A Crete visit guide just for you. Our amazing visit to Greece was divided into two parts. The first was spent in Athens. The other part we spent on the island of Crete, and specifically Heraklion. This Crete visit guide will cover how we spent a wonderful and utterly relaxing holiday by combining luxury with budget to make for a complete itinerary.
Our previous thought had been to visit Santorini because that seems to be the most popular island in Greece, another one we’ve read one “must visit before dying”.
Once again, I scoffed at the mass mentality and chose not to. I might change my mind in the future, but l doubt it. Crete turned out to be exactly what we needed and we were very pleased with our selection. If you’re thinking about a Greek holiday, here’s why you should definitely consider Crete.
Crete Visit Guide for 9 Awesome Days in Heraklion:
We decided on Crete because Federico wanted to get some sun and beach time. He loves the water and could spend all day at the beach. I, of course am not so enthusiastic about all that. I can float in the water now, but certainly not a swimmer.
I leaned towards a cultural experience. Crete gave us a combination of both, so l split our vacation into a luxury budget experience, spending our first 5 days in an all-inclusive hotel and the other 4 at an absolutely amazing AirBnB accommodation. Win-Win situation.
Where is Crete?:
Crete is located in the Eastern Mediterranean. It is the largest of the Greek islands. Some of the other popular places in Crete include Chania and Agios Nikolaus.
Related Reading: All-Inclusive Maldives Resort Experience
Getting to Crete from Athens:
In addition to an overnight ferry (journey time about 9 hours which we felt was just too long), you can take a 40 minute flight from Athens. We flew with Volotea Airlines, a company that sucked balls and one l would never fly again. Not only were the flights delayed for over 3 hours each way, there was absolutely no communication with us, no announcements were made.
Everyone waiting in the line at the gate with nary a word. Once the grumbling grew to a crescendo, they then told us the flight was delayed for unknown reasons and new departure time forthcoming in “30 mins”, which then turned into “50 mins etc, so basically we waited at the airport for about three hours to take a 40 minute plane ride.
On the way back, it was the same story, this time due to weather, yet all the other airlines like Aegean which was going to Athens as well, took off on time. The tickets weren’t cheap either! To really give me the finger, they sent me a survey where l gave a one star review with details and 2 days later, I got an email thanking me for the “glowing” review. I could only laugh!!! There are also direct flights from European hubs like London to Heraklion with airlines such as EasyJet and British Airways.
Getting around Heraklion Crete:
Our preferred mode was walking, which is one of the reasons we picked the old center to stay. Nothing was more than a 20 minute walk (when not lost 🙂 ). Other times, we took the bus at a cost of €1.50 per person, including to the airport and to Knossos Palace. Very efficient and run from 7AM till 11PM daily every 10 minutes or so. I think every 20 minutes on weekends.
The buses take take you to nearby villages like Stalis cost €4 and leave from the central bus station. You can also take taxis, but l can not vouch for the honesty of the drivers. They will approach you with a flat-fee offer, so l advise knowing how much it should cost if you take that route. We saw a couple of official taxi stands that displayed costs to other parts of the island, so that is another option.
Where to stay in Crete:
We chose Heraklion, the capital as our base because we wanted an adult environment as opposed to “party” villages and Stalis seemed to fulfill that requirement. Stalida (Stalis) is about 30 km from Heraklion center and is a lively village with a sandy beach and plenty of restaurants and bars on a kilometer length strip.
Since our flight arrived late at night ( 1AM as opposed to the original time of 8:45PM) , we had Rideways pick us up from the airport, in an E class Benz no less, at a cost of €40. Totally worth it and a luxurious treat. We did however depart from Stalis on the regular bus at a cost of €4 per person, and it drops you off right at the central bus station of Heraklion.
