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Sitia: Guide to a Traditional Crete Beach Town

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A cute, relaxed port town located in the far eastern section of Crete, Sitia is a tremendous destination for those looking to get away from the summer tourist crowds. Even though it has a small domestic airport and a fairly busy ferry port, it doesn’t see anywhere near as many foreign tourists as places like Agios Nikolaos or Heraklion (although it is quite popular with Greek tourists). It is neat, clean and friendly, the kind of place where you truly feel like life doesn’t just revolve around tourism.

With a population of around 10,000, Sitia Greece is one of the most important cities in Lasithi Province, the name of which is actually derived from “La Sitia”. Although historical sites in the area date back as far as 3,000 BC, Sitia only became a major centre while occupied by the Venetians in the Middle Ages.

Sitia Crete harbour

A series of disasters left very little evidence of those heady days but there are still nice beaches, excellent hiking and dramatic scenery to enjoy. If nothing else, the drive out to Sitia is one of the most stunning on Crete.

Map of Sitia Crete

This map of Sitia Crete shows all the things to do and places to see in and around Sitia.

Click the star to save this map to your Google Maps – then find it under Saved/Maps (mobile) or Your Places/Maps (desktop)

Things to Do in Sitia, Crete

While Sitia itself lacks the bevy of historic attractions you might find in other main centres on Crete, its laid-back charm and beautiful harbour make the days slide by. This Sitia guide will help you pick out which Sitia attractions you want to check off.

Relax on the Sitia Beach

Located right at the southeastern end of the harbour and malecón, Sitia Beach is a nice stretch of mostly soft sand with all the usual amenities (sunbeds, umbrellas, showers, water sports, volleyball court, lifeguards in summer). The water is relatively shallow, although wind is pretty common, making it popular with windsurfers.

Sitia beach with city behind

The beach is long enough to rarely feel crowded and the further you walk from the harbour the quieter it gets. At the far end you can even find some trees for (free) shade and places to park campervans.

Umbrellas on Sitia beach

Kazarma Fortress

One of the only remnants of Sitia’s heyday as an illustrious 13th century Venetian port, Kazarma Fortress has been destroyed and rebuilt time and time again by a wide range of hosts from Venetian and Ottomans to pirates and even earthquakes (not the rebuilding part, though, obviously).

Walls of the Sitia fortress

These days, a variety of cultural events and concerts are held there to enjoy the great harbour views, including the big summer Kornaria Festival.

Walls of fortress with Sitia Crete below

The name Kazarma comes from “Casa di Arma” (House of Arms) and it is the only remaining section of the original town walls, which the Venetians mostly destroyed before they left to prevent the Ottomans enjoying their defensive benefits.

Stroll the Waterfront Promenade

The fantastic Sitia malecón runs the length of the harbour and is backed by the main centre of town. It is a pleasant place to stroll, lined with palm trees and excellent tavernas and cafés.

Sitia promenade lined in restaurants

The bustling harbour is filled with traditional fishing boats and the entire waterfront gives off a vibrant air, serving as the centre of daily Sitia life.

Take a Break at a Waterfront Taverna

Once you’ve meandered up and down the Sitia promenade, settle in for a drink or outstanding seafood meal at one of the welcoming waterfront tavernas. Most of these restaurants along the harbour are very good but we can specifically recommend Zorba’s, Tzivaeri and Inodion.

Harbour with boat coming in

Whether you are looking for a full meal or just a quick snack or leisurely drink, it is a great place to people watch.

Traditional Crete food in Sitia restaurant

In addition to the obvious seafood choices, Sitia is also known for a few other specialties, including the local raki, called “tsikoudia”. There are several local dishes worth checking out, including koulourakia (sourdough buns), omaties (pork chitterlings stuffed with rice, liver, sultanas and spices), xygalo (creamy cheese), xerotigana (spiral fritters with honey), loukoumades (doughnuts with honey), kalitsounakia (sweet cheese pastries) and Sitian sweet cakes.

Roman fish tanks

Located in the northwestern section of the harbour, these Roman fish tanks provide a little added scenery, and some nice photos ops on calm days and, of course, fish.

Fish swimming

Wander the Streets

The oldest area of town is located directly behind the malecón and this mazy, steep jumble of narrow streets leading up the hill is perfect for aimless wandering.

Sitia Crete streets

Although the streets resemble those in popular old towns throughout Greece, instead of tourist crowds these ones are filled mainly with local Sitians just going about their everyday life.

Sitia Crete streets

Make sure to check out the “piano stairs”, just up from the Roman fish tanks.

Painted stairs in Sitia Greece

Witness the Volta

If you happen to be staying in Sitia on a Sunday night, be sure to head down to the promenade to see the Volta, an informal parade of locals dressed in their best clothes out for night of drinks, meals and socializing.

