The mountainous island of Crete is a standout feature of the Mediterranean sea. The dramatic landscapes, along with the stunning seafront and a rich cultural heritage have made for an emphatic reputation for the island city, and Crete continues to feature in the dream holiday destination lists of all avid travelers. The appeal has transcended the usual beach town cliché and the world has begun to realise the potential of the islands hill towns, vineyards and ecotourism resorts and sleepy Venetian towns. The bustling beaches and vibrant lifestyle reigns supreme, but the island simply has so much more to offer.
Almost all areas of the island have worked on fleshing out their potential as tourist destinations and have come out looking good. But with so many options, comes the big responsibility of picking the right neighborhood to choose for your holiday stay. And we are here to help with just that. Here, we have listed some of the best neighbourhoods of Crete and what they might have in store for you!
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Stellar exhibits of Minoan art, a rich Venetian history accentuated by the dominant architecture, and of course the stunning waterfront all come together to give the Cretan capital of Heraklion a unique appeal. The commercial district is one of the most developed areas on the island. With a wide range of activities, all within a compact area, it has become a major draw over the years. While in Heraklion, you can be touring a museum or shopping in an upscale shopping centre and just minutes later, find yourself taking a stroll along the picturesque broad-walks.
And then there's the historic sites, which include the likes of the 16th-century Koules fortress and the Palace of Knossos. These palaces and fort complexes are stuff that legends are made of; quite literally, the Koules fortress withstood a 21 year siege from the Ottomans and is central to the island's folklore now. The walls are covered in frescoes, or watercolour paintings that are essential viewing. Talking of which, the Heraklion Archaeological Museum's exhibits of Minoan art are not to be missed either. And once you've checked all of that off your list, you can always move further inland, and explore the nearby vineyards that are also becoming an increasingly popular destination for international travellers.
Accessibility is the easiest in the capital city, with the central harbour and the International Airport. Heraklion also boasts of some of some of the best luxury resorts in all of Crete.
If you're a young backpacker looking for a vibrant beach town to spend your vacation, then look no further than Malia. Part of the larger Hersonissos municipality, this small seaside village has drawn the younger crowds to its plethora of bars and pubs and many inexpensive hostel and homestay accommodations for long now. Other than mainstream nightclubs (cue Corkers Night Club), the likes of which are always at capacity, the town's bars and pubs also often host live events and stay open till late into the night, making them ideal venues for party animals. Restaurants serving inexpensive junk food and European cuisine only add to the appeal.
Malia is also home to some great sandy beaches that are perfect for your lazy afternoons, following a long night of partying. The eponymous Malia beach, the quieter and Stalida beach and the long sandy strip of Potamos beach are among the top choices of travellers. Not far off of the last of those beaches is the archaeological site of the Malia palace, which is easily accessible and is a welcome change from the central part of the town. You can also get a rental vehicle and explore the nearby forested areas for a change of scenery.
Getting a rental bike is a smart choice if you're heading towards Malia as it will save you the rather high taxi fares. Finding a cheap accommodation should not be a problem in this part of the island.
If you continue heading East on the island, the town of Agios Nikolaos is bound to catch your attention. Plan your stay in the area if you wish to really experience the life of the island as Agios Nikolaos is the quintessential Cretan town, if there ever was one! From its beginnings as a pet town to the capital of the Lasithi prefecture of Crete, the town has come a long way. And you can witness the development by simply walking around the paved streets and many, many staircases of the city centre that will appear to have come right out of a fairy tale book. Pastel walls, abstract art exhibits, a small marina harbour, and stunning facades of neoclassical buildings will definitely transport you to a different realm. And that's really what the town's appeal really is all about.
That's not to say that your usual entertainment options are lacking. The town has a couple of great beaches lined up with modern restaurants and bars that will ensure that you do not miss out on any experience. Agios Nikolaos also has a popular lagoon that was used as a harbour for boats during the town's year as an active seaport. Today, the waterbody has become the centre of all activity in the town and many restaurants and cafes have sprung up around it. The lake is also great for casual strolls and morning walks; you can also visit during the evening to catch the reflection of the town brightly lit skyline in the lake's sparkling water.
A little far out in the eastern part of the island, Agios Nikolaos might not be the shortest drive from the airport but getting to the town is by no means a difficult task. And when you do get there, look for a nice homestay or beachside hotel for the best experience.
Onto to the cultural capital of the island then! The northwestern harbour city Chania is one of the handful to have survived the pervasive modernisation that swept the island in recent years, and today, stands testament to the yesteryear Venetian charm. The area is best experienced through a walking tour of the old city's narrow alleys and paved streets, all of which are lined with pastel-coloured houses and buildings and fountain centrepieces made out of stone, with the transcendental appeal. Keep an eye out for souvenirs shops and restaurants that serve some of the best Cretan food that you can get your hands on.
