Hersonissos, Crete: Why Hersonissos Is Great For Families
Hersonissos, Crete comprises the areas of Episkopi, Gouves, Hersonissos and Malia. It is 26km from the capital Heraklion and only 20km from the airport – making it a very easy journey for families who prefer a quick airport transfer. The popular, bustling central area offers several beaches, a plethora of restaurants, bars, clubs, cafes; shops selling local handicrafts (try the olive oil based soaps), and also all the practical items and souvenirs you may need. Dotted in between are local supermarkets full of colourful fruit, baby essentials (such as nappies), milk, suntan lotion and nik-naks. Just behind the main strip is a promenade lined with beachfront restaurants and bars where you can take a gentle stroll to the harbour and admire the aquamarine Aegean sea glistening in the sun. However, just 1-2km away are the traditional villages of Koutouloufari, Piskopiano and Ano Hersonissos where you can experience a quieter pace, winding, picturesque streets, more Cretan restaurants, smaller boutique hotels, and shops. It is easier to meander all the streets with a stroller and the Greeks are absolutely wonderful with their warm welcome to children. Hersonissos’ location also makes it ideally placed to visit other areas of the island – a rental car is particularly useful but the local buses also can help you explore the wider area. We were invited by the Tourism Department of the Municipality of Hersonissos to explore the local area and give you our independent thoughts. We flew from Birmingham Airport with Monarch, directly to Heraklion Airport in Crete.
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Activities in Hersonissos
Hersonissos offers something for everyone, whether you are interested in recreational activities, culture, outdoor adventures, religious landmarks or events. We have just returned from a visit there with a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old and can give you the low-down on what there is to do with babies to teens!
CretAquarium is an important aquarium for the area as it provides research and expertise in the species and ecosystems of the Mediterranean. The staff are passionate about the care and research and do not allow any mammals to be resident there. Sea turtles are not usually there permanently – but are temporarily hosted after injuries and then set free. However, two ended up staying for their own survival (one kept coming in after eating plastic six times!) It is a great place to explore the underwater world or to escape the heat of the day, let little ones wonder at the colourful sights or even escape a rare rainy day.
We marvelled at the Sand Tiger Sharks and how effortlessly they moved around. Looking at the skeletons, we could see the many layers of teeth they have, and why their grip is so ferocious.
The lobsters are threatened by overfishing now and it was interesting to see how they each like to have their own hole and are very protective over it!
Walking through the atmospheric corridors ( perfect for strollers and any little ones wanting a nap on the go) we enjoyed the calming effect of the jelly-fish and anemones.
A bonus for kids is the interactive drawing area. Children can draw their own picture, use a simple machine to then see it displayed as a cartoon on a large screen.
The aquarium has a lovely little restaurant attached with fresh healthy alternatives too. There is also the option of sitting outside on the veranda with views of the sea. My girls enjoyed the fun orange starfish themed chairs nearby too!
My 5-year-old and 2 year old enjoyed the afternoon here and asked to go around it twice! The biggest draw for them were the two biggest tanks – just so much to look at! You will need about an hour to complete it and perhaps a bit longer if you plan to stay for lunch. (We ate before we came at a solitary taverna on the coast, about 2 minutes drive away.).
For the purpose of reviewing, we were given complimentary entrance.
The Aquarium is open 365 days a year.
Winter Opening Times
( 1/10 – 30/4) daily, 9.30 in the morning till 5 in the afternoon
Summer Opening Times
(1/5 – 30/9) daily, 9.30 in the morning till 9 in the afternoon
General Entrance Fee9€ (1/5 – 30/9), 6€ (1/10 – 30/4)
Children 0-4 years old Free Entrance
Children 5-17 years old 6€
Individuals with disabilities – free
The Dinosauria Park is in Gournes and a great way to spend a couple of hours in Crete. My two were enthralled by the fossils in the Dino Museum where you begin your journey, and the ‘time machine’ tunnel through to the park. The park is easily accessible by stroller with smooth pathways. Wandering past some of the dinosaur models sets off an interactive mechanism so they roar and move, which resulted in squeals of delight! At a couple of stages along the walk, there are some well covered ‘archeological dig sites’ where intrepid young archeologists can use the provided brushes and spades to discover their own dinosaur fossils. Both are sheltered from the sun, and shaded benches for grownups are also provided – so you can relax and watch your little ones play.
Dinosaur fans will also love the ‘Dinosaur Hospital’ – a little Jurassic Park like with numerous large eggs in a laboratory, waiting to hatch. A staff member will show you a dinosaur egg and a hatchling and introduce you to the poorly dinosaurs, including a sneezing Stegosaurus!
