From busy resorts to blissful isolation
At the crossroads of Europe, Africa and Asia, Greece’s largest island is a vivid patchwork of influences packed with unique food, culture and scenery. The southern coast is all coves and cliffs and is great for diving while the north offers sun-soaked beaches galore and lively resorts. Stumble across isolated archaeological sites, sheltered beaches, Byzantine frescoed chapels, ancient villages and more besides.
Hike your way through Europe’s longest gorge, the Samaria, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, or to the Ideon Andron cave on Mount Idi or Diktean Cave – two sites that lay a claim to being the birthplace of Zeus, according to legend. Hike and forage for herbs amid beautiful wildflowers on your way along the E4 Trail and ‘the Gorge of the Dead’ in some of Crete’s wildest corners. Sample crisp and spicy local Assyrtiko wines (the island’s home to Europe’s oldest wine press) or a potent slug of raki and call in to a traditional kafeneion coffeehouse to mingle with locals. Visit wild and rugged Stavros Beach where Zorba the Greek was filmed and lose yourself in history-steeped Rethymno, full of Ottoman and Venetian treasures.
The west coast boasts spectacular and remote beaches such as Balos, where a pristine, white curl of sand leads you out to a Venetian fortress on an islet. Discover resort towns like the charming and charismatic Agios Nikolaos perched dramatically over the stunning curves of Mirabello Bay and beguiling Chania with its breathtaking backdrop of the towering White Mountains, which are snow-capped for half the year. Meanwhile, the near-deserted islet of Chrissi beckons visitors with its crystal-clear turquoise waters and Europe’s largest Lebanon cedar forest. Book your flights to Heraklion or flights to Chania today.
Crete holiday FAQs
Make the most of your Crete holiday
Locavores will be in their element on Crete where many rural tavernas make their own produce. Little wonder then that the Mediterranean diet started here. Discover sun-ripened vegetables, olive oil-rich dishes including local specialties such as dakos (barley rusks topped with cheese, fresh tomatoes and olive oil), apaki (smoked pork), sfakianes pites and kalitsounia (Cretan-style cheese pies).
What are the best things to do in Crete?
- Tucked away in the south west corner of Crete, far away from any tourist resorts, sits Elafonissi Beach, a natural island which turns into a peninsula at low tide reached via a thin strip of sand. The pale sandy beach has a pinkish tint due to the seashells deposited there and safe, lagoon-like, shallow turquoise waters. The area is a protected conservation zone because of the endangered sea turtles that nest there. Strong winds make it a popular spot for kitesurfers and the beach also attracts naturists.
- The monumental Palace of Knossos was finished in 1450 BC as the seat of the Minoan civilisation and its kings. The vast complex, Crete’s largest archaeological site, is divided into three wings. The west wing holds the throne room, while the east wing contains the royal chambers, the double axes room, the queen's megaron with dolphin frescos and the stone carver’s workshop. Outside don’t miss the lustral basin and the theatre.
- Seitan Limania Beach is a remote spot on the Akrotiri peninsula. With its dramatic location wedged between a high canyon leading out to the sea it’s one of Crete’s most Instagram-worthy beaches. The surrounding high cliffs create a sheltered environment perfect for swimming. The sand and pebble beach with brilliant blue waters is small so fills up swiftly in high season, though a steep hike down to it populated by goats tends to deter some visitors.
- The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is one of Greece’s most important museums and the world’s leading centre for Minoan antiquities. Exhibits include items dating from the Neolithic Age to Roman times. There’s ceramic art, stone carvings, micro-sculptures, paintings and much more, with most items created in the Minoan period and discovered in palaces, buildings, settlements, tombs, temples and caves.
- The Old Venetian Port of Chania is one of the oldest parts of the town. Built from 1320 to 1356, it was one of the most important Mediterranean trade centres. Take in the striking 16th Century lighthouse that’s guarded the harbour for centuries and visit the 17th Century Ottoman Yali Mosque, which houses an important cultural collection. Another notable building is the Grand Arsenal which now houses the Center for Mediterranean Architecture. Once you’re done with sightseeing you can shop and then enjoy a bite in one of the many fine restaurants lining the port.
- With its graceful golden stone facade, the Arkadi Monastery is one of the finest Venetian churches on Crete. Built in 1587 and extended during the 1600s, it became one of the most important centres of resistance against the Turks during the 19th Century, especially during the 1866 rebellion when hundreds of people perished in a siege of the building. You can still see a shell from the siege embedded in the trunk of an ancient cypress tree in the grounds.
