The black beach (Aspes)

Top 5 Hidden Gems of South Crete

A large island like Crete is an explorer’s thrill! Even at peak season times of the year, there are so many places to discover, that one can always find a picturesque village and a quiet beach away from the crowds. While the North is more developed and easily accessible, the South offers hidden treasures all along the coast, from East to West and is truly worth exploring. Here are some of the places where locals go to avoid the more popular spots like Elafonissi, Balos and Lentas:

Makry Gialos and Stavrochori

Make your way down to Ierapetra and then drive along the South coast next to the sea for approx. 25km east until you reach Makry Gyalos (which means long seafront). The sandy beach is over 1km in length and the clear shallow water of the Libyan sea is very inviting despite always being much cooler than the Aegean sea on the North shores of the island.
Once you have had enough time at the beach, drive inland (into that beautiful backdrop of mountains) to Stavrochori. This traditional village has a quaint central square with a kafeneion (café) and tavern which will definitely meet your culinary expectations. Don’t miss a little meander through the village’s tiny streets, captivating old buildings and historical little church.

Makry Gialos and Stavrochori
The black beach (Aspes)

The black beach (Aspes)

A magical beach, only accessible by water. It is found approx. 58km south of Heraklion and there are little boats available to take you there from Tsoutsouras village. Black pebbles cover the seafront and as the turquoise waves sweep the beach, a beautiful relaxing sound is created from the movement of the pebbles and water. There are three small beaches, each with imposing cliffs as a backdrop to the crystal clear waters. Shade can be found amongst the rocks and take a spoon with you to collect some of the pure sea salt which can be found in the rock formations.

Ethia village

Found approx. 55km south of Heraklion, Ethia village is a place where time seems to have truly stood still. In the midst of a little forest, just over 20 people live in this village which is named after the willow tree in Greek (Itia). Park your car and wonder along the paved little streets, among stone built homes and arches and meet the friendly and hospitable residents. Some of the people here will still be in their traditional clothes and happy to take you to the Profits Elias church where an annual festival is held and the most amazing view of the area can be found!
Ethia Village Crete
Trachoulas beach Crete

Trachoulas beach

On the way to Lendas, turn off at Krotos village towards Trachoulas (also known as Trafoulas beach, situated approx. 80km from Heraklion). Park at the top of the hill (east of Agios Faulos port) and carefully walk down the steep winding path and through the mini gorge (approx. 10mins) only to come to the beautiful beach and jump in the cool water of the Libyan sea. There is a small cave where one can find shade but if already taken by others, shade is scarce so be sure to take an umbrella with you. The beach is quite deserted (apart from a few curious goats which will approach you!) and there is nothing available in the form of food/drinks so take anything you need down with you.

The Red Beach and Kouses village

Forget about Matala apart from your general direction when driving from Heraklion and head straight to the red sand beach (terracotta colour actually!) situated just south of Matala. The general feedback from everyone who visits, is that it is a bit of a trek (20mins) but well worth it once you arrive. The view of the beach from the top of the hill is stunning and once you have reached the red beach you will find a shack known as the local beach-bar for refreshments. On your drive there (or back) be sure to stop at the village Kouses in the Phaistos region (62km from Heraklion) for a drink or food and visit the unique family-run herb shop Votano. Giannis who is the owner knows about all the local herbs and teas and can offer you a wealth of information found nowhere else!
The Red Beach and Kouses village
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Explore crete island

5 Reasons to rent a car in Crete

The size and diversity

Crete’s size and diversity make it an amazing place to drive around. It is hard to find a more varied or scenic set of routes and roads than those traversing the island.
Often, visitors don’t realise how big the island is so let’s begin with the basics:
it takes approx. 5 hours to drive from West to East along the North coast (without any in between stops) and approx. 40mins from North to South at the narrowest point of the island

Enjoy independence

A car offers you the freedom and opportunity to see the real Crete, whenever you decided and going wherever you decide.
Freedom in car
Crowded bus

Avoid waiting and busy crowds

As a result, wherever you are based, it is advisable to rent a car in order to truly explore everything the island has to offer without spending time waiting for buses under the hot sun or with busy tour groups visiting the most cliché sights at peak times.

