13 day trips from Heraklion, Crete

Visiter Héraklion : Gorges de Samaria

Are you in Heraklion, Crete, and looking to explore the region and surrounding islands? Here are our 13 recommended day trips from Heraklion!

A dream destination for many holidaymakers, Greece is famous for its scattered islands. Each has its own unique character, identity and history. A trip to the Greek islands is a vacation getaway!

In fact, Crete is by far the largest of the Greek islands. All the riches that Greece has to offer can be found here: dream beaches, historic sites, relaxation, local produce… Crete’s richness is best appreciated when explored by car or boat from the main town of Heraklion.

To help you choose the best excursions, we’ve selected 13 day trips departing from Heraklion in Crete!

1. Elafonissi

excursion : plage d'Elafonissi

Photo credit: Shutterstock – DaLiu

  • 📍 Distance: 211 kilometers
  • 🚗 By car: 3h
  • 📷 Things to see and do: beach, lagoon

Admittedly, Elafonissi may seem a little far from Heraklion for a day trip. However, a visit to Elafonissi isn’t all that strenuous, as it’s all about enjoying the beach! And what a beach it is! Some would say it’s the most beautiful in Crete, or even in Greece. What’s certain is that Elafonissi beach is unique in many ways, which is what makes it so popular.

The first aspect is the color of the sand, which occasionally turns pink. The second is the particularity of the place: Elafonissi is a small island that forms a lagoon with Crete, and can be reached by wading through water a few centimetres deep (up to a metre depending on the time of year).

A short hike takes you to the end of the island, where you’ll find a church and a lighthouse. Once there, you can admire the crystal-clear, azure-blue water, the like of which is rarely seen.

2. Santorini

Visiter Héraklion : Santorin

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Sabine Klein

  • 📍 Distance: 145 kilometers
  • ⛴️ By boat: 1h50 by speedboat
  • 📷 What to see / What to do: Fira and its white houses, village of Oia, cruise around the caldera, beach

If Elafonissi is a long way from Heraklion, what can you say about Santorini? And yet, the magical island is well served by boat, and can easily be the subject of a day trip from Heraklion. Santorini is well known to all holidaymakers, especially those who love unusual places.

Santorini is the picture postcard of the Cyclades archipelago, with its white houses and traditional alleyways, especially in Fira and Oia. It’s a great island to relax on, but one day isn’t enough to appreciate it all. However, you can choose between lounging on the beach or taking a cruise around the volcanic caldera – because, yes, Santorini is a volcanic island!

You can visit this caldera by boat, sailing around Nea Kameni and the Tholos Naftilos volcano. A unique experience you won’t regret!

3. Vai Beach

Visiter Héraklion : plage de Vai

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Dziewul

  • 📍 Distance: 152 kilometers
  • 🚗 By car: 2h25
  • 📷 Things to see/do: beach, hiking, Itanos archaeological site

Another beach for this day trip from Heraklion, Crete. Located opposite Elafonissi, Vai beach offers a wonderful moment of relaxation during your stay on the island. The place shines with the magical color of its water, a pure, intense blue!

From this little corner of paradise, you can walk to the archaeological site of Itanos, 4 km further north. Here, you’ll discover a sublime coastal landscape. You can also drive there after enjoying the beach!

4. Gramvousa and Balos

Visiter Héraklion : Gramvousa et Balos

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Thomas Ramsauer

  • 📍 Distance: 183 kilometers
  • 🚗 By car: 2h30
  • 📷 What to see/do: Balos beach and lagoon, hiking, Gramvousa island, ancient fortress of Gramvousa

Located in the north-west of the island, Gramvousa and Balos form a classic excursion from Heraklion in Greece. They look a little like Elafonissi, with a lagoon and sand that turns pink at times. But that’s where the comparison ends!

Gramvousa and Balos lagoon are quite far apart. Balos is the island’s main beach, the one we like to enjoy on our postcards. Gramvousa, on the other hand, is a more remote island with dream beaches.

