Crete Island Holidays Travel Guide


What can we say about holidays on Crete island? To begin with, let us paint the scene. Just imagine lazing under the sun, hearing the waves crashing on the pink-sand shore. You are surrounded by exotic pine trees, feeling worlds away from your hectic lifestyle. Now, open your eyes and start planning your holidays to Crete!

 

This incredibly photogenic island manages to combine culture, history, and breathtaking landscapes in a mesmerizing way. From wonderful beaches with pink sand to dramatic gorges and from cosmopolitan coastal towns to rural villages, it has it all. To discover it, all you have to do is read on!

About Crete


The landscape of Crete is stunning: gorges, mountains, rivers, beaches, and valleys create a dreamy natural scenery, perfect for nature exploration! As for the beaches in Crete, they are one of a kind. From the super famous Balos beach to the exotic Elafonisos and Falassarna, they all boast a unique beauty!

 

Even though a big part of the island has been touristically developed, it hasn’t lost its traditional character. The biggest towns in Crete are Chania, Heraklion, and Rethymno, while there are many traditional settlements scattered all around the island.

 

Why is Crete famous?

Because Crete is the chameleon of the Greek islands: it can adapt to every traveler’s vision of the ideal holidays! In Crete, you’ll take a dip in mesmerizing turquoise waters, laze on pink sand, discover ancient civilizations, eat delicious food, explore wonderful natural landscapes, partake in the island’s culture… Crete island in Greece never fails to bewitch visitors!

 

But Crete is famous for one thing in particular: its glorious history! Thanks to its enduring history, Crete has a great selection of monuments, such as Minoan Palaces, Medieval castles, Ottoman mosques, and many museums.

 

Where is Crete located?

Crete Greece, the largest island in Greece and the fifth largest in the Mediterranean, sits on the southern part of the Aegean sea. The most mountainous of the Greek islands, Crete boasts a wonderful landscape and unique natural beauty. Crete island in Greece is divided into four administrative regions: the Chania region, the Heraklion region, the Rethymno region, and the Lassithi region. Crete is located 198 km away from Santorini, 321 km away from Paros, 331 km away from Mykonos, and 481 km away from Rhodes.

Read also: Naxos island holidays travel guide | Athens holidays travel guide | Corfu island holidays travel guide

 

What is the best time to visit Crete?

Crete is beautiful all year round! Thanks to its large size and diverse landscapes, Crete offers a great variety of places to explore and activities to do throughout the year. Also, Crete has mild weather all year round, due to its location. So, if you love nature exploration and adventure, then spring and autumn are the best seasons to visit Crete. That’s because during these times of the year the weather is neither super hot nor too cold. If, on the other hand, you want to take a dip in the mesmerizing waters of the beaches, then the best season to visit Crete is arguably the summer.

 

The weather in Crete

  • Autumn (September to November)

    Highest: 81 F/ 27 C Lowest: 55 F/ 13 C

  • Winter (December to February)

    Highest: 63 F/ 17 C Lowest: 46 F/ 8 C

  • Spring (March to May)

    Highest: 75 F/ 24 C Lowest: 50 F/ 17 C

  • Summer (June to August)

    Highest: 84 F/ 29 C Lowest: 64 F/ 18 C

 

What are the most popular events, holidays, and city-breaks in Crete?

St Basil Day/New Year, Theophania / Epiphany
Carnival season, Valentine’s Day, Tsiknopempti (Meat Thursday)
Kathara Deftera (Clean Monday), Carnival season, Independence Day (March 25th)
Easter Week, Easter Sunday, St. George’s feast
Labor Day, Battle of Crete feast
Foudanakia Celebration, Apokoronas Arts Week, Nautical Week
Wine Festivals, Folk festivals, Chania Rock Festival, Cretan Diet Festival, Saint Paraskevi religious feast, Jazz in July festival, Kornaria Festival, Kyrvia Festival, Rethymno Renaissance Festival
St. Titus Day, Chania Summer Festival, Sitia Sultanina Grape Festival
“OXI” Day, Chestnut Festival Elos

 

Did you know?

Crete is the birthplace of Zeus, the father of Gods. The legend has it that Zeus was born in a cave in Crete, either in Dikteon Andron cave in Lasithi or Ideon cave on Psiloritis, the highest mountain in Crete. According to mythology, Zeus was raised by goat Amalthea and nymph Melissa.

 

What are the best things to do in Crete, Greece?