Explore the real Crete

Some examples of places to drive to on the North coast, are:

  • In the Elounda area, drive across the narrow stretch towards Kolokytha beach for a swim and a bite to eat at the first tavern you meet.
  • In the Agios Nikolaos area, seek out the small and traditional village of Kritsa with the picturesque streets and shops and have a Greek coffee in the little square with the locals.
  • In the Malia/Hersonissos area, drive up to Krasi where you can enjoy a ‘kanelada’ (cinnamon drink) at the local ‘kafeneion’ (café) upon entering the village.
  • In the Heraklion area, why not drive to some of the wineries and/or for a local beer tasting? The village of Archanes is also worth a visit!
  • In the Rethymnon area, drive South towards Plakias so that you have to drive right through the Kourtaliotiko Gorge, an experience not to be missed!
  • In the Chania area, visit the beach of Stavros where the famous scenes from the film Zorba the Greek were filmed! Turquoise waters and plenty of choice for snacks and drinks but try to avoid the weekends when it gets busy.
Creta man

Experience local driving culture

Crete’s culture is also reflected in the driving, with a chilled approach unless in a hurry. For example, it is customary to move over the hard shoulder and allow others to pass when they are faster than you, sometimes they will even toot to say ‘thank you’. 

In addition, using hazard lights could mean anything from turning and stopping to just saying ‘hello’, so be prepared and don’t hesitate to copy this behaviour. When on rural roads, it is good to remain alert as herds of sheep and goats crossing are a frequent occurrence – some of them may even come to peer in through your car window!

Crete Local Sheep
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Archaiological Museum Heraklion

The Cultural Part of Heraklion

The Archaeological Site of Knossos

The Palace of Knossos was the centre of the Minoan civilization, as it was the largest palace of all the Minoan centres. It is estimated to be first inhabited during the Neolithic period and to be built around 1900 B.C. on the ruins of the Neolithic settlement. In the site of Knossos, tourists can visit the Great Palace, the Little Palace, the Royal Villa, the House of the High Priest, the Caravan Serai and the Royal Temple Tomb-Sanctuary.

Admission fees: Full: €15, Reduced: €8.

Opening Hours:
Winter: 08:00 – 17:00.
Summer: 08:00 – 20:00.

Visit the Central Market

The central market of Heraklion is located on the heart of the city center and links Kornarou Square with the rest of the city center. It is on 1866 Street, which is an important date for the Cretans, as in 1866 happened one of the most important risings against the Turks. It used to be the main market where locals would shop their daily essentials and, even though, big supermarkets in the city have taken over, it is still crowded. It is lined with small shops that sell herbs, spices, meat, fish, clothes and souvenirs, and there are also little cafes and taverns, where tourists can enjoy Cretan delicacies.
Heraklion Market

The Archaeological Museum

The Archaeological Museum in Heraklion is one of the most important museums in Greece as it exhibits artefacts from the Prehistoric era till the late Roman period. The museum contains archaeological findings from all over Crete and the most extensive collection of the Minoan era worldwide. The site, where the building that houses the museum is placed, used to be the Roman Catholic monastery of Saint-Francis. It was destroyed and rebuilt during 1937-1940. The museum is situated in the city center of Heraklion.


Admission fees: Full: €5, Reduced: €5

Archaiological Museum Heraklion

The Natural History Museum of Crete

The Natural History Museum of Crete, which is located near the city enter of Heraklion, is under the aegis of the University of Crete and its aim is to enlarge upon the diversity of flora and fauna of the Eastern Mediterranean. The museum is housed in a restored industrial building. In 2012, it was rewarded by the Academy of Athens for its work.


Opening hours:
Monday to Friday: 09:00 – 15:00.
Weekends: 10:00 – 18:00.

Natural History Museum of Crete
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Seitan Limania | Crete, Greece

Best Things to Do in Chania

Old Venetian Harbor

The Harbor was built during the 14th century by the Venetians to serve the purpose of commerce in the area. Nowadays, it is an attraction for both locals and tourists. There are many cafes, reastaurants and tavernas and people use to take a stroll as it is linked with the Old City of Chania containing picturesque alleys. The combination of Ottoman, Venetian and Cretan architectural elements is what makes this harbor so special. Don’t forget to look at the imposing Lighthouse of the harbor and perhaps enjoy a ride in a carriage.
Chania Port | Crete, Greece

Balos Lagoon

Balos Lagoon is formed between the Cape Gramvousa and the small Cape Tigani and is located 56km northwest of Chania. You can either go by car or take a boat from Kissamos which is 17km from Chania. People call it “A paradise on earth” as Balos is one of the few places that have remained almost intact by human intervention. 

