Hersonissos is a busy and sprawling resort that stretches a couple of kilometres wide along the north coast of Crete around a 30 minute drive (or 25km) to the East of Heraklion International airport.
What is now known as Hersonissos (Χερσόνησος in Greek meaning peninsula) is actually the Port of Hersonissos which in days gone by served the village of the same name which lies a little further inland and is now termed as 'Old Hersonissos'.
Hersonissos is a long and largely thin town of approximately 27,000 permanent inhabitants but this swells remarkably every summer season as holidaymakers head there to enjoy the famous Cretan hospitality and the endless summer sun.
The town is a popular destination for a number of reasons and we'll try and give you a flavour of the key reasons people flock in and around the town in this guide.
Firstly I guess it's important to point out that Hersonissos itself is the focal point of a 'region' of tourism that spreads across a larger area. Holidaymakers may gravitate to the centre of town for a meal or a stroll (or to party!) but dotted around the central town are resorts that all feed into the central area. Anissaras and Analipsi to the West are mostly a collection of large hotels and resorts with some of the best beaches in the area along the coast and whilst a proportion of these shrines to holiday heaven are all inclusive there are a few shops and restaurants interspersed within them. Up the hill to the south behind Hersonissos lie the pretty villages of Old Hersonissos, Piskopiano and Koutouloufari which are self sufficient and atmospheric traditional Cretan village in style and tailored almost exclusively to the holidaymakers that flock to them each and ever summer. They sit up behind Hersonissos and provide a scenic spot with a wide choice of hotels, cafes, bars, restaurants and a few shops too but once again you will see the taxi drivers of Hersonissos making almost endless short trips up and down the hills to fetch those who stay in these beautiful villages down to the lights and sounds of central Hersonissos.
So now we have established that Hersonissos is the focal point of a wider area it's important to also remember that the town itself has a huge range of places to stay too. With lodgings to suit every budget the town itself is a great place to take your break in the sun whatever your holiday desires maybe. I see Hersonissos as an 'all rounder' in terms of being suitable for families as well as the young looking for fun in the sun. The purist visitors to Crete that seek an absolutely authentic experience often talk about this area of Crete with derision as it is just too westernised, over populated or commercial for their liking and I respect this as I have seen both sides of the story but ultimately it depends on what you personally perceive as a great holiday and I also know many people who return to this region year after year and have the most wonderful holiday.
If you are going to stay in Hersonissos itself and you prefer a quiet spot to retreat to or laze around the hotel pool then avoid the main Venizeliou Road through the town and look to stay on the fringes of Hersonissos. In high season the main strip and the centre of town are busy and full of life and a fair amount of noise and unless you are going to be amongst the party scene until the early hours you might find this a bit too much.
The only type of people I would suggest this area specifically isn't for are people seeking a break with solitude. Hersonissos and it's surrounding villages and resorts is Crete on a more lively, busy and commercial scale and if you want a quiet beach with peaceful dining and an opportunity in more quiet solitude to recharge from your hectic home life then this area is not going to be what you are after however families, couples and groups of friends alike who want to holiday in a place that gives you that Cretan spirit whilst being packed with life, bustle and vibrancy then Hersonissos and it's surround will not disappoint.
Where to stay in the area?
Well it depends what you want from your holiday! If you want quality larger holiday resorts with large pools and the beach within a short walk from your lodgings then Anissaras and Analipsi are your option with Anissaras being the closest to the main town. If you want a traditional village environment then Old Hersonissos, Piskopiako and Koutouloufari are your choice with hotels with pool and a view over the main town. If you want lively and to be amongst the throng then Hersonissos itself is your pick albeit there are some resorts either end of the town itself that offer the bustle of Hersonissos whilst being on the fringes for a peaceful place to retreat to.
I guess most of us head Crete for the hospitality and unique atmosphere but also for the beach. The sea around the island is warm, clear and inviting and as you make the trip from the airport along the coast toward the area the sight of the sea makes you yearn to get your costume on and dip within it as soon as you possibly can.
The town of Hersonissos itself does have a small beach but the very centre is not the perfect spot if you're looking for long lazy beach days as it's small and narrow. Bear this in mind when deciding where to stay as a Hersonissos town stay itself will mean a decent walk or taxi fare to find wide open sands. Most agree that the best bet for a beach in the area is Anissaras where the beach is long, wide and all you could hope for. This spot is also a great choice as there are a selection of bars and tavernas behind the sand that mean lunch or a drink are right behind you. Some of these bars have chargeable sunbeds on the beach with a waiter drinks service if that's your desire but if you don't want to pay to spend your day by the sea you'll find parts of the beach to lay down your towel and reach for your book without charge too.
