Best Ionian Islands Greek Island hopping Itinerary

by Kelly

Thinking of going a little further off the beaten track and heading to the Ionian Islands but not sure how to get around? Then this is the best Ionian islands Greek Island hopping itinerary you need! Here you will find everything you need to travel these perfect Greek Islands.

Which islands make up the Ionian Islands?

The islands of Corfu, Kefalonia, Zakynthos, Lefkada, Paxi (or Paxos) and Kythira make up the seven main and largest Ionian Islands. Antikythira, Antipaxi, Ereikousa, Mathraki, Othonoi, Meganisi and Strofades are all smaller and less visited islands in the Ionian chain.

Where are the Ionian Islands and how to get there?

The Ionian Islands run along the left side of Greece starting closer to the Albanian border and running down. They are easily accessed via International airports, ferries or car!

There are International airports on Corfu, Zakynthos and Kefalonia. Ferries service each island and there is a land access bridge to Lefkada! The easiest way to access these islands is to start at one end and fly in and out. Alternatively you can fly into Athens and take a bus or hire a car and drive to Lefkada. Buses also run from Athens to Zakynthos and return. Check out this route in our Zakynthos blog.

Do you need a vehicle for the Ionian Islands?

To put it bluntly yes you do. There are public transport bus options on all the islands but they are very slow and don’t always show up. One of them broke down on a cliff edge in Kefalonia while we were on it. Having a car organised to go and explore the islands is really essential. We wasted a lot of time by trying to find a place to rent from when it could have been organised and ready. All of the Ionian islands are mountainous. A scooter will not cut it especially as without a motorbike licence you can’t rent over a 50cc scooter or ATV. This is all we had on Lefkada and it wouldn’t get up the hills, we ended up returning it. Check out what you need to rent a vehicle in Greece in our blog.

Best time to go to Ionian Islands?

The high season is June to August, this will be the busiest time but with the best weather. May and September are quieter and a little cheaper however you may experience a little more rain.

The best Ionian Island Greek Island Hopping Itinerary!

When we were looking to go to the Ionian Islands I really couldn’t find many useful itineraries. This one will bring together these islands and the best way to get between them.

Day 1-3 Corfu

Corfu is a beautiful island that is more touristy and easily visited than many other of the Ionian Islands. You will find a busy main area with lots of cafes, restaurants, bars, shops and a lovely beach right at the town. The town itself is really pretty with lots of historical points.

You will definitely need to hire a car if you are looking to explore the island and its beaches or you could just spend a few days soaking up the town itself.

Best places to stay for Corfu are:

Budget: AtticStudioTheotoki, Midrange: Old Town Luxury Suites ‘Princess’, Luxe: CorfuCenterStudios1.

Eat at:

Definitely eat at To Pikantiko for the traditional souvlaki and best service! It is just a tiny little restaurant in the back streets but the family that run it are so lovely that we went back every day! The food was great and they were just so well priced and kind.

Day 4-7 Lefkada

The easiest way to get to Lefkada from Corfu is by flying there. If you book them early enough flights are really cheap between these islands and the fastest most convenient way to go. If not there is a ferry between Corfu and Lefkada which costs about 20€ and takes about 6 hours. Lefkada is also reachable by car or bus from Athens as it is one of the only Greek Islands connected to the mainland via a bridge.

Lefkada is one of our favourite Greek Islands! We think it has the most beautiful beaches. The colour of the water on this island goes from dark blue at sea to the most incredible bright blues! It almost looks glacial. The little town of Nydri is super cute and a great location to stay in. You can check out more details and what we did here in our Lefkada blog. Honestly we loved it so much we could have stayed a week.

Best places to stay for Lefkada are:

Budget: Athineon Hotel, Midrange: Palmyra Beachfront Studios, Luxe: View on Scorpios.

Eat at:

Mike loved the gyros at Stathis. It was a great little restaurant for a quick and reasonably priced meal. I usually made my own gluten free meals in our apartment. There are beautiful restaurants at the waterfront and great cocktail bars as well.