Sitia Greece at night
Sitia at night

See the Folklore Museum

This small museum in the centre of the Sitia old town was opened in 1975 in a classic old home. Its collection of traditional costumes, embroidery, weaving, textiles, carvings and photos mostly date back to the late 19th and early 20th century.

Visit the Archeological Museum of Sitia

The Archaeological Museum of Sitia boasts a surprisingly varied collection of ancient artifacts from the region. There are displays and items from Greco-Roman times, the island of Mochlos dating back to the Bronze Age, a large Minoan collection from Zakros, a famous statue excavated in Paleokastro and fascinating pottery from the Geometric Period (900-700 BC).

Where to Stay: Best Sitia Hotels

Oceanides Luxury Apartments

If you are looking for luxury combined with beautiful gardens and a pool, look no further. Oceanides Luxury Apartments are a short drive out of Sitia but are still within convenient walking distance of the beach. The friendly owner will help you make the most of your time in Sitia and everyone who stays there loves it.

Click here for Oceanides Luxury Apartments prices

Sitia Beach City Resort and Spa

The Sitia Beach City Resort and Spa is well named as it is only a 2-minute walk to Sitia Beach. So, if you want to spend some quality time at the beach then this is the hotel for you.

Balconies on Sitia hotel
Sitia Beach hotel balconies

Its amenities include 3 pools, tennis court, gym and a spa with a sauna, hammam and hot tub. All the rooms have a private balcony and you can choose between sea, pool or garden views. Take the time to have a drink at the bar and enjoy the stunning views.

Click here for Sitia Beach Hotel prices

InCreteble Apartments

We stayed at the excellent and affordable InCretable Apartments since we were staying in Sitia for a full week and wanted to the option to make our own meals in the full kitchen. We enjoyed the comfort of having a living room and easy street parking. It is at the end of Sitia but is still just an easy walk to the harbour with all its restaurants and cafes.

Click here for InCreteble Apartments prices

Things to Do Near Sitia

As the centre of the Sitia UNESCO Global Geopark, this section of Crete boasts a wide variety of natural, historical and archaeological attractions. Along with the looming mountains and spectacular coastline, there are ancient fossils, classic monasteries, atmospheric caves and important Minoan ruins.

Check Out Toplou Monastery

Conveniently located just off the highway between Sitia and Vai Beach, this 14th century Ottoman monastery was heavily fortified to defend against pirates (and all manner of enemies which were annoyingly plentiful in those days). The name means “cannonball” in Turkish, but it is also known as the Monastery of Panagia Akrotiriani or the Great Monastery, and it is one of the most famous and important monasteries in Crete.

Touplou Monastery through an arch

Covering 800 square metres over 3 floors, there are 40 rooms and, supposedly, exactly 100 doors. Unfortunately, at this point only 99 have been discovered, a conundrum which has surely caused many sleepless nights among the more OCD monks.

The defensive walls are 10-metres high and the thick main door rolls on wheels and is protected from above by an attacking hole known affectionately as “the killer”. The 33-metre bell tower protected the monastery from unpleasant surprises and there is even a well inside the monastery which likely came in quite handy during the many sieges Toplou was subjected to over the years.

From a spiritual perspective, there is a basilica dedicated to John the Theologian and Virgin Mary, as well as numerous important 18th century icons and some well-maintained 14th century frescoes. The museum also hosts a large variety of other historic items, from bibles and crosses to flags and official seals.

Sit Under a Palm at Vai Beach

Relatively few tourists make it to all the way to Vai Beach, located at the extreme eastern end of Crete. However, it boasts a large, beautiful forest of palm trees, some great viewpoints in the hills surrounding the beach, several secluded coves and even some more Minoan ruins nearby.

Palm trees at Vai Beach one of the best beaches on crete

Beautiful Vai Beach first rose to prominence back in the 1970’s as a popular hippie beach following its starring role in a Bounty chocolate bar commercial, although a decade or so later regulations had been put in place to protect the largest palm grove in Europe.

Sunbeds on Vai beach crete

These days it is a great alternative to the bigger beaches of western Crete.

For more info, check out Vai Beach: Stunning Palm Forest and Ancient Ruins

Explore the Ancient Itanos Ruins

These ancient Phoenician ruins are found north of Vai Beach next to a cute little beach surrounded by three small bays. In its day, Itanos was an important commercial centre and one of the most modern and dominant cities of ancient Crete. Today, the remains of this ancient city offer a fascinating look into Greek history.

