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15 best things to do in Crete (from a travel expert)

boat off the white shores of Crete, Greece

Among the southern islands of Greece is an island that developed during the Bronze Age, under the Minoans, that borders the Aegean and Libyan Seas – Crete! Crete is distinctive from the rest of the country in terms of customs, life, and nature. This has been acknowledged for some time; a Cretan author of the 19th century once wrote that “the mystery of Crete runs deep.

Whoever sets foot on the island senses a mysterious force coursing warmly and beneficently through their veins, sensing their soul beginning to grow.” This captures the spirit of Crete perfectly. You’re travelling to Greece’s largest island and don’t know what to do there? Look no further. Crete is renowned for its beaches, beauty, cuisine, culture and history.

Below is a list of the 15 best things to do in Crete!

1. Take a dip at Elafonissi beach

Elafonissi beach is located in the southwest corner of Crete. It’s actually a series of beaches with the main beach being the most popular. It’s just a day’s trip from Chania, and is one of the most sought out places in Crete due to its unique pink sand.

The pink sand is a result of foraminifera shellfish: these shellfish leave their reddish shells when their lifespan is over, and the shells are then crushed down and mixed with the white sand to create a stunning pink colour.

These beautiful beaches can be viewed from a sunbed or just bring your own towel for the beach. The waters are crystal clear and fantastic for swimming. So grab your swimmers, togs, swim costume, or bathing suit and head down to one of the most beautiful and best beaches in Greece.

Elafonissi beach in Crete, Greece

Image source:Reiseuhu / unsplash

2. Visit the Botanical Park and Gardens of Crete

This botanical park and gardens were literally born out of ash, after the 2003 wildfires ravaged Crete. It was created as a symbol of hope; when everything seems lost, there is still growth. The goal of the botanical park is to consistently enrich the gardens with new plants and species.

I would suggest visiting in the morning to avoid the heat of the day. Sitting on 20 hectares of land, the 2.5km trail through the park takes about 2-2.5 hours to walk. The garden is a natural habitat for wild animals, therefore no pets are allowed. However, pets are allowed in the restaurant. The restaurant and welcome centre are situated to allow for a panoramic view of the gardens. It serves traditional Cretan dishes, with all locally sourced ingredients and products from the plant garden.

The botanical park is open from March to November, between 09:00 to 20:30; it costs 7 euro to enter the gardens. Visiting the Botanical Park and Gardens of Crete is definitely a unique thing to do in Crete, and you can experience it yourself on our Athens, Naxos and Crete trip!  

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3. Take a guided walking tour of Heraklion

A trip to Crete is not complete without staying in the largest city in Crete, the capital of the island, and fourth largest city in Greece, Heraklion. A guided walking tour of the old town is highly recommended, as throughout the centuries, it has gone through many changes. Therefore, the town is like a blueprint that tells the story of the town, as the streets and buildings reflect the architecture of past times. A quick walk will make this evident. Some things that are a must see when on your guided walking tour are:

4. Dig up history at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum

For history lovers, the Heraklion Archaeological Museum is a must. It is one of the oldest museums in Greece. It specializes in the Minoan age, meaning the Minoan collection is extensive and unique. It also houses the very first Cretan antiquities, and its collections span over seven millennia (7000 BC to 3000 AD).

When you enter the museum, you will find it easy to navigate, as the displays are in chronological and thematic order. It only costs 12 euro to enter, and you have the option of buying a combined Heraklion Archaeological Museum and Knossos Palace ticket.

5. Stroll through Knossos palace

If you’re a fan of history, this is one of the most important places to visit in Crete. Knossos palace is famous for its mythological value; it’s the place where King Minos kept the legendary minotaur in a labyrinth. One of the amazing things about Knossos palace is that at the time, it served as a residence, government, head of culture, and house, all at once. Additionally, it is incredibly well preserved.

Although it’s deemed a significant archaeological site, visitors can walk through the site and palace, entering and learning about the rooms and their original purpose. It is also a great place to learn about the Minoan period, which is considered to be the golden age of Crete. From the throne room, to the bedrooms, to the public reception area, to the house of frescoes, Knossos palace has something for everyone.

