Exploring Ionia: The Top 7 Greek Islands To Visit From Corfu

Greek islands to visit from Corfu
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Corfu might be tucked up in the extreme northwestern corner of the country, but a vacation here doesn’t have to be the end of your adventure. Nope, there are lots of awesome Greek islands to visit from Corfu, offering a whole new batch of beaches, more rugged mountains to climb, and a varied mix of Ionian destinations.

Be prepared to work for the adventure, though. The reality of Corfu‘s far-flung location means that it actually has more ferry links to Italy than to some of its neighboring islands. Still, you can usually manage a hop to any one of the nearby Ionian chain within a day’s traveling, so it’s not all bad.

And, while an island-hopping trip in this western region might be harder to plan than in the Aegean Sea, where the islands are really close together, it’s still worth it! From the alabaster-white beaches of little Antipaxos to the romantic bays of Kefalonia, there’s just so much to get through…

Kefalonia

Kefalonia
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Loads – and we mean loads – of travelers aim to join Corfu and Kefalonia each year in the same trip. Why not? These are the two most famous names of the Ionian islands, after all. Sadly, there’s still no direct ferry between them, at least not one that’s run consistently enough from season to season to be worthy of a mention. That leaves a yacht charter (a great option for exploring the whole region at your own pace) or a longer day’s traveling via the mainland ports (taking about 5-7 hours in total).

It’s likely that you’ll arrive at the marina of Sami on Kefalonia’s eastern coast. It’s a lovely little place and a perfect welcome to the isle, offering a smattering of archaeological dig sites and little Loutro Beach. We wouldn’t linger there for too long, though. There’s just too much to see…

Most visitors will go south to the famous resort areas of Skala on the south-east side of Kefalonia. There’s an abundance of hotels in those parts, all fringed with sandy beaches and backed by low hills. Up north is the more luxurious part of the isle, around the culinary center of Fiskardo. However, we’d say that the best beaches are on the north and west sides, like Petani and Myrtos.

Mathraki

Mathraki
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Mathraki is the closest of all the top Greek islands to visit from Corfu on this list. In fact, it’s a mere 5.5 miles off the western coast of Corfu itself. So, it’s day-trip territory. But it doesn’t have to be day-trip territory, because there are one or two uber-quaint family hotels here that offer a true escape from the Rat Race. Either way, you’ll need to hop on the small Pegasus ferry that runs from Agios Stefanos on the west coast. It takes about 45 minutes from start to finish.

Welcome to one of Ionia’s true off-the-beaten-track gems. This island is one of the westernmost in the country (it’s only 70 miles from Italy, don’t you know?) and shows it with a lush backcountry of wooded hills, gorse-covered cliffs, and blooming wildflowers that scent the warm airs in spring. There’s no real town center, only a rural road that runs the length of the isle, connecting the main beaches and port areas, and the few small tavernas to boot.

When it comes to beaches, Mathraki only really has two. One’s in the west, the other in the east. The latter is long, sandy, and touched with a hint of golden color. The other, Baia di Fyki, is a more rugged vision of Ionian coastline, with pebbles and rocks and clear snorkeling waters. Both are virtually always empty save for a few local swimmers and intrepid visitors. 

Lefkada

Lefkada
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Lefkada is a teardrop-shaped isle that juts right out from the side of the Greek mainland just south of Preveza. It’s long been a go-to for family holidaymakers and yachters. One of the main reasons for that is that it’s really easy to get to. There’s a causeway link to the motorway, so arrivals don’t require a ferry, and the Aktion International Airport is well under an hour’s drive from the main resorts of the east coast.

Sadly, getting here from Corfu is probably going to be a touch harder than simply touching down and hopping in a rental car. There are no direct ferries from Corfu to Lefkada, which means you’ll first have to head to Igoumenitsa and catch a bus from there. Those who’d prefer to stay on the water could choose to go via Paxos. A ferry goes there from Corfu Town and then an onward ferry goes to Lefkada about three times per week in the high season.

What awaits is an island that strikes a fine balance between traditional Greek life and tourism. The east coast hosts popular yachter hotspots like Nikiana and Nydri. Meanwhile, the inland mountains strike upwards to hide wonderfully rustic villages and dense thickets of chestnut and olive forest. Day trips on the water are the number one thing to do, mainly because they’re a ticket to the scintillating beach of Porto Katsiki on the far west coast.

