About halfway between the approximately 70-km distance from Heraklion on the west and Agios Nikolaos on the east is a shallow indentation of the sea into the mainland of Crete known as the Gulf of Malia. On the shores of this gulf is the village of Malia, once known for its potatoes, now known as one of the hottest spots for holidays and parties in Crete. The raunchy British comedy, The Inbetweeners, was filmed here, and in between its set pieces involving a lot of very young and very shallow boys and girls doing things revolving around sex and alcohol, you get some nice photography of this beautiful place.
Malia is a little like a coin with two sides: on the one hand the traditional town still lives, with its tavernas, village life, narrow, streets, quaint stone and stucco, bougainvillea-decorated houses, and tree-shaded squares with cafenia and mustachioed Cretan men sipping their coffee and discussing politics and every day events. It's just a kilometer inland from the sea.
The other side of the coin is the wild, wet, lively holiday destination which attracts hordes of holiday makers and all-night party goers during the high season. Depending on what you prefer, you can either stay south of the east-west National Road, further away from the sea, where the quiet village lives on, or you can stay north of the Road, nearer the beach and the party life. If partying is your thing, the 10 km or so along the shore, heading west to Chersonissos, is an almost unbroken series of resorts, bars, beaches, and fun. Malia's beach is excellent, and probably the chief reason for its growth as a tourist mecca in the first place.
You can also bounce back and forth between the two depending on what kind of a mood you're in. If you get tired of partying, spend some time in the village. If village life begins to bore you, head out for the clubs and beaches and resorts along the shore.
In addition to the two sides of Malia, there is a nice archeological site, the Palace of Malia, just a few kilometers down the road toward Agios Nikolaos. The site is not far from the sea, which is convenient if you'd like to take a dip after the hot work of climbing over the ruins.
Malia also features Malia Slides, a small water park, a go-kart course, and a mini golf center. You can also visit Krassi, a village about 7 km south of Malia, which features a stream, a fountain, and a large plane tree in its central square. A little further beyond Krassi is the Monastery of Panagia Kera, and not far from the monastery is the Dikteon Cave. This is one of several caves on Crete claiming to be the birthplace of Zeus.
Malia provides a unique opportunity to vacation in more quiet, more traditional Crete, and within a few minutes, be immersed in some of the wild holidaymaking that many people come to Crete for.