After spending a few months getting acquainted with the many joys of island life in Crete, I had begun to consider myself quite the connoisseur. When my sister suggested a post-COVID family get together for a week on the wonderful isle, I was so excited to be the gracious knowledgeable host. Then I remembered I had to think of things to do that the kids would love. It turned out not to be so hard, as Crete is so full of glorious things to do for kids of all ages. I couldn’t wait to get stuck into some exciting and adrenaline-fuelled activities and relaxing afternoons on the beach with the kids.
Mountain biking at the Lassithi Plateau and visiting Zeus’ Cave
After a day of rest consisting of basking in the sunshine and eating delectable Greek snacks by the nearest beach at Kokkini, everyone was eager to explore the lands beyond the blue. I’d hired mountain bikes for the five of us, and we were all packed in the four-wheel-drive I’d hired for the week, headed for the exquisite Lassithi plateau (about an hour far from our hotel). The area of the Lassithi Plateau is a wide, flat area with a great mountain biking route perfect for families. Cycling around the landscape on a warm breezy morning was just the ticket. We knew we had arrived when we spotted hundreds of charming white windmills stretching across the plateau. The settlements here are at an altitude of over 800 m, and the air is most refreshing.
My first surprise for the kids was a trip to the Dikteon Cave – the famous birthplace of Zeus according to legend. The youngest, Isabelle, was overjoyed to find she could ride a donkey up to the entrance of the cave. Once inside, the silence of the cave was broken by the soft muffling chirrups of birds, sleeping bats, and various arthropods scuttling about in the dim light. It’s a bit slippery in places, so remember to wear shoes with a good grip! There are five chambers inside the Dikteon cave. The most impressive of which is the hidden lake at the endpoint. I was in as much awe of the thousands of stalagmites and stalactites as the kids were, the largest of which is known as the ‘Mantle of Zeus’. We were all waiting for me to take my final photographs before leaving the cave and head to Krassi village for a nice traditional meal under the oldest plane tree I have ever seen (2.400yrs).
There are so many family-friendly hikes around Crete, on account of the glorious mountain ranges that carve the formidable landscape from the sea to the center. The Psiloritis and Asterousia Mountains are crisscrossed with tracks and trails that would please any avid hiker. Kids tend to love an extra feature like a surprise cave or a hidden beach, and these are plenty in Crete. The Ideon Cave lies at the foot of Mount Ida in the Psiloritis Mountain range. This cave also miraculously shares the same legend that Zeus was born and grew up here. So you’ll have to make an executive decision on which one you think most resembles the haunt of a God.
Here are some more kids friendly hikes around the island.
Kounaviano Gorge (Heraklion prefecture)
Imbros Gorge (Chania prefecture)
A trip to the mysterious island
I wanted my family to experience some of the fascinating past and the rich history that is present all over Crete. From the presence of preserved archeological wonders in the cities to the home-grown and organic produce. To the best wines I’d ever tasted from the wineries that graced the fertile hills of Crete’s tranquil landscape. The kids were not interested in the wine tours, so we decided on a glorious trip to the island of Spinalonga to see the captivating historical fortress. The kids enjoyed the wind blowing their hair on the boat, and my sister and I enjoyed the chance to indulge in a lovely bottle of red. We were all winners. Read more about the enchanting island of Spinalonga here.
As Crete is an island surrounded by other tiny islands floating in the Libyan sea, there are some truly magnificent boat trip excursions to be had. Kids will love getting each other to walk the plank aboard the pirate ship Evdokia with a full-day trip with a Pirate Boat Cruise to Koufonisi Island. From what we were told, great ‘glass bottom sea tours’ are also those to Balos and Preveli beaches.
Family canyoning in Crete
We were hitting the ground running and Day 3 was an equally adventurous day of family canyoning. As my nieces were 7 and 10, Tsoutsouros gorge sounded perfect for an all-around adventure in the famed Cretan canyons.
Tsoutsouros gorge is possibly the most beautiful canyon in the Asterousia mountains. It’s a low-grade, family-friendly canyon, and just perfect for our band of buccaneers. The gorge was an easy and fun crossing that got narrower at the end, and the rocks became more technical and at once more beautiful. The kids loved being belayed down the short descents and taking a chance at some of the more technical rocks.
After all the hard work, you’re rewarded with the ideal gift at the very end – the beach at Tsoutsouros village! We changed into our swimsuits and sandals and ran into the water to splashed around. Laughing and having fun before returning to the beach to cool down with a fresh smoothie from a local café.
Canyoning in Tsoutsouros gorge is €85 per person. All equipment is provided, and we had transfers included from our hotel. Don’t forget the essentials!
- 2 pairs of shoes – suitable shoes for canyoning, and sandals or dry shoes if they get wet.
