Last updated on August 23, 2023 by Wandering our World
When you feel like leaving the hustle and bustle of city life behind, the beautiful islands of Greece are some of the best places to go. And with over 200 inhabited islands to choose from, there’s something for everyone.
Zante (Zakynthos) and Crete easily stand out as two of the top islands to visit. Beautiful scenery, friendly locals, gorgeous beaches, delicious food, and wonderful weather await on either island, so you really can’t go wrong.
However, the most obvious difference between the two is size, with Crete being over 20 times larger than Zante. There are also major differences in terms of attractions and activities between these two islands, along with their culture, vibes, and key characteristics.
This guide will detail all you need to know when it comes to Zante vs Crete. We’ll look at both islands in detail, comparing their activities, food, beaches, nightlife, and more, making it much easier to tell them apart and pick the perfect one for your next adventure.
- A Quick Overview
- Which Has The Best Weather?
- Which Is Better For Beaches?
- Which Is Best For Activities?
- Which Is Better For Hiking?
- Which Is Better For Nightlife?
- Which Is Best For Shopping?
- Which Is Better For Food?
- Which Is Better For Families?
- Which Is Better For Couples?
- Which Is Better For Backpackers?
- Which Is Cheaper?
- Our Recommendations Of Where You Should Stay
- Which Is The Better Choice?
A Quick Overview: Zante vs Crete
Zante: A Quick Overview
Zante, which is also known as Zakynthos or Zakinthos, is part of the Ionian Islands group, and it’s the third-largest member of that group, measuring up at around 156 square miles, with 76 miles of coastline. It has a total population of just over 40,000 people, and its capital city is Zakynthos.
Like so many Greek islands, Zante has centuries of history. The famed Greek poet, Homer, mentioned this island in his iconic works, like the Odyssey, and it was said to be the site of various battles in ancient times, passing under the control of many different groups as the centuries went by, but has emerged as a popular touristic site in modern times.
Zante is shaped like an arrowhead. Tall mountains and dramatic white cliffs dominate large parts of the landscape, but there are also plenty of long sandy beaches and urban areas.
Zakynthos, the capital city, is the main landing point for most tourists, but Zante also has several pleasant resort towns like Argassi and Vassilikos, along with little villages, like Limni Keri.
With its beautiful beaches and charming coastal towns, Zante is very relaxing, but also ranks as one of the better nightlife islands in Greece, with a couple of thumping, vibrant areas that have proven popular with the 18-30 crowd.
So, whether you want to spend your time soaking up the sun, chilling at the hotel, or partying into the night, this is a fine destination to choose.
Crete: A Quick Overview
Crete is the biggest Greek island of all. It’s also the most populous, home to approximately 625,000 people.
Extending for a grand total of 3,260 square miles, it’s much bigger than Zante and also has a significantly longer coastline, which stretches out for 650 miles in total. With its vast size, it’s well-suited for extended trips and takes much longer to traverse than Zante.
The history of Crete is quite fascinating, going back thousands of years. It was the home of one of the earliest civilizations in Europe: the Minoan civilization, which began around 2,700 BC.
Crete passed under the control of Byzantines, Arabs, Romans, and more over the centuries, eventually becoming part of Greece in the early 20th century.
The geography of this island is also quite intriguing, which a very vast mountain range running across the middle of the island from east to west.
This makes it an amazing hiking and outdoor adventure destination, with grand gorges and towering peaks. It also has a simply staggering selection of beaches, with a sandy spot to suit every kind of traveler.
Many visitors say that Crete almost feels like its own country. It has plenty in common with the rest of Greece, but also boasts its own traditions, cultural concepts, customs, and culinary delights, making it a very special place to visit.
It has a great range of cities and towns to see, along with extraordinary historic sites, water sports, touristic activities, wildlife, and scenery.
Which Has The Best Weather?
Zante and Crete are a couple of hundred miles apart, with slightly different weather conditions.
The weather tends to be quite wonderful and warm for large parts of the year across most of the Greek islands, including these two, but there are some distinct differences which could make you decide to visit one over the other.
In terms of summer temperatures, Zante is the hotter of the two. It gets really warm in July and August, with highs of around 91°F (33°C), several degrees higher than Crete’s warmest temperatures of 84°F (29°C).
However, Zante is also capable of being several degrees cooler than Crete, with more chance of precipitation and more unpredictable weather overall.
So, if you want the hottest conditions for sunbathing and evening beach parties, pick Zante. If you want more consistent temperatures and a slightly fresher breeze to cool off in summer, opt for Crete instead.
Which Is Better For Beaches?
One of the main reasons why so many people flock to the Greek islands like Zante and Crete is because of their beautiful beaches.
