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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