If you fancy the Cretan weather, but don’t want to go wild in one of the islands famously lively resorts then check out peaceful, family-friendly Sissi on the north coast of Greece’s largest island. Sissi has long been a favourite with foreigners from all over the world, yet has still maintained its character as a traditional Cretan fishing village. Laying on some of the best coastline in the Mediterranean, it’s the perfect destination for your 2017 holiday. If you fancy upping the ante, most of the island’s top attractions lie only a day-trip away. Make your way to the famous party town of Malia, or just a little further along the coast to the island’s historical capital, Heraklion.
A holiday in Sissi makes for a great place to take the kids, with its protected beach guaranteeing calm waters for smaller swimmers. There’s a great choice of beaches nearby, including one specialising in snorkelling with an offshore island to explore and jump from into crystal-clear waters.
At a glance
- Currency: Euro
- Language: Greek
- Time Zone: GMT +2
- Average flight time: 4h 0m
When to go
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If you’re looking for something a little more upbeat on your holiday in Sissi, you’ll be pleased to discover that the island’s capital city, Heraklion, is not much further down the coast. Heraklion brings with it a vibrant, bustling atmosphere that perfectly encapsulates the Grecian way of life. The Archaeological Museum is, as you’d expect on Crete, of fantastic quality. There’s more modern history too, with Venetian fortifications enclosing the prettiest parts of the town. If you want to go shopping, head for the Platía Eleftherías, the city’s main square, and hunt for bargains amongst stalls touting fine Grecian linens and silver jewellery. Knossos is a must see whether you’re a history lover or not. It’s the former centre of the Minoan civilization, as well as being home of the original labyrinth and the myth of the Minotaur, and all of its wares have been remarkably well preserved.
Crete has a very proud sense of its own cultural and historical identity, evident in its charming picturesque villages and sites of historical importance. Wander down the winding streets of Vrahasi and Epanosissi and you’ll find a friendly welcome and a way of life that’s remained little changed for many years.
Wine and Dine
Sissi’s waterfront and surrounding hills makes for the ideal backdrop to a lazy brunch, or candle-lit dinner. Enjoy fresh Grecian classics in a range of friendly tavernas and restaurants. If you have any leftovers (though we’re pretty sure you won’t) you can feed them to the ducks that give Sissi’s waters even more character. For diners seeking a little more diversity, Malia and Heraklion offer a wider spectrum of Mediterranean cuisines, as well as international offerings. Heraklion’s Kastella serves some of the best traditional Greek dishes on the island, with medleys of chargrilled vegetables in every colour. These culinary delights make a feast for the eyes, as well as the mouth. If it’s local meat you’re after, be sure to tick the steakhouse, Hovoli, off your list. Succulent cuts of prime beef are served alongside other Grecian classics, and will certainly make for a meal to remember. For those seeking an authentic experience like no other, take the famous food tour through the streets of Chania Old Town. Covering the city’s narrow backstreets that host secret local cafes, this tour gives you the chance to taste Cretan specialties such as koulouri pies, olives and more.
A holiday in Sissi offers something for every member of the family, whether you’re a sun-seeker or culture-vulture. Kids will love the many aquariums on offer, but perhaps none more than Aquaworld in Hersonisos. Home to local sea life and reptiles including giant snakes, most of the animals here were rescued. The brave amongst you can enjoy hands-on interaction with many of the reptiles, making for some fabulous photos. Other family days out include a buggy safari through the dramatic Cretan mountains, or visiting nearby waterparks like Water City and Acqua Park. Speed down one of Water City’s 36 slides, or float serenely down the lazy river at Acqua Park. After you’ve had your share of adrenaline, dry off on the surrounding beaches or amble through the streets of capital city Heraklion in search of an ice cream or traditional pastry.
