Have you ever heard of Sitia in Crete? Sitia is a small but gorgeous town in Lasithi, in East Crete. It’s a great place to start a fascinating exploration journey in the most remote corner of the island. In this article, I’ll tell you about all the things to do in Sitia, the places to visit, and landmarks you cannot miss!
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Important Information and Things To Do in Sitia
Located in the proximity of Cape Sidero, in the easternmost region of Lasithi on the Greek Island of Crete, Sitia is a small city on the island, not as touristic as other towns in Crete which give it a serene village atmosphere.
Sitia lies on the western side of the bay of the same name. It is an area with a pleasant climate all year round, mostly warm and dry, like most of eastern Crete. In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know to get ready to visit, as well as all the things you can do in the town. Let’s start with some basic information to better plan your Sitia adventure!
Where is Sitia?
Sitia is located facing the Sea of Crete on the north coast of the island. It’s 130 km east of Heraklion and about 70 km from the capital of Lasithi, Agios Nikolaos. It takes about two hours to reach Sitia from Heraklion and one and a half hours from Agios.
How to Get to Sitia
The coastal town hosts the smallest airport on the island (JSH) — and the only airport in East Crete, which receives a few domestic flights from Athens, Alexandroupolis, Preveza, Zakynthos, Lefkada, and other places in Greece. During summer, there are also more routes connecting Crete to a few Greek Islands. The airlines that operate are Olympic Air (and Aegean Airlines), and the Cretan airline Sky Express.
Sitia is also home to an important port that handles sea routes with ferries arriving from Piraeus Port in Athens, and some Greek Islands, including Rhodes, Karpathos, and Kassos.
The most common way to reach Sitia, however, is by car, taxi, or bus from Heraklion, the capital of Crete. A trip by bus will last from 90 minutes to three hours, depending on the route. There are at least three daily buses covering the route Heraklion-Sitia. The ticket is €14.60. There are more details available on the KTEL website.
If you’re getting to Sitia by car you are up for a great road trip. The drive is about two hours (128 km) and takes travelers through some fantastic landscapes along the coast especially after they leave the area of Malia behind.
A Bit of History about Sitia
The modern town of Sitia is believed to have been built on the former Ancient Itia (or Eteia), from where it got its current name. Itia was an ancient prosperous Minoan city with a strategic position in the Mediterranean, maintaining commercial routes with other ports in Greece and the Mediterranean.
Itia was the port of Ancient Praisos, a city destroyed back in 155 BC. Praisos was a strategic port for trading and the main rival of Ancient Ierapytna (today Ierapetra), on the South coast.
Itia was an important settlement especially during the fall of major Minoan settlements across Crete, becoming a center that offered refuge to people fleeing from other Minoan centers.
The town grew and flourished continuously through the Classical, Hellenistic, Roman times thanks to its important port.
In Byzantine times, Sitia flourished becoming the seat of a Bishop, thus gaining an even higher status.
When the Venetians took over Crete, Sitia maintained and even increased its importance on the island becoming a remarkable large city in eastern Crete, which was also home to one of the most important characters in Greek Literature, Vitsentzos Kornaros (1553-1613)
The medieval settlement was protected with an imposing wall and had its own fortress that is still standing, on an elevated position facing the seaside promenade of modern Sitia. Today, the fortress is open to the public.
However, different circumstances such as constant pirate attacks and natural disasters lead to a quick decline. A terrible earthquake destroyed most of Sitia in 1508 while pirate Barbarossa destroyed most of the settlement in 1538.
The Venetians surrendered to the Ottoman Empire and the Turks rebuilt the city and the Kazarma Castle.
And although the Turks renamed the city (Avnie), the name did not last, Sitia was Sitia once again when Crete was liberated from the Ottoman Empire.
Why You Should Visit Sitia
The city is unspoiled, quiet, and a taint provincial, with life revolving mostly around agricultural activities rather than tourism. However, it is an enjoyable town where visitors will feel a warm welcome and where it will be possible to experience the authentic lifestyle of the island.
Top Things to Do in Sitia
In no particular order, these are some of the best things to do in Sitia and the surrounding area.
Kazarma, The Venetian Fortress
Upon arriving in town, head up the hill facing the small harbor and spend some time exploring the Venetian fortress. Kazarma is a name that comes from the Italian expression Casa di Arma (Casa d’Arma means guard barracks in Italian).
The stunning defensive fortress was constructed during the Venetian times, around the thirteenth century. When the Turks conquered Sitia, in 1651, the Venetians destroyed parts of the fortress but it was rebuilt by new conquerors.
Today, the fortress is a prime location for panoramic views of the bay and it is also a place where locals gather for summer festivals, concerts, and other celebrations.
