Visiting Crete: what to do, what to see? Discover the essential things to do during a trip to Crete!
It’s simple, Crete has it all! It is the largest island in Greece, and the fifth largest in the Mediterranean. Here you can admire the remains of great civilizations and impressive mountain landscapes, explore beautiful beaches, fertile valleys and steep gorges, and take part in the island’s rich gastronomic culture.
Crete is, after all, a small universe teeming with beauties and treasures that you will probably need a lifetime to discover. But if you only leave for a few days, here are the best places to see and do in Crete.
1. The Palace of Knossos – The Ancient Knossos
Crete was the center of the oldest civilization in Europe in 7,000 BC, when the Minoan civilization flourished between 2,700 and 1,450 BC. Knossos is the largest of the Minoan palaces still preserved. It is considered to be the center of Minoan civilization. The Minoan palace and the ancient site of Knossos are located just south of Heraklion.
If you come to visit Crete, Knossos is an almost mandatory stopover. Legendary residence of King Minos– supposedly the origin of the mythical labyrinth that held the Minotaur – the palace was excavated and partially rebuilt by the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans in 1900. The entire site includes the Knossos Palace, the Litle Palace, the Royal Villa, the Fresco House and the tomb.
2. The Samaria Gorge
Via a 16 km walk, the Samaria Gorge – southwest of Crete in the prefecture of Chania – is one of the longest gorges in Europe. The spectacular gorge is a national park with a magnificent flora and fauna. The beginning of the xyloskala walk (“wooden steps”) is just above the Omalos plateau, very high in the white mountains “Lefka Ori” at an altitude of 1,250m. The gorge is normally open every year from May 1st to October 31st depending on the weather.
It is closed in winter as the mountain river that crosses the gorge makes the places dangerous and impassable. Allow 5 to 6 hours for this long walk. Bring good shoes as the trail is difficult and rocky. The walk ends at the Libyan Sea in the small coastal village of Agia Roumeli.
Chania is located northwest of Crete, 160 km from Heraklion. The main attraction is the beautiful old town of Chania (also spelled Chaniá or Hania) with its Venetian port lined with cafés and restaurants, and its winding cobbled streets. Rich in history, Chania is located on the ancient site of Kydonia, which flourished during the Roman period, before later becoming the capital of the State of Crete (1897-1907). Visit the Halidon Street Archeological Museum and the Maritime Museum at the westernmost point of the waterfront.
Take time to explore the alleys, you will be amazed to see the jewels you will discover: beautiful Venetian buildings with cafés-terraces and restaurants, Cretan handicraft shops, weaver workshops, boot makers on the street of leather, and rows of shops selling hand-carved Cretan knives in Maheradika style.
Stroll eastward around the harbor in front of the multitude of fishing boats, yachts and pleasure boats. Here the waterfront is bordered by excellent fish taverns. Continue to the right along the dike towards the magnificent lighthouse. You can also take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage.
4. Lake Kournás, Argiroupolis, and the ancient city of Lappa
Located between Chania and Rethymnon, Lake Kournás is the only natural freshwater lake in Crete and is surrounded by lush vegetation against a backdrop of white mountains. A number of taverns line the shores of the lake, and you can swim or rent a pedal boat in summer.
A few kilometers from Lake Kournás, we find the village of Argiroupolis. This pretty village is built on the former site of Lappa and consists of 2 parts: upper and lower part of the village. Visit the waterfalls at the bottom of the village and then visit the Roman necropolis of Lappa, the remains of Roman baths, and the aqueduct in the upper part of the village.
5. The Lassithi Plateau and the Dikteon Cave
The Lassithi Plateau is a huge fertile plain, covering about 25 km2 in the Dikti Mountains. Hundreds of white mills, traditionally used to irrigate the mosaic of green and yellow fields that make up the fertile plateau, nowadays serve as relics of the past for the most part.
The Lassithi Plateau is the highest inhabited plateau in Greece (800m). The visit to this beautiful mountainous region should include stops at the picturesque villages of Krasi with its giant plane tree in the village square (the oldest tree in Crete), and Mokhós where the church of Panagia has Byzantine icons and frescos.
The impressive Dikteon Cave (Psychro Cave), Zeus’ legendary birthplace, is located at a height of 1,025m above the magnificent Lassithi Plateau. The narrow entrance to the cave is accessed by a steep path for a 20-minute walk. Once inside, follow the steep 60m slope to reach an underground pool and various rooms with beautiful stalactites and stalagmites.
6. The village of Anogia and the cave of Zoniana
The large mountain village of Anogiais located at an altitude of 750m on the side of Mount Ida (Psiloritis). Every year in July, the village hosts the Yakintha festival dedicated to music, theatre and art.
The village has a large artisanal lace and craft industry. Don’t miss the Zoniana cave (or Sfentoni cave) which is considered one of the best caves in Crete with its amazing stalagmites and stalactites.