Both of these islands have many miles of coastline and plenty of super sandy spots to sit, sunbathe, stroll with your partner, play with the kids, or splash in the sea. But which is best?
Zante: The Beaches
The beaches of Zante easily rank among some of the very best in Greece in terms of their beauty and comfort. And, since the island gets such warm weather, the conditions are often ideal for sunbathing or taking a dip in the waters of the Ionian Sea.
Navagio is one of Zante’s best beaches. It’s also nicknamed Shipwreck Beach, due to the presence of an old ship – the MV Panagiotis – which ran ashore back in 1980 and has simply been left to rust on the sand.
The shipwreck is an amazing sight to behold, giving this beach a truly unique aesthetic, quite unlike anywhere else on the island.
Gerakas and Kalamaki are also spectacular sandy expanses for visitors to enjoy on Zante. Both offer crystal clear waters, lovely soft sands, and lots of space to cope with the big touristic crowds that gather on the island each summer.
Agios Nikolaos is another gem, with brilliant water sports and scuba diving opportunities.
There are lots of family-friendly beaches on Zakynthos with shallow waters, sun loungers, and useful amenities, like Porto Zoro and Banana Beach, and the island also has several secluded, romantic spots that are worth journeying out to, like Porto Vromi and Amboula.
In short, there’s a great selection of beaches here, perfect for all sorts of travelers.
Crete: The Beaches
With a much longer coastline than Zante, Crete has many more beaches to discover and enjoy, with an even wider and more diverse range of options. There are vast, Caribbean-style sandy havens, secluded coves, family-friendly spots, and so much more.
If Navigio is the star of the show on Zante, Crete has not one but two iconic, must-see beaches: Balos and Elafonissi.
Both of these beaches can easily be classed among the best in Europe, if not the entire world. Balos has Caribbean-like sands and tranquil lagoon waters, while Elafonissi is famed for its distinctive pink sands and strikingly clear waters.
Big beaches are also easy to find on Crete. Tymbaki Beach, for example, seems to stretch on and on, all the way to the horizon, giving visitors lots of space to find their own little private spot of sand. Rodakino Beach is another massive, sandy expanse, with family-friendly conditions and spectacular views.
In terms of diversity, Crete’s beaches can’t be beat. There’s Vai Beach, which backs onto the biggest palm forest in Europe, along with Falassarna, which is a world-class windsurfing destination.
Preveli Beach is a romantic haven where a river meets the sea, while Matala is famed for its hippy vibes and unique rock formations.
Overall, Crete has many more beaches and options than Zante. No matter what kind of beach you love the most, you’ll find it on Crete, and it’s great for vast beaches and quiet, secluded spots alike.
With that said, Zante is still a super beach destination, and it’s easier to get to different beaches thanks to this island’s smaller size.
Which Is Best For Activities?
Spending time at the beach is just one of the many fun activities to enjoy on the islands of Zante and Crete.
Both islands offer plenty of unique ways to fill up your travel itinerary, from coastal hikes and gorge adventures to castle explorations and tours of archaeological sites. Here’s a quick rundown of the best things to do in both locations.
Zante: The Activities
Many travelers to Zante will stay in or around the main city of Zakynthos. There, you can really get a feel for the history and culture of this island, walking along the charming coastal road of Santa Marina, admiring the local Venetian architecture, people-watching in Saint Marcus Square, or taking a tour of the city’s stunning castle.
The Byzantine Museum is another terrific hotspot in Zakynthos, with a wonderful collection of centuries-old art and artifacts.
But, if you feel like seeing some more of the island, there are plenty of other great towns to explore, like the water sports and nightlife hub of Argassi, the luxurious resort of Vassilikos, or family-friendly Tsilivi, with its amusements and water park.
Getting out on the water is another super way to spend time on this island. There are lots of relaxing, romantic boat tours to book, giving you a different view of the island and its awe-inspiring cliffs, along with some super snorkeling and scuba diving spots where you might even come face to face with some of the local loggerhead turtles.
There are also many beautiful blue caves to explore around Zante’s coast, along with fantastic rock arches and fascinating formations.
Lovers of nature and stunning scenery can have the time of their lives here, with charming little villages perched above the cliffs, like Keri, with its lighthouse dating back to 1925.
Crete: The Activities
As the bigger island, Crete has a much wider range of activities and a longer list of landmarks to visit compared to Zante.
It’s also got multiple big cities that are each worth exploring, like Heraklion and Chania. Heraklion is the capital, with a magnificent fortress and Venetian port, while Chania has a gorgeous harbor and intriguing museums.
