Hersonissos: Between Traces Of The Past And Modern Adventure / Travel Guide

Between Traces Of The Past And Modern Adventure

 Hersonissos is a lively port city located 25 kilometers east of Heraklion and 40 kilometers northwest of Agios Nikolaos. Its name comes from the Greek word "xερσόνησος," which means "peninsula," referring to Cape Sarandari, a rocky strip that extends 200 meters into the sea and closes the western side of Malia Bay.

 An ancient historical town turned resort, Hersonissos is today the most popular tourist area in the east of the island. It boasts a tourist port, a long esplanade with a breathtaking view of the sea, and becomes a real scene for nightlife and a lively commercial road until late in the peak months.

 Hersonissos is renowned for its relaxed atmosphere, rich cultural heritage, delectable local cuisine, and a wide range of outdoor activities. Although it may not be the topmost recommended beach destination due to its rocky shores, there are still some good beaches located nearby. Additionally, its convenient geographical location serves as an excellent starting point for exploring other parts of the island.

 If you are already thinking about your next holiday destination, you will find everything you need to know about Hersonissos in our mini-guide.
  • Hersonissos At A Glance
  • History
  • Beaches
  • Accommodation
  • Food
  • Activities and Sightseeing
  • How To Get To Hersonissos
  • Other Useful Information

Welcome to Hersonissos!

  • Hersonissos, At A Glance
 Hersonissos is a popular vacation destination in Crete with a rich cultural, historical, and commercial significance. Evidence suggests that the city has been continuously inhabited since the Minoan period, experiencing a period of prosperity during the Roman occupation and the early Byzantine centuries.

 The resort area, officially known as Limenas Chersónissou – Hersonissos Port, retains the name of the ancient port city that once occupied the site of the current port. Two kilometers upstream lies the heart of the traditional village, Ano Chersónissos (Upper Hersonissos or Old Hersonissos), which has itself become a tourist attraction, along with the neighboring Piskopiano and Koutouloufari villages, all offering a stunning panoramic view of Malia Bay. 

To the east of Hersonissos lies Stalis (also known as Stalida), a tropical paradise with long sandy beaches and a plethora of restaurants and bars. To the west is Anissaras, considered a quieter yet more luxurious and exclusive suburb. A few kilometers further, Gournes is home to two popular attractions: the CretAquarium, the largest aquarium in Greece, and the Dinosauria, a theme park where children can learn about dinosaurs and explore prehistoric life.

 Hersonissos harbor area exudes vibrant energy during the day, with numerous boats offering themed sea excursions and drawing crowds of tourists at sunset. The 2-kilometer pedestrian promenade that begins at the harbor is a delightful place for leisurely strolls, exploring traditional Greek cuisine accompanied by music from the terraces, or reveling in the lively nightlife at the best bars and clubs on this side of the island.

 Running parallel to the seafront, the main street is a bustling thoroughfare between Heraklion and Malia, serving as a thriving commercial hub. The extensive array of hotels, shops, restaurants, and cafes infuses vitality and vibrancy into the city, especially after nightfall.

 One of the primary attractions for most tourists is the awe-inspiring coastline, featuring captivating views and beaches to suit every preference, along with clear, wave-free waters—a rarity on the northern coast due to the regular Meltemi winds from the European mainland. Ideal for swimming, diving, and water sports, the smaller beaches around the town cannot be artificially extended or reshaped due to conservation efforts aimed at protecting the habitat of endangered species such as the Caretta Caretta turtle.

 For visitors seeking expansive shores with fine sand, rock-free surfaces, and gentle entry into the sea, the beaches of Stalida or others mentioned in the dedicated section are good alternatives. It's worth noting that there are no private beaches in Crete - all beaches, including those in front of hotels, clubs, and beach bars, are public domain, with a demarcation strip devoid of sunbeds, allowing visitors to lay directly on their towels.

  • Local History
 Hersonissos has a rich history that dates back to ancient times. The town was known as Cherronesos or Chersonesos during the Minoan period, in the Bronze Age. Excavations have revealed ceramics and habitation markings in Hersonissos and the surrounding areas, providing evidence of ancient settlements. The town flourished during various historical periods, leaving behind remnants of its past.

 During the Roman era, Hersonissos had a famous aqueduct and a Roman theater, showcasing the influence of Roman architecture and culture. Located on the waterfront road, the Sarakino Fountain, dating back to the 2nd century, has an impressive mosaic decoration depicting fishing scenes. The ruins of Early Christian basilicas from the 6th century and a Hellenistic cemetery can also be found in the area, offering visitors a glimpse into the town's ancient past.

