DELVE INTO EUROPEGreece
Welcome To Greece
Spectacular beaches, quaint villages, vibrant cities all with a sea salt tang
Greece has the best of the Mediterranean, at around half the price of everywhere else. It has the beaches, both on the mainland and its many islands around the Aegean and Ionian Seas. It has the beautiful whitewashed houses, the belfries and domes of the churches a ubiquitous sight against the deep blue summer sky.
It has the history, as the cradle of western civilisation, with amazing ruins from the Classical era ranging from the Acropolis above Athens to smaller ones like the evocative Portara arch on the headland above Naxos. Much of it is a rugged landscape, from the caldera of Santorini to the mountain fastness of Mount Olympus, where you could imagine the gods reigning over the world below.
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Kalypso Beach Crete is one of the best beaches in Crete, and one of the most unusual. It’s set in its own secret cove a short drive from the beach village of Plakias Crete. It’s also part of the Kalypso Cretan Village Resort & Spa, one of several Plakias resorts close by.
It’s very different to most Crete beaches because of its incredible setting. It’s a long, narrow sea inlet between a soaring sea cliff on one side and a narrow finger of land on the other. There’s no sand, just rock and water. A bridge links both sides of the inlet – called the ‘Pirate’s Fjord’. This is possibly unique among Greece beaches – you come here to swim, snorkel or soak in the sun from the rocky area above the water.
KALYPSO BEACH CRETE – IN A NUTSHELL
The beach is 5 km (3 miles) from Plakias beach and village on the south coast of Crete
It’s the focal point of the Kalypso Cretan Village Hotel Resort – the accommodation is a short walk up the hill from the beach
It’s also known as Karavos Beach
You don’t have to be a guest of the Kalypso Hotel to visit the beach – you’ll just need to pay for use of umbrellas and sunbeds
The beach is set in the ‘Pirate’s Fjord’, a narrow inlet with a low narrow peninsula on one side and a spectacular towering cliff on the other
This is one of the best places for swimming and snorkeling in Crete, with exceptionally clear water
Do not go to Hotel Kalypso expecting sand as there isn’t any – you come here for the water and the spectacular setting
GETTING TO KALYPSO BEACH
The nearest public transport takes you to Kalypso Beach is Plakias village. Plakias beach Crete is a more popular destination, and several buses a day run from the lovely regional capital Rethymno.
The only way to reach the Kalypso Hotel Crete from Plakias is to drive yourself or take a taxi. The latter costs 8 euros each way – the hotel reception will book the return journey for you.
FACILITIES AT KALYPSO BEACH
Hotel staff are available to help you choose your umbrella and sunbeds – a two bed and umbrella set costs 10 euros.
There are two small snack bars – one grilling kebabs by the shore, and another operated by the Kalypso Dive Center.
The toilets are 200 metres up the hill from the beach – head for the pirate ship next to one of the swimming pools, they’re downstairs inside.
SWIMMING AT KALYPSO BEACH
My wife Faye, the family fish, is the expert on this subject, having swum in five different continents. Her word is good enough for a landlubber like me. She said it’s the best, clearest water she has swum in anywhere in the world. The visibility and clarity from above is astonishing – you can make out every single detail in the sea bed.
A WALK TO DAMNONI BEACH AND BEYOND
While Faye and our son swim for an hour or two, I often take off for a walk to explore the surrounding coastline. There is a set of concrete steps leading up the sheer cliff to the left of the beach, offering bird’s eye views back down onto Kalypso Beach.
I was aware that a path led from the top around the coast. You gradually descend, cross some empty ground just inland and turn the corner to reach lovely Damnoni Bay, a beautiful crescent of sand surrounded by rocky hills.
I only went as far as Damnoni, but you can continue to Ammoudi beach and eventually to Skinaria beach. There’s plenty of exploring to do on your Plakias holidays, with other beaches like gorgeous Souda just to the west of the main village and beach.
The walk from Kalypso Spa took around 15 minutes each way.
Bali Crete is a great spot for holidays in Greece. It’s a small fishing village that has grown into one of the most picturesque Crete resorts, with five beaches clustered around a gorgeous gulf on the north Crete coast.
The Bali Crete beaches are all very easy to reach. Bali Greece village is just off the main road across the island. Once you’re there, a 2-mile (3 km) walk will take you to all five Bali beaches, with a couple of steep hills along the way.
Much of the appeal of the Bali beaches Crete is that they’re sheltered from the gusty northerly meltemi wind, which means you can swim on days when conditions are too rough on other beaches.
It’s an ideal place for Crete holidays, whether you want to stick to Bali village or explore other places nearby. Which Bali beach in Crete is best?
WHERE IS BALI IN CRETE?
Bali is located on the main Heraklion – Rethymno – Chania highway that runs along the north coast of the island. It’s 30 km east of Rethymno and 45 km west of Heraklion. It’s in one of the best areas in Crete for exploring the island, with beautiful beaches like Spilies and Geropotamos less than ten minutes away by car. It’s also a short drive from Arkadi Monastery, one of the most important historic sites in Crete.
GETTING TO BALI CRETE
This is very easy – it’s off the main highway, so you can drive there or catch the regular buses that run between the Crete capital Heraklion and Rethymno and Chania. It’s also within easy reach of the resorts to the east of Rethymno and Panormos, both by car and bus.
DESCRIBE BALI CRETE
Bali has been taken over by tourism, no question about it. In peak season every Bali beach Crete is packed with umbrellas and sunbeds. That said, it’s still a relatively quiet place perfect for holidays in Crete. Most Bali Crete hotels are in the mid-range bracket – 2- and 3-star hotels and apartments are what’s on offer here. Most visitors tend to be European. It’s an ideal place for family holidays in Crete, especially because of the sheltered beaches.
Expect some excellent Crete holiday deals, especially towards the end of the October shoulder season. At this time the sea is usually warm enough to swim in, and it’s not nearly as crowded as in August.
LIVADI BEACH BALI
Livadi beach is the first beach you reach off the main highway. It’s the longest Crete Bali beach, a few hundred metres long, but it’s pretty narrow, with very little sand between the umbrellas and sunbeds and the waves lapping the shore. There are plenty of beach bars to choose from.
Livadi beach also faces due north, so is the most exposed beach in Bali. When the water is calm and flat in the coves further up the village, the waves are often piling in here.
It’s a pleasant enough spot to linger for a drink or meal, but if your soul yearns for some space on the sand, it’s not ideal.
VARKOTOPOS BEACH BALI
The next Bali beach you reach is Varkotopos beach. It’s a small beach, 100 metres or so long, in a sheltered cove at the base of a very steep hill. The main road through the village is directly behind the beach, and there are cafes and restaurants along here. Varkotopos is more pleasant than Livadi because it’s much more sheltered. However, it’s also very busy in peak season.
Mythos beach is the secret beach of Bali. A small sign – ‘Zum Strand’, German for ‘To the Beach’, directs you to Mythos Apartments. Head down the stairs from there – you emerge outside after a couple of short flights of steps.
Once you’re outside, follow the next set of steps down to the beach. It’s very small and narrow – a lovely spot as long as you don’t mind a relative lack of space while you soak up the sun. Perhaps not so secret after all!
LIMANI BEACH (ALSO KNOWN AS HARBOUR BEACH)
This is the town or harbour beach – when guidebooks refer to Bali Beach Crete, this is the one they mean. It has a lovely setting, with the houses of the surrounding steep streets looking down onto it.
There are steps down to the beach from the harbour, or you could paddle around the base of the cliff at Mythos beach (to the immediate right). The views to the mountains are magnificent, and the water is nearly always very calm. Space is at a premium once again, but somewhere like this would make many people think about holidays in Bali Crete.
KARAVOSTASI BEACH BALI
We’ve saved the best until last. Karavostasi is the northernmost of the Bali beaches, a short walk from the harbour and down a track to a sublime place.
Again, Karavostasi beach is calm and sheltered, with sometimes fierce waves pounding the other side of the headland to the north. Its location is the most dramatic, tucked away between cliffs either side, with stunning azure water to swim in. Another tiny beach is also hidden away behind the headland to the south.
Karavostasi beach is quite small and intimate. As well as the usual range of sunbeds and umbrellas, it’s also the ideal environment for snorkelling. A few cafes and tavernas provide meals and drinks, some sheltered in the shade of the trees just behind the beach. An exquisite place, worthy of a place in our list of the best beaches in Crete.
You wouldn’t know Spilies beach Crete was there unless someone tipped you off about it. It’s less than a mile (0.8 km) from another spectacular hidden Crete beach, Geropotamos, on the Heraklion to Rethymno and Chania highway.
Spilies – also known as Mariou to Riaki beach – is better concealed than its neighbour. The only sign directing you there isn’t visible as you’re driving past. But find it – which you will with our directions – and you’ll strike gold. Secreted away down a narrow rural road is one of the best beaches in Crete.
SPILIES BEACH IN A NUTSHELL
One of the most beautiful small Crete beaches
It’s a pebble beach, less than 100 metres wide, with magnificent low cliffs each side
It’s a fully ‘organised’ beach, with umbrellas, sunbeds and even four-poster versions with curtains
Taverna and beach bar keep you fed and watered
Exceptional clear water for swimming
Short, beautiful coastal walk close by
WHERE IS SPILIES BEACH?
