Things to see and do on Ithaca

As the home of Odysseus and (spoiler alert) the end of one of the most famous journeys of all time, Ithaca is a Greek Island with a name that precedes it. And yet it’s also one of the least visited of the Ionian Islands. That could be because neighbouring Kefalonia steals all the attention. Or perhaps people genuinely think it’s a mythical isle. To be fair, they’d be half-right. The fact that Ithaca is barely a spit across the water from Kefalonia and remains sleepily unvisited is pretty miraculous.
Always keep Ithaca in your mind. You are destined to arrive there.
- The Odyssey, Homer
Vacations to Ithaca tend to be activity-based, but with environmentally low-impact activities set firmly at the island’s sloth-slow pace. You might meander along footpaths through terraced olive groves, Byzantine monasteries and pine cloaked mountains. Or you could brush up on your kayaking or scuba diving skills in crystal clear water, with plenty of picnic and swim stops.

Traveling with an Ithaca vacation specialist means being matched with the best accommodation. You’ll stay in locally owned guesthouses or landscaped eco-estates near towns that range between the positively busy (by Ithaca’s standards) Frikes ferry port to Vathi and its yacht-flecked bay. They’ll also match you up with an Ithacan tour guide who’ll walk you around the 3,000-year-old ruins nicknamed Ulysses’ Palace. They’ll share their love of the island, but also reveal the challenges of living in a region perpetually grappling with water shortages and economic debt.

Hiking

Guided walking vacations to Ithaca explore skinny trails that take a roundabout route (this is Greece, after all) through olive groves and ancient ruins, past church-topped villages and ports, and over sheer cliffs and mountains. That’s a whole variation of terrain for an island that’s only 29km long.

Your guide will take you along the unmarked tracks and show you a Roman ruin from a Byzantine ruin. They’ll also know where to get the view of the Homeric Arethusa Fountain, where Odysseus’ swineherd, Eumaeus, brought his pigs to drink, and show you the way from Afales beach to Frikes. It’s part tour, part natural history and sociology lesson. You’ll come away with a vast awareness of the problems Ithaca faces – and how you can help as a visitor. These are often small group tours, so you’ll join up to six people.

Sailing, snorkelling & scuba diving

Ithaca has an intricate coastline that wriggles around hidden coves and beaches. Sailing vacations might picnic at a eucalyptus shaded beach like Marmakas, named after its marble-white pebbles. Or you could earn a PADI scuba diving qualification. You might have company, but probably only from an endangered Mediterranean monk seal, wondering who’s exploring its backyard.

“Cultural immersion”

Or, as we like to call it, eating as many island foods as you can. Like many Greek Islands, Ithaca is small but mighty in the food stakes. Cheese packed pastries, homemade soda bread dipped in olive oil, locally cured ham (louza), honey, capers and sundried fruit are all picnic ingredients that support Ithacan farmers and fishermen. A great vacation operator will point you towards the best seafood restaurants in Frikes and tell you where and when to go to grab a waterfront seat in Vathi.

The accommodation included on a responsible organised vacation tends to invest in the local community. Walking vacations aim for guesthouses, including some with solar panels that make good use of all that Greek sunshine. You could also stay in a hillside estate that grows its own organic produce in the most idyllic of settings.

Practicalities

Some vacations to Ithaca spend five to six days exploring the island. Others use that time to squeeze in three Greek Islands, so you might also get the chance to see nearby Kefalonia and Lefkada. The best time to go to Ithaca is in spring (watch out for wildflowers blooming and trees blossoming) or autumn (for pure peace and quiet). Some vacation companies run trips throughout winter. Many walking specialists take a break in August, when temperatures ramp up to 30°C or more. Most travelers fly into Kefalonia and catch the ferry to Ithaca. It’s no Odyssey – about a 40-minute sailing. You’ll usually stay in one place – probably a guesthouse around Vathi or Frikes. There’s a tug of war between water conservation and a lack of funding for desalinising water in Ithaca. Bring a reusable water bottle, but failing water supplies might mean that you have to resort to drinking bottled water anyway. Make sure to recycle the bottles, if so.

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Ithaca tips from our travelers

“…our excellent Greek guide was able to give us so much information about the islands, and also about Greek life in general. Through her we met a number of locals and felt it was altogether a very Greek experience. Take good boots as the paths are rocky and often uneven. Pack a basin plug and plastic sandals for the beaches, which are gorgeous but stony!” - Christa Laird travelled on a Kefalonia, Lefkada and Ithaca walking vacation.

“Stay as long as you can. Vacationing here is all about switching off, forgetting your everyday life and escaping normality and the real world for a while. Local people benefit economically in various capacities from visitors here. Tourism is hugely important for Greece at the moment, for every 30 visitors to the country a job is created, so economically tourism is vital.” - Chris Kearney stayed in luxury Greek vacation accommodation on Ithaca.
The people very friendly and relaxed. Restaurants close by on the seafront offering fresh fish every day with a friendly service.
- Bryan Parker
“A downpour during a short hike in the Ithaca hills could have been a downer as we were completely soaked. But the combination of our guide, planning and unfailing good cheer, along with our mountain village taverna's hostess' hospitality, warming welcome (including glasses of psipouro and dry clothes!!) and wonderful and continuously replenished, traditional Greek dishes, turned this into one of our most memorable evenings ever. Give yourself an extra day on the islands at the end to ensure that you are able to stay the full time planned on Ithaca.” - Jim Frame travelled on a Kefalonia, Lefkada and Ithaca walking vacation.

“If you enjoy having whole beaches to yourself, swimming in crystal clear waters with perfect air temperatures, then May is the month for you to visit the beautiful island of Ithaca. We really enjoyed escaping the hubbub and the average temperature of around 24°C was perfect for our four-year-old.” - Alison Brookes Day, who stayed in luxury Greek vacation accommodation on Ithaca.

“Simply a great place to be in September. On the roads, no traffic… three cars about every km covered. The people very friendly and relaxed. Restaurants close by on the seafront offering fresh fish every day with a friendly service.” - Bryan Parker stayed in luxury Greek vacation accommodation on Ithaca.
Photo credits: [Page banner: claire rowland] [Top box: Trip & Travel Blog] [Sailing, snorkelling & scuba: Spolykalas] [Review (seafood): Michal Osmenda]
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