Last August, myself and Andrew spent 10 days travelling through Crete. Crete is the largest and most populated of the Greek islands and one of the most beautiful I’ve seen.
While Heraklion (the capital) is definitely the most popular area for tourists, I would highly recommend travelling a little further afield. Other areas on the island are so beautiful and peaceful, it would be a shame not to witness them.
While most trips to the Greek Islands involve a layover in Athens, Ryanair have a direct flight into Chania Airport. This might be a little out of the way for those choosing to stay in Heraklion or those who don’t wish to rent a car, but it was perfect for us.
We broke our trip into two parts, spending the first three nights just outside Agios Nikolaos, followed by a week in a town called Almyrida. Both locations are coastal, but on opposite sides of the island. Our reason for doing this was to see the full breath of the island and to keep any day trips within 1/2 hours drive from our accommodation.
On most of our trips, we rent a car. We’ve been doing it for years now and find it’s the best thing for us. Our favourite thing is to find hidden gems off the beaten track, and you can’t really do that easily without a car. Usually, we shop around for the best price and don’t really have a loyalty to any car rental company in particular. My advice is to get a decent car that you trust (not just the cheapest) and to pay for the full coverage insurance at the desk.
If you’d rather stay near Heraklion and don’t plan on renting a car, I would suggest taking the indirect flight to Heraklion Airport instead. It will save you time and will be handier for arranging transport to/from your accommodation too.
Our first three nights were spent in the Meliti Hotel, a gorgeous boutique hotel just outside of Agios Nikolaos town. As a treat, we booked a suite with a shared pool. This meant we had our own pool, that we shared with our neighbour. Most of the time, we actually had it to ourselves so it may as well have been our own private escape!
The Meliti Hotel was a little off the beaten track, but easy to reach with a car. The interiors were so beautiful, and the staff were lovely. We didn’t use the main pool, however it looked quite peaceful and never too busy during the day. The only complaint I would have was the lack of atmosphere in the bar/restaurant in the evening. However, with Agios Nikolaos just a taxi ride away, it didn’t bother us so much.
Aloe Boutique & Suites
Aloe Boutique & Suites was the next place that we chose to stay, and we spent a full week here. The staff were both friendly and accommodating and they were genuinely invested in us having a pleasant experience throughout our stay.
We booked an executive suite that looked out over the pool area. It was private and quiet, and had everything we needed and more. Andrew was particularly happy with the in-room espresso machine! Breakfast was included in our room rate, and was one of the best we have had in Greece. They even had a champagne brunch one of the days which was a lovely touch!
Aloe Boutique & Suites is located right on the main street of Almyrida. It took just 2 minutes to walk to the beach, the shop and all the bars and restaurants. It really was the perfect location.
The food in Crete as a whole is really good. It is fresh and full of flavour despite appearing to be quite simple. The Mediterranean cuisine with a focus on fresh fish and vegetables is prominent and often the local, side of the road style eateries, are best.
Some things that you should try include Dakos, Loukoumades, Cretan salad & of course Raki!
Here are some places that we ate in and would recommend in both areas of Crete:
Zygos Urban Garden
On our first full day in Agios Nikolaos, we headed into the city to explore and stopped here for some lunch. It was a lovely spot, great atmosphere and the food was absolutely delicious.
We came here for dinner upon the recommendation of our hotel. It served traditional, home-style Greek food and it was amazing. I would 100% recommend ordering fish.
After dinner one evening, we came here for a glass of wine. They have a small indoor restaurant, but also an area outside overlooking the harbour. We sat outside chatting and hours passed by… it was lovely.
We ate at Psaros I would say 4/5 times over the course of our stay. It was the best restaurant on the strip in my opinion and the food was always top notch. If you go, order the rocket & fig salad and the sea bass to share – you won’t regret it! Be sure to book a table if you’re visiting during peak season, or you will find it hard to get a spot.
