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The largest of the Greek islands, Crete offers travelers more than just sun, sea, and sand. Famed for its warm hospitality, outstanding infrastructure, and contrasting landscapes, the island represents one of the world's richest areas in terms of history and culture. Crete burst onto the world scene over 4,000 years ago, when it served as the center of the Minoan civilization, one of Europe's earliest organized societies. Despite the island's wealth of developed beaches, the traces of the mysterious and enchanting Minoan empire remain Crete's top attraction, drawing visitors from all over the world. The island capital Heraklion provides an ideal base for exploring a renowned Minoan palace complex, the site of Europe's oldest city. Whether you only want to go to Crete, or have a whole adventure planned, Inspirock has you covered with our user-friendly Greece itinerary planner.Read the Crete Holiday Planning Guide »
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©The Palace of Knossos
©Heraklion Archaeological Museum
©Rethymnon Old Town
©Old Venetian Harbor
©Balos Beach and Lagoon
©Aquaworld Aquarium & Reptile Rescue Centre
©Samaria Gorge National Park
©Historical Museum of Crete
©Historical and Folk Art Museum of Rethymnon
©The Venetian Fortezza
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Best things to do in Crete
The Palace of Knossos
Visit for: 3h
Visit for: 2h 30m
Visit for: 3h
Rethymnon Old Town
Visit for: 1h
Old Venetian Harbor
Visit for: 2h 30m
Balos Beach and Lagoon
Visit for: 3h
Kid Friendly Attractions
Visit for: 2h
Aquaworld Aquarium & Reptile Rescue Centre
Visit for: 1h 30m
Samaria Gorge National Park
Visit for: 8h
Visit for: 3h 30m
Visit for: 3h
Visit for: 4h
Visit for: 8h
Visit for: 1h
Visit for: 30m
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Crete Holiday Planning GuideThe largest of the Greek islands, Crete offers travelers more than just sun, sea, and sand. Famed for its warm hospitality, outstanding infrastructure, and contrasting landscapes, the island represents one of the world's richest areas in terms of history and culture. Crete burst onto the world scene over 4,000 years ago, when it served as the center of the Minoan civilization, one of Europe's earliest organized societies. Despite the island's wealth of developed beaches, the traces of the mysterious and enchanting Minoan empire remain Crete's top attraction, drawing visitors from all over the world. Consider basing your Crete vacation in the island's capital of Heraklion, which provides an ideal base for exploring a renowned Minoan palace complex, the site of Europe's oldest city.
Places to Visit on CreteHeraklion: The capital of Crete, the bustling port city attracts visitors with a mix of historical sites and modern facilities. The city is the fourth-largest in Greece and a great place to get acquainted with different aspects of Cretan culture.
Rethymnon: Resting in the shadow of an impressive Venetian fortress, this ancient town boasts a picturesque network of cobbled streets lined with shops and restaurants, as well as a long sandy beach for those looking to spend time by the sea.
Hersonissos: Renowned for its nightlife, rows of shops, and restaurants right by the sea, this town is one of the most popular destinations for a Crete holiday.
Chania Town: With its winding cobbled streets, romantic alleyways, boutique hotels, and a selection of bars and restaurants close to the old Venetian port, this town is a true gem in the western part of Crete.
Elounda: Located on a scenic bay and surrounded by beautiful nature, the town of Elounda is home to many luxurious resorts and also offers a more secluded environment.
Kissamos: A small town in the northwest of Crete, Kissamos is the perfect spot for enjoying a peaceful atmosphere and traditional hospitality. Some of the island's most stunning beaches are just a short drive away from the town.
Elafonissi: Definitely one of the most scenic spots in Crete, the small island of Elafonissi is a real tropical paradise, with soft sandy beaches and water so shallow that you can walk to the island from the Crete mainland.
Sfakia: Almost untouched by the mass tourism of the island's Aegean coast, this small town on the Libyan Sea makes a great addition to your Crete itinerary if looking for tranquil surroundings and excursions into nature.
Malia: Popular with the island's younger visitors, Malia is Crete's party capital. With its great selection of bars and clubs, the town boasts one of the liveliest atmospheres in the whole of the Mediterranean.