Spilies beach is 17 km from the lovely coastal city of Rethymno. It’s located a minute’s drive off the coastal highway to Heraklion, the capital of Crete. It’s also only 5 km (3 miles) from lovely Panormos beach. It’s also only a 15-minute drive from one of the best things to see in Crete, Arkadi Monastery.
GETTING TO SPILIES BEACH
It’s easy to find the beach at Spilies once you’ve done it once. However, the unhelpful signage makes it quite difficult first time around.
If you’re driving from Rethymno or Chania, you’ll pass Skaleta beach, with its lovely church close to the shore. Soon after, you pass the Ciao café and a Shell garage on your left, then two Eko gas stations, one each side of the road, 300 metres further on. You need to cross to the left-hand side one.
In order to do this, you need to take the second left turn, at the far side of the gas station. As you turn in, there is a right-hand turn on the immediate right. This is where you’ll see the elusive hand-painted ‘Spilies Beach’ sign. Head down through the woodland, continuing until you reach the car park.
If you’re coming from the Heraklion, Bali and Panormos direction, your early warning sign is the view to the right at Geropotamos bridge. It’s 1 km from there to the Eko gas stations. You go right, then sharp right again.
If you’re travelling by bus in either direction, the bus stops at the Eko gas station.From there, it’s a five-to-ten-minute walk down to the beach.
DESCRIBE SPILIES BEACH
Spilies is one of those perfect Greece beaches that you could come back to again and again. It’s mostly made up of small pebbles, and is well organised, with plenty of umbrellas and sunbeds available.
If you want to stay out of the sun, there’s plenty of shade in the natural cave on the left (west) side of the beach. My son and I had a wonderful time here building rock and pebble towers for hours.
There are a couple of delightful coast walks from the beach. The first is a two-minute stroll up the hill from the path next to the toilets in the car park. You get a great view of the beach as you pass above the taverna, but continue towards the cliff edge for the full effect.
Stand back a few metres from the edge and you’ll get the bird’s eye view of Spilies. Here you’ll appreciate the incredible clarity of the water. You can see every detail of the immense square rock slabs that make up the sea bed here. This water even pushes that of Kalypso Beach, on the south coast of Crete, pretty close.
FACILITIES AT SPILIES BEACH
Everything you could need is here – umbrellas, sunbeds, a beach bar, a taverna serving meals (inside or at your sunbed) and toilets. The latter are 50 metres away, back at the end of the car park.
SWIMMING AT SPILIES
The water at Spilies is incredibly clear. Calm conditions make it ideal for a beach swim or snorkelling, with the surrounding coves also well worth exploring.
A WALK TO KAMARA SEA ARCH AND GEROPOTAMOS
You can’t see the nearby Kamara sea arch from Spilies beach, but it’s only a ten-minute walk away.
Follow the road back towards the highway, taking the left-hand turn at the sign marked ‘Heraklion’. At the top of the rise you’ll see a dirt track running parallel to the main road. Stay on the dirt track for 200-300 metres. Here you’ll see a wide but not very well-defined track. Follow this.
As you approach the coastline you’ll notice a finger of rock reaching out into the sea. This is the Kamara rock arch. Bear right and you’ll come to several viewpoints of the arch, including one revealing a beach at the base of the cliffs below.
Geropotamos beach, another of the most beautiful beaches in Crete, is further along the cliffs. You can reach it on foot by crossing the main road then walking under the road bridge to the beach.
Arkadi Monastery is one of the most fascinating Crete attractions of all. Arkadi is also hugely important to Cretans themselves, as it has played such an important part in their history. So what can you expect to see when you visit, how do you get there and how long do you need there?
The monastery of Arkadi is fortified as it has had to stave off attacks for much of its history. It contains a 16th century Venetian-style church, cloisters, monks’ cells and a small museum.
This Greek monastery is best known for its role fighting off an overwhelming attack by the Ottoman Turks during the Cretan Revolt of 1866.
WHERE IS ARKADI MONASTERY?
Arkadi Monastery Crete is 10 km inland from the north coast of Crete. The nearest city of any size is Rethymno, 20 km (13 miles) along the coast to the west. Chania is 85 km (59 miles) away, further to the west.
GETTING TO ARKADI MONASTERY
The monastery is located to the south of the main Crete highway which runs from Heraklion to Rethymno and Chania. The most convenient place to turn off is Stavromenos, on the approach to Rethymno, passing through the small Cretan villages of Asteri and Amnatos en route.
There is also a local minibus running from Rethymno bus station to Arkadi monastery which follows this route off the main road.
If these aren’t convenient and you’d still like to see the monastery, Arkadi can be reached on tours from many Crete resorts along the coast. We saw tours advertised in Chania, Rethymno, Panormos and Bali. It’s one of the most popular day trip destinations on Crete holidays, so fear not, you should be able to get there easily.
We visited by bus, returning directly to Rethymno after our visit. If you opt for a tour, you can also expect to pay a visit to the nearby village of Margarites, and the site of ancient Eleftherna.
HISTORY OF ARKADI MONASTERY
Nobody really knows the foundation date of the monastery at Arkadi Crete. We do know that the church dates from the 16th century, so that’s the earliest we can definitely say it was in existence. An inscription in the complex mentions the 14th century, so it’s possible it was founded as early as that – but we don’t know for certain.
Crete was invaded by the Ottoman Turks in 1646, though they didn’t control the entire island until much later. The monastery continued to exist under the auspices of the Turks until the 19th century, when it was sacked and looted in 1822, shortly after the rest of Greece had declared independence.
In 1866 the Cretan Revolt broke out, and in one of the key early battles, a small rebel force (259 soldiers) and around 70 women and children barricaded themselves in Arkadi Monastery. The Turkish forces eventually prevailed, largely because of overwhelming numerical superiority. Most of the Cretan refugees there opted to die rather than face capture by the Turks.
The abbot set fire to the large store of gunpowder in the monastery, the explosions killing most of the people inside. The telegraph had recently been invented, and news of the Arkadi holocaust was quickly disseminated worldwide, causing outrage. Although sympathy lay with the rebels, the Revolt was to fail. The Cretans briefly gained independence in 1898, before finally being incorporated into modern Greece after the Balkan wars ended in 1913.
WHAT CAN YOU SEE AT ARKADI?
As you walk through the fortified gate, the first thing you see is the iconic honey-coloured church. It has become one of the most recognisable symbols of Crete, and you’ll see photos of it outside most tour companies between Heraklion and Chania. It’s the oldest known part of the compound.
If you follow the trail around to the left, you’ll find the trunk of a cypress tree with some bullet holes made during the revolt and siege of 1866. From here, you continue to the refectory (where the monks eat) and a chapel.
The monks live in rooms called cells in a section of the cloister behind the church – you can visit one of the rooms, traditionally and sparsely made up as if a monk was still living there.
You can climb stairs to the first floor for elevated views over the monastery and south side of the church. You can also climb the stairs for views above the entrance.
Outside, there is also a small ossuary, where you can see the bones of some of those who perished there during the Turkish assault.
The Museum at Arkadi is housed in buildings to the right (south) of the church. It has a series of historical relics, including some precious centuries-old Gospels, Bibles and icons.
It’s also one of the best places in Crete to learn about the island’s recent history, particularly the siege during the Cretan Revolt. The exhibition goes into the story in plenty of detail, enough to enable anyone to grasp the importance of the events there.
HOW LONG DO YOU NEED AT ARKADI?
Two hours is enough for most visitors – you may need a bit of extra time if you read through everything in the Museum in detail.
Adult entry tickets cost a very reasonable 3 euros.
There’s also a toilet block outside in the car park, and the Arkadi cafe serves refreshments through the day.
THINGS TO SEE IN CRETE NEAR ARKADI
If you decide to drive south, Spili is one of the most beautiful villages in Crete. If you follow the narrow country roads south towards the coastline, you’ll have options including Agia Galini, Plakias, Kalypso beach and Preveli all nearby.
The first time I passed Geropotamos beach I had one of those, “Did I just see that?” moments. As we drove past on the highway bridge just inland, I thought I saw a river running alongside a broad sweep of golden sand. In the distance, completing the perfect scene, was a beautiful rock arch at the end of a line of cliffs.
So where was this place? It looked like one of the best beaches in Crete, yet none of the guidebooks in nearby Rethymno seemed to mention it. I couldn’t understand it – one of the most beautiful beaches in Crete and hardly a word about it.
Over the course of our Crete holidays, we’ve come to discover other spectacular beaches near Rethymnon which have a similarly low profile. So what is the story behind Geropotamos, one of the finest Crete beaches?
Only one way to find out!
GEROPOTAMOS BEACH IN A NUTSHELL
- Incomparable setting, even among beaches in Crete, with a river on one side and a rock arch on the other
- Easy to reach, very close to Crete’s main highway
- Very spacious sandy beach with a small area of umbrellas and sunbeds
- A taverna, cocktail bar and toilets are next to the beach
- It’s exposed to the northern meltemi wind, so large waves can form
- Very clear, clean water for swimming – but it also gets deep very close to the shore, so not ideal for kids
- Next door to the Iberostar Creta Panorama and Creta Marine hotel complex
WHERE IS GEROPOTAMOS, CRETE?
Geropotamos gets its name from the river which flows alongside the beach. It’s located just below the Geropotamos bridge, which is part of the main Heraklion-Rethymno-Chania highway which runs across the north of Crete island.