It is a unique and exotic destination with a shallow warm beach on the one side and a turquoise beach on the other side. It is quite crowded during the summer but it is worth a visit

Balos | Crete, Greece

Elafonissi Beach

Elafonissi Beach is located 75 km from the city of Chania and its exceptional beauty is the reason why so many tourists visit it all summer long. It is characterized by the turquoise color of the sea, the pink sand and the fact that you have to walk through the sea to get to the other part of the beach. 

It is a Natura 2000 protected area and there are over 110 plant species which create an exotic landscape that is unforgettable.

Elafonisi Beach | Crete, Greece

The island of Gavdos

Gavdos Island | Crete, Greece

The island of Gavdos is located in the southern part of Chania and it is the most southern part of Europe. It is, also, called the Island of Calypso, as experts believe it is the island in which Calypso held Odysseus as a prisoner. One of the most magnificent things to see in Gavdos is the living creatures that are all over the island. 

There are plenty of scorpions, the endangered species of Caretta Caretta and you can see dolphins on your way to the island.

Seitan Limania Beach

Seitan Limania is a hidden beach, only 20 km away from the city of Chania. Although, it is in a quite isolated location, thousands of tourists visit it every year due to the spectacular color of the sea which is almost identical to the color of a swimming pool. 

Seitan Limania means in Greek “The Satanic Harbors” because of the steep rocks that surround it. Be aware, it is recommended to wear your training shoes to climb down the path to reach the beach.

Seitan Limania | Crete, Greece

Gorge of Samaria

Exploring the Samaria Gorge is a must not only for tourists but also, for the Cretans because it is the longest gorge in Europe (16km). 

It is a National Park that attracts thousands of visitors every year and is part of the World’s Biosphere Reserve. The walk through the gorge begins from Omalos, which is 38km away from Chania, and ends to Ayia Roumeli, in the shores of the Libyan Sea.
Visitors are allowed from May 1st to October 15th.

Samaria Gorge | Crete, Greece
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The 7 Best Churches in Crete

Arkadi Monastery

The monastery was built as early as the 16th century and combines both Baroque and Roman architectural elements. It is considered to be a symbol of independence and a center of resistance for Cretans against the Turks.Nowadays, it is one of the mostimportant historic monuments in Crete.

The Arkadi Monastery is just 22 km away from the town of Rethymnon. You will have to reach the National Road, take the exit of Tsesme-Platania and drive through the old National Road. You will pass by the villages of Tsesmes, Adele, Pigi, Loutra, Kirianna and Amnatos before you reach the Arkadi Monastery.
Visiting Hours (from Monday to Sunday):

April – May : 09:00 to 19:00 June – August: 09:00 to 20:00
September – October : 09:00 to 19:00 November : 09:00 to 17:00 December – March : 09:00 to 16:00

Church of Saint Titus

The church of St. Titus is one of the most important monuments in the city centre of Heraklion. It must have been first built in 961 by the Byzantine Empire but it was destroyed during the 15th century. In 1446, it was rebuilt by the Venetians until it was again destroyed by a blaze. 

After the conquest of Turks in 1669, it was converted into a mosque, the Vezir Mosque. Today, it is an orthodox church dedicated to St. Titus and it is the Metropolis of the Diocese of Crete. All relics have been transferred and kept in Venice except for the skull of St. Titus which was returned in Crete in 1966. 

The church is placed in a square with small cafes and shops surrounding it.

Heraklion Saint Titus

Holy Toplou Monastery

The Holy Toplou Monastery in the north-east of Crete is one of the most historic monasteries in Crete and worth visiting for various reasons. First of all, it displays a true depiction of the Byzantine art as it houses icons which date back to the 15th century. There is also a Museum of Copperplate Engravings and Greek Folk Engravings produced by the monks of Mount Athos in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the monastery of Toplou you can, also, find a wine distillery and olive groves on the surrounding area as it has its own brand producing organic olive oil and wine.

If you are driving from Agios Nikolaos, Heraklion, Rethymno and Chania to Toplou Monastery you should take the National Road to Sitia.
It should take you about 1 hour to drive to Toplou from Agios Nikolaos, 2 hours from Heraklion.


