In the Ionian Sea and joined to the Greek mainland by road, Lefkada (Lefkas) is an island with mountainous topography and beaches so immaculate you may have seen them before ‘in advertising. One, Porto Katsiki is even more beautiful than it looks, with a white pebble beach resting at the foot of white, crescent-shaped cliffs. The terrain can be difficult to traverse by road, but the island is small enough that remote places like the Cape Lefkatas are still in range.
Lefkada is made for water-based activities, whether you set sail for a week around the coast on a bareboat yacht charter, or catch the breeze at Vasiliki, one of Europe’s best windsurfing beaches.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Lefkada:
1. Porto Katsiki
On any tourist website or brochure for Lefkada, or Greece as a whole, you’ll see an image of this extraordinary beach, dwarfed by the white concave cliff behind.
The pictures only hint at the true majesty of Porto Katsiki, and as you descend the 347 steps you may find yourself stopping to appreciate it from above.
For a better view of the whole scene there’s also a stairway to an outcrop on the north side.
Once you’re down on Porto Katsiki the beach is equally beautiful, with rounded pebbles and mesmerising turquoise waters.
Bring flip flops for added comfort on the stony surface.
If there’s a catch to Porto Katskiki it’s that the beach is remote and served by a meandering mountain road that needs a lot of concentration.
2. Egremni Beach
A few kilometres up from the world-famous Porto Katsiki in Lefkada’s wild southwest is an even more remote beach.
Egremni is defended by a long, unyielding wall of cliffs, and after an earthquake in 2015 access from land has become impossible.
The only way to get onto the beach is by boat, whether you take a cruise or charter your own vessel.
And while that may sound like a lot effort, it’s understandable when you catch sight of this long sandy beach and the enchanting translucent blue of the sea.
3. Monastery of Panagia Faneromeni
Posted high on a hill a ten minutes from Lefkada Town is a monastery housing an icon of the Virgin Mary, the island’s patron saint.
This place has been spiritually significant to Lefkada for thousands of years and was the site of a temple to Artemis, the goddess of hunting.
A little later, in 63 AD the Apostle Paul is believed to have sent his students Herodio, Sosiona and Aquila to Lefkada to spread the word of Jesus, and they gave sermons from this hilltop.
The monastery dates from the 17th century but has had to be reconstructed after fires, the most recent in 1887. But the reason to visit isn’t so much for the architecture but the ecclesiastical museum inside, which has liturgical artefacts like icons, vestments, chalices and manuscripts from defunct monasteries around Lefkada.
At the entrance, look back at the sandy causeway of Agios Ioannis beach at Lefkada’s northernmost tip.
4. Nydri Waterfalls
There’s an easy and scenic hike from the coastal town of Nydri to this waterfall in a gorge.
The trail will lead you through fragrant citrus and olive groves and then into the narrow ravine, where you’ll have to hop over the slippery rocks.
If you come in the dry summer season there won’t be a torrent, but rather a diaphanous trickle, filling a cold transparent pool at the bottom where people cool off.
Where the trail enters the gorge there’s a bar/cafe if you need refreshment after the walk from Nydri, and in the high season you’ll find stalls outside selling local honey.
5. Milos Beach
One of the best things about this long and wide coarse sandy beach on the northwest coast is how difficult it is to reach.
The road will only take you as far as the cliff top, and after that you have to take a circuitous rocky trail that delivers you at the north end.
This deters a lot of visitors, so don’t be surprised to find Milos Beach almost empty in the middle of summer even though it’s stunning.
There are no bars renting out sun loungers and parasols, but that doesn’t matter as the surface is soft and you can bring your own shade.
The shore here is bathed by moderate waves, which grown-ups can handle but they may occasionally be a bit strong for children.
6. Archaeological Museum of Lefkada
Much of the material found at caves and ancient cities around the island, like Nydri and Meganisi, is presented at this museum in Lefkada Town.
The exhibits date from the Middle Palaeolithic Age tens of thousands of years ago to late Roman times.
There are four rooms of artefacts, the first of which deals with the private and public lives of Lefkada’s residents in Ancient Greece.
Especially remarkable are the fragments of lyres, flutes and the soundbox of a string instrument.
Another intriguing artefact is a small seal showing Europe’s abduction by Zeus in the guise of a white bull.
The third room is dedicated to burial customs and has urns, funerary steles, sarcophagi and offerings, while the fourth room has the many finds made by the German archaeologist Wilhelm Dörpfeld, who discovered Stone Age tools and Bronze Age jewellery while looking for proof that Lefkada was Homer’s Ithaca.
7. Mikros Gialos
A yearly Blue Flag winner, this beach in the southeast of Lefkada is at the end of a gruelling road.
At the bottom is a picturesque cove served by a small holiday village that has a cluster of tavernas and holiday rentals.
Mikros Gialos is a gravel beach, so it pays to bring flip-flops and rent a sun lounger.
With high slopes covered in pines and evergreen shrub, the cove is well protected from the wind and sea currents.
The beach also has a small watersports centre where you can rent a pedal boat or canoe to explore the cove, which is almost two kilometres long.