6. Enjoy a wine tasting

Crete is the oldest continuous wine producing area in Europe. They have produced wine for over 4,000 years and have no intention of stopping! In Crete, drinking wine is considered part of daily life. Cretans don’t drink alone, but rather with company and with food. This is an important part of Cretan life and culture, so while in Crete, you should experience it for yourself.

There are many wineries in Chania and Heraklion, and your time would be enriched by stopping at a wine tasting. There are many varieties of grapes used when making Cretan wine, both local grapes and international grapes that have adapted to the Cretan environment. Some white grapes that are used are dafni, musat of spina, and plyto; while popular red grapes consist of liatiko, romeiko, and kotsifali.

Crete is often overshadowed by Santorini (AKA the wine island), and while you can experience that for yourself when Greek island hopping, I assure you that Cretan wine is also on the winners list.

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7. Dip your toes in the old Venetian port of Chania

The old Venetian port is one of the oldest parts of Chania. It was built in the 14th century with the purpose to build and grow the economy and protect the city against pirate raids; it was successful in this endeavor, as it became the most important trade centre of its time.

Nowadays, it is the perfect spot for a charming dinner, exciting night out on the town, or just a stroll among the hustle and bustle of the city. The lighthouse at the end of the port is considered the jewel of the harbour. The sun creates a beautiful visual effect in the port, and the lighthouse is the place to be when the sun sets for those perfect and creative social media photos. In fact, the port is one of the most photographed places in the city. Although most businesses along the port are open during the day, the port really comes alive at night.

From museums, to back alleys, to 16th century architecture, to fountains, to mosques, to souvenirs and local markets…let the little maze of the Old Venetian port tempt you at every turn.

8. Go windsurfing

Windsurfing is a combination of sailing and surfing. Crete is known as one of the best places in Europe to windsurf. Why you might ask? Well, there are reliable strong winds throughout the day. The Meltemi winds increase in power when passing over Crete due to a funneling effect. This, combined with the protected bays and the cross off-shore winds, creates the perfect water conditions for windsurfing — strong winds and flat waters.

For some frequently visited beaches, head to Falasarna, Elafonissi, Kedrodaso, Stavros, Elounda, Heraklion, or Amoudara. For a more secluded experience, Tenta and Eligas would be a perfect choice. 

9. Catch the sun at Falasarna beach

Located on the west coast of Crete, a remote escape from the busy streets of the city exists – Falasarna beach. Although remote, it is only a day’s trip from Chania. And it’s actually a series of five exotic beaches, which are hidden by a mountain peak. Falasarna is one of the cleanest beaches in Greece. It boasts incredibly soft, golden and white sand, along with its stunning clear turquoise waters.

This is one of the most peaceful afternoons you will have in Crete. Plus, for those interested in archaeology and history, there are remains of a fortified Hellenistic harbour at the end of the main beach. Spend the morning or afternoon there, but don’t miss the astonishing sunsets that Falasarna boasts. Considered one of the best beaches in Greece, you don’t want to miss this experience.

10. Try Olive Oil

Olive oil has been produced in Crete since the Minoan period (3500 BC); evidence of this is found at the Minoan palace of Knossos, where they discovered a room with an olive press. It is no surprise that Cretans have been making olive oil for centuries considering that Crete produces some of the best olive oil in the world due to its ideal climate, lack of air pollution, and strict rules regarding the processing. The olives are still harvested in the traditional way – manually.

There are more than 30 million olive trees on the island. They use many olive varieties to create the oil, although the koroneiki olive is one of the most popular olives due to its production process and surprisingly mild flavour, which makes it quite versatile. Not only do they create high quality olive oil, Cretans also consume more olive oil than anywhere else in the world. Olive oil is a part of daily life; you’ll notice that the bread served at restaurants in Crete are served with olive oil instead of butter or spreads. While you’re in Crete, make sure to try the olive oil in all its glory.

