Eastern Crete Guide: Things to Do in Lasithi

Lasithi is the easternmost region of Crete, located east of Heraklion, the capital of Crete. The largest town is Agios Nikolaos; other towns in the region include Ierapetra, Sitia, and Neapoli. For me, Lasithi is the most underrated region of Crete. It is far less crowded and more undiscovered than the central and western regions of Crete. Some of the highlights of Lasithi include Spinalonga Island, Richtis Gorge, the Toplou Monastery, and the Sitia Geopark.

I recently spent time exploring this beautiful region. This list of things to do in Lasithi includes ideas about where to stay in Lasithi as well as where to enjoy traditional Cretan and Greek foods.

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13 Things to Do in Lasithi, Eastern Crete

1. Visit the town of Agios Nikolaos

Agios Nikolaos and Voulismeni lake
Agios Nikolaos and Voulismeni lake

Agios Nikolaos is a coastal town and the largest town in Lasithi, Crete. Located due east of Heraklion and north of Ierapetra, Agios Nikolaos dates back to the Bronze Age. Due to its strategic harbour, the town has enjoyed millennia of settlement, but today is predominantly a tourist town. Attractions in town include a small archaeological museum, while the nearby Spinalonga Island attracts tourists for its famed Venetian fortress turned leper colony.

Where to Eat in Agios Nikolaos

For those who love the farm to table dining concept, Karnagio is a must do. Created in 2004, this charming taverna near the lakefront is a restaurant sourcing entirely Cretan ingredients. Many of the herbs and produce come from nearby farms, while the fish is from local fishermen. The olive oil comes from local producers, as does the entire wine list.

2. Take Diving Lessons

Novices and experts alike can dive with MVDiving, located in the Candia Park Village resort. Diving here can be done all year round. Sites include reefs, wrecks, and ancient ruins, and divers can see numerous varieties of fish and rays. All instructors are PADI certified.

3. Explore Elounda

Elounda is a small village near Agios Nikolaos. Known for its spectacular rocky coastline and sheltered beaches, Elounda is a great spot for those in search of a more peaceful getaway. You can get to Spinalonga Island from here, as well as explore from above the sunken ruins of ancient Olous.

4. Visit Spinalonga island

Spinalonga Island, Crete
Spinalonga Island, Crete

Spinalonga is located in the Gulf of Elounda, near the towns of Agios Nikolaos and Plaka. During the Venetian occupation of Crete (16th century) the island was carved out from the mainland of Crete and a fortress was built there to protect the entrance to the harbour. They also constructed new fortifications at the top of the hill, making the island an impenetrable fortress.

spinalonga island

Spinalonga remained in Venetian hands until the 18th century, when the Ottomans finally sacked it. In the early 20th century, the island was used as a leper colony, one of the last active ones in Europe. Today, it is an uninhabited island known for its beaches and shallow waters. There is no accommodation on the island but it is a popular day trip from Elounda, Agios Nikolaos, and Plaka.

Click here to book a boat cruise and guided tour to Spinalonga from Agios Nikolaos.

For more information check my post on Spinalonga Island. 

5. Go Horseback Riding at Fourni village

A unique excursion in Lasithi will be to take a horseback riding tour with Fourni Horses. Founded in 2016, Fourni Horses offers organised trail rides through the surrounding landscape. Go early in the day to beat the summer heat, or set off near sunset in order to view the sun setting from atop a local hill.

6. Take A Day Trip to Chrissi island from Ierapetra

Chrissi Island is an uninhabited island about 15 kilometres from the coast of Ierapetra. A boat ride takes about 20-30 minutes. The low-lying island is only 30 metres high at its highest point, where a cluster of protected juniper trees grow. Visitors to the island can explore the white sandy beaches, lounge on a rented sunbed (take cash!), or hike to the Minoan ruins. Day trips last about 4-5 hours; there are no services on the island so guests must take food and water.

Click here to book a day trip to Chrissi island from Ierapetra. 

For more information check out my guide to Chrissi island, Crete.

7. Day Trip to Koufonisi island from Makrys Gialos

Koufonissi island Crete -Best beaches in Crete
Koufonissi island Crete

Explore a remote ecological and wildlife preserve on Koufonisi Island south of Crete on a day trip from Makrys Gialos. Aboard the pirate ship (as they call it), guests can participate in themed activities or sightseeing from the decks as you cruise toward the island. You’ll see some of the most pristine seas, sea caves, and hollow inlets (for which the island is named).

8. Enjoy Wine Tasting at the Toplou Monastery

Toplou Monastery
photo by Passion for Hospitality

Toplou Monastery is the only surviving monastery in the Sitia area. Small and compact, and situated on top of a plateau near Vai, one hour from Agios Nikolaos, the monastery houses some important icons and theological pieces as well as a winery and olive oil production facility.  

Toplou Monastery wines
photo by Passion for Hospitality

It’s very small, only producing about 60,000 bottles of organic wine per year, but is open to the public most days. Visits include a tour of the facility and museum along with a visit to the tasting room where you can try their wines. There is a shop as well.

9. Visit Ano Zakros Village and Kato Zakros Village

beach in Kato Zakros
main beach in Kato Zakros

As the gateway to several important Minoan sites, Ano Zakros is a small mountain hamlet on the eastern side of Lasithi. Tucked in the hills between Ano Zakros (Upper Zakros) and Kato Zakros (Lower Zakros) is the Zakros Gorge, also known as Gorge of the Dead.

