Crete is the biggest island in Greece. It’s such a diverse place that no matter which region you choose to visit, there’s always a new landscape ready to blow your mind. There are so many amazing things to do in Crete. With high peaks and deep gorges to explore pristine beaches, and romantic urban scenes, Crete is the perfect destination for your next adventure!
Not to Miss Things to do in Crete
Crete has always been my favorite Greek island, both for short escapes and for long holidays. Frequent visits made me realize that I couldn’t live anywhere else. So I packed up and found a new home on Crete. I’ve spent the last five years touring the island and I’ve learned what places are truly worth a visit. If this list of things to do in Crete manages to convince you to book your next holiday, check my Crete Travel Guide.
1. Minoan Palace of Knossos
If there’s one thing that makes Crete stand out is its millennial history and the impressive collection of archaeological sites. Known for being the cradle of western civilization, Crete is home to ancient settlements and ruins spread all over the island.
The most important one is the Minoan Palace of Knossos. Knossos is located just 10 minutes away from the capital of the island, Heraklion. English archaeologist Arthur Evans who was a pioneer in the study of Aegean civilization in the Bronze Age, excavated Knossos at the turn of the 20th Century. The secret to avoiding the crowds of tourists is to visit the palace early in the morning or right after sunset.
2. Archaeological Museum of Heraklion
To better understand the past of the mysterious Minoans, visit the Heraklion Archaeological Museum located in the center of the capital of Crete. This way, you’ll be able to appreciate the objects found on the site as well as in many other settlements around Crete. Book a private Heraklion wine and history tour.
3. Balos Beach and Lagoon
If you’ve already been doing some online research for your holiday in Crete, I bet you’ve come across a picture of this exotic shore more than once. Balos Beach is one of Crete’s most popular beaches.
Balos Beach is located in the western regional unit of Chania, on the northern tip of the barren Gramvousa Peninsula. Despite being hard to reach, which requires some off-road travel and a bit of hiking, it is worth every effort once you’re in front of this awe-inspiring sight.
Balos Lagoon is a shallow lagoon with turquoise waters and white sand. It is the highlight of any holiday to Crete if you know how to plan your trip to Balos.
4. Old Town of Chania
Crete is an island with a complex history. Located in the center of the Mediterranean, this rich land has attracted virtually every civilization ever ruling in the region. Conquered by the Romans, the Venetians, and the Ottoman Empire, the cities of Crete combine different architectural styles creating an eclectic landscape.
The old town of Chania is one of those cities. Venetian mansions, Turkish minarets, and fortification walls give a unique character to this romantic town.
The colorful alleys, its Venetian Harbor, and the Egyptian lighthouse have nothing to do with the whitewashed landscape of other Greek islands such as Santorini. But they certainly make the old town of Chania one of the prettiest cities in Greece.
5. Pink Sand Beach of Elafonisi Beach
The exotic beaches of Crete do not end with Balos. The fantastic beach of Elafonisi is another must-visit place in any given Crete holiday. Located on the southern coast of Crete, Elafonisi has beautiful blue shallow waters and pink sands that make it one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Traveling to Elafonisi can be an adventure on its own. To reach the beach you drive along the bends of the breathtaking gorge of Topolia, a unique ravine surrounded by high mountain walls and lush vegetation.
6. Samaria Gorge
One of the most popular places for adventure in Crete is the gorge of Samaria. Located in a national park and a Global Biosphere Reserve, this 13 km hike is among the best things to do in Crete.
The trail is open from May to October and can take from 4 to 7 hours to complete. The hike takes you from the Omalos Plateau to the southern coast of the island.
On the way, you may be able to catch a view of the kri-kri, the wild goat of Crete. It roams freely on the high walls of Samaria.
7. the White Mountains
The Samaria Gorge is just one of many gorges in the Lefka Ori (White Mountains) of Crete. They got their name from the grey limestone that appears white throughout the year. (even after the snow melts in late spring.) The jagged mountain range is a striking image. You can hike through the old footpaths from short 3-5 hour hikes to multi-day treks.
