Crete is an island that embodies the Greek spirit in all its entirety; and then some. The abundant richness of the land and sea has produced commodities bountiful in nutritional value and taste. The warmth of the people who live here are known for their legendary ‘glentia’ full of ‘kefi’, something that has also effortlessly cultivated a level of hospitality that exceeds expectations in every extent. And the sheer natural beauty of the diverse and intriguing landscape will leave visitors in utter awe. From beaches, to gastronomy, to hospitality and entertainment, here are the top Cretan experiences you should try while visiting this glorious place.
Sensational beach experiences
Crete is an island blessed with over 1,000 km of coastline with diverse shores ranging from Blue Flag status, very well organised and popular beaches providing a myriad of amenities, to quiet, isolated and pristine ones that maintain their raw, laconic beauty.
Quiet and comfortable:
Agia Pelayia is a small fishing village on the way to Rethymnon, at around 20 km from Heraklion, yet it is one the most tranquil beaches, protected by the north winds. It boasts a long narrow stretch of golden sand and clear waters and is actually a cluster of coves, so you have a fair amount of choice to find your spot under the sun. With umbrellas and sunbeds, watersports hut and many local tavernas, cafes and restaurants, be sure to explore this beach if you’re willing to go a bit further out.
As it is popular with many visitors, Agia Pelayia will not disappoint. Another option is to stay at the luxury resort Out of the Blue, Capsis Elite Resort.
Stalis or Stalida is a peaceful area in the midway between Hersonissos and Malia, a bit further away at 30 km east of Heraklion. A large stretch of shore, made into two beaches by a rocky formation, the beach is sandy and shallow watered. Palm trees give Stalida a more tropical feel, while it is fully organized for your ultimate comfort. It is perfect for family oriented seaside day out.
Beach bar extravaganza:
Ammoudara is a stunning long stretch of beach, approximately 1 km west of Heraklion. It is a Blue Flag beach boasting shallow waters and dark gold sand and is an excellent choice for all types of beach-goers. The shallow waters make it ideal for families, while there are facilities for watersports enthusiasts, as well as the landscape being handicapped friendly. No wonder it is one of the most popular shores of the area, as it is Heraklion’s beach heaven for all! The beach bar with the the fitting name Heaven, provides a nice shaded seating area apart from the umbrellas and sunbeds.
Gouves is a coastal area to the east of Heraklion, at a distance of 18 km with many options for your beach experience. The shore of Gouves has been developed due to tourism, and so the beachside tends to be crowded however the far ends of the beach tend to be quieter. A more lively and minimal experience awaits you at the beach bar restaurant of Isla Party with comfortable chaises longues, a thrilling menu, tasty cocktails, and music beats.
The most stunning shores of Crete are predominantly located on the south side of the island, facing the Libyan sea.
The Red beach is a nudist friendly beach, so be prepared. Located close to Matala on the southern part of Heraklion, it used to be a popular hippie destination in the 60s, 70s and 80s that retains its carefree attitude until today. Of course, it is a gorgeous beach that features a strikingly darker, richer sand. It is almost red, with differing shades depending on the light. The rocky limestone landscape is incredible as it engulfs the beach, some of which bears interesting carvings and engravings of Minoan figures! This beach is mostly unorganised, with very few sunbeds and a old, stone canteen which is not always open. It is wise to bring your own amenities in order to make you feel comfortable and so you can enjoy this beach to the max.
Agiofarago beach. Situated at the exit of the Agiofarago Gorge, in close proximity to Matala although access to the beach is a bit of a challenge. An SUV is recommended as you will need to drive through dirt roads before leaving your vehicle. Then you must cross the gorge which is a 20 minute walk through lush surroundings of cliffs and shrubs, which is not difficult but you are advised to wear comfy shoes. The glistening fine pebble beach at the bottom of the gorge will fully indemnify you. Alternatively, you can reach Agiofarago beach by boat from Matala, Agia Galini or Kali Limenes. Again, you are advised to bring your own amenities as it is also an unorganised beach.
Top gastronomical experiences
The Cretan cuisine is known for being exemplar of the most well rounded, rich, tasty and nutritional flavours throughout Greece.With extra virgin olive oil of exquisite quality being the backbone of the cuisine, fresh, superior raw ingredients, traditional products made with ‘meraki’ (soul, love and creativity) and aromatic herbs come together, bringing a dance of flavours with every bite.