It’s 4 km (2.5 miles) west of the popular village of Panormos (sometimes called Panormo) and 12 miles (19 km) from Rethymno, one of the best places in Crete to use as a base for exploring the island. It’s easy to fit Geropotamos in as a day trip combined with Arkadi Monastery, up in the hills 15 km away.
GETTING TO GEROPOTAMOS BEACH
It’s easy to reach the beach at Geropotamos by car or local bus.
If you’re driving, you can get to the beach by turning off at the western end of the bridge. If you’re approaching from Chania or Rethymno, it’s a right-hand turn; if you’re coming from Heraklion, it’s on your left. After 100 metres or so, take a sharp left down the dirt road to the car park the other side of the bridge.
Regular KTEL buses run along the highway – you just need to ask to get off at Geropotamos. The busy #20 Rethymno to Panormos bus and regular Chania-Rethymno-Heraklion (and vice versa) buses will stop at the end of the bridge if requested.
FACILITIES AT THE BEACH
Only a small part of the beach is set up with umbrellas and sunbeds – this is behind the boat, quite close to the shore. Most of the beach is empty – even in summer, with a calm sea. If you love having acres of beach to yourself, this is paradise.
There’s also a taverna just above the beach serving the Greek classics – souvlaki, gyros and the rest.
SWIMMING AT GEROPOTAMOS BEACH
The water is incredibly clear and inviting, and wonderful to swim in. The one caveat is that there is a significant slope in the sand soon after you enter the water, so you don’t need to go very far for it to be up to your neck.
With this in mind, it’s not a great place to take the kids swimming.
CAN YOU GET TO THE KAMARA ROCK ARCH?
You can’t reach it along the beach, but getting a photo of it from above is straightforward. A dirt track runs alongside the main highway, so if you walk back up you’ll find that, and a small car park on unoccupied ground between the road and the cliffs.
You won’t think it until you reach the cliff edge, but this is one of the best places in Crete for photography. The Kamara arch is breathtaking. When you get up close, you’ll see that there’s also a small beach very close to it. I also saw people going close to it on boats and jetskis. It’s so ironic – off the beaten path Crete, right next to the main highway!
If you follow the dirt track next to the road you’ll also reach the turn-off for Spilies beach.
WHERE TO STAY IN CRETE TO VISIT GEROPOTAMOS?
Geropotamos is within easy reach of Rethymno, the surrounding resorts, Panormos, Bali and Heraklion because it’s on the main road.
One of the biggest Crete resorts is also right next door to the beach. The Iberostar Creta Panorama and Creta Marine complex is one of the largest Crete hotels in the area. They have beautiful luxury villas with lovely gardens, two sheltered artificial coves and their own harbour, from which they run boat trips along the coast. They also have a KTEL bus stop outside the Creta Marine.
Panormos Crete is only 3 km (2 miles) further on from here. It’s a small charming fishing village with beaches and tavernas, and a good range of accommodation. The Panormo Beach is a lovely 3-star hotel in the heart of the village, and very close to the sea.
Spectacular Santorini is one of the most stunning of all the Greek islands. The villages in Santorini are many people’s idea of a typical Greek village, with their beautiful white houses and blue church domes.
Yet Santorini villages aren’t that typical of Greece. The beautiful villages on Santorini caldera are unique, perched high on cliffs overlooking an underwater volcano crater. Most visitors spend their time in the villages with a caldera view, especially Oia and the capital of Santorini, Fira (also sometimes spelt Thira). Understandably – they are incredible. See one Santorini sunset and you’ll see why.
There’s more to the island than the caldera, and there are plenty of other places to explore on your Santorini holidays. You can also discover the coastal villages and many Santorini beaches. Or you can venture inland to uncover a Santorini secret like Emporio or Pyrgos, two gorgeous traditional Greek villages.
Want to discover more? Our guide to the best Santorini towns and villages takes you the length and breadth of this, one of the very best Greek islands.
Fira is the Santorini main town, and hub of the Santorini bus network. It’s perched precipitously on the edge of the Santorini volcano, with stupendous views over the caldera and islands.
The village of Fira is so iconic, and along with Oia has become one of the most famous of all Greece attractions. The church domes, white cube and cave houses symbolise Greece to the world in the internet age, possibly even more than the Parthenon in Athens.
You’ll almost certainly spend time in Fira during your Santorini vacation. The Santorini view is sublime, and many luxury Santorini hotels have the prime spots looking out to sea. Behind the sheen, the streets of Fira are full of souvenir shops, and the modern village around the bus station is a far cry from the caldera indeed. That said, Fira is still unmissable.
Firostefani is the northern continuation of Fira. It also fills the gap to the hilltop village of Imerovigli. It’s a lot quieter than Fira, has the caldera views, and a great choice of Santorini accommodation. All this makes it a contender for the best area to stay in Santorini, especially if you’re keen on a Santorini caldera view.
Firostefani is best known for the Catholic church known as the Three Bells of Fira. It’s one of the best views in Santorini, a simple blue dome and a belfry with three bells overlooking the sea below. It’s a popular Santorini sightseeing spot, but compared to some in Oia and Fira, it’s pretty quiet.
Imerovigli is the highest of the Santorini cliff villages. It overlooks Skaros Rock and faces almost south, so it’s the place to watch a Santorini sunset in winter. If you want the full Santorini effect, Oia and Fira are better bets.
Imerovigli is another of the best places to stay in Santorini. It’s conveniently situated between Fira and Oia, and has a great choice of Santorini hotels with caldera views.
There are several other Akrotiris around Greece: it’s a common place name, meaning ‘peninsula’ in Greek. Akrotiri is situated on the south side of Santorini island, with parts of it overlooking the caldera.
The most interesting parts of Akrotiri village to explore are the lanes below the Venetian kastelli, which is in ruins. There are several beautiful churches around it, with typical Santorini architecture, white bellcotes, blue domes and all.
Santorini’s earliest known settlement was the prehistoric village of Akrotiri, to the south of the village and just above Akrotiri beach. Many just pass through Akrotiri en route to the surrounding beaches. Red Beach Santorini is the best known and most photogenic of all the beaches in Santorini; it’s a five-minute walk from Akrotiri beach and its tavernas.
Further to the west, Black Beach Santorini – also known as Mesa Pigadia – and White Beach are two remote, spectacular black sand volcanic beaches. Another Santorini hidden gem is tucked away below the caldera cliffs. Caldera Beach is the one bona fide beach on the caldera that you can reach, and it’s a lovely spot to escape the Santorini crowds in summer.
My visit to Pyrgos turned out to be one of the highlights of our first trip to Santorini. It’s the highest village on the island, atop a mountain overlooking much of Santorini.
Pyrgos Santorini is very much a traditional Greek village, full of whitewashed houses and churches. The old village is a warren of lanes leading up to the Venetian kastelli, one of five around the island. It’s not one of the high profile Santorini attractions – I probably encountered about a dozen other visitors there all afternoon. The Cycladic architecture is breathtaking; seeing it with so few others around helps you to appreciate it even more.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that Pyrgos is as beautiful as the best of Oia or Fira. If you’re spending four days in Santorini or more, this should be one of your essential Santorini day trips
Emporio is another candidate for the most beautiful Santorini village. It’s a familiar formula, like Pyrgos up the hill. You’ll find a labyrinth of narrow streets, mostly whitewashed Santorini houses, a steep hill with steps aplenty, a Venetian castle and plenty of cats slumbering in the shade. And even less visitors than Pyrgos.
Head up the hill from the modern village to the old heart of Emporio. Some of the houses and the kastelli are built into the rock of the hill summit. Some of the streets are tunnels. It’s an adventure for younger ones like our 5-year-old, and an achingly beautiful place for older souls. Seeing Emporio is one of the best things to do in Santorini, no question.
Karterados is a small village just over 2 km down the hill from Fira. It has a very different feel to the Santorini capital, surrounded by countryside and with views to the east coast of the island, where the nearest beach, Monolithos, is located. It’s also close to Santorini airport but seems a world away.
We probably wouldn’t have visited Karterados had we not chosen to stay there. We’d recommend it as one of the best places to stay in Santorini as it has such a relaxed village vibe. It’s a welcome change from the summer crowds of Fira, and the pace of life is so much slower. We sat on our balcony, watching the horses roam around the fields. We also walked through the narrow lanes, passing the brilliant whitewashed churches that stood out against the deep azure sky. And we loved hanging out for the evening in the village square, while our Little Man played with the local kids.
There’s not a great deal of Vlychada village to see – if anything, it’s really just a hamlet. However, it’s worth the short journey down to the south coast, for this is one of the most pleasant places to visit in Santorini.
Vlychada beach Santorini is one of the best beaches on the island, a wide long swathe of black sand with a stunning line of cliffs as a backdrop. Most of the beach hasn’t been developed for commercial purposes, so once you’re past the initial sets of umbrellas and sun loungers you can roam to your heart’s content.
There’s also a harbour full of beautiful colourful fishing boats and a few restaurants and tavernas on the hill above. The curious chimney next to the cliff belongs to the old Nomikos tomato factory, which is now the Tomato Industrial Museum. This gives you an intriguing insight into what was once the largest industry on the island, long before Santorini mass tourism took hold.
Perissa black sand beach is one of the best on the island. It’s also one of the most popular, and a large village has grown up around it. Perissa has some of the bigger Santorini resorts and a host of smaller hotels. Most of the action is centred around the road alongside the beach, which is lined with beach bars and restaurants.