Visiting Hours (from Monday to Sunday): from 09:00 – 13:00 and 14:00 – 18:00.

Saint Mark’s Basilica

The Basilica of St Mark was built by the Venetians in 1239, as a symbol of love to their home and to fulfill the religious needs of the Venetian authorities. There was a bell tower which was an exact replica of the Basilica of St Mark in Venice. Under the Turkish rule it was converted into the Defterdar Mosque, named after Defterdar Ahmet Pasha and the bell tower was demolished in order to place a minaret instead. Nowadays, it houses the Municipal Art Gallery, displaying art exhibitions and many cultural events take place there.
It is placed right opposite the Lion’s Fount in the city centre of Heraklion and it is open to the public daily. 

At night, you will see people sitting on the stairs drinking beer, as young people gather there.

Chapel of St Nicholas

The white white chapel is built on a rocky islet and if you look at it in distance you have the illusion that it is floating on the sea. 

It is dedicated to St Nicholas who is the patron saint of sailors and the architect who built it, remains unkown. During the summer, many Greek weddings take place there and it is one of the most beautiful religious monuments in Crete. However, reaching the chapel will not be easy if you are not wearing the appropriate footwear but you will not be disappointed after you have reached it.

It is located in Georgioupolis which is 102 km from Heraklion. It will take you approximately 1h 28m to reach the destination.

Monastery of Agia Triada of Tzagarolon

The Monastery of Agia Triada (Holy Trinity) of Tzagarolon is one of the most impressive monasteries in Crete and it is well-known for its impact on the education and economy in the local community. It was built by the brothers Jeremiah and Lawrence Tzagarolo and the fortress built complex and its architectural style is inspired by the Venetian era combined with Orthodox elements. The monastery holds a museum displaying woodcarvings and icons. You can, also, taste and buy organic olive oil or wine as the monastery produces vines and olive oil having won an international award for its products.


It is located in Akrotiri in Chania Perfecture. If you are already in Chania, it is a 15 km drive. You will have to drive to the area of Kounoupidiana and at the crossroad head to village Kambani. If you are driving from Herklion or Rethymnon, you will have to go to Chania and then reach your destination.

Visiting Hours (from Monday to Sunday):
During summer: 08:00 – sunset
During winter: 08:00-14:00 and 16:00 – sunset
Entrance fee: 2.5 € (free entrance for children up to 18)

Agia Triada Monastery | Crete, Greece

Church of St Titus in Gortyn

The church of St Titus in Gortyn is one of the earliest churches in Crete. During the excavations of the church in the 20th century, it was named after St Titus, the disciple of Apostle Paul, as the excavators believed that it was the place of the Saint’s martyrdom. The church was built in the 7th century AD and it was destroyed by the Arabs and rebuilt by the Byzantines during the 10th century. The size of this large five-aisled basilica indicates that it used to be the metropolis of the area. The distance between Gortyn and Heraklion is about 44 km.
Saint Titus | Gortyna, Crete
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Spinalonga Island | Elounda, Crete, Greece

The Mysterious Island of Elounda

the Mysterious island of Spinalonga

The island of Spinalonga, which is located in the Gulf of Elounda in eastern Crete, is the second most visited archaeological site in Crete.The Venetians fortified the island during the 15th century and as a result, Spinalonga is now considered to be a real architectural treasure. It is, also, known as the Leper island, due to the forced isolation of lepers in it from Crete and the rest of Greece until 1957. The central position of the islet of Spinalonga has led the place to having a turbulent history replete with tough battles and plenty of human suffering.

Opening hours:
From April 1st until October 31th: 08:00-18:00

Admission fees: Full: €8, Reduced: €4

Spinalonga Island | Elounda, Crete, Greece

Visit the town of Elounda

Elounda is a small town in the northwest side of Mirabello Bay and only a 10km drive from Agios Nikolaos. It is characterized by the extensive history that it holds from Ancient Greeks and the Venetians to the contemporary era. It has been featured in films and novels, the most recent one being “The Island” by Victoria Hislop. Nowadays, it is a luxury destination where celebrities and important politics from all over the world spend their holidays every year.
You shall have a stroll in the village of Shisma, the centre of Elounda, visit the local shops and the port and enjoy a delicious meal on the fishing taverns at the seaside. There are, also, sandy beaches with sunbeds and umbrellas.

