If you’re toying with the idea of visiting either Kefalonia or Lefkada this year but can’t decide which of these famous Ionian islands is for you, keep a-reading. This guide will delve into what makes them the same and what makes them different, dealing with five key aspects of each island to reveal where has the best beaches, which has the top hotels, where you’ll find the most happening nightlife – the list goes on.
The good news is that both isles are pretty darn lovely. They both lie in the midst of the uber-clear, uber-blue Ionian Sea, far out on the western fringes of Greece as a whole. They each have a backcountry of soaring mountains and come dotted with lots of fishing villages where you can dine on seafood, rent boats, and relax on the pebbly coves. The truth is that you can’t go wrong, no matter where you choose.
But there are some important things that set them apart, too. For example, one – Kefalonia – is known for its wild beaches and untrodden landscapes but can be a chore to travel around. The other is far better connected to the mainland of Greece but also has a noticeably more local vibe about it. Where will you go?
Kefalonia or Lefkada for beaches?
Let’s start with beaches – the thing that most people put close to the top of their list when it comes to Greek holidaying. The good news is that you won’t be short on those classically gorgeous white-pebble coves set under soaring cliffs if you go for either Kefalonia or Lefkada. They exist in abundance on both, alongside more accessible sand stretches backed by happening resorts.
The most dramatic parts of the coast on Lefkada are surely in the south and north. That’s where the land crumples into colossal limestone cliffs, the sort of thing you see in travel brochures for the Ionian region. Below the sheer-cut stone faces are occasional inlets of pure, cotton-white sand, lapped by scintillating waters of aquamarine blue. The beaches to look out for there include Agiofili, Porto Katsiki, and Egremni, all of which are easiest to visit by boat. Then you get the softer eastern shoreline, home to beaches like Desimi and Nikiana. They provide enough space behind for resort towns and hotels, so they’re where you’re likely to be based.
Kefalonia is both larger than Lefkada and generally better known for its beaches. The reason for that is that it covers a wider array of different styles of bay, ranging from the eye-watering cliff cove to the tree-ringed horseshoe. Myrtos Beach is probably the most iconic of the bunch. A short drive north of Argostoli, it’s hidden out on the western coast with its vertiginous geology and some of the clearest water in the whole region. For us, though, the true beauty of Kefalonia is Fiskardo. There’s a touch of the Pacific Northwest there, largely thanks to the thick rows of swaying pine woods, only the waters are a consistent Greek 71 F and there are rainbow fish in the nooks and crannies. It’s lovely.
Winner: Kefalonia wins this one on variety.
Kefalonia or Lefkada for nightlife?
The truth is that neither Kefalonia or Lefkada are that wild and off the hook when the sun goes down. There’s no answer to Corfu’s Kavos or Crete’s Malia on either. There’s no overload of 18-30s bars and groups of reps that come for the summer months. To put it simply: We’d recommend looking to a different destination if you want no-holes-barred partying (Kos and Rhodes are good!).
Most of the nightlife is pretty chilled, unfolding in the form of long, wine-doused dinners in traditional tavernas. The most vibrant places of all are the tourist-orientated resorts. For Kefalonia, that means the towns of Skala and that region on the south and southeast shorelines. For Lefkada, that means the east coast and Lefkas Town close to the northern tip of the island. You’re sure to find a few lively bars in those that tend to drift on with dancing and music until the early hours. On the whole, Lefkas will be the wilder because it’s more lived-in and local, so get ready to dance with the Greeks if you’re planning on hitting the town.
Winner: Lefkada, but it’s still pretty chilled.
Kefalonia or Lefkada for ease of travel?
Getting to Lefkada isn’t that hard at all. The island might not have its very own airport, but it’s got the rare privilege of a direct causeway bridge link to the Greek mainland. That means you can arrive in just 20 minutes’ time from the nearby airport at Preveza, also known as the Aktion Airport (PVK). There are flights going there from all over Europe, most notably on budget carriers like Ryanair and Jet2.com, which link up to British hubs at Birmingham and London. Be warned that almost all the flights that go into Preveza these days are seasonal. That means that they will completely cease sometime around late October, so check that there’s a return to match your outgoing flight if you’re not planning on staying until March the following year. Thanks to that road link to the mainland, Lefkada can also be accessed on direct KTEL buses from Athens (they take around five hours) and by car straight off the main E951 motorway. The roads on the island are also generally better – straighter, better maintained – than on Kefalonia.
Kefalonia International Airport Anna Pollatou is the main gateway to the larger of the two islands here. It’s among the main gateways to the Ionian chain as a whole, but still serves a relatively modest 600,000 passengers or so each year. Popular flight connections that drop into the runways include premium links to Poland with LOT, a route from London Heathrow with BA, and a whole host of charter links to UK ports with TUI Airways. The airport is located on the far south-western coast of Kefalonia, about 45 minutes’ drive from Sami and over an hour’s drive to Fiskardo. The other option for getting here is by boat. They come in from Patras, on the Greek mainland, and even from Italy (Brindisi and Bari) over the Adriatic. Roads are okay on Kefalonia but are windy and potholed for long stretches when you’re farther out from the main towns.