7. The city of Agios Nikolaos
The city of Agios Nikolaos, located 70 km east of Heraklion, is built around a beautiful lake connected to the sea by a short canal. Relax in one of the taverns or cafes by the lake and watch the sunset while watching the fishermen at work on their colorful boats. It is very pleasant to stay here in an ideal atmosphere and setting.
8. Cretan beaches
No matter where you stay in Crete, you are never too far from a beautiful beach. The beaches of Elafonissi and Phalassarna, as well as the Balos lagoon in the prefecture of Chania are superb. If you are visiting eastern Crete, Kolokytha beach is only accessible by boat from Elounda.
9. The island of Spinalonga and Elounda
Spinalonga is a small island off the coast of Elounda. His story is amazing. The rampart was built in 1579 when the island was under Venetian rule. The island passed to the Turks in 1715 and remained under the domination of the Ottoman Empire until 1898, when Crete became an independent state.
From 1903 until 1957 Spinalonga was used as a leper colony. The island’s patients have received food, water, medical support and social security payments and have created their own community. Some of them even got married.
Today, only the ruins of these houses on the island remain. The sunny stones and the blue of the sea as far as the eye can see create an intriguing atmosphere that makes you want to learn more about the lives of those who lived there. Elounda and its Gulf are very popular with high-end customers staying in luxury hotels.
10. The Agio Farango Gorges
Do you like white sand and turquoise water? Good thing, Crete is full of heavenly beaches where you can stop for a break, or spend the day if you have chosen to visit the island. Discover the Agio Farango Gorges which will offer you a pleasant stroll, with a wonderful and rarely visited beach at the end.
11. The Island of Dia
Located a few kilometers north of Heraklion, Dia Island is the largest of the islands on the Crete coast. According to Greek mythology, Zeus threw a lightning bolt to paralyze a gigantic lizard that had formed the idea of devouring Crete, which created the island of Dia.
Archaeology lovers will be delighted to find several remains from the Minoan period. You can also enjoy an idyllic sailing trip, diving and even fishing!
12. Acqua Plus Water Park
You have decided to visit Crete and want to spend a fun day with family or friends? See you at Acqua Plus Water Park! This water park, located 30km from Heraklion, is one of the most popular on the island. With more than 50 different attractions, it ensures you a day full of emotion and far from boredom.
A little something extra: the park is divided into 2 sections. One for adults, with thrilling slides, and one for children.
13. Safari in 4×4
Are you looking for adventures? Visiting Crete is an excellent decision. Its diversity of landscapes and the many points of interest scattered throughout the island offer you a wide range of opportunities for discovery.
Opt for an original exploration of the center and embark on a fantastic 4×4 safari leading you through typical small villages. Good memories guaranteed!
How to get to Crete?
From the UK
Of course, flying is the fastest and cheapest way to get to Crete. While some airlines fly through Athens, many offer direct flights to Héraklion airport N. Kazantzakis. Crete has three airports but the largest is the Heraklion Airport . You will find many flights from London , either Stansted, Luton, Gatwick, as well as from Birmingham, Manchester or Bristol. You can easily find a low-cost flight to these destinations on Skyscanner.
Several shuttles run between the airport and the main cities and you can also rent a car at the airport, which will be quite convenient if you plan on visiting some of the more wild and off the beaten places on this list.
Are you staying in Athens? You can reach Crete by ferry. Many shipping companies offer the crossing and you will necessarily find the one that suits you best. Among them, you will find Anek Superfast or Golden Star Ferries . To avoid spending hours comparing trips, do not hesitate to use Direct Ferries, which will offer you the best crossings.
From the airport to the centre
If you wish to reach the centre of Crete upon arrival at Heraklion Níkos-Kazantzákis International Airport, you have several options:
- By taxi
The airport is only 5 km from Heraklion, so you will quickly reach the centre. Taxis are the fastest way to do this. However, the prices are quite high. Count 20€ for 10 minutes of travel.
- By bus
With tickets at €0.75 per lane, the bus is the most affordable option. However, it is not the most practical. As the airport does not have a bus stop, you will have to walk a little to reach stops near the main road. It will take 35 minutes to get there.
2 bus lines provide the connection:
– Line 1
– Line 178
Where to stay in Crete?
When you say you are staying in Crete, you are looking for a decent place to stay. So, in which city to stay in Crete? Of course, there is Heraklion. As the capital of the island, it will be easy for you to find a place to sleep during your stay. If you want to settle in more typical villages, head for the western part of the island or the south coast and its Galo-Roman remains.
Concerning the type of accommodation, the more traditional ones will prefer a hotel room. Feel free to use a hotel comparator to find the one that best meets your expectations. Looking for something more atypical? Choose an Airbnb! From the traditional villa to the studio with a view of the sea, you will certainly find the place that makes you dream!
Have you ever visited Crete?
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