The rest of Perissa village is more of the same. It’s well worth stopping by at Holy Cross church, a block inland from the beach, and close to the bus station. There’s also a steep uphill hike to ancient Thera, the main settlement on Santorini in Classical times.
Visiting Oia is one of the most popular things to do in Santorini. And no wonder. Oia village is one of the most beautiful in Europe. Its striking Santorini buildings, including blue church domes and cave houses , are unmistakable, seen on thousands of postcards and calendars in gift shops all over Greece.
Oia – pronounced ‘EE-ah’ is perched dramatically on cliffs in the north-west corner of the island, 12 km from Fira. The Byzantine Castle ruins are the most popular sunset spots on the island, with unforgettable views of the village. Prices tend towards the upper end and exclusive, but it’s not to be missed.
Wandering Chania Old Town is one of the best things to do in Crete. Chania has a stunning harbour, one of the most beautiful in Greece, with magnificent sunsets out to sea in one direction and the imposing White Mountains in the other. The Old Town is the area behind the harbour.
One of the best things to do in Chania is to set the alarm clock and walk the backstreets in the early morning. Very few people are around, but plenty of street cats are, planning their morning nap for when the sun rises.
It doesn’t take long to delve deep back in time. Chania started out as the Minoan city of Kydonia, around 5,000 years ago. The Old Town also has substantial remains of its Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman past, a unique Cretan concoction that makes for such a compelling city.
It won’t take you long to see why Chania is one of the best places to visit in Crete. The narrow, tight streets are packed with lovely medieval houses, many with shuttered windows and a display of flowerpots.
The streets and alleyways are filled with cafes, shops and restaurants, which begin to open as the sun peers over into the hidden corners of Old Town Chania. Bougainvillea drapes down over walls, its delicate scent mingling with the Greek coffee that will be your reward for your early start.
Things To Do In Rethymno
The city of Rethymno has all the perfect ingredients for wonderful holidays in Crete. It’s as close as you can get to the unique, perfect package – one of the best beaches in Crete, a picturesque old harbour and one of the most beautiful towns in Greece, all within a few minutes’ walk.
You could whizz around the main things to do in Rethymno in a couple of days, but that would be missing out. Also known as Rethymnon, it’s a place to be savoured slowly. It’s beautiful medieval Old Town is full of great restaurants and buzzing every evening. We were completely seduced by Rethymno and extended our stay.
it’s one of the best places to stay in Crete. It’s in an ideal location, roughly halfway between the Crete capital Heraklion and the western city of Chania. Most of the best things to do in Crete are within easy reach, whether by bus, hire car or guided tour.
Here’s the full lowdown on what to do in Rethymno. Enjoy.
The Fortezza is the Venetian fortress overlooking the old town of Rethymno. The castle dates back to the late 16th century, and was captured in 1646 by the invading Ottoman Turks.
The low, stout walls of Rethymno fortress still dominate the town, although the high, narrow streets mean that you only see it up close or from the harbour and beach.
We paid our first visit to the Fortezza an hour before sunset. It was a wonderfully evocative time to be there, with the low light making the old mosque and church glow orange as the sun disappeared behind the mountains to the west.
Much of the space inside the Fortezza is now empty, after houses within were demolished around a century ago. Now it’s quite empty and spacious, and the best thing to do there is to walk the ramparts and admire the superb views. It’s fairly low key, but one of the must see Crete attractions.
The beach in Rethymno city is one of the biggest beaches in Crete. It starts a five-minute walk from the eastern edge of the Old Town, and continues eight miles (13 km) to the village of Skaleta.
It’s also a very wide beach in places, with a 30 to 40 metre walk from the beach entrance to the shoreline. Many different local hotels, guesthouses and restaurants operate sections of the beach. Greek beach etiquette dictates that you hire one or two sunbeds and an umbrella. This sets you back between 5 and 10 euros – the closer to the shoreline you go, the higher the price.
The beach continues to the edge of Rethymno town to villages beyond. Confusingly, some travel websites refer to these villages outside Rethymno as Rethymno. Look at the location carefully before booking. They all look out onto the same long beach, but some of them are a 20-minute bus ride or drive away.
It’s pretty easy to find your way around this area if you don’t have a car. The #20 bus route is one of the most popular in the area, running from Rethymno bus station to Panormos, a fishing village around 20 km to the east on the Heraklion highway. The bus passes through Platanes, Adelianos Kampos and Sfakaki en route to Panormos.
RETHYMNO OLD TOWN
Old Town Rethymno is gorgeous. It’s one of the best places in Crete to wander and explore. It’s quite extensive, stretching from the modern harbour and port to the Fortezza.
Most of the old town dates back to Venetian times (until the 17th century), and there are also some distinctive overhanging Ottoman houses around the streets as well.
Rethymnon old town is so attractive because most of it is pedestrianised, so everyone can slowly amble around the streets. It’s not as if there are that many specific Rethymno attractions to see as such – rather it’s the overall effect of exploring such a beautiful place. Many of the best restaurants in Rethymno are concentrated in this area.
In summer season many of the tables outside are full, throngs of people are out for the evening, eating out, walking or enjoying an ice cream from one of the many gelaterie around the town. If you’re tempted to try some of the latter, try Angeli Gelato on Vosporou, just down the hill and to the right of the Porta Guora. It’s smaller than Chania Old Town, and has less quiet corners and streets than its western neighbour.
The streets of the Old Town and along the harbour are often busy until midnight and beyond. Most Rethymno nightlife seems to consist of eating out, or perhaps having a drink or three at one of the many bars and cafes. Not to mention stopping off at one of the many patisseries around the town.
RETHYMNO VENETIAN HARBOUR
Rethymno’s late medieval harbour is small and impossibly picturesque. Waterfront restaurants occupy two sides of it, while the harbour wall and lighthouse occupy another. The views towards the town and mountains are unforgettable. The lighthouse was built by the Egyptian occupiers around 1830.
THE BLUE STEPS OF RETHYMNO
Your Rethymno sightseeing isn’t complete until you’ve tracked down the city’s famous Blue Steps.
They’re on an alleyway next to Vassilis restaurant, which is on Chimaras, itself one of the most beautiful streets in Rethymno. Tables are usually set there – a lovely place to dine. Or just photograph.
We dined at numerous restaurants and tavernas in and around Rethymno over the course of our extended stay.
Our rule of thumb is that if it’s packed, it’s got to be pretty good, and this was very much the case in Rethymno.
Nostos is a new seafood restaurant on the main beach strip (Sofokli Venizelou 73), serving a mixture of Greek and Mediterranean dishes. I stumbled upon this one by chance as I was looking for somewhere shady to walk! Chance discoveries are often the best, and this was especially serendipitous, as the food was outstanding. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a contender for one of the best restaurants in Crete.
There are two Barrio cafes in Rethymno, one across the street from the Miunicipal Garden, the other on Portaliou, just up from the beach. They serve a range of pasta dishes, salads and burgers. We visited the Portaliou branch several times as it was at the end of our street, and gave it a massive thumbs-up every time.
Casa di Haris (Mosologiou 22) serves great Italian food. Faye said that her lasagne was one of the best she had ever had, and my beetroot risotto was of a very high standard.
One of our favourites is Kokkinos, on Iroon Square, which serves a huge range of Greek and Italian food. They were also happy to cook something not on the menu for our little man, which is a big plus point.
One of the most popular Rethymno things to do is to stop by at the Rimondi fountain. It’s an ornate stone Venetian fountain with the water passing through three lions’ heads near the base. It’s a popular spot for photographs, and is surrounded by busy restaurants.
One of the most prominent Rethymno landmarks is the Neratze mosque, on spacious Petychaki Square. The Turks took over what was originally a Venetian church, adding the soaring minaret which is the tallest structure in the Old Town.
After the Turks left, the building reverted to church status, but it wasn’t used as such again. It’s now used as a concert venue. Petychaki Square is a lovely spot, especially on balmy evenings and after dusk. Local families tend to hang out there, sitting on benches around the edge of the square, while the kids burn off energy and play.
The funfair in Rethymno is set up on ground very close to the port, only a few minutes’ walk from the Old Town. There are only about six rides, and most of these are suited to under-5s. The most popular ride is the dodgems, or bumper cars. Our little fellow loved it, causing a ten-car snarl-up by reversing in circles and running into everybody.
RETHYMNO MUNICIPAL GARDEN
The main Rethymno park is located on the edge of the Old Town, a two-minute walk from the Porta Guora archway. It’s mostly visited by locals in the evening. There’s the largest playground in the city, and a most convivial café, Le Jardin, next to the park’s central fountain.
The only drawback with the main Rethymno beach is that northerly winds sometimes rough the sea up. This can lead to conditions being unsuitable for swimming.
We discovered Koumbes beach, around 1 km from the Old Town and a short walk west from Rethymno bus station. There are two small sections just below the main road, one with sand, the other without. The two stone breakwaters take the brunt of the waves, so it’s a safe alternative to the main beach. The water is crystal clear, and you get a great view back to the Fortezza.
OTHER RETHYMNO BEACHES
There are many other beaches near Rethymno to discover, both to the east and west.
Spilies beach is one of the first you reach once you leave the long Rethymno beach behind. It’s a tiny, pebbly cove with stunning cliffs either side. It’s hidden down a valley off the main Heraklion to Rethymno highway, and has a pleasant little taverna.
Geropotamos beach is close to Spilies – you can walk between the two, along the track running alongside the highway. It’s a lovely sweep of sand, with the stunning Kamara sea arch at the end.
