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 island's southeastern corner, is a little less developed than many other parts of the southern coast, though long, narrow Banana Beach on its northern side is awash with crowds, water sports and parasols. A little further along and things start to mellow out a bit. Take a side road heading west from the village of Vasilikos to find the 80-hectare Logothetis Organic Farm. It produces purely organic olive oils (some flavoured with orange, lemon and other fruits) as well as olive-oil products. You can do an olive-oil tasting and watch the process of extraction. It also has accommodation. Keep going right to the tip of the peninsula to reach Gerakas Beach; a strand of fine sand that faces the Bay of Laganas, it's the best beach in the south. 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 and at the small Mediterranean Marine Life Centre next to the car park, where you can learn about the problems turtles face and perhaps see some at the in-house rescue and rehabilitation centre.
Beyond Laganas the rugged terrain of the far southwest starts to unfold. Follow a tiny road from the quiet 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. To access the parking and viewpoint here you're expected to buy at least a drink at the van.
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 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 Louha, a tiny, silent- at-noon village that tumbles down a valley surrounded by woodlands and pastures. There's nothing much to do here, but there are some enjoyable signed walks in the surrounding countryside and a small cafe selling snacks at the edge of the village.
The most dramatic sight along the west coast is magnificent Shipwreck Beach. A favourite of Instagrammers travelling through the Greek islands, the beach is home to a stranded cargo ship that ran aground in the 1960s. The beach itself is only accessible on boat trips – in summer the waters immediately offshore are chock-a-block with sightseeing cruises – but you can admire it from above, and get that all-important selfie, from a precarious lookout platform signposted between Anafonitria and Volimes. Do be careful here, though, if you're travelling with children or it's a windy day. There are no guardrails and the sheer cliff is quite unstable – it would be very easy to get blown off, and people have fallen here.
In an evocative clifftop site just south of the Shipwreck Beach turnoff, the Monastery of St George is well worth a visit on the way to the beach. The interior is covered in faded frescoes, and the strange tower at the centre of the complex was used by monks as a defence from pirate and Turkish attack: the monks hid inside and threw boiling olive oil over their attackers. (Today the only Turkish thing about the monastery are the free Turkish delights that are made by one of the monks and given to visitors!)
Locals sell honey and seasonal products pretty much everywhere, but Volimes, just north of the monastery and the beach, is the major sales centre for traditional products such as olive oil, tablecloths and rugs.
East & North Coast
The 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 and has a small harbour beach as well as some pretty rocky platforms to swim off. It's a world away from the mega-resorts of the south. A nice walk (or drive) from here will bring you to the majestic headland of Cape Skinari, which marks the island's northern tip.