Ithaka

Ithaka
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Ithaka is often overlooked by travelers planning a boat trip through the middle of the Ionian Sea. However, we’d put it close to the top of our list of the top Greek islands to visit from Corfu. It’s one of those places that beguiles and charms without you even noticing. Soon, you’ll be extending that stay in that pretty harbor B&B in bustling Vathy port or checking ferry times to see when you can return. Trust us.

Ithaka is small and steeped in history. It’s thought to be the onetime home of the great hero Odysseus, who struggled to return to his native land for 10 whole years after the end of the Trojan War. We can hardly blame him for trying so hard. Life on the island is all about strolling donkey paths through fragrant pine woods to empty beaches like Filiatro and Gidaki. You can basically walk everywhere, and the sound of purring cars is a distant memory.

The trip from Corfu to Ithaka will probably involve a change of ferries and perhaps even a bus. There are no direct boats from one to the other. In fact, you’ll probably need to make a beeline for the Greek mainland port of Igoumenitsa, pick up a bus to the port of Patras that’s further south, and catch the connecting ferry to Ithaka from there. It’s also possible to go via Lefkada or the port of Preveza.

Paxos

Paxos
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There are a number of quick hydrofoil boats that link Corfu to Paxos throughout the whole of the main season (June to August), along with a larger normal-speed ferry. The first takes about an hour in all, while the second is about 1.5 hours in total. Both leave from the main port area of Corfu Town and arrive into the newly redeveloped port of Gaios, which also happens to be the most bustling town on Paxos as a whole.

Notice that it’s not that bustling at all? Yep – Paxos is quiet. The pace of life slows here (slows even more than on Corfu, mind you). Off the beaten track and far away from the hubbub of the main resort isles, this one’s mainly about breaking away from the crowds. So, the hills are speckled with deluxe villa rentals while charming boutique B&Bs cluster around the harbor side, all offering a touch of Greek escapism that’s perfect for honeymooners.

Paxos has some glorious and very unbusy beaches up its sleeve. They include Erimitis Beach on the west coast, a rugged cove backed by soaring limestone rock walls, and Kipiadi, a pebble beach with such clear water that you’ll rue the day you forgot the snorkels. There’s always the option to go across to the blinding bays of Antipaxos, too, which we’d say are some of the best in the whole country!

Antipaxos

Antipaxos
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Is that St Lucia? Is that Jamaica? No folks, it’s just little Antipaxos looking as downright stunning as it usually does. This pinprick of a speck on the map of the Ionian Sea really does manage some of Greece’s most wonderful beaches. There’s Voutoumi and Mesovrika and Vrika; a trio of idyllic coves on the northeast coast that all have perfect turquoise waters and shimmering sands of pure white.

When it comes to towns and resorts, Antipaxos is positively untouched. But a small rock fragmented off the western haunch of Greece, it measures a mere two miles up and a little under one mile across at its widest point. There’s a central road running north-south down the spine of the isle, which is where you find most of the hotels and accommodations, a lot of which are private villas with leafy gardens and swimming pools.

Antipaxos is a real treat for yachters. Clusters of white boats and flapping sails are always visible moving in and out of the small and secret bays here. But it’s possible to visit even if you don’t have your own vessel. From Corfu, the first leg will be a large ferry to nearby Paxos (see above) and then a smaller taxi boat over to Antipaxos (they leave at irregular intervals from the port at Gaios).

Zakynthos

Zakynthos
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Last but certainly not least on our list of the top Greek islands to visit from Corfu comes the legend of the Ionian chain: Zakynthos. Famed as one of the top vacation destinations in Europe, this one’s got something for a whole host of travelers, not to mention some of the most stunning beaches this side of the Caribbean.

The bad news is that getting there from Corfu can actually be a bit of a chore. At around 222km, the trip isn’t short. It’s a journey best done in your own yacht (aren’t all journeys best done in your own yacht?), when it takes about 3-5 hours, provided you’re not tempted by any beaches en route. There are also ferry links, but you may have to go via the mainland port of Igoumenitsa.

It’s worth making the effort, though. Zakynthos is home to the jaw-dropping bay of Shipwreck Beach, a stunning amphitheater of a cove with the rusting shell of a run-aground vessel at its center. The island also hosts rare colonies of nesting sea turtles (on aptly-named Turtle Island), and it’s got the rollicking nightlife hub of Laganas for all your party-to-dawn needs.

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Joe has been a freelance travel writer for over nine years. His writing and roaming have taken him from the colonial towns of Mexico to the chowks of Mumbai to the Southern Alps of New Zealand. When he's not putting together the next epic blog on the best Greek islands or ski fields in France, you can usually find him surfing or hiking – his two top hobbies.