Bali, Crete is another village popular with tourists. There are five different Bali beaches in all, and four of them are fairly sheltered coves. Karavostasi beach is particularly beautiful.
The beaches to the west of Rethymno, on the road to Chania, are also rather special. One of our favourites is Georgioupolis, another long, broad sweep of golden Mediterranean sand. It also has a lovely little white church built on the sea wall.
There’s also the question of where to stay in Rethymno, Greece. You can opt to stay somewhere along the beach strip in Rethymno city itself, or go further out, either driving or using the #20 bus route.
If you’re looking for a Rethymno beach hotel, the five-star Aquila Porto Rethymno is a great place to start. It’s right across the road from the broadest section of Rethymno town beach, and runs its own section of beach. It’s one of the best hotels in Crete for luxury and location, with the Old Town a ten-minute stroll away.
The same chain also runs the Aquila Rithymna Beach at Adelianos Kampos, 10 km (6 miles) to the east off the road to Heraklion. It’s one of the best Rethymnon hotels, overlooking a fantastic section of beach.
Rethymno has some of the best luxury hotels Crete has, and the Kriti Beach Hotel, overlooking the Rethymno town beach, is another great option. Many rooms and suites have views over the beach, out to sea and across the harbour towards the Fortezza. It’s also only five minutes’ walk from the Old Town.
Things Do In Chania
Chania, Crete is one of the most beautiful cities in Greece. It’s situated in the west of the island of Crete, in a stunning location on the north coast. The narrow medieval streets and houses of Chania old town are up there with the most essential things to do in Crete. Chania port is one of the most picturesque harbours in the Mediterranean. This is a place that deserves a few days of anyone’s time.
We found there were so many things to do in Chania that we had to stay a week to see it all. Chania town is packed with so many fascinating corners and back streets, but there are also many Chania day trips available. These include the famous Samaria Gorge hike and tours from Chania around the province to some sublime Chania beaches. The sea also stays warm until late October, so it’s a great place to visit for late summer sun.
We’ve focused on enchanting Chania city for now, as there’s such a choice of what to do in Chania.
The Venetian Harbour Walk – (Our Top Pick Of The Best Things To Do In Chania )
You almost need to go out to sea to appreciate the magnificence of Chania’s setting. The outer harbour wall leads from the Venetian harbour, in the east of the town, to the lighthouse at the entrance to the old port. Keep looking on your left: around 300 metres along, you’ll enjoy one of the best things to see in Crete.
Across the water, the tower and minaret of Agios Nikolaos church taper skywards above the medieval Venetian warehouses on the harbour front. The mind-meltingly beautiful White Mountains, which rise to over 2400 metres in height, rise behind them and the city. When people say that Chania is one of the best places in Crete to visit, this is why.
Wandering The Old Town
One of our favourite Chania things to do is exploring the Old Town. There are several districts, all of which are quite small and close to each other. The Splantzia area was once settled by the Turks, and is a warren of pedestrian-only alleyways, with medieval houses of all shapes and sizes huddled together. The area to the immediate west of the harbour was once the merchants’ quarter, and this is full of hilly cobbled streets and hidden alleyways.
The most touristed part of the Old Town is the area to the south of the harbour. This is full of restaurants and souvenir shops. The area to the west of the harbour is more hilly, with a few lovely stepped streets.
Dinner At The Well Of The Turk Restaurant
One of the best Chania restaurants in Chania turned out to be right on our doorstep. The Well of the Turk serves a mixture of Greek, Middle Eastern and Moroccan cuisine, and as we love all three, our curiosity was immediately piqued. They have some amazing dishes, including shish kebab with an avocado and orange salad. The setting is special too, in the narrow alleyway of the Splantzia district of the Old Town, with bougainvillea hanging down the mustard yellow walls.
Eating Out On Chania Harbour
Much of the Chania nightlife is centred around the bars and restaurants around the harbour. They occupy a continuous strip around the old port in the western part of the harbour, with others spread out along the eastern part of the Venetian harbour.
We spent a couple of evenings at Barbarossa having a drink and watching the magical sunset behind the lighthouse and distant mountains Easily one of the best things to do in Crete. Make sure you spend at least one evening around the harbour, as seeing Chania by night is sublime.
As for restaurants in Chania harbour, we can recommend the seafood at the Neoria Fish Tavern, and at Christianna, around the corner close to Koum Kapi beach.
Museum Of The Greek National Football Team
This is the most unusual Chania museum, a big change from the archaeological variety you usually find. I’m not sure why it’s in Chania, but it’s the one museum in the world dedicated to the Greek national football team.
It’s mainly full of football memorabilia including signed shirts of various players, and videos of Greece football matches. It’s well worth visiting for football fans, especially long-suffering romantics who dream of success that never comes. Not one single soul on this planet gave Greece a chance of getting past the first stage of the Euro 2004 tournament. They ended up winning the whole thing. There is always hope!
Firka Fortress And Maritime Museum
If you’re wondering what to do in Chania Crete if the weather’s not good, look no further. The Maritime Museum of Crete is one of the best Chania attractions whatever the weather, and the exhibitions here could easily absorb you for a few hours.
It’s even one of the best Crete tourist attractions. It covers an enormous range of subjects, from traditional Greek boat building to the history and exploits of the Greek Navy. Some of the buildings used to show the exhibitions, including the stout Firka fortress and Moro shipbuilding sites are magnificent.
Greek Orthodox Cathedral
Chania Cathedral is the most prominent church in Chania. The building dates from the 19th century, but its history goes back much further.
Under Turkish rule, the church that occupied the site was turned into a soap factory. The story goes that the Virgin Mary appeared to a local man, saying that she didn’t want her church to remain a soap factory. Soon afterwards, the son of the Turkish Pasha fell down a well. In desperation, the Pasha asked the Virgin to intervene to save his child, offering to return the building and land to the local Christian community. The boy was saved, and he kept his promise.
Submarine Trip Under Chania Harbour
Chania harbour is one of the most popular Crete sights, and you can now see what it looks like underwater. A red submarine runs trips around the harbour and beyond, giving you a unique view of the marine life below the surface.
Other popular Chania activities include boat trips along the coast. These vary from short excursions turtle spotting on board a glass-bottomed boat to half day trips from Chania along the coast of western Crete.
Koum Kapi Beach
Koum Kapi is the nearest thing there is to a Chania town beach. We passed by several times, and the beach strip was quite long, but mostly very narrow, with the emphasis very much on swimming rather than sunbathing.
There was very little sand, though it improved a little the further east you went. The area around the foundations of some rock pools had more sand, and there’s another small, apparently unnamed beach down a dirt track the other side of the headland. This hasn’t been developed at all and has lovely views across the bay to the Sabbionara rampart.
The Agora – Chania Market
The main market in Chania is housed in a large cross-shaped building at the southern end of the Old Town, just before you reach modern Chania.
We adore markets like this. They have everything from cafes and restaurants to fresh produce, butchers, cheesemakers and stalls selling Greek souvenirs. All under one long, wide roof. It’s the best Chania Crete shopping by far.
Shop At The Sponge Boat On The Venetian Harbour
The sea sponge is one of the most remarkable animals on the planet. It lives on the sea bed, can survive for thousands of years, and has no brain or nervous system. They’re abundant in the sea around Crete, and you often find them in shops around the island.
However, we just loved the sponge boat on the Venetian harbour. It has hundreds of sponges of all shapes, shades and sizes, and is run by a lovely Greek fellow who looks like an old sea captain.
Municipal Garden And Cafe Kipos
The Municipal Garden isn’t part of the usual Chania sightseeing trail. It’s somewhere mostly frequented by locals, and it’s a wonderful place to visit, especially if you have kids. There’s a small zoo with Cretan mountain goats you can feed, and the biggest playground in Chania.
Kipos Café is the oldest Chania café, dating back to 1870. You can dine outside, or in the cooler weather indoors. It has a sumptuous late 19th century interior with chandeliers – very romantic and atmospheric.
Mosque Of The Janissaries
The harbourside Mosque, with its distinctive domes, is one of the most familiar Chania sights. If you visit Chania, you’ll almost certainly see it from the outside. While we visited, it was being used as a venue for a temporary art exhibition. And a wonderful exhibition space it is too.
Coffee On Splanzia Square
If you’re in town for a few days, be sure to add an evening at Splantzia to your Chania what to do list. The square, in the former Turkish part of the Old Town, is one of the best in Chania. At one ed, it’s overlooked by the towering church of Agios Nikolaos. Parts of it are shaded by trees, and most of the square is taken up in summer by tables and chairs from the different cafes and restaurants on the square. It is packed on summer evenings, full of locals and buzzing life.
Pork & Beef Wild
We chanced upon Pork & Beef Wild while on the hunt for a post-midnight meal after arriving very late at our Chania accommodation. They serve various grilled meats, and we opted for chicken and chips at nearly 2am. We weren’t hallucinating from tiredness – this was some of the best chicken we had ever eaten. We had to return the following evening to make sure we hadn’t dreamt it. Outstanding – one of the best takeaway restaurants in Chania.
One of the great things about Chania is how the different layers of history have been preserved. It’s why it’s one of the best places to visit in Crete. The stretch of the Byzantine walls runs along Sifaka, a block to the south of the Venetian harbour. These date from a time (between the 9th and 12th centuries) when Constantinople and the Eastern Roman Empire still held sway over much of the eastern Mediterranean.
