How to see eastern Crete in five days, with its beaches, Minoan palaces, timeless villages, unique churches, and mountain and coastal scenery.
Get an early start from somewhere like Malia or Neapoli and follow our recommended drive around the Lasithi Plateau, including a visit to the Diktean Cave. There are several places to choose for lunch in the village of Psychro near the Diktean Cave, and the village of Krasi is another lunch option, a 25-minute drive north of Psychro.
From Psychro it’s a 40-minute drive north to the coast at Malia, where you can spend an hour or so visiting the Malia archaeological site and still have time for a swim.
Where you stay depends on what kind of place you like. Stay in Malia if you want rowdy nightlife, but our preference would be to make the 20-minute drive into the hills and spend the night in Neapoli at the excellent Neapolis Hotel. There are some great places to eat, too, better than in Malia, including the Finikas Raki Taverna.
From Neapoli it’s a half-hour’s drive south to Kritsa to see the remarkable church of Panagia Kera, or if you’re in Malia allow 40-45 minutes. You can then make the easy 15-minute drive down to Agios Nikolaos to have lunch. We suggest La Casa, right by the lake.
After lunch, make the 20-minute drive north from Agios Nikolaos to Elounda, from where you can take a boat trip out to Spinalonga island, the one made famous in Victoria Hislop’s best-selling book, The Island.
There are numerous choices of places to stay in both Elounda and Agios Nikolaos, for all budgets, so choose whatever you fancy. In Elounda we recommend dinner at the Ferryman overlooking the water, or if you’re in Agios Nikolaos, one of our favourites is Pelagos, a seafood specialist.
Spend the morning looking around Agios Nikolaos, and don’t miss its Archaeological Museum. We like the Patriko Taverna at Minoos 11, which we think has some of the best traditional food in Agios Nikolaos.
After lunch make the 20-minute drive east to the archaeological site at Gournia. The superbly-preserved ruins here will keep you occupied for an hour or two, after which head to the south coast. It’s only 20 minutes from Gournia to the main south coast town of Ierapetra, and we recommend driving a further 20 minutes west to the fun little town of Myrtos, and checking-in at the central Hotel Myrtos.
We recommend having dinner at La Sera, just around the corner from the hotel, although the hotel’s own restaurant is also very good.
From Myrtos retrace your route to Ierapetra and continue east along the south coast to a lovely little place called Makriyialos (or Makri Gialos), which is almost an hour’s drive from Myrtos. We once spent a delightful week here, so stop to stretch your legs and walk around. Beyond here the main road turns to the north to take you to the lovely town of Sitia. It’s about a 45-minute drive from Makriyialos and you can have lunch at one of the waterfront tavernas.
After a good lunch head for Sitia’s Archaeological Museum, a 5-minute walk back from the waterfront. We recommend spending the rest of the afternoon walking around the town and/or cooling off with a swim from one of the town’s several beaches right in the centre.
Spend the next two nights in Sitia, at either the Itanos Hotel or the Elysee Hotel. Both are on the waterfront and both are very pleasant and inexpensive. Enjoy dinner at The Balcony Restaurant, where the food is definitely a cut above the average.
From Sitia it’s an hour’s drive east and then south to see the small but absolutely fascinating and atmospheric remains of Zakros Palace. Tiny Zakros is a place we love, and it’s great to chill out here and have an excellent lunch at the Kato Zakros Bay Restaurant, right by the sea and with lots of the produce coming from the owner’s farm.
From Zakros it’s just under an hour’s drive north to the remarkable and popular Vai Beach, where you’ll see Cretan date palms. Don’t linger too long if you also want to visit the monastery at Toplou, a 20-minute drive inland from the beach and where you can sample (and buy, of course) some of the monastery’s own wines.
It’s a 20-minute drive from the monastery back to Sitia where you can enjoy a final dinner at one of the waterfront tavernas like the excellent Limani, happy that you’ve seen the best of eastern Crete in five days!