Greece: Top 10 things to do in Crete

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. Here are my top 10 things to do 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.

Chania harbour and old town in Crete - Photo by Natasha von Geldern

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.

Elafonisi beach 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.

Imbros Gorge Crete

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. It was wonderful swimming in the sea with nothing between me and North Africa.

Frangokastello in Crete Photo by Natasha von Geldern

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.

Spinalonga - Top 10 things to do in Crete Photo by Natasha von Geldern

Meet the Minotaur at Knossos

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. 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!

Minoan fresco at Knossos Crete

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 Lasithi Plateau in Crete

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.

Lefka Ori mountains in Crete

Holiday life 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.

Sunset at Agios Nikolaos, Crete

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.

Greek yoghurt and honey in Crete

By Natasha von Geldern

What would you add to my list of the top 10 things to do in Crete?

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