8 October 2019

Crete Heraklion & Agia Pelagia Holiday Guide


In August, I spent an incredible week in Crete, Greece's largest island. It's a fantastic holiday destination with so much to offer to suit every kind of traveller.

With Crete island being so big, there are so many wonderful places and spots to visit, you could spend a month here exploring and not get bored. My husband and I flew in and out of Heraklion, and as we were mostly looking for a relaxing holiday (with a bit of Greek history thrown in of course), we decided to focus on that area.

We split our time and spent three days in Heraklion and four nights at Agia Pelagia, a popular beach resort town a little further up the coast. I wouldn't change a thing if I did it all again, the mix between the two places was perfect and we had plenty to do in each one. If you do have a bit more time though or have a flight/ferry to/from Chania, I've heard it is very lovely there too.

Now that you know a little background, here is my holiday guide to the areas we stayed in, with my recommendations for top things to do, what to eat and where to stay.


HERAKLION


Heraklion, the capital of Crete, is a buzzing seaside city with dozens of options in culture, accommodation, dining and entertainment. The popular cruise destination with its Venetian port is a place where you can enjoy the pleasures of today and the beauty of yesterday. Here are the top things you can't miss on your visit to Heraklion.


What to do

Knossos Palace and Archaeological Site

Heraklion is perhaps best known for the ancient Palace of Knossos, located just outside of the city. One of the most significant archaeological sites in Greece; Knossos was the most important centre of the Minoan civilisation (2000-1350 BC) and the home of the myth of the Minotaur.


Fun facts: It's the largest bronze age archaeological site on Crete, known as Europe's oldest city, dating back to very first traces of settlement at 7000 BC! In Greek mythology, the palace of Knossos was the residence of the mythical King Minos, the son of Zeus and Europa.

How to get there: The best and cheapest way to get there is by local bus, from Bus station A near the harbour. At the station look for the KNOSSOS ticket office to purchase a return ticket. It departs every 15 minutes and costs €3,40 return.

Entrance Fee: €10 or €16 for a combination ticket with entrance to the Archaeological Museum.

Top Tip: Buy your combined ticket online or from the Archaeological Museum first to avoid waiting in a very long line at Knossos. Also, during warmer months take a hat, sunblock and water with you onsite as it's very hot with little shade.


Heraklion Archaeological Museum

This famous museum is considered one of the most important museums in Europe. The exhibits include treasures from all periods of Cretan history, covering a span of 5,500 years.


I'd recommend visiting the museum before Knossos, as it contains a lot of extracted items from there. I loved seeing the historic treasures first and then walking through the archaeological site trying to imagine it as it once was, filled with beautiful art, pots, ceramics, weapons and jewellery. It helps put it all into context.

How to get there: Located in the centre of town, it's an easy walking distance from the majority of hotels.

Entrance Fee: €10 or €16 for a combination ticket with entrance to Knossos.


Koules Fortress


At the entrance of Heraklion’s Venetian harbour, the Koules Fortress (also known as Castello Del Molo or Rocca al Mare) guards the city. It was built by the Venetians in the 16th-century and during the Ottoman rule, it served as a prison. Head inside to admire the different rooms and enjoy stunning sea and city views from the top.

How to get there: Follow the main pedestrian road down towards the harbour and you can't miss it.

Entrance Fee: €2


Shopping

If you like shopping, Heraklion is the place to be. In the heart of the city, the pedestrian Daedalus shopping street is full of designer stores, local souvenir shops, boutiques, cafes and more. The street connects Lionadarakia and Eleftherias square and walking west from the lion fountain, you enter the wide pedestrian Handakos Street, overflowing with even more shops and eateries.

More: Other top things to do and points of interest to see include: Historical Museum of Crete, watching the sunset by the sea, the Crete Natural History Museum, Agios Minas Cathedral, Cretaquarium, Morosini Lions Fountain, the church of Agios Titos just to name a few.



What to eat

There are so many delicious dishes to enjoy from the celebrated Cretan cuisine. I ate from a mixture of places by what looked good and also by doing a bit of Trip Advisor research beforehand. The city is full of cafes, tavernas and restaurants, accompanied by traditional music, fine wines and tsikoudia (Crete’s famous firewater), there is no shortage of choice. Here are a few of my favourite must-haves:

Bougatsa - delicious sweet pastry filled with custard, famous from Kipkop opposite Lion Fountain.

