Family Adventures in Crete


Post written by Laura

Throwback Thursday

Having been busy and fortunate to resume active travel and as a result produce more recent content, I didn’t publish any ‘back in the day’ posts in 2022!

I’ve been to Crete twice however the second time was accidental so I’ll begin with the highlights of a holiday spent on the north coast of the island.

August 2005

Inspired by the shimmering sea, the sandy beaches and the little taverna shown in the film Shirley Valentine (which happened to be filmed in Mykonos), I had booked a spur of the moment holiday to Crete! I’ve never needed much encouragement and having watched the film on a Sunday evening by the following day the trip was booked and we went to the Greek island of Crete a few weeks later!

Zoe in Stalis

Back then in 2005 my son James was 12 and my daughter Zoe was 10 and we jetted off to Heraklion airport from where we boarded the transfer bus as included as part of our package holiday. We stayed in an apartment in a little beach side town called Stalis.

James at busy family friendly Stalis beach


The apartment was a 5 minute walk to the heart of the town with its laid back tavernas, cafes, restaurants and little shops. The beach at Stalis was gorgeous and with its golden sand and shallow sparkling sea it was perfect for families. And there was a lot of them… a busy beach.



Lively Hersonissos is a short 10 minute taxi ride away from Stalis with even more tavernas, bars and restaurants. In fact, Hersonissos is the biggest tourist resort in Crete.

Hersonissos Harbour

We walked along past the many bars lining the harbour side and came to the corner of the harbour. We crossed to the other side and found a lovely beach with a few more sea front bars where we stopped for a refreshing drink.


As we continued the beaches became less crowded and with the temperatures being so hot it wasn’t long before James and Zoe were cooling off in the sea!

Old Harbour at Heraklion
The Church of St Titus, Heraklion


Further west is Heraklion, the port and the capital of Crete.

Zoe in Heraklion
Heraklion Museum

We had a look in the Heraklion museum which was full of artifacts from Knossos, a nearby archaeological site and is one of the oldest and most well known museums of Greece.

We then headed for Lion’s Square, the heart of Heraklion. We walked towards the harbour and had a look round the Venetian Fortress, standing guard over the town.  

In search of lunch we made our way back to Lions Square for a mini feast in one of the pavement cafes. By the time we had finished lunch it was nearly 4 pm. We soon found a taxi and went back to the apartment. 

Knossos Minoan Palace


The ancient city of Knossos is located just to the south of Heraklion and is worth a visit. Knossos was impressive and was the first civilisation of Europe and the home of the Minatour – half man, half ox which used to eat people! 

The Minoan Palace (above) was excavated 100 years ago, the Minoans being an early Greek civilization which were the first advanced civilizations in Europe.



One of the most interesting places we visited was the island of Spinalonga, the 16th century Venetian fortress and last leper coloney of Europe. There is no accommodation on Spinalonga so people visit by boat as part of a day trip.


As a former leper colony as you can imagine, Spinalonga has a tragic history. Between 1903 and 1957 up to 400 inhabitants occupied the island and more information can be found at the website. As mentioned in this website Victoria Hislop published a book called ‘The Island’ which tells the story of Spinalonga, a book I’ve read since my visit.


As part of an excursion we had boarded the boat to Spinalonga from Elounda and it took about 20 minutes to get there.  



Elounda is located further east from Stalis and we travelled through a spectacular gorge to get there. As we arrived we were greeted with lovely views of this pretty Greek town.

James and Zoe

Continuing with the excursion…

From Spinalonga rather than returning to Elounda, the boat took us round the coast to a gorgeous little bay where we stayed for a couple of hours. We had the opportunity to jump off the boat, swim in the warm sea and visit a small nearby beach. As part of the touristy excursion experience we had a tasty barbeque on the boat – large pork chops, Greek salad and bread with a cup of wine. 

Agios Nikolaos
Agios Nikolaos

Agios Nikolaos

Our final destination was Agios Nikolaos with its picturesque harbour and lake. This is the perfect town to relax and people watch in a café with an ice-cream or a drink as you overlook the lake or harbour.