  1. Visit the best beaches in Crete

    It’s not a secret that Crete boasts some of the best beaches not only in Greece but also in the world! Beaches in Crete stand out for their exotic ambiance, wild natural landscapes, pink sand, shiny pebbles, mesmerizing turquoise waters…and the list goes on! So, no visit to Crete would be complete without a plunge in the crystal clear waters of the island. Falassarna, Balos, and Elafonissi are some of the must-visit beaches on the island!

  2. Eat your way through the island

    There’s a reason why the Cretan diet is famous all over the world as the model of the Mediterranean diet! Thanks to the island’s rich produce, only the freshest of ingredients are used in the delicious local recipes. Don’t leave without trying kalitsounia, dakos, fried snails (chochlioi bourbounistoi), gamopilafo, and sfakia pies. You can thank us later!

  3. Introduce yourself to the history of Crete

    It’s not a secret that Crete has a glorious past. Thus, sightseeing is one of the best things to do in Crete! To start with, Crete was home to one of the most important ancient civilizations of the world: the Minoan. Some of the most beautiful vestiges of the Minoan Era are the palaces of Knossos, Phaistos, Malia, and Zakros, which are the most important monuments in Crete. Apart from glorious palaces, Crete also has many museums, which you can visit to dig even deeper into the island’s history.

  4. Explore nature

    Nature exploration is one of the best things to do in Crete, especially if you’re planning to visit the island in spring or autumn. The diversity of Crete’s landscapes is unreal: high mountains, breathtaking gorges, nature reserves, virgin beaches, verdant valleys… Crete has everything. Its gorges, in particular, are famous for their beauty. Samaria, Agia Irini, Agios Nikolaos, and Ha are some of the best gorges to explore in Crete!

  5. Feel like a Minoan at Knossos Palace

    If you visit Crete without visiting Knossos Palace, did you even visit Crete…? Knossos Palace, which is considered Europe’s oldest city, is arguably the most popular archaeological attraction in Crete! Over 2,000 sq. meters, Knossos Palace is the biggest construction of the Minoan civilization, which thrived in Crete in antiquity. Knossos used to have four wings built around a central courtyard and counted 1,300 (!) rooms. What will stand out to you are the colorful frescoes that decorate the palace, depicting scenes of the Minoan everyday life.

  6. Go hiking at Samaria gorge

    Samaria gorge is the most famous gorge in Crete and the longest gorge in Europe, as it has a total length of 16 km. Apart from a unique natural wonder, Samaria gorge is also a national park that gives shelter to 450 plant and animal species. The gorge starts from Xylocastro and ends at Agia Roumeli, a picturesque coastal village in Crete. To cross the gorge, you’ll need 6 to 8 hours. The best season to visit Samaria is in spring, when weather conditions are ideal for exploration.

  7. Visit the glorious Phaistos palace

    Phaistos is another vestige of the Minoan civilization! Sitting on a hill at Messara valley, Phaistos palace boasts a wonderful setting. It is the second biggest Minoan palace after Knossos and was built in 2,000 BC. At the archaeological site of Phaistos, you will find the old and the new palaces, storerooms, workshops, terraces, the Minoan town, and the Venetian church of St. George of Phalandra, among others.

  8. Travel back in time on Spinalonga island

    Spinalonga is the most visited archaeological monument in Crete after Knossos palace! Spinalonga is actually a small islet located in front of Elounda in the eastern part of Crete. Even though it is now one of the most popular attractions in Crete, its past wasn’t what you’d called glorious. Spinalonga was the place where lepers from Crete and Greece were sent to isolate themselves until 1957. The everyday life of the lepers was what inspired Victoria Hilspot to write the popular bestseller The island. Visiting Spinalonga is a must!

What are the shopping hours in Crete?

Shops in the big towns, like Chania, Heraklion, and Rethymno are open from 9 a.m to 9 p.m. However, shops might be open until midnight at the island’s tourist resorts. Keep in mind that some shops close for a lunch break from 2 p.m to 5 p.m.

 

Key facts about Crete

  • Population

    634,930 (2019)

  • Currecy

    Euro

  • Language

    Greek

  • Average Temperatures

    Warmest Month: July (84 F/ 29 C)
    Coldest Month: January (46 F/ 8 C)

  • Tipping

    It’s not obligatory/expected to tip in Crete, but you can leave a tip (about 10% of the total cost of your bill) if you are satisfied with the service.

