Crete Island Travel Guide

Crete Island Vacations

Crete, the largest of all Greek islands, lies on the southern side of the Aegean Sea and spans 260 kilometers / 160 miles from east to west. The island is attractive for its pleasant climate, magnificent beaches, and the opportunity to experience the culture and sights of Ancient Greece. Its administrative center is Heraklion.

Crete is the birthplace of one of the world's oldest civilizations, the Minoans, as well as a mysterious island rich in myths and tales. Zeus was born in one of Crete's caverns; Icarus flew to the sun here, Ariadne's thread saved Theseus, and Daedalus built the famous labyrinth for the Minotaur monster on the island.

The destruction of the Minoan civilization by an earthquake and volcanic eruption, the invasion by the Byzantines, Romans, Turks, and Arabs were all significant events in the island's history. 

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Prefectures of Crete

Lasithi, Heraklion, Rethymnon, and Chania are four regional units or prefectures of Crete that stretch east to west across the island.

Lasithi, the easternmost and least populated prefecture of Crete, is famous for its beautiful beaches and warm climate all year round. The territory is mainly mountainous. There are many valleys with olive trees, plateaus, and several gorges. 

Heraklion is the largest and most populated regional unit on the island. The rest of it, particularly the south, is covered by mountains. Farmlands lie in the central and northern regions, as well as along the coast and in valleys. Many archaeological sites are in this area, attracting tourists from all over the world.

Rethymnon is known as the island's heart. Most tourists visit this part of Crete. They are fascinated by magnificent mountain gorges, caves, valleys, stunning beaches, picturesque landscapes, as well as the region's towns that preserved cobblestone streets, medieval churches and mosques, and tiled roofs.

Chania is the greenest and westernmost prefecture of the island. There is everything for an exciting vacation: breathtaking scenery, ancient streets that bear evidence to the Venetian era, architectural and natural attractions, and diversified cultural life. This area is famous for the White Mountains and Europe's longest gorge, Samaria.

Top 10 Crete Attractions

  1. The Palace of Knossos (Labyrinth of the Minotaur) is the largest monument of Minoan culture on the island. The ruins complex stands on the Kefalas hill in the ancient city of Knossos, 5.5 kilometers / 3.5 miles from the center of Heraklion. Four millennia ago, it was a magnificent multi-story building with a water supply, sewerage system, ventilation, palaces, warehouses, courtyards, and artificial lighting.
  2.  Imeri Gramvousa Island is famous for the Venetian fortress, wounded by time at an altitude of over 130 meters / 425 feet. The stronghold was once a den of pirates and revolutionaries, and legend has it that there is a treasure hidden on the island to this day. In addition, the rusty shipwreck that sank many years ago is now an integral part of the landscape.
  3. Discovered during excavations in the 19th century, the Cave of Zeus (also known as Psychro Cave or Dikteon Cave) is attractive for its mythological plot, antique history, and internal natural decoration.
  4. Located among the White Mountains of West Crete, the Samaria Gorge, the longest in Europe, lies in the Samaria National Park. This biosphere reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with over 450 plant and animal species, many of which you will exclusively found in Crete. The gorge is 16 kilometers / 10 miles long. The best months to cross the narrow valley are May, September, and October.
  5. Balos Lagoon is a must-see in the Chania prefecture. It is one of the island's most popular photo locations due to its unique environment, beautiful beaches, and shallow blue waters. Gramvousa, a small uninhabited island known for its Venetian fortress, is well worth visiting.
  6. Among the best museums in Europe is the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, located in an earthquake-ruined monastery built by Venetian Franciscans. The museum houses a diverse collection of Minoan civilization treasures found all across the island.
  7. The majestic Greek Orthodox Agios Minas Cathedral in Heraklion is the largest church in Crete and one of the largest temples in Greece. Built-in the 19th century, it has a Neo-Byzantine architectural style.
  8. Gournia, one of the few entirely excavated Minoan towns, dates from around 1500 BCE. You can stroll through the city town and look at the houses and other structures. It is a one-of-a-kind afternoon excursion visit.
  9. The Monastery of Chrissoskalitissa is a 17th-century Orthodox Christian monastery erected on a rock near the settlement of Elafonissi. The monastery, built during Venetian times, is today a popular pilgrimage site with a folklore museum.
  10. Matala Beach is one of the most popular and picturesque beaches on Crete's south coast. The beach is a massive arc of sand with a rock wall on one side littered with ancient caverns that gaze down on incredible blue waters.