11. Spot the Kri-kri

Kri-kri are Cretan mountain goats. This rare, endangered animal was extremely close to extinction in the 1960s when only 200 existed. Currently, the population is unknown, but is estimated to be around 2,000. Kri-kri can only be found on Crete. They survive in the mountains by scaling high and steep rock cliffs. They are known for their beauty, speed, intelligence, and bravery. However, they are shy and tend to avoid humans. So if you want to find them, you’ll have to seek them out; you might be able to spot these majestic creatures in the White Mountains or the Samaria Gorge. Keep an eye out for a light brown coat, with a dark brown band around the neck, and two horns that curve backwards.

Kri-kri grow to be about 1.3 meters long and live in herds of up to 20 members. They are the largest wild mammal in Crete. If you spot one of these beauties, make sure to take a picture because you’ve had a rare and memorable experience.

12. Hike Samaria Gorge

Are you ready for some GORGEous views? Crete has got you covered with the Samaria Gorge. This gorge is part of the only national park in Crete, the White Mountains’ National Park. The gorge stands at 1200 meters in altitude, yet there are smaller gorges that branch off the main gorge and are lower in altitude. It is considered the longest gorge in Europe at 16 km long, and is 150 meters at its widest.

To hike the gorge, it takes 6 to 8 hours; although the hike is mostly downhill, it is steep and requires some level of physical fitness. However, it is worth it when you finish the hike! At the end of the hike is the small coastal village of Agia Roumeli, where you can enjoy a tavern lunch or pack a picnic and eat under the trees with a stunning view of the Mediterranean Sea.

The first time I did this hike, it was in the middle of a heat wave (about 38 degrees Celcius), and it was still one of my best experiences in Crete – and I assure you that I am not the epitome of physical fitness. It’s absolutely worth it! And who knows, you may see some Kri-kri, the rare Cretan mountain goat, during the hike.

13.  Admire (or hike if you dare) the Omalos Plateau

The Omalos Plateau is located in the center of the Lefka Ori, the White Mountains, which are typically covered in snow until June. The mountains themselves are not a walk in the park (excuse the pun). They are rocky, steep, and difficult to hike; so for hikers and adventurers, go for it! But beware that the tops of the mountains are known as the high desert due to there being no vegetation, shade, or water. Therefore, it is important to be well prepared.

For those who are not into hiking, there is a green oasis in the middle of the mountains – Omalos Plateau. It is a flat piece of land in the middle of the peaks at about 1200 meters in altitude. To walk around the plateau is about 5 to 6 km; it is flat and easy, so would take about 2 hours to walk. I would highly suggest this as the flora is absolutely stunning, with wild oregano and thyme and other herbs used in Cretan mountain tea. Plus, in the spring, the plateau bursts with thousands of flowers.

After your walk, I would recommend visiting the small village that exists here. It is cute and would create some unique pictures.

14. Take a guided walking tour of Rethmyno

Rethmyno is Crete’s third largest city, and holds the life, history, and traditions of Crete. A guided walking tour of the area would allow you to see all that this town has to offer. The town was settled in the Minoan period, and the current town is built upon the original settlement area. When in Rethmyno, you cannot miss exploring the old town, which is bursting with the history of the Venetian and Ottoman rule. It is considered one of the best-preserved settlements in Crete!

The majority of Cretan culture developed during the Venetian rule, therefore there was plenty of building and development at that time. Many of the buildings developed then are still standing and used today. Therefore a trip to Greece would not be complete without a guided walking tour of Rethmyno.

15. Try Cretan Delicacies

Cretan food is in a league of its own. Cretans always use local, fresh ingredients. And often, there are very few ingredients that are included in dishes. However, this doesn’t take away from the flavour of the food, in fact, it actually makes it more flavourful. Cretan food is considered some of the healthiest in the world, so you definitely need to hit some Cretan taverns while in Crete. Some of my top recommendations are:

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As you can see there is so much to do on the largest island in Greece – Crete.. Although there are many amazing things to see and places to go when planning your Greek holiday, these are the 15 best things to do when in Crete. Crete is an island you do not want to miss out on, as it is one of the best places to visit in Greece. Whether you’re island hopping, or looking for one island to explore more thoroughly, Crete is a location that you cannot miss!

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