Just prior to the Dino Hospital are some toilets, and an area for colouring in whilst you are waiting.
We didn’t try the 4D ride experience as it wasn’t suitable for a 2-year-old. It is an extra €3 per person.
As you exit the main dinosaur area you enter a well-equipped playground ( an extra charge for the train ride), a giant T-rex head which makes for a great photo opportunity, the restaurant and of course the gift shop – A dinosaur lovers Mecca! We only stopped for a drink at the restaurant so can’t comment on the food (or the Lava Bar in the main area as it wasn’t open during our visit in May half-term). However, from the menu snacks were mostly souvlaki, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, club sandwich, and salads.
We were given complimentary tickets for the park but genuinely loved it. My girls rated it as one of their favourite activities.
January to March: 10:00am to 18:00pm
April to September: 10:00am to 18:00pm
October to December: 10:00am to 18:00pm
Saturdays and Sundays: 10:00am to 18:00pm
Closed dates: Easter Sunday
Closed dates: 13th to 26th December
Entrance Fee: Adults €10 Children (4-12) €8 Under 4’s FREE
The Labyrinth Theme Park is inspired by the Minoan culture of Crete, including the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur and the Trojan Horse. Situated in the hills in Hersonissos, the park has something for children of all ages. We told my eldest about the myth of the Minotaur before we went, so she had some idea, but the actual maze helped put things into perspective. It was a lot of fun working as a family, trying to figure our way out! It just started raining as we entered, but the park staff kindly passed everyone umbrellas – which was a very thoughtful touch. As we navigated the labyrinth, we stumbled across designated areas which explained in details the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur and all the various characters. To earn a gold sticker, we had to stamp a bit of paper at each location. It took us about 30 minutes to complete the maze and I found it genuinely quite challenging and fun, as did my 5-year-old. Literally, each corner looked the same- we made use of the helpful viewing platforms a number of times ( is that cheating?)
After the maze, we discovered numerous other activities. Some were free to explore like the traditional Cretan maze, model Cretan village, and the mini petting farm. The staff clearly enjoyed working with the animals and it was great to see they were well cared for, with plenty of shade, snacks and water – although some enclosures could be a bit bigger. We were given free entrance to the park for the purpose of this review and also a complimentary horse ride. I was particularly impressed by how it was an actual lesson, rather than just a walk around a paddock. My daughter learned how to balance properly by various techniques. She left with a real sense of achievement after initially feeling nervous of letting go of the saddle.
For a small charge, there is also mini golf which is completely accessible and stroller friendly too. The park even provides putters for children under the age of 6- so everyone can join in. A further activity you can enjoy is pottery making – a hands-on session where you can make your own pot to take home to decorate. Other major activities include the new Trojan Horse laser game. The structure is ginormous and can be seen from quite a distance! It proved a good talking point to explain the myth of the Trojan Horse too. The aim is to dive over, crawl under, and step around a maze of laser beams to see just how fast you can make it through without breaking the beams!
Finally, the park has an escape room called Escape Atlantis. Various clues are hidden within the first room with Medusa inside which then lead you through a small door to the main room. The room is atmospheric with sand, shells, treasure boxes, mood lighting and looked a lot of fun. We didn’t try it but looked inside and next time I’m in Crete we all agreed we would give it a go! I think teenagers would love the challenge of solving the riddles and puzzles and it would be a fun family affair.
There is not much shade in the outside areas, and only a couple of shaded parts in the Labyrinth so bring hats and plenty of sun lotion! A covered open air restaurant is on-site.
10:00 – 20:00
Admission to the Park (includes entrance into Labyrinth)
Adults and children over 11: 10€
Children 4 to 11: 6€
Children 4 and under: Free
Trojan Horse: 3€
Mini Golf: 3€ additionally to park entrance
Quad bikes (only for children 4-11): 3€ additionally to park entrance
Horse rides 3€ additionally to park entrance
Escape room 25€ (45 minutes – max 5 persons)
Cretan Stone Labyrinth: Free
Miniature Village: Free
Last admission into Labyrinth is one hour before closing time.
You can explore traditional Cretan life in the open air Lychnostatis Museum. It’s a very hands-on museum and children are welcome to interact with many of the artefacts. Sitting right on the Bay of Malia, you can enjoy lovely views out to sea as you explore the museum.
There are steps into some of the traditional houses and building, so be prepared to leave your stroller at the bottom. My girls were fascinated by the shepherd’s hut, a traditional home, with an old style crib in the bedroom. A huge hit was the old school room complete with bell and cane. Of course, I had to pretend to be a very strict teacher! The carob machinery was popular too – because the girls could touch the button. Interactive exhibitions always make a lasting and more interesting impression.