Our Hotel in Heraklion: Vitamin Sea and Sun Resort
There are lots of hotels in Crete to stay at, with different price points. I chose the appropriately named Vitamin Sea and Sun Resort in Heraklion for our all-inclusive stay. I think Crete holidays all-inclusive hotels are the best way to go because it’s nice not to worry about meals and drinks during your visit 🙂 . Vitamin Sea and Sun seems to be a new addition to Stalis Hotel. It has about 30 rooms and what l really loved was that it had a sliver of beach just for the guests.
How many days in Heraklion?
We found 5 days to be the perfect length of time in Heraklion. During our stay, Federico got to enjoy the beach while l sat under the umbrella and caught up with reading, thanks to my trusty Kindle. All the rooms have a side view of the sea and a balcony, but the better views are on the first and second floors, so ask for that.
The meals were served buffet style at a nearby restaurant and the food was really good. Breakfast was my favorite, lots on offer, not just “continental breakfast” crap. Give me pancakes, something non-existent in Valencia. Beer was also on tap and you could get it yourself. Stalis is a very popular destination for Europeans and the receptionist who checked us in said l was the first American they’ve ever had in the hotel! Imagine that!
I must admit that after 4 nights, I was a bit bored with the menu because it became repetitive, for instance the sauce would remain the same, but pasta would change. We were however impressed with the quality of the pasta and food in general, including traditional Greek food like we had on our Athens food tour. I think we made a great choice and believe we stayed at one of the best hotels in Heraklion.
Whenever Federico was sunning and l didn’t join in, I was at a Thai massage place that was just around the corner 🙂 . Massages, pedicure, manicure ..yes..yes..and yes! I definitely recommend Stalis if you’re looking for a relaxing holiday.
Where not to stay in Crete if you’re looking for a relaxing holiday? Malia and Hersonissos are the party towns. Stalis is right in the middle and perfect for mature people. The World Cup was going on during our stay, so it was fun watching with people from all over the world in the communal bar.
What I didn’t love about our hotel in Crete:
- The bathroom shower drainage. The bathroom is gorgeous, the rain shower awesome. For some unknown reason, the shower has the tiniest slit for drainage. This means that the water just flows out towards the main drain in the bathroom, and l think it was by design which sucked. You are walking on wet floor the rest of the time, to use the sink or toilet until they clean the room and mop. Insane!
- The partial side sea view from the terrace is nice, but unfortunately the frontal view is of an old abandoned apartment building and foundation dug for a new building. I told you this island reminded me of Malta which would be exactly the same. The front of the building is used, but not the rear. Pretty ugly, but not a deal breaker. I had to remind Federico where it was while editing because we both kind of forgot about it after the first day.
Would I recommend Vitamin Sea and Sun Resort in Stalis?
If you’re looking for “American standard” luxury accommodation, my answer would be no. This is more of an affordable luxury hotel that would be 3 stars in the U.S. The standards in Europe are a little different from what l’ve seen on our travels.
If however, you’re looking for good value accommodation and are not too snooty, this is a good place to chill. For $115 per night, we got access to a little private beach, pool with unlimited beer and wine and 3 meals a day for 2 people! That is pretty damn good in my opinion. You can click here to find great hotels in Stalis.
Our 5 days in Stalis actually went by fast, and soon we were on our way to spend 4 nights in the Old Center of Heraklion. First impression of Heraklion? Malta. It reminds us so much of our former home. It’s not a surprise considering the history of both places. I really enjoyed our time here and definitely want to go back at some point.
We stayed at an excellent AirBnB lodging, one of the best we’ve stayed at up to date. Our hostess was so sweet. She picked us up from the central bus station, had some concentrate organic lemonade for us (which lasted our whole visit), as well as a delicious home baked cake loaf that we demolished pretty quickly :-). I so totally recommend this gem of a place that was walking distance to everywhere.
If you’re one of the 13 people left in the world who hasn’t tried AirBnB :-), feel free to use our link to get a little $29 discount on your first lodging. One tip, make sure you have a battery pack for your phone because we used Google maps a lot.
