“The mystery of Crete runs deep. Whoever sets foot on this island senses a mysterious force coursing warmly and beneficently through their veins, sensing their soul beginning to grow,” wrote Nikos Kazantzakis, Crete’s most celebrated author, in Report to Greco.
On the south side of the Aegean is an island that is mystical, warm and welcoming, pure and generous. Crete captures the spirit of Greece and enchants everyone who visits it. Heraklion, Rethymno, Chania, Agios Nikolaos, Elounda, Ierapetra, Malia, Hersonissos, Sitia, Sfakia… wherever you visit, it’s an island of thousands of vibrant images, filled with an open-hearted and vivacious spirit, rich history, world-famous cuisine and hospitable people.
The most seductive beaches
Pictures of heavenly Balos Lagoon in Chania have featured in travel guides and glossies all over the world, as have those of the eternally beautiful Falarsana, one of the finest beaches in the Mediterranean. And as for exotic Elafonisi, on the southwestern tip of Chania … seeing is believing.
Episkopi and Petres have fervent young fans, while noteworthy in the south are the alluring beaches of Preveli, Plakias, Ligres, Triopetra and Agios Pavlos, with its huge sand dunes. In Heraklion, Malia and Hersonissos attract attract a young and vibrant international crowd.
Meanwhile, endless kilometres of golden coastline surround Ierapetra, in the Lassithi prefecture to the east. And the celebrated palm forest in Vai is one of the most spectacular sights in Crete, where palm trees embrace the golden sand, while the beaches of Elounda and those around Agios Nikolaos are not to be missed.
A priceless gift of culture and history
On Crete, you’ll find some of the most significant attractions in Greece: famous archaeological sites such as the Minoan palaces of Knossos, Phaistos, Malia and Kato Zakros. You’ll also visit important monasteries, some built in the 15th century or even earlier, including the Preveli Monastery in southern Rethymno, the monasteries in southern Heraklion and the historic Arkadi and Toplous monasteries.
You’ll be transported to another time wandering around the castles erected by Venetians and Byzantines. Particularly noteworthy are Kastelli in Chania, the Fortezza in Rethymno, the castle of Heraklion, Frangokastello in southern Chania, the Kazarma Castle in Sitia, and the Monte Forte in Lassithi. Leave time for the fascinating museums, particularly the Museum of Natural History and the Historical Museum of Crete. In Myrtia, there is also the Nikos Kazantzakis Museum and in Fodele you’ll find the El Greco Museum.
Cretan hospitality displays the same characteristics as the island’s famous landscape: grand, generous and infinitely welcoming. Families are only too happy to share the island’s many specialities – a dakos salad, free-flowing raki or the experience of the mantinades, poems often accompanied by a Cretan lyre or lute. Wise old men recount memories of the island’s rich, and often troubled, past or tales of the vendettas between feuding families. And there are also stories of the great loves and friendships that characterise a proud and family-orientated people.
A paradise for thrill-seekers, hikers and nature lovers
Crete is the ideal destination for all kinds of sports and activities in nature. For canyoning and hiking, the gorges offer unparalleled beauty. The largest and most famous is Samaria, with its world-renowned Portes (Iron Gates). Other noteworthy canyons are Amba, Tripiti, Kourtaliotiko, Kamaraiko (the longest), Ha (the so-called ‘king of Cretan gorges’), and Ethias and Eligas. You’ll hike across these landscapes of sublime beauty and diversity and, for off-road and 4x4, you’ll zig and zag along Crete’s dirt roads. Meanwhile, the cosmopolitan resorts in both the north and south of the island are ideal for water sports and scuba diving.
Home of the Mediterranean diet
You’ll eat to your heart’s content, whether enjoying gourmet gastronomy or a simple homemade rusk salad with sea salt, extra-virgin olive oil, artichokes and cheese. Discover the secrets of a Cretan diet, long considered one of the healthiest in the world.
Some of the many famous products are the local graviera (a piquant cheese), herbs and salad greens such as stamnagathi (a wild chicory), as well as dozens of wild and sweet greens for braising, staka (think clotted cream made from sheep’s milk and used in pilafs) and assorted savoury pies and sweets. Signature dishes are kalitsounia (sweet cheese pastries), savoury cheese pies, egg-lemon lamb with artichoke hearts, fried snails and the famous gamopilafo (wedding pilaf).
You’re bound to be offered a glass of tsikoudia (schnapps-like firewater), as locals often make their own. At tavernas, cafes, festivals and fairs, they start drinking it early in the afternoon and it flows until late at night. Be sure to bring a bottle home.
The most popular destinations in Crete
- Chania: The old town of Chania with its world-renowned Venetian lighthouse, the aristocratic suburb of Halepa, Tabakaria (centre for leather production), Neoria (arsenal) and Kum Kapi, teeming with bars, cafes, restaurants and elegant hotels.
- Rethymno: Discover the old town of Rethymno, with its Venetian buildings, mosques, minarets, fountains and cobblestone alleys lined with shops, cafes, bars and hotels. Explore Idaio Antro – one of the most important caves of Minoan worship.
- Heraklion: The Venetian port of Heraklion is a lively city filled with sights, museums, restaurants, bars and hotels. Walk along the walls of the old city and explore Morosini (Leondaria) Square, the Loggia (City Hall), Agios Titos and Armeria (the armoury).
- Ierapetra: The old town with its narrow alleyways, little harbour and famous Fortress of Kales is one of the most significant sights in Crete.
- Agios Nikolaos: A cosmopolitan summer resort, with the mystical allure of Lake Vouliagmeni (which, legend has it, is bottomless), lined with numerous cafes and restaurants.
- Sitia: The historic Kazarma Fortress (Casa di arma) and its animated waterfront, with cafes, shops and restaurants, should definitely be on your list of destinations to visit.
- Elounda: A cosmopolitan paradise of sophisticated resorts and hotels, with private beaches, pools and piers. It has the highest concentration of Greece’s five-star resorts.
- Lassithi: Visit the palm forest at Vai but make sure you also find time for the caves of Diktean Antro and Milatos, the island fortress of Spinalonga and the Lassithi Plateau.
- Mount Ida (Psiloritis): Ambitious hikers will climb to the top of the tallest mountain in Crete and be rewarded with an unforgettable view.
Experience the best of Crete
Prepare to be mesmerised at Crete's Balos beach
Hiking the spectacular Samaria Gorge in Chania
You’ll be hooked by Spinalonga’s storied past
Experience the palm-fringed beauty of Preveli beach
A walking tour of Rethymno Old Town
- ‘Mythical’ Knossos
- The old town of Chania
- Samaria Gorge
- Balos Beach
- Heraklion Archaeological Museum