8. The Extreme East
Usually underrated and overlooked, the eastern coast of Crete has unique opportunities for exploring off-the-beaten-track. The east of Crete is full of amazing things to do, starting with the fantastic beach of Vai. It’s home to Europe’s largest natural palm tree forest.
Not far from Vai is the historic monastery of Toplou. It is a beautiful fortified building with colorful gardens and an interesting museum mostly focused on the years of the Nazi occupation.
If you want to try some authentic Greek food, make sure to go wine tasting in the winery of the monastery, or taste their super fragrant extra virgin olive oil.
9. The Leper Island of Spinalonga
Close to the city of Agios Nikolaos, there’s a small islet with a tragic history and immense beauty. Spinalonga was a former leper colony for leprosy patients during the 19th century.
Today, the island has been transformed into an archaeological site that you can tour on your own or by booking an organized trip. Inside Spinalonga, you can check out the hospital, the houses of the patients, and a small but interesting museum.
- To visit Spinalonga, you need to board a boat in the nearby resort of Elounda, or in the small fishing village of Plaka.
10. The Lasithi Plateau
Over 800 meters above the sea level, the Lasithi Plateau remains one of the highest continuously inhabited centers in southern Europe since the Minoan times.
A drive along the circuit of the plateau will take you through small, forgotten mountain villages, apple trees, stone windmills with white sails, and one of Crete’s most impressive caves, Diktaion Andron. Also known as the Cave of Zeus, Diktaion Andron is a grotto located in the village of Psychro.
According to the legend, it’s the place where the most important Greek god spent his early years under the care of nymphs and a nurturing goat.
11. Matala Beach
Not everyone is aware that Crete was one of the first ex-pat communities in the world. Hippies and rebels from the 1960s left everything behind to lead a light-hearted life in the caves of this southern beach. Matala never got rid of this flower-power vibe.
Every year, music festivals take place in the village gathering local and international musicians as well as a faithful tribe of hippies, in love with the carefree lifestyle of Matala.
12. Minoan Palace of Malia
If you’re not certain whether to visit a beach or an archaeological site, a day trip to the Archaeological Site of Malia can cater to both! This Minoan settlement is located very close to Malia, one of Crete’s most popular resorts. And it is less than half an hour away from the capital of the island, Heraklion.
You can spend a morning exploring the ancient Minoan settlement, and the afternoon on the beach of Malia. Stay the night and party at one of the several discos and pubs in town.
13. Wine Region of Heraklion
Just a few kilometers inland from the capital Heraklion, you will find one of the most precious secrets of the island, the wines of Crete. The area hosts the ancient Cretan Vineyard which has been producing excellent wines for 4000 years.
With over 12 different native grape varieties, the Cretan wine scene boasts one-of-a-kind labels that you should definitely try. Book a wine tasting session to learn everything about the wine making process in Crete. Many vineyards share how to pair Cretan wines with local cheese, olives, dry tomatoes, and Cretan rusks.
14. Traditional Villages
There are endless villages that still treasure the ancient customs of the island. One of these places is Anogeia, a small mountain village in the region of Rethymnon. It is also home to some of the best musicians in Crete.
During a visit to this village, don’t miss trying the local dish – goat meat cooked on the spit in a local taverna. Anogeia is also known for its embroidery and other crafts that old women still produce and sell in the courtyards of their homes.
15. Old Town of Rethymnon
The city of Rethymnon is home to another old town full of Venetian and Turkish landmarks. One of the places to visit in town is the Venetian Fortezza, a magnificent fortified castle built to help protect the city against recurring pirate attacks. Also in the old town, take walk along the small Venetian harbor and explore the maze of cobblestone alleys, the Ottoman balconies, and the minarets that populate Rethymnon’s skyline.
