Best Things To Do in Crete
You'll find plenty to keep you busy in Crete. History buffs will enjoy a visit to the Palace of Knossos and the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, while those seeking the sun can soak up the rays along the island's sandy coasts. Outdoorsy types can hike their hearts out at Samaria Gorge in Chania and shopaholics will love the boutique-lined boulevards of Agios Nikolaos.
Updated July 29, 2020
- #1View all Photos#1 in CreteFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
If you're in Rethymnon, then you shouldn't miss the opportunity to wander the narrow alleys of Old Town, a seaside neighborhood that dates back to the 11th century. Here you'll find prime examples of Venetian Renaissance architecture along with splashes of Turkish influence spread throughout the city.
The food and shopping options in Old Town are seemingly endless, but the maze-like streets can be perplexing. If you do get turned around, don't despair: The area isn't huge, and once you see the Venetian Fortezza or the harbor, you can easily regain your bearings. Recent travelers have actually embraced getting lost in Old Town because the streets are so charming, the locals are so kind and the food is so good. Case in point, Old Town Rethymnon is simply beautiful.
- #2View all PhotosfreeElafonisi#2 in CreteBeaches, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Located in the southwest corner of Crete, Elafonisi beach sparkles with pink-tinted sand and crystal-clear Mediterranean waters. If you're feeling adventurous, you can wade across Elafonisi's shallow lagoon to a small, uninhabited island, home only to a historic lighthouse, a chapel and more than 100 native plant species. Recent travelers hail Elafonisi as one of the most beautiful beaches in Crete, if not in all of Greece.
However, Elafonisi's beauty comes with a few drawbacks. First, you must brave winding roads and harrowing mountain passes to get there. Once you arrive, your visions of pristine sandy stretches may be spoiled by the legions of tourists who have also made the trek, especially in the summer months. But never fear: You can avoid the throngs of visitors by venturing a little farther away from the parking lot. A short walk east or west and you will hit smaller yet more secluded shorelines bordered by a juniper forest. Another surefire way to beat the crowds is to visit in the off-season. From late October to April, you might just get the beach all to yourself.
- #3View all Photos#3 in CreteBeaches, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Also known as Palm Beach, Vai Beach is mainly known for its stunning landscape. The beach is home to the largest palm grove in Europe with 4,500 palm trees that have been there for more than 2,000 years. So if you're looking to avoid renting a beach umbrella, you've come to the right place for some natural shade. The sand can get crowded with busloads of tourists, but a short hike over a hill at the south side of Vai Beach will reveal an underutilized, yet no less beautiful stretch of shore.
Recent visitors praised Vai Beach for its cleanliness and beautiful views from not only the beach but from atop the nearby hills. Travelers also lauded the picturesque drive coming into the beach. Others, however, lamented the distance and conditions of the roads, advising those who aren't staying on the east side of the island to reconsider visiting. For those who want to beat the crowds, visitors suggest hitting the sand before 2 p.m.
- #4View all Photos#4 in CreteCastles/Palaces, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDCastles/Palaces, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
A labyrinth of massive columns and beautiful frescoes, the Palace of Knossos is a testament to the sophistication of the Minoan civilization that disappeared sometime in the 14th century. According to legend, it was also home to the mythical Minotaur of King Minos. The site was restored extensively by the famous archaeologist Arthur Evans in the early 1900s. Since then, it has become the biggest tourist draw on Crete.
Knossos is located about 3 miles south of Heraklion (city buses run regularly from Bus Station A). Make sure to budget a good chunk of time as the Palace of Knossos is a large site that begs for extended exploration. Many recent visitors suggested shelling out for a guided tour — the palace's history and mythology will really come to life. (Some travelers felt the placards didn't offer up enough information about the attraction.) If you're going to visit during the summer, travelers also strongly recommend arriving early to avoid crowds and beat the intense afternoon heat.
- #5View all Photos#5 in CreteNatural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, HikingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDNatural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, HikingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Stretching for about 10 miles through southern Chania Prefecture's White Mountains, Samaria Gorge is thought to be one of the longest canyons in Europe. The gorge trail begins on the Omalos plateau at Xyloskalo, perched high among the mountains. It then winds its way 10 miles between some 1,600-foot vertical walls to Agia Roumeli, a small seaside village. Speedy hikers can usually make the journey in four and a half hours, while more leisurely paced walkers can spend up to eight hours in the gorge. Fast or slow, you're going to want to get an early start to beat the heat and the crowds (about 1,000 people make the hike every day during high season).
Recent visitors strongly advise bringing plenty of water and sunscreen, wearing sturdy shoes and really assessing your fitness level before embarking on this long walk. Although not a hike, travelers reported very few areas where the surface is completely flat. Since it is a gorge, rocks are everywhere and traversing them for hours may be too much for those who aren't regularly active. Despite the challenge, many fawned over the beauty of the gorge. Make sure to observe the greenery, as there are hundreds of different plant species that populate the park. Also keep an eye out for the rare and endangered kri-kri, Crete's native goat.
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The Historical Museum of Crete, located in the capital city of Heraklion, chronicles Cretan life from early Byzantine times to the Modern period. If you're interested in the older stuff, check out the nearby Heraklion Archaeological Museum.
Travelers noted that despite the museum's small size, there is lots to see and learn. Two paintings by El Greco are major highlights of the museum: The Baptism of Christ and View of Mt. Sinai and the Monastery of St. Catherine.
- #7View all Photos#7 in CreteMonuments and Memorials, SightseeingTYPEMonuments and Memorials, SightseeingTYPE
Built atop a hill in Rethymnon Old Town, the Fortezza (for-TED-za) stands as a symbol of Crete's tempestuous past. The Venetian ruling class, who oversaw the construction of the imposing Fortezza in the late 16th century, hoped it would protect Crete against an Ottoman invasion. But all that labor was for naught — the Ottomans captured the Fortezza less than 100 years after its completion and went on to rule Crete for more than two centuries.
The Fortezza's perimeter still houses the partially restored Ibrahim Han Mosque from the Ottoman era. You will also find the church of Agios Theodoros Trichinas, a Greek Orthodox chapel built in 1899 after Turkish rule ceased, at the site. Today, the Fortezza plays host to a range of cultural events, including the Rethymnon Renaissance Festival. Recent visitors suggest checking out the Fortezza toward the end of the day when crowds start to wane. In the evening, you can enjoy the sun sparkling on the Mediterranean Sea as it sinks below the western horizon. If you don't have time to go in the evening, visitors strongly suggest bringing a hat and sunscreen. Those who didn't said it was difficult to really enjoy the attraction because the heat was so intense.
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The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is a must-see in Crete — and all of Greece, even — for its extensive collection of Minoan art. Highlights include a mini-statue of a Snake Goddess and the Phaistos Disk, a clay tablet with symbols that have not been deciphered to this day. All artifacts (spanning some 5,000 years of history) in this museum were excavated exclusively from archaeological sites in Crete.
You'll find this museum (also known as the Archaeological Museum of Iraklio) in central Heraklion. Hours are seasonal. From November to March, the museum is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays, and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. From April to October, hours are 8 a.m. to 8 pm. daily. Tickets are €6 EUR and a combination ticket, which includes admission to the Palace of Knossos, is €10 EUR. Recent visitors highly recommend visiting both of these places, as some artifacts featured were excavated from the Palace of Knossos.
- #9View all Photos#9 in CreteZoos and AquariumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDZoos and AquariumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Located approximately 9 miles east of Heraklion, the Cretaquarium is home to 2,000 sea animals and 200 different Mediterranean species. If you're an animal lover, traveling with kids or just looking to kill some time, the Cretaquarium should be on your list.
Recent visitors appreciated the aquarium's organization and cleanliness on top of the variety of sea life on display. Many travelers said that the shark tank in particular is a can't-miss spot in the aquarium.
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