Spinalonga (also known as Kalydon) is one of the most popular day trips from Agios Nikolaos and Heraklion. It was once a leper island and has been featured in several books and movies.
Guests staying at a hotel in the area can easily take a boat to visit this site. This area features luxury beachfront resorts.
1. Agios Nikolaos
The town of Agios Nikolaos is surrounded by a number of stunning beaches. The sandy public beach at Ammos, the Kitroplatia (town center) shingle and sand beach, as well as the small secluded beaches on the Kolokytha peninsula are all popular choices among locals and visitors alike.
The beach is also a favorite spot for cruise ship stopovers and offers an opportunity to swim in the crystal clear waters, enjoy a barbecue on the sand or just soak up the sun. In addition to the great beach, Agios Nikolaos is home to a few historic sites worth visiting, including the Metropolitan Church of Agios Nikolaos (1827) and the ruins of the Catholic Fraro Monastery that used to be owned by the Order of Franciscan Hermits (from 1450).
There are plenty of places to stay in Agios Nikolaos, but one of our top picks for your trip to Spinalonga is the luxurious 5-star Blue Palace Elounda A Luxury Collection Resort Crete. Located on the calm Gulf of Korfos, this property offers spacious suites and villas with open-layout rooms, private jacuzzis or pools and stunning views. Guests can enjoy the private beach, the onsite spa, and a number of restaurants serving a variety of cuisines. The hotel is also about a 15-minute walk from the Plaka Marina, where boats leave for Spinalonga daily.
If you want to be closer to the eerie atmosphere of Spinalonga, our other recommendation for the best place to stay in Agios Nikolaos is the 4-star Elounda Krini Hotel. This hotel is located about 4.1 km from Spinalonga, and it offers a car rental service, a free parking lot and allergy-friendly rooms. It is also less than a 10-minute drive from Windmills Poros Elounda Ruins and about 65 km from Nikos Kazantzakis Airport.
The eerie history of the uninhabited island of Spinalonga is the stuff of legends, and its ruins provide the perfect setting for an afternoon of exploration. The tiny island, which rises out of Mirabello Bay in the Lassithi Region, was fortified by the Venetians in the 17th century to protect against Turkish invasions. It was later converted to a leper colony, which operated until 1959. Today, the eerie ruins give the island a special atmosphere of abandonment. Excursion boats leave for the island several times a day from the ports of Agios Nikolaos, Elounda and Plaka.
The town of Elounda is the centrepiece of one of the island’s most exclusive resorts. Surrounded by luxury hotels and restaurants, it still manages to retain a quaint down-to-earth feel. Salty fishing craft bob in the small harbour and a sandy municipal beach and paved waterfront promenade stretch north to a cluster of shops and tavernas. A short boat trip away is the teardrop-shaped fortress island of Spinalonga, which was once Greece’s official leper colony and now a popular tourist attraction.
The 16th-century Venetian fortress was converted into a leper colony until 1957 and the ruins now attract crowds of visitors eager to see its fascinating history. There are several daily boat trips to the island from both Elounda and Plaka, with tickets costing 8 euros per person. The boats depart from Plaka (a 10-minute crossing) or the Elounda marina and the trip takes around 45 minutes.
Elounda’s luxury hotels range from mid-range to high-end with plenty of options for families and couples. You’ll find everything from villas with private pools and whirlpools to sea-view suites with private balconies and gourmet kitchens. Rooms and villas are tastefully decorated in a contemporary style, and the majority offer stunning sea views of both the Gulf of Elounda and Spinalonga Island. Most rooms also include premium toiletries, Nespresso Dolce Gusto coffeemakers and welcome fruit baskets and wine.
You’ll find an abundance of restaurants and tavernas in the centre, with some great spots to enjoy a meal with views of Spinalonga. In the evening, head to the pier for live music and entertainment. The resort’s golf course is also worth checking out, as are the ethereal gardens and the spa’s thermal pool with a view of the Gulf.