Traditional fishing villages are other places you can visit in Crete to discover local traditions. Loutro is the most picturesque of them all. The small village of Loutro is located on the southern coast of Crete on the Libyan sea.
It is a magical place accessible only by boat or hiking a high coastal path. Take a day tour to relax on the beach, swim in the crystalline waters, and feast on seafood platters in the many seaside tavernas.
17. Seitan Limania Beach
One more beach has made its way to the collection of iconic sights of Crete and that is Seitan Limania. Located less than 20 km from the city of Chania, the impressive lightning-bolt shape of the bay and the unique shades of blue have put Seitan Limania among the best places to visit in Crete.
There are no amenities and the beach is rather isolated, so it is a good idea to pack everything you need for the day. I suggest food and drinks, comfortable shoes, and sunscreen.
Great Cretan Gastronomic Experiences
Greece is known all over the world for its healthy and tasty diet. The Cretan diet is not only healthy and full of flavor, it’s strictly fresh and seasonal with tons of top quality extra virgin olive oil. Here are 5 Cretan gastronomic experiences to discover the best of the local cuisine.
18. Municipal Market of Chania
The Agora or municipal market in the city of Chania is the best place on the island to learn about every staple product from Crete. Inside Chania’s public marketplace, local producers sell goat and sheep cheeses, fresh wild greens, snails, thyme honey, extra virgin olive oil, and fragrant bread fresh form the wooden oven.
You can sample the delicious food and if you visit during midday, the market is a fantastic place to have a traditional homemade meal at very convenient prices. Dishes such as moussaka, and spinach pies or zucchini pies, unique village recipes, and local soups and stews as well.
Bougatsa is a Greek delicacy which has turned into one of Crete’s favorite sweets. Bougatsa is a pocket of phyllo pastry filled with custard or cheese, served with a topping of honey, sugar or cinnamon and usually paired with a cup of authentic Greek coffee. Two of the most traditional places to taste this sweet on the island are:
- Kirkor – located in Heraklion, it has been making bougatsa since 1921
- Iordanis – Located in Chania, it has been open since 1924. It serves bougatsa filled with a local variety of cheese called myzithra.
Tsikoudia, or Cretan raki is something you must try when visiting Crete. After the winemaking season is done with, the people distille tsikoudia. This high alcohol volume drink is served with appetizers at the beginning of a meal, or with fruit and yogurt as a dessert. Raki is often served on important occasions such as welcoming guests or family reunions.
21. Fine Dining in Crete
Dining in Crete can range from high-end fusion restaurants to tasty street food eaten on the go. In every case, the dishes are prepared using fresh products grown locally.
- Peskesi is the most famous restaurant in Crete located in Heraklion. It is the best place to find authentic dishes and traditional cooking methods.
- Avli is located in the heart of the old town of Rethymnon. They use an abundant use of local herbs and delicious cheeses.
- Serenissima Restaurant is located in the alleys of the old town of Chania. It is one of the best culinary gems of Crete.
22. Fast Food in Crete
Greek fast-food is synonymous with gyros and souvlaki, the famous pita bread wrap that conquers everyone with its taste and simplicity.
- In the city of Agios Nikolaos, Karnagio is the definite king of gyros.
- In Heraklion the most traditional gyro joint is Petrousis.
- In Rethymnon, you should add O Nikos Souvlaki as a must-dine place.
- In Chania, nobody beats the over 50 years of experience that Oasis Souvlaki has serving the best wraps in town.
23. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
With over 35,000,000 olive trees cultivated on the island, Cretans consume the largest quantity of olive oil in the world. About 35 liters per person per year. To have a better idea, compare that amount to the 17 liters consumed in the rest of Greece, and the 1.2 liters used in Australia!
When visiting Crete, it’s a great idea to book an olive oil tour to learn all about this important industry.
As you can see, Crete is one of the most exciting islands to visit in Greece. So get ready to book your dream vacation to Crete today! If you enjoyed all of the amazing things to do in Crete, Save it to Pinterest for future travel planning.
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