For families, Fira wins out for a wide range of kid-pleasing hotels, crowd-pleasing tavernas, and easy access to the island’s most recognizable landmarks. Fira also has the best range of budget options on the caldera and is the hub for buses to beaches, ruins, ports, and wineries.
Teeny Finikia often markets itself as part of Oia but offers a peaceful alternative with cobblestone pathways, authentic cave suites, and a couple of pebbly beaches to lounge on after Samaria Gorge.
The main gateway to Crete, Heraklio is home to a wealth of sights and experiences. First-timers should stay within the compact Old Town (it’s less than 2km wide) to make the most of its walkability. In the city’s northern and eastern sections, ancient and modern buildings jostle for space alongside the port and fortress. A stroll through the city’s Old Town will reveal a host of restaurants, bars, and sights, including the Archaeological Museum, Koules Fortress, and the grave of writer Nikos Kazantakis (author of Zorba the Greek).
Outside the city, Heraklion’s southwestern coast features crystal clear waters, organized beaches, and traditional tavernas where you can sample mouthwatering local dishes. The southwestern part of the island is also dotted with mountains and green valleys, with villages like Apeiranthos and Sklaverohori still keeping their traditional charm.
If you’re looking for things to do outside of Heraklio, the Psychro Cave and the Archaeological Museum are both worth a visit. You can also go kayaking around Lake Zaros, or check out one of Europe’s largest aquariums at Cretaquarium.
As with many tourist destinations, Heraklio has its fair share of tourist traps, so it’s important to stick to reputable places when eating out. The city’s best eateries tend to be tucked away, away from the mob of tourists that crowd the main streets. For example, Giakoumis and Ta Grousouzadika on Dedalou Street serve delicious fresh seafood at reasonable prices. If you want to eat in the heart of the action, the rooftop bar at Mirabello Hotel offers a great view over the old town harbor and Venetian fortress. It’s also a short stroll from Heraklio’s central train station.
Crete is a large island in the Mediterranean Sea, and the largest in Greece. Its main city is Heraklion. The island forms one of 13 top-level administrative units (enotita) in Greece. It is a mountainous island, and its highest point is Mount Olympus at 2,962 m (9,570 ft).
The capital of the Rethymno prefecture is Rethymno. It was the former seat of the government of Crete and is now home to many cultural institutions and museums. Rethymno is also famous for its beautiful and quiet beaches. The beach of Agios Pavlos is a particularly popular place to visit. It has a good infrastructure and is suitable for families.
Rethymno is a relatively compact, less-touristy town, which makes it an excellent place to stay if you want to explore the sights of Crete. It has a beautiful old port and a medieval Old Town that’s pedestrianized and full of tree-shaded or street-seated tavernas. Rethymno has a mix of Cretan, Venetian, and Ottoman elements in its architecture and culture.
Other coastal resorts in the Rethymno prefecture include Matala and Kissamos. Both have pretty beaches but attract a perhaps disproportionate share of day visitors. Matala has a wide range of hotels and apartments. Kissamos caters for couples in high-end yet cozy boutique hotels like Avli Lounge Apartments and Rimondi.
Among the inland villages, Episkopi is an example of traditional Crete and offers a genuine taste of local life. It’s close to Chania and a short drive from Rethymno.
Other than its natural beauty, another attraction of Crete is the diversity of its cultural scene. Rethymno, Heraklion, Chania, and other towns offer a wide variety of cultural activities and events throughout the year, including a number of festivals and performances.
3. Agios Nikolaos
The capital of Crete’s Lassithi province, Agios Nikolaos (or Ag Nik as the British visitors love to call it) is a cozy compact town overlooking magnificent Mirabello bay in the middle of the island. Trendy restaurants, bars and cafes cluster around the town’s showpiece – a little sea-connected lake named Voulismeni that is an impressive natural beauty with a small park of pine trees, a path and traditional fishing boats.
