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Best Things to See and Do in Crete Greece

Best Things to Do in Crete, Greece-Top Sights & Hidden Gems

Crete, the largest of the Greek islands, is a treasure trove of stunning landscapes, ancient ruins, and vibrant culture. During my month-long stay, I discovered a perfect blend of famous sights and hidden gems that make this island so enchanting. From exploring the stunning town of Chania to stumbling upon secluded beaches and charming villages, Crete offers an unforgettable adventure for every traveler. Join me as I share the best things to do in Crete, revealing both its iconic attractions and off-the-beaten-path wonders.

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Best Things to Do in Crete, Greece

1. Visit Chania Old Town

Chania Crete Greece Complete Travel Guide

Chania is one of the most popular places to visit on Crete, and for good reason. This charming town, with its blend of Venetian and Ottoman architecture, exudes a unique charm that’s hard to resist. The beauty of Chania lies in its picturesque harbor, narrow cobblestone streets, and the stunning lighthouse that offers a glimpse into its rich history.

Top Sights in Chania
  • Wander the Narrow Streets: Get lost in the maze-like alleys, lined with boutique shops, cafes, and historic buildings.
  • Lighthouse: Visit the iconic Venetian lighthouse, a symbol of Chania, for breathtaking views of the sea and the town.
  • Harborfront: Stroll along the vibrant harbor, where you’ll find restaurants serving delicious local cuisine and enjoy the lively atmosphere.
Where to Stay
  • Within the Old Town: To be in the heart of it all, stay at a hotel within the Old Town where you’ll be steps away from the main attractions.
  • On the Outskirts: For cheaper accommodation options, consider staying on the outskirts of the town. This offers a quieter experience while still being accessible to the main sights. I highly recommend staying at Theta Seaside Boutique Hotel. I stayed here for 2 nights and it was just what I needed.
Tips for Visiting
  • Parking: Parking is limited in the Old Town, so if you rent a car to explore the island, consider staying somewhere with parking included.
  • Book in Advance: Chania is very popular and can get booked up during peak season, so make sure to book your accommodation in advance to secure the best spots.

Chania’s Old Town is a must-visit for anyone traveling to Crete, offering a perfect mix of history, culture, and natural beauty.

To learn more about visiting Chania, check out my complete travel guide here!

2. Balos Beach & Lagoon

Best Things to Do in Crete Greece Balos Lagoon

Balos Beach & Lagoon is one of Crete’s most iconic sights, renowned for its stunning turquoise waters and impressive landscape. Seeing it in person is truly a breathtaking experience, with its white sandy beaches and the striking contrast of the clear blue lagoon.

How to Get There
  • Rent a Car: The drive to Balos is rocky and requires a bit of adventure spirit, followed by a short hike down to the beach. However, the incredible views along the way make it worthwhile.
  • Take a Ferry Boat: For a more relaxed journey, take a ferry boat from Chania that will take you directly to the beach, offering a scenic route along the coast.
Tips for Visiting
  • Sun Protection: Wear lots of sunscreen and bring plenty of water. The sun can be very intense, especially during the off season when shade is limited.
  • Peