Package resorts dominate the coast to the east of Heraklion, though it thins out farther along past Malia. Gournes has a big visitor complex and a giant sea aquarium.
The nearby village of Gouves is pleasant and there is the wonderful Skotino cave (meaning 'dark cave'), which can be walked to from the coast in an hour. Open continually; free.
Hersonissos (left) is a big package tourist resort. It was an ancient Roman town, evidenced by the fountain with fragmented mosaics and old Roman harbor remains. Stalidha (right) is also a beach resort, though a bit more relaxed than either Hersonissos or Malia to either side of it. Its beach is also better.
Malia was the fief of King Minos' brother Sarpedon, with the good agricultural plain below the mountains of Lassithi. The Palace of Malia (Tues-Sun 8:30am --3 pm;2/40 euros) is 2 km east of the town and lies on the agricultural plain between the sea and the Lasithi mountains. It is less crowded and easier to understand than either Phaestos or Knossos. After it was destroyed for the second time in the 15th century BC, it was not reoccupied and has stayed more intact than the others. A large town surrounded the palace and can be observed from an overhead ramp. This palace was rather more prosaic than the more famous ones, built of stone rather than marble, alabaster and gypsum and without frescoes. But it has grain storage structures with beehive domes and a raised Loggia , which may have been used for religious ceremonies; a large Pillar Hall; a room which may have been used as an astronomical observatory, known as the oblique room. There were also Royal Apartments. Luxurious Villas lie beyond the Palace, in contrast to the plainness of the Palace itself.
The famous twin bee pendant was found in the 'gold pit' in the Chrysolakis tomb in the cemetery near the sea, a pit which was looted over the centuries. If you turn right after leaving the site, a road runs down to a pleasant beach with fields behind it and a taverna. You can walk to Malia along the shore if you want.