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Crete Travel Tips

Crete Photo info
PaulCowan/iStockphoto.com

Keep in Mind...

  • Plan ahead Crete is larger than its fellow Greek Islands, so you could waste a lot of time traveling from site to site. Create an itinerary before you head out to make sure you budget enough time to do and see everything on your list.
  • Bring a phrasebook Although you can find English speakers in the more touristy areas, Greek is the official language.  
  • Bring a change of clothes It's important to dress appropriately at the religious sites: Long pants and skirts and shirts that cover your shoulders and chest. If you're bouncing between the beach and the sites, packing an extra pair of clothing will do you well.

If there was one word to describe the Greek island of Crete, it would be "diverse." Sandy beaches hide amongst soaring mountains, palm-tree forests grow in the middle of sprawling plains, bustling modern cities share coastline with ancient ruins. And speaking of citiesin Crete, they reflect the people that came before. The streets are lined with architecture mirroring the styles of the Minoans, the Venetians, and the Ottomans, as well as contemporary Greeks. Despite the visible contradictions, this island maintains a sense of unity, felt whenever you step onto the street, dine at a local taverna, or enjoy a glass of raki at a sidewalk café.

Crete's experiences are as assorted as its history, so take some time to decide what type of vacation you're looking to have before you set anything in stone. For a more urban setting and a variety of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, consider staying along the northern coast in Chania or Heraklion. Those who prefer the great outdoors should head to Rethymnon or Agios Nikolaos for the many beautiful beaches.

How To Save Money in Crete

  • Bring your own toiletries Shampoo, toothpaste, suntan lotion… all of these things cost more in Crete than they do in the U.S. And as long as they're not in your carry-on, you'll have no trouble getting them from point A to point B.
  • Eat like a local When it comes to dining on a dime, you can't go wrong with a taverna. These unpretentious eateries serve up all the Greek favorites for a fraction of the cost of a fine restaurant.
  • Determine your route in advance Gas prices tend to be high in Crete. If you're renting a car, avoid excess fuel use by mapping out your route and your itinerary.

Crete Culture & Customs

Greeks are known for their hospitality and Crete is regarded as a friendly tourist destination. However, understanding Greek etiquette will help you interact and blend in with the locals.

Understanding body language is key. Be aware of your gestures; for example, the hand signal for "OK" using the thumb and index finger, is offensive in Greece. Greeks indicate "yes" (a slight downward nod) or "no" (a slight upward nod) differently than Americans.

Because of Crete's warm climate, shorts and T-shirts are acceptable when walking around the cities or the beaches. However, if you are planning to visit any religious sites, make sure to dress more conservatively in long pants or skirts and shirts that cover the shoulders and the chest area. You should dress more formally when dining at a restaurant.

Cretan restaurants are used to serving foreigners and generally accept most major credit cards. However, Cretans themselves generally pay in cash (the official currency of Greece is the euro). Since the euro to U.S. dollar exchange rate fluctuates, be sure to check what the current exchange rate is before you go. When it comes to tipping, 10 percent is the standard amount, but it's acceptable to leave a little extra for outstanding service. 

Crete Dining

Don't expect any Caesar salads here—Cretan cuisine bears very little resemblance to Olive Garden. In fact, food on Crete often doesn't even resemble food on mainland Greece. Feta, a Greek staple cheese, isn't produced or popular on Crete. Instead, look for graviera, a hard cheese (similar to Swiss gruyere) aged in caves in the White Mountains.  The soft, ricotta-like myzithra is also a Cretan mainstay.

It's hard to go wrong with a meal at a local taverna. Because of its proximity to the sea, some of Crete's the most traditional dishes contain snails; they may look alien, but eating them will gain you some serious Cretan cred. However, if griddled gastropods don't make your mouth water, don't worry: You will find some less-adventurous dishes like souvlaki and rice pilaf. Another quintessentially Cretan dish is dakos, a twice-baked hard bread sprinkled with tomato, cheese, oregano, and olive oil. If you're feeling lost when it comes to finding a truly authentic taverna, just ask a resident; Cretans are known for being friendly and helpful to tourists. Travelers suggest the Ferryman Taverna and Lotus Eaters, both located in the northeast town of Elounda, for an excellent dinner experience.

One final note: You're in Crete. Don't even try to avoid the olive oil. Home to more than 1.5 million olive trees, Crete is famous for producing olive oil, and it's a staple ingredient in most dishes. Even desserts contain olive oil: loukoumades, similar to doughnut holes, are deep-fried in the stuff. Wash 'em down with some raki, an alcoholic beverage distilled from leftover wine grapes.

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