It’s Greece’s largest island (and the fifth largest Mediterranean island) with more than six hundred miles worth of beaches and coves. Crete is home to a plethora of history, contributed to by the Minoan, Turkish, Roman, Greek, and Venetian civilizations. And…it’s an incredible source of adventure for those seeking out its dramatic peaks and rugged coastlines.
Crete is a top vacation getaway for Europeans and foreign travelers alike. With its beautiful, temperate weather, gorgeous beaches, and impressive historic sites, it’s pretty clear as to why many tourists flock to this Greek island. But what exactly can you see and do while exploring Crete? Let’s take a look at some of the most popular ways to spend your time while on this beautiful Mediterranean island.
When to Go
Crete has pretty great, warm weather almost all year round. If you love hot weather, then summer would be the ideal time for you to visit the island. Winters can be mild and wet, while spring and autumn tend to be the most ideal season to visit due to the milder conditions.
Peak tourist season on Create will typically be from April through mid-October. Around Easter time through mid-June is a good time to plan a visit if you’re looking for things to be a bit less crowded. The beaches and ancient sites will have a bit fewer crowds around this time. And since spring and autumn are the ideal times for beautiful weather, it also means it’s the perfect time of year for outdoor activities and trekking.
Crete’s Interesting History
While it now belongs to Greece in the modern day, Crete saw quite a lot of civilizations come to conquer it throughout its history. One of the major cultural influences came from the Minoan civilization, a culture that flourished during the Bronze Age. History enthusiasts will find quite a lot of ancient influences left behind by the Minoans, including tombs, palaces, and sacred sites. The Romans, Turks, Venetians, and eventually the Greeks also battled for control over the island, leaving traces of several different historic ages behind.
What to See and Do
Crete is an ideal destination for just about any type of traveler. Beach bums can soak up the Mediterranean sun and cool off in the pristine waters of Crete’s beaches. Those looking for a bit of adventure can seek out the many archaeological ruins dotted throughout the island. And those looking for an authentic feel of Crete’s history can explore the centuries old harbor towns. So let’s take a closer look at just a few of the many things to consider seeing and doing while on Crete…
Imagine the Former Grandeur of the Palace of Knossos
No visit to Crete would be complete without going to explore its most popular archaeological site: The Palace of Knossos. This site is thought to have been inhabited during the pre-Greek Bronze Age era and is believed to be the palace of the legendary King Minos.
The Palace of Knossos is a huge residential complex with vast courtyards and what used to be nearly thousands of individual rooms. The palace was abandoned somewhere around 1450. Although archaeologists aren’t sure why, many surmise that it was due to a catastrophic earthquake. Take your time wandering around the many nooks and crannies of Knossos to see what kinds of historic displays you might come across.
Take a Trek Through the Picturesque Samaria Gorge
Adventure seekers as well as outdoor and hiking enthusiasts will definitely want to plan a trek in the Samaria Gorge. It’s located in the Samaria National Park and makes for quite a beautiful hike. The gorge itself runs for an impressive 18 kilometers (11 miles), and descends down to a depth of 1,250 meters (4,100 feet). During the winter months, the river Tarraios, which runs along the gorge, floods in the winter, while in the summer it dries up. There is a stony path hikers can trek along the gorge on. But keep in mind that this is a pretty strenuous trek and it’s recommended that only those is good athletic condition attempt it. The hike can take anywhere from four to six hours, depending on the conditions and how fit you are. But with the amazing views all around, it’s definitely a trek worth taking for those wanting a challenging adventure.
Explore the Historic Capital City of Heraklion
Heraklion is a historic port city with plenty of cultural history to discover. It’s also used as a home base for those who are going to make a day out of visiting the Palace of Knossos. They city’s layout is credited to the Venetians, who ruled Heraklion from around 1200 to the mid 1600s. There are some great old churches to discover here. And don’t forget to take a look around the Venetian harbor for plenty of picturesque views.
Discover Crete’s History at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum
History enthusiasts will definitely want to check out Heraklion’s archaeological museum while staying in the city. Here you’ll come across archaeological finds from all across the island. Some artifacts are even from prehistoric times! You’ll also see plenty of relics from the ancient Romans, the Bronze Age, the Hellenic period, and of course, many artifacts from the Minoan civilization.
Bask in the Sun and Beauty of Palm Beach
Beach enthusiasts will want to venture to the beautiful golden sands of Palm Beach. Located on Crete’s east coast, the beach it backed by groves of palm trees for a very tropical feel. You’ll find sun beds and straw umbrellas along the beach, as well as a café and a water sports facility. For those just looking to lounge around and work on your tan, it’s the perfect place to relax and enjoy yourself. There’s also a rocky outcrop with a viewing platform at the south end of the beach if you’d like to just enjoy the gorgeous views and of course, get in a few photo ops.
Explore the Eclectic Town of Chania
Before Heraklion became the capital of Crete in 1971, Chania was the island’s capital city. This old town has quite a splendid beauty to it, as it overlooks the Aegean Sea and has the White Mountains at is back. Chania is a great town to explore on foot. There are plenty of narrow, European style alleyways, pastel colored buildings, and the remains of a 16th century defense wall to discover. And if you’re there in the wintertime, be sure to take a look at the snow-capped White Mountains in the distance for some post-card worthy pictures.
Get Modern in Ayios Nikolaos
Those looking for a more modern, all-inclusive type of Crete getaway will want to head the coastal city of Ayios Nikolaos. It’s located along the northern coast of the eastern part of the island and is home to Crete’s most popular resorts. And of course, with popular resorts come beautiful beaches. While there are plenty of posh hotels and villas located around the city, don’t forget to get out and explore while you’re there. Outside of the city, there are also some quaint, small villages to discover as well, such as Kritsa, where visitors can seek out traditional crafts made by local artisans. On the way to Kritsa, be sure to check out the Panagia Kera (Our Lady of Kera), a 13th century church with impressive Byzantine frescoes. And for those seeking adventure, near the city, there’s the Diktean Cave, with plenty of beautiful stalagmites and stalactites to behold.
Take in the Sights of Venetian-Era Rethymnon
This charming old town is known for its lovely Venetian-era structures. Be sure to take a stroll along the historic streets, where you’ll find plenty of historic buildings that have been converted into shops, taverns, and small boutique hotels. There’s also a small but pristine stretch of beach that’s perfect for those looking to get in a bit of sun and swimming after exploring. Rethymnon is also a great place to stay as a base for those who are heading for the Samaria Gorge and Mount Psiloritis.
Enjoy the Sun, Sand, and Seclusion of Sweetwater Beach
If crowded beaches aren’t your thing, then Sweetwater Beach is most definitely where you’ll want to head. It’s located in Crete’s Sfakia region, which is the mountainous, southwestern part of the island. So it’s no coincidence that this beach is actually located between mountains, which makes it all the more secluded. In fact, the beach can only be accessed by boat or on foot. There is a small café located on the beach, but it’s probably ideal for you to pack your own lunch and beverages so you can enjoy a worry-free and quiet beach getaway.
Crete has plenty to offer to those looking for a wide range of things to see and do. It’s perfect for a beach getaway destination, but also pretty versatile when it comes to outdoor exploration and historical sites. So if you’re planning a trip to Greece or just want a Mediterranean island experience, Crete is the perfect choice for a balance of fun in the sun and discovering the history of an island full of ancient cultures.