10 Reasons to Visit Elounda Crete: Beaches, Views and Pop Culture

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Yep, we’re in Crete now. For about a week already, actually, and we’ve already seen a lot of cool stuff. The Greek Islands as a whole are pretty fantastic, and Crete is the biggest of the lot, meaning even more top beaches, great hiking trails and awesome tavernas.

There have been quite a few highlights already but probably our favourite spot so far has been the relatively famous east coast beach town of Elounda, Crete (often referred to as Schisma by locals, for reasons that remain unclear, to me anyway). Elounda village is also the main jumping off point for visits to the former leper colony of Spinalonga Island, made famous by the Victoria Hislop bestseller “The Island”, which has since been made into a Greek TV series (the standard by which all books are judged these days).

Elounda Bay is known for its luxurious resorts frequented by the rich and famous (unfortunately we just missed that cut) but there is plenty to see and do for the average joe as well. Nice beaches, fabulous views, hiking, history and, obviously, a long list of popular seafood restaurants. Also, somehow, the cheapest sun bed / umbrella rentals we’ve seen in Crete so far (I suppose the rich people have their own infinity pools and such).

Spinalonga Island from Plaka Harbour
Spinalonga Island from Plaka Harbour

Of course, before all that we spent a few days in a surprisingly posh resort (by our standards) in the hills (by any standards) near Hersonissos (50% chance I misspelled it, 100% chance I mispronounce it every time). 4 nights at the Village Heights Resort – lounges, loungers, golf, mini-golf, pool, mini-pool, buffets, all-you-can-eat buffets, views, even better views, etc.

Of course, we didn’t partake of all these amenities (I already find golf frustrating enough without trying to do it with strange clubs, a brand new glove and weird foreign tees) and we definitely didn’t attend Italian Night (which seemed to be mainly an excuse for the band to play Queen hits put to classical music).

The main draw – besides absolute comfort, of course – was catching up with the AikDrews, friends from Canada by way of Denmark (their home for the past couple years). Looking for a fall school holiday with some sun and scenery (oh, don’t take it personally, Denmark, even you have to admit you can be a bit gloomy and flat, although your bike paths are top-notch and overall we loved Copenhagen), we managed to coordinate our return to the Greek Islands to overlap with them for a few days.

Group eating in a taverna in Hersonissos Crete

Drinking beer and raki with Jeff, discussing movie/TV ideas with Katie (ideas for her projects, not mine – my long, parenthesis-laden sentences don’t work as well for scripts as they do for blogging or creepy One Man Shows), being awed and amazed by “Max’s incredible endless appetite” and challenged to epic nightly tests of nerves and will at mini-golf by James (although somehow Jeff was the runaway winner each time, making me question both the relevance of the test and my own golfing abilities).

Two men drinking raki

A good time was had by all (seemingly) and we were sad to see them go – easily our saddest goodbye since the time 5 days earlier when we dropped Looney at the Cadiz bus station (a very touching, double-parked moment). Now left to our own devices, we can only assume we will socialize less, procrastinate more and, presumably, play very little mini-golf.

Family playing minigolf at Village Heights Resort in Crete

All right, back to Elounda. What is so great about it, what you should see when you’re there and how to go about getting there.

Elounda Greece: The Facts

Considered one of Crete’s more upmarket resort towns because of its luxury hotels and all the famous visitors it has seen over the years, Elounda is located on the Gulf of Mirabello in the northeastern section of Crete. And within the Gulf of Mirabello, it is more specifically found on Korfos Bay, the calm, clear bay sitting between Elounda Beach, Spinalonga Island and Spinalonga Peninsula (sometimes referred to as Kolykitha Peninsula).

Spinalonga fortress
Spinalonga fort

However, in general, the Russian billionaires, Hollywood actors and Greek politicians that frequent Elounda keep to their extravagant hotels in the hills, although there is always a chance you might spot a famous face wandering around the charming old town area.

We did not, unfortunately, although I really only could have recognized the actors since I don’t know any Greek politicians (Socrates is dead, right?) and although I kept a close watch for silk shirts unbuttoned a little too far, displaying a generous mat of chest hair topped by collection of heavy gold chains, no luck on the Russian oligarch thing either.