The little winding streets are so confusing, Lord help you if you’re stuck in the maze like we were when we forgot it :-). We walked around in circles for a long time in the heat during siesta till we finally found a kind soul who walked us back to the house. She was a local, but even she was confused..haha!
Crete Visit Guide For Best Things To Do In Heraklion Crete:
During our stay in Heraklion, we visited
Knossos Palace of the Minoans:
The largest Bronze age archeological site in Crete. An amazing experience and one l will write about separately. Heavily restored palace of the Minoans, it is a must-visit in Heraklion in my opinion. Located about 2 miles outside of the city center, it is well worth a trip. The first settlement is considered to be around 7000BC, with the first palace dating back to 1900BC. Very impressive. You can find the full writeup on this Knossos post.
Wow! Located in the center, in Eleftherias Square, this museum that is spread out over two floors houses a lot of the artifacts discovered at Knossos Palace. Most of the pieces are from the Minoan era, but the Romans are represented too. We had thought we would be there for about an hour, but instead it was closer to 3.5 hours. I would imagine if you were a Minoan history nut, you could spend all day there.
The museum was crowded, but definitely worth visiting because it was easy to work your way in between the tour groups and get up close to the various items. We bought a Knossos Palace and Archeological museum combination ticket for l think €16 each and it was money well spent. The building was converted from an old power station. I love it when they re-purpose buildings.
This two story Venetian mansion was completed in 1628. It is currently the city hall, but it used to be a meeting place for noblemen of Crete. You can pop in for a quick look. The offices were closed when we visited, but l’m not sure if it’s open to the public at any time.
Koules Fortress: (Castello a Mare)
16th century fortress. It is at the front of the old port. It was built by the Republic of Venice, a maritime republic in Northeast Italy. Old ships were sunk with stone and sunk to form the platform for the fortress. You can climb to the top for a great view of the city for €2.
Main shopping area of Heraklion with lots of high street stores. There are also stores to buy souvenirs on the side streets, picked up some handmade jewelry for a friend at a great price :-). This whole part of town really reminded me of Valletta in Malta, only wider streets and cleaner.
Food in Heraklion: Crete visit guide to awesome food!
We ate well and the prices were very reasonable. Federico had been craving calamari, which for some reason we couldn’t find anywhere in Stalida, even when we wanted to eat something other than the buffet at the hotel. Not sure why that was. I understand that it might be way too costly as an all you can eat buffet option (they would be in the poor house), but we assumed the local restaurants would have it on the menu..but noooo! He got his fill in Heraklion though.
He particularly enjoyed it a restaurant called Kastella which was recommended by our host. It was so good, we went back again before we left. My shrimp was okay, but l didn’t love it because l hate having to peel the shell. We were given dessert and Raki (digestive liquor) for free too, and they were so, so good. For about €13 each, it was a great deal. The views were also spectacular.
At an eatery in the center called Granary Brunch Point, we had the best Gyros Heraklion. We both love gyros, and this one was insanely good. If you find it, order the gyros and you won’t be disappointed. Apart from these two places, we just picked random hole in the wall places that looked good to eat at and weren’t disappointed.
Wrap up of our Crete visit guide:
Our thoughts on Heraklion, Crete:
4 thumbs up! We both loved Heraklion and would definitely like to go back. The sea is beautiful, the prices are affordable and the people are quite nice, what’s not to love? Perhaps next time, we might explore Chania in addition to more of Heraklion.
Will we ever get to Santorini and see this magical sunset everyone seems to go on about? Maybe, but I’m betting it’s the same sunset that can be seen throughout the Aegean, and we’re kind of past the puppy eyed honeymoon phase that requires you to join the throngs as opposed to finding sexy little getaway spots like Crete which combines our love for comfort, romance and food!! :-). Crete might not have that wow factor of Santorini, but it is indeed a beautiful and special place. Hopefully this Crete visit guide helps sway you.
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Have you been to Greece? If yes, what were your favorite places? If not, would you care to visit?