Many people think that holidays organized by the travel agency are not true traveling. Honestly? I totally disagree with this approach. First of all, it’s the perfect solution for many super busy people. Sometimes traveling with a travel agency is just much cheaper than a self-organized trip. I have noticed this especially when it comes to the most popular Greek islands – airline tickets from Munich to Crete are more expensive than a one-week all-inclusive holiday package offered by the travel agency! In fact, it all depends on what you plan to do during holidays. Will you only explore 100 different paths from your hotel room to the pool (with a drink in your hand, obviously)? Or maybe you will decide to explore the world outside the hotel walls? If you want to make your holidays a truly breathtaking experience, check these 18 unique things to do in Crete!
Why should you visit Crete?
Crete is the largest Greek island, and unless you are planning a “road trip”, it will be very hard for you to see all the attractions during one holiday. If you stay somewhere next to Heraklion, you’ll have a great opportunity to explore the eastern part of Crete. If you are more interested in the western part, stay near Hania. Regardless of where you decide to spend your vacation in Crete, you won’t get bored. You will find beautiful, Caribbean-like beaches, crystal clear water, majestic mountains, traces of ancient Greek culture, best olive oil, aromatic thyme honey, most delicious oranges… and excellent Greek wine! 😉 Moreover, you can easily access the Cyclades islands (eg. Santorini, Ios or Mykonos) by ferry from Crete.
|Tip: Find ou our recommendations about best things to do in Santorini, Mykonos and Ios!
18 fabulous things to do in Crete
The Palace of Knossos
The Palace of Knossos used to be a great capital of Minoans, ruling this part of the world about 3,000 years ago. Are you familiar with the myth of Minotaur? According to legend, Dedal built a maze in Knossos as a prison for half-bull and half-man Minotaur. When you visit this place, you may be surprised to see that ruins are in such a good condition. I must disappoint you. Sir Arthur Evans, the explorer of Knossos, used a bit of his imagination and decided to “restore” part of the palace. Till now, archaeologists question his ideas about how the palace and the life of the Minoan civilization might have looked. On the other hand, these restorations make understanding ancient Greek life easier for an average visitor. The palace (though whether this was actually a palace is also questioned) really impressed me and despite the controversy regarding reconstruction, it’s definitely one of the most culturally enriching things to do in Crete.
Although the city itself isn’t the most beautiful in Crete and looks a bit touristy, you should stop here even for a couple of hours. We were impressed by the waterfront with the Venetian Fortress. History-lovers should visit the Archaeological Museum – surprise! The majority of the frescoes you admired in Knossos are actually displayed here – which means, you saw copies in Knossos. You may also enjoy a local market, near the Morosini Fountain, where you can buy delicious olives, aromatic honey or the famous “mountain tea” (Greek herbal tea) straight from the producers. If you are a fan of Zorba the Greek, visit the grave of the most famous Greek author since Homer – Nikos Kazantzakis, the writer of this amazing book. If you are planning to visit other Greek islands, visiting Iraklio is a must – many ferries departure here, eg. to Santorini or Mykonos.
Tip: as in every touristy town, it is hard to get an authentic Greek restaurant here. We can recommend you a bit more expensive Peskesi (really worth it, excellent wine!) or a bit cheaper Hagiati. Fans of Greek filo pastry will find their paradise in the Fillosofies (Liontarion Square, near the Archaeological Museum).
Iraklio Wine Country
Wine tasting is definitely one of the most delicious things to do in Crete. Approximately 70% of all Crete wine production comes from a small, mountainous area near Iraklio. If you want to know more about typical Cretan grapes such as kotsifali or malvasia, stop by one of a dozen picturesque vineyards. We can recommend you wine tasting in the super chic Boutari vineyard, one of the most popular Greek brands (we also visited their branch in Santorini). Wines are really very good and in different price range. You’ll find a complete list of other vineyards in Crete here.
Tip: Crete is famous for its excellent olive oil, one of the best in the world. How to know which one to choose? In some places, tasting is possible, but if you buy it without trying, pay attention to its acidity (preferably <0.8), color (from green to golden-yellow) and the label “extra virgin olive oil”.
If you think that Crete looks like one big beach… well, you might be surprised. Visit the Lasithi Plateau, where you can admire the views of authentic, agricultural Crete – full of olive and almond trees. Here you will find famous irrigating windmills with canvas – in the seventeenth century, there were as many as 20,000 of them! Unfortunately, nowadays they’re rather rare, but taking even a short break here, is definitely one of the most breathtaking things to do in Crete. If you are planning a holiday in Crete in June, chances to see them are higher.
Dikteon Cave is another place that is linked with Greek mythology. Kronos was afraid of overthrow by one of his children (as proclaimed in prophecy). To solve this problem, at the time they were born… he ate them. His wife Rhea gave birth to Zeus in a cave, left him there, and gave Kronos a stone to eat instead. Dikteon Cave is the mythological cave where the Zeus was hiding as a kid. Ass you may guess, quite successfully – he became the mightiest among all gods of Olympus after all. Cave itself is beautiful, with plenty of stalactites and stalagmites. Look closely, and you’ll spot formations looking like Rhea’s breasts, where Zeus was supposed to drink milk 🙂
Although the island itself is extremely picturesque – the Venetian fortress and the wonderful panorama of the sea all around, you shouldn’t forget about its rather murky past. Until 1973, there was a colony for lepers. Strolling between ruined buildings, you can feel the depressing atmosphere of isolation that accompanied the sick ones. I must tell you that the whole experience strongly contrasts with the cheerful atmosphere of the nearby Elounda town, a celebrities’ favorite. If you want to feel the Spinalonga atmosphere, I recommend you read the book “The Island” by Victoria Hislop.