Meanwhile, Elounda is built on the site of the ancient city of Olous, which sets you up with another weird, useless fact that will almost never come in handy in your life. You’re welcome. Now, for the good stuff:

Map of Elounda Bay

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10 Reasons to Visit Elounda Crete

Elounda Harbour

Scenic and sheltered, this calm, beautiful harbour is wonderfully photogenic from any angle you choose. From the hills in the north that look down on Plaka, Elounda and Spinalonga, the vibrant angles from behind the docks and fishing boats or from across the bridge on the peninsula.

Stone windmill on Elounda Beach Crete

Elounda Beach

Also known as Paralia Schisma, Elounda Beach is Blue Flag rated (for quality and environmental practices), right in the centre of town, has great views of the bay and Spinalonga Island and, wait for it, real sand!

That may not sound so exciting for, you know, a beach, but let me assure you, Crete has many, many rocky “beaches” without a grain of sand anywhere in sight. You can rent loungers and umbrellas for $5/day for the set, one of the cheaper rates we’ve seen so far.

Paralia Schisma (Elounda Beach)

Akti Virtomartis

The street along the waterfront is lined with shops and restaurants and has a nice walking path running alongside. There is a great selection of friendly, scenic restaurants, most of which focus on seafood, although most offer a surprisingly large and varied menu.

Restaurant in Elounda Crete

Elounda Square

Located right on the water behind the Vritomartes restaurant, it is a pleasant green space that is also functional, featuring the main bus stop, several taxi spots and even a weird statue of a bird. It’s got it all.

Plaz Chiona

This tiny, quiet beach where Elounda connects to the Spinalonga Peninsula is the perfect place to get away from the crowds in summer or on busy weekends. It also has great views back to the town and Elounda Beach.

There is a stone windmill just before the narrow rock bridge, two more next to a parking area, some salt pans, the Christian Basilica Poros Elounda and the Church of Ascension (plus the popular Kanali restaurant). So, yeah, it’s definitely worth the 10-minute walk (or 2-minute drive) to check things out.

Stone windmill at Plaz Chiona in Elounda Crete

The Sunken City of Olous

Oh, did I not mention that not only is Elounda built on the remains of ancient Olous, but that some of Olous is still hanging around under the water right next door? Awkward, yes, but only for them. For us, it is pretty fascinating.

Located in the little lagoon just across the road from Plaz Chiona (wow, this area just keeps getting better).

Unfortunately, you can’t see much from above (maybe some shadows in the right light) but if you have the time (and you should, if you’re in Elounda), the gear (you can rent it in town) and the will power to get into the somewhat cold water (which would make you tougher than me, admittedly not a high bar) you can snorkel around the ruins.

Lagoon near Elounda Crete

The Little Blue Train

If you love trains, hop-on/hop-off buses and looking somewhat foolish to passing strangers, well, we’ve got just the thing for you! The Little Blue Train, as it is known for very literal reasons, can take you on an informative and scenic 4-hour trip that includes the coast along Elounda, Plaka and inland to the hill villages of Vrouchas and Seles.

Even if you’re not willing to commit 4 hours to something that seems like it might have been a key component in a 1980’s Greek children’s TV show, you can opt for the shorter 70-minute tour (a weirdly specific amount of time) that sticks to just Elounda and Plaka.

Plaka, Crete

So, what is this Plaka I keep going on about? It’s the small village just north of Elounda (in reality, they are practically connected at this point). It is cute, quiet (in relative terms) and is the most convenient place to board boats to Spinalonga Island.

It has a nice beach, the standard string of great seafood restaurants featuring wonderful bay views and walls covered in cartoon fish, plus a surprisingly new and impressive church. It is also worth walking out to the end of the pier for great photos back toward town.

We would also recommend either arriving or departing on the small road behind Plaka that winds through the steep hills, passing through several fascinating little villages with a lot of superb views in between.

Plaka Beach

Spinalonga Island

So, as I mentioned earlier, Spinalonga Island is directly across the bay from Plaka and Elounda. It was used as a leper colony until 1957, was abandoned for decades and has now burst back into prominence thanks to “The Island”, both the book and the TV show. Apparently, many locals got parts as extras in the show, which has changed the main occupation in the area from “seasonal restaurant server” to “actor supporting themselves through seasonal restaurant serving”.

