Crete : Top 5 things to do near Heraklion

In Greece, Travel Guides
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Day Trip to Spinalonga island           Church in Gouves

I always had this thing for islands.

It’s something about their spirit of independence, their uniqueness. And I can already tell you that on that points, Crete won’t disappoint you.

Crete – Practical notebook x1f1ec-1f1f7.png.pagespeed.ic.Wr51-Vo2Wt

An island of Greece: The size and the unique culture of Crete will almost make you forget the island belongs to Greece. For sure the island could be a country on its own. Don’t expect to be able to visit Crete in one only trip: sure thing is you’ll have to come back 😉

In order to make the most of your trip, try to focus on one region! On my side, I will axe this article on the area around Heraklion: north/east Crete.

Language: Modern Greek. But you will be surprised how well the inhabitants speak English… and French !

Money: €uro

Best period to go: Crete has a wonderful Mediterranean climate with warm and dry summer and short and soft winter. I would recommend September to enjoy the rest of the summer season but with supportable heat and without big crowds. Beginning of spring will also be a perfect option.

Best way to go: Coming from main cities in Europe is very cheap. A lot of low cost airlines companies like EasyJet propose flights from London or Berlin from 40€ one way.

Best person to go with: Alone, couples, family… Romantic, surprising, festive, quiet, beautiful, full of culture… Crete is part of those amazing destinations where you can adapt your stay to every type of holiday.

Travel guide used:

1. Get lost in Heraklion

There is a common belief that the best way to discover a city is to get lost in it, and I think this could perfectly apply to Heraklion!

If you don’t stay in Heraklion directly and come by bus, you’ll probably arrive near the Archeological Museum. Situated in the heart of the city, the big yellow building is a good landmark (plus, you can always ask for your way to locals as « archeological museum » is almost pronounced the same way in Greek!).

The city center articulates around two main squares: the « Eleftherias Square » (not far from the Archeological museum and the bus stops), and the « Lion’s square ». Both squares are connected by the Dedalou street which is basically the local shopping street (mostly international stores like Zara, Makrs & Spencer etc).

The Lion’s square was one of my favorite spot in the city! On the square you’ll find the famous Morosini fountain, who, with its four Lions, calls for an immediate selfie.

            The Lion's square in Heraklion Selfie @ the Lion's Square Loggia of Heraklion Pita Gyros restaurant in Heraklion

Take a chance to explore the streets around where you’ll find a lot of little restaurants, mainly selling Gyros Pita specialties for a really cheap price. Sitting at one of its terrace’s shadow, and observing the world swarm around you with an Alpha beer in hand is absolutely priceless.

For this experience, I would recommend Izmir Kebab : really good food, cheap prices, quick service and friendly staff. The restaurant is situated just next to the city hall building (the Loggia), a Venetian building which definitely deserves a visit (free exhibitions are usually displayed).

Capture d’écran 2016-10-06 à 23.49.08

If you have the chance to be around on Wednesdays or Saturdays, go and visit the local market situated a bit outside the city center. My favorite stand was the one of the man on the photo. If you have the chance to stop by, don’t forget to take back as much honey as your luggage allowance enables you! It’s just the best! A visit to the market will never be wasted as the good thing on the Heraklion market is that people will make you taste everything before you buy! 😉

2. A bit of culture : Knossos Palace and the Archeological museum

red columns in Knossos Frescoes of Knossos  Amphorae from Knossos ruins

You can not come to Crete and leave ignoring this island has been the cradle of our entire civilization. History and Mythology fans out there: you won’t be disappointed! The heritage of Crete is richer than you’ll ever imagine. Even if there are a lot of archeological sites on the island, I will recommend keeping it to the basics: Knossos palace and Heraklion archeological museum will already be enough to keep you busy an entire day.

Enjoy Knossos in the morning and go to the museum in the afternoon to finish your day by a relaxing (an refreshing!) walk near the old venetian harbor. For both sites, I will definitely recommend to hire a guide.

Entrance for Knossos is 15€ for adults and you can buy combined tickets for Knossos + archeological museum at 16€.

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If you are a student from the european union, don’t forget to take your student card: both sites will be free!

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3. Relax at the beach : focus on Gouves

You will see it on your own directly from the plane: Crete’s coasts offer some of the most beautiful beaches in the Mediterranean see.

Along the coast, you will have several choices of cities or villages to stay depending on your expectations. Hersonissos and Malia are well-known places if you eager to party at night but could be quite crowded during peak season. Some smaller villages like Gouves offer a calmer atmosphere.

Only 20 minutes from Heraklion’s airport by car or public bus, the village has a very differentiated offer of hotels and two beautiful beaches. One thing you have to know however is that for most of them you’ll need to pay approximately 6€ per day to enjoy two sun-beds and an umbrella as local cafes use to privatise some parts of the beach.

Take a break in your « sun-bath day » to explore local shops you’ll find along the beach until the little church of St Constantin and Helena which definitely deserves an Instagram stop.

The church looks so cute and beautiful (see photo at the top of this article!), you can even book your wedding ceremony there

4. Day trip to Spinalonga & Agios Nikolaus

If there is one day-trip you can’t miss when staying in the region, it’s definitely this one. Most of travel tour agencies will offer excursions including lunch BBQ for about 45/50€, but you can also explore those destinations on your own!

Spinalonga, because of the dark history it holds and its inherent beauty is definitely a must-do. Nicknamed « the island of tears », it was the last leprosarium in Europe and was administrated like a detention camp where sick people were treated in inhumane conditions. In order to get the most of your day and understand why this little islet became part of the Cretan history, I will recommend to do the visit with a local guide. A shuttle boat will take you from Elounda to Spinalonga in approximately 15 minutes. Once you’ll be there, entrance is 8€ for adults (free for students).

                       Boats accosting in Spinalonga Capture d’écran 2016-10-06 à 23.51.05 Soinalonga island

I will advise to take at least half or an entire day to discover Agios Nikolaus. It is today hard to believe that this swarming city was a little fishermans village 10 years ago. Must-do include stopping by the famous Voulismeni lake (which the inhabitants will swear is bottomless), getting lost in the little shaded streets while making your way to the local market, stopping by the port and observe the enormous statue of Europe sitting on a bull (Zeus) and visiting the Panagia Vrefotrofos church. End your day with a well-deserved fruit cocktail and enjoy the magnificent view at the balcony of « Chez George ».

                        Boats in Agios Nikolaos Colored houses in Agios Nikolaos Europe and Zeus Agios Nikolaos

5. Enjoy a real Cretan meal

No wonder why the « Cretan diet » became so successful along the years. Even if most of the time the greek cooking is simple, it always uses fresh products from local agriculture. Fish, vegetables and fruits constitute most of the meals and delicious olive oil will often complete the seasoning for the joy of your palate and stomach. The Cretan salad is the most known example of the tasteful simplicity of the island cooking.

For your last night in Crete, make sure to share a typical mezze dinner with your new acquaintances (my favorite one was the rice-stuffed vine leaves!) and end your meal with a shot of raki or one of ouzo (or both!). 

If you have the chance to visit this wonderful island and need more tips or if you want to share some others: please feel free contact me or share in the comments :-)

Stin geia sou ! (Cheers)

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