Things to do in Crete
As the largest of the Greek Islands, there are many things to do in Crete. From lazy days spent relaxing by the glorious beaches, long lunches enjoying delicious food, and hikes through the stunning scenery, there is no shortage of Crete attractions to enjoy. There is also no shortage of great accommodation although it pays to research that carefully due to the sheer size of the island.
To help you decide how to spend your perfect holiday to this Greek island, here are some of the very best things to do in Crete.
Crete, like much of Greece, has an intriguing ancient history that is never far away, even when you’re enjoying a blissful day at the beach. Take Falasarna in western Crete, for example – you can still see the remains of the harbour that was built more than 2,000 years ago.
As a result, you can easily mix Crete’s best natural and manmade sites in a day, by popping over to view the ruins before heading for the beautiful beach.
And beautiful it is, with a large, horseshoe shaped bay that boasts incredibly clear water. Around it there is a beautiful, sandy beach that is westward-facing, meaning it’s a beautiful place to watch the sun set over the horizon.
Seitan Limania ( Satans Harbour) is a well-hidden corner of the northeast side of the Akrotiri peninsula about 15 kms north east from Chania.
Its consists of 3 hard to find inlets and one has a quite lovely beach with milky blue water and white sand. It is surrounded by striking rock formations.
Located in the southwestern part of the island, stunning Elafonisi is what beach dreams are made of. In fact, it’s been ranked by TripAdvisor as one of the top 25 beaches in the world.
The beach boasts the stunningly clear water that’s often described as ‘postcard-perfect’, while there’s also swathes of sand to stretch out on and enjoy. The sand around Elafonisi is quite unique, as it often has a pastel pink tinge that adds a bit of a unique look.
The beach is about 1.6 kilometres long, so there is plenty of space to go around. Everyone is welcome, but the beach is particularly ideal for families as the water is shallow and calm.
It’s often described as one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe, and after one look at the Cerulean blue lagoon, we suspect you’ll agree. Allegedly, it even made the itinerary for Princess Diana and Prince Charles’ honeymoon, so it’s pretty special.
The calm waters and dazzlingly blue and the sand is powder soft – it’s the perfect spot for laying out your beach towel and spending a day just soaking in the peace and quiet. Plus, being just 56 kilometres from Chania, it is easy to reach on a day trip.
If you can drag yourself away from the sand, there’s a fabulous hike up the nearby beach path which gives you exceptional views out over the lagoon.
Stavros Beach ( Gold Coast Bay)
If this pretty bay some 17 kilometres from Chania looks familiar, it may be thanks to its claim to fame – it was the backdrop for the 1964 film Zorba the Greek. Thanks, in part, to the popularity of the movie, it is now one of the most well-known things to do in Crete.
The pretty bay is horse-shoe shaped and flanked with soft sand dotted with sun umbrellas. Its secluded location is completely protected from the wind, so it is a relaxing and family-friendly place to spend a few hours enjoying the beauty.
As with most beaches in Crete, the sea if very clean and dazzlingly clear. There are a few small hotels and restaurants near the beach and you can also rent sunlounges from some of them.
Beautiful Mirambello Bay is one of Europe’s largest bays, and the largest on the Greek Islands, meaning there is plenty of space to go around. You’ll never be fighting for space on the beautiful beaches or in the welcoming sea around Mirambello Bay.
Even if you don’t actually stop at the beach, the coastal path that snakes along it is well worth a visit. The views out over the coast and towards the Island of Pseira are absolutely stunning.
The bay is also within close proximity of the popular tourist town of Agios Nikolaos, which has a great selection of cafes, restaurants and shops to enjoy, all while looking out over the stunning view.
Historical sights and buildings
Chania Old Town
Over the years, Crete has been influenced by many different groups – the Minoans, the Ancient Greeks, the Venetians and the Ottomans. Each one has left their own visible marks on the island and particularly on the Old Town in Chania.
That’s what makes walking around Chania Old Town so spectacular. The narrow laneways are a mix of architectural styles and traditions, giving them a charming hodge podge appearance. They’re the perfect place to stop and sip a coffee, or perhaps to sample some of the delicious Cretan cheese produced on the island.
For ancient history buffs, one highlight is the excavated ruins in the Kastelli hill neighbourhood, which are believed to date back more than 5,000 years to when the city was known as “Kydania”.
