Crete is well-known for its stunning beaches, beautiful natural surroundings, delicious cuisine, and rich culture and history. It is the largest island in Greece. According to acclaimed author Nikos Kazantzakis, who wrote Zorba the Greek, a mysterious and benevolent force flows through anyone who sets foot on the island, causing their soul to soar. Located in the southern Aegean Sea, Crete embodies the essence of Greece and captivates all who experience it.
Whether you visit Heraklion, Rethymno, Chania, Agios Nikolaos, Elounda, Ierapetra, Malia, Hersonissos, Sitia, or Sfakia, you will find a vibrant island filled with open-hearted and vivacious people, rich history, world-famous cuisine, and warm hospitality.
Travel guides and magazines around the world have showcased stunning images of Balos Lagoon in Chania and the exquisite Falarsana, which is considered one of the best beaches in the Mediterranean. However, if you haven’t seen the mystical Elafonisi situated on Chania’s southwest corner, it’s worth witnessing to believe its exotic beauty. Read my article “Best Things to Do in Crete” for more information.
The southern areas of Crete, particularly Episkopi, Petres, Preveli, Plakias, Ligres, Triopetra, and Agios Pavlos (known for its massive sand dunes), have enthusiastic young followers. Meanwhile, the resorts of Malia and Hersonissos in Heraklion draw a dynamic international crowd.
In the east of the Lassithi prefecture lies Ierapetra, which is surrounded by vast amounts of golden coastline. One of the most remarkable attractions of Crete, the palm forest in Vai, can also be found here. Visitors can enjoy the sight of palm trees enveloping the golden sand. Additionally, the beaches around Agios Nikolaos and Elounda are highly recommended. The island has many beautiful beaches with sandy coastlines. In the Chania region, you can visit Balos, Falasarna, and Elafonisi beaches, which are particularly stunning. You can easily access Amnissos, Agia Pelagia, Kaloi Limenes, Malia, Limenas Chersonisou, and Ammoudara beaches if you’re near Heraklion. Finally, be sure to check out Matala Beach, a popular destination for hippies in the 60s and 70s and still worth visiting today.
In Rethymno, there are long sandy beaches like Episkopi and Petres, as well as some unique beaches such as Triopetra, Agios Pavlos, Ligres, Fragokastelo, and Preveli. The shores in Lasithi are popular for their scenic beauty, and they are washed by the Libyan Sea. Additionally, Elounta Beach in Lasithi is known for its cosmopolitan atmosphere.
A priceless gift of culture and history
Crete boasts several noteworthy attractions in Greece, notably archaeological sites like Knossos, Phaistos, Malia, and Kato Zakros – all Minoan palaces. Significant monasteries, including the Preveli Monastery in southern Rethymno, those in southern Heraklion, and historic Arkadi and Toplous monasteries await your visit – some dating as far back as the 15th century or earlier.
Explore the castles built by the Venetians and Byzantines, and you will feel like you have traveled to another time. Some of the most notable castles include Kastelli in Chania, the Fortezza in Rethymno, Heraklion Castle, Frangokastello in southern Chania, Kazarma Castle in Sitia, and Monte Forte in Lassithi.
Be sure to set aside enough time to explore interesting museums, including the Historical Museum of Crete and the Museum of Natural History. Additionally, you can visit the Nikos Kazantzakis Museum in Myrtia and the El Greco Museum in Fodele.
Experience the Cretan hospitality
The hospitality of the people of Crete is similar to the island’s magnificent landscape in that it is grand, generous, and incredibly welcoming. Families are eager to share specialties such as dakos salad, free-flowing raki, and the experience of listening to mantinades, which are poems often accompanied by a Cretan lyre or lute.In addition, wisee elders tell stories about Crete’s rich and often tumultuous past – including tales of feuding families and stories of great loves and friendships – showcasing the island’s proud and family-oriented culture.
A paradise for nature-lovers
If you’re a sports and nature enthusiast, Crete is the perfect place to visit. The gorges here offer stunning views and are great for canyoning and hiking. Among them, the most well-known is Samaria, famous for its Portes (Iron Gates). You may also be interested in exploring other canyons like Amba, Tripiti, Kourtaliotiko, Kamaraiko (which is the longest), Ha (known as the ‘king of Cretan gorges’), and Ethias and Eligas.
You can go hiking to explore the diverse and stunning landscapes and take an off-road or 4×4 vehicle to navigate the dirt roads of Crete. Additionally, the cosmopolitan resorts located in the north and south of the island provide a great opportunity for engaging in water sports and scuba diving.
The home of the Mediterranean diet
Whether you’re indulging in gourmet cuisine or savoring a basic homemade dish like rusk salad with sea salt, extra-virgin olive oil, and feta cheese, you will certainly enjoy a fulfilling dining experience in Crete. The region’s abundant seasonal fruits and vegetables, along with wild greens and herbs, are combined with delicious goat and sheep meat to create unique dishes not found elsewhere in Greece. Unveil the mysteries of the Cretan diet, which is widely known as one of the world’s healthiest.