 The Venetians occupied Hersonissos from the 13th century until the 17th century. They referred to the peak of Hersonissos as "Bene Veto," meaning "nice view" due to its stunning panoramic region vistas. The Venetian presence has left a lasting imprint on the architecture and culture of Hersonissos. Even today, remnants of buildings from that time can be seen in the area.

 During the Turkish occupation, the port was used to supply the Cretan rebels and later export local products. 

 Hersonisos saw tourism growth after the 1950s, prompting the excavations that uncovered mosaics, building remnants, and pottery. While scattered findings can still be admired in the area, the organized archaeological sites are found in neighboring Malia and Heraklion.

  • Beaches
 The beaches in Hersonissos stretch along the western side of Malia Bay, from Cape Sarandaris to Cape Drapanos, with the town's impressive port as the focal point. From well-maintained, luxurious beaches managed by hotels or the municipality to secluded coves with clear waters and golden sands, Hersonissos' coastline offers an ideal setting for sun-seeking vacationers.

 Protected by Cape Sarandaris, the tranquil yet often crowded coves west of the port are easily accessible from the city via the coastal road. The most renowned are Sarandaris, Limanakia, and Creta Maris. A few kilometers west of Cape Sarandaris, the Anissaras area has well-maintained, organized, and clean beaches near large hotels, which are artificially built and appealing to water sports enthusiasts.

 To the east of Hersonissos port, the most popular sandy beaches attract crowds of tourists, along with several small coves adjacent to hotels, often submerged by the sea on windy days. The beach of the massive Star Beach resort is considered one of the most crowded in Crete, offering many facilities and entertainment spaces. 

Further on, the beaches scattered up to Cape Drapanos are much more picturesque, covered with sand or small pebbles, and in some places with clear and cooler water, due to freshwater springs flowing into the sea.

 The most famous beach, easily accessible by bus or car, is Stalis Beach or Stalida in the resort of the same name, located 5 km east of Hersonissos. Bordered by a promenade full of cafes, restaurants, and shops, and benefiting from a sandy shore with a gentle entry into the sea and all kinds of facilities that give it a tropical paradise atmosphere, Stalis offers the best conditions for swimming, sunbathing, and water sports enthusiasts, especially families with children.

  • Accommodation
 As a popular resort on the north coast of Crete, Hersonissos offers countless accommodation options, ranging from simple rental rooms, bungalows, and family apartments to all-inclusive resorts with gourmet restaurants, pools, spa centers, and private beaches. Many accommodations near the beach offer balconies with relaxing sea views.

 If you plan your vacation for August or September, it's important to note that hotels may be fully booked from the beginning of the season. Make the most of your holiday by booking your accommodation or all-inclusive package in advance through a reputable agency. This will ensure a stress-free and enjoyable vacation without any unexpected surprises.

 For an authentic Cretan experience, consider staying at hotels or guesthouses in the picturesque villages around Hersonissos - Ano Hersonissos, Koutouloufari, or Piskopiano. These locations offer a peaceful escape and an opportunity to experience the traditional Cretan way of life.

 If you prefer to stay within a budget and have more independence, you can find affordable lodging options on Booking and Airbnb. These options include cozy studios and apartments with kitchenettes, so you can explore local restaurants and attractions.

 Whether you are keen on luxury, authenticity, or minimalism, you will find the perfect place to call "home" during your stay in this charming part of Crete.

  • Food
 Hersonissos boasts an excellent culinary scene, offering multiple dining options for every taste and budget, from street food stalls and small family taverns to luxury restaurants. Most cafes, bars, and restaurants have outdoor terraces and serving areas, exuding a relaxed and casual spirit, typical of the islanders.

 The food in Hersonissos reflects traditional Cretan cuisine, with Mediterranean and international influences, offering a unique culinary experience that cannot be found anywhere else. The city is known for the variety and attractiveness of menus, which include seafood and fresh fish dishes, grilled meat, salads, and vegetable dishes, most of which use local ingredients, herbs, spices, and, especially, the renowned olive oil.

 The ambiance varies depending on the type of restaurant, with many popular taverns and local eateries having a rustic and relaxed atmosphere, encouraging socializing. On the other hand, some of the restaurants can have a refined atmosphere with sophisticated decorations and a more demanding dress code. Dining at the seafront in the evening provides a romantic atmosphere with awe-inspiring views that will stay with you forever.