Itanos ruins near Vai Beach

Back then, Itanos even had its own coin and was famous for the purple Tyrian dye produced on Koufonisi Island, although the city was mostly destroyed by Saracen pirates in the 9th century. Today, very little is recognizable but you can still make out the remnants of many walls, some old temples and an early Christian church. Some of the ruins are now underwater, as well, making it a fun place to snorkel.

Go Windsurfing at Kouremenos Beach

Massive Kouremenos Beach is around 1.5-km-long and features fine sand and clear, shallow water backed by pretty tamarisk trees. It is hemmed in by Cape Tenta to the north and Cape Plaka to the south, boasts a couple of beach bars, sunbeds and umbrellas for rent and showers to wash off the day.

View of Kouremenos Beach from above

So, even though it is a very nice beach in its own right, most people come to Kouremenos for the wind surfing. A combination of thermal conditions and “Meltemi” winds keep it breezy all year-round, making Kouremenos one of the best places in Europe for wind and kite surfing.

There are several places to rent equipment or take lessons and a wide range of conditions to suit all skill levels. The sandy bottom and flat, shallow water near shore are perfect for beginners while farther out you can find small, sharp waves to work on more advanced techniques.

Experience History at Paleokastro

A bit farther south from Kouremenos, you’ll reach the traditional village of Paleokastro (literally “old castle”) and Chiona Beach, set among some lovely vineyards and olive groves. Near the beach you can find the ruins of the ancient Minoan settlement of Roussolakkos, which survived more intact than most sites because it spent centuries protected by a layer of sediment.

Even so, most of it is in pretty rough shape, although you can still make out several of the buildings, including the important Temple of Diktaian Zeus (dedicated to the Cretan version of this famous Greek god). And if you’re feeling energetic you can climb the big hill (20 min) to see the ruins of a fortress at the top.

Many believe Roussolakos was the location of the famous battle between Talos and the Argonauts and most of the artifacts discovered here can now be found in the Sitia Museum.

Mix History and Hiking at Kato Zakros

Farther south along the coast, Zakros Gorge offers a pleasant downhill stroll from Ano Zakros (Upper Zakros) through a highly photogenic gorge to Kato Zakros (Lower Zakros), finishing up next to some of the most important Minoan ruins in Crete.

Person hiking in gorge

It known as “The Gorge of the Dead” because the Minoans traditionally buried their dead high up in caves along the gorge. You can start the walk in the village of Ano Zakros or save about an hour by skipping the (slightly less scenic) first part and parking at the official trailhead about 4 kilometres to the east. The trail is well-marked, plus it is, you know, a gorge, so it’s pretty hard to get lost.

In Kato Zakros you will find the Minoan Palace of Zakros, one of the four famous Minoan palaces of Crete (and probably the least visited). In its day, it was one of the most important trading ports in the Mediterranean. Its fascinating treasures were only discovered in 1960, most of which are now safely housed in the museums of Sitia, Agios Nikolaos and Heraklion. Today you can enjoy a quiet stroll around the ruins, taking in the marvelous ocean views.

Ruins

There is also a nice beach and several great little tavernas where you can rest up, fill up and wash down the dust with a cold beer or two.

Beer with ocean behind

From there you can either walk back up the gorge, hire a taxi to take you back to your car or wait for one of the occasional buses that run between Kato and Ano Zakros. The schedule is usually posted on a board next to the beach.

Hike Down Richtis Gorge

Not too far west from Sitia, Richtis Gorge is one of the easiest hikes among the many lush, impressive gorges scattered around Crete. “Richtis” means “waterfall” so it is not surprising that the gorge is also one of the wettest, with the trail running through lush forest to a high waterfall and nice pond perfect for cooling off in summer.

Waterfall in Richtis Gorge near Sitia Crete

The trail runs all the way from the highway down to the quiet, pebble beach of Richtis where you will find old stone tables, a nice park and a potable water fountain.

Hiking down from the top will take about 1.5 hours, then maybe 2 hours to climb back up. Other options are to arrange a pickup so you can hike it only one-way, or hike from the bottom up only as far as the waterfall (45 min) then turn around.

Wander Mochlos Village

Heading west from Sitia back toward the centre of Crete, it is worth taking a short detour to see the adorable little village of Mochlos.

Pink flowers in Mochlos

With several welcoming waterfront tavernas, some jubilantly decorated buildings and the archaeologically important Mochlos Island photogenically sitting just across the bay, it is an ideal place to break up the drive.

Island in sea off Mochlos village

If you have extra time, take the small, narrow, winding (in other words, “Cretan”) road down to the Church of St. George where you will find a fabulous viewpoint. The road used to end near here but now continues on to arrive in Mochlos the back way.