Seeing the remnants of the ancient Minoan civilisation is an essential part of many people’s what do to in Crete list. Most head for the Palace at Knossos, to the south of Heraklion, the capital of Crete.
Chania also has some Minoan remains. It started out as the Minoan city state of Kydonia, and you can see some of the excavations at a covered site on Agia Ekaterini square. Much of the incredible artefacts that were unearthed are now on display in the Archaeological Museum of Chania.
The Grand Arsenal
Several historic buildings along the Chania waterfront have been converted into temporary exhibition spaces. These include some of the old Venetian warehouses and the Grand Arsenal. The latter in particular is a brilliant venue, having found a beautiful new purpose after over 600 years.
NEA CHORA BEACH
The main Chania town beach, Nea Chora, is a ten-minute walk west of the harbour. It’s a fine stretch of golden sand – much more than at Koum Kapi, on the other side of the Old Town – with plenty of cafes and bars close by. We visited just out of season, on a lovely autumn day – it’s a great place to hang out for a while.
OTHER BEACHES NEAR CHANIA
There is a wonderful stretch of Chania beaches around a mile west of Chania harbour. Chryssi Akti – meaning Golden Sands – is the first, a gorgeous sweep of sand around to a forested headland.
It’s a short walk beyond there to the two Agioi Apostoli beaches, both of which are superb. The second one, to the west, is also known as Iguana Beach, and has a great cafe. There’s also a small church on the headland above the beach.
Beyond Iguana beach, the next 15 km of coastline is lined with a series of Chania resorts. Heading west from Iguana beach, there’s Gialos beach, then Stalos, Agia Marina, Platanias and Maleme.
CHANIA DAY TRIPS
Chania is ideally placed for day trips to some of the best beaches in Crete. Some of these amazing Crete destinations are very remote, and the only way to see some of them is on one of the many Chania tours available. Here are a few of the more popular places to visit near Chania we write about many more in our day trips from Chania feature.
As soon as most people see pictures of it, they want to visit Balos Beach Crete. It is breathtakingly beautiful. It is also way overcrowded in the height of summer, when the many locals we met suggested we leave it until later in the season. Wherever you book your Balos Beach tour, you have to catch the same boat, the Kissamos to Balos ferry. You also have a short stopover at gorgeous Gramvousa beach thrown in. Our article on how to get to Balos Beach explains all in depth.
Elafonissi is the famous Crete pink sand beach, is hidden away in the south-west corner of Crete. It’s actually a series of beaches, with a shallow lagoon on one side, the sea on the other and Elafonissi island, which has some smaller beaches that tend to be quieter. Elafonissi beach tours from Chania tend to run until around the middle of October, sometimes later. If you drive to Elafonissi from Chania, make a couple of hours to see Kedrodasos beach, a remote slice of paradise 2 km and a million miles from the sunbeds, umbrellas and beach bars of Elafonissi.
Falassarna is a series of stupendously beautiful beaches on the north-west coast of Crete, 15 km from the port of Kissamos. This is way off the beaten path Crete, with wild romantic mountainous scenery and an incredible variety of beaches. The main Falassarna beach is a wide curve of golden (and occasionally pink) sand, whereas some of the others are rockier – one near our Falassarna hotel had two great natural rock pools, ideal for our son to play in. It’s one of the best day trips from Chania, to one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe.
Much closer to Chania – just 12 km or 8 miles – Stavros beach is on the north side of the Akrotiri peninsula, to the north-east of Chania city. It’s a gorgeous sheltered bay with golden sands and an awesome mountain backdrop. Some of you may recognise it from scenes in the 1960s Zorba the Greek movie starring Anthony Quinn.
Rethymno was our home for a couple of months, and I loved the place. It’s the third largest city in Crete (after Heraklion and Chania) and there are more than enough things to do in Rethymno to warrant staying a while. If a day is all you have, don’t miss the main town beach, the Venetian Fortezza, or Castle, and the seductive side streets of the beautiful Old Town.
Perissa beach is right up there with the best beaches in Santorini. It’s a classic black sand Santorini beach on the east coast of the island: Perissa is at the northern end, while the southern part is known as Perivolos beach.
It differs from Santorini beaches such as Red Beach, Black Beach, Caldera Beach and Vlychada in that it’s very developed. The street adjacent to the beach is lined with Perissa restaurants, cafes and bars, and each manages a section of beach. Most of Perissa beach Santorini is filled with beach umbrellas and sun loungers, and there are also sections of public beach, where anyone can turn up, sunbathe or swim.
Perissa is one of the most popular Santorini resorts, and it has one of the biggest concentrations of Santorini hotels away from the caldera. So what makes it such a good base for Santorini holidays?
Read on to find out!
WHERE IS PERISSA BEACH SANTORINI?
Perissa is on the south-east coast of Santorini. It’s 13 km (8 miles) from the Santorini main town, Fira. The village and beach are in the shadow of an imposing rocky mountain. Kamari beach, another popular Santorini beach, lies on the other (northern) side of this mountain. It’s also two miles (3 km) down the hill from the enchanting village of Emporio.
WHAT ABOUT GETTING TO PERISSA?
The Fira to Perissa bus departs every twenty minutes during the daytime. Some of these are ‘express’ services, running direct to Perissa without stopping. Always check with the driver, but if the word ‘Express’ isn’t on the bus, it should stop at all designated stops.
If you’re returning to Fira from Perissa in peak season, bear this tip in mind. You really should try to board the bus at the terminus, not elsewhere in Perissa village. The bus to Fira cannot cope with demand in summer – it’s often full and turning away passengers by the other end of Perissa village. The terminus is a minute’s walk from the end of the beach. There’s a large turning area, and a sizeable shelter and seating area on the left as you approach from the beach. Catch your bus to Fira from there.
If you’re driving, the main road into Perissa is of a reasonable standard, and there are some large car parks on the left as you’re driving through the village towards the beach.
DESCRIBE PERISSA BEACH
Perissa black sand beach is along, wide sweep of sand stretching around 5 km (3 miles) to its other end at Perivolos.
Despite the presence of so many beach umbrellas and sun loungers (owned by the various Perissa beach bars) the beach never felt crowded to us. It’s very heavily commercialised, but there’s a relaxed vibe there, a mixture of families and various age groups, including backpackers.
Santorini black sand can become incredibly hot, especially in summer, so try to avoid walking barefoot on it unless it’s early or late in the day.
My wife, Faye, and son went for a couple of swims in Perissa, and their comments echoed those of many other visitors. Faye has swum at countless beaches all round the world, and remarked that swimming in Santorini was amazing because the water was so clear. This is because with the volcanic black sand you don’t get the ‘churn’ you do with ‘white’ or ‘’golden’ sand, which clouds the water near the shore.
WHAT ABOUT FACILITIES AT PERISSA BEACH SANTORINI?
There’s everything you could possibly need very close to Perissa beach. As well as the multitude of cafes, bars and restaurants, there are also supermarkets and souvenir shops aplenty, especially at the northern end near the bus station.
ARE THERE ANY OTHER THINGS TO DO IN PERISSA?
Many visitors stick to the beach and restaurants along the strip behind the beach. After all, it is one of the top beaches in Santorini.
The most prominent landmark in Perissa is the soaring white tower of Holy Cross church, a minute’s walk from the bus station. It’s five tiers high, a most impressive sight. I was fortunate to be allowed to look around the interior during a wedding rehearsal one evening. It’s one of the best churches in Santorini that we visited.
The ancient city of Thera is high above Perissa on Messavouno mountain. It’s a short drive or rewarding 45-minute hike from the village. The city was probably founded in the 9th century BC. Most of the ruins are foundations, but the mountaintop site is hugely impressive and evocative.
There is also a tourist train running every hour between Perissa and Vlychada. It runs along roads through Perissa village, passing along the strip at Perivolos. It eventually stops at Vlychada, between the harbour and the stunning beach. It’s a 30-minute journey each way, costing 8 euros for an adult return ticket.
Vlychada beach may just be one of the best beaches in Santorini. It’s a happy medium between the dramatic scenery of Red Beach and Black Beach Santorini and the beach bar vibe of nearby Perissa and Perivolos.
Vlychada is one of the best places in Santorini to while away a few hours by the sea. The southern end of the beach has all the facilities you’d need, including a café bar that hires out beach umbrellas and loungers. Several Santorini hotels, resorts and restaurants are also very close by.
We visited Vlychada twice on our first trip to Santorini. We were so taken with this quiet spot that we’re contemplating staying there on our next Santorini holidays.
Read on to find out why you should add Vlychada to you Santorini must see list.
Where is Vlychada Beach Santorini?
Vlychada is a tiny village close to the southernmost point on Santorini island. It’s 11 km (7 miles) south of Fira, the Santorini main town. It’s also within easy reach of Perissa (5 km, or 3 miles) and Perivolos (2.5 km, or 1.5 miles). You may also see signs for Vlichada beach Santorini. No need for confusion – they are one and the same place.
How about getting to Vlychada?
This is straightforward. If you’re driving, there are two approaches – one from Perissa, Perivolos and Agios Georgios to the east, and one from the Fira to Emporio and Perissa road to the north.
Seven daily buses make the journey from Fira to Vlychada. The current timetable can be seen on the KTEL Santorini site here. Fares from Fira are currently 2.40 euros.
A tourist road train also operates during high season. This runs from next to Perissa bus station, through the village, and the beach strip at Perivolos.