Winner: Lefkada, mainly because it’s smaller and has a direct road link to the Greek mainland.
Kefalonia or Lefkada for things to do?
It’s no secret that Kefalonia is famed for its slow pace of life and chilled vibes. It’s been drawing in people with the promise of R&R for decades. There are lots of towns and resort areas where you can get into the slow pace, most notably Skala, Lassi, and Poros, all of which come with accessible pebble and sand beaches for lazing and swimming. When the time does come for a bit of adventure, Kefalonia can oblige with its Drogarati cave system and the uber-picturesque Melissani cave, a shimmering lake in a sinkhole that you can visit by boat. Talking of boats…there are oodles of daytrip tours that will take you to beaches like Myrtos, and even ones that link to Ithaka and other Greek islands. Alternatively, you can hire your own ride for a full day. They will cost about €150 with fuel but mean you can explore up and down the shoreline to your heart’s content. We’d also recommend dropping into pretty Assos Village for some food and shopping, and pulling on the walking boots to conquer 1,600-meter-high Mount Aenos, provided you’re feeling up to it.
Lefkada lines up the family resorts down its eastern coast. The most popular of them is Nydri, a town of vibrant ouzo bars and tavernas with a marina where you can rent your own boats and even charter a yacht. Organized trips can whisk you out to the incredible beaches of Porto Katsiki around the more rugged part of the island, and even offer daytrip stops on the north side of Kefalonia. Land lubbers might prefer to venture high to where villages like Eglouvi are hemmed in by the forests. They are sleepy, nostalgic places famed for their lentil farms, wineries, and weaving industries. They’re also fantastic for starting a hike, with paths weaving out through grape plantations and up to waterfalls alike.
Winner: Draw. There’s no end to the fun things to do on either of these islands.
Kefalonia or Lefkada for hotels?
Kefalonia and Lefkada aren’t up there with the most popular isles of western Greece for nothing, you know. They both excel in R&R and come with more family hotels by the lapping waves than you can shake a plate of saganaki cheese at. In Lefkada, the place to look for those is down the west coast of the island. Clusters of options make their home in hotspots like Nydri and Nikiana, and there’s another selection in the gorgeous beach town of Vasiliki. We’d also point out that there are plenty of places to stay if you’re willing to swap out the shoreline and venture into the wild heart of Lefkada. That’s where the island takes on a whole different vibe. Cozy cottages and rough-stone abodes amid the chestnut and olive groves are the name of the game in those parts, while family-sized villas with pools clutch the coast mountains to offer BBQ terraces with a view. Some of our favorite hotel options here include:
- Pansion Filoxenia Apartments & Studios ($$) – A very charming family-owned guesthouse with flowers in the driveway. Homey and clean, it’s perfectly situated for exploring the rugged northwest coast.
- Villas Odysseas ($$-$$$) – The views from this private villa are jaw droppingly gorgeous, and the pool is right there on the front row to let you enjoy them.
- Akti Studios ($-$$) – A budget-friendly choice for those who want to be in the buzz of Nydri town.
Kefalonia boasts a whopping 1,900 or so properties on Booking.com, which means you shouldn’t be short on options on the larger of the two Ionian islands here. We love the variety of what’s on offer, too. From eco cottages in the pine forests inland to chic honeymoon boutiques on the coast, you’ve got plenty to consider. Generally speaking, we’d say that there’s a touch more luxury going on Kefalonia, with just a few extra places claiming five-star service or villas with opulent interiors and infinity pools. Be sure to check out:
- Anna’s Apartment ($$) – Get away from it all by picking Anna’s Apartment, a rustic Greek island escape that has incredible views of the mountains.
- Apollonion Asterias Resort and Spa ($$$) – Calling all honeymooners, this is the option to pick for that romantic getaway. There are multiple pools and you’re only a short walk from one of the most stunning beaches on Kefalonia!
- Makis Hotel ($$) – A fully refurbed boutique option in Skala with bright and breezy rooms.
Winner: Kefalonia has the more stylish hotels.
This 101 to Kefalonia or Lefkada is just a rough guide to the sorts of things you can expect on both of these gorgeous Greek islands. Generally speaking, we’d say that Kefalonia is the place to go if your priority is untouched nature and beaches. It’s probably the most handsome of the two isles, though there are certainly locations on Lefkada that can give it a run for its money. On the flip side, Lefkada is a charming isle of time-stood-still hamlets in the hills, with great hiking and vibrant beach towns that are more authentically Greek than its compadre. Of course, we’d still say that the best option is to visit both, which is super-easy because regular ferries and daytrip tours connect them throughout the whole summer season.