Relax on Voulisma Beach

One of the most beautiful beaches on Crete, Voulisma Beach is magnificent, with perfect sand and clear turquoise water set in a fantastic, lush valley.

Voulisma Beach Crete with blue ocean

It can get busy in summer but it is well worth braving the crowds to find your ideal spot or, even better, visit in the shoulder season to enjoy the same great weather without all the people.

See our Guide to Voulisma Beach for more details.

How to Get to Sitia

By Plane

Sitia has the smallest of the three airports on Crete but only handles domestic flights. Still, this can be a fast way to get there from Athens. Also, in the high season (May-Oct) there are direct flights between Heraklion and the Sitia airport if you want to avoid the drive.

By Ferry

Ferry schedules vary throughout the year but are quite frequent in summer. Ferries from Piraeus (Athens) travel through the Cyclades and Dodecanese islands a couple times per week before reaching Sitia (15-20 hrs).

Ferry

The relatively common ferry from Rhodes to Agios Nikolaos also makes a stop in Sitia. Other islands that run ferries to Sitia in high season include Anafi, Diafani, Halki, Kasos, Karpathos, Milos and Santorini.

Schedules and fares vary considerably throughout the year. In summer, the most popular routes often sell out well in advance so it is a good idea to reserve your spots as soon as you have finalized your dates.

Click here to check ferry prices and availability

Everything is Sitia is within walking distance of the port.

By Car

Sitia is easily accessible by car as the main highway leads along the coast from Agios Nikolaos. This is a very scenic drive that passes dramatic gorges and cute villages, all while hugging the beautiful Cretan coastline.

Car on dirt road
We rented a car for our 5 weeks on Crete

Public transportation on Crete can be tedious so we highly recommend renting a car, especially if you want to explore the more remote eastern part of the island. Either way, it is nice to be able to set your own schedule. We have found that Discover Cars usually has the best deals in the area.

Driving Times to Sitia, Crete

Vai Beach to Sitia: 25 km / 30 min

Lerapetra to Sitia: 60 km / 1 hr

Agios Nikolaos to Sitia: 65 km / 1.25 hrs

Heraklion to Sitia: 125 km / 2 hrs

Rethymno to Sitia: 200 km / 3 hrs

Chania to Sita: 265 km / 3.75 hrs

By Bus

There are fairly regular KTEL buses that connect Sitia to Heraklion and Agios Nikolaos, as well as all the small villages and beaches in the area. It will take longer than driving but is an option if you don’t have a car.

Sitia Weather

Like most of Crete, Sitia enjoys a very mild climate year-round thanks to the surrounding Mediterranean Sea. Summers are warm with almost no rain as most precipitation comes in the winter months, although even then it 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 Sitia 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. The coast is generally warmer than the villages in the mountains, with temperatures varying by as much as 5-10 degrees depending on the season.

Person at a Sitia restaurant
Warm and sunny for most of our stay in November

Not surprisingly, summers get very busy, especially on the beaches. 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.

Sitia Festivals

The Sultana Festival is the most unique Sitia event. It takes place in August at the start of the grape harvest. Plus, there is also the Kornaria, a cultural festival that continues all summer with a series of plays, concerts and dances, many of which take place at the Kazarma Fortress.

Sitia History

Originally founded by the Minoans as Iteia, there is evidence of habitation around Sitia back as far as 3,000 BC. Some believe it was the home of Myson of Chen, one of the Seven Sages of Greece (although others claim he was actually from Laconia in the Peloponnese).

The harbour did well as a seaport throughout history but the actual city of Sitia was only built and fortified by the Venetians in the 13th century. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 1508, rebuilt, then destroyed by the Turkish pirate Barbarossa in 1538, rebuilt, and eventually destroyed by the Venetians themselves in 1651.

The Venetians had come to the conclusion that they weren’t going to be able to defend it and didn’t want to leave it for the Ottomans to use. After that it sat abandoned for around two centuries. Today the Kazarma Fortress is the only really interesting building left from that time.

In 1870 the city was rebuilt by the Turks and renamed Avniye (after Pasha Hussein Avni), although locals continued to call it Sitia and the original name became official again after Crete escaped the Ottoman empire. As a result of all this strife, much of Sitia only dates back to the early 20th century.

Sitia is also the birthplace of Vitsentzos Kornaros, born in 1553 and author of the epic Erotokritos – written in rhymed verse it is considered to be a Greek literature masterpiece.

Sitia Summary

Quiet, calm and pleasant, Sitia is the perfect destination for those looking for a change from the busy tourist beach resorts elsewhere on Crete. Whether you are exploring the many fascinating sites around the peninsula or simply soaking up the relaxed ambience of the Sitia promenade, it is the kind of place where you could easily end up staying longer than you originally planned.

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