Crete is so much more than a beach holiday destination – there are so many more unique things to do on this beautiful Greek island!
I recently travelled to Crete with Jet2 and had the most amazing time, trying a huge range of unique and lesser-known things to do near Heraklion.
I’d always known Crete for its beautiful beaches and ocean, but hadn’t realised the amount of wonderful cultural and nature-based activities available on the island, plus how proud the Cretans are of their incredible food too!
This post is a sponsored collaboration with Jet2; we were hosted on a press trip here in exchange for sharing this blog post and social media content, but all opinions and stories are my own! We genuinely had the best time and I’m excited to share this with you :)
How to get to Heraklion in Crete
Heraklion is Crete’s capital city, and is located on the north coast of the island, with its own large port and airport. It’s really easy to get to from the UK, with easy and affordable flights from London Stansted (we went with Jet2 from here!).
Flights to Crete with Jet2 run from April until November, taking around 4 hours, and all of the activities I’ve listed below are within 1 hour’s drive of the city, making Heraklion perfectly placed for your holiday!
Where to stay near Heraklion in Crete
If you’re looking at holidays to Crete, there are plenty of great options on this island for all budget levels.
We were lucky enough to stay in the beautiful King Minos Retreat Resort & Spa with Jet2holidays in nearby Hersonissos (a 20 minute drive from the airport) which felt totally luxurious! This brand new (for 2023) hotel has 5 stars and was stunning.
I absolutely loved the modern, laid-back vibe of this hotel, with a relaxing pool area, gorgeous high spec rooms, delicious cocktails and snacks from the pool bar, AND the best breakfast buffet options too! Highly recommended – I can’t wait to go back!
Want help finding the best holiday package to fit your needs and budget? Use Jet2’s travel agent finder page to discover an agent near you.
When is the best time to visit Crete?
While you may have heard of this island being an amazing summer destination, I think the shoulder months are actually the best time to visit Crete!
The season is technically open and lasts between the start of April until November, and (as you can see from the below list), there are plenty of things to do in Crete in the shoulder months.
We visited in mid October and had the best time! It was still sunny and hot (22 – 25 degrees celsius the perfect temperature for any outdoor activities in my opinion, and still warm enough to lounge at the beach!).
12 unique things to do near Heraklion (aside from lounging on the beach!)
In this list I’ve focused on sharing activities that I’ve actually tried and tested (and loved!) myself, and that are all within 1 hour’s drive of the city of Heraklion, on the east side of the island.
Crete also has another airport (Chania) over on the west side, which is over 2 hours away, so I haven’t included things to do from that area below.
1. Horse riding in the Fourni valley
If the idea of riding horseback through quaint cobbled streets and olive groves with the sun setting behind a mountain backdrop sounds like your idea of heaven, you have to try this experience with Fourni Horses.
This family run business will take great care of you and tailor this trail to your experience levels, and you just can’t beat those views!
Have lunch or dinner next door at the local Platanos tavern for authentic Cretan dishes cooked by Maria while you’re there.
2. Try fresh Cretan honey
As part of our Fourni Horses trail, we stopped by an olive grove to see a local beekeeper and learn about the honey-making process. It was fascinating to watch the bees in their hives, using pollen from nearby herbs like thyme and carob, and we even got to try some afterwards with a huge chunk of honeycomb.
I have to say, it was probably the most delicious honey I’ve ever tasted! The beekeeper took a shine to Karen (from Lavender & Lovage) and sent her away with a honey balm as a gift too.
3. Shop & cafe hopping in Heraklion city
As one of Greece’s largest cities, Heraklion has plenty going on inside the city! It’s well known for its nightlife, but also has plenty of shops and cafes / restaurants to discover too, and is well worth an afternoon spent wandering around.
We visited one of the top restaurants – Peskesi – here during our stay and it was incredible! Classic Cretan dishes with a modern twist, and amazing service too. I can strongly recommend the smoked sausages dish.
If you’re lucky, you might also end your meal with a Cretan fortune cookie too…
4. Walk around Knossos Palace
This incredible archaeological site, just outside Heraklion, uncovers the history of ancient civilisations dating back to up to 7000BC, with the first rooms here estimated at being built around 6000BC.
It is most known for its artefacts and ruins from the Minoan civilisation (a Cretan Bronze Age era from around 3000BC to 1100BC), as being the largest economic center on the island, plus its legends of being where King Minos kept the Minotaur the labyrinth (I’m sure you’ve heard the myth!).
