The largest of the Greek islands, Crete is also one of the country’s most popular holiday destinations: and for good reason. Its crystal clear waters, sleepy azure and white villages and vibrant nightlife make this one of the world’s most beautiful places, with plenty to do and see. The eastern end of the island is home to the Lasithi region, which includes my three favourite towns: Elounda, Plaka, and its capital Agios Nikolaos. Having visited with my friends every summer since 2013, I have come to know and love this part of Greece. Here are my top choices for the best ways to spend your time on the island.
Elounda Bay, with its colourful fishing boats, sparkling sea and numerous cafes and restaurants, is the perfect conglomeration of both local village life and tourist attractions.
For those who love to spend a day relaxing in the sun, Elounda has two main beaches.The municipal beach is found in the town centre, and offers both a variety of water-sports (for the thrill-seekers) and comfortable sunbeds (for the book-readers). The water here is a beautiful blue, and the expanse of soft white sand makes it a perfect place to spend your day. Kolokitha beach, which is found about a 40-minute walk over the hills, is an untouched natural beach nestled into a small bay. Whilst this beach doesn’t have the same amenities as the more central one, Kolokitha makes up for this in its breathtaking views and unspoilt scenery.
During the day, my favourite place in Elounda to grab a cocktail is the Del Mar Snack Bar (pictured above). With seating right over the water, this cafe is situated in what is possibly the most beautiful setting in the town centre, with a panoramic view across the bay and the hills (which turn a stunning pink colour when the sun sets).
Shamelessly, one of my all-time favourite things about coming to Crete are the gyros pitta sandwiches which can be found in cafes and restaurants all across Elounda. Dimitri’s Restaurant, located on the town’s main street, serves these pittas to perfection, and is also a good spot for people-watching at lunchtime.
If you are a fan (as I am) of Greek mezze, Elounda certainly has no shortage of restaurants and tavernas to enjoy traditional dishes such as souvlaki, dolmades and soutzoukakia. Anemomylos is situated just behind the beach, and has a large outdoor terrace. For something a bit more unique, The Hope is found in the hills behind the main village, and although takes roughly 20 minutes to walk there (uphill), the views from the terraced seating area are more than worth it. Alternatively, Porto Rino is a delicious pizzeria on the bay, which serves a huge variety of mouth-watering pizza and pasta dishes.
Elounda’s nightlife through the summer months is generally buzzy. The main road consists mainly of bars and clubs, whose staff are always friendly and fun. If you are there for long enough, you really get to know everyone who visits these bars, creating a sociable and familiar atmosphere. For good music and even better cocktails, visit Allegro bar – and try one of their Espresso Martinis. For dancing, Alyggos is a popular hit among the locals, and plays upbeat chart tracks until the early hours of the morning.
In my opinion, Plaka is one of the most dazzling towns along this coastline, and lives up to the Greek architectural stereotype, with picturesque white and blue houses lining the streets. I love to browse the many art and craft shops that can be found in the town centre, selling handmade jewellery, clothing and ornaments.
Perhaps one of Crete’s more well-known attractions is the island of Spinalonga, home to the ruins of an old leper colony and now one of the most interesting historical sites on offer. Boat trips run frequently from Plaka to Spinalonga, with guided tours available in many languages.
However, most of my days in Plaka are spent at the beach, which is uniquely beautiful due to its large, white pebbles that make up the shore. The view across the bay, of Spinalonga, has become iconic, and the water (as always) is crystal clear. I would recommend paying the 3 EUR for a sunbed, as it can sometimes be quite difficult to lie comfortably on the stones.
Home to a variety of beach bars and clubs, Agios Nikolaos is known to be the local party town. During the day, if you are not wandering around the city centre and sipping iced coffee in one of the many cafes, you can be found at the Ammoudi Beach Club or the Almiros River Club (which is about 10 minutes out of the centre by taxi).
Ammoudi Beach Club is perhaps the more luxurious, with its dreamy four-poster sunbeds and its fancy cocktail bar. The white sands lead into yet more brilliant blue sea, making it a prime spot for swimming and water-sports. With gentle house and electronic music blasting through the speakers throughout the day, the youthful atmosphere at this beach often carries on well into the evenings, in which the bar doubles as a music venue and club.
More niche is the Almiros River Club, which is spread across a much larger beach and up into a raised bar and pool area. So named because of its ice river, which makes for an extremely effective way to cool down in the Cretan heat, this bar has a slightly more relaxed vibe, and is a popular destination for both young people and families.
When the sun sets, the city really comes to life, as young people from all across Lasithi come to dance, drink and socialise. My all-time favourite club on the island (and possibly also on the planet) is Alexandros Rooftop Bar, whose stunning setting means it looks out onto the bay. Not only is the cocktail menu vast, innovative and well-priced, but they also serve the drinks with sparklers, garnishes, and in fun novelty glasses. I defy you to have more fun than on the bar’s spacious dancefloor, which plays a mixture of chart music and 80s/90s classics which will have you singing along until 5am.