Gyros - Greek-style kebab, pork is the best, a great cheap option from all over the place.

Greek salad - so fresh and full of flavour, the perfect accompaniment with every meal.

Seafood - again, fresh and beautiful, the restaurants on the harbour-front are a great choice.

Gelato - perfect for those hot days, my favourite was from Amorino.

Dolmades - stuffed vine leaves or anything stuffed, cabbage, peppers it's all so good.

Moussaka - Greek-style lasagne made with eggplant.

Greek yoghurt - no other yoghurts compare to having one in Greece. Yoghurt from the heavens.

Left: Dolmades  Right: Bougatsa

Where to stay
There is an abundance of modern and boutique hotels to choose from in the city centre, surrounded by restaurants and bars with spectacular views to the Venetian port. As we were there in August (peak-holiday season) and we had only booked our trip one month before, many hotels were already sold out or extremely expensive.

We booked an Airbnb instead which we absolutely loved. It was in a fantastic location (near Lion Square) and had everything we could need including a large balcony with the most incredible sea and mountain views.


Our local host was wonderful and friendly and provided us with home-made raki, bread, fresh eggs and milk. We had a lovely stay and particularly enjoyed watching the sunset from our balcony each evening.

How to get to Agia Pelagia: There are bus options available but we opted for the more convenient taxi ride. The cost is a flat fare of €32.


AGIA PELAGIA


Agia Pelagia is a seaside fishing village and beach resort town, 16 km up the coast from Heraklion. It's a popular holiday spot for Greeks and tourists alike, with clear water and stunning beaches, many accommodation and restaurant options, cafes and shops. It's the perfect place to unwind and get your daily dose of Vitamin-Sea.


What to do

Hit the beach

How inviting does that crystal-clear water look? Go beach hopping and hire one of the many loungers to enjoy a beach day like no other. With plenty of shops and cafes close by, refreshments are only a few steps away.


Scuba diving

One of my favourite days in Crete was scuba diving with Diver's Club Crete. They have extensive experience, offer PADI diving courses and go to a range of nearby diving locations by boat, ideal for both experienced and inexperienced divers. I did two dives in one day and absolutely loved it.



Boat trip

I didn't do a boat trip myself (except to get to the dive sites) but there are plenty on offer if boating is your thing. You can do a guided group boat tour or even hire one yourself. Find out more from your hotel or head to one of the boating stores near the beach.


More: Explore the hills for beautiful views over the bays, watch the sunset, have a pool day, eat, drink and be merry.



Where to stay

My husband and I spent four nights at Seascape Luxury Residences and we very highly recommend it.  It's the perfect place for a relaxing holiday in Crete, with a range of luxurious yet affordable rooms, two pools, a pool bar and the friendliest hospitality.


It's also in the perfect location, just steps from the beach and an abundance of Greek restaurants at your fingertips.

We had a Deluxe Apartment Pool View room and it was gorgeous, comfortable and modern, with everything you could possibly need for the perfect Crete getaway (even an equipped kitchenette!). My favourite part was that it was right in front of the pool and we had our own private balcony.



Seascape offer top-notch services and are more than happy to help with every little detail to help make your holiday in Agia Pelagia unforgettable. Definitely check them out if you are heading to Crete!


What to eat

There are many wonderful restaurants, bars, taverns and cafes to choose from offering traditional Greek, Cretan and also international dishes. Many have beautiful seaside views and offer freshly caught seafood. Here are particular dishes I loved and where they were from:

Seafood spaghetti at Taverna Zorbas - so good I got it a second time.

Saganaki - fried cheese also at Taverna Zorbas.

Souvlaki at So Greco - I tried it in many places and this was the best.

Greek yoghurt and fresh juices at Water Melon Fruit and Juice Bar.

Gyros at Samaria - one the best I had in Greece.

Left: Seafood pasta and calamari  Right: Greek salad and gyros


I hope you found my Crete Heraklion & Agia Pelagia Holiday Guide helpful if you're planning a trip there yourself. I absolutely loved spending a week there on holiday mode, soaking up the sights, sunshine and eating the most delicious Greek food!

 If you would like to see more check out my Crete Vlog I made for youtube:



Have you been to Crete and do you have any other top recommendations to add? Let me know in the comments below.

Wondering where to stay in Athens? Check out my previous post on AthensWas Luxury Hotel. Stay tuned for my Athens Guide coming soon!

Happy Travels,

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