If it’s come down to Zakynthos vs Thassos then you’re looking at deciding between two islands that sit at completely opposing ends of Greece. The first is washed over by the turquoise waters of the Ionian Sea in the far west (that’s Zakynthos, or Zante as some call it). Then you have Thassos, which sits only a short ride on the ferry from the mountains that mark the Bulgarian border.
Despite being over 280 miles apart as the crow flies, in different seas, and different island chains, there are quite a few similarities between Zakynthos and Thassos. They each have the blazing beaches you’d expect of island destinations in southern Europe. Both come steeped in rich history. Oh, and there are hidden hinterlands away from the hotel-packed coasts where it’s possible to taste (literally!) rustic Greece.
This guide to Zakynthos vs Thassos will run through seven key things to know about the islands; the things we think every would-be vacationer to the land of feta and ouzo will want to consider. It will pit the isles against each other in an effort to pinpoint the best destination for you this year, and offer a handy summary at the end of it all.
Zakynthos vs Thassos: Getting there
Getting to either of these islands should be relatively easy. However, there’s no question that Zakynthos makes things the easiest of all. That’s down to the fact that there’s a dedicated airport on the island – the Zakynthos International Airport is now the ninth busiest in the country. The vast majority of the connections that go there are seasonal, meaning they only run between March and October. However, there are loads of them, including direct low-cost flights from London on both Ryanair and easyJet. Ferries to Zakynthos come in from Kyllini on the Peloponnesian mainland. There’s also a boat route over from Bari (in Italy) in the summer months.
Thassos is so close to the mainland that there are upwards of 12 ferry links per day between March and October. It’s a breeze to get across and there’s usually no need to pre-book tickets (though it still might be wise in the peak season). The boats go from the port town of Kavala and take about 1.5 hours in all before docking up at the main port of Limenas on the northern shoreline. The closest major airport is in Thessaloniki. There’s a good road – the E90 – linking it to the ferry port, taking around 1.5-2 hours in all.
Zakynthos vs Thassos: Nature
Most visitors to Zakynthos won’t really see the wilder part of the island. That’s because the popular resort towns – Laganas, Kalamaki – are packed into the south and southeastern quarters. You need to venture north and west to discover what this place was like before the coming of mass tourism in the 60s and 70s. But there are some lovely pockets of untouched Zakynthos. Look for them around the sleepy upland villages of Volimes and Anafonitria, where ridges of dusty scrubland rise and fall. Both shorelines there take a turn for the remote and jaw dropping, too, especially around Navagio Beach and Xigia Sulfur Beach.
Thassos is hailed as the Emerald Island of Greece. That’s not a nod to some strange Irish connection but instead to do with the lushness of the interior. Really, the whole place is just a continuation of the Rodopi massif that scores through the heart of Macedonia on the mainland. So, expect pine and chestnut forests capping the mountains, meadows of alpine flowers, and rugged peaks woven together with rambling paths. The coast here is nowhere near as dramatic as Zante’s but it balances that out with some white-sand stretches and less development, which we think helps Thassos just about tip the balance.
Winner: Thassos, but it’s very close!
Zakynthos vs Thassos: Prices
There are few islands in Greece as affordable as Thassos. Yep, this one leaves the uber-pricy likes of Santorini and chic Mykonos in the dust with everything from hotel rates to restaurant bills. It’s still not the same as, say, Bulgaria, but we think you can get by on around €30 ($35) or so per day if you had to. That won’t include accommodation, but the cheaper hotels can come in at around €30-40/night in shoulder months like September, when the weather’s still pretty good.
The cost of a trip to Zakynthos will all depend on where you want to stay and what you want to do. Budgets of between €50-70 per day are more normal in these parts, but that’s only for food and drinks and transport. If you’re going to book onto a day tour to see Shipwreck Beach (and everyone really should be doing that!) then things will get expensive, fast. What’s more, prices go up when you enter the better-known resort areas of the south and southeast coasts, so a rustic stay in the mountains could be better for the budget.
Zakynthos vs Thassos: Nightlife
There’s simply no competition when it comes to nightlife. Laganas, the mainstay hub of the partying on Zakynthos, is known across Europe as one of Greece’s most hedonistic destinations. The main beach is backed by a pulsing strip. The venues there run the gamut from gritty Irish pubs like Scruffy Murphys to Tiki-themed tropicana bars like Hawaiian Club. The resident crowd is mainly 18-30s and there’s hardly a moment of peace in the midsummer, when reps will do their best to tempt you with all manner of shot deals and whatnot.