Peskesi is one restaurant that you should definitely visit at least once during your stay in Heraklion. Located amidst the cobble streets of the town, it is a simply striking venue ranked top 10 restaurant in Europe for “Restaurant & Bar Design Awards”. With a traditional meets modern, but authentic Cretan character in every aspect, Peskesi achieves a wonderful ambience throughout.
Delicious traditional food with a touch of haute cuisine, good service, tasteful surroundings. In case a table is not available, there may be a small wait, but you are treated to a fragrant rose raki liqueur which is simply lip smacking. Suitable for groups, couples and families, and although there is not much of a view, the minimalistic decor and warm lighting will be the setting of a delightful dining experience.
Merastri is a classic choice for homemade traditional Cretan cooking. Predominantly indoor with traditional decor and a fireplace in the centre, here you will be able to savour the real flavours of a typical Cretan household. With many vegetarian dishes, it is suitable for groups, couples and families, you will enjoy sitting in the garden area with its grape vines.
Greek & Mediterranean:
Ippokampos is a typical Taverna/Ouzeri located on the seaside of Heraklion with simple, tasty dishes at affordable prices. It is a quaint, traditional Greek and Mediterranean taverna serving fish, meats and veggie options. It has few tables, some of which are located inside, while others are placed across the road, facing the sea for a closer to coast experience! Suitable for groups, couples and families, you will be thrilled by the freshness of the food and the exhilarating spot by the sea. You can order a wide range of meze (small dishes) here so you can try as many delicacies as possible.
On a quiet street near the centre of Heraklion, and a popular choice among the locals is Ladokolla. The restaurant blends the Greek and Mediterranean recipes expertly, culminating in creative and inspired dishes with a healthy mix between seafood and meat dishes. The seafood is exceptional here and the starters options are a definite no miss. This corner restaurant with wooden tables is split between two levels, and has a playful ambience, while its name means grease paper in Greek.
Pagopoieion is a Creative Bar Restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is located in the picturesque square of Agios Titos and you can enjoy it almost all day long. Set in a good location and housed in a historical building the interiors are minimal, showcasing the historicity of the venue. Usually hosting weekend brunches, it is ideal for casual dining with modern dishes and a nice presentation. Suitable for groups, couples and families, the service is speedy and the staff are friendly.
A restaurant that could be considered the temple of pasta in Heraklion is Pastatempo. This is a beautifully stone styled restaurant with Mediterranean starters and Italian cuisine. The immense choice of pasta, pizza, calzone, antipasti, insalate, and mains may challenge your decision making while some really unique dishes will not disappoint you if you are willing to try something new and exciting. Groups, couples and families are all welcome here and you can also sit outside in the verandah which is quite pleasant.
7 Thalasses is one of the top seafood restaurants in Heraklion. With a gourmet Mediterranean and Greek menu of seafood and fish dishes primarily, 7 Thalasses (seas) is an exceptional venue of fine quality. The interior is stunningly elegant and uniquely decorated with artwork while it also has an external garden with flowerbeds and trees that even has a playground for children.
Suitable for groups, couples and families, and available for private dining events the restaurant also has some selected meat dishes and a sushi menu. With impeccable presentation, the wine selection is fantastic, while the cocktail bar is ready to refresh your evenings with zingy, original drinks.
If you’re in the mood for some sushi, the Kymata Sushi Bar is the place to visit. Situated in the heart of Heraklion, Kymata caters for a classic sushi menu, with asian specialities and some interesting chef’s signature creations. Tasty cocktails and japanese flavours in a stylish, minimal decor.
Top accommodation experiences
Galaxy Hotel Iraklio is a five star luxury hotel, conveniently located at 5 km from the airport, 1 km from the port, and 500 m from the Historical City Center of Heraklion. The Galaxy Hotel is the ideal choice for a fulfilling accommodation solution for business and leisure visitors alike. Being able to fully serve a wide range of guests with the highest of standards, the hotel features business functional rooms, elegant suites, comfortable triples as well as innovative ‘Pure’ rooms as well as inter-connecting family rooms. With top-notch facilities, gastronomic choices and outstanding levels of hospitality with a personal touch, the Galaxy offers a glamorous and authentic city break experience in Heraklion.