Day 8-11 Kefalonia

The easiest way to get from Lefkada to Kefalonia is by flying there. If you book them early enough flights are cheaper although this is not the cheapest route in the island chain. If not there is a ferry between Lefkada and Kefalonia which costs about 20€ and takes about 3.5 hours. There are multiple ferry lines that run between these islands. Some will land in Sami which is the more populated area on Kefalonia and the main port town. We took one that landed in Fiskardo and took the bus to the next main area. Make sure to take the ferry that will land where you want to be.

Kefalonia has so much to offer. Beautiful beaches, cute villages and incredible wineries! You can go wine tasting all over the island, check out our favourite Kefalonia wineries here. You can check out more details and what we did here in our Kefalonia blog.

Best places to stay for Kefalonia are:

Budget: Mediterranean Studios, Luxe: Majestic View Boho Style Apartment.

Eat at:

We stayed out of the main areas of Kefalonia (not recommended above) and shopped at the Lidl, cooking our meals at our accommodation.

Day 12-15 Zakynthos (Zante)

The easiest way to get from Kefalonia to Zakynthos (also called Zante) is by flying there. It can be tricky to find the right flight though. Some of these can be 20 hour flights with several changes. Sky Express does this route for a reasonable price if you can get it and only takes 30 minutes. There is a ferry between Kefalonia and Zakynthos which costs about 15€ and takes about 3 hours. There are multiple ferry lines that run between these islands. They will depart and arrive at different locations so again check what day and location you are looking to go.

Zakynthos (Zante) is a dramatic island. There are of course the huge mountains and lovely beaches. Towns that can become busy and full of partying Europeans…. and of course the famous shipwreck beach! Visiting this beach was such a bucket list moment for us. This Zante shipwreck blog will detail how we saw it from the water and the viewpoint in one day and will help you plan how to do it.

Best places to stay for Zakynthos are:

Budget: Zante Calinica Hotel, Midrange: AluaSoul Zakynthos – Adults only – All Inclusive, Luxe: Hotel St.John Suites Adults Only.

Eat at:

We stayed out of the main areas of Kefalonia (not recommended above) and shopped at the Lidl, cooking our meals at our accommodation.

Tips for travelling the Ionian Islands:

Check out our packing guide for the Greek Islands, it will help you organise your trip!

Where to next:

Visit Antiparos the tiny and quaint Greek Island

The best itinerary for the ‘underrated’ Greek Islands

How to travel Mykonos on a budget

Best 10 day Greek Island hopping itinerary

How to spend two days in Santorini…and why we probably won’t go back

Three perfect days in Ios

Why you should visit Sifnos, an underrated Greek Island

Tsikali Taverna is the most authentic restaurant on Sifnos.

Is it worth going to Kimolos?

Best things to do in the Greek Island of Naxos

ELaiolithos Luxury Resort is a real Greek experience you will never forget!

Top five things to do on Milos

Milos is the perfect Greek Island for 2024

Everything you need to know about Sarakiniko Beach, Milos

Why I love Firopotamos Beach, Milos

How to pack for a Greek Islands trip

Why you have to go to Paros in 2024!

Is Paros nicer than Mykonos?

Is Mykonos worth visiting in 2024?

Gluten free in Greece

Best Ionian Islands Greek Island hopping Itinerary

Car rental in Greece 2024

Things to do in Athens for two days

Car rental on Naxos Greece

Best things to do on Lefkada

What to do in Corfu?

Kefalonia Travel Guide

Wine Tasting on Kefalonia – Orealios Gaea – Vine Growers of Robola

Wine Tasting on Kefalonia – Gentilini Winery & Vineyards

Winery tasting on Kefalonia – Sclavos Wines

Best way to see Zakynthos Shipwreck Beach (Navagio Beach) by boat and viewpoint…in one day.

