What to do in the area

Matala is one of the most popular tourist destinations of Crete, with beautiful landscapes and a lively nightlife.
It is famous for its sandstone cliffs and its caves which were used as homes by the hippies in the 70’s, and is located close to Phaistos, the second largest palace of the Minoan civilisation for which it served as a port.
These are our suggestions for must see things in and around Matala:

Enjoy the laid-back hippie village

Although it has become a popular tourist destination, Matala still retains the charm and character of the quiet fishing village it started as at the beginning of the 20th-century, and the laid-back lifestyle of the hippies of the 60’s and 70’s lives on. As you wander through the village’s streets, you will see countless paintings on the walls and ground, something unusual for Crete but very fitting to the spirit of Matala. Here you will also find plenty of funky beach bars and restaurants overlooking the water, where you can sit and enjoy the sunset across the Libyan sea after a day of exploring the village.

The caves

The most famous feature of the area are the many caves carved in the soft white limestone thousands of years ago, during the neolithic age, which were later used as tombs in the roman and the christian era. Many of them have rooms, stairs, windows, and even carved beds and seats, suggesting that they were once used as residences. The hippies of the ’60s and ’70s found their paradise in these caves, when they visited and stayed in Matala, with several celebrities among them, such as Joni Mitchell (who even wrote a song for Matala called “Carey”), Janis Joplin, Cat Stevens, Donovan, Joan Baez, and others.
Today, as the caves are part of an archeological site, the area is fenced and there is a small fee to enter.

Palace of Phaistos

Phaistos was one of the most important centres of the Minoan civilisation 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. It also offers splendid views of the Messara valley.
You will need 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.

Address: 70200, Phaistos
Tel.: +30 28920 42315

Opening hours:

01 April to 31 August, every day 08.00 – 20.00
01 to 30 September, every day 08.00 – 19.00
01 to 31 October, every day 08.00 – 18.00
01 Nov to 31 March, every day 08.30 – 17.00

Ticket price:

full – 8 euros
Free entrance for people up to the age of 25 from EU member-states
50% reduced admission for people up to the age of 25 from non-European union countries (April to October)

Roman ruins of Gortyna

This is the site of the richest city on the island during the roman dominated period from first to fifth centuries AD. If you pack a picnic, you could sit under the beautiful plane tree to muse about the story of Zeus and Europa who, according to Greek mythology, made love there.

Cavernous church of Panagia

A few streets outside of the centre of the village, easily overlooked, this tiny chapel was carved straight out of a cliff, apparently during venetian times. It contains some lovely icons and a carved iconostasis. Follow the signs (enter from opposite Petra and votsalo restaurant); note that it’s not the small church in the centre of the village.

Odigitrias monastery

The Odigitrias monastery with its immaculate white-washed walls, historic displays and the tower of Xopateras has an interesting history. Ex-priest (or “xopateras”) Ioannis Markakis used the monastery as a base when he joined the rebellion against the turks in Crete. In 1828, together with a handful of Cretan fighters and monks, he defended the tower against a large Turkish force who besieged the monastey for 3 whole days before they managed to capture and kill them.
Also in the area, just 200 metres away from the monastery, you will find Minoan ruins – a prepalatial cemetery with tholos tombs dating from 2000 b.c.

Royal villa of Agia Triada

This royal villa was built in the 16th century BC (new palace period) and was probably used as a summer villa for the king of Phaistos or as permanent residence after the destruction of Phaistos palace in 1450 BC.
Although it does not have the dimensions of the palaces at Knossos and Phaistos, it presents all the typical features of Minoan palatial architecture. It has halls with polythyra (pier-and-door partitions), light-wells, shrines, storerooms, repositories, workshops, staircases, porticoes, courtyards, terraces and balconies, streets and courtyards paved with flagstones.

Tholos tomb of Kamilari

The Kamilari tholos tomb is located on a low hill near the sea, 2 kilometres south west of Agia Triada and therefore also very close to Phaistos. the Kamilari tomb was the largest and best preserved of three tholos tombs found in the area.
Although the tomb is fenced in, the gate is now left unlocked so it is possible to enter the site. Kamilari remains a very imposing structure and is well worth a visit. The views of the surrounding countryside are also quite spectacular.

Donkey sanctuary in Agia Marina

This place is owned by 2 fantastic donkey lovers originating from New Zealand and Crete. they are taking care of donkeys in the area who sadly, after long, hard lives of working every day, many are left abandoned by the roadside, or tied to a tree under the hot sun without food or water. You will have fun feeding the donkeys (don’t forget to take some apples or carrots with you!), but you can also see the peacocks, peahens, ducks, geese, hens, cats and dogs that have made their home there.
The Agia Marina donkey sanctuary is a Greek registered non-profit charity that receives no government funding, and relies entirely on the fundraising that they do locally and donations from the public, so if you would like to do some charity work during your visit in Crete, this is a perfect chance.


Every summer, usually in the third weekend of June, the Matala beach festival takes place. On this weekend, the small village turns into a “hippie paradise”, with thousands of people of all ages from all over the world visiting the village to relive the memory of the hippie era.

Other than that, there’s plenty of traditional festivals and live music festivals going on around the area, especially in the summer. Look out for banners around town, or check the facebook page ‘Panigiria tis Kritis’ for traditional festivals.