Creta Beach Hotel is an eco-friendly hotel accommodation, situated in the gorgeous seaside sandy beach area of Ammoudara, about 5 km from Heraklion. Get the best seaside experience by the city in the lush, green surroundings of Creta Beach Hotel. With a choice between rooms and bungalows, you can choose between waterfront or garden morning views, this hotel offers moments of beachside bliss with a tastefully integrated and fully entertaining accommodation solution for guests and families with up to two children.
The wine lover guests of Heraklion, located 9 km away is the picturesque village of Scalani, home of the Scalani Hills Boutari Winery and Residences. There are three residences where guests can stay and enjoy the beautiful views of the colourful vineyard. The accommodation is modern and luxurious. Tours are also a must here even if you choose to stay elsewhere, combine it with wine tasting and a homemade lunch or dinner prepared by the local chefs. Savour the Cretan delicacies which have been devised to bring out the lovely local wine flavours.
Top entertainment recommendations
From am to pm – The region of Malia is well known all around the world for its holiday flair. Spreading from the foot of Mount Selena and across towards the shoreline, Malia is popular for its crystal clear waters and sandy beaches, as well as the vibrant nightlife of its coastal bars and clubs. Malia has two parts of town, the old part south of the main road, with beautiful churches and quaint squares to explore, and the new part which is the boisterous, party side buzzing with numerous bars & clubs filled with youngsters and music until the early morning.
Almyra Seaside is a sophisticated seaside beach bar in the area of Agia Pelayia beach, offering a superior ambiance anytime. A more than typical beach bar by day, with comfortable seating in addition to sunbeds and umbrellas, serving quality coffees and snacks, cocktails and drinks while music accompanies your experience, often culminating in massive beach parties with famous guest DJs. Suitable for all, during the day.
Stone Project is a contemporary cocktail bar in the centre of Heraklion town in Korai Square and combines funky, soul, disco and house DJ sets with innovative cocktails in an industrial interior aesthetic.
Trito Bar is another bar specialising in cocktails, centrally located in the square of Agios Titos, that goes as far as arranging guest bartender nights. The music is so un-mainstream it can be as diverse as dance, bossa, boogie as well as reggae. It has an artsy character, hosting various exhibitions occasionally and boasts a particular decor.
Groovy & relaxed:
The Bitters Bar is like a little gem, just behind the Lion’s square in Heraklion. A cozy and dainty bar, it is inspired by the speakeasy bars of the 1920’s American prohibition. Open from the late morning onwards serving coffee, it carries a great selection of spirits including premium brands, inspired cocktails in the evenings and groovy beats throughout the day and night.
Opus Wine Bar is open from the morning serving coffee and desserts, as well as brunch on the weekends, welcoming all guests including families. During the night it takes on its wine bar status with an impressive wine list and solid menu, also serving beers and cocktails. It is a art deco style venue also organising live music nights that will enthuse its habitues with the incredibly lively atmosphere.
Family moments & more:
The rooftop of the Taratsa Astoria Cocktail & Food Bar will provide the most amazing views overlooking the Venetian castle and harbour. With a swimming pool adding a sense of refreshment to the atmosphere, the lounge music will additionally soothe you making it an ideal place day or night. Suitable for groups, families and couples, it serves coffees and cocktails accompanied by snacks and light bites. Sometimes it has theme nights such as Latin or Sushi.
Located inside the Venetian walls of Heraklion beneath an enormous eucalyptus tree, you will come across an oasis in the city, Eucalyptus. It is an all day cafe and bar that is suitable for all guests, especially families as there is plenty of space for pushchairs. It is generally relaxed during the day, although it gets livelier as the day goes by. The atmosphere is extremely cozy and refreshing, and is one of the most local places to be.
One of the biggest nightclubs in the Heraklion, Island (of Desire) Club that frequently schedules theme nights with various greek artists and DJs. It is a massive venue located on the coast of of Heraklion it has two areas, one semi-indoor and the other is outdoor. State of the art design, and good sound system promises a high energy night, however it would be wise to book your table in advance to avoid disappointment, as it can get quite busy. Suitable for groups, couples and singles serving spirits and beers primarily.