Entrance ticket: €3
Opening hours: 8.30 am – 3.30 pm
Check the Archaeological Museum of Sitia
The port town of Sitia houses one of the most important archaeological museums in Lasithi, exhibiting objects and findings from the Lasithi area, belonging to different historical periods, such as Bronze Age objects Mochlos (a small island, on the Mirabello Gulf, and the Minoan Palace of Zakros.
The highlight of the museum is the well-known Palekastro Kouros, a statue found in the small village of Palekastro, a few kilometers from Sitia.
Archaeological Museum Info
Entrance ticket: €3
Opening hours in winter (Nov – March): 8.30 am – 3.30 pm
Opening hours in summer (April – October): 9 am – 4 pm
You might enjoy: The Most Worth-Visiting Museums in East Crete.
Visit the Folklore Museum of Sitia
Devote at least an hour to explore the exhibitions at the local folklore museum in order to learn about the traditional crafts and lifestyle in the part of Crete.
Objects in the collection include examples of Cretan wood carving, religious icons, ancient photos, embroidery (kopaneli) but also weaving, and folkloric costumes. The museum is in a beautiful neoclassical house in town.
Folklore Museum Info
Entrance ticket 2€
Opening Hours: 10 am – 1.30 pm
Walk Along the Harbor
One of the appointments that the locals enjoy is a visit to the seaside promenade of Sitia, adorned with gorgeous palm trees and wooden benches, and guarded at the top of the hill by the imposing Kazarma. This is the perfect place to go for a walk, enjoy the sunset, or simply sit for a chat, a coffee, or a cold drink.
Along the wide walk, you will find traditional cafés and Greek tavernas serving Cretan delicacies that you should certainly need to try. At the end of the promenade, there is a small square with gorgeous plants and statues.
Check the Attractions near Sitia
Minoan Palace of Zakros
Located 44 km from Sitia, via the Sitias-Palekastrou-Vai road, it takes about an hour from Sitia to arrive at this archaeological site.
The settlement was built around 1900 BC, the ruins mostly date from the Neopalatial period.
Once at the site, some of the highlights you should check out include the large central courtyard as well as the warehouses and workshops. There are also the ruins of the treasury vault and royal room.
CURIOUS FACT: The area is populated by wells with fresh water, the ones inside the palace are home to different turtles which children love to spot when they visit!
The palace stands at the exit of the so-called Gorge of the Dead which you can also explore. The gorge receives this name since the inhabitants of Zakros used to bury their dead in the caves along the walls of the gorge.
Minoan Palace of Zakros Info
Entrance ticket: €6
Opening hours in winter:r 8.30 am – 3 pm
Opening hours in summer: 8 am – 6 pm.
Toplou Monastery (Visit and Wine Tasting)
The Holy Monastery of Toplou was probably built on top of an existing church around the 15th century. It was destroyed by an earthquake and rebuilt by the Venetian Republica as it had a strategic position in east Crete.
When the Turks invaded and took control of Crete, the monastery was repeatedly attacked by the Ottomans, especially in 1866, during the years of the Cretan revolt.
When Crete was occupied by the Nazis during WWII, from 1941 to 1944, Toplou played a key role in sheltering local resistance fighters.
Today, in the museum, it’s possible to see the different objects that the monastery used to combat the Germans.
DON’T MISS: The small courtyard with dark cobblestones and the belfry, built in the typical Rennaisance style that characterizes many of the Cretan religious buildings.
The winery: In summer, it’s possible to visit the wine tasting facilities to sample the wines, the raki, and the top-class extra virgin olive oil produced in the structure.
You might want to read: The Most Beautiful Monasteries in Crete.
The Palm Beach of Vai is one of the most beautiful and exotic beaches in Crete and a fantastic place to discover. It is located about 20 km from Sitia, right after the Monastery of Toplou. In fact, visiting both sites on the same day is a great way to spend the day in the area.
Vai is located in the heart of a protected natural palm tree forest, a bit north of the small village of Palekastro.
The natural grove, which starts a few kilometers before reaching the shore, and that you see as you drive your way from Sitia to the beach, ends right by the seaside. This is one of the most visited beaches on the island and a great place to spend the day by the sea.
You might want to read: How to Visit Vai Palm Beach, Crete: Complete Insider’s Guide.
Itanos Beach and Archaeological Site
Itanos is a small beach area located a walking distance to the north of Vai Palm Beach (just under 3 km). This series of different small but relaxing shores offer a good beach spot for families since they are not overcrowded and the coves are well protected from the wind, besides, the main beach is quite shallow.
The beach lies right behind the ruins of an ancient Dorian settlement where it is possible to see ancient temples and early Christian churches.