8. Kathisma Beach
Traced by eight bars, cafes and restaurants, this beach on the west coast near Milos has a young, party vibe in July and August.
That doesn’t mean that Kathisma Beach is mayhem, as at almost a kilometre long there’s space for both younger and older crowds.
As a rule, the pricier sun loungers tend to be much quieter.
The sea can be quite unruly at Kathisma and has breakers that can be surprisingly powerful.
Add those waves to the rocky seabed, and it’s worth taking extra care if you’re here with little ones.
But that takes nothing away from the beauty of the location hemmed by tall pine-decked hills and with water that turns milky blue when the waves hit the shore.
This burgeoning resort in a wide bay at the end of a valley in the south is geared towards one activity in particular, namely windsurfing.
The bay is wedged between high slopes, so you might wonder where all the wind comes from.
Known as “Eric”, it is created by convection, when the sun warms one side of the long ridge to the east of the beach.
The wind only picks up in the afternoon, but can be pretty boisterous, and only experienced windsurfers are in the water after lunch.
Earlier in the day is a good time for kids and newcomers to try out the sport for the first time.
If that sounds like too much, you can find a spot on the pebbles to see the sails gliding past.
You could also hire a bike or find a walking trail to get up onto the sides of the valley for majestic vistas.
10. Cape Lefkatas
South of Porto Katsiki, the peninsula on the west side of Vasiliki comes to an end at Cape Lefkatas, which gives the island of Lefkada its name.
The cape has white cliffs that tower to 70 metres, and it’s no wonder that this dramatic setting was significant to the islanders in ancient times.
Some 3,000 years ago it is believed that human sacrifices were made from these cliffs.
Later, offenders were pushed from the cliff-tops, and if they survived were picked up by boats.
According to tradition, the poet Sappho threw herself from Cape Lefkatas when Phaon rejected her, while in mythology, Lefkatas jumped from these rocks to escape Apollo.
Admire the views to Ithaca and Kefalonia and check out the Doukato Lighthouse, which has been here since 1890.
11. Ammoussa Beach
Nestled in a cove on the sparsely populated south coast, this beach has views of the deep blue Ionian all the way to the mountains of Ithaca and Kefalonia.
The long walls of the cove keep the wind at bay and the crystalline water is an enticing blue-green, and great for snorkelling.
There’s a single beach bar here, where you can rent a pair of sun loungers and a sunshade for a reasonable €3 a day.
That’s a useful option as the beach’s marble pebble surface may not be everyone’s idea of comfort.
The bar will bring drinks and snacks to your table, while it’s a 10- minute drive to villages like Marantochori, Kontarena and Vasiliki for the nearest tavernas.
12. Kavalikefta Beach
The only way to this beach on the west coast of Lefkada is at the end of a difficult round.
But don’t let that put you off, as the journey keeps a lot of visitors away and keeps numbers down.
Once you arrive there are two beaches; Megali Petra, a stony beach, and then the sandy Kavalikefta Beach just around the rocks, both linked by a tricky path.
The latter is one of just a few sandy beaches on Lefkada and deposited in the wash are gigantic rocks.
Kavalikefta Beach gets deep quickly, but the sea is normally calm in summer.
The white sediment in the water also gives it an alluring turquoise glow in the sunshine.
13. Boat Trips
A few things come together to make Lefkada such a great place to go for boat tours or charter your own bareboat yacht.
In the Ionian Sea off the east coast is a small archipelago of islands like Meganisi, which has a highly indented coastline with dozens of deserted coves and the Papanikolis sea cave to discover.
The private island of Skorpios, where Aristotle Onassis married Jacqueline Kennedy, is also here and has just been leased for a century to a Russian heiress.
On an organised boat tour you can also get to some places on Lefkada that the 2015 earthquake rendered inaccessible by land, bathe in transparent waters and have lunch on board (normally fresh fruit, souvlaki and tzatziki).
14. Mountain Biking
Almost three quarters of Lefkada’s terrain is rugged and mountainous, which is music to the ears of mountain bikers.
Nobody in their right mind would bring a mountain bike on a low-cost flight but there are a couple of adventure sports companies, like Get Active in Nydra, that will hook you up with your own set of wheels and all the safety equipment you need for a challenging or light ride to Lefkada’s best-known sights, or places that are off limits by car.
You can ride to the Nydri Waterfall, another weaves through a gentle landscape of olive groves, while experts get a lift up to a mountaintop for high-speed descent.
15. Wine Tourism
Travelling around Lefkada’s steep hinterland, you’ll come across a few vineyards.
As with many places in Greece, winemaking dates back to antiquity here.
Thanks to its steep terrain, generating higher rainfall in winter, Lefkada has just the climate for the red Vertzami and white Vardea grapes to flourish.
There are three wineries welcoming guests: Karsanikos and Sifloko in the north, where red wines are prevalent, and Lefkas Earth Winery in the south, where the Vardea grapes do best.
The Lefkas Earth Winery near Fterno puts on a brief and free tour of its elegant stone buildings to look at antique presses, modern stainless steel vats and automated bottling line.
The whole range of wines produced here is available to taste and buy, and the dry white Vardea is one to look out for.