Rethymno is another big Cretan city to check out, boasting a striking 19th century lighthouse, a hilltop citadel dating back to the 16th century, and plenty of charming craft stores to browse.
There are also lots of little villages all over Crete, like pretty Sfakia, with its pleasant pebble beaches, or Anogia, famed for its traditional Cretan singing and annual summer festivals.
History buffs will also adore Crete, as it’s home to some of Greece’s oldest and most extraordinary archaeological sites, like Knossos, which is said to be one of the oldest cities in all of Europe, and Phaistos, dating all the way back to the Bronze Age.
Guided tours are available for both of these sites, with expert guides ready to reveal all of their secrets.
Crete is also a haven for nature and wildlife lovers, along with outdoor adventurers. With so many mountains across the island, the number of hiking trails and climbing paths is almost endless.
Samaria Gorge is one of the top spots, but in truth, there are so many super places to hike, along with boat tours, water sports, wildlife watching, and more.
Overall, there’s no doubt at all that Crete is the better island for excitement and activities. Whether you want to hike, bask on the beach, delve into ancient history, or lose yourself in a lively town, you can do it all on Crete.
Zante has plenty of fun things to do, too, but is better-suited to more relaxing, chilled-out getaways, rather than deep cultural experiences.
Which Is Better For Hiking?
If you’re a fan of hiking and outdoor adventure, you’ll adore Crete. With such fantastic, dramatic scenery and so many square miles of space, the number of trails goes on and on.
It’s one of the best Greek islands for hiking, with a great mix of hilly ascents, coastal paths, and jaw-dropping gorge trails to please hikers of all abilities and ages.
Over on Zante, the hiking scene isn’t quite as deep or well-developed. However, there are still some pleasant trails to find and follow. There are some nice cycling routes, too, especially along the coastline, providing spectacular views of the island’s cliffs and the surrounding blue waters.
But, all in all, Crete is definitely the top pick for hiking fans.
Which Is Better For Nightlife?
Party people are often drawn to the Greek islands, and Zante is often listed alongside Mykonos as one of the top party destinations in Europe.
Whether you want beach parties, live DJs, thumping dance music, or lively bars, you can find it all on Zante, especially along the island’s iconic Laganas Strip.
Areas like Argassi and Kalamaki also have terrific nightlife scenes, with more than enough bars and clubs to keep even the wildest party-lovers satisfied.
Plus, thanks to Zante’s more compact nature when compared to Crete, it’s quick and easy to hop from club to club and visit all of the big nightlife areas with minimal hassle.
Over on Crete, the main nightlife zone is Malia. There, you’ll find a thrilling strip of bars, clubs, and restaurants. Malia is right by the capital city, Heraklion.
So, if you’re staying in Heraklion, you’ll have plenty of fun places to go, just a short drive from your hotel. However, if you’re staying in some other part of the island, your choices may be a little more restricted.
Overall, with its more convenient clubs and wilder scene, Zante is the better island for nightlife.
Which Is Best For Shopping?
Shopping on the Greek islands can be a terrific way to spend time, but the experience varies greatly from island to island. Some places have hundreds of super craft stores and fun markets to check out, while others lack any kind of shopping scene at all.
Unfortunately for shopaholics, Zante isn’t exactly a dream shopping island. There are some nice stores in the island’s capital city, with a mixture of souvenir shops, fashion boutiques, and stores selling jewelry, accessories, and home goods. However, there aren’t a lot of options, and you won’t find any mega malls or wonderful markets on this island.
On Crete, you’ll have a totally different experience. With several big cities and large towns to explore, there’s much more of a dynamic, exciting shopping scene here.
Heraklion has some chic boutiques and super souvenir stores, for example, while Chania is a hotspot for jewelry and fashion, and Rethymno has plenty of quirky and specialty stores.
Overall, Crete is 100% the best island for those who love to shop, with a much wider range of stores and experiences.
Which Has The Best Food?
Another wonderful aspect of the Greek islands is their fabulous food.
Often made with only the freshest, locally-grown ingredients, the dishes of these islands are nourishing, nutritional, and pure, with wonderful flavors and a light, airy quality to match the sea breeze flowing through the many open-air restaurants and taverns.
Zante is an excellent island for experiencing the finest Ionian foods. This includes rich and hearty stews like stifado, as well as Italian-style pasta dishes, like youvetsi.
Traditional Greek feta salads and spinach pies are also available here, along with sublime seafood, straight from the clear Ionian waters.
Crete, meanwhile, has its own culinary style which is quite different to the rest of the Greek islands.
Most menus will feature dishes made with ingredients from the island itself, like local cheeses, herbs, and meats. Local specialties include apaki cured pork, antikristo lamb, and chaniotika boureki casserole.