The smells of the aromatic and medicinal herbs in the herb garden and the numerous fruit trees also make for a sensory experience.
The onsite shop has some lovely local produce for to purchase and the cafe is well shaded too. Plan to spend an hour, maybe two if you watch the audio-visual show.
Visit Lychnostatis from 09:00 – 14:00
Closed on Saturdays.
For the period November 1 – March 31 require prearrangement.
Adults: 5 €
Students: 3 €
Children (4-12 years’ old): 2 €
Audio-guide : 2 €
Films: 1 €
Guided tours: 1 €
There are several water parks in Hersonissos. We visited Water City, Acqua Plus, and Star Beach.
Acqua Plus is nestled in the hills with a stunning area of flora dotted in between the rides. There are two sections, one for adults and another for younger children including a playground area. Conveniently, there is a cafe next to the playground.
The children’s slides are gentle and lead into shallow water for them to gain confidence.
The entrance fee covers free sunbeds and umbrellas ( although these are not guaranteed. It just means there is no extra charge- but we saw plenty available.) There are also plenty of changing areas and baby change facilities in the female changing room.
The park runs on a band cashless system, so you can put all your valuables away in a locker and then charge everything to your band – then pay for what you owe upon exit.
If you are not staying at any of the hotels which pre-arrange visits to the park, or do not have a car, the park can organise a pick-up/drop-off service from numerous places around the island. A nice little touch we noticed was that if your visiting with grandparents, they only need to pay €5 entry. be aware that as you exit, it is a hilly but smooth climb – so be prepared for any tired out little ones asking to be carried.
Opening Times: Check ahead if it’s rainy weather as the park may be closed.
Opens around 15th May til around 5th October
May 10:00 till 18:00
June 10:00 till 18:00
July and August 10:00 till 19:00
September 10:00 till 18:00
October 10:00 till 18:00
Check on the website for discounted prices.
Water City is a themed Gretian water park, with plenty of fun and slides for families of all ages. Whilst my husband went straight on to the black slide, I opted to stay in one of the two childrens’ areas.
Both children’s areas had some lovely little play slides and gentle chutes for children to gain confidence plus plenty of adventous slides for teenagers. The park is well laid out, with plenty of greenery and views. Sunbeds and parasols are included in the price. For children who do not want to play in the water, the park also has a playground- although it wasn’t open during our visit in May.
The park operates on a wristband system which you charge everything too. You simply pay upon exit. Lifeguards are clearly present and there is a first aid station. There are also plenty of changing areas and showers.
If you are not staying at any of the hotels which pre-arrange visits to the park, or do not have a car, the park can organise a pick-up/drop-off service from numerous places around the island.
We received complimentray entry to experience the park.
Opening Times: 10-5pm . Check before if it’s a rainy day.
These are based on height. Check on the website for discounted prices.
Over 1.40m €22.95
Children under 1.40m €15.72
Toddlers Under 0.90m Free
Star Beach Water Park
Star Beach Water Park is the oldest park and runs a little bit differently. Entrance is free but there is a 3€ charge for sunbeds, parasols, and an 8€ fee for all day use of the larger water slides. The smaller ones for young children are completely free though as are the lazy rivers and pools. This is the perfect option for budget conscious holiday makers. A small beach is available too.
When we went it was a real mix of young families, older teenagers, and the 18-30 crowd but it never seemed to be over the top – perhaps helped by the children’s area being separate. There are plenty of shady areas to escape the midday sun too.
The immediate vicinity has plenty of restaurants and bars (some are for the all-inclusive use of the Star Beach Hotel next door) convenient supermarket, souvenir shop, jewellery etc. Be aware there is a sex shop too.
Star Beach is also the home of Crete’s free ‘foam party’ (daily 4pm) which can be quite busy. Apparently, plenty of families do join in too as the kids LOVE the bubbles! Just like a giant bubble bath!
Opening Times: 10am- 9pm
Use of the water slides €8 for all day.
There are no big international chain hotels in Crete, but there are several Greek chains, smaller boutique hotels, apartments, and villas. The wide variety means you have a fantastic choice to suit your families requirements and budget. During our week there we explored a couple of places including two larger hotels and a smaller boutique hotel.
Aldemar Cretan Village 4*
The Aldemar Cretan Village is an all -inclusive themed hotel, with the style and colours of a traditional village. None of the rooms are above 2 storey and the site is easily accessible with a pram. On-site facilities include a mini mart, Aldemar shop, and jewellery shop. The mini-mart stocks gifts, food, baby supplies, milk ( even potties) should you need.
