stone and then into an island. Kanoni provides a great view of both Vlaherna and Mouse Islands and is also a good spot from which to watch the plans land at Corfu’s main airport.
Built as a summer residence by Empress Elisabeth of Austria in 1890, Achilleion Palace in the village of Gastouri is among the top attractions on the island of Corfu. Visit the palace designed by Italian architect Raffaello Caritto in a Pompeian style to see paintings and sculptures of mythical gods, including art dedicated to Achilles.
Aqualand Corfu Water Park is the island’s biggest and most popular water park and offers themed zones catering for all ages, carefully watched over by qualified lifeguards. Stretching over an area of 130,000 sq ft (12,000 sq m) landscaped with lawns and mature maple trees, it is a family paradise of water rides and slides, lazy rivers and 15 swimming pools for a day of fun in the sun.
Toddlers up to the age of four can enjoy shallow bathing pools with water showers, playing splashy games on Fantasy Island and exploring the Caribbean Pirate Adventure Pool. There’s a dedicated family area (kids must be aged eight and over) with giant slides, Jacuzzis, a lazy river and a wave pool. Adrenaline junkies can get their kicks from six extreme water ride ranging from the spiraling Hydrotube to the hair-raising Free Fall Plus, which plunges vertically for 80 ft (24 m) into deep water.
Facilities include plenty of free sunbeds and parasols for shade and lockers to hire for a small charge of €5; there are changing rooms and showers as well as food outlets scattered throughout the park and stores selling sun lotion, rubber rings and pool toys.
The capital of the Greek island of Corfu, Corfu Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Twin fortresses, known as the Old Fortress and the New Fortress, stand atop two hills overlooking the old town, where you’ll find cobbled lanes strung with clotheslines, squares, museums, and an astonishing number of churches for a city of its size.
Also known as the Esplanade, the Spianada is the largest town square in Greece, located in Corfu Town on the island of Corfu. Located in front of the Old Fortress, its construction dates back to the French occupation during the Napoleonic Wars. It is one of the most popular tourist sites in the city, as well as the liveliest part of Corfu Town, reflecting the history of the island with a mix of Venetian, French, British and Greek buildings. At one end of the Spianada stands the Royal Palace of Corfu (also called the Palace of St. Michael and St. George), which today houses the Museum of Asian Art. In front of the palace stands a bronze statue of Lord Frederick Adam, an English Commissioner who did important technical work for the city.
On the southern tip of the square you can see the Peristyle of Maitland, a circular monument in honor of the first English Commissioner Thomas Maitland in early 1800s. In front of the iron bridge leading to the Old Fortress is a statue of the German Marshall Schulenberg, who defended the city against the Turks in 1716. Notable for its many colonnades, the Venetian citadel known as the Liston runs along the edge of the square facing the old town.
Interestingly, a cricket court also takes up a significant part of the Spianada as cricket was made popular during British rule in the early 19th century.
More Things to Do in Ionian Islands
One of Greece’s largest water parks, Zante Water Village in Zakynthos promises a fun family outing. The park offers nine main water attractions—some incorporating several slides and adventures—alongside food outlets, shops, and family-friendly land activities such as go-karts.
Located on the western coast of Corfu, the resort town of Agios Gordios is a paradise of pastel-colored buildings surrounded by rugged mountains, olive groves, and cypress trees. Known for its sandy beaches, Agios Gordios is also a convenient jumping-off point for exploring nearby villages on foot, by bike, or by car.
Kassiopi is a village and resort sitting on a small peninsula on the northeast side of the island of Corfu. Historically a small fishing village, it is less than 40 kilometers from Corfu town and is a very popular tourist destination in the summer. Allegedly founded in the 3rd century B.C., it sits in the shadows of Mount Pantokrator. Though small, Kassiopi boasts a lively nightlife with a good mix of bars, restaurants and dance clubs around the harbor and town square.
One sight to see in Kassiopi is the former Temple of Kassios Zeus, which was converted to a church in the 5th century. Burned to the ground by the Turks and restored in late 16th century, the new church has altars to accommodate both Christian and Orthodox religions and inscriptions date from 1590, 1670 and 1832. Kassiopi Castle sits up above the village and was one of three Byzantine era castles that defended the island before the Venetian era. Though it is in a state of ruin today, it was once one of the most impressive castles in the Ionian islands.
Built in 1590, St. Spyridon Church (Agios Spyridon)is dedicated to St. Spyridon, who is said to have saved the Greek island of Corfu from Ottoman attacks on multiple occasions. Located in the heart of Corfu Town, the church is the final resting place of the saint, whose remains are kept in a casket inside the church. Four annual processions originate from the church, on August 11 (the date the Turks abandoned their siege of Corfu in 1716), Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday and the first Sunday in November. On each occasion, the body of St. Spyridon is carried around the town as part of the procession. On three other occasions, his casket is put out for public display and worship.
St. Spyridon is a classic example of Venetian architecture in Corfu Town. The top of the church is divided into 17 parts with golden frames that were painted in the early 18th century and restored in the 19th century. The church’s bell tower was built in 1620 and today is the highest part of the town. For visitors approaching Corfu Town by ferry, it is the first thing they will see.
Mount Pantokrator sits on the northeastern side of the Greek island of Corfu. Almost 3,000 feet tall, it is the tallest mountain on the island. From the top, you can see all of Corfu, Albania and even all the way to Italy on a clear day. A Greek Orthodox monastery has sat on top of the mountain since the middle of the 14th century. The original monastery was destroyed two centuries later and the current one dates to the late 17th century, with a façade from the 19th century.
The peak of Mt. Pantokrator can be reached by car or by foot. The walking trail to the peak is part of the Corfu Trail, which covers more than 200 kilometers around the island. On the way to the top, you will pass Old Perithia, the oldest mountain village on Corfu. Nestled high up on the mountain, it once served as a hideaway from pirate attacks. Today, visitors can wander along cobblestone streets, enjoy a drink in one of four tavernas and sample local cuisine.
A family-friendly park on the northeast coast of the Ionian island of Zakynthos (also known as Zante), Tsilivi opened in 2010 and has enough splash-filled rides and activities to keep kids happy for a day. As well as adrenaline-pumping water rides such as Blackhole and the four-lane Multislide, gentle bobs along the lazy river and a pirate galleon complete with waterslides, there are swimming pools with wave machines and a climbing jungle as well as safe, overseen play areas for toddlers.
Lifeguards are on duty at all the pools, there are changing rooms, sunbeds, umbrellas to hire and three food options, ranging from a pirate-themed café for kids to a cocktail bar to keep adults smiling too. Take flip-flops as the ground gets very hot in the middle of the day.
The main port on the sun-soaked Greek island of the same name, Corfu Cruise Port serves as a gateway to pristine beaches, verdant mountainous interiors, and Corfu Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A popular stop on Adriatic Sea itineraries, Corfu Cruise Port is also the departure point for ferries bound for other Ionian Islands.
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