Spinalonga is easily the coolest place I visited on my trip to Crete. It’s about an hour and a half drive from Heraklion, or three and a half hours from Chania. If this is your first time driving in Crete, your GPS estimated time is not accurate, it will always take longer! Just keep that in mind when planning your drive time for the day.
When visiting Spinalonga you’ll need to take a boat from either Plaka or Elounda. I recommend Plaka, its a smaller town, not nearly as busy and only a 5 minute boat ride. The ride costs 8 Euro which doesn’t include the entrance fee to the fortress. Elounda boat rides take about 15 minutes, but I can’t vouch for the price. I do know that you have to pay for parking in Elounda, whereas you don’t in most places in Plaka. No reservations are needed, you just hop on, they leave every 15-20 minutes. Same goes for your boat ride back, you just hop on any Plaka boat back and you’re good to go. Entrance fee is 4 Euro which is a complete steal for how much there really is to explore.
The entrance to Spinalonga is crowded as people gather to take boats back and wait for tours to start. Bee line it through there and 100 feet in you’ll be in nearly complete solitude. There are so many ruins of rooms, door ways, stairways and openings that drop down the fortress walls to the Mediterranean leading to beautiful views. You’ll need a few hours, a lot of water and maybe a snack or two for your visit. There is little to no shade on the entire island so make sure you come prepared! Take your time to explore the nooks and crannies of this place as well as read up on the history.
The Venetians carved out from a peninsula to create the island to make it a more secure defense for a fortress in the 1500s. It remained an active fortress until 1715 when the Turks captured Spinalonga. It was later used as a leper colony from the early 1900s until the 1950s. Because of its different uses at different times, it has some various architecture mixed in. Most is Venetian but you’ll find some wood mixed in.
When you’re done wandering, head back to Plaka for dinner at Taverna Spinalonga. The restaurant extends an outdoor seating portion over the water and has a beautiful view of the Mediterranean and Spinalonga. They have quite the menu, and everything I tried was delicious and my waitress was sweet and helpful. Toss a few pieces of bread over the edge into the water and wait… I’ve never seen anything like this. Fish swarm like piranha to eat this bread! I watched a little girl do this at the other end of the restaurant, and at first thought she was trying to feed the gulls, but soon noticed to 50-100 fish eating up every tiny piece.
Plaka is small but has a number of cute shops, including an artists studio with original artwork. He was very friendly and happy to show me the different types of paints and pottery he did, and even gifted me a painting of Aphrodite after purchasing painting he had done of the town. This is a very sleeply little town, everyone is very friendly and not a lot of crowds or tourists. Head to the waterfront to go take a swim. It’s not the best for laying out because they are big rocks, but all smooth and rounded so its not bad to walk on to take a dip!
On your drive back, stop down the road in Elounda to wander the streets of a busier beach town, and grab a drink a local tavern or do some shopping for some local dresses and beachwear. Elounda has more shops and restaurants but expect more crowds, hard to find parking (and pay for it) and higher prices. If you’re looking to lay out on a beach, Elounda offers a sandier option than Plaka does.
On your drive back down the E75 you’ll get to enjoy a beautiful Cretan sunset! No better way to end a day in Greece.