Much of Itanos ruins continue underwater and can be explored with basic snorkeling equipment.
Another great beach to check in the area is Kouremenos, about 22 km from Sitia. This is a wide bay bathed by unique turquoise waters, shallow and with fine, yellow sand, ideal for families with kids.
Kouremenos is almost 2 km long, and usually not too crowded. Its unique marine landscape makes snorkeling a favorite activity while the most popular thing to do is windsurfing.
About 20 minutes from Sitia, driving towards Agios Nikolaos on the north coast, you can reach the village of Exo Mouliana to venture on a fantastic hike to discover Richtis Gorge.
Exploring the gorge is really rewarding, the hike can take from 2 to 4 hours. At the end of the path, you will find a waterfall as well as a solitary beach to take a refreshing swim after a long walk.
Where to Stay in Sitia
These are some of the places I recommend you to check when looking for accommodation in Sitia.
Sitia Beach – Located a short walk from the city center, Sitia Beach is a 5-star hotel with 3 swimming pools, a tennis court, and a spa. It is located on a private beach area of Sitia Bay. The rooms come with sea, pool, or garden views and it offers a poolside snack bar for drinks and light meals.
Click here for more information and the latest prices.
Sitia Bay – Facing the blue-flag, sandy beach of Sitia, a 5-minute walk from the town center, Sitia Bay is close to shops and restaurants. The self-catering accommodation is surrounded by a garden, it has a pool with hydromassage, a rooftop terrace, a small gym, a sauna, and a playing area for kids. The units come with a kitchen and balcony overlooking the Cretan Sea.
Click here for more information and the latest prices.
Where to Eat in Sitia
Inodion – Inodion is the local place to go if you are looking for quality Greek food. Here, you can choose between a wide variety of traditional Greek dishes, all made with care by the dedicated cooking team of Sitia.
Location: El. Venizelou 157, Sitia – Lasithi.
Cretan House – A place to summarize and showcase the beauty and tastes of Crete.
There are three main reasons you will fall in love with that restaurant in Sitia: delicious food, warm hospitality, and incredible scenery. It is indeed a miniature of the entire Crete.
If that is not enough, the portions in Cretan House are particularly generous.
Location: Kon/nou Karamanli 10, Sitia – Lasithi.
Aposperitis – In front of the port of Sitia, Aposperitis is an ideal restaurant to dine over a lovely view of the harbor and the sea. Their menu is based on traditional Greek cuisine with an element of freshness and innovation.
Location: El. Venizelou 167, Sitia – Lasithi.
If you want to know about other places to eat in the region, then check this guide, it also includes restaurants and tavernas in Sitia, not far from Vai Beach.
Best hotels in Lasithi
Affordable: Porto Maltese and Katia Apartment in town.
Mid-range: Ostria Apartments in Ammoudara or Villa Olga.
Luxury: Elounda Peninsula in Elounda and Miramare Resort in Agios.
Check also Rental Homes in Agios Nikolaos and Best Elounda Resorts.
Have you ever been to Sitia? Let me know in the comments below!
You might also enjoy reading these posts about other places in the Lasithi region:
– Unique Things to Do in Ierapetra – A guide to discovering everything there is to do in the only important city on the southern coast of Crete.
– Caves of Crete: Zeus Cave, Lasithi – Visit guide to exploring the Diktaion Cave in Lasithi.
– Best Restaurants in Agios Nikolaos, Crete (And in the Rest of Lasithi Too!) – A restaurant guide to the best spots in Lasithi.
– The Most Amazing Things to Do in Agios Nikolaos – A complete visitors guide to Agios Nikolaos, in East Crete.
– Stunning Free Things to Do in Agios Nikolaos (and the Rest of Lasithi) – A budget guide to the top convention and free activities in the region of Lasithi.
LAST-MINUTE PLANS FOR CRETE?
– Use Ferryhopper and Skyscanner for the best ticket rates.
– Find great accommodation deals on Booking.com.
– Compare car rental prices with Discover Cars.
– Check the best tours with GetYourGuide.
– Visit Elafonisi, discover Balos Beach, hike Samaria, or explore Knossos.
– Pack the Lonely Planet Guide to Crete or get my digital guide to Chania.
This Belongs to a Pinterest Board! Pin the Best Things to Do in Sitia and Read it Again when You’re Ready to Travel to Crete!
About the author of this blog:
Gabi has been living in Crete for the last five years. Here, she juggles being a solo mom, hosting culinary tours in the summer, translating, and writing for The Tiny Book and her other blogs.
She’s written for Greek Reporter, published three travel guides about Greece, and had more glasses of frappe than any regular person would be able to handle.