Facilities on Vlychada Beach
The café and snack bar at the southern end of the beach cover everything you need – loungers, good food, drinks, cocktails and more. There is also a WC here, and another around the corner in the Museum. There are also some restaurants up the hill overlooking the harbour.
Describe Vlychada Beach
The first hundred metres or so are the only ‘developed’ part, with sunshades and loungers. After that, there’s a long expanse of the black sand Santorini is famous for, stretching away into the distance.
The cliffs form an amazing backdrop to the beach. They form a series of stunning rock formations, the ‘lunar’ landscape created by the weathering of the volcanic rock over millions of years. Once you’ve passed the beach umbrellas you can wander and explore this incredible gallery of nature’s abstract art.
One of the reasons I think Vlychada is one of the best resorts in Santorini is that the balance is just right. You can explore this magnificent coastline by yourself, then be back supping on a refreshing cold beer at the bar within a few minutes. There’s not really much scope for further development, certainly along the beach, because of the cliffs. It’s also very family friendly
What about other things to do in Vlychada?
There is a lovely small harbour at the end of the beach. The part closest to the beach is where the many small colourful fishing boats dock. The next section is given over to pleasure boats.
The Tomato Industrial Museum turned out to be one of the most enjoyable things to see in Santorini. My five-year-old son accompanied me and we were treated to a full guided tour. He was particularly delighted to make his own labelled tomato can.
The former Nomikos factory is one of nine old sites around the island that used to process and can tomatoes. The industry has declined, largely because cultivable land has been given over to tourism developments. It’s a sad, poignant tale, especially as the tomatoes grown in this volcanic soil are some of the most delicious you could ever taste.
What other things to do in Santorini are nearby?
Eros Beach Santorini is another hidden gem. It’s over a mile (2 km) along the beach and cliffs from Vlychada. There are no buses there, and access is via a not particularly difficult dirt road. If you’re heading up the hill from Vlychada towards the main road, it’s signposted on the left.
The main road leads to Perissa, passing the gorgeous village of Emporio along the way. The highlight is the area around the kastelli at the top of the hill, with some amazing cave houses built into the rock of the mountain.
If you’re planning to visit Santorini Greece, the chances are it’s the famous Santorini caldera that has tempted you there. It’s what Santorini island is best known for: classic Santorini sunsets, white churches, blue domes, islands silhouetted on the horizon.
The caldera of Santorini is absolutely unmissable. But we found many other things to do in Santorini during our recent visit, especially exploring the numerous Santorini beaches around the coast.
The best beaches in Santorini are spectacular, made up mainly from black sand and pebbles. You won’t find miles of golden sands like many of the best beaches in Greece. The beaches on Santorini have more of a dramatic kind of beauty, the vivid volcanic cliffs coming in shades of red, black white and more.
Our guide to the best Santorini beaches takes you all around the coast, including to the one elusive caldera beach. Some of them may even make great bases for your Santorini holidays.
OUR PICK OF THE BEST BEACHES IN SANTORINI FOR FAMILIES AND FACILITIES – PERISSA BEACH
Perissa is probably the best-known black sand beach Santorini has. If you’re happy staying away from the caldera, Perissa is also one of the best places in Santorini to stay. It also has the widest choice of Santorini hotels outside the caldera villages. The Fira to Perissa bus service is one of the most frequent on the island, so it’s easy to reach.
Perissa beach Santorini is the most ‘organised’ beach on the island, with a good selection of bars, cafes and restaurants along the strip. Each of these runs an adjacent section of the beach. If you order drinks or food, you can use the umbrellas and sun loungers free of charge. Otherwise you pay a flat fee of 15 euros for the day. There are also sections of free public beach between some of the paid sections.
The setting of Perissa beach is beautiful. It’s on a flat section of land with a dramatic cliff at the northern end, rearing out of the sea. If you like your beaches fairly busy, it’s well worth including in your Santorini trip.
The black sand Santorini beaches are composed of gets incredibly hot, so bring some footwear to walk around the beach.
Perivolos Beach is the southern continuation of Perissa beach. Like Perissa, it’s one of the best Santorini beach resorts, with a laid-back vibe and plenty of bars, restaurants and beach umbrellas to choose from.
We visited in summer, and it wasn’t quite as busy as Perissa. As well as soaking up the sun, sipping on cocktails or supping on a cold Mythos beer, there are some more strenuous Santorini activities on here. You can jet ski Santorini waters – a great way to get a different view of the Santorini coast.
OUR PICK OF THE BEST SANTORINI BEACHES FOR SCENERY – RED BEACH SANTORINI
Apart from the caldera, one of the most popular Santorini attractions is the Akrotiri Red Beach on the south of the island.
It’s the most beautiful beach in Santorini, with much of the appeal the contrast between the red sand and cliffs and the clear turquoise sea.
The beach is easy to reach, with regular buses from Fira stopping at Akrotiri beach, a ten-minute walk away.
The one drawback is that the beach is prone to landslips. Nobody has been hurt – yet. We go into a lot more detail on the safety of the beach in our article on Red Beach Santorini here. I opted not to visit the beach itself, preferring to enjoy one of the best views in Santorini from the cliff path instead.
BLACK BEACH SANTORINI
All the beaches on Santorini have black (some would say pencil grey) sand, and this remote beach has long been named after the colour of its sand.
Mesa Pigadia beach is a few kilometres west of Akrotiri, on the south coast of the peninsula. It’s one of our favourite things to see in Santorini, but one of the hardest to reach. Only four buses a day pass nearby, and even then, there’s a 1 km walk down a dirt road to the beach.
All this combines to make this one of the best places to get away from the crowds in Santorini. There’s a taverna on the beach, a dozen or so umbrellas and sunbeds for hire, and a restaurant on the hill above. A dramatic white cliff dominates one end of the beach. Just beyond this is White Beach Santorini, which is only accessible by boat.
CALDERA BEACH SANTORINI
Every beach we’ve mentioned so far is either on the south or east coast of Santorini. The topography of the caldera isn’t conducive to the formation of beaches, but there is one – Caldera Beach – you can reach.
It’s below Akrotiri, one of the main Santorini villages, down a steep road with two tight hairpin bends. The final stretch reveals a classic Santorini caldera view, sweeping north past Megalochori and Fira to Oia in the distant north of the island.
There’s a stretch of 150-200 metres of black sand and pebbles, and another area that serves as a small harbour. The water is crystal-clear, and Caldera Beach is on e of the best places for snorkelling in Santorini. Unsurprisingly, Santorini Dive Centre are also based here.
VLYCHADA BEACH SANTORINI
If you love beaches, one of the best things to do in Santorini is to visit Vlychada – sometimes spelt Vlichada – beach.
It’s situated in the south of the island, at the end of a long sweep of black sand, backed by a line of spectacular cliffs. The rocks have been weathered and contorted into some fantastic formations. It’s a true Santorini must see, and on balance, possibly all round the best Santorini beach.
Vlychada is just about off the beaten path Santorini. The beach has just one café bar, nestled into the corner beneath the cliff. There are two paid sections, with acres of free sand to roam and set up wherever you wish, all with the amazing rocky backdrop. There’s also a picturesque fishing harbour at the eastern end of the beach, and a former tomato canning factory that’s now the Tomato Industrial Museum. There are also a couple of clifftop tavernas selling fresh seafood caught by the boats directly below. One of the top beaches in Santorini, for sure.
AKROTIRI BEACH SANTORINI
Akrotiri beach doesn’t feature in many a Santorini guide. It’s a mile or so (2 km) south of Akrotiri village, on the south coast of the island. It’s 100 metres down the hill from the Akrotiri prehistoric village site, and barely a five-minute walk from Red Beach.
Akrotiri beach tends to get overlooked because most visitors there have come to see Red Beach. The buses for Red Beach terminate at the roundabout right next to Akrotiri beach, and the passengers tend to head straight there.
You could never claim that Akrotiri beach is the best beach in Santorini, but it does get overlooked more than it should. It’s like most other Santorini black sand beaches, a mixture of sand, pebbles and rocks. It also has a great selection of tavernas above the beach, including Dolphin taverna, which also cater for visitors to Red Beach.
Caldera Beach Santorini is unique among Santorini beaches. As its name suggests, it’s the one beach on the island that is actually on the caldera coast.
Santorini caldera is such a sought-after location. You’ve all seen the pictures – it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. Many people who visit Santorini seek out some of the best Santorini beaches, with their famous volcanic black sand. Yet this beach – on the caldera, with breathtaking coastal views – remains something of a Santorini secret.
Our curiosity was naturally piqued, so I sought out this hidden gem on my visit to Akrotiri village. Would it turn out to be one of the best Santorini attractions you’ve never heard of?
Only one way to find out!
WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT CALDERA BEACH?
It’s the one bona fide beach with sand on the caldera that you can reach without having to resort to a boat. You can walk down to stunning Ammoudi Bay from Oia, but that’s just a place on the shoreline – not an actual beach.
The numerous other beaches on Santorini are spread along the north, east and south coasts of the island. The terrain there is much flatter and more conducive to beach formation and access. The caldera is lined with cliffs that are hundreds of metres high in places, with access to the shoreline difficult and beaches at a premium.
So if you insist on soaking up the sun on Santorini sand with a Santorini caldera view, this is the place to do it.
WHERE IS CALDERA BEACH ON SANTORINI?
