Tips on What To Do in Crete

25.06.2012 In: Travel tips

Ancient ruins, stunning beaches, boutique-covered boulevards, experts agree that Crete has it all and more. However, not everything is located in the same place and it's hard to see the entire island in one trip. You'll make the most of your time on Crete by planning ahead and basing yourself in an area where the attractions that most interest you are located.

Historic Attractions

One of Crete's most famous archaeological sites is the ancient Palace of Knossos, which sits just two and a half miles southeast of Heraklion. Originally constructed around 2000 BC, the Palace of Knossos that stands today is actually a reproduction built by Sir Arthur Evans who excavated the site in the 1930s. The palace that stands today offers insight into the life of the Minoans who built it. However, some say that you will not be able to fully appreciate the Palace of Knossos without first visiting the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, which houses many of the artifacts discovered during the palace's excavation. Other ruins located near Heraklion include Arhanes and Gortys.

Heraklion is not the only city that takes pride in Cretan history. Chania and Rethymnon also boast spectacular archaeological museums. If you're spending some time in Chania, you might also want to check out the Maritime Museum, located at the Venetian Inner Harbor, and its next door neighbor, the Cretan House Folklore Museum.

There are no sights as such, but the excellent (Agios Nikolaos) Archeological Museum on Paleológou north of the lake, and an interesting Folk Museum near the tourist office are both worth seeking out." -- Rough Guides

Crete is popular among active travelers due to the many hiking spots, the most famous being the Samaria Gorge in Chania Perfecture. An 11-mile pass through the White Mountains in Samaria National Park is the longest gorge in all of Europe and was sculpted by more than 14 million years of rainwater. Other popular hiking locations include the trail to Monastery of Agios Ioannis near Plakias in Rethymnon Prefecture and Vai Beach in Lasithi Prefecture.

If hiking isn't really your thing, enjoy Crete's natural beauty in a more relaxing setting at the beach. The crowded beaches lining the coast of Agios Nikolaose in Lasithi Prefecture have been rated some of the cleanest in Europe. However, if you prefer seclusion, head to the southern coast where you'll find lovely home rentals in Crete. Beaches in both Paleochora in Chania Prefecture and Plakias in Rethymnon Prefecture are known for their soft sand and quiet atmosphere. For a one-of-a-kind nature experience, several travelers recommend the Balos Lagoon in Kissamos. From the pinkish-hued sand to the translucent water, more than one traveler describes the area as "paradise."

Crete offers experiences that are not directly related to the sea. The hiking is superb, not only at the Samaria Gorge but also along mountain and high-plateau trails. In the White Mountains, to the west, you can visit villages so isolated that the locals consider even other Greeks to be foreigners. And on 8,057-foot Mount Ida, at the center of the island, you can sometimes stand in snow -- if that's what you've come to the Aegean Islands for. The sea is still the major draw, though, and most residents and visitors stick to the north coast." --
There are plenty of ways to spend your money on Crete. You can head east to the upscale fashion boutiques lining the shopping boulevards of Agios Nikolaos, or find something something uniquely Cretan in Rethymnon, Chania or Heraklion. In these prefectures, local craftsmen sell jewelry and leather goods from street stands and small boutiques.

"Here, as in Chania and Iraklion, you may be overwhelmed by the sheer number of gift shops offering mostly souvenirs. Looking for something different? Try Nikolaos Papalasakis's Palaiopoleiou, 40 Souliou, which is crammed with some genuine antiques, old textiles, jewelry, and curiosities such as the stringed instruments made by the proprietor." -- Frommer's


Your best bet for nightlife is to base yourself in the larger cities of Heraklion and Chania. At night, the central plazas, as well as the smaller side streets, fill with traditional music and the smell of Cretan food pouring out of nearby tavernas. However, if it's a crazy party that you seek, travel writers recommend heading about 15 miles south of the city of Heraklion to Hersonissos where 20-somethings enjoy too much alcohol and not enough sleep. Just keep in mind that, no matter how you plan to spend your evening, Greeks generally don't begin a night out until 11 p.m. at the earliest.

"At night, instead of seeking out a packed club/bar/disco or walking around the harbor and Old Town, wander into Chania's back alleys to see the old Venetian and Turkish remains. Sit in a quayside cafe and enjoy a coffee or a drink, or treat yourself to a ride in a horse-drawn carriage at the harbor." -- Frommer's

"To start your evening, there are dozens of bars in the area around the [Chania] harbour. This is an incomparable setting, but generally somewhat touristy: locals head east, to the scores of bars and cafés lining Aktí Miaoúli, the seafront outside the walls -- these are heaving by 11pm." -- Rough Guides