Gorge of the dead in Zakros, Crete
Gorge of the dead in Zakros, Crete

Named for the Minoan burial rite of burying the dead in caves along the steep sheer walls of the gorge, the gorge’s footpath is also the final point of a cross-country trekking path across Southern Europe. At the far end of the footpath, in Kato Zakros, you’ll find the Palace of Zakros, a remarkably complete Minoan palace. Far smaller than Knossos – the most famous of Cretan palaces – Zakros is nonetheless a shining example of Minoan architecture.

For more information check my post on Kato Zakros.

10. Explore the Sitia Geopark

A geopark is a site of extreme geological importance. There are many such parks across the globe, which use the geological heritage to promote awareness of geological issues and inform us of natural events. We can use geoparks to learn more about tsunamis, volcanoes, and earthquakes, and we can better educate communities about disaster awareness through a geopark.

The Sitia Geopark, a UNESCO World Geopark, is in one of the most ecologically and geologically diverse areas of Crete, where the Zakros mountains dominate. Its Eastern Mediterranean location allowed for an exchange of flora and fauna with Asia Minor, while its cultural heritage was influenced by the Silk Road and the vast trade networks from antiquity to modern day. Numerous fossils have been found here, all of significant importance.

11. Beaches of Eastern Crete

Vai Beach
Vai Beach

Eastern Crete has some wonderful beaches. In general, but not exclusively, the more organised beaches (with tavernas, chairs, umbrellas, etc) are on the northern end of the region while the southern beaches tend to be a little more remote.

At Agia Fotia, you can find deep blue waters with coarse grey sand and plenty of activity. There are often beach volleyball tournaments here. The surrounding area has plenty of tavernas, hotels, and beach bars.

Xerokampos beach
Xerokampos beach

Nearby Vai is famous for its palm trees (the only palm forest in Europe), and Xerokampos is a secluded beach with crystal clear waters and argyle, which is perfect for smearing on your body for a natural spa.

12. Hike in Richtis Gorge and Visit the Waterfall

Situated along the road from Sitia to Agios Nikolaos, the Richtis Gorge and waterfall is a great, moderate day hike. Diverse in both flora and fauna, the trail begins at the Exo Mouliana village and ends at the secluded Richtis beach. There are several ways to hike, but the longest trail is about 5 hours while you can also begin at the beach and walk to the waterfall, about 2.5 hours.

13. Explore Ierapetra Town

Ierapetra crete

Ierapetra is located on the south coast of eastern Crete; it is the most populous town in the Lasithi region. Ierapetra has been a city for millennia, first as a Minoan settlement, then a Classical Greek and Roman city (Hierapytna). During the Classical Greek period, it was the strongest town and by the Hellenistic era it was a pirate town.

The Romans sacked Hierapytna in 67 BCE, then the city was destroyed by the Arabs in the 7th century AD before being rebuilt as a centre for piracy. Under the Venetians, Ierapetra became prosperous. Today, the ruins of the old Roman harbour can be seen underwater, while the Venetian fortress and the Ottoman mosque are popular attractions.

Where to Stay in Agios Nikolaos

Perfect for those seeking an all-inclusive option on Crete, the Miramare Resort and Spa offers a variety of room types from standard double rooms to superior suites with private pools. Guests can book a simple room, a room with breakfast, half board, or fully inclusive. With so many options, it is a great hotel for both couples and families or friends. The hotel is located in Mirabello Bay, near the village of Gargadoros. It is between two beaches where guests can enjoy water sports, and is a short walk from Agios Nikolaos town.

Candia Park is a great hotel for families. Set within a traditional Cretan village, the hotel complex offers babysitting services, child-friendly activities, and more. The resort has a private beach with all kinds of water activities, and is also a short distance from town.

The Wyndham Mirabello is ideal for couples. This five-star resort boasts luxurious accommodations, traditional Cretan cuisine alongside fabulous international fare at any of the five restaurants on property, and an award-winning spa. The architecture blends seamlessly with the surrounding nature, sparking serenity and peace within all guests.

Where to Stay in Sitia

The Sitia Beach Hotel is a great place for families or guests in search of an all-inclusive stay. With a combination of rates and rooms, everyone will find something to rave about. The Sitia Beach Hotel is modern and fresh, with spacious rooms and plenty of outdoor space, including gardens, outdoor dining, and pools.

Where to Stay in Kato Zakros

Terra Minoika is a collection of stone villas a mere 20 metres from the sea. Many of the villas have expansive views across the coastline of Kato Zakros. All are equipped with verandahs and shaded seating areas as well as spacious bedrooms and bathrooms.

Some villas have living spaces as well; most can accommodate up to 4 people. The property boasts hammocks perfect for lazily reading in the shade, beach access, and traditional Cretan dances. The owners are more than willing to share hiking or climbing knowledge and equipment for the more adventurous guests.

Lasithi remains an undiscovered part of Crete, and one of my favourites. It’s rugged mountains and secluded beaches draw locals and few tourists, yet there are modern hotels and resorts, friendly locals, and plenty to do. From the unique geological features in Sitia to the former leper colony on Spinalonga, from the hidden beaches of eastern Crete to the bustling ports of Ierapetra and Agios Nikolaos, Lasithi has something for everyone. Be sure to make this a stop on your next visit to Crete.

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