Watercity Water Park, Heraklion
Watercity Water Park
Watercity Water Park

Watercity Water Park

This was probably James and Zoe’s favourite day of the holiday! Located between Heraklion and Hersonissos this was a taxi ride away from our apartment in Stalis.



I’ve left Malia until last as this was something of a hideous cringe-worthy kind of place. I wasn’t even going to mention it but this is a blog which records my truthful views about the places I’ve visited. Maybe saying ‘hideous’ is a bit harsh and maybe it’s because when I visited I was in my 30’s with my children. Our rep had warned us not to be in Malia after 9 pm however it was nearby and we were curious and took the ‘Happy Train’ a little tourist train there.

Even in the early evening it was full of teenagers and young twenty-somethings bombing around on quad bikes and mopeds, screeching and yelling… loud music blaring out from all corners… Actually, just watch ‘The Inbetweeners’ 2011 movie which was filmed in Malia, 6 years after our visit and that will tell you everything!

Rather than waiting for the Happy Train to take us back to our apartment, we made a quick exit in a taxi!



As we were self catering, we had breakfast in our apartment each day. However there are several breakfast options and for the last morning we found a beach bar selling full English breakfast for only 3 euros. This was a lovely pleasant place right in front of the sandy beach and with a gentle breeze keeping us cool.

Devouring Greek food in a gorgeous little taverna is one of the highlights of any Greek holiday and this week was no exception. We had some fabulous Greek meze’s and for one meal the starter alone consisted of: tazaki, taramasalata, tuna, cooked peppers, stuffed vine leaves, feta and delicious fresh salad. Often the main meal just consisted of meat which included chicken, pork, lamb, stews, kebabs etc and without any potato, rice or pasta.

One evening we were ordering our meal when the street was plunged into darkness as the electricity had gone off! The poor restaurant staff rushed around explaining in broken English that they still had a limited menu they could offer us! But thankfully all was OK when the electricity resumed after about 20 minutes.

James in the apartment pool


As mentioned we stayed in a small apartment, up a slight hill and not far from the centre of Stalis. The location was ideal, the apartment was clean and spacious and had a pool.

Knossos Minoan Palace in 2016

June 2016

Fast forward by 11 years…

During our year-long sabbatical and global travels of 2016 Chris and I treated our now adult kids (James and Zoe and also Chris’s daughters Annabelle and Charlotte and Charlottes boyfriend Tom) and the 7 of us enjoyed a fabulous week in Santorini. On the last day as we tucked into a final lunch sitting in a shady courtyard I received one single text message from our airline. “Your flight has been cancelled”. That was it. The flight that was due to depart in a few hours time.

Rather than taking a leisurely stroll back to our hotel to collect our bags and head off to the airport we had a mad scramble to try and sort out what the heck we were supposed to do and how we were going to get home!

Long story short… the airline told us the flight was cancelled, there was nothing we could do and we would have to wait for the next available flight the following Wednesday. This wasn’t feasible as 5 of our party of 7 had work on Monday morning and had others various commitments and had to get home.

The result after some hasty online searching was that James and Zoe ended up on flights to Manchester (but James’s car was parked at Heathrow) and while Chris, Annabelle, Charlotte, Tom and me found return flights to Gatwick, this involved a flight from Santorini to Athens then from Athens to Crete and finally from Crete to Gatwick…

But we did have a full day in Crete… upon arrival in the early hours of about 8 am we were all pretty exhausted having just spent the entire night hanging around in Athens airport but in the interests of showcasing some of the fascinating ancient Cretan history we did manage to squeeze in another visit to Knossos. (Or rather this was me… they were probably quite happy sitting in a shady cafe until I dragged them off to Knossos…).


With so much to offer in terms of warm shallow sea, golden sandy beaches, an abundance of culture, gorgeous Greek food and warm hospitality, Crete is a wonderful destination for a family holiday. And at some point I would love to return to Crete to hike the Samaria Gorge in the west of the island.

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