The Ionian Islands are a group of islands in the Ionian Sea, near the west coast of Greece. The outstanding blue color of the sea is the most distinctive feature of this archipelago - Ionian blue is just so unique that it`s beyond description. The high green mountains, pine forests and pastel-colored buildings complete the scenery of these islands and make them totally different from those of Cyclades and Dodecanese group.
The group has 15 inhabited islands but the larger of them are seven. From north to south these are: Corfu, Paxos, Lefkada, Ithaca, Kefalonia, Zakynthos and Kythira. They all stand out for their fantastic blue beaches, greenery and specific architecture which is a combination of Venetian, Greek and Mediterranean style, except for Kythira which has Cycladic appearance, probably because of its remote south position.
The smaller populated islands are Mathraki, Othonoi and Ereikoussa (close to Corfu), Meganisi (close to Lefkada), Kastos and Kalamos (they are the least touristy of all) and Antikythera (close to Kythira).
Each Ionian island has an emblematic and more recognizable place but what you usually see on photos are the dramatic blue beaches, typical for the west coasts of the larger representatives of the group. For Kefalonia this is Myrtos, for Zakynthos - Navagio and for Lefkada - the beaches of Porto Katsiki and Egremni.
Corfu is known for its beautiful capital with preserved Venetian architecture (Corfu Old Town), historical sights and variety of beaches.
Some of the Ionian islands can be reached by plane, others by ferry, and Lefkada is connected to mainland via short bridge.
Islands with airports are Corfu, Kefalonia, Zakynthos and Kythira, as there is also an airport in Preveza Town on mainland (near Lefkada). Ferries depart from various ports depending on the location of the island: the port of Igoumenitsa serves ferries to Corfu and Paxos, Astakos is the port for Ithaca and Kefalonia, and Killini serves ferries from/to Zakynthos and Kefalonia. Island hopping is also possible, for example from Kefalonia to Ithaca and Zakynthos, or from Corfu to Paxos.
Kythira is located below the southernmost part of mainland Greece and you can reach it by plane, by ferry from Neapoli (Peloponnese) or by ferry from the island of Crete.
In all rankings dedicated to the best beaches of Greece, representatives of the Ionian group are always among the top. Probably you have seen photos of the stunning beaches of Lefkada, called Porto Katsiki and Egremni, or of the imposing Myrtos of Kefalonia. Or you definitely remember the rusty shipwreck surrounded by vertical white cliffs and striking blue water, aka Navagio beach of Zakynthos. Sometimes Antipaxos is also included in the rankings with its two beaches of Vrika and Voutoumi, often referred to as the Caribbean of Greece because of the fine white sand.
The greatest selection of sandy beaches can be found on Corfu, Kefalonia and Zakynthos. Some islands have pebbled beaches only - Paxos and Ithaca - but they compensate with their calm and transparent water.
The best time to visit the Ionian islands is from May to September. The period from October to April is characterized by occasional rainfall but in spring and autumn it is warm enough for a relaxed holiday, hiking or sightseeing.
Like the rest destinations in Greece, the prices are highest in July and August when most tourists come for the summer holiday. The period from the beginning of May till the middle of June is perfect to explore the Ionian islands without the crowds and to enjoy the heart-stopping views from above.
Due to the open location, the west coasts of the Ionian islands are often exposed to strong winds and waves, characterized by vertical cliffs, sea caves and rugged shoreline. For this reason, some of the islands are scarcely populated in these areas, though all spectacular beaches you see on photos are namely on the west coasts. The sea water temperatures in the west are subordinate to underwater currents and no prediction can be done - the water may be very lukewarm in May and colder in August at one and the same beach.
And on the contrary, the east coasts which face mainland are sheltered, with calm and smooth sea surface.