Heraklion city (aka Iraklio) is the largest city on the island with a population of over 140.000 and located on the North coast, approx. in the middle of Crete.
It is home to the famous Minoan Palace of Knossos and the Venetian walls, Harbour and Fortress (Koules) dating back to the 16th century. Walking through the bustling city can be overwhelming for some but once you find those hidden gems, it is worth the effort! Charming old buildings and churches, Lion Square Fountain, Museums and the places mentioned in the book Freedom or Death (aka Captain Michalis) by Nikos Kazantzakis are all waiting to be discovered.
In the wider area of Heraklion, one can find many other places of interest too. On the coast, Malia and Hersonissos are the well known areas which perfectly bring together beaches, nightlife and more traditional old town areas. Moving South, are traditional villages of Archanes and Houdetsi where one can find the artist Ross Daly and his musical workshop ‘The Labyrinth’. In the area of Peza or in Dafnes village, one finds a vast amount of wineries with multiple options for wine tasting sessions.
For those who love beaches, the South coast from Heraklion is best and in Matala (hippy area in the 60’s) there is the added bonus of caves to explore and cliff jumping to try.
The wider Lassithi area covers the Eastern part of the island and the most barren in terms of vegetation. Yet, some of the most popular destinations are in this region.
While Ierapetra and Sitia are less well known, visitors flock to Agios Nikolaos and Elounda. Agios Nikolaos town has the picturesque – and allegedly, bottomless – lake while Elounda and its surrounding parts boast beautiful scenery of the sea and Kolokytha (Pumpkin in Greek) islet is worth visiting.
For those wishing to take the path less travelled, parts such as Kato Zakros and the Lassithi or Katharo Plateaus are more appropriate. The area also offers activities for nature enthusiasts such as gorges, caves, wind surfing and scuba diving. There are also many monasteries of historical interest in this part of the island and archaeological sites to visit.
Rethymno town has been called ‘mini Hania’ so if you are not willing to drive to the far Western part of the island, this offers a good compromise. A charming old town gives way to the delightful harbour and in the evenings, all little tavernas are buzzing with students and locals. Feel free to visit the Venetian Fortress on the hill and there are also long sandy beaches where one can see the protected areas for the Caretta Caretta (loggerhead) sea turtle nests.
In the vicinity of Rethymnon, one can find the famous monastery of Arkadi which holds great historical worth but is also a beautiful place to visit for aesthetic reasons. If you are feeling a little more adventurous, a drive South from Rethymnon (approx. 45mins) will take you to Spili village or through the Kourtaliotiko gorge and to Plakias for a swim in the Libyan sea.
Hania city is the second largest on the island after Heraklion and has an international airport too. The old town has very well-preserved Venetian and Turkish architecture in the buildings and the harbour which means the location is frequently used for professional photography and the enchanting little streets are a great place to get lost in during your holidays.
In the wider Hania region, you can drive to multiple famous beaches such as Balos, Falasarna and Elafonissi (the pink beach). If you fancy staying on the beach but not driving too far, Stavros beach is a good choice and it is the location where the famous Zorba dance from the movie was filmed.
For the more adventurous, walk the Samaria Gorge or visit the former hippy village of Paleochora on the South coast. If you travel to the area of Sfakia, a local cheese pie with honey is a ‘must’ and ensure you drive through some smaller villages such as Vryses and Gavalochori to get a feeling of what local life is really like on Crete.