If you have a car or don't mind catching a bus or using a taxi then a 10 minute car ride to the west of Hersonissos is the resort of Stalis or Stalida with it's equally long sandy beach with a great selection of cafes, bars and tavernas, and a holiday in the area complete with a hire car will open up the northern coast of the island and offer you a plethora of beach options with Malia, Gouves, Kokkini Chani or even Elounda or Agia Pelagia not a million miles away.
I guess the point here is that if you want a wide and long beach in this region without travelling then Anissaras is your best option.
There is a large resort at the Western end of Hersonissos Town called The Creta Maris that has it's own decent sized private beach and lies in a quieter spot and could afford the best of both worlds but it's not cheap and would require a fair budget to enjoy albeit having visited myself (although not to stay) the resort offers a superb standard of accommodation and facilities.
Wow... what a choice!
If there's anything you will not be short of an opportunity to immerse and explore in Hersonissos and the surrounding areas it's cuisine as the choice is vast and spread far and wide around the area.
From traditional Cretan tavernas to popular Greek dishes to Italian and European cuisine all the way to Chinese, Indian and Western fast food it's all here and at largely reasonable prices.
You'll find places to sit and dine all over this region but there are certain 'hot spots' where dining is the focus and the first of these is the old port in Hersonissos. The strip that runs along what was the old Roman port is right at the heart of the town and the restaurants all have covered verandas that overhang the old port and provide a lovely scenic view of the town and little fishing boats that still populate the harbour. The food along this strip is varied but largely is focused on tavernas serving the famous Greek staples along with pizzas and family favourites. There are a couple of very good fish restaurants too. Advice if eating around the port is don't leave it too late as the area doubles up as a hot spot for nightlife later on in the evening so once it gets past 10pm it's start to liven up!
Il Camino along the strip in the old port is somewhere I have eaten with family and provides great pizzas, local dishes good service and a great view.
The square up in Old Hersonissos is also a great choice to get out and enjoy a lively village atmosphere and some local cuisine. All around the old square are tavernas that throng during high season and it's a hugely popular choice for those staying up the hill in the villages to take in a atmospheric and tasty local meal. During the season traditional nights are held in the square and as you dine if you check out the timetables you'll catch some nights of local dancing, music and entertainment. It's an immersive experience of bustling village life and well worth a visit to dine if you are staying in the area. Whilst I've not been myself Taverna Harakas in Old Hersonissos is highly recommended by many as one of the best in the old town.
Fast food is in abundance here too and just as you enter the old port pedestrianised road there's a McDonalds for those who choose although there's nowhere to sit outside apart from the street benches. A mainstay of Hersonissos for years has been McDelly's that sits near the centre on the main drag through town and offers pizzas, burgers and more with pavement side seating or take away service. If it's local fast food you are seeking then the grill Tzatziki (also on the main road through town) offers plentiful seating and pita gyros along with souvlaki, bifteki pancetta and more from lunchtime until deep into the night.
English breakfast in town with a cocktail?!? Yes it's all here and I've eaten at Quarto Bar also on the main strip many a time when the hankering has overcome me for a taste of home. This bar gets a little louder and livelier later on but offers a great range of drinks, snacks and a decent full English breakfast that wont break the bank with a sea view from the back of the terrace.
One motivation for youngsters and groups of friends to visit Hersonissos for a break is to explore the nightlife that the town has to offer. The party culture of the town is in balance with the rest of the area's offerings so it's not overpowering but is an equal part of the town's attraction.
Within the town you will find nightclubs, bars and late night beach cafes that will cater for all tastes from the wild and crazy to a long cool drink late into the night with a more relaxing atmosphere but whatever your taste if you are venturing into the town later in the evening you will experience the party spirit of Hersonissos.
The epicentre of nightlife is right at the heart of the town and the old port area has a line of bars and clubs that tend to get warmed up from 10:30 pm on wards and afford an opportunity to party late into the night (and the next morning!).
Picks of the area would be New York Beach Club as you first enter the port road with it's more chilled daytime then louder night time offerings along with El Paradiso a little further along and Havana further up still. It's loud and raucous in high season and another particular favourite would be Palm Beach Club a little to the East of the port on the beach front road which doubles up as a pool club during the day with music and drinks then turns into a full on nightclub later in the evening.