Beautiful churches and monasteries are plentiful all over Crete, but the sixteenth century Arkadi Monastery is one of the most beautiful of all.
The stunning monastery was built during the height of the influence of the Renaissance style, which can be seen in the details on the intricate facade.
Not only is the monastery a stunning sight, but it’s also an interesting and culturally significant one – it is known as a monument to the Cretan resistance, after a group of local people huddled within the monastery during the 1866 Cretan uprising. A number of festivals and commemorations are still held at the site to this day.
The Arkadi Monastery is open every day from 8am – 8pm during summer, and 8am – 6pm during winter. An entry ticket is €2. It is about half an hour by public bus from Rethymno, or you can drive or get a guided tour.
It’s arguably Europe’s oldest city, and undoubtedly one of the must-see attractions of Crete. Whether or not it can claim to be the oldest city in Europe, one thing is for sure: it is very old.
Knossos was believed to been inhabited as far back as the Neolithic period (7000 BC), and by around 2000 BC it had become the centre of the Minoan civilisation. It was the Minoans who built the impressive palace which is Knossos’ best-known feature.
It is truly incredible to walk around the site and to think about how many others have looked up at the palace over the millennia.
Undoubtedly, it’s one of the most fascinating things to do in Crete.
Knossos is open every day from 8am – 8pm during summer, and 8am – 5pm during winter. An entry ticket is €15.
There are many small and beautiful islands dotted around the Aegean Sea, but Spinalonga just off of Crete is particularly unique, having once been a leper colony.
Fascinatingly, its 20th century use as a leper colony was only the latest chapter in a series of dramas involving the island. For centuries, it was ferociously fought over by groups including the Venetians and the Ottomans thanks to its strategically important location.
The Venetians in particular left many indelible marks on the island, and there are many interesting sights to explore. It also offers beautiful views back over Crete and Mirambello Bay, so definitely head over on a boat from Crete for a fascinating day trip.
8am – 6pm during winter. An entry ticket is €2. It is about half an hour by public bus from Rethymno, or you can drive or get a guided tour.
Parks and wildlife
While simply lying by the beach or the pool is a great way to spend your time on Crete, there’s also plenty to do if you feel like getting more active. As the largest of the Greek Isles, Crete also boasts one of the most diverse landscapes, perfect for exploring on foot.
During April and May Crete is abundantly covered with wildflowers that include wild orchids, coloured chamomile, poppies, anemones and Iris.
Areas where they grown in abundance are in the Lefka Ori mountain range (White Mountains), Heraklion, and the around Rethymnon.
The only national park in Crete (less than an hour from Chania) is a beautiful one, with many enticing trails and hiking paths. At the heart of the park is Samaria Gorge, a dramatic plunging cavern with several offshoots.
The hike to get to the gorge takes around 6 – 8 hours, so it’s a bit of an effort – but it’s well worth it. Along the way, you can see more than 450 species of flora and fauna, including many indigenous Greek species such as the kri-kri goat.
Best of all, there’s those enticing beaches to cool off in afterwards!
The National Park is open from May to October each year.
visit the mountains
Crete is home to some very distinct and quite huge mountain ranges.
There are 3 main ranges ; Dikti range in Lassithi, the Ida (Psiloritis) range in central Crete and the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) in Chania. The highest summit is Timios Stavros on the Psiloritis range (2.456 m), however the largest area is spanned by the White Mountains.
There are many villages,farms, caves and waterfalls to visit on the mountains as well as numerous hikes and of course, spectacular views.
While most of Crete’s well-known attractions are located above sea level, the subterranean Psychro Cave is a fascinating place to visit in Crete. It is located in the Lasithi region in eastern Crete. There is a bus from Lassithi Plateau, or you can drive or take a tour.
The cave dates back to ancient Minoan times, and many artefacts have been removed from it (you can see them in the Heraklion Museum on Crete, or in the British Museum or Louvre). However, the cave is perhaps best known as the alleged birthplace of Zeus, the most famous character in Greek mythology.
Not only is the cave interesting for its connection to Greek mythology, but it’s also a true natural wonder, filled with semi-precious stones as well as many stalactites and stalagmites.
As you can see, whether you’re looking to go back into the pages of the history books or simply relax by the stunning sea, there’s no shortage of things to do in Crete.
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