Crete is a large island and to drive from end to end on the notorious National Road will take over 4 hours. With this in mind picking a base for your stay in Crete is vital not only to ensure you get to see what you have planned but also what type of trip you are looking to enjoy.
The island has a multitude of seaside resorts along with four significant towns along the northern coast. The largest of the towns isthe capital Heraklion the 4th biggest city in Greece and the largest of the metropolitan areas on the island. The city's Nikos Kazantzakis International Airport is the busiest of the island too and sits just East of the metropolis. Heraklion Airport mostly serves the strip of coast that runs east from the city which encompasses some of the most commercial resorts Crete has to offer such as Hersonissos or Stalida. A little farther along lies the infamous Malia and it's nightlife party scene and venture yet further eastward and you'll reach the pretty Agios Nikolaos and up market Elounda around the bay. Chania is the major town in the west of the island and provides the islands other major international airport. From here you can reach the pretty Venetian town of Rethymno an hour or so east, or the long quieter coast to the west of Chania where more secluded and tranquil breaks are offered. Rethymno lies almost half way between Heraklion and Chania so you can land at either and have a similar hour and a bit onward journey to your final destination. Far in the East is the little town of Sitia in what is the least tourist trodden area of the Northern coast. Sitia does have an airport but despite some recent work has never achieved permanent international status and the only traffic landing there is internal flights from elsewhere in Greece.
So you've got the hang of where you might land now where do you stay?!
This decision really lies in what you want from your trip. Do you want to see the major historical sights? Lay by the beach? Lounge around the pool? Be pampered? Do you want your holiday to be quiet or lively? Maybe you want to cycle up the mountains or go walking. The following advice is based around our own experiences of spending years on the island and is by no means a bible. Crete is a large island and it would take decades to know it all!
Lively break: You've decided you want the sea but you also want to get dressed up in the evening take a wander have something to eat and maybe a drink or a dance in a lively atmosphere? If this is what you are looking for then our advice is to take a flight to Heraklion and head east along the northern coast. A 30 minute drive will land you in Hersonissos a large bustling tourist hub with shops, tavernas, international food, bars and clubs. Beach wise the central town's sand is not the best but a walk westwards finds some larger beaches & bays. Hersonissos grew up around an old Roman port and the remains can still be seen in the old port, and this is a good spot to sit in a restaurant overhanging the pretty harbour.
A little further along the coat lies the youthful craziness of Malia. Not generally populated by families Malia is the choice of the young looking to mingle with the opposite sex and party hard. Malia has a fantastic long and wide beach to sleep those long heavy nights away on too. Between Malia and Hersonissos is Stalida or Stalis. Now stretching to join up with Malia Stalida is 'Malia light' in 'frenzy' terms and more family orientated whilst still having some of the party spirit too. Stalida's beach is long and decent if full of sunbeds to rent.