The 9 Most Adventurous Experiences in Crete

There is no doubt that Crete is a fascinating destination for history buffs, beach bums, and active travelers. Jeep safaris, fishing, horseback riding, excursions to water parks, and other activities are available to guests.

You may want to explore Crete by choosing one or more of the recommended activities listed below. Enjoy!

How to Get to Crete

By plane

There are three airports on the island: Heraklion, Chania, and Lassithi. The first two propose regular flights to/from Athens and Thessaloniki, summer flights to/from Rhodes and Kos, and international flights to/from other countries, primarily Europe. The third airport connects Crete to Athens and Karpathos only during summer.

By ferry

You can take a ferry from mainland Greece or other Greek islands to Heraklion, Rethymnon, and Chania ports to get to Crete.

Crete Transportation

If you do not have a vehicle, do not worry, there is a reliable and affordable network of luxury KTEL buses around the island. Fares can vary from €2 to €11, depending on the length of your journey. The towns of Heraklion, Rethymnon, and Chania all have a well-developed bus system.

Taxi cabs are available as well. Just keep in mind that drivers sometimes "forget" to switch on their meters, so always negotiate a fee before getting into the cab.

Renting a Car

DiscoverCars.com – a leader in online car rental reservations – is the best site to book a car in Crete. They compare car rental deals from many companies so you can choose what works best for you.

Where to Stay in Crete

Hotels in Crete offer a wide range of budgets and tastes. Luxury resorts, comfortable family flats, and low-cost campsites are all available on the island. The most popular places to stay in Crete include accommodations near Chania Old Venetian Harbor, Golden Beach, and The Crete Golf Club. 

On Booking.com, there are over 10,000 homes, apartments, and other unique places to stay in Crete.

Booking.com

According to this online travel agency for lodging reservations, some famous hotels in Heraklion Town are DOM Boutique Hotel, GDM Megaron – Historical Monument Hotel, and Ibis Styles Heraklion Central. In addition, Kastro Hotel (Heraklion), Royal Sun (Chania), and White Swan (Rethymnon) are also well-known on the island.

Cretan Cuisine

The ecological cleanliness of the local cuisine is well-known. Cretan veggies cultivated in the open-air taste fantastic. Thanks to the island's aromatic flora, farmers obtain good milk from goats and lambs for making great cheese. There is an opportunity to visit the local Cretan family's mountain home for a completely authentic evening of cooking, food, and cultural exchange.

The locals like good food and regard it almost as sacred. Vacation in Crete allows you to taste the incomparable national cuisine. Moussaka (a casserole of minced meat, eggplant, zucchini, and potatoes, seasoned with béchamel) as well as dolmades (cabbage rolls in grape leaves), pastitsio (pasta with minced meat and béchamel sauce), and gyros (a flatbread with meat and French fries seasoned with yogurt and spices) are must-try.

Tasty Cretan cuisine is also suitable for vegans and vegetarians. Veggie meals are available in almost all restaurants on the island. Besides dakos (Cretan rusks made of barley or rye flour), gemista (Greek stuffed tomatoes and peppers with rice), gigantes (Greek giant beans cooked with aromatic herbs in a tomato sauce and baked), and spanakopita (phyllo pastry pies stuffed with spinach), you will notice grilled vegetables and grilled mushrooms in every season on the menus.

Cretan vineyards produce excellent wine, consecrated by the Greek god of winemaking Dionysius, born here. On the island, there are seven white wines and four red wines. Vidiano, a medium acidic, fragrant wine with citrus, peach, and flower notes, is the most popular white wine. Liatiko is the most elegant red grape of Crete. It makes a wine that smells and tastes of cherry, Cretan herbs, and earth. Liatiko combines well with a variety of mushroom and vegetable dishes, as well as tender meats.

Language

A majority of the island's population is Greek-speaking and follows the Greek Orthodox Church. Many of the younger and urban Cretans know English, German, or French as well. Of course, it is always great to know at least a few local words when visiting another country.

Weather

Crete is Greece's sunniest island, with hot, dry summers (temperatures reaching 30 degrees Celsius / 85 degrees Fahrenheit and higher) and rainy, warm winters (about 15 degrees Celsius / 60 degrees Fahrenheit above zero). 

From late April until late October, the tourist season is in full swing. Warm, sunny May and September are ideal months for vacationers who want to go on tours rather than lie on the beach.

Greece Travel

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