Ierapetra: Another hidden gem on Crete's southern coast, Ierapetra holds the title of Europe's southernmost city. Surrounded by stunning countryside and untouched beaches, Ierapetra is home to a selection of seaside tavernas as well as a port dominated by a medieval Venetian fort.
Things to Do on Crete
Popular Crete Tourist AttractionsThe Palace of Knossos: Definitely one of the main places to visit on Crete, this famous archeological site lets you take a stroll among the remains of the palace that once controlled all of Crete, and see the houses and streets of the settlement where European civilization first began.
Elafonissi Beach: Clean, peaceful, covered in soft sand, and next to the calm, shallow, warm sea, this beach is one of the most romantic spots on the island.
Spinalonga (Kalydon): Hop on a boat to this impressive fortress and learn about its history and its dark secrets.
Balos Beach and Lagoon: Without a doubt, this is one of the most beautiful Mediterranean beaches. Even though it might be a little tricky to get to, for many visitors this is a must on their Crete tour.
Rethymnon Old Town: Wander the cobbled streets, discover your favorite shops and restaurants, see the street performances, and have a drink below the fortress.
Old Venetian Harbor: With its promenade lined with cafes and restaurants bustling with activity, this makes the best spot to experience the spirit of Chania.
Aquaworld Aquarium & Reptile Rescue Centre: The aquarium is the perfect place to see local marine life and a large collection of reptiles from all over the world.
Vai Beach: One of major tourist attractions on Crete, the beach is located right in the middle of Europe's only natural palm forest.
Heraklion Archaeological Museum: Housing an impressive collection of artifacts, including the original frescoes from Knossos, Crete's largest museum is a must-see.
Samaria Gorge National Park: If you're looking to get into the great outdoors on your trip to Crete, consider hiking this iconic gorge, which runs from the top of the mountain to the coast of the Libyan Sea.
Planning a Crete Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit on Crete with KidsAs an island of diversity, Crete has something to offer for visitors of all ages and interests. While the seclusion of the towns on the southern coast might appeal to adults, children and teenagers will likely find the busier northern cities much more exciting. Heraklion and Chania Town are especially good choices for a family holiday on Crete, not only because of the local attractions, but also for the proximity to some of the best outdoor attractions and historical sites in Crete.
Things to Do on Crete with KidsHiking or having fun at beaches are definitely things that active, outdoorsy kids will find thrilling, but you can also head to Limnoupolis Water Park and enjoy a variety of pools and slides. At Cretaquarium Thalassocosmos children can see sharks, turtles, and many other marine species face-to-face. For young travelers with a taste for history, opportunities for sightseeing in Crete are abundant, from castles and ancient towns to walled monasteries like Sacred Monastery of Arkadi.
Tips for a Family Vacation on CreteThe best vacation ideas on Crete include quite a bit of moving around, both because of the island's size and the distances between the most famous attractions. Renting a car is a much better choice than relying on public transportation, especially if you're traveling with young children. Bear in mind that a good number of historical sites, as well as some beaches and old towns, might be difficult to navigate with a stroller, so bringing a baby carrier might save you a lot of trouble. One of Crete's main advantages is that many attractions, even though not specifically children-oriented, appeal to both kids and adults, so you won't have to make too many compromises when planning your itinerary.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday on Crete
Cuisine of CreteFor gourmand travelers, a trip to Crete offers an opportunity to explore a variety of local cuisines. Recognizable Greek specialties, such as moussaka and souvlaki, are readily available on the island, but there's also a selection of local recipes that you won't find anywhere else in Greece. Somewhat surprisingly, traditional Cretan cuisine doesn't include a lot of seafood, but rather relies on homegrown vegetables, olives, dairy products, and meat, especially lamb. Stuffed zucchini flowers are a perfect snack on a hot summer's day, and if you're feeling adventurous, try the traditional snail dishes. Sampling local cheeses is another must during your Crete holiday; the best introduction to these sheep-milk and goat-milk varieties is walking through a local farmer's market. Try, for example, the Atsalenion Wednesday market in Heraklion.