  • Loved by

    Families, history buffs, beach lovers, nature enthusiasts

The history of Crete

Crete has an enduring history that goes back to 7,000 B.C. In 3,000 B.C, the legendary Minoan civilization started to flourish, under the rule of King Minos, from whom has taken its name. In 2,000 B.C, it reached its peak with the construction of lavish palaces, like those of Knossos, Phaistos, and Mallia. The palaces were so ahead of their time! They had multiple stories, elaborate frescoes, drainage systems, baths, and even flushing (!) toilets. They were brought to light by the archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, who carried out excavations on the sites. The Minoan civilization was finally destroyed after a volcanic eruption on Santorini island, in the 15th century B.C.
Later on, Crete fell into the hands of the Romans, the Arabs, the Venetians, and, finally, the Ottomans. After the Greek War of Independence in 1821, Crete didn’t gain independence from the Turks as fast as other parts of the country. It was in November of 1898 when the Ottoman forces finally left the island and Crete became an independent state.

 

How to get to Crete?

You can reach Crete island either by air or by ferry. The plane is the fastest way to get to Crete both from Athens and from abroad. The ferry might be much slower than the plane, but it is also way cheaper.

 

Getting from Athens to Crete by ferry

Catching a ferry from Athens to Crete is the cheapest way to get to Crete! There’s a regular ferry service from Piraeus port in Athens to the ports of Heraklion and Chania in Crete. The main ferry companies that serve the route between Athens and Crete are Anek Lines and Minoan Lines. You can also reach Crete by ferry from other islands of the Aegean, like Mykonos and Santorini.

 

Getting from Athens to Crete by air

The fastest, yet more expensive way to get to Crete is catching a flight to Crete. There are both domestic flights to Crete from Athens or Thessaloniki and international flights to Crete from countries such as the Netherlands, USA, Cyprus, Germany, Norway, and the UK. Especially during the summer months, there are many domestic flights to Crete, which are a great option if you want to visit the Greek mainland before heading to Crete.

Where to stay in Crete?

Heraklion Crete

Heraklion is the capital of the island and one of the most interesting cities in Crete, in terms of exploration! It is located on the eastern side of Crete, between the Rethymno and Lassithi prefectures. In Heraklion, you’ll find a great selection of monuments, museums, bars, restaurants, hotels, and shops of every kind.

 

The history of Heraklion is reflected in its townscapes- this city combines old and new in a unique way that never fails to seduce visitors. The modern vibrant city of Heraklion coexists in harmony with the Heraklion Old Town, making exploration a fascinating activity. A walk around the town will get you to the picturesque port of Heraklion, Koules Fortress, the Venetian Loggia, the famous Morosini Fountain, and many more interesting sites.

 

If you want to peek into the tradition of Heraklion, head to Agora. Agora is a commercial street, where you’ll find a huge selection of traditional products, such as Cretan cheese, socks, herbs, fresh fish, and meat. A stroll around Agora is also the perfect chance to interact with locals and receive warm Cretan hospitality!

 

Heraklion used to be the center of the ancient Minoan civilization. Thus, it’s not a surprise that in Heraklion prefecture, you’ll find two of the most important Minoan palaces, Knossos Palace and Phaistos palace. These two palaces are the absolute must-visits in Crete!

 

Some of the best hotels to stay in Heraklion are: Ibis Styles Heraklion Central, GDM Megaron Historical Monument Hotel, Legacy Gastro Suites, and Lavris City Suites.

Chania Crete

Chania is a picturesque town located on the westernmost side of Crete. It is the capital of Chania prefecture, one of the most popular destinations in Crete! Chania Crete, just like Heraklion and Rethymno, is a combination of old and new. Strongly influenced by the Venetians and the Turkish, Chania boasts an elegant architecture. In this beautiful town, you’ll find many historical buildings, shops, a great variety of restaurants, taverns, hotels and, of course, monuments!

 

Chania Old Town is where the heart of the town beats! Wandering in Chania Town you’ll come across monuments such as the Ottoman baths, the Catholic church of Saint Francis, and the emblematic Clock Tower. The absolute gem of Chania Town, though, is the Venetian Harbour. A vestige of the Venetian era, the Venetian Harbour is perfect for romantic walks and an ideal spot for sunset gazing! Except for exploring the outdoor monuments, you can introduce yourself to the island’s history at the many museums of Chania, such as the Byzantine Museum, the Folklore Museum, and the Archaeological Museum.

 

But, there’s a reason in particular why Chania is famous: its stunning beaches! Chania Prefecture is arguably a beach mecca! Chania is home to Falassarna, Elafonisi, and Balos, some of the best beaches not only in Greece but also in the whole world. So, if you want to be close to be a drive away from these unreal beaches, your best bet is to book your accommodation in Chania.

 

Some of the best hotels to stay in Chania are: SanSal Boutique Hotel, Royal Sun, Epavli Boutique Hotel, and Central City Hotel.

Rethymnon Crete

Rethymno is the capital of Rethymnon prefecture, on the western side of Crete. Rethymno might be a big city, like Chania and Heraklion, but it has a laid-back atmosphere and a romantic vibe!

 

Strongly influenced by the Venetians, the town of Rethymno boasts a unique architecture that oozes charm in abundance. Strolling around the old town, you’ll see the Venetian port, Fortezza -a Medieval castle, Catholic churches, mosques, Venetian mansions… The history of Rethymno is truly reflected in the cityscape. A romantic walk along the seafront promenade of the Venetian port is a must! Lined up with restaurants and cafeterias, it is the perfect spot to lounge after a long day of exploration.

 

Rethymno is close to some of the best beaches in Crete! Along the northern and southern coasts of Rethymnon Prefecture lie some of the most stunning beaches of the island, such as Bali, Panormos, Plakias, and Agia Galini.

 

Do you love exploration? You’ll be happy to know that the prefecture of Rethymno is dotted with many traditional villages, such as Anogia, Argiroupolis, Mili, and Mirthios. The villages of Rethymno are not only perfect for quick getaways from the town, but also excellent places to stay!

 

Some of the best hotels to stay in Rethymno are: Phaedra Suites, Ark 68 City Rooms, Menta City Boutique Hotel, and Hamam Oriental Suites.

 

How to get around Crete?


Crete is a big island, so the best way to get around is by car. However, you can opt for a boat, a taxi, or a bus for shorter distances. Let’s see the best ways to get around Crete!

 

Getting around Crete by car

Crete is too big to explore on foot, so the best way to get around is by car. There are many car rental companies in Crete (at the port, at the airport, and in the main cities), so it’s easy to rent the perfect car for you. Getting around by car is the best way to explore the island at your own pace. Moreover, most beaches in Crete are far from the cities, so having your means of transportation is a life-saver, especially if you’re traveling with family!

 

Getting around Crete by taxi

An alternative to the car is a taxi, which is a good option for routes between the airport and Crete’s main towns. You’ll find many taxis at the port, at the airport, and on many tourist spots all around the island. The taxi rides within the cities of Crete don’t cost much, but the cost rises if you chose to go from one city to another by taxi. So, our recommendation is to opt for a taxi for short trips within the city, but choose another means of transportation for longer trips.

 

Getting around Crete by bus

A cheaper, but in most cases equally fast means of transportation is the bus. Regional buses (KTEL) run between Heraklion, Chania, Agios Nikolaos, Lassithi, Matala, and other top destinations in Crete. Apart from regional buses, there are also city buses that serve in-town itineraries at the biggest cities of Crete. A one-way ticket for KTEL buses in Crete costs between 1.10 (1.33 $) and 2.00 euros (2.42 $). You can purchase bus tickets either at one of the several kiosks all around the island or on the bus, directly from the driver.

 

Getting around Crete by boat

Some beaches in Crete can’t be reached by car or bus, so the boat is the only option. In the southwestern part of Crete, the boat is the only way to get to the coastal villages and beaches. In the summer, there are regular boat itineraries to Sfakia, Paleochora, Sougia, Spinalonga island, and Gavdos island. The boats on the southern part of Crete run by Anendyk Maritime boat company and the price of a one-way ticket is between 6 (7.27 $) and 24 (29.07 $) euros.

 

How much will you spend on Crete per day?

How much you’re going to spend on your holidays in Crete depends on where you’re going to stay. However, there are numerous accommodation options in Crete, so you can choose the one that meets your needs and your budget. Generally speaking, you’re going to spend around 60 € (73 $) per day during your stay in Crete. More specifically, you’ll spend 15 € (18 $) on food, 15 € (18 $) on transportation, and 30 € (36 $) per person for a double room in Crete.

 

What are the must-try foods in Crete?

  • Cretan Dakos

    Cretan Dakos is one of the staples of the local cuisine. Also known as koukouvagia, dakos is a hearty salad that consists of barley rusk (paximadi), tomatoes, capper, and mizithra, a local soft cheese. Dakos is drizzled with virgin olive oil, sprinkled with herbs, and served as an appetizer.

  • Kalitsounia

    Kalitsounia is little cheese pies, made with handmade dough. The pies are filled with several types of local cheese, depending on the region. The most common is mizithra, a creamy white cheese, which you can also enjoy alone or on top of a barley rusk. Kalitsounia is often sprinkled with sesame and topped with thyme honey. They are served along with a shot of raki.

  • Fried snails (chochlioi boubouristi)

    This is a classic and very popular delicacy in Crete! The snails (chochlioi) are traditionally caught by local women, who fry them in olive oil and douse them with wine. They are served as an appetizer or as a part of a traditional Greek meze meal. They are worth a try!

  • Gamopilafo (wedding pilaf)

    Gamopilafo is a rice-based dish, which was traditionally served at weddings, because rice is a symbol of abundance. However, today, you can find it at many restaurants and taverns throughout Crete. Gamopilafo is made with rich meat broth, butter, lemon, and spices. It’s one of the most special (and expensive) foods to eat in Crete!

Useful Information

Greece is a European city and a part of the Schengen Agreement. So, if you’re a European citizen or citizen of a country member of the Schengen Agreement, you only need a Passport or an Identity Card to enter the country. If you’re a citizen of a country that is neither European nor a member of the Schengen Agreement, you need a visa to visit Greece.
Medical Emergency:112 Fire Service: 199 Ambulance: 166 Police: 100 Heraklion Tourist Police: 302810283190 Rethymnon Tourist Police: 302831053450/28156 Chania Tourist Police: 302821073333

Health care & Safety

Health care in Crete

The Greek Health Care System is public and provides free treatment to citizens and expats. You can visit a public practitioner for free or a private practitioner with a charge. In both cases, you have to pay for prescribed medicines. In case of emergency, you can call a public EKAV ambulance (166) or the European emergency number (112).

Safety in Crete

Crete is a safe island to visit. However, you should take normal precautions, like everywhere. To avoid pickpocketing, we advise you to keep an eye on your belongings and avoid carrying big amounts of cash with you. Also, you should be extra cautious when you’re driving, because drivers are often reckless.

 

What are the best beaches in Crete?

Elafonissi beach

Elafonissi is one of the most idyllic beaches in Crete! This lagoon-beach is located on an islet, about 80 km northwest of Chania. It stands out for its exotic setting and shallow waters, which make it a great option for families with kids. But, the main reason why Elafonissi is extremely popular is its pink sand, which is created by thousands of crushed shells.

 

Balos beach

Balos is another superstar beach in Crete. You’ll have seen it on many postcards long before you go, but the reality will exceed your expectations. Tucked away on the Gramvousa peninsula, Balos beach boasts a breathtaking setting. The turquoise waters, the fine white sand, and the wild natural beauty will remind you of the Caribbean. Magical!

 

Falassarna beach

Falassarna is arguably one of the best beaches in Crete. It boasts a beautiful natural setting, as it is covered with golden sand and is insulated by mountains and orange groves. Thanks to its length, wind conditions, and enticingly clean turquoise waters, Falassarna is loved by windsurfers and nature lovers.

 

Vai beach

Also known as Palm Forest, Vai beach is one of the most exotic beaches in Crete. This beach lies in the Lassithi province, about 25 km away from Sitia. Insulated by a huge palm grove -the biggest palm tree forest in Europe- and covered by fine golden sand, this beach is as exotic as it gets! Although Vai can get crowded, a bit of exploration will get you to some isolated spots.

 

Gifts for your loved-ones from Crete

  • Local herbs

  • Thyme/flower honey

  • Pottery

  • Cretan knives

  • Leather boots (stivania)

  • Graviera cheese

  • Cretan raki/tsikoudia

  • Embroidered tablecloths

 

Conclusion


Holidays on Crete island sound amazing, right? The exotic bays, the natural beauty, the ancient Minoan palaces, the glorious history… What’s not to love about this island? And the best thing is now you know everything about it, from the best beaches in Crete and the top activities to the best things to do in Crete and how to get there. You’re all set to go!

 

What are your thoughts and tips about Crete? Share them in the comments and don’t miss to share this article on Social Media!

 

Other Travel Guides you may be interested in: Santorini island holidays | Mykonos island holidays | Paros island holidays | Naxos island holidays | Athens holidays | Corfu island holidays

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