When I arrived in Crete's capital, I felt an immense amount of pressure. I only had 12 hours in this beautiful city and knew I needed to make the most of it. Heraklion was the last stop on my trip to Greece and I had an early morning flight to catch the next day. I checked into my hotel at 4PM and the concierge asked if I would like them to prepare a breakfast package when I checked out at 5AM. I thought to myself, "Come on! I just got here- As if I want to think about leaving already!". Obviously, I just replied, "yes please" to the breakfast package (And it was a very, very good decision).
After the concierge reminded me of how little time I had in the beautiful city, I threw my bags in my hotel room, checked out this cute little patio door (A human couldn't actually fit on the patio, but I tried, failed and then just poked my head out to look around), and told myself to quit fooling around and get down to business. I laced up my running shoes and prepared to run around Heraklion; here is what I got up to:
1. The Venetian Harbour of Heraklion
The first thing I did was run down to Heraklion Harbour located on the 25th of August Street. It was a hot day, but the breeze from the sea makes for a great run or walk around the harbour. The harbour is filled with beautiful sights and jam packed with history.
2. The Venetian Shipyards
Aside from beautiful sights the harbour offered, I was also able to see the Venetian shipyards (These are pictured below in the background).
3. The Fortress of Koules
The Fortress of Koules was my favourite stop during my harbour front jog. I'm not even sure why this fortress was built, but it is definitely the best (And only) fortress I've ever seen. Superman should have just come here.
4. Shopping on Daedalou Street and 1866 Street
From the harbour, I ran up to Daedalou Street to check out some fashion and jewellery. On 1866 Street, I basically bought all of the Cretan honey I would be able to clear in customs.
5. Patio Time
Just east of Theotokopoulos Park, I stumbled across some outdoor patios. While they were all calling my name, I chose the one directly beside me as it was in the closest proximity.
6. Lion Square and Morosini Fountain
Lots of history, a great meeting point and four lions holding a basin. What's not to love?
This restaurant is located in the centre of Heraklion and features authentic Cretan cuisine. The staff, food, atmosphere and presentation of food was amazing. There were also a lot of cats hanging around and, in my experience, this always seems to be a good sign in Greece.
It was a wedding that brought me to the small, costal beach town, Agia Pelagia, located 20 KM west of Heraklion. It was in Agia Pelagia where I experienced the hospitality Crete is known for. It was here that I met raki (More on that later).
On my first evening here, I was invited to the groom's family home for a rehearsal dinner. Immediately upon my arrival, I was offered food, good conversation, homemade wine and raki. In case you are not familiar with raki, it is "a sweetened, often anise-flavoured, alcoholic drink" popular in Greece with an alcohol volume of 40-50%. It was a good party.
It seemed as though everyone in the groom's village attended the dinner and were helping the family host. As I looked around, all of the neighbours were either serving, clearing and cleaning dishes; pouring raki; or playing an instrument. I was blown away by their sense of community.
After dinner, the bride and groom rented out Almyra, a restaurant for a party back on the beach. Almyra was an excellent venue for a large event with delicious food, drinks, good music and the sand and sea as a backdrop. As the night carried on, one guest learned she had left her cell phone in the cab down to Almyra (Raki was blamed). Hospitality was shown once again when the cab driver was called: He located the phone and then returned 2 hours later to personally deliver it to its owner.
In between the wedding ceremony, reception and events, guest enjoyed a few days on the beach and in the shops, restaurants and cafes of beautiful Agia Pelagia.
The view from Iridia Hotel Apartments
Agia Pelagia Beach
Shops, beaches, tavernas and basically a hotel for cats, Plaka is a great village to visit (Plaka is also located across from Spinalonga, so it makes for a great place to catch a boat ride over to the island). I loved walking around the village and checking out the beautiful views, beaches, shops and the notes left by cats.
Now, let's talk about what's actually important: the food. My favourite restaurant in Plaka was Taverna Giorgos (Jiovanni's) and I ordered the sea bass (So delicious!). If you call ahead, they will reserve a seat right on the cliff (Not sure if sitting this close to the edge of a cliff is a good idea, but it sure looked nice). As you can tell from the angle of my photo, I did not receive special treatment, but I dreamed about sitting at this empty table all night....really wish I called ahead. One of the great things about this restaurant is that their menu shamelessly brags about how Lady Gaga and Rhiana had both visited the restaurant- and they had pictures to prove it! I unfortunately only have a picture of this 'reserved' sign. Maybe the cats left it.
Another restaurant I enjoyed was Captain Nicolas (Right next door to Giorgos). Dinner began with our waiter taking us into the kitchen to inspect their catches of the day. I was not exactly sure of what I should have been looking for, or what questions I should have been asking, but I did enjoy the experience. Their menu (and fridge) had a wide variety of food, but we ordered whatever it is that is pictured below....and it was also delicious!
Thanks for the hospitality, Plaka!
I began my time in Elounda with a Greek salad and french fries. I know the two items don't normally go together, but in the moment, it just felt right. Now, I regret it because Greek salad and fries will never be the same: I had golden, salted french fries on my plate and feta, juicy tomatoes, cucumbers and green peppers flavoured with oregano and olive oil on my fork as I looked out at this incredible view.
The Blue Palace is a resort and spa located in Elounda with stunning views, amenities and cuisine. Each beach umbrella was equipped with a button- when you press it, someone comes to take your order! Rumour has it that there is even a helicopter landing pad on the roof of this resort. Treat yo' self!
I thoroughly enjoyed everything I ate at the resort. Guests can also walk to Elounda or Plaka for a new beach view or delicious and affordable meals. The Blue Palace was, hands down, the best resort I've ever stayed at. Like the Greek salad and fries, hotel stays will never be the same.
As I spent time along the coast of Elounda and Plaka, this island (pictured below) continued to intrigue me. After doing a little research (asking a local), I learned that the island is called Spinalonga and lepers in Crete and the rest of Greece were quarantined here until 1957. When I arrived to the island, I learned even more: the island was once a military fortress during Roman rule. When I got home, I also found this sensational article written by Elizabeth Warkentin: "The abandoned Greek island shrouded in mystery." No wonder I was so intrigued by this mysterious little piece of land.
How to Get to Spinalonga?
Boats to Spinalonga depart from Agios Nikolaos, Elounda or Plakos. Explore Crete explains:
"Boats depart from Agios Nikolaos in the morning. Apart from the trip to Spinalonga, they also offer lunch and the opportunity for a swim off the beaches behind the Kolokytha Peninsula, before returning to Agios Nikolaos in the afternoon. From Elounda harbour, there is a boat to Spinalonga every 30 minutes throughout the summer. It takes about 20 minutes to reach the island, while the sea voyage sometimes includes a sail around the Kolokytha Peninsula."
Plaka is directly across from Spinalonga; boats leave from here and the trip is much shorter. I picked up a water taxi from this village- this awesome guy pictured below dropped me off, picked me up and gave me a little boar ride around the Peninsula for €20. I'd say this is the way to go.
Once there, tickets to enter the site cost €8. You can walk around on your own or pay to take a guided tour. Historical information is also posted throughout the site for visitors to read.
Pictured above is a hot view from the top of Spinalonga. The trip to this island made for an incredibly informative and interesting day.
My name is Sara and I love finding new things to do in a new city. This website is an attempt to share the things that excite me in a new place through stories, photos, lists, travel tips and tricks.