Prosperous and lively Zakynthos Town, home to the island’s airport and ferry port, makes a bustling point of arrival. Package tourism is concentrated both along the shoreline to the north and, especially, along the southern coast, between Laganas and Kalamaki. The Vasilikos Peninsula, poking south from the southeast corner, is a little less developed, though long, narrow Banana Beach on its northern side is awash with crowds, water sports and parasols. Keep going right to the tip to reach Gerakas Beach; a strand of fine sand that faces into Laganas Bay, it's the island’s best. It's also a crucial turtle-nesting site, so visitor numbers are restricted, and all access is forbidden between dusk and dawn from May to October; conservation advice is displayed near the access path.
Beyond Laganas, the rugged terrain of the far southwest starts to unfold. Follow a tiny road from the pretty village of Keri to reach lighthouse-topped Cape Keri, and a high viewpoint surveying the endless cliffs that stretch away up the west coast; a converted van sells snacks.
There’s no shoreline road north, but a happily confusing tangle of highland routes threads through the wooded hill country parallel to the coast. Here and there, spur roads either drop to coves such as Limnionas or climb to the clifftops, as at Kambi. Detouring inland brings you to villages such as Kiliomeno, where the Church of St Nikolaos features an unusual roofless campanile, and gorgeous little Louha, which tumbles down a valley surrounded by woodlands and pastures. Locals sell honey and seasonal products pretty much everywhere, but it’s Volimes in the north that’s the major sales centre for traditional products such as olive oil, tablecloths and rugs.
The most dramatic sight along the west coast is magnificent Shipwreck Beach, home to a stranded cargo ship that ran aground in the 1960s. It’s only accessible on boat trips – in summer, the waters immediately offshore are choc-a-bloc with sightseeing cruises – but you can admire it from above, and get fabulous photos, from a precariously perched lookout platform signposted between Anafonitria and Volimes.
On the east coast, resorts immediately north of Zakynthos Town are generally humdrum, but the further north you go the more dramatic the scenery becomes. The road narrows at the little ferry village of Agios Nikolaos, which holds a nice crop of restaurants and accommodation, while the majestic headland of Cape Skinari marks the end of the road at the northern tip.
The huge curve of the Bay of Laganas, along the south coast, is lined with hotels catering to package holidaymakers, while the beach resorts immediately northwest of Zakynthos Town are a bit more sedate. More upmarket options are hidden away on the Vasilikos Peninsula in the southeast, and in Agios Nikolaos in the north.
Zakynthos Town has a lively dining scene, and the beach resorts hold plenty of tavernas. The most distinctive local food is served in the hill villages of the interior.