Spinalonga Island

Besides all that, Spinalonga Island is a really cool place to visit. Crossing the bay in a small shuttle boat, the high walls and remaining ramparts provide a dramatic arrival and once you pay your entrance fee you are free to roam the small island to your heart’s content. You can (and should) check out the colourful marketplace of former shops, read up on a lot of the fascinating leprosy-themed history and check out the former lodgings of the lepers themselves (don’t forget your hand sanitizer).

Then you can climb to the top of the island, walk the ramparts, enjoy panoramic views of Korfos Bay and explore a whole series of interesting ruins. Altogether you will probably need at least an hour to see most of the island, up to 2 if you are a lingerer (or not good with hills in mid-day heat).

Woman walking through Spinalonga marketplace

The boats leave from 2 different docks in Plaka and the scenic 10-minute trip costs €10 for a return ticket. Boats also leave from Elounda Beach – it costs slightly more and takes a bit longer but you get a more extensive tour of the bay. Then there is an €8 entrance fee on the island itself, but this incudes access to a W.C. so it probably evens out.

Spinalonga Peninsula

Often called Kolokitha Peninsula (mistakenly, I believe), it is a great place to mix up your stay. If yoiu want to break up your days of lying on Elounda Beach and gorging on seafood in bayfront restaurants, head over to Spinalonga Peninsula (also often referred to as the Elounda Peninsula by tourists) for more great scenery, good hiking and some secluded beaches. You can either drive (10 minutes on a very rough, narrow road to the informal parking area at the top) or walk (roughly 4 km from Elounda Beach to Kolokitha Beach).Tiny Dianiskari Beach is even closer, just at the very start of the peninsula, and can be a good choice if you want some solitude among the rocks (or have a shy bladder that needs complete silence to release in the water). There is no sand, though, so artistic castles are definitely out.

View from Spinalonga Peninsula

Next to the parking area at the top of the hill you’ll find the adorable little Church of Agios Loukas. You are allowed to go inside (under the suspiciously squinting eyes of a surly caretaker), but no photos, and definitely no small talk. The views out to the sea are amazing, as well.

The “road” actually continues for the last 500 metres down to Kolokitha Beach, although it really only qualifies as such if you are driving an ATV, serious dirt bike or an obstinate but loyal burro. Needless to say, most people just walk. At the beach you’ll find some sand and water and, hopefully, sun.

If Kolokitha Beach is too busy you can continue down the coast a few minutes to even smaller and quieter Vayu Beach. Other options are to hike up the east side of the peninsula to a small old church or drive up the west side until the road ends, then hike the faint trail to the north end of the peninsula for fantastic views of Spinalonga Island.

Kolokitha Beach

Where to Stay: Elounda Hotels

You are spoiled for choice of great hotels in Elounda Crete. Check out this list with the best options in every price range.

Elounda Casa Elia has deluxe apartments at budget prices with fantastic facilities and modern accommodation very close to the centre of town.

Megaro is another affordable option with sea view apartments just steps from the beach.

If you’re looking to something a bit quieter, Island Sea View Apartments are a terrific choice in Plaka. The balconies look directly onto the bay and Spinalonga Island.

Meanwhile, the Domes of Elounda provides exactly that extravagant luxury we’ve been talking about around Elounda. If you’re looking for the ultimate pleasure holiday, look no further than this 5-star hotel with amazing views of Spinalonga Island, 4 restaurants and a seawater pool, all at a far more reasonable price than we were imagining.

Another fantastic 5-star option that won’t break the bank is the Elounda Beach Hotel & Villas. All the usual amenities, luxurious comforts and fabulous views, plus 5 tennis courts! Alas, only one basketball and one volleyball court.

Finally, if you aren’t interested in great values like that one and simply want the very best – at any price – look no further than Villa Panorama. This gorgeous 5-bedroom villa has a private pool, amazing balcony… well, let’s just say it has everything. Including an €8,500/night price tag. And that’s if you get a 10% “genius discount” through Booking like we do. So, technically, we could save 5 times as much money as we’ve ever actually spent on a hotel. Which almost seems too good to pass up – that’s how math works, right?

Or browse a complete list of hotels in Elounda

Taverna on Skorfos Bay

Where to Eat: Elounda Restaurants

For all its glitz, glamour and touristy appeal, Elounda is still a working fishing village, something that is very obvious when you start checking out all the superb seafood restaurants along the bay. However, if seafood isn’t your thing (or you’ve finally hit your limit touring coastal Crete), there is a wide variety of international options as well.

