There are hundreds of great things to do in Crete, from beach hopping to rip-roaring adventures, eating your way through the mouthwatering Cretan diet, or splurging in the wine scenario of the island.
It wasn’t easy narrowing this list down, but here are my top 5 choices for things to see and do on a stunning holiday in Crete.
1. Discover Chania’s Old Town
The Venetian atmosphere in the alleys of Chania’s Old Town will take you on a journey of wonder and discovery. The ancient city is divided into different areas, each of them with traits that build the eclectic identity of Chania.
The Venetian quarter is the most elegant part of town, with exclusive boutique hotels, traditional restaurants, and tiny souvenir shops that add a touch of color.
The old harbor, the Egyptian lighthouse, and the little Mosque right in front of the sea are some of the landmarks to check while walking in the area. Towards the center of the old town, the former Jewish quarter, Zudecca, is home to the last remaining synagogue in Crete (Etz Hayyin), which is somewhat hidden but open to the public.
Entering this religious building from the 15th century is like entering into a forgotten oasis with a beautiful green garden, one that has left its tragic past behind. The history of the Jewish community strived on the island for centuries but sadly disappeared from Crete during the Nazi occupation.
Moving towards the west of the city, the Turkish neighborhood of Splantzia is a corner with a bohemian atmosphere, where life seems to run at a completely different pace.
A great way to explore the best of each quarter, the municipal market, and taste the local flavors, is to book a walking gastronomic tour of Chania.
2. Marvel at the Minoan Past of Crete
Probably one of the main reasons why tourists flock to Crete in the first place is to discover the wonders of the ancient civilizations that once populated the island.
The best place for such an adventure is the Minoan Palace of Knossos, just a few kilometers away from the center of Heraklion. This massive archaeological site remains Greece’s most visited ancient settlement, right after the Acropolis of Athens.
It’s fairly easy to reach the archaeological site with local transport. The bus departs from the old bus station of Heraklion and leaves you right at the entrance gate of the site in less than 15 minutes.
However, for a better experience, book a guided tour of Knossos and learn everything about this unique place touring it with a certified tourist guide.
If you plan to do so, check for tours including a visit to the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, the biggest Minoan collection you will be able to find on the island.
3. Visit the Beaches of Crete
Back in the region of Chania, there’s no shortage of stunning shores. Here you can swim, sunbathe, and enjoy a traditional beach holiday. The fantastic Elafonisi is world-renowned for its pink sand. Yet, even more, striking is the unique turquoise palette of the sea.
Located in the south of Chania, it takes about an hour and a half to reach this isolated area, but the landscape is worth the trip.
For a more adrenaline-driven experience, try spending a day in the exotic shores of Balos, a shallow, emerald lagoon that needs a somewhat difficult off-road drive to reach.
If you’re not in the mood for such an adventure, you can always visit with a day cruise. This way, you will also be able to discover the impressive island of Imeri Gramvousa and swim close to a forgotten shipwreck off its coast.
4. Explore The Mountains of Rethymnon
Driving through the valleys and mountains of Crete can be an exhilarating experience! You’ll discover stunning gorges, forgotten villages, and impressive monasteries.
Rethymnon is a perfect region to do so. The Valley of Amari right next to Mount Psiloritis (Crete’s highest mountain, at 2,456 meters above sea level) is a great place to start.
Stop by some traditional villages such as Anogeia or Axos, or go all the way to the village of Zoniana where you can have some fun exploring the unique formations inside Sfendoni cave.
Going further, you can spend a few hours in the beautiful monastic complex of Preveli and hike all the way down to Preveli Beach, following the river while under the shade of Crete’s second palm grove.
5. Get Lost in East Crete
The remote region of Lasithi has plenty of opportunities for a fantastic holiday. If you’re short of time, the area manages to concentrate the best of Crete offering a clear panorama of the local traditions, great isolated beaches, and unique mountain roads.
A trip along the Lasithi Plateau is a one-of-a-kind experience. Lonesome and undiscovered, this elevated plane hides a fantastic landscape dotted with the last remaining windmills of Crete.
Go even further and reach the southeastern coast for true disconnection. The beaches of Xerokampos are virtually unknown to mass tourism and are the most secluded place to stay on Crete.