Visit Matala with Family: what to do in the area
The legendary beach of Matala with the impressive carved Matala caves once hosted the “flower children” of the 60s and 70s and today has developed to a popular family-friendly destination and one of the best Cretan beaches you must see. Plus, there is a lot to discover in the area, so you can easily plan a full day of activities and a unique Cretan experience with the family.
Matala is located 68km south of Heraklion and it is one of the most visited places of the prefecture, attracting thousands of tourists every year (so parking in high season can be a hassle!). In Minoan times, Matala was the port of Phaistos, the second largest Minoan palace of Crete.
The Matala caves that made Matala famous were actually tombs, carved during the Roman and Christian era. In the 60s and 70s the caves became friendly shelters to hippies that gathered here from all over the world, attracting even celebrities such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Cat Stevens.
Today, Matala still lives on the fame of its hippie era, as you will realize while exploring the numerous souvenir shops and colorful lanes of the village full of street art, which can be especially fun for the kids. Overall Matala is a pleasant and easy-going destination offering many surprises and options for accommodation, entertainment, and eating.
Matala Caves & the Matala Beach
When you visit Matala you should bear in mind that the caves of Matala are the most famous feature of the village and an integral part of Matala history. You cannot leave Matala without visiting the Matala Caves with yours kids. As the caves are part of an archaeological site, the area is fenced and there is a small fee to enter.
Take your time to explore them, as some caves are very impressive, and find the best spots to take photos before you head to the beach for a refreshing swim.
The beautiful sandy beach of Matala is well organized for families with sunbeds, umbrellas, toilets, showers, lifeguards, and a first aid station.
Plus, there are many cafes, snack bars, and restaurants by the beach. However, if you are traveling with young kids you should know that the sea gets deep quite quickly, so be prepared.
The Palace of Phaistos
The Palace of Phaistos is the second most famous Minoan palace of Crete and is located a few kilometers away from Matala. The Phaistos Palace is really worth a visit.
Phaistos was one of the most important centers of the Minoan civilization and the most powerful city of southern Crete. In contrast with Knossos, the Palace of Phaistos has not been reconstructed, so you can see the original excavations and use your imagination to picture how life might have been back then. Plus, Phaistos is far less crowded and offers splendid views of Messara valley.
If you decide to visit Phaistos, keep in mind that you will need to dedicate about 1-2 hours to explore it and don’t forget to bring water and sun hats, as there is almost no shade on the site during the summer.
Red Sand Beach
A perfect option for adventurous families is the Red Sand Beach, a beach that can be reached via a hiking trail from Matala (30-40 min walk). This is a beautiful secluded beach that awaits you, with amazing reddish sand and crystal clear water. The Red Beach and the surrounding area is protected under the Natura 2000 program.
Kids will love the sculptures carved on the rocks, representing ancient Minoan and Egyptian mythological creatures! Those sculptures are not ancients. Instead, they are created by a Belgian old fan of Matala.
Keep in mind that there are no amenities on the beach, except some overpriced umbrellas and a snack bar, and that nudism is allowed – and practiced! If you decide to walk, you will need sturdy shoes, water, a hat, and sunblock as there is no shade throughout the trail. Alternatively, you can catch a boat from Matala and skip the hike!
Bear in mind that the Red Beach is LBGTQ+ friendly and was voted as one of the top nudist-beaches in the world.
Kommos Beach is an endless sandy beach and hotspot for nudists, campers, and caretta-caretta sea turtles!
Kommos is characterized by beautiful sand dunes, tamarisk trees, and amazing sunsets, making it a small exotic heaven a few minutes’ drive away from Matala. However, the beach is exposed to strong winds and currents, so be careful. The best part for families, especially if you travel with young kids, is the eastern end of the beach.
There you will find a friendly cafeteria- tavern right on the beach, sunbeds, and umbrellas. Plus, the water there is calmer and wind-protected, without the dangerous rocks in the sea found in most parts of Kommos.
Kouses Village and “Botano” herb shop
If you are looking for an authentic Cretan experience and an escape from the touristy atmosphere of Matala, then head to the nearby traditional village of Kouses and the wonderful herb shop “Botano”, specializing in authentic Cretan mountain herbs, honey, and other tantalizing goodies!
Kids will be encouraged to open the jars and smell the herbs, you will be able to sample teas, and all that in a magical little shop full of scents, aromas, and colors. Highly recommended!
Donkey sanctuary in Agia Marina
Visit the Donkey Sanctuary in Agia Marina, an off-the-beaten-track experience for animal-loving families! Meet Greece’s mascot animal, the humble donkey, in a friendly sanctuary dedicated to providing a well-deserved descent life to these loyal and highly intelligent animals that served the Cretan countryside for centuries!
The farm is donation-based (no entrance fee), so don’t forget to buy a small souvenir and take photos with the donkeys. One thing is for sure: your kids will love it!
Are you looking for ideas of what else to do near Matala with the family?
Both activities below are perfect for active families and kids with teens!
Families should know
Matala can be overcrowded so avoid going there during the weekend
The village might look tacky and touristic
Parking might be challenging
Best season to visit
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