Overall, both islands offer delicious cuisine. If you want typical Greek fare, head to Zante, but if you’re looking for something a little more special and different, opt for Crete instead.
Which Is Better For A Family Trip?
If you’re jetting off to the Greek islands as a family, you can have a truly fabulous time on Crete.
There are lots of amazing activities to enjoy, like the island’s awesome archaeological sites and historic ruins, as well as its multitude of diverse beaches in all shapes and sizes. The big cities also provide plenty of family fun, with museums, water parks, and more.
Over on Zante, the beach is the main focus. Families looking for a relaxing seaside escape can have a terrific time here. There are also a couple of key landmarks to check out, and the smaller size of the island means that it’s easier to get around.
However, there isn’t quite as much to do in Zante, so families with younger children may get a little bit bored here.
Which Is Best For Couples?
If you’re planning a honeymoon or lovers’ trip to the Greek islands, both Zante and Crete can appeal to you. The right choice for you and your partner will mainly depend on what sort of experience you’re looking for.
In Zante, couples can slip into a state of total relaxation.
With lots of luxury hotels lining the coast and plenty of peaceful, secluded spots across Zante, it’s the ideal place for partners who want to simply sit back, soak up the sun, and feel a million miles away from the worries and stresses of everyday life.
In Crete, meanwhile, you’ll find a lot more to do. It’s a great option for couples who want to explore and have adventures, delving into historic sites or enjoying unique cultural traditions and experiences.
Crete has also got a lot of romantic locations to enjoy, with breathtaking beaches and stunning scenery for those special moments with your partner.
Overall, Crete is probably the better option for most couples, simply due to the wider range of cities and activities.
Which Is Best For Backpackers?
Backpackers might also like to plan a voyage to the Greek islands. And, once again, Crete is most likely the better option.
Crete is bigger, with more to see and do, and its own unique customs and traditions that are really worth experiencing firsthand. Plus, accommodation tends to be a little cheaper, due to the wider range of hotels and hostels on offer.
Zante can also work well for backpackers and adventurers, but it lacks the activities, history, culture, and outdoor opportunities of Crete, so you might run out of things to do after just a few days.
Therefore, Zante is arguably better as part of an island-hopping trip, rather than being your only Greek island destination.
Which Is Cheaper?
Cost is another factor that you might like to consider when deciding between Zante and Crete, but there’s not actually a huge difference in price between the two.
Neither of them can exactly be classed as cheap, but it’s possible to have a budget-friendly stay on either island, if you plan ahead and choose your hotel and activities with care.
With more space, more hotels, and more restaurants, too, Crete is a little better-suited to budget-conscious travelers. You’ll have more options to choose from on this larger island, so it’s easier to find cheap places to stay and eat.
Our Recommendations Of Where You Should Stay
Crete: Our Recommendations
In Crete, Anemos Luxury Grand Resort (see photos and rates) is a great family friendly option right by the beach with a beautiful pool and world-class service.
They also have a certified childcare service and a kid’s club and play area, which means parents can easily get a well deserved break!
Another worth looking into is Agapi Beach Resort (see photos and rates) which is an all-inclusive resort set that has almost everything you can think of – spa sessions, a private beach, several pools, tennis, and even cooking classes are all included.
If you’re looking for complete relaxation and everything to be taken care off, this is a great option!
Zante: Our Recommendations
One of the best luxury villas in Zakynthos (and the whole of Greece) has to be the spectacular Porto Zante Villas and Spa.
Sat right on the beachfront with gorgeous gardens and private heated infinity pools with unbelievable sea and island views, this may just be the most special accommodation on Zante. It has to be seen to be believed. See photos and rates here!
For a more budget-friendly accommodation, check you can stay in Pansion Limni located in Keri. These lovely self-catering rooms are simple, but feature a fantastic view of the Ionian Sea.
Zante vs Crete: Which Is The Better Choice?
Overall, both Zante and Crete stand out as two of the very best Greek islands, offering wonderful food, memorable experiences, stunning scenery, and beautiful beaches galore.
But, if you only have the time or budget to see one of them, Crete is the best choice for most people. This is simply due to the fact that it’s much bigger, with a far wider range of activities.
Whether you’re into hiking, beaches, history, or something else altogether, you can find it on Crete. It’s a one-of-a-kind island with a culture and vibe all of its own.
With that said, even though Zante may not be able to match Crete in terms of size or diversity, it’s still a very charming place, with awesome nightlife, some breathtaking sandy beaches, and its own unique landmarks.
If Crete feels a little too much for you, and you’re simply searching for a relaxing sun and sea escape, Zante could be the ideal destination.