The rooms are conveniently laid out for families where you have a separate room to your children, a bath for younger ones, in room facilities including; a fridge, kettle, pool towels etc. The main restaurant has kid friendly opening hours and even has a dedicated kids section – complete with mini chairs and kiddie buffet, where you can opt for the traditional kids fare such as fish fingers, nuggets etc or choose healthier options from the main restaurant. One of the Aldy Kids Club team supervises this area, so should your children want to eat there and watch a movie whilst you eat in the main restaurant, they can! Should you have any dietary requests, the chef can talk you through what is suitable or create something specific. WiFi is complimentary and is available around the site.
The animation team in the kids club were warm and welcoming and my daughter soon learned how to play dominoes whilst my youngest enjoyed some painting. The Aldy club has a wide array of kids activities including; badge making, treasure hunts, map making, pool games, movies, facepainting, Greek lessons to name a few. We unfortunately visited during a rare rainy day but could see the water slide and during a break in the rain, my girls had a little play in the small playarea. The playground incorporates a play house with slide, swings and a sandpit. Conveniently, some little splash areas were dotted around – perfect for toddlers and babies to cool off on warmer days. The site also comprises of 5 pools ( 2 of which are saltwater and one which is quieter with no music playing) and a mini crazy- golf course.
The hotel sits on the beach of Anissaras, with clear turquoise waters. It can be a bit rocky in parts so swim shoes could be a useful item to pack for little ones. Often a ‘hawkers’ stand is set up in the shade as another dining option to the numerous places to eat. We overheard people raving about the food at the beach bar although we didn’t get to experience it ourselves.
We enjoyed our rainy morning visiting there. What stood out in this hotel was how the guests and staff interacted. It was evident that there is a genuine concern to not just be a face behind a suit, but to make every guest feel warmly welcomed.
Serita Beach 5*
The Serita Beach is also an all inclusive hotel and part of the Greek ‘A’ chain. With white and pastel colours it has a fresh, neutral look. The Serita has 2 outdoor seawater swimming pools and 1 outdoor swimming pool with water slides. The kids smaller pool is part of the water slide pool but has a shallower area and play area, complete with fun mini water slides for little ones. It may be a good idea to bring pool shoes for younger children, as the tiled pool area (and other areas when raining) can be very slippery when wet – although the staff did a stirling job mopping up, it is inevitable that it will always get wet. Pool towels are available at set times from a guy at the Creperie. You need to make sure you collect your towels during these times! There are ample sunbeds and umbrellas.
Further entertainment is put on by a friendly specialist team that the children clearly adored. The animation programme runs 6 days a week & includes a children’s disco. Check where the speakers are dotted before you set up camp – as when the animation music is on it may be a bit noisy for you if you are planning a nap!
We explored the mini-club hut (for 4-12 years) and well-equipped playground but as it was such a glorious day, my eldest spent the morning in the pool with the water slides and my youngest mostly in the playground. If you are wanting something a little more active the hotel provides table tennis, water polo, beach volley, pedal boats, canoes, and windsurfing free of charge.
For daytime snacks there is a snack bar with hot dogs or the Creperie for sweet or savoury crops and various desserts and ice-cream but no fresh fruit that I could see. The main restaurant provides a wonderful array of fresh food for all tastes and opens for lunch at 12.30 and dinner at 18.30 – which is helpful with little ones!
Room wise the hotel can provide bungalow family rooms or other family rooms – these have two separate bedrooms, with a bath. Mini fridges are available and you can request a kettle for a deposit. Wifi is available in the room for free and for the rest of the site for a charge.
The beach is shingle but there is a short wooden walkway to the sea. It is wonderfully shallow for a bit and the clearness is incredible! However, swim shoes would be useful to pack for delicate feet. There are rocks if you want to have a proper swim. If you walk left out of the hotels back exit you will eventually find a beautiful sandy beach.
We had a fun morning here and despite slipping over a couple of times, my eldest couldn’t be kept out of the pool or off the water slides!
We also tried a smaller boutique hotel Casa Bianca with no kids club and located away from the beach – in Koutouloufari. The hotel was cool in appearance with a trendy white and grey palette and clean lines. ( They ned to update the photos on the website as it looks even better now)The rooms had a separate room for the kids and us, with a TV in each room. WiFi was included around the site. There was no bath but the girls managed with a shower. A fridge/minibar and kettle are conveniently provided too. There are steps to the rooms so if you have a stroller, you may just want to request a ground floor one, which would involve climbing about ten steps.