After visiting Elounda, you are highly recomdended on taking a 4.5km drive to the village of Plaka. This fishing village is more authentic and even though there are still luxurious hotels, it has kept its uniqueness. Apart from discovering the village, sunbathing on its beaches and eating on the fishing taverns, you will be able to have a clear view of the island of Spinalonga, which is located right across Plaka. There are daily boats from Plaka to Spinalonga, in order to visit the mysterious island.

Visit the town of Agios Nikolaos

The town of Agios Nikolaos is located around 25 km from Malia. This medium-sized town is nothing like the other towns of Crete. Its romantic atmosphere is combined with a cosmopolitan side and provides tourists with a unique experience. Agios Nikolaos sits partially upon the ruins of the ancient city of Lato pros Kamara. You will be astonished by its natural beauty as all elements contribute to a feast for the eyes. The picturesque neoclassical buildings, the local shops and the gourmet restaurants are just a hint of what you will see. The lake Voulismeni which lies in the heart of Agios Nikolaos connects to the harbor of the town. According to the myth the goddesses Athena and Artemis bathed in its waters. Don’t forget to visit its wonderful sandy beaches such as Ammoudi and Kitroplatia.

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Malia Crete Greece

Explore Best Places Around Malia

Visit Sissi

Sissi is a fishing village located only 6 km from Malia. Although, it receives thousands of tourists every year, it has managed to remain intact from human intervention and holidaymakers and kept its quaintness through the years. The first thing you will see, when you arrive to Sissi, is the port in which you will probably feel the need to stop by and enjoy the view. People say it looks like a swimming pool or the continuation of a river because of its conformation and no one can deny its natural beauty. You can, also, visit its wonderful beaches such as Boufos or Avlaki and eat on the local fish-taverns that won’t leave you disappointed.
Sissi Crete

Krassi Village

If you want to experience the traditional Cretan way of life, then don’t miss the chance to visit Krasi. It is a small village with an altitude of about 600 meters, only 6 km south of Malia. At the highest point of the village there are drinking fountains that were made during the 19th century by locals. However, Krasi is well-known for the plane tree on the main square of the village which, as locals estimate, is more than 2.000 years old and its height almost reaches 15 meters. While keeping cool from the shade of the plane tree, you can enjoy a delicious meal cooked in traditional wood stoves.

Krassi village, Crete

Mochos Traditional Village

Mochos is a village on the mountains of Crete, only 12 km from Malia, which will provide you with an authentic experience of the Cretan lifestyle. You will not have to deal with masses of tourists or wait in long lines, rather you will be greeted by the locals and feel the Cretan hospitality. You can take a walk on the alleys of Mochos and see houses built since the 16th century, have a look at the churches which are decorated with Old Byzantine icons and also visit the Monastery of Panagia Theogennitoros. You may find it difficult to choose where to enjoy your lunch as there are many little tavernas in the main square, but truth is you will be more than satisfied with the local delicacies and the roasted meat.
Mochos Traditional Village, Crete

Hersonissos

Hersonissos, which is only 12.5 km from Malia, is one of the most popular destinations for tourists in Crete as it comprises everything from diving centers and golfing to full-on nightclubs. However, there are many hidden treasures that can be found in Hersonnissos. Starting from Koutouloufari, a small village with only 600 inhabitants, you can take a stroll and see the quaint houses built of stones with arches while taking your morning coffee. You can also visit the Lycnostatis Open Air Museum in which you can explore the Cretan Folk Tradition and Ethnology, Cretan Nature and Environment and the Cretan Folk Culture.

Lasithi Plateau

The Lasithi Plateau (about 25 km from Malia), with an altitude of 800 meters, is not your regular summer destination as there are no beaches to go but it has many archaeological sites and an amazing view of nature. The well-known windmills that lie on the plateau will give you a glimpse of how Lasithi used to be before electric power was installed in the area. Nowadays, there are not as many as they used to be but they are still impressive. Don’t skip over to pay a visit to Dikteon Andron. According to Cretan mythology, it is where Rhea gave birth to Zeus and Amalthea nurtured him with her goat’s milk. In the cave you will see a wide variety of flaura and fauna and if you are lucky you may see some bats.
Lasithi Plateau, Crete
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