The primary beach of Malia, situated in the heart of the town, is often teeming with visitors. As a result, those seeking a break from the hustle and bustle tend to head towards the sandy stretches to the east of Malia’s port, conveniently located near the Palace of Malia. The most easterly of these beaches is named Potamos (meaning River), due to a small stream that flows along its eastern edge, adjacent to Malia’s wetlands.
Potamos is a lengthy, sandy expanse that is well maintained, yet typically less populated than Malia’s main beach. The eastern portion of the region remains relatively untouched due to its archaeological significance. However, to the west of the beach, a number of hotels can be found, each boasting its own sandy cove.
The Malia Swamp is a wetland of unparalleled ecological importance, home to an expansive reed bed that provides habitat for numerous bird species. This area also preserves several types of coastal vegetation that have been lost elsewhere on Crete. The entire area is irrigated by water that flows from Mount Selena, forming a stunning river in the winter months, mere meters from the shore, resulting in crystal clear waters that feed into Potamos beach. The sea here is so fresh, locals can even drink from it! It’s not an uncommon sight to see goats descending from the mountain, swimming in the sea and drinking the water due to its fresh scent. Surrounding Potamos are smaller sand dunes, which come autumn, are adorned with stunning white sand lilies.
The Agia Varvara beach, positioned 41km to the east of Heraklion and nestled between Malia and Sissi, earns its name from a church in the east dedicated to Santa Barbara. This sandy haven forms a petite bay in front of a hotel, with the islet of Agia Varvara just across the bay, an ideal spot for swimming, although one should be careful of the strong currents. The beach is well-equipped with sunbeds and umbrellas, and tamarisk trees are scattered around for added shade. However, be aware that this beach, like many others in northern Crete, is often subject to the frequent northwest winds.
Situated 35km to the east of Heraklion, Malia is a vibrant hub known for its dynamic nightlife and historic appeal with the third largest Minoan palace in Crete, the Malia Palace. Malia’s appeal is augmented by its sandy beaches, a key catalyst for its tourism development.
The main beach in Malia forms the eastern stretch of a 6km long bay commencing from Stalis. This vast beach boasts fine sand and shallow water, often thrumming with life, so much so that there’s barely a gap between sunbeds! Catering to all your comfort needs, the beach offers not only standard amenities such as umbrellas and water sports but also exclusive services like beachfront massage, a beach gym, pool bars at the hotels, and more.
However, if tranquillity is what you’re after, Malia might not be the best fit. You could consider venturing east, beyond the local port, towards the serene beaches of Pirgos and Potamos.
Stalida Beach (or Stalis) is located 30km east of Heraklion, between Malia and Hersonissos. Originally a small seaside village formed by the inhabitants of Mochos, it has now evolved into a bustling tourist destination, harmoniously blending into the neighbouring town of Malia. Stalis caters primarily to families seeking a tranquil retreat, and is beautifully equipped with a range of accommodations, eateries, bars, and taverns, not to mention an ATM and a pharmacy for convenience.
Stalida makes for a perfect base to explore the nearby attractions and engage in an array of activities. The locality is teeming with stunning beaches, enriching archaeological sites, and captivating cultural spots. A short 6km trip from the beach takes you to the Aquaworld Aquarium & Reptile Rescue Centre – a place where you can acquaint yourself with a variety of marine creatures and reptiles. Nearby, the Lychnostatis Open Air Museum offers a deep dive into Crete’s natural history and culture.
For those seeking aquatic thrills, the Acqua Plus waterpark, the island’s largest, is not far from the coastline. To the west, beyond Malia and Potamos Beach, lies the Malia Palace Archaeological Site, home to the third largest Minoan palace complex and steeped in millennia-old history. A further 20km south, the ancient Minoan settlement of Karfi offers another slice of history, believed to have been home to around 3,500 inhabitants.
For those with a passion for hiking, the Bulgarian trail, starting from Stalis and leading up to Mohos, is a must. Named after the Bulgarian prisoners of war who constructed it during WWII, this 5km trail, though lengthy and ascending, is an experience in itself. Along the way, you’ll cross a pedestrian bridge spanning the highway and encounter the contemporary Panagia Theogenitor Monastery. Once in Mohos, enjoy a leisurely stroll along narrow lanes, relax with a coffee in the spacious square, and enjoy the warm company of the locals. You can choose to return via the same trail or follow a different one leading from Mohos to Malia.
Sissi, also known as Sisi, is a tranquil traditional seaside village nestled 26km west of Agios Nikolaos and 41km east of Heraklion, not far from Malia. The village is renowned for its natural harbour, characterized by tranquil deep green waters, and its charming taverns nestled within narrow streets. The Sissi coastline is predominantly rocky, with only a few sandy stretches. The sea around here is typically choppy, making the only calm swimming spot the small beach within the harbor (Limani). This petite beach offers a few umbrellas and showers for visitors.
If you desire to explore other beaches, you can travel east to Harkoma bay, home to the well-kept Boufos beach. This sandy beach is exposed to the wind. Adjacent to it, you’ll find the smaller Avlaki beach, situated at the exit of a narrow bay.
Moving further east, you’ll find the sandy Kalimera beach, located in front of the Kalimera Kriti hotel. Managed by the hotel, the beach is well-organized and boasts of shallow waters, making it perfect for children. On the opposite side of the hotel is Spiliada, the last beach within the Sissi territory. Spiliada is a sandy beach shaded by numerous tamarisk trees, offering a more peaceful atmosphere compared to the other beaches.