There are several family-friendly hotels in the area, including the 4-star Aristea Hotel Elounda and the 5-star Domes of Elounda Autograph Collection, which both have cots available. The Aristea is a bit closer to Kolokytha Islet, while the Domes is more of a beachfront property with a private beach. Both are located within 10 minutes of the historical site and come with a fitness centre, a spa and an outdoor pool.
3. Driros Beach
Spinalonga is one of the most famous attractions in Crete, and it is a must-see for any visitor to the region. The islet, which was once a leper colony, has a fascinating history and has been used as the backdrop of numerous novels, TV series and even motion pictures. The small fortified island is a classic excursion from local towns and is a popular destination for day trips, with boats leaving Plaka, Elounda, and Agios Nikolaos daily.
There are excellent beaches all around, including a nice sandy town beach that stretches away northwards from the centre. However, some of the best beaches are located a little further up the coast, such as Driros Beach, which is also ideal for swimming. The sandy beach is sheltered by pine trees and has loungers and a cafeteria with tables on the wooden jetty. It is a great place to relax and just gaze at the spectacular view of the sea and the beautiful fortress island opposite.
Another great option is the five-star Domes of Elounda resort, which sits on a private stretch of sandy Driros Beach and provides breathtaking views of Spinalonga. This resort is a luxurious option for all types of travelers, from families to couples, and it offers a wide variety of facilities. There are four restaurants that serve creative spins on Cretan and Greek fine dining, as well as comfort and street food, all accompanied by local wine and craft cocktails. There are also plenty of family-friendly activities, including a Montessori-based kids’ club and a teen’s club.
The resort’s rooms range from 58 open-layout suites to four-bedroom villas, all of which feature an outdoor jacuzzi and pool. There are also a number of spacious studios, each with its own kitchenette and private balcony or terrace. All of the suites are air-conditioned and have Wi-Fi access. There is a private parking area on site, and guests can also enjoy the resort’s many outdoor and indoor pools, as well as a spa with sauna and hot tub. There are also a number of outdoor and indoor bars where guests can enjoy a drink or snack, with some offering spectacular views over the Gulf of Korfos and the island of Kalydon.
Spinalonga wasn’t always on the tourist map, but now it’s an essential part of any visit to Crete’s Lassithi region. The tiny teardrop-shaped island—also known as Kalydon—was a Venetian fortress and then the leper colony that earned it its somber nickname as the “Island of Tears.” The site is now an archaeological monument, and visitors can wander through the ruins to gain a deeper understanding of the history behind this fascinating place.
Although it’s possible to visit the island by yourself with a car, taking a tour is more convenient and ensures you don’t miss any of the highlights. Choose from several options that depart from Agios Nikolaos, Plaka, or Elounda, depending on your preferred pick-up location and time frame. Some tours include a lunch and entrance ticket, while others also visit other sites in the area such as the sandy Elounda Beach or the rocky Kolokytha Beach with its amazing transparent water.
When deciding where to stay near Spinalonga, consider staying at a resort that offers its guests a seamless experience. Located on the shores of the calm Gulf of Korfos, this luxury property combines an open-layout suite with a private outdoor jacuzzi or pool in every room to offer maximum privacy and comfort. The resort’s four restaurants and four bars serve creative Cretan and Greek fine dining, comfort food, and street foods paired with craft cocktails, local wine, and fresh juices. There’s also a seasonally-heated all-ages and adults-only pool, as well as a tranquil spa that overlooks Driros Beach.
The icing on the cake is the resort’s five-star facilities, including a spa with an indoor/outdoor pool, an all-ages pool, and two smaller pools, as well as an adults-only infinity pool. There’s a fitness center and yoga studio, and families can take advantage of the hotel’s Montessori-based kids’ club, movie nights, and family yoga sessions. The resort also provides a free shuttle to the nearby marina for additional activities. Guests can also use the free Wi-Fi to keep in touch with loved ones back home. A full-service restaurant and bar serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily.