Crete Travel Guide: What to See and Do in Crete Greece
Photo by Elena Dimaki on Unsplash
General Information of Crete
The island of Crete is the largest island of Greece. It is located in the Mediterranean Sea and is divided into four regions: Chania, Rethymno, Heraklion and Lasithi, the first three being the most prominent as they are located on the north coast where the landscape is more accessible.
In Crete the mountainous relief is what predominates geographically, its main mountain ranges are: Lefká Ori, Idio Psiloritis and Dikti. But the island is not only mountains, it also has beautiful beaches with crystal clear waters to rest and relax.
This island, in addition to standing out for its landscapes, is recognized for its spectacular and varied architecture that dates back to Minoan times and the history of the conquest of the Greek country.
Geographical Location of Crete
Below, we show you where Crete, island of Greece, is located.
Map of the island of Crete on Google Maps
Crete: Place of an Ancient Civilization
The island's past was the center of the Minoan civilization, which is considered one of the oldest European civilizations. Their community was based on maritime trade and agriculture and was noted for its architecture and ceramics.
To this day, Crete has large archaeological sites such as the Palace of Knossos or the Palace of Festos, as well as museums where the ceramics that allowed us to learn about the history of this civilization are exhibited.
Main Attractions of Crete
Here we mention some of the main places of interest on the island of Crete.
Palace of Knossos
It is necessary to highlight the tour of Knossos, the most important city of Crete during the Minoan civilization, which reached its maximum splendor in the second millennium BC.
Its most famous building, the palace of Knossos, is the oldest palace complex in all of Europe. It is located about 5 km southeast of the present city of Heraklion and west of the Kairatos River.
Homer, the renowned Greek poet and author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, mentions Knossos as the place from where Minos reigned. Also, according to mythology, said palace was based on the labyrinth of Crete, where it contained a ferocious Minotaur.
Tour the Amari Valley
It is interesting to take a tour of the Amari Valley. To the east, it is surrounded by the peaks of Mount Ida (also called Idi). This valley offers incredible views of the region's wide green valleys and waterfalls.
A tangle of tortuous but well-paved roads connects the numerous farming communities of Amari, where even today, men with mustaches, knee-high boots and baggy pants (vrákes) post themselves outside the taverns.
The region is dotted with sanctuaries, churches, and monasteries with Byzantine frescoes and icons. Many villages in Amari, a stronghold of the Cretan resistance, were devastated in World War II.
Historical Tour of Chania
The city of Chania, especially the old town, shines with its intercultural character, typical of the traces left by the civilizations that dominated the region in the past (Venetians, Ottomans, etc.).
Among the attractions that are there, we can mention the old Venetian port, the Egyptian Lighthouse, the Firkas Fortress, the Mosque of the Janissaries, or the Monastery of Agios Fragkiskos.
Monastery of Fraro
It is a Catholic building of the Franciscan order that was built in honor of San Antonio. It dates from the 14th century and is located in the center of the island of Crete, in the municipality of Agios Nikolaos.
It is the only natural lake in Crete. It is located in the village of Vrises, in the Apokoronas region. There you will contemplate the beauty of nature in all its splendor and the distinctive vegetation of the area.
Samaria National Park
It is a park that can be easily accessed by tour or car and one of the most popular places for tourists to go hiking in Crete.
In it you will find long paths through forests, streams of crystal-clear water, hills and, of course, the Samaria Gorge, the longest natural gorge on the European continent (13 km long).
The walk is of low difficulty and the path is perfectly signposted. You can even find rest areas and bathrooms. It usually takes around 5 hours to cover it completely.
Festivals of Crete
On the island of Crete, Christian celebrations are of great importance in the life of the Greek locals. In case you visit the area during Christmas Eve and Easter, do not hesitate to go to the main squares of each city to observe the events that take place there, such as musical and culinary shows and fairs.
At the end of June, you can experience the festival of the town of Matala, directly related to the hippie population, reggae music and the '70s. It really is a lot of fun if you are looking to have a good time, buy handmade products or relax.
For mid-July, a festival called Angioplastia Frapsanioti is held in the city of Frapsano (very close to the capital Heraklion), which is dedicated to ceramic art and local traditions.
In turn, at the end of August, a festival is held in the Cave of Diktaion Andron (the Cave of Zeus) called Tzermiado. In it, all kinds of artistic demonstrations typical of Greek culture are carried out, such as dances, music and theatrical shows. A curious fact is that the main product of this celebration is the potato.
In addition, at the end of August, in the city of Chania, a festival dedicated to folk music is held, where you can enjoy popular songs from Greece and, especially, from the island. A similar party is the one that takes place at the beginning of November in the Arkadi Monastery, which recalls the Cretan history and its resistance against Turkish domination.