The lake is the centerpiece of Agios Nikolaos’s main promenade, which also offers an excellent view to the old harbor of the city and a well organized marina. There is also a wide variety of hotels, hostels and apartments with a great choice in terms of price and quality.
During your stay in Agios Nikolaos, you should definitely take a stroll to the charming old neighborhood of Theroplatia, where you will see some traditional buildings from the Ottoman period as well as some very interesting churches. Another must-visit place is the town’s central market, a very large indoor marketplace with fresh products and other items like folk art, pottery, leather wear, souvenirs and much more.
Agios Nikolaos is surrounded by stunning beaches. You can visit Ammos and Kitroplatia public beaches, Havania shingle beach and the tranquil Ormos beach that has a very protected position.
If you love to party, Agios Nikolaos has plenty of pulsating nightclubs that offer booming sound systems, laser shows and foam parties. You can even find a couple of live music bars that play everything from traditional Greek tunes to jazz. You can also go shopping like a local at the town’s weekly market, which is held every Wednesday. There are lots of stalls that sell woven fabrics, cups, mugs and other china wear as well as clothes, house decor and a variety of other goods.
Located close to Heraklion Hersonissos is one of the most popular places to stay in Crete for a fun holiday. It’s a typical holiday seaside resort, with a nice series of beaches to explore, good restaurants and tavernas and a lively nightlife. It also has a lot of accommodation to offer: from basic rooms for rent or budget studios to luxury hotels with swimming pools and spas.
Heraklion Airport is just a 21 minute drive from Hersonissos, and the resort town’s bus station is right in front of the main train station in Heraklion, so it’s easy to get around. It is a popular destination during the peak season from July to August, but it’s still worth visiting in shoulder seasons (early April and late October) when temperatures are milder.
The main street of Hersonissos is lined block to block with all kinds of shops, fast food outlets and rental and tour offices. There is a lot of choice for dining and drinking, with traditional Greek cuisine as well as a huge array of international options.
A short stroll away is the nice beach of Hersonissos, which has a wide variety of water sports to try. It’s backed by an extensive promenade with cafe bars and tavernas.
Hersonissos has a buzzing nightlife, with the bars and nightclubs running from the harbor at the northern end to the central strip down south. It’s a younger crowd here and you’ll often see gorgeous Greek Adonis girls on the bar terraces. It’s a great place to party, especially when the live music gets going. But if you prefer quieter nights Hersonissos has plenty of lovely boutique hotels and guest houses.
Gifted with extraordinary natural beauty, a bottomless lake and an island-fortress that inspired a best-seller, Elounda and its picturesque main town Agios Nikolaos offer a generous slice of luxury Crete at its most alluring. Choose from private villas, secluded luxury suites or five-star hotels that ooze sophistication and discreet service. The area also boasts a high concentration of gastronomic delights, from gourmet restaurants to the finest local wines.
The sea around Elounda glows like a sapphire under the azure sky, rose-hued in summer afternoons and silvered on moonlit nights. To swim in it is a spiritual experience; to gaze at it from the shore is mesmerizing.
Elounda’s gulf is protected by two rugged peninsulas, the Gulf of Mirabello and the Kolikithia Peninsula, and a network of secluded beaches stretches across the crystalline waters. It’s a rare and magical place where you can truly feel at peace.
Across the gulf is the picturesque fishing village of Plaka, where you can stroll along its cobblestone streets and dine in waterfront fish tavernas. Nearby, the restored Aretiou Monastery is one of the most important monasteries in Crete and offers an excellent opportunity for some rest and relaxation.
Just beyond Elounda’s sandy coastline lies Koufonisi, a secluded islet that held special value for the ancient Greeks. Its pristine beaches and abundant supply of sea sponges attracted occupiers from the Minoan to the Byzantine and Ottoman eras. Indulge in a secluded beach day-trip from your hotel or enjoy a sun-soaked cruise on a yacht charter from Agios Nikolaos.