If you want a lively scene – fluttering parasols, beats emanating from beach bars, banana boats roaring past – northern Hersonissos is the Cretan base for you. This nub of land just outside Heraklion is home to two vast waterparks, where twists of bright plastic stand bold against the dusty green landscape. Too old for the flumes? Nightlife trims the waterfront, from cocktail lounges to neon-tinged DJ nights – while Greece’s storied Bronze Age palace, Knossos, lies just inland.
This is a full family affair, set a few blocks back from the sea: three swimming pools, including one with waterslides, spacious lawns of sun loungers, and an all-inclusive option make it a top-value choice for families. Rooms are beigey-basic, with cool-tiled floors and wooden headboards, but Anissaras Beach, with its golden sand and clear, shelving shallows, is only a 20-minute walk (or a five minute free hotel shuttle) away.
This huge complex is a swirl of hotel buildings, lagoon pools, palm-trimmed gardens and restaurant patios large enough to get lost in. With upmarket touches such as a thalassotherapy spa, live music, and a sushi bar, it’s a romantic, couples-choice vibe, though families are welcome. Spacious rooms and swim-up suites feel fresh and modern with pool-echoing blues, sea urchin-print wallpaper and potted succulents – but most refreshing of all is seeing a vast resort like this run like clockwork.
Another pretzel-twist of brightly coloured flumes beckons families at this large-scale, beachfront resort. A broad, biscuity beach is backed by manicured lawns and palms, and enough pool and sun-terrace options to please both frolicking families and older couples getting away from it all. Pale beach-house hues keep rooms modern and inviting; with lovely sea view balconies and floor-to-ceiling windows letting the light flood in. All-inclusive restaurants are beautifully designed, especially the sultry Tastes of Asia terrace, strung with scarlet lanterns.
This package-hol favourite has elegant, cream-painted private villas sleeping six, as well as classic hotel rooms in blue and white. Villas have luxe touches such as generous private pools, Nespresso machines and private saunas; suites with marble bathrooms and home cinemas comfortably fit families of four. The beach is not the world’s most scenic, but you’re close to Anissaras, and most guests simply choose to lounge by the pool.
Bleached stone patios and gnarled olive trees create an authentic, villagey feel at this entertainment-packed family resort. Kids clubs, archery lessons, karaoke, Greek dancing nights and even a house nightclub means it won’t exactly be noise-free – but your little ones will be captivated. The resort’s pride in its heritage means delicious Cretan delights at its all-inclusive tavernas and Greek barbecue, too (Platia, with its earthenware pots and lightly-battered seafood, is the prettiest).
Blissfully child-, activity- and karaoke-free, Elysium soothes the senses with its charcoal grey loungers and decking set against a blinding turquoise pool. These sultry grey hues and natural textures are woven throughout the property, attracting young couples keen to take advantage of the house yoga and pilates instructor. They flirt over grilled sardines and zingy salads at Euphoria restaurant, and book edible-smelling Cretan massages, using orange peel, olive oil and raki.
An amphitheatre of private plunge-pools and grassy roofs shelve down towards the Mediterranean at this feelgood, sharply-designed resort. Private suites and villas have plenty of space to spread out (some are super-luxe, with private gym equipment or saunas). Health and fitness is a big theme here: the spa specialises in out-there treatments (book one designed for your star sign), while the Royal Fitness Club is an architectural, airy space full of high-spec cardio equipment.
This boxy, whitewashed apartment building is a lower-key prospect: 10 apartments sleeping from four to six, set beside a sea view terrace and simple two-tier pool on a smart lawn. Arlen’s rooms are bleached-white with pops of cupcake colour: a sugar-pink curtain here, a powder-blue bedspread there. There’s no big commercial beach outside, just a quiet rocky sliver with clear water unbothered by tourists – but low room rates reflect the relaxed simplicity of the area.
This reasonably-priced hideaway is wrapped around a peaceful pool terrace, where an unpretentious crowd orders beers and cocktails from the handy, high-stooled bar. Inside are squishy sofas and a mini lending-library, plus simple, pastel-painted apartments with little kitchenettes giving the option to self-cater. Nearby is Old Hersonissos, for food shopping and tavernas along pretty, leafy streets.
Slightly south from its sister property Aldemar Knossos Villas, the Royal resort is all about families, with sprawling maisonettes set around huge, splash-me pools trimmed with palms and decorative bridges. Decor needs a bit of an update, but friendly staff put all ages at ease, and crowd-pleasing Greek and pan-Mediterranean dinners do both grown-up (grilled octopus) and kiddie (cheesy phyllo pastries) delights. Stop by the pretty Kafeneio cafe, with its patio of bright-blue chairs, to learn the Greek art of all-day coffee drinking.