The biggest island of Greece is a charming place where visitors can enjoy their trip in the way they have imagined it. Here are 10 reasons why Crete is worth visiting; once you get there though, expect to discover many more!
1. Civilisation & Culture
Its strategic location on the map has turned the island of Crete into a crossroads where peoples and civilisations have left a permanent mark on, along with a rich cultural heritage. Across the ages, Minoans, Mycenaeans, Ottoman Turks, Arabs and Venetians have shaped the island’s identity.
Discover Crete’s eventful history that spans fifty-odd centuries: the Minoan palaces at Knossos, Phaestos, Malia and Zakros; the archaeological sites of ancient Gortyna, Eleftherna, Lyttos, Aptera, Falasarna, Spinalonga; the Venetian harbours at Chania, Heraklion and Rethymno towns; the ottoman monuments and architectural structures seen across the island; the historic monasteries of Arkadi, Preveli, Toplou, Agarathou, and Chrysoskalitissa; numerous thematic museums – the Heraklion Archaeological Museum is among the most significant in Europe.
2. Old Towns
The old towns of Chania and Rethymno share a fascinating combination of Venetian and Ottoman architectural elements. They are well-known, charming, and much-photographed with an ambience reminiscent of times gone by. Stroll along their narrow alleys and streets, stop by and have a coffee, snack or meal in the traditional cafes and tavernas; the magical patina of old times is everywhere.
3. Traditional Villages
They are mountain villages, mostly. Old customs and traditions are kept unchanged here and they unveil aspects of the true Cretan culture. Visit Archanes, Zaros and Asites in Heraklion region, Vamos and Chora Sfakion in Chania region, Anogeia, Axos and Margarites in Rethymno region, Makrygialos and Kritsa in Lasithi region. This is the ‘heart’ of traditional Crete.
4. Seaside Tourist Resorts
Luxury resorts and lodgings of all types can be found along the seafront. Big towns such as Heraklion, Chania, Rethymno, Agios Nikolaos, Siteia and Ierapetra are not the only destinations that can offer you a vacation to remember: visit also Agia Pelagia, Amnissos, Kaloi Limenes, Chani Kokkini, Malia and Ammoudara (Heraklion region); Platania, Agia Marina, Kolympari, Agia Roumeli, Loutro, Palaiochora and Kissamos in Chania region; Georgioupoli, Bali, Plakia, Agios Pavlos, Panormos in Rethymno region; Elounta, Plaka, Makrygialos, Koutsounari, Agia Fotia in Lasithi region.
The essence of the Cretan cuisine can be described in the following words: “prefer the products of your land”. The way locals make use of their land’s rich produce is remarkable. The wide variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables, legumes, wild edible greens and fragrant herbs are combined with tasty goat and sheep meat: the outcome is a number of particularly tasty dishes that don’t come up anywhere else in Greece. The local cheese list is also quite impressive; on the top you will find the popular Cretan graviera (a type of hard cheese) which is a PDO cheese.
The island’s endless coastline features numerous beaches, most of which are sandy. Balos, Falasarna and Elafonisi are three beaches of great beauty in the region of Chania. Within a short distance from Heraklion you will find Amnissos, Agia Pelagia, Kaloi Limenes, Malia, Limenas Chersonisou, Ammoudara beaches. Don’t miss out on visiting Matala beach known since the sixties and seventies as a hotspot for hippies who travelled there from all over the world.
In Rethymno you will find the longest sandy beaches (Episkopi, Petres) and a number of quite unusual beaches (Triopetra, Agios Pavlos, Ligres, Fragokastelo, Preveli). The area of Lasithi is well-known for its picturesque shores that are washed by the Libyan Sea, as well as for cosmopolitan Elounta beach.
7. Nature’s Amazing Creations
The terrain’s morphological diversity is remarkable and it offers hard-to-ignore opportunities to daring explorers and nature lovers for extensive tours of the countryside. High mountains with rugged peaks, caves and ravines, fertile plateaus and valleys, rare cedar forests and water habitats are the pieces that make up the lovely and diverse Cretan land. Make a note of visiting Mt. Psiloritis (or Psiloritis) Natural Park and Siteia (or Sitia) Natural Park - both are UNESCO Global Geoparks, discover caves celebrated in ancient Greek mythology such as Idaion Antron, Diktaion Antron, Melidoni and Sfendoni, hike along Samaria gorge, enjoy a ramble in Vai palm forest, Lakes Kourna & Preveli, as well as on Lasithi and Nida plateaus.
Crete is an island that can offer many a thrill to action-loving travellers by the sea or on the mountain. Hike through its ravines, enjoy your off-road rides in the mainland, follow the trekking routes – the landscapes crossed by the E4 European trail are amazing; enjoy water sports activities such as sailing, diving, sea kayaking and windsurfing.
9. Paradise Islands
Visit Gavdos islet, the southernmost tip of Europe; swim by heavenly beaches such as Sarakiniko, Ai Giannis, Pyrgos, Potamos, Trypiti; discover cedar woods that reach the seashore and well-tended trails that lead to the few island villages. In the summertime the place is a popular camping spot. There is a boat connection with Palaiochora, Sougia and Chora Sfakion.
Chrysi or Pontikonisi islet (8 miles south of Ierapetra) is a feast for the eyes, what with its turquoise waters, the off-white sands enriched with the hues of broken seashells, and the huge seaside cedars rooted in the sand dunes. Every day hundreds of visitors come to the island for a day trip aboard the tourist boats from Ierapetra. Chrysi islet has been designated a Natura 2000 area and it is strictly forbidden to camp and spend the night there.
Koufonisi, Siteia (or Lefki islet) is a place that few people know. There are caves shaped in the limestone rocks that contain vestiges of significant antiquities. The sandy beaches and natural serenity is what makes this islet a paradise - one that only locals are aware of; they usually take a trip there using their own boats. There is however a small boat that will take you from Makrygialos to Koufonisi. This islet is a pristine area with no facilities of any kind, so make sure you carry the essentials for your trip with you.
10. A Natural Way of Life
The Cretans are proud and affable people. They are, after all, the descendants of Cretan-born Zeus the god of hospitality and father of all ancient Greek gods. And they know how to offer hospitality to strangers in their parts. Their profound love for their homeland and their adherence to traditional ways and customs have shaped a special culture and a way of life that is absolutely worth discovering. And if you happen to be invited to a Cretan feast, you will feel what it’s like to have fun - the way locals do. You will savour tasty titbits and dishes, and you’ll be called to join in the folk dances; you will listen to mantinades (songs with words improvised and sung on the spot) and rizitika songs.
Have a great time – the Cretan way!