The old harbour is the just the perfect place to spend an evening and watch the sunset from. Get a seat at one of the many waterfront restaurants or cafes for a gourmet experience to go along with your sunset viewing. The cultural enclaves of Kastelli and Splantzia, Archaeological Museum of Hania, and the eclectic lighthouse—with its Venetian, Ottoman and Egyptian influences, are a few other landmarks that dwell in the vibrant history of the town. The sandy strips at the Chania Bay are some of the finest on the island so you do not have to worry about missing out on any of the beach activities either.
The city Chania is almost always bustling with activity and the foot traffic tends to remain high during the peak seasons. Beach resorts are in plenty, but a decent hotel for lower budget ranges should also be easily available.
Kissamos, part of the same prefecture as Chania, shares a lot of the traits with its more famed counterparts in terms of old-world charm and a deeply rooted sense of Cretan culture living on through the magnificent streets. And yet, there's a unique experience that awaits you in this western seaside town. Most of the families from Kissamos were involved in the production of olive oil and wines and have remained in the business throughout antiquity; having realised the potential of ecotourism in the agricultural district, many of these farms and vineyards have been opened for travellers looking for a unique holiday in the rustic outdoors and has begun to attract many takers.
And if the beautiful countryside setting is not enough, the town itself will catch your immediate attention. Be it the fishing port, or the major thoroughfare of Skalidi, or the beaches, everything has been developed keeping in mind the comfort of the travellers visiting the town. The cafes and restaurants have sprung up around the sandy beaches and the fishing port, and the stores in the marketplaces sell souvenirs and some great local handicrafts only adding to the appeal. And if you manage to find any time, you can always hit the water on a luxury cruise ride.
You should be able to find a suitable resort in Kissamos, both close to the beaches or the vineyards, without breaking much sweat. The closest big city is the prefecture capital, Chania.
Once a haven for hippies, the quiet southern town of Matala has become known for its beautiful and rather sparsely crowded beaches. The vast sandy strips are anchored by the presence of seaside craves, which were the chosen spots for most hippie settlers in the neighborhood. You can tour the interiors, which feature everything ranging from carvings to graffiti paintings or simply choose to climb up the rocky patches for the refreshing sea breeze and serene views of the sparkling blue water. Time your visit to accommodate the wonderful sunset in your plans.
The beaches really are the major draw of the town. The eponymous Matala beach is the most popular in the area and is great for beach volleyball, water sports or simply for spending a lazy afternoon bathing under the sun. The many restaurants and open air eateries add to the appeal as you can quickly hop back for a quick drink and lively music. The Red beach's rust coloured sand and beautiful coves make for a great setting, the limited number of people in the area are just an added bonus. Other beaches, some of which are covered with pink tamarisk trees are equally picturesque. And if you're visiting Crete in June, the Matala Festival is not to be missed.
The town is about 70 kilometres south of Heraklion and is easily accessible by road. Homestays and inexpensive accommodations are in plenty, but you might also come across a few nice luxury resorts in the vicinity.
Chania sits at the foothills of the island's western mountains, which are home to some undiscovered sleepy villages that are perfect destinations for a getaway weekend. The beginning point of the island's famed Samaria Gorge, it is a frequent stopover for travellers. And before we talk about the town itself, here's a reminder of why you should not miss out on a tour of Samaria. The rugged beauty of the gorge is unparalleled and a hike through the area is one of the most rewarding experiences that you can have on the island. You can get a guided tour or explore the canyon on your own, but the picturesque setting and the sweeping views are not to be missed.
The village of Omalos in itself has a few other intriguing hikes in the offing; the Gigilos Mount (the presumed abode of Zeus) has a serene walking trail interspersed with many caves and even the occasional water spring. The town easily has the most dramatic landscape in Crete and is perfect for people looking for a more adrenaline filled holiday. Things only get better in the winter as the mountains are covered in a bed of snow, completely transforming the entire scenery. Obscure cafes and restaurants, some of which are in the most pristine settings—at the top of a hillock or on the edge of a cliff and the quaint fields surrounding the Agia Lake will also make you want to spend an eternity in the midst of the mountains.
The town is accessible by road and getting a rental is an option; however, you can also get a taxi for a more comfortable trip. For accommodation, look no further than the small hotel businesses run out of small houses made out of stone, most of which have cozy fireplaces of their own.
That's all that we have for you. Take your pick and start planning your dream Cretan vacation. Until next time, traveller!