It was fascinating to walk around, but made all the more interesting for having a local guide with us to really infuse the magic of history in our surroundings. We went with the lovely Popi Kotsifi, who you can book directly through the Cretan Guides website.
5. Discover ancient artefacts at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum
If you do visit Knossos, I would highly recommend a visit to the Heraklion Archaeological Museum as well, so that you can see the real life frescos and incredible artefacts discovered at the site throughout the years.
I don’t really consider myself a museum person, but if you have an interest in history (I love Greek history!), this really is well worth a visit, and definitely one of the most thorough museums I’ve ever visited. There is SO much to see here and it still blows my mind that so many of these items (some of them several thousand years old!) have been uncovered in such good condition.
6. Explore the beautiful town of Archanes
If you’re looking for something smaller and more traditional than Heraklion, head to Archanes to spend an afternoon wandering around the quaint cobbled streets of this beautiful village.
There are several shops and restaurants here, but if you go, you HAVE to try Likastos Tavern. I think this was my favourite meal of our trip; you have to try the tomato fritters, and the donut balls for dessert…
7. Take a boat ride to the famous Spinalonga island
Spinalonga island is probably the most well known ‘attraction’ in Crete, but I still wanted to include it on this list because it really is unique, and a definite must-see during your visit.
Originally used as a fort in the Ottoman-Venetian wars, the island is located in the stunning natural harbour of Elounda, and has garnered a rather sad history.
In the early 1900s, the island became a quarantine for up to 1000 people suffering with leprosy, before a cure was discovered in the 1950s. Today, you can walk around the cobbled streets and see ruins of old houses, chapels, shops, and even a rudimentary hospital that would have been used by the community living here.
Despite it being tinged with sadness, the island really is beautiful to walk around, and a stunning boat ride across the bay is well worth the visit. Entry on the island is around 8 euros per person, and the boats will depend on where you depart from. There are plenty of boat tour operators on the beach in the Elounda area to check out!
^ Here’s Suzanne from The Travel Bunny looking right at home on the boat ride!
8. Enjoy the views at Agios Nikolaos Lake
Nearby to Elounda, the coastal city of Agios Nikolaos is a beautiful area to walk around and feel the ‘holiday vibes’. It is centered around the town’s famous landmark – Voulismenu Lake – and has plenty of shops and cafes to enjoy here.
9. Watch the local art of Cretan ceramics
Known as the ‘pottery village of Crete’, we made a stop in Thrapsano to a local pottery workshop to watch them at work.
^ Ellen from Eat with Ellen gave this a go, but admittedly might need a bit more practice…
The father here has been making these pots for over 55 years, and is clearly incredibly talented! This technique is passed down through the generations.
Take a moment to admire the many creations in their shop too! I’m very pleased with my gorgeous glazed mug :)
10. Tour a local winery with wine tasting
As an emerging wine region, it was fascinating to learn about the different varieties in the area, using the same soils and terroir from Minoan times. And of course tasting them was rather fun too!
11. Hike to Zeus’ cave
Technically named the Psychro cave, this day out is well worth the drive and short hike into the mountains! It’s considered to be the place where the Goddess Rhea hid her baby Zeus.
I’d recommend getting here early, as this is also quite a touristy site, but we were amazing at how magical and awe-inspiring these caves were!
We had our wonderful guide – Ritsa Kritza – with us, telling us about the mythology behind this cave and the amazing offerings and artefacts discovered within it. She was so much fun for the whole day and I would highly recommend her! You can find her details on the Cretan Guides website.
If you’re with kids, they may not manage the hike to the top from the car park to the cave, or the dark steps once you’re inside, but you could always explore the fun Greek Mythology theme park instead! And don’t forget to have a pomegranate juice and cheese & honey pie from Taverna Petros at the end of your trip too.
12. Try olive oil tasting in a Greek olive grove
This was probably my favourite experience during our trip to Crete, because it really felt truly unique! We visited the Kokolakis Family olive mill in the traditional village of Limnes for an olive tasting experience with experienced sommelier and chef, Michalis, from Cretan Ark.
We were blown away when we arrived at our own outdoor picnic in a beautiful Cretan olive grove, ready to try a selection of extra virgin olive oils and pair them with some local dishes prepared by Michalis himself.
A truly memorable experience and I can’t recommend it highly enough!
There really is so much to discover in Crete rather than just chilling at the beach! What will you add to your bucket list?