The chef at the hotel was fantastic and we enjoyed our continental breakfast which included fresh fruit, cheeses, delicious pastries, savouries, cereals, breads, and toasts etc. The rest of the menu was very tasty and appetising too, with a laid back, chilled atmosphere. The pool was a good size with plenty of sunbeds and umbrellas too. The location of this little gem, meant evening promenades around the local area were nice and easy with kids and we didn’t need to think about parking. During May the rate was very reasonable at about €40 per night!
Exploring the Hills and Villages
Exploring the hills and local villages is where you really get to feel the essence of Crete, its beauty, and history. I would thoroughly recommend hiring a car ( the smaller the better due to some small streets.). Some of the views are just breathtaking and you almost feel like you are as high up as the Grecian Gods. The hills above Hersonissos are easily and quickly accessible and perfectly doable with young kids. We opted to visit a small local village Avdou Chersonissos. First stop was a small olive oil factory called Assargiotakisisyannis complete with local produce and then a wander around a living traditional village. Kids will enjoy tasting the oil and stretching their legs around the village. My 5-year-old was really fascinated by how olive oil was produced, which surprised me a little! As it had just been raining, many small frogs were out- which were a great source of delight to my little ones! Many of the old historic building are no longer in use, but signs tell you what they used to be. You instantly feel transported back in time – to a life that was slower paced and less frenetic.
A little drive further brings you to Lassithi and the Homo Sapiens Museum. The view, even on a rainy day is breathtaking. You truly feel like you are up in the heavens looking down. Conveniently, a local business and restaurant ( apparently the best coffee in Crete) are situated next to this photogenic spot. The owner is very passionate about his museum; a clear labour of love. He charges €3 for entry and to take photos, which I felt was good value. As an adult, I found it a little kitsch, but my children loved it! Essentially it is an open air museum transporting you through the evolution of man – beginning in the caves towards modern day. It doesn’t take a long time to visit each stage ( allow 20-30 mins to visit) but it was interesting nonetheless. My eldest enjoyed the hands on and visual explanation of how bread was made. From the wheat fields, to the grinding stage ( you can have a go at this bit) to preparing and placing in the oven. Both girls enjoyed visiting the caves and seeing how man lived. My husband marvelled at how long ( or short) man lived for. Hint: At one time 25 years old was considered old age!
On the way back down from the hills, we stopped in Mochos, which has a picturesque village square full of restaurants. We visited the restaurant Lithos and I can quite honestly say it was the best meal we had our entire time in Crete. Nikos, the owner, cooks beautiful, authentic Cretan dishes. We devoured them almost as soon as they were delivered to our table- so all I have is a photo of dessert! Well worth a visit if you are in the area!
Beaches and sunny weather are clearly why many visitors visit the Greek Island. We had a very busy in Hersonissos and couldn’t visit every beach but there are 16 to choose from.
One we really enjoyed was Potamos – with beautiful golden, soft sand and the proud recipient of a blue flag. Showers are available and there is a wooden walkway plus sunbeds and umbrellas to hire. The beauty of this spot is the taverna ( Kalyba) across the road. It was established in the 1960’s and still produces fresh quality food. A little gem of a place where it felt like only repeat visitors knew about! My two year loved their grilled octopus. Of course with beaches you have the sea, and there is something quite spectacular about the clear, dazzling sea on a sunny day! Some beaches are shingle but others are very soft.
The 16 beaches in Hersonissos are:
Karteros, Tobruk, Arina ( Municipal beach), Vathianos Kampos, Kokkini Hani, Gournes, Gouves, Apolselemis, Analipsi, Anissara (blue flag) Sarantaris (Municipal beach), Hersonissos, Stalida, Klotsani, Malia and Potamos ( Municipal beach and blue flag)
Although Knossos Palace is not in the municipality of Hersonnisos, it is within easy reach ( 25 minutes drive) and one of the biggest attractions on the island. This ancient Minoan Palace was the seat of King Minos and the basis of the myth of the Minotaur. Although our two year old couldn’t understand its significance our 5-year-old, was excited to imagine and walk where the King lived. Wondering around these huge ruins, and ancient corridors, you can see how one could have easily have got lost. It really has a complex layout!
If you have a stroller, there are several areas with a walkway so you can view a lot of this ancient site, however to see more, there are many steps and uneven walkways.
A restaurant, gift shop and toilets are on site – but the female toilets are always busy!
Have I tempted you visit Hersonissos or have you been before?
This post is in collaboration with the Tourism department of Hersonissos. As always my views are my own.
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