You can also take into account the Chania Rock Festival, held at the end of June and attended by renowned groups from the region in the genre. In the same way it happens at the end of July, with the Mediterranean Festival of Sitia.
If folk music is your thing, you might be interested in attending the August celebrations in the village of Avdu, where performances by Balkan groups and dances take place every weekend of the month.
If colorful floats and events are your things, you cannot miss the Rethymno carnival.
Similarly, every May 1 there is a festival of flowers and crowns in Crete, in which locals collect flowers from the field and make crowns to decorate the entrances of their houses and the main streets of each town.
A Glimpse of Cretan Nature
Do not forget the beautiful landscapes and beaches of Crete, which is why many tourists visit the island. If you are one of those who enjoy nature, you cannot miss the following destinations:
- The Samaria Gorge: If you are a fan of long walks, this place is ideal for you. It is a classic hiking route and it takes between 4 to 6 hours to cover it, it is also a protected national park thanks to its botanical and animal species.
- Elafonisi Beach: characterized by its pink sand and the calm and shallow waters, thanks to the latter it is considered a beach to go to with children since there are no risks for them.
- Vai Beach: it is one of the most popular coasts of the island, which stands out for its palm tree forest. It is one of the beaches with the easiest access due to its constant arrival of buses.
- The Cave of Zeus: it is a system of caves of great geological interest and from which it is said that magic is breathed since according to legend the God Zeus, one of the most important in Greek mythology, was born there.
In short, Crete stands out for its architecture and magnificent landscape, which is why it is one of the most chosen destinations for tourists seeking to enjoy nature and history.
Traditional Cretan Food and Drink
Thanks to tourism, you can find a wide variety of gastronomic establishments in Crete, but traditional taverns and cafeterias are the favorite places for tourists since the dishes served are fresh of the day.
Crete is characterized by being covered in olive trees, so if you are a fan of olives it is an ideal place to vacation.
The island's food is considered one of the healthiest on the planet and there are typical foods that are a gift to the palate such as the following
Dakos is a slice of barley bread, moistened with olive oil and garnished with crushed tomato and feta cheese. It is usually a good food to consume during noon.
Gyros, a dish based on roasted meat and that is very common to find in street food stalls. It is served in a pita bread with onion and tomato so it is easy to eat if you are hungry, but want to continue your day without having to go to a restaurant.
Dessert time in Crete is not common, they usually eat seasonal fruits instead, it is also normal to toast at the end of the meal with a shot of Raki, which is a liquor with a high degree of alcohol.
As for the drink, the island produces some of the best wines with the local grape varieties, so if you are a fan of this drink, do not hesitate to order it at mealtime.
When to Visit Crete?
The best time to visit Crete is between the months of April to June and from September to October since it is the time when you can best enjoy the climate and landscapes.
If you are one of the people who enjoy hiking or resting on the seashore, this is your ideal place.
Getting Around in Crete
You can find different ways to get around Crete, one of the cheapest and most accessible options for tourists is public transport, thanks to its flexible schedules and reliability, travelers use it to reach the most popular beaches.
There is also the option of renting a car for those travelers who prefer the comfort of getting around the island by themselves. It is a much cheaper option than a taxi since these tend to be expensive for tourists.
The island also has several ports in its cities, so the option of taking a ferry and seeing different places is accessible to the traveler.
Getting to Crete by Ferry
One of the means of transport most chosen by tourists to travel to Crete is the ferry or cruise. It is possible to travel by ferry from the port of Piraeus (Athens) to different cities in Greece, including Crete.
These boats leave during the night and arrive very early (at 6 am) in the main cities of the island, such as Chania and Heraklion, so you will have the opportunity to enjoy a whole day in Crete if you do not plan to stay for more time.
Cruises are usually a more scenic and cheaper alternative to flying, so they're a good opportunity if you want to see Cretan in all its splendor.
Getting to Crete by Plane
The island of Crete has three airports. On the one hand, its main airport is Heraklion International Airport (HER), which is about 5 km from the city center and is one of the busiest airports in Greece.
Many major European cities have direct flights to Heraklion. On the other hand, Chania International Airport (CHQ) is frequented mainly by low-cost airlines and private (charter) flights.
Sitia Public Airport is a small airport located in the eastern part of Crete, which has flights to Athens and other Greek locations.
To go from Heraklion International Airport to the center, you can take the public bus, a taxi or private transfers. Getting around with a taxi or private transfer are the fastest options, although more expensive (around €20). For its part, public transport is much cheaper, but slow, as it only costs €0.75 and takes about 35 minutes.
Requirements When Visiting Crete
The requirements to travel to Crete are: having a visa/passport with a minimum validity of 90 days and the traveler proves that he has sufficient financial solvency to guarantee your stay in the city. It is not necessary to have a negative COVID-19 test to enter this territory, although it is necessary to wear a mask in public places.