- The imposing Venetian Fortezza Castle stands proud on a hill outside Rethymno. The fortress is so large that the entire population of the town could fit inside. The vast armoury building is now used for exhibitions and cultural events. In the central square is the Mosque of Sultan Ibrahim, which was originally a Christian Orthodox Cathedral. The 20th Century Theatre of Erofili hosts many cultural events during summer. Outside the castle lies a pentagonal fort that now houses the archaeological relics recovered from the city. There are lovely views out over the city and harbour from the bastion of Agios Nikolaos.
Where are the best places to visit in Crete?
Where to visit in Crete
The bustling seaside town of Elounda is Crete’s luxury five-star resort. Situated north of Agios Nikolaos this indented coastline boasts picturesque beaches and crystal-clear waters. The colourful harbour and main square are at the heart of the action – with plenty of authentic Greek tavernas and friendly bars. There is also a lot to do and see in this area – visit the island of Spinalonga, walk along the peninsula of Kolokytha or explore the tiny villages.
Fly into Chania’s international airport and you'll explore the undiscovered north west side of Crete. The area has a growing number of top-rated hotels and people come to seek a quiet, luxurious stay. The old town of Chania is known for its historic Venetian port. Chania is also great for explorers: south of the city lies the famous Samaria Gorge. Spend a day hiking through this geological marvel and discover the wilder side of the island.
Traditional and charming, Agios Nikolaos combines three waterfronts – the legendary lake, the beach at Kitroplatia and a marina. Its sleepy feel and slower pace provide a delightful contrast to the vibrant neighbouring resorts of Malia and Hersonissos. But the bustling cafeterias, charming coffeehouses and traditional taverns provide a buzz that is hard to resist – you’ll have plenty of opportunity to enjoy Cretan “mesedes”. The area’s thriving art scene is visible at the intimate open-air theatre, summer cinema and in its shops selling traditional Cretan handicrafts.
One of Crete’s most bustling areas, Hersonissos is a popular holiday choice. Famed for its lively nightlife, the harbour area provides an array of restaurants, bars and clubs. You’ll also find lovely beaches and a modern town with plenty of shopping and dining on offer. It’s a family-friendly resort – kids will love the water parks. Make sure you enjoy a ride on the Happy Train, which takes you along the Crete coastline.
With an evident flavour of ‘old Greece’, Rethymno charms visitors with its narrow maze of streets, local arts and crafts, and beautiful Venetian harbour. Effortlessly combining the old and the new – this quaintness is contrasted by the new town, which brings the area into the modern day. The long sandy beach stretches for miles towards the east and is lined with hotels, bars, restaurants and shops. Boasting a great location and good choice of accommodation, its resort complexes are ideal for relaxing beach holidays.
The capital of Crete, Heraklion, provides a convenient gateway. Fly into its airport and you’ll be a stone's throw from Malia and Agios Nikolaos. A great starting point for your Greek island adventure, this bustling city boasts rich history, great shopping and an abundance of bars, cafes and restaurants. The Venetian harbour still houses the fortress of Koules and the old city, locked within Venetian walls, has expanded around Byzantine churches, Venetian mansions and Turkish fountains.
Probably best known for its exuberant nightlife, Malia is a hotspot for young clubbers especially in the summer months. Bursting with bars and clubs, the resort comes alive at night and doesn’t dwindle until the early hours. This frenzied nocturnal scene is offset by the unexpected charm of the old town with its narrow streets, intimate tavernas and traditional bougainvillea-fronted houses. Hotels in nearby Stalis allow you to experience the vibrancy of Malia, without staying in the heart of the action.
Which holiday type in Crete is right for me?
Perhaps you’re dreaming of luxury hotels on Crete. Nana Princess Hotel near the lively town of Hersonissos offers a private beach with individual gazebos where drinks and snacks can be ordered at the touch of a button, two large outdoor swimming pools and a raft of five-star amenities including its own water park.
Got your heart set on a Cretan family holiday? Book into Grecotel LUX ME White Palace, an all-inclusive hotel with a difference. The minimalist hotel with its enviable beachfront location in Pigianos Kampos even has its own gelateria, creperie and chocolaterie to delight discerning families.
Finally, when it comes to adult-only hotels in Crete consider the Domes Noruz Chania, Autograph Collection. This luxury boutique property offers a glamorous beachfront location, secluded rooms with private pools and upscale dining options.
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