Even the smallest coastal towns have a selection of restaurants. But for a more authentic feeling, head to the inland villages, such as those near Rethymnon, and taste home-cooked specialties at one of the rustic tavernas. While ouzo is the favorite spirit of most Greeks, the Cretans prefer raki, a locally made grape brandy often flavored with honey or lemon, which is served as an aperitif or digestif. Crete also has a long tradition of winemaking, and some of the island's best wines come from Moni Toplou.
Shopping on CreteTwo things that Cretans are most proud of are their history and their local products. Ever since the Minoan era, Crete has been famous for its pottery and ceramics. Small, family-owned workshops that make these items can still be found all over the island. For the biggest collection of workshops in one place, stop by Margarites, a picturesque village where almost every house has a ceramics kiln and a shop. Crete has one of Europe's oldest traditions in growing olives and making olive oil, and you can find these superior products all over the island. If you're looking for fresh food, whether fish, meat, dairy, fruit, pastries, or vegetables, visit the farmer's markets in the larger towns and immerse yourself in the abundance of flavors, aromas, and colors. Finally, keep in mind that every coastal town and tourist resort has at least one shop where you can purchase souvenirs to remind you of your trip to Crete.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Crete
History of CreteThe history of Crete is exceptionally rich, even by Greek standards. The island was home to Europe's oldest civilization, the Minoan, which thrived during the 3rd and 2nd millennia BCE. The monuments of this period, including The Palace of Knossos, rank among the top tourist attractions in Crete.
During the classical period Crete lost its dominant role in the Mediterranean world and fell under the influence of Greece and Rome, but commerce and culture on the island continued to flourish. Together with the numerous pieces from this period that you can see in Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete is dotted with archeological remains from these times, such as Ancient Aptera.
In the early Middle Ages, control of Crete was contested between the Byzantine Empire and the Arab conquerors. Despite their victory in this struggle, the Byzantines didn't enjoy the spoils for very long. The Fourth Crusade brought the conquest of Constantinople and the partitioning of the empire's territories. Venetians, the greatest contributors in the crusade, were well-aware of Crete's riches and exceptional strategic location and soon established firm control over the island.
The rise of the Ottomans forced Venice to invest heavily into protecting its interests in the eastern Mediterranean, and numerous remnants from this period are clearly visible throughout Crete's cities and countryside. Countless Venetian fountains and lodges were built for the island's new rulers, while walls, fortified ports, and castles like The Castle of Frangokastello were erected to protect the sea routes and the land from invasion. With the Venetian presence increasing, the spirit of the Renaissance engulfed the island and influenced local artists--the most famous of these is, of course, El Greco.
The Venetian rule lasted until the 17th century, when Crete was conquered by the Ottomans. To see one of the best monuments from the Ottoman period, make sure to add a visit to Hassan Pascha Mosque to your Crete itinerary.
The 19th century saw numerous rebellions against Ottoman rule, and by the end of the century the island had gained its freedom as an independent state. Soon after, it was united with the rest of Greece, but to this day it proudly displays both the cultural and the architectural marks of its turbulent and diverse past.
In more recent history, Crete was the stage of a significant battle during World War II. Though Greece had managed to resist Nazi invasion for several months, in April 1941 German forces occupied the country. Crete, however, remained free until late May, when it was finally captured by air. The battle was nevertheless disastrous for Germany, which suffered tremendous losses due to a vigorous Allied resistance. War and occupation (which, on Crete, lasted until May 1945) left scars on all of Greece, and today on Crete you can find numerous memorials to the Allied soldiers and civilians who perished in the Battle of Crete.
Landscape of CreteCrete is the largest of all the Greek islands, its elongated shape dominated by mountain ranges. Rising up 2,456 m (8,057 ft), Mount Ida (Psiloritis) Tour With Green Tour is the highest point of the island; this mythological birthplace of Zeus is one of several peaks on Crete where you can see snow even in the middle of summer. Hiking is definitely one of the things to do on Crete, where numerous gorges provide an ideal setting. In addition to the popular treks, you can find more peaceful surroundings at Gorge of the Dead.
Crete's coastline touches two seas, the Aegean in the north and the Libyan in the south. Mountains often extend all the way to the coast, depriving the island of spectacularly long beaches, but providing an abundance of secluded bays with towering cliffs rising above the sea. Probably the best and the most scenic example of this is Glika Nera Beach, accessible only by water.