This restaurant is more on the luxury side. After stopping here for a glass of wine one night, we decided to book it for dinner on our last night. It was expensive, but the food and service were both amazing.
One of the best Italian meals I’ve had. The pasta was freshly made and the pizza was wood fired – delish! The restaurant is small, only about 15 tables and it tends to get busy quickly. Definitely one for an earlier dinner or book in advance.
Aloe Boutique & Suites
We ate lunch at our hotel restaurant a few times, the food was really good and it was super handy when we were lounging by the pool.
Things To Do
Spinalonga is a fortified island off the coast of Crete. Historically, it was a place where lepers from Crete and the rest of Greece where kept in isolation.
Now, it is one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Greece. It takes just about an hour to stroll around the island, but we spent about two. There are amazing panoramic views of from the top of the fort, and so many winding pathways taking you through history one step at a time.
To get there, you can take a boat from Ayios Nikolaos, Elounda or Plaka. We drove to Plaka, and took the boat from there. The boat leaves/return at set times, so be sure to check the schedule to make sure you’re not waiting around for too long. Parking was easy to find, and the village of Plaka was absolutely lovely to walk around after our visit and stop for a bite to eat.
Chania harbour is about 30 minutes drive from Almyrida and a lovely way to spend the afternoon. We strolled through the old town, stopped for coffee and wandered along the harbour all the way out to the lighthouse. There are loads of little shops to pop into along the way and plenty of restaurants to grab something to eat for lunch or dinner.
Elafonissi beach is instagram-famous for its soft pink sand and warm turquoise water. Of course, it is beautiful and so unusual to see, however, it is 100% a top tourist trap in Crete.
We hit the road early in the morning to arrive at Elafonissi by about 11am. To our surprise, it was already swarmed with people and the closer parking spots were already fully taken. Nevertheless, we walked about 2km or more from the start of the beach and found a quiet spot to chill. It was really nice, but not somewhere we wanted to spend a full day.
If you decide to visit, I would suggest visiting early in the morning or later in the evening for sunset – maybe the crowds will have died down by then. I would also pack a picnic, and plenty of water. There are only a few places to pick up supplies on the beach and the queues were pretty long.
Balos Beach & Gramvoussa Tour
One of the days, we decided to do a day trip to Balos Beach and Gramvoussa. We drove to the port of Kissamos and took the daily cruise boat. It wasn’t too expensive and was actually a really enjoyable day trip. Again, this is another popular tourist attraction so don’t expect to see the island in a quiet, serene state.
In Gramvoussa, you can climb 137 meters up to the highest point of the island – Gramvousa castle. It takes just 20/30 minutes and from here, there are stunning views of the coastline and the famous shipwreck by the beach. The sea is beautiful here, so be sure to take a dip before getting back on the boat.
Balos beach is listed as one of the best beaches in the world. The sand was soft and white, and the water was warm, clear and gorgeous shades of blue and green. That being said, there were so many boat tours visiting at the same time, it was hard to appreciate the beauty of the beach with so many people on it.
Another beautiful village close by to Almyrida is Georgioupoli. Here you will find a little church that is in the middle of the sea, with a path leading out to it. When we got there the waves were quite rough, and it was a little dangerous. We got about half way up the path, but had to turn back. To be honest, we shouldn’t have even attempted it, but it was quite funny!
Rethymno is probably my favourite town that we visited in Crete. The cobbled streets and venetian architecture give off charming, fairytale vibes and you could spend hours just wandering around. Theres a lovely harbour with cafes and restaurants surrounding it and a fortress that you can climb up too. We had such a lovely day here and it was the perfect way to break up the day. I picked up a gorgeous pottery ornament from a local artist here as a gift for my mam. The piece is so unique and something nice to remember our trip by!
Crete really surprised me. I am so happy that we took this trip and that we made it a little different. I would definitely recommend going off the beaten track, renting a car and experiencing the beautiful areas outside of Heraklion. It is so worth it!
If there is anything else you’d like to know, feel free to leave a comment or pop me a DM on instagram.