Gramvousa and Balos offer superb hiking opportunities. At Gramvousa, for the more courageous, the view from the ancient fortress is fabulous… and rivals that from the heights of Balos! Yes, you can also hike around the lagoon.

5. Chania

Visiter Héraklion : La Canée

Photo credit: Shutterstock – kavalenkava

  • 📍 Distance: 142 kilometers
  • 🚗 By car: 2h
  • 📷 Things to see & do: old town and Venetian port, archaeological museum, maritime museum, lighthouse, local culinary specialties

Chania, known as Chania in Greek and most other languages, is a great day trip from Heraklion in Crete. The island’s second-largest city, Chania boasts a sublime old town around its Venetian port.

On the harbor is a beautiful mosque, one of the few Ottoman remains on Crete. You’ll be delighted to sit on one of the terraces facing the sea and sample the local fish and seafood specialities. Finally, if time permits, don’t miss Crete’s finest archaeological museum. In short, there’s no time to get bored in Chania!

6. Chrissi Island

Visiter Héraklion : île de Chrissi

Photo credit: Shutterstock – tuulijumala

  • 📍 Distance: 100 kilometers
  • 🚗 By car: 2h
  • ⛴️ By boat: 1h
  • 📷 Things to see and do: beaches, hiking

Chrissi is a rather special excursion from Heraklion in Crete. First you have to go to the town of Ierapetra in the south of the island, by bus or car, then take a ferry.

What makes this excursion so special? Chrissi has all the makings of an island paradise! Superb beaches, crystal-clear colors, warm water in summer… and almost nothing else to do! At Chrissi, you can enjoy a well-deserved rest for a day. You can also go hiking, discovering fossilized shells and a church.

However, be sure to check the weather forecast, as the island is not to be visited on windy days!

7. Lake Kournas

lac de Kournas

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Richard Whitcombe

  • 📍 Distance: 103 kilometers
  • 🚗 By car: 1h30
  • 📷 Things to see and do: lake cruises, swimming, hiking

Lost in the middle of nature, Lake Kournas is a dream destination for many. The only real lake on the island, it’s a great day trip from Heraklion to enjoy the cooler mountain air. Of course, if the weather’s right, you can also go for a swim!

Another popular activity at the lake is foot cleaning! Little fish that eat dead skin colonize the lake and give you a free foot scrub!

Finally, if you’ve got the right shoes, don’t hesitate to hike around the lake to admire the superb panoramic views.

8. Mount Ida hike

mont Ida

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Peter Hatch

  • 📍 Distance: 59 kilometers
  • 🚗 By car: 1h25
  • 📷 Things to see and do: hiking, enjoying a superb panorama

At 2,456 metres, Mount Ida is Crete’s highest peak. It’s an excursion reserved for those who want to cool off from the summer heat and enjoy a good hike. Mount Ida offers beautiful trails and breathtaking panoramas.

Mount Ida is also home to numerous caves. The most famous of these is the Ida cave. Also known as the Cave of Zeus, it is, according to Greek mythology, the birthplace of the ruler of Olympus. Like the many caves on Mount Ida, including Psychro, it boasts magnificent stalagmites and stalactites. Some are mentioned in mythological works such as the Iliad!

9. Rethymnon

Rethymnon, fontaine Rimondi

Crédit photo : Shutterstock – Georgios Tsichlis

  • 📍 Distance: 80 kilometers
  • 🚗 By car: 1h05
  • 📷 What to see/do: Old town and Venetian fortress, Rimondi fountain, archaeological museum, Neratze mosque, beach

For some, Réthymnon is a little Chania. It’s partly true! Like Chania, Rethymnon has a pretty old town and an old Venetian port where you can enjoy a stroll. There’s even an archaeological museum! However, Rethymnon is a day trip from Heraklion that offers much more than just a miniature copy of Chania.

