So, it’s come down to Zakynthos or Mykonos? Not bad. Not bad at all! Wherever you end up deciding to go for this year’s romp to the sunny southern Med, you can rest assured it will be a cracking holiday. How can we be so sure? Well…let’s just say we haven’t been able to stop thinking about either of these islands since we last went. They’re both darn awesome.
But not all Greek islands are created equal. There are some very important differences between Zakynthos (also known as Zante) and Mykonos. For starters, they’re located in completely different parts of Greece – one in the heart of the uber-famous Cyclades chain (the home of Santorini), the other out in the Ionian Sea, almost closer to Italy than to Athens. Don’t worry, though, because both destinations also come replete with gorgeous beaches, charming Greek villages, tasty food, and plenty to do.
This guide aims to help you weigh up Zakynthos or Mykonos for your next vacation. It will take a look at the sort of hotels on offer on each island, see what the sands are like on both, and what it is that makes them unique. Let’s get started…
Zakynthos or Mykonos: The general vibe
Mykonos is often touted as the ultimate good-time island. People mainly come here to laze in the beach bars listening to chill hop and sinking cocktails, to party in the sleek bars of Mykonos Town, and to enjoy fine-dining cuisine in the bistros of Little Venice. There are stylish villas in the hills behind the coast with lux infinity pools and gorgeous views. And there are boutique hotels for high-roller visitors near the main marinas. It’s a sort of Ibiza but out in the Greek Aegean.
Zakynthos is much more aligned with classic family package holidaying. That’s thanks to the string of resorts that cluster around the south and the east shorelines. They include Kalamaki, Argassi, Zakynthos Town, and Alykes, which all offer comfy hotels for reasonable rates, along with access to beachfronts with their own sunbeds. Zante also boasts one seriously raucous party town (Laganas – more on him later!). Oh, and there’s a wilder side to things, awaiting the trekkers and the cove hoppers on the north and west parts of the isle.
Winner: Draw – families will probably prefer Zakynthos. Younger travelers and couples are sure to love Mykonos.
Zakynthos or Mykonos: Beaches
Ah, Greek beaches – there’s nothing quite like em’! Oh, and did you know that Zakynthos is famed for having some of the very best in the whole country? It’s classic Ionian stuff – think cobalt blue waters, gleaming cliffs of chalk-white stone, and small slivers of pebbles below. The most iconic part of the Zante coast is Shipwreck Beach. Situated in the west, it’s pure drama from the get-go, showcasing a rusting ship in an empty cove that’s surrounded by sheer-cut mountains. You also get family friendly resort beaches dotted with sunbeds in these parts. Check out the likes of Gerakas Beach and Banana Beach for that.
Mykonos’s most popular sands tend to stretch south and north from the main port in Mykonos Town. They include the ever-popular bay of Agios Ioannis – soft, shallow, and surrounded by beach hotels – and Platis Gialos – which hosts some inviting seafood tavernas. This is also the island to choose if you want buzzing party beaches with cool beanbag bars. They’re the name of the game down on Paradise Beach and Paraga Beach. Overall, Mykonos has about half the designated beaches as Zante. What’s more, the island is less about jaw-dropping coast vistas and more about chilling with your feet in the Aegean.
Winner: Zakynthos wins this one.
Zakynthos or Mykonos: Hotels
Zakynthos and Mykonos aren’t hailed as two of the leading destinations in their respective corners of Greece for nothing. There’s an overload of hotels in both places, with oodles for all manner of travelers…
Take Zante. The south and east coasts are where the bigger hotel resorts and family hotels await. You can pick places like Pierros Hotel and the three-star Zante Atlantis Hotel, which both come highly rated for groups of parents and kids, mainly thanks to their offering of family suites and big swimming pools. You can also crank up the style a little by choosing accommodations like the Marelen Hotel. Or go wild and into the mountains with something like the Wild Fig Retreat in the north.
Mykonos lays claim to some of the very best hotels in all of Greece. It won’t be hard to find somewhere for the honeymoon. Just check out the award-winning Bill & Coo Suites and Lounge. It unfolds on the cliffs north of Mykonos Town to offer an amazing infinity pool gazing straight across the Aegean Sea. Then comes the five-star service at the Anax Resort and Spa, with its bubbling Jacuzzis and sprawling executive suites. To escape the buzz of Mykonos, you might want to consider venturing eastwards across the countryside. Options like the Bungalow in Ano Mera Village provide a more rustic experience of Greek life there.
Zakynthos or Mykonos: Getting there
Getting to Zakynthos is best done by plane. The island has one of the larger airports in the Ionian region. It’s called the Zakynthos International Airport and is located in the far south, just 10 minutes’ drive from the pumping resort of Laganas. Around 1.8 million passengers use the airport each year and there’s a medley of convenient links to major cities like London and Rome and Amsterdam on both budget and premium fliers. Just remember that many of the routes are seasonal. For ferries, you can pick up connections from Patras on the mainland, from nearby Kefalonia, or even from Brindisi in Italy.