- Swimming gear
- Spare outfits for children
- A suitable backpack to keep everything in
A day trip to Lake Kournas
It had been an action-packed couple of days and we were ready for some serious relaxation. I thought there could be nothing more serene than to pack an excellent Cretan-style picnic full of fresh local cheese, cold cuts, and homemade herbal iced tea! I’d curated a selection of my favorites. Including graviera and mizithra cheese with honey, some fresh dolmades, cold cuts from my local producer, and little kalitsounia pies I knew the kids would love. I was sure to be getting the prize for best aunt this year, especially considering I was the only one.
Lake Kournas, just 1.5 hrs drive out of Heraklion City close to the enigmatic municipality of Chania is completely breathtaking. You’d be forgiven for thinking the freshwater lake was the actual ocean as the water is so crystalline turquoise and the sand so pristine that it could rival Crete’s most beautiful beaches.
We decided to hire one of the cute pedalo boats for an hour (7 euros / hour) of exploring on the lake. The ducks are a permanent feature of this tranquil scene, but I was surprised to see sweet little terrapins bobbing their heads out of the water too. I thought it would be amusing to tell the kids a fun little story that the mythical lake is legendary and is thought to be completely bottomless. That’s why the middle is so dark. This resulted in them screaming with laughter when we pedalled over to the dark edge and my sister threatened to throw their father overboard. The lake actually only has a depth of 22.5 meters and is darkened due to the seaweed at the bottom.
All that peddling had stomachs rumbling, and we were all ready for a rest under the sun loungers and my picnic. A glorious smell was wafting along the beach from one of the tavernas when we alighted the boat, and the food lover in me just had to find the source. I returned with a delicious ‘apaki’ (smoked pork) to add to our wonderful picnic.
Relaxing at kids-friendly beaches
After our lovely day at the lake, the kids were craving the water. I had to agree that a day of relaxing on the beach sounded heavenly. There are so many fantastic beaches in Crete that cut waves as excellent as the views, but we wanted somewhere calm and kid-friendly of course. Amoudara is the closest beach to our hotel in Heraklion at a kid-friendly 10-minute drive. I knew the girls would love exploring the enchanting beach caves of Matala, but I opted for the tranquil bays of Sarantaris at a close 30-minute drive in the car.
The waters here are shallow and the rocky peninsula is quite enclosed so not too windy. The rock that stretches along the beach is also super handy – if like me and the children – you want to avoid too much of a suntan. Factor 50 has always been a fine friend for my alabaster skin. If you fancy a more secluded beach there’s Psaromoura beach, but it has a steep scramble down a hill that might be a bit tricky for small children.
The crystal clear waters of Sarantaris are also brilliant for families as the shallow waters offer fantastic snorkeling opportunities. It took a while for my youngest niece to figure that she didn’t have to hold her breath with the snorkel on. But as soon as she got the hang of it she was like a duck to water! Scarlett however, took to the water so naturally, we thought she had turned into a fish.
More kids-friendly beaches for swim & fun in Heraklion are Kokkini Hani, Stalida, Tsoutsouras, Keratokampos. In Chania the best are: Frangocastello, Paleochora, Elafonissi, Falasarna. In Rethymno, I would suggest Plakias, Damnoni, Bali, and Panormo.
Crete has also many opportunities for diving. As the waters of the surrounding coastal areas are so clear and calm it’s the ideal place for diving all year round. Pelagos Dive Centre in Agios Nikolaos is a fully qualified and established diver training centre and is kid-friendly too. Learning to dive is made easy and fun by fully qualified PADI instructors. Whether you’re diving for underwater treasure at sunken shipwrecks or exploring underwater caverns, the waters surrounding Crete are full of incredible mysteries just waiting to be discovered.
The CRETAquarium and Hersonissos glass-bottom boat
Our last day was all about discovering the delights of the ocean as we set out to sail on a glass-bottom boat and visited the CRETAquarium. We’d heard the word on the wind whilst we were at the beach that pirates and seafarers alike were welcome aboard the good ship Nemo. The glass-bottom boat in Hersonissos has six glass panels for excellent viewing. It was like sitting in our own personal aquarium just watching the world go by as fish darted in and out of view, along with the occasional snorkeller!
On the way back to the hotel we made a whistle-stop to the CRETAquarium. The kids couldn’t get fish off the brain and it was time to see some of the giants of the ocean up close. You’re greeted with a huge octopus as you enter the aquarium, an exciting prompt for the surprises that await inside. CRETAquarium is one of Europe’s largest aquariums and has more than 100 different areas focusing on the amazing life in the Mediterranean and tropic seas that surround Crete. The tiny seahorses were my absolute favorites, but the girls couldn’t take their eyes off the numerous sharks.
There’s so much fun to be having with kids in Crete, that by the end of the week, I was sad to say goodbye to my family. Next time, we’ll be checking out all the awesome theme parks and activities on this fabulous island.
Water Parks and Theme Parks for kids that will be back soon: Labyrinth Park – fun in the outdoors and only 20 minutes from Heraklion. Greek mythology-themed park with a maze, mini-golf, horseback riding, archery & other attractions. Watercity Waterpark, Acqua Plus Water Park – the largest waterpark in Crete!, and Dinosauria Park!