Action and Adventure
While Sissi is a secluded slice of peace, adrenaline junkies will be pleased to discover it’s close to many of the island’s top adventure attractions. Hop on a bus to Heraklion, Malia or Agios Nikolaos, where you’ll find opportunities for water-sports, hiking, city tours and more. Among the many things to do in capital city Heraklion, those seeking excitement should make the stunning beaches of Amoudara a firm priority. Here you’ll find a wealth of water-sporting activities: think water-skiing, banana boat rides, snorkelling and boat tours that will give you a whole new perspective of the island’s golden shores. If you’d rather stick to the land, why not take a cycle or hike through Crete’s dramatic landscapes? The Samaria Gorge – the longest in Europe – offers panoramic views over limestone cliffs, making it a favourite with hiking tours. Crete’s endless opportunities for exploration don’t stop here, head to the Dikteon Cave, one of the most famous on the island. As well as being full of colourful stalagmites and stalactites, the cave is also home to the Mediterranean ear bat.
Life's a Beach
With its central ‘river’ and portside tavernas, Sissi is more of a harbour town than a beach resort. Fear not though as there is an abundance of beaches nearby. Take the short walk to Boufos and you’ll discover a small, sandy beach hemmed by crumbling, layer-cake cliff faces. Or head to Malia for swathes of golden sand and tons of water-sport facilities. Milatos Beach lies to the east of Sissi and though it may be small, it’s perfect for swimmers. Slightly further afield, you’ll find Vai Beach which, as well as boasting pristine sands and clear water, boasts Europe’s largest palm tree plantation. Around 5,000 of these tropical beauties are found here for your shading delight. Anyone day-tripping to Heraklion should pay a visit to its crowning glory, the enormous Tymbaki Beach. Pebbles and sand play host to some good taverna-style restaurants and bars. The last to tick off your list is Istro Beach, another great local resort if you’re after a range of facilities and azure waters.
Unsurprisingly, the nightlife in Sissi is laid-back and mainly consists of tavernas and friendly bars as opposed to some of the island’s more notorious super-clubs and discos. This makes it perfect for families, or those seeking a few drinks after a meal on the waterfront. Some of the most popular nightlife spots in Sissi include Peggy Gordons on the Bufos Beach road, which, like Sissi, is attractive laid-back, and friendly. This authentic bar is known for its welcoming atmosphere and waiters who have been known to juggle pints of Guinness to the rhythm of Greek blues guitarists. Many make it their go-to, night after night. If you’re looking for clubs and opportunities to throw some shapes on the dance floor, you’ll love the proximity of Malia. By night, the city becomes Crete’s party capital, hosting enough international DJs to rival Ibiza.
If you’re after want a holiday brimming with romance, relaxation and the ‘real Greece’, then make Sissi the destination for you and your loved one. Think horse-back riding through the island’s rugged landscapes and beaches at sunset, sipping Grecian wine in rustic vineyards, and sampling in an ancient cuisine that put this island on the map. Speaking of indulgence, it’s certainly worth taking a food tour through the streets of Chania Old Town. This three-hour walking tour covers the atmospheric backstreets and cafes that are only frequented by locals, and gives you the chance to taste Cretan specialties such as koulouri pies, olives and more. This is a true feast for the senses, and one you’re unlikely to forget. A day trip to the picturesque island of Santorini is another must-do for couples of every age and taste. White painted houses with blue domed roofs tumble down its hillside, toward an indigo sea.
The island of Crete is packed with history and a rich culture, no-matter where you look. Head to the capital, Heraklion, and explore the Minoan Palace of Knossos. If you choose to take part in a local tour, you’ll soon learn all about the ancient myths and ghosts of minotaurs that haunt these crumbling pillars. While you’re in the area, be sure to explore excavations of the island’s ancient palace, the Church of Agios Titos, and the Koules Venetian Fortress too. For those seeking more recent history and culture, take a day-trip to the darkly enchanting island of Spinalonga. Situated off Crete’s north coast, this rocky island was once a leper colony. Its impressive Venetian fortress hides the remnants of exiled lives, a contrast to the colorful mainland village of Agios Nikolaos. After walking through these hauntingly preserved homes and winding streets, be sure to finish with a barbecue lunch and a swim in the clear seas before the journey back.