Some popular products from the region include local graviera cheese, stamnagathi (a type of wild chicory), a variety of greens for braising, staka (a clotted cream made from sheep’s milk used in pilafs), savory pies, and sweet pastries. The area is known for dishes such as kalitsounia (sweet cheese pastries), savory cheese pies, lamb with artichoke hearts, fried snails, and gamopilafo (wedding pilaf). You may find more in my article Greek Food.
If you visit Crete, locals will likely offer you a glass of tsikoudia, a type of firewater similar to schnapps. It is commonly made by locals and served at tavernas, cafes, festivals, and fairs. The drinking typically starts early in the afternoon and continues until late at night. Consider bringing a bottle home as a souvenir.
You can discover the fascinating sights of the old town of Chania, such as the famous Venetian lighthouse, the upscale neighborhood of Halepa, the leather production center of Tabakaria, the arsenal of Neoria, and the lively area of Kum Kapi, which is filled with bars, cafes, restaurants, and sophisticated hotels.
Explore the historic Rethymno, which features Venetian architecture, mosques, minarets, fountains, and charming cobblestone streets filled with shops, cafes, bars, and hotels. Additionally, visit the nearby Idaio Antro, one of the most significant caves for Minoan worship.
Heraklion, the lively capital of Crete
Heraklion is a bustling city with numerous attractions such as museums, restaurants, bars, and hotels. The old city walls are a must-visit, where you can see Morosini Square, the Loggia (City Hall), Agios Titos, and Armeria (the armory). This city also features the Venetian port of Heraklion.
Ierapetra, Crete’s sacred town
One of the most significant sights in Crete is the old town of Ierapetra, which features narrow alleyways, a small harbor, and the famous Fortress of Kales.
Make sure to add the Kazarma Fortress (also known as Casa di Arma) and its lively waterfront, which is filled with cafes, shops, and restaurants, to your list of places to visit.
This location is a cosmopolitan paradise that features sophisticated resorts and hotels. These accommodations boast private beaches, pools, and piers and have the highest concentration of five-star resorts in Greece.
I recommend visiting the palm forest at Vai and also exploring the caves of Diktean Antro, the island fortress of Spinalonga, and the Lassithi Plateau when you have some free time.
Mount Ida (or Psiloritis)
If you’re feeling ambitious, you can climb to the highest mountain in Crete and enjoy a stunning view that you won’t forget.
How to travel to Crete
During the summer season, tourists can take a ferry from Piraeus Port in Athens to visit Crete. Daily itineraries are available to Chania, Heraklion, and Rethymno. There may also be some ferries to Agios Nikolaos in the summer. The heraklion port offers regular itineraries to Rhodes and Santorini, which are popular destinations in Greece. Additionally, from Kissamos port in Chania, tourists can take ferries to Kythira, Antikythira, and Gythio Peloponnese.
There is a ferry service from the port of Sitia to Kasos and Karpathos, and some local ferries to Dodecanese depart from Agios Nikolaos. In addition, ferries to Gavdos island depart three times a week from the port of Paleochora in southern Chania.
There are several ways to travel from Athens International Airport to the airports in Crete, namely Chania, and Heraklion. The flight duration to either of these destinations is 45 minutes, with more flights available in summer. Visitors can also reach Crete from Thessaloniki, and there are numerous charter flights from other cities in Europe to Chania and Heraklion airports.
During the summer, charter flights are available from Heraklion Airport to islands such as Rhodes and Kos in Greece. The airport in Sitia offers charter flights to and from different Greek islands. Rethymno Town does not have its own airport, so it is necessary to use other airports in Crete for transportation.
Where to stay?
There are different styles and classes of hotels in Crete. The island is separated into two parts; the northern side has luxurious hotels and modern resorts, while the southern side has more family-oriented apartments and basic studios near the beach. The most luxurious hotels in Crete are located in various regions of northern Crete, including Elounda, Sissi, Gouves, Hersonissos, Agia Pelagia, Bali, Georgioupoli, and other small towns along the beach. These resorts offer the usual upscale amenities, and some even provide additional features such as a golf course, Olympic-size pools, spa treatments, and heliports.
While there are some fancy resorts in the south of the island, the majority of hotels in Crete are affordable and come with essential amenities. In addition, there are many family-oriented apartments and studios for those who prefer self-catering. The most popular tourist towns in the southern region of Crete include Matala, Agia Galini, Plakias, Ierapetra, and Paleochora.
The peak season for visiting Crete is during the summer months, which run from June to September. Daily temperatures average between 27.5°C to 29.5°C, and the island receives 9 to 12 hours of sunshine daily.
Planning to spend three days in Crete seems more reasonable. However, you may still have to rush a lot. It’s recommended to choose a port city such as Chania or Heraklion as your landing destination, as three days are enough to explore the entire town. Keep in mind that it may not be feasible to visit all the beaches in the area within this time frame.
In Crete, Chania Town is considered to be the most picturesque town. The Old Town boasts a stunning Medieval style and is an ideal spot for taking a stroll, featuring charming Venetian mansions throughout.
To get around Crete, it’s best to use either a moped or a rental car since public transport on the island is not reliable. You’ll need one of these options to reach all the wonderful beaches and towns. Even though drivers can be a bit reckless, a rental car remains the most efficient way to get around.