The island’s Ottoman remains are better preserved and more numerous in Rethymnon, with two mosques in particular. One is located on the heights, inside the former Venetian fortress. We appreciate this cultural and architectural mix, as well as the care that has been given to these buildings since the Greek reconquest.

In the old town, you’ll also find some pretty little streets, as well as the superb Rimondi fountain – named after the Venetian governor of the time – built in 1626. All in all, it’s a little town that we love!

10. Samaria Gorge

Gorges de Samaria

Photo credit: Shutterstock – proslgn

  • 📍 Distance: 80 kilometers
  • 🚌 By bus: by the day
  • 📷 Things to see/do: hikes and observation of an exceptional panorama

Fancy a real trek? Then choose this excursion! The Samaria Gorge offers a fabulous spectacle and a grandiose landscape. Throughout the day, you’ll discover a panorama as varied as it is splendid.

At the bottom of the canyon, you’ll walk along a small stream on wooden planks, which sometimes runs dry. This hike also includes passages on the higher ground. Be warned, the hike is rather difficult, but the reward is exceptional views!

11. Lassithi region

Lassithi

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Dziewul

  • 📍 Distance: 60-70 kilometers
  • 🚗 By car: 1 to 2 hours depending on location
  • 📷 What to see / What to do: Spinalonga, Elounda, Agios Nikolaos, ancient site of Lato, Cave of Zeus

For lovers of mini road trips or discovery off the beaten track, opt for this day trip from Heraklion. The Lassithi region occupies the entire eastern part of the island of Crete. It is home to many points of interest and remarkable sites.

These include seaside resorts such as lively Elounda and quieter Agios Nikolaos, the archaeological site of Lato and the island of Spinalonga. The latter is far more attractive than it used to be, when it was the island of lepers!

Then, weather permitting and if you like hiking, you can head for Mount Spathi, home to some superb caves. Finally, the Lassithi area is also home to Vai beach and the archaeological site of Itanos, mentioned above. But we think it’s best to devote a whole day to this remote part of the Lassithi region.

12. Dia Island by sailboat

île de Dia

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Natalia Davidovich

  • 📍 Distance: 12 kilometers – 6.5 nautical miles
  • ⛴️ By boat: 4-5 hours excursion in total
  • 📷 Things to see and do: seaside, beaches, hiking

A small, wild island to the north of Heraklion, the island of Dia can only be reached by private excursion. The one we recommend is a one-afternoon sailboat trip.

Once on board, you’ll have time to enjoy a lovely sea ride, and your guide will then tell you that the island was one of Jacques-Yves Cousteau‘s favorite destinations. Once there, visitors will have 2h30 to discover the island’s treasures, such as its ancient Minoan port, and take short walks among the cedars of Dia. Of course, you can also enjoy a swim in the crystal-clear waters!

We recommend this excursion for those who want to enjoy the peace and quiet of a quiet place to rest while admiring the richness of the landscape.

13. Safari on the Minoan route

safari sur la route minoenne-réservoir d'Aposelemis

Photo credit: Shutterstock – photoff

  • 📍 Distance: on site
  • 🚗 By car: 8-hour tour in total
  • 📷 Things to see/do: 4×4 off-roading, Zeus cave, village visits, culinary and liqueur tastings

We round off our selection with this excursion from Heraklion. You’ll have the chance to explore Crete by 4×4 to discover the riches of the Minoan route, named after the island’s first inhabitants.

Along the way, you’ll also have the chance to admire some sublime mountain scenery. In particular, you’ll meet the inhabitants of a mountain hut, who will tell you all about the legends of the Minoan route! You’ll also have the chance to taste local specialities such as cheese and homemade liqueur. During your getaway, you’ll visit the Lasinthos Eco Park to observe traditional handicrafts.

Finally, you’ll end your safari in the village of Krassi, famous for its 2,000-year-old tree and natural water source. On the road, you’ll reminisce about the wonderful moments of this unforgettable day!