Crete has been home to a series of incredible civilisations over the millennia and this beautiful Greek Island in the Mediterranean is packed full of cultural and natural highlights.
It is the largest of the Greek Islands and has its own cultural traditions, making it a unique place to visit and explore. It is also quite large, 3,206 square mile to be exact. So how do you decide what to do in Crete?
Here are my top 10 things to do in Crete, which we did during an eight-day holiday and all easily accessible because we decided to rent a car in Crete:
Wandering in Chania
This lovely old town was my favourite in Crete and with its Moorish and Venetian antecedents it is as ancient and aesthetically pleasing as you could wish. As usual in such a place wandering and getting lost is the thing to do and there are treasures to discover around every corner.
A day at stunning Elafonisi Beach
The island of Elafonisi is off the southwest corner of Crete and famous for its exquisite pink sand. It is a national park and no umbrellas or bars of structures of any kind are allowed. Keep walking through the sand dunes to the far beach and wade across a small channel to experience the pristine wilderness. Elafonisi is about an hour-and-a-half drive from Chania and is definitely one of the best beaches in Crete.
Hike a gorge in Crete
The most famous gorge hike in Crete is the Samaria Gorge, which is quite a big day at up to eight hours but very beautiful and worthwhile. We hiked the smaller Imbros Gorge with Wandering Kiwi Jr and it is a lovely, downhill route filled with the scent of sage on the warm air. This is the route escaping allied troops took to get to the boats at Sfakion when the Germans invaded.
Beach and castle at Frangokastello
From the end of the Imbros Gorge we drove down to the coast and the incredible Frangokastello, on the south coast of Crete. This is a small seaside village with predictably great food but the main attractions is the beautiful beaches set against the dramatic backdrop of a ruined Venetian castle and the eastern range of the White Mountains. As with most Crete beaches it is lovely and sandy and it was wonderful swimming in the sea with nothing between me and North Africa.
Explore the island of Spinalonga
Visiting a former prison island and leper colony may seem like a gloomy tourist activity but Spinalonga is spectacular. It is only a short drive up the coast from Agios Nikolaus and the little ferries run regularly across to the island. Take your own food and water.
Meet the Minotaur at Knossos
There are so many places to visit in Crete but Knossos has to be a priority for any visitor. The Minoans were the earliest recorded civilisation in Europe (from around 2,700 to 1,420 BC) and it is mind blowing seeing the remnants of a lost world at the palace of Knossos. Yes, a lot of it has been reconstructed but it is still fabulous. It is affordable (about 10 euros each) and worthwhile getting a guide who will take a group around the ruins. Unless you’re an expert of course!
The Lasithi Plateau
I wasn’t sure about the Lasithi Plateau at first. It’s a geographical sight to see – a flat dish of land surrounded by mountains but the famous windmills are hardly in use these days and it initially seemed quite touristy. However, the Dikhtean cave was quite something – where baby Zeus was hidden to prevent him being eaten by his father. And once we got across to the smaller villages I found them charming and unspoilt.
The mountains of Crete
The Lefka Ori, or White Mountains of Crete are again unexpectedly delightful. Ruggedly beautiful, they are studded with tiny villages where walnut trees grow and there are small eco travel accommodations. I’d love to explore the mountains in Crete more and do some proper hiking there. The White Mountains are protected as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Crete holidays in Agios Nikolaus
If bars and restaurants are more your thing on holiday then Agios Nikolaus is a good place to base yourself in Crete. It is a pleasant town on a lovely natural harbour and has plenty of options for eating out and general nightlife. There is good swimming nearby as well. It makes a great base from which to make day trips to Spinalonga and Lasithi.
Discover Crete’s delicious food
Crete has a proud culinary tradition and with its wonderful climate you can taste the sunshine in every mouthful. Luscious olive oils and flavourful honey are just two famous products but there are many treats in store when you holiday in Crete. Try some handmade kaltsounia cheese pies and delicious dakos, a meze or salad a little like bruschetta.
By Natasha von Geldern
Where to stay in Crete
To experience all of my top 10 things to do in Crete we split our week between Agios Nikolaus and Chania. There are plenty of Crete resorts but we chose independent Crete hotels.
In Agios Nikolaus we stayed in a seaside villa room nestled in the beautiful gardens of the Minos Beach Art Hotel. Oh how I loved having breakfast on their terrace!
In Chania we went for a more urban option at the , a modern and super comfortable Samaria Hotel, an elegant Crete hotel in a great location.
For memorable Crete holidays what would you add to my list of the top 10 things to do in Crete?