Many people decide to spend all their vacation here. An extremely picturesque town, located on the supposedly bottomless salt Voulismeni lake (now it is connected to the sea, so it’s rather a bay). Strolling along the waterfront, you will have the opportunity to see the famous Mirabello Bay, considered to be the most picturesque in Crete. Agios Nikolaos looks a bit less “Greek” than the rest of the Crete, but it’s still worth staying here for a while.
This is probably my beloved spot in Crete. Kritsa is located a bit off the beaten track trails – a tiny village in the mountains, where life takes its slow Greek rhythm. This is also a great place to buy original Cretan handicrafts.
If you are nearby Ierapetra or Myrtos, be sure to take a cruise to the uninhabited island of Chrissi. This is an extraordinary place where you have the opportunity to see the only natural cedar forest in Europe and…the beach filled with millions of shells!
An extraordinary place also called the “valley of the dead” – ancient tombs were discovered on the slopes… The entire gorge is 8 km long, on the way you will enjoy extremely scenic views and intense scent of herbs (thyme!). If you are interested in the history of ancient Greece, do not forget to visit the nearby palace in Zakros.
If you want to take pics like on the Caribbean islands, but still spending your vacation in Crete, go to Vai beach. It is famous for its palms and extremely fine, powder-like white sand. The beach itself is unfortunately quite crowded, but after 5 pm the crowds disappear – just in time to admire the romantic sunset!
Definitely the most beautiful city in Crete – we couldn’t believe how charming it is! Definitely, visiting Rethymno should make it to the top of your “things to do in Crete” list. Narrow streets filled with Venetian and Ottoman architecture, minarets of mosques, Greek vibes, majestic Venetian Fortress, and in the middle of the city… pedestrian promenade with palm trees and beach. All in one place! Moreover, in July there is the Wine Festival here! In fact, you can spend your entire holidays not leaving this place. If you are here only for a short time, take a look at Fortezza. It is a 16th-century Venetian Fortress that was supposed to protect the city from pirates. Stunning!
Tip: Zefyros Restaurant is a real treat for seafood lovers, they serve fresh fish next to the harbor.
Hiking the highest mountain in Crete (2456 m) is definitely one of the most thrilling things to do in Crete. I know, it’s hard to believe, but… there is actually plenty of snow from November until June! The most popular route to the top leads from Nida Plateau (which in winter turns into… yeah, a ski resort!), takes about 3 hours. Although the expedition in the summer doesn’t pose any danger (except the heat), in the winter, there are even avalanches here (in the 1990s, the French tourist died under the avalanche!). Crete may be really surprising sometimes.
Hiking this longest (16 km) gorge in Europe is definitely one of the most spectacular things to do in Crete. The slopes of the gorge reach 500 m! At the beginning of the tourist season, it may happen that you will have to cross the shallow stream flowing through the middle of it. This is an amazing place where you can feel the real wilderness (there are even wild goats!). To avoid crowds, get here early in the morning and don’t forget about the water supply! Crossing the entire gorge takes from 4 to 6h, depending on your pace (and a number of tourists on the trail!).
A magical city that has retained the atmosphere of a small seaside village. As in Rethymnon, here you’ll also come across traces of Venetian and Ottoman architecture. Just go to Venetian lighthouse or Mosque of Kioutsouk Hasan. Make sure you order a decanter of Greek wine at one of the cozy restaurants near the marina. Try the famous Greek bougatsa (filo pastry, usually filled with sweet cheese cream) at the Bougatsa Iordanis (address: 24 Apokoronou), a traditional Greek bakery – what a goodie!
Tip: not exactly in the center of Chania, but on its outskirts, there is a unique café – Koukouvagia, which serves delicious cakes, but even more important, offers a breathtaking view of the sea, especially at sunset. If you are looking for some kind of atmospheric cafe for a romantic date, come here.
Things to do in Crete? Beach all day! Turquoise lagoon, pink-white sand, and a tiny islet nearby – this is world-famous Elafonissi beach. You can easily access the tiny island next to the beach by crossing over the shallow water. The islet offers extraordinary landscapes of the Elafonisi beach itself, mystic mountains, and sun-soaked, shimmering sea. How not to fall in love with such views!
Another idyllic beach in the western Crete – Balos. Turquoise water, white, powder-like sand, tiny fish playing in shallow water, two small islets nearby… Beach please, what else do you need to unwind and relax?
Do you want to get away from everything? If your holidays in Crete aren’t enough, go to the Gavdos Island, located about 65 km south of Crete. It’s the southernmost point in Europe. There are only a few rooms for rent, a few taverns, and the ferry from Hora Sfakion or Paleohora in Crete arrives only 2-3 times a week. Perfect place for a total chill out, away from civilization, popular tourist attractions and crowded beaches. Looks like a paradise found…?