Taverna Spinalonga in Plaka has, you guessed it, clear views of Spinalonga Island to go with a large, varied menu, friendly service and delicious meals.

Fish Tavern Spinalonga sign

Thalassa is another outstanding choice in Plaka with the obligatory waterfront location and extraordinary seafood.

Ostria Taverna is a third good Plaka choice with tremendous food to go with amazing views.

Moving on to Elounda, Vritomartes features a perfect location jutting directly out into the harbour, offering waterfront views from three sides, very close to Elounda Beach.

Ergospasio is another lovely waterfront option well-known for its lamb. Yep, that’s right, something other than seafood.

Finally, there is Kanali, located right across the bridge at the start of the Spinalonga Peninsula, a perfect spot on your way to or from Kolokitha Beach.

Plaka taverna

How to Get to Elounda Greece

Located in the northeastern part of Crete in the Lasithi district, Elounda village is roughly 20 minutes by car north of the major town in the area, Agios Nikolaos (St. Nicholas). There are spectacular views of Korfos Bay and Spinalonga Island as you come over the last hill.

And even if you don’t have a car, buses between Elounda and Agios Nikolaos are frequent (9-10/day), cheap (€2) and only take 20-30 minutes.

To get from Heraklion (where most flights arrive and depart), you’re looking at a comfortable hour’s drive along the E75 to Agio Nikolaos, then up into Elounda. There are also buses that run roughly hourly between Heraklion and Agios Nikolaos for approximately €10 (1.5-2 hours), where you can then change to an Agios Nikalaos-Elounda bus.

If you have a car (and most visitors to Crete end up renting one at some point), we would recommend either arriving or leaving via the small rural road west out of Plaka. It passes through some phenomenal scenery and a bunch of wonderful little villages before joining the E75 at Neapolis.

Skorfos Bay

Elounda Crete: Weather and When to Go

Like most of Crete, Elounda enjoys a very mild climate year-round thanks to the surrounding Mediterranean Sea. Summers are warm and there is almost no rain. Most precipitation comes in the winter months, although that is still pretty minimal compared with many coastal cities.

Crete is one of the most southerly islands in Europe and compared to most of the continent the weather remains bearable all year, with the daily average temperature in Elounda Bay only dropping as far as 9 / 16 (low/high) in January. Which is why Crete is one of the best places to visit in Europe in winter.

Not surprisingly, summers get very busy, especially in beach towns like Elounda. For warm weather, minimal rain and fewer people taking up the sun beds, we would recommend visiting in the shoulder seasons. June and September are practically perfect, with May and October appealing more to those who prioritize peace and quiet over hot beach weather.

Ramparts on Spinalonga Island

Things to See Near Elounda Bay

Lasithi Plateau

On your way to or from Elounda, Greece it is worth setting aside a few hours to take a circuit of the Lasithi Plateau. This photogenic little bowl set high up in the mountains has some great viewpoints, several atmospherically quiet villages, a few historic sites of interest and even some fun spots for families.

Psychro Cave, also known as the Cave of Zeus, is normally the big attraction, although it was closed when we visited because of recent earthquakes in the area. If you’re feeling energetic, there are still some excellent views from the top of the 20-minute climb.

Lasithi Plateau

The stone windmills of Lasithi are a classic Cretan sight, right up there with Greek salads and cars passing into oncoming traffic. There are a few varieties scattered around the plateau but the best ones are at Ambelou Pass coming in from the north.

Finally, mix in some old monasteries, classic churches and some campy family fun at the Homo Sapien museum and Greek Mythology theme park and you have the makings for a pretty enjoyable afternoon.

Elounda Village Summary

After hearing so much about how Elounda is a really expensive, exclusive destination, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that the reality is actually much different. Most of the luxury stuff is hidden away from the prying eyes of us commoners, leaving the wonderful beach, various historic attractions and fascinating Spinalonga Island to be enjoyed at our leisure. Korfos Bay is gorgeous and the area where Elounda connects to Spinalonga Peninsula is full of cool stuff. Throw in a wide range of affordable, tasty restaurants and Elounda should definitely be on your Crete bucket list.

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