Mykonos Airport (JMK) is about the same size as Zakynthos International. It hosts 1.5 million passengers each year and serves a real hodgepodge of big airlines, including BA, Aegean Airlines, easyJet, and Ryanair. Again, a vast majority of the routes will only have regular dates between May and September to match up with the high-season tourist influx. You might find it just a touch easier to get ferries to Mykonos. The island is now a major stop on cross-Aegean island-hopping itineraries. That means there are connections from Santorini, Milos, Folegandros, even Crete and Athens. Try to book those as far in advance as possible, though – boats can fill up fast when the weather gets warmer.
Winner: Draw. Both islands should be pretty simple to travel to.
Zakynthos or Mykonos: Nightlife
Now here’s a tough call. Both Zakynthos and Mykonos are famed all over Greece for their wild nightlife scene. However, the truth is that they both cater to very different partying crowds.
Mykonos is generally known for drawing a monied cohort of A-listers and celebrities. That inevitably adds a touch class and style to the nightlife offering but also cranks up the prices. So, you’ll probably pay extra for the luxury of a night out here. However, that means you will get to enjoy the chic eateries of Little Venice and uber-cool venues like the 180º Sunset Bar. There are also places that channel the Ibiza vibe, like the Super Paradise Beach Club, offering day drinking that turns into cocktail lounging and then late-night DJ sessions with some of the top names in Euro EDM.
Zakynthos’s party scene is all about the south coast town of Laganas. That joins Malia and Ios as one of the biggest British summer escapes in Greece. It’s laden with shot bars and pumping dance bars that spill out onto a single strip and go until the (very) early hours between May and August. The vibe is more drink-until-you-drop than champagne-with-the-sunset. There’s also a more muted party scene over in nearby Kalamaki – think beer bars, pubs, and family tavernas.
Winner: Mykonos – it’s just classier.
Zakynthos or Mykonos: Food
Let’s forget about the full-English fry ups and the fast-food outlets that dominate the strip of Laganas for a moment. They might be the sort of dishes you crave after a night slamming the ouzo, but it’s not really reflective of the sort of cooking you get on Zakynthos. Nope. Here, it’s all about enjoying the Ionian style of food. That draws influences from Italy to offer tomato-based beef stews like stifado (a hearty beef casserole with tomato) and youvetsi (a lamb-based pasta dish). The region also has fantastic seafood and classic Greek favorites like feta salad and spinach pie.
In Mykonos there’s a bit less of the age-old traditions of Greek cooking. They tend to take a back seat – at least in the main restaurants of Little Venice and Mykonos Town – to creative, edgy fusion food. You’ll spot lots of chic (and expensive) restaurants that serve up degustation menus and fine dining, along with bespoke cocktail bars with curated aperitif menus. To sample grilled octopus and saganaki cheese, you can venture away from the mainstay areas and go east. There are some fantastic family kitchens hidden up in the Mykonos hills or closer to the distant coves around Kalafati.
Zakynthos or Mykonos: Things to do and see
Partying and guzzling mixology cocktails in the beach bars usually tops the list of things to do in Mykonos. But it’s not all there is to do. You can spend time wandering Mykonos Town, dropping into the concept stores and independent art galleries. There are Venetian-era windmills to admire in Kato Mili, along with colorful architecture at the beautiful dining district of Little Venice. On top of that, Mykonos happens to be within reach of arguably the Aegean’s most important archaeological site: Delos. It’s the place that seeded the Athenian Empire and was once a major religious and political gathering place for the Greek states.
Zakynthos catches the eye with its jaw-dropping Shipwreck Beach. Basically, you have to take a boat trip or hike there if you’re coming to this island for the first time. There’s nothing quite like it, with those clear blue waters and the rusting shell of an old boat smack dab in the middle. On the other side of the island, get ready to encounter rare leatherback sea turtles in the protected National Marine Park of Zakynthos. Meanwhile, there’s oodles of watersports at Banana Beach for the kids, along with family restaurants with traditional Ionian cooking at Kalamaki.
Winner: Probably Zakynthos, but only just!
Zakynthos or Mykonos: The verdict
So, there you have it, our detailed breakdown of Zakynthos versus Mykonos. We’ll stop short of saying exactly which island you should go for because both are pretty awesome in their own right.
Generally speaking, it’s probably fair to say that Zante is the more family-friendly isle. It’s got better hotels for those traveling with the kids in tow and activities – turtle spotting, beach hopping – that are suited to mixed-age groups.
Mykonos, meanwhile, trumps Zakynthos when it comes to luxury and chillout travel. The hotels here are simply stunning. Many are adults only and have the full five stars. They join with some particularly cool beach bars and nifty night-time venues to make the isle something like Greece’s answer to Ibiza.