Caldera Beach is just below the village of Akrotiri, on the southern rim of the island’s caldera coastline. It’s on the northern side of the Akrotiri peninsula, so as you travel down from Fira or elsewhere on the island, it’s on your right-hand side.
It’s easy to visit on the same day as the more famous Red Beach Santorini, which is on the opposite side of the peninsula.
WHAT ABOUT GETTING TO CALDERA BEACH IN SANTORINI?
Caldera Beach is fairly easy to reach. It’s just off the main access road from Fira to Akrotiri, and is close to the heart of the village. It can therefore be reached with your own transport or by the regular Santorini buses.
The right-hand turn to the Caldera Beach access road is 100 metres before the main junction in Akrotiri. This is where the two Fira to Akrotiri bus routes diverge. The buses to Red Beach go straight ahead, whereas the four that continue to the lighthouse (Pharos) and the wonderful Santorini Black Beach follow the right-hand turn at this point.
Some vehicles did take the road down to Caldera Beach from Akrotiri village. However, be warned: the condition of the road is not good. It’s a steep road with two tight hairpin turns. It is partly surfaced, but there are several large potholes along the way. It could do with further surfacing soon. I walked down – it’s less than ten minutes down to the beach, a little more climbing back up the hill.
If you walk down you get to appreciate the caldera views much more. Part of the beach comes into view before you reach the second hairpin bend. It’s a small harbour with 30-40 pleasure boats moored there.
FACILITIES AT SANTORINI CALDERA BEACH
Caldera Beach is a world away from the ‘organised’ beaches you’ll find elsewhere on Santorini, at places like Perissa, Perivolos and Kamari.
The beach is in two distinct sections. There is the small ‘harbour’ area close to where the boats are moored. This is where the lead shot with the boat was made. There was nobody else on this section of the beach, and I sat there for twenty minutes or so, drinking water and soaking up the tremendous view. The beach consists of black sand and pebbles, and the water is incredibly clean and clear.
You’ll also find a few houses, mainly decorated with maritime motifs, along this stretch of sand. Santorini Dive Centre is also located here, and a couple of trips departed in the time I was there.
The other section of beach is to the right of the ‘harbour’ area. As you descend the road down, this section of beach is partly hidden by trees. The stretch closest to the harbour is very narrow, and when I was there was almost hidden by the incoming tide.
The strip of sand further along, close to the cliff, is wider and better. Three or four families had settled for the day in this area. There’s a lot more space, and if you need to seek shade, the trees provide it.
There is a bar and restaurant, Remezzo, on the shoreline next to the harbour. You can pop in there if you need a coffee, a stronger drink or food. This will also enable you to use the WC if required. Otherwise it’s a trek back up the hill.
“All Santorini beaches have volcanic black sand, but only one is known as Black Beach.”
It’s arguably the blackest beach on Santorini, its sand closer to jet black than the pencil grey sand you find at other beaches on Santorini.
This black sand beach is known locally as Mesa Pigadia beach, and its isolation means it’s remained one of Santorini’s hidden gems.
It’s very different to the more developed and organised Santorini black sand beaches at Perissa, Perivolos and Kamari. This is the place to come if you want to escape the Santorini crowds.
We love discovering off the beaten path places, and Black Beach Santorini was a true delight for us. Its relative isolation is a big plus point, and the breathtaking rocky volcanic Santorini coast will stay forever in the memory.
And here’s all you need to know before you visit the Black Beach.
Where Is Black Beach Santorini ?
Black Beach is tucked away in the remote south-west of Santorini, 3 km beyond the village of Akrotiri. It’s 1 km (0.6 miles) off the road between Akrotiri village and the lighthouse (Pharos).
Akrotiri is probably the best area in Santorini for beaches, with the famous Santorini Red Beach 5 km (3 miles) along the coast. The famous White Beach Santorini (with white cliffs and, you guessed it, black sand) is just around the white headland at the end of Black Beach, albeit only accessible by boat.
Caldera Beach is also tucked away at the bottom of cliffs below Akrotiri village.
How to get to Santorini Black Beach ?
Black Beach, or Mesa Pegadia, lies to the west of Akrotiri village. If you’re driving on Santorini, you’ll reach a junction in the village: take the right-hand turn to ‘Pharos’, or lighthouse.
The road climbs along the coastline, eventually descending across the peninsula towards the lighthouse.
You eventually reach a left-hand turn, marked by the battered blue sign in our photograph. This dirt road snakes down some steep sections to the beach: if you’re driving, proceed slowly.
Only three buses pass this turn-off for Black Beach during the daytime. They are the services that run from Fira bus station to Akrotiri Lighthouse (Pharos).
They currently depart Fira at 1000, 1400 and 1730. There isn’t a bus stop sign at the turn-off, but there is one at the previous turn where you can get off and pick up the return bus later.
Otherwise, if you’re reliant on public transport, it’s a 45-minute walk from Akrotiri village.
Things to do in Black Beach Santorini
The first thing you notice about Mesa Pigadia beach is the striking scenery. The contrast between the deep black sand and rocks and the shimmering white cliffs is stunning.
Mesa Pigadia is south-facing, so gets sunshine through most of the day. There are a few sun beds and parasols close to the taverna if you want some shade.
The black volcanic sand absorbs the heat more than the usual golden sand beaches you find elsewhere in Greece. The black sand is too hot to walk on barefoot – you’ll encounter this at all beaches in Santorini.
Many of the Santorini beaches are also rocky, with some sharp surprises underfoot once you’re in the sea. If you’re walking on the beach you need some footwear to protect yourself from the blazing hot sand. You’ll also need some water shoes to protect yourself from the sharp rocks in the water.
Apart from soaking in the sun, swimming and sitting in the taverna, it’s well worth walking along Black Beach. There are some ingeniously designed beach houses built into the cliffs to the right of the taverna.
Facilities at Santorini Black Beach
There are two restaurants at Black Beach. Akro is the upmarket option on the cliff above the beach, and they also run boat trips to White Beach and Red Beach.
The family-run Mesa Pigadia tavern is located at beach level, and is an ideal spot for lunch or an afternoon drink. They also have WCs, an important consideration if you’re planning to spend a few hours there.
There is some semblance of organisation at the beach, with a dozen or so beach loungers and umbrellas set up outside the taverna. The rest of the beach is free to explore.
Santorini Red Beach is visually the most spectacular of all Santorini beaches. The island is part of a vast volcanic crater or caldera, so Santorini is not the place to find long, golden beaches. Its beaches all have volcanic sand, mostly black or pencil grey in colour.
Most visitors make the trip to Santorini for the stunning villages and caldera views. But we found touring these amazing volcanic beaches among the most compelling things to do in Santorini.
Red Beach Santorini stands out because of the colour of its sand and cliffs. It’s a striking deep red, almost burgundy hue, unique on Santorini. It’s a magnificent sight viewed from a distance, perhaps one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe.
WHERE IS SANTORINI RED BEACH?
Red Beach is on the south coast of the island of Santorini, close to the village of Akrotiri. It’s 12 km (8 miles south of the island capital, Fira.
The beach is also close (500 metres) from the Akrotiri prehistoric village site and Akrotiri beach.
HOW TO GET TO RED BEACH SANTORINI
Getting to Red Beach is straightforward, though it is possible for some confusion to arise.
This famous Santorini beach is sometimes called Red Beach Akrotiri, as it’s only a mile (1.6 km) from Akrotiri village.
If you look at the Santorini bus timetable there is no mention of Red Beach. It does, however, list buses from the main Santorini bus station in Fira to Akrotiri village.
When you get to Fira bus station, you’re more likely to find buses with ‘Red Beach’ as their stated destination, rather than Akrotiri. Confused? Not to worry!
The Red Beach / Akrotiri buses stop a five-minute walk from the access path to Red Beach. They actually stop at the black sand Akrotiri beach.
After getting off at the final stop, return 100 metres or so up the hill, then continue left past several tavernas. You continue past a car park and reach the striking white church of Agios Nikolaos built at the base of some red cliffs. The start of the access path is just beyond here.
ISN’T RED BEACH SANTORINI CLOSED?
There have been serious rock falls on the famous red sand beach. The result of one massive landslip in 2018 can still be seen, with a vast quantity of loose rock on the beach. The local authorities have put up signs stating, “DANGER – NO ENTRY” in red block capitals. Underneath, they explain: “Falling Rocks – Serious Risk of Injury or Death”.
This seems unequivocal. However, the ban on visiting Santorini Red Beach is not enforced. At all.
The first part of the access path – after the warning signs – is perfectly safe. This leads 200 metres or so to the best viewpoints of Red Beach and the cliff behind.
The path beyond is rocky, and warrants wearing at least low-level walking shoes. Many people I saw ventured on wearing flip-flops – totally inadequate footwear for the conditions. As they approached the looser rocky section further on several struggled to stay standing.
Red Beach was well and truly open when I visited, with at least 200 people on the beach. The one slight concession to safety was a fence between the cliffs and the shore, confining bathers to a narrow strip along the shoreline.
FACILITIES AT RED BEACH AKROTIRI
There are none on the beach itself.
However, there is car parking and toilets close to the start of the main path to Red Beach.
There are also several tavernas and souvenir shops on the short road between Red Beach and the bus stop at Akrotiri Beach, so you shouldn’t go short of something to eat or drink.
There is also a fruit stall along the path near the viewpoint. In season, you’ll also find stalls renting out surfboards and paddleboards on the beach itself.