Thassos, meanwhile, isn’t void of nightlife. Things are way more chilled here, though. The east coast is dotted with a couple of beach bars that we simply love. Take Cielo Beach Bar, which brings a bit of Bali-chic into the mix, or the elegant Karnagio Beach Bar, occupying an enviable white-sand cove with beanbag drinking spots. The main late-night party areas are around the quaysides of Limenas in the north, and between Potos and Limenaria on the south coast.
One warning: Don’t even think about partying on either Zakynthos or Thassos in the winter. Both places entirely shut up shop when the season comes to an end.
Zakynthos vs Thassos: Things to do
You’re not going to be bored on either Zakynthos or Thassos. The latter island is a wonderworld of Greek history and Byzantine culture. Two locations stand out from the crowd: the Archaeological Museum of Thassos (home to some amazing Archaic Kouros statues and Neolithic rock carvings that predate the Parthenon!) and the Saint Pantaleon Monastery (an 1800s shrine built near a hermit’s cave). You can also hike to the lookouts of Mount Ypsario, hop waterfalls in Maries, and visit tiny offshore islands where very few travelers manage to get to.
Zakynthos is usually more about your classic sun, sand, and sea routine of relaxation with partying thrown in on the side. The south coast is dedicated virtually 100% to that. Laganas is the main resort there, although Kalamaki and Keri also have beaches with sunbeds and bars. When it’s time to explore there’s nowhere that can beat the west coast (a boat trip is the best way). It’s home to Shipwreck Beach – one of the most-photographed in the world – and oodles of smaller grottoes and coves. Bay hopping the east coast is also fun, especially when you manage to make it up to the sulfuric inlets of Xigia.
Zakynthos vs Thassos: Beaches
You’d be hard pushed to find anywhere in the Ionian region with more dramatic beaches than Zakynthos. The entire west coast of the island is beset by soaring cliffs of pure white stone, impossibly turquoise seas, and shimmering pebbles. We hesitate to say that they’re the best in the region because they are notoriously hard to get to and often inundated with boat-trip visitors. Still, Shipwreck Beach remains a bucket list topper. What’s more, there are completely different sorts of sands on offer in the south nearer to the resorts. There, the coastline widens and flattens, so the pines can give way to wide arcs of cinnamon-colored powder. You won’t be alone there but the bays of Kalamaki and Gerakas are great for topping up the tan.
Thassos probably can’t muster anything that will hit the headlines of Zante’s Shipwreck Beach, but it still manages some pretty spectacular bays of its own. There’s certainly no shortage of them – a whopping 34 individual marked beaches run rings around the whole isle. We’d say the cream of the crop are at Alyki Beach (a handsome isthmus beach with a forest to its back) and Golden Beach (washed by a wavy Aegean under the rugged Thassos mountains).
Winner: Zakynthos – Shipwreck Beach tips this one!
Zakynthos vs Thassos: Food
Zakynthos is a classically Ionian destination when it comes to food. There’s a lot of the Greek cooking that’s famous around the world. You also get a heavy influence from Italy (which is really just across the Adriatic to the west). And there’s more seafood than you can shake a Parthenon marble at. The dishes that the island is most famous for include tzatziki (everyone’s favorite garlic-cucumber dip), stifado (meat in a rich tomato and onion sauce), and grilled fish (that changes daily depending on what’s been caught, but the octopus and the swordfish are usually the stars).
Something slightly more nuanced awaits on the menus of Thassos. The proximity of the island to the eastern Balkans brings in that distinct touch of Slavic cooking. Cue the spiced and peppered cabbage salad that’s eaten here throughout the winter months, or the sundried and smoked kolios gouna mackerel. During the spring and summer, Thassos locals also love to eat fresh foraged foods, which means you get gorgeous, deep-fried zucchini flowers, tasty sarmadakia grape leaves, and healthy mountain greens known as horta.
Winner: Probably Thassos, but you’ll eat well on Zakynthos, don’t worry!
Zakynthos vs Thassos – the conclusion
There is oodles going for both Zakynthos and Thassos. There are similarities and differences, but also some USPs that make each unique among the Greek Islands.
If we had to narrow it down, we’d say that Thassos is the perfect destination for budget-conscious eco travelers wanting to escape the main tourist trail around the Aegean Sea. There’s nowhere near the same crowds as places like Rhodes or Santorini here and the hotel rates reflect that. You can also get to Thassos by boat; no flight required.
On the other side of the country, Zakynthos still rides its reputation as a major party island. It’s true -it’s wild. But the hedonism is largely focused on Laganas. Steer away from that and you get to see one of the most amazing beaches in the world (Shipwreck), a seriously dramatic west coast, and well-appointed tourist resorts with hotels for families and couples alike.