Zakynthos (Zante) Travel Guide

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Susan November 3, 2023 - 12:48 pm

Hi Kelly, I really enjoyed reading your blog! I was hoping you could help me. I can’t decide to go to santorini and milos or the ionian islands of lefkada and kefalonia. It’s going to be my first time and possibly only time since I am only just beginning my European travels. I enjoy beaches and like to find nightlife and entertainment (don’t like to be bored at night and love to dance. I would also like to see a greek dancing show and hope to participate and have lots of fun. We are in our 50’s but very active. Can you give me your honest opinion of where to choose to visit having traveled all over Greece?

Kelly November 11, 2023 - 9:05 am

Hi Susan,
I am so excited for you! I LOVE Greece and can’t wait to go back again.
If you want the most Greek Island beach and culture experience then I would choose the Cyclades Islands, especially for your first time. Milos definitely has the most variety – great beaches and villages. You will absolutely want a hire vehicle though to get around and really enjoy what the island has to offer-there is so much to do there!
For the Greek experience I would recommend Naxos for authenticity – the little mountain villages are beautiful and very local feeling. If you stop in at ELaiolithos Resort for a drink or meal the lovely lady that owns it, Helen, will make you feel right at home and give you any tips for the villages, she is a delight and truly wonderful to talk to, being there made me fall in love with Greece and the people. While in Naxos check out the beaches as well as they are really lovely.
I also think Paros is a fantastic island to visit, it again has the mix of beaches and authentic villages, you will need a vehicle to get around. We loved stopping off to all the little villages and beaches at whim, not being kept to a bus schedule.
Santorini is lovely and has the very Greek Island scenes that are so well known, it can get extremely busy in peak high season. It will have the most nightlife though, the evenings are really bustling in Fira and Oia (very very full of people though). Mykonos is worth it but again is more touristic so a couple of days is enough, again it has good nightlife in Mykonos Town. Check out our Naxos and Paros blogs to see if they are something that would suit, they may be a little quiet in the evenings for you but great to experience the more authentic Greek Islands. For nightlife there I would recommend staying in the bigger villages.
Athens also has a great vibe in the evenings and if you stay in the Plaka you will see loads of nightlife and Greek Dancing at restaurants, you do need to book early though as they fill up daily. There are also some great tours you can do that include a meal and dancing experience.
We LOVED the Ionian Islands but I think if you may not go back then you have to see the classic “Greek Islands” in the Cyclades first. Greece is one of my favourite places-I could go on forever about it! Feel free to ask as many questions as you need! I am more than happy to help anytime! I am sure you are going to love the Greek Islands!

John January 27, 2024 - 6:44 am

Hi Kelly,
Great blog – thanks for the tips! I’m looking to do roughly the same itinerary this summer. Did you get a ferry to travel between the islands? And did you get a separate hire car on each island? I’ve read that most hire companies don’t allow you to take a car on the ferry, so I was just wondering how you overcame this? Thanks for your help:)

Kelly February 1, 2024 - 8:58 am

Hi John! Thanks, we LOVED the Ionian Islands, they are incredible. We took the bus from Athens to Lefkada and hired a scooter there. You can drive as it is accessible by a bridge but it is the only one that is. You can take a hire car on the ferries but the companies may not like it too much! Companies in Athens would be more used to that however as you would usually be returning it back there anyway. We caught a ferry from Lefkada to Kefalonia, got the bus there and then hired another scooter. Then we took another ferry from Kefalonia to Zakynthos and hired a car here, from Zakynthos we took a bus back to Athens. We highly recommend getting your car hire sorted early for these islands as we really struggled to hire cars last minute, they were all booked. It was pretty easy to take the ferries between them once you work out where you want to leave from and arrive to as they go to and from different ports on each island. I highly recommend hiring a car for each island if you are not taking one the whole way as a scooter was not high powered enough to get us around to everywhere we wanted to go. They are all really mountainous and you need a car or a motorbike. You will need an international driving licence or in the case of a motorbike you will also need a motorbike specific licence.
Have a great trip! These are such great places to explore!


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