Holidays to the Heraklion area of Crete have something to offer around the clock, starting with early morning sunbathing stints on the beach and ending in dusk-til-dawn clubbing.
The Heraklion area’s bragging rights begin with its beaches. The stretches of sand in this central part of Crete’s north coast are impossible to pigeon hole – they range from the lively 18 to 30s hangouts in Malia to the rugged bays of the deserted island, Dia.
The Heraklion area has the first word when it comes to nightlife in Crete. Hersonissos has a stockpile of bars and nightclubs, but even this pales in comparison to what Malia has to offer. Thanks to foam parties, shooter bars and nightclub booze cruises, the after-dark scene in this town can easily turn into after-dawn action.
The Palace of Knossos
While half of the Heraklion area’s visitors come here to live in the moment, the other half come to explore the past. The Palace of Knossos is just a few miles from Heraklion city centre. According to legend, the foundations of this Bronze Age city were filled with an inescapable labyrinth, which was guarded by a vicious Minotaur.
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With a name that translates to ‘huge sand’, it’s no wonder Amoudara’s main draw is its beach. This caramel-coloured stretch unravels as far as the eye can see. Bars are dotted all the way along it, so you’ll never have far to go for an ice-cold drink. And when it comes to watersports, you’ve got everything from body-boarding to snorkelling.
Hersonissos is a big, glossy town on the north coast of the island. It’s one of the liveliest places on Crete, with restaurants, bars and clubs keeping the nightlife upbeat in the centre and along the waterfront. There’s more to this place than big nights, though. It comes with a couple of waterparks, not to mention a trio of rather lovely beaches.
When you go to Gouves, you actually get two places for the price of one. The old village of Pano Gouves, with its whitewashed houses and churches, is built into the side of Mount Ederi. Then, at the bottom of the hill, there’s the seaside town of Kato Gouves, where you’ll find the bars, restaurants and hotels. It’s all just 25 minutes from Crete’s capital Heraklion, and 15 minutes from the island’s biggest resort, Hersonissos.
Koutouloufari is tucked among a patchwork quilt of olive groves, in the north-east of Crete. It’s some 100 metres above sea level, so the views are out of this world. But that’s not the only draw. Cobbled alleyways, age-old stone houses, and tavernas serving local food all cement the village’s authentic status. And only around 600 people live here, so it never feels crowded.
At first glance Malia is a high-rise, modern town earning its name as Crete’s party capital – with world-class nightlife and activity-fuelled beaches to match. Party credentials aside, though, there’s also a secret network of cobbled streets and dinky Medieval churches to explore in the old town.
The peaceful village of Gournes is a relative newcomer on Crete’s northern coast. That said, its unhurried, laid-back vibe leads you to believe it’s been around much longer. Pint-sized guesthouses and apartments are sprinkled across the rugged landscape, which centres around a charming waterfront and a pristine stretch of sandy beach. And the better-known tourist spots of Gouves and Kokkini are within strolling distance.
Circled by fields and fruit groves, Analipsi is a cutesy village on Crete’s eastern shoulder. It’s sandwiched between 2 of the island’s pulse points – cosmopolitan Hersonisos and big-hitter Heraklion – but it’s managed to stay under the radar and remains deliciously true to tradition. The picture here is one of whitewashed cottages and pretty gardens trailing their way down a kilometre-long road to a lovely beach. Back from the seafront, meanwhile, spidery lanes beat a track to a restaurant-lined central square.
Sandwiched between Hersonissos five kilometres to the west, and Malia three kilometres to the east, Stalis is one of the most laid-back and sophisticated holiday retreats in Crete. Until the 1980s, it was a small fishing village. Today, it’s a cosmopolitan seaside town which attracts visitors from all over to world to its quaint Venetian-style streets. It's also home to one of the best stretches of sand on the island.
Lyttos Beach, on Crete’s northern coast, is a long stretch of golden sand backed by two luxury hotels. For everything else, the village of Analipsi is just five minutes’ walk away. It’s a calm spot with bars and tavernas along the main street. As for getting out and about, the buzz of Hersonissos is literally up the road, while historic Heraklion is just 30 minutes’ drive away.
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