Kahula Beach Bar even further East along the beach path offers a DJ experience but with opportunity to sit and gaze at the sea until late and would be a good spot for a more chilled late evening drink.
You can wander for hours in Hersonissos meandering from shop to shop checking out all the goods and gifts on offer. The main Venizeliou Street that runs the entire length of the town is consistently populated with tourist gift shops, jewellery outlets, leather goods shops, clothing and more. There's over 1km of endless cafes and shops all along the road and when you reach the Western end you can take a turn right down Paraskevis Street where the retail therapy continues all the way up the old port. As far as concentration and variety of gifts and tourist goods go's Hersonissos is second to none of anywhere I've been in Crete and be it sunglasses, a purse, a new pair of earrings or just about anything you can think of it's all to be found here.
You'll find some decent sized supermarkets dotted all along the main road too so you wont have to go far to pick up supplies, and to the Western end of the town a cluster of fur shops sprung up to cater for the Russian / Eastern European visitors to the area. So if you're cold there's no need to worry!!
At the Eastern end of the town lies Star Beach. The complex is large and comprises a hotel and apartments along with a beach and water park. You can't miss it from the main road that passes through the town it's a substantial resort and on site you'll also find restaurants and bars and quite often live music or a DJ in the summer months. Star Beach has evolved considerably in the past years becoming a place suitable for families and couples alike to while away the day in the sun by the sea with plenty to do in terms of water slides, a kids pool, bars and huge double sunbeds for couples to lounge together upon.
There's a go-kart track, sports courts, a gym and a lazy river too. Star Beach used to be geared more toward the young but has become much more family or couple oriented in recent times and the standard of facilities is new and clean.
There's water sports too and they do still have beach parties with guest DJ's from time to time so if you are thinking of staying within the resort you'll need to like it lively.
Here's a brief appraisal of the other attractions either in or close by to the Hersonissos area.
Up the hill a few km's behind the town is Aqua Plus Water Park the biggest water park on the island. If you don't want to take a taxi and don't have a car then excursions leave from all around the area to the park for the day with coach travel and entrance ticket included and transfer is no more than 10-15 minutes from the town. The park is large and caters for water fun for all ages. There's on site restaurants, bars and fast food and a shop in case you'd like to buy a gift or forgot your trunks!!
Right opposite the water park is The Crete Golf Club. It's the only 18 hole gold course on the island and has been designed to maintain the local characteristics of the landscape. An 18 hole round in high season is around 90 euro and there's even a drinks and snacks service brought to you whilst your out on the course mid round!
With stunning views of the Lasithi Mountains the club house features a restaurant and bar with outdoor veranda complete with a breathtaking vista to gaze upon.
Aquaworld is an aquarium complete with reptile rescue centre with the town itself. I'm told that many of the animals were rescued or were unwanted pets and the owners encourage interaction with the creatures with feeding and petting sessions throughout the day. The staff are friendly and this place is recommended for an afternoon with the family when the sun hides behind the clouds.
Beside the sea to the East of the town you will encounter Lychnostatis Open Air Museum which is a private collection of items relating to Cretan folk traditions said to belong to Yiorgos Markakis who along with his family built the museum.
You'll find traditional Cretan farm houses, olive and win presses along with weaving and ceramic workshops and a large selection of local plants.
On site there is a 250 seat theatre where traditional Cretan dancing can be enjoyed and events such as wine or food sampling are frequent.
We hope we've given you a flavour for Hersonissos and it's surrounding area. This region of Crete might not be for all and especially those who seek a rural Cretan break or a quiet spot to holiday but if you like it vibrant, lively and with plenty of option to eat, shop and get out into the night then this is a great choice and for me either the pretty village life of Piskopiano or Koutoulafari or the beach resorts of Amnissos are the best options to enjoy this bright lights part of the island.
This is by no means a bible and just our honest observances of staying in the region. We hope you enjoyed the guide.
Photos of Crete bring you our unbiased and honest guides to the island of Crete, Greece. We've had a connection to the island for over 30 years and we as called on our own personal experiences to bring you what we think is important and our opinions on how to get the best from your stay as we write guides about each and every aspect of visiting the largest of the Greek islands... Crete. We have a SHOP and we also offer PROPERTY CONSULTANCY & MANAGEMENT within Crete so don't forget to take a look and have a wander about the entire PHOTOS OF CRETE SITE. Thanks for reading.
(c) Simon Mcilvenna 2020