  • Activities and Sightseeing
 Upon your arrival, Hersonissos beckons you to discover its abundant treasures. From the stunning beauty of the shores to the ancient ruins that bear the traces of the ancestors, Hersonissos has something to offer every visitor. This vibrant port city is known for its picturesque charm and cosmopolitan atmosphere, making it one of the most alluring and romantic destinations on the Aegean Sea.

Beach and Water Activities. The exquisite beaches of Hersonissos are ideal for relaxation, sunbathing, or engaging in water sports. For those seeking adventure, there are opportunities to try various water activities such as snorkeling, diving, and windsurfing. 

 The port also serves as a launchpad for coastal and island explorations via dinghies, yachts, and catamarans, as well as for witnessing breathtaking sunsets from the sea, offering an unforgettable maritime experience. Additionally, the water parks in the area promise both adults and children a delightful and thrilling escape.

Culture, Shopping, and Nightlife. Take the opportunity to experience authentic Cretan lifestyle and craftsmanship in the village of Koutouloufari, upstream from Hersonissos. Furthermore, you can explore traditional households and local cultural heritage at the unique open-air ethno-folkloric museum, Lychnostatis. 

 The city's main street is a bustling commercial hub featuring a diverse range of boutiques, bazaars, and vibrant souvenir shops. As the night sets in, Hersonissos' waterfront becomes vibrant, inviting you to enjoy leisurely walks and dine on seaside terraces, or to indulge in lively nights of dancing and cocktails at its famous open-air clubs.

Exploration and Adventure. Embark on a journey through time by exploring the remnants of the Minoan civilization at the nearby Malia Archaeological Site, or revel in the untamed beauty of the Aposelemis Gorge. 

 For an enthralling underwater expedition, don't miss the opportunity to visit the CRETAquarium, where you can marvel at the diverse marine life in the Mediterranean Sea and gain a deeper understanding of the captivating world hidden beneath its undulating expanse.

Beyond the City. Hersonissos serves as an excellent starting point for half-day or longer excursions. You can explore the historical attractions of Heraklion, immerse yourself in the timeless allure of Knossos Palace, or discover the pastoral beauty of the countryside. 

 Local travel agencies offer organized tours to iconic destinations such as the Lassithi Plateau and the Cave of Zeus, the islands of Santorini and Spinalonga, the majestic Samaria Gorges, and even the "jewel" of the island, Balos Beach and Lagoon. These tours enrich your travel experience with information, emotions, and unforgettable scenery, allowing you to discover more of the island's unique beauty and history.

You will find many suggestions and details in the article ”Hersonissos - Top 15 Attractions and Things To Do”

  • How to get to Hersonissos
If you are traveling from Heraklion to Hersonissos, there are two common ways to make the trip: by car or bus.

   By car: If you rent a car, the journey from Heraklion to Hersonissos is relatively simple and takes about 20 minutes. You will need to head east along the coast road, which is being upgraded and has two lanes each way. The distance between Heraklion and Hersonissos is about 25 kilometers.

   By Bus: If you choose to travel by bus, be aware that it will take longer than driving. From the bus station in front of Heraklion Airport to Hersonissos usually takes about 45 minutes, with stops at stations along the way. If you are not in a hurry and the hotel is close to the center of the resort, it is the most convenient and affordable way to get to your destination.

For those considering other modes of transport, private transfers, and taxis are also available, offering added flexibility and convenience.

  • Other useful information
 Hersonissos is one of the largest resorts in Crete, with a population of over 50,000.  During the summer, most tourists arrive with holiday packages, primarily from Germany, the Netherlands, and Great Britain.

 Hersonissos offers a wide range of public and private services and urban amenities to meet the needs of both residents and visitors. There is a large medical center, private clinics, pharmacies, post offices, public transport services, bank branches and ATMs. In addition, it provides access to government services such as administrative offices, public institutions, and notaries for official procedures and documents.

There are various options for purchasing essential items, including grocery stores, convenience stores, and supermarkets. Many car rental centers and tourist offices offer presentation catalogs in multiple languages, providing offers for excursions and cruises.

  Running parallel to the seashore, the national road that crosses the town and is also the main commercial artery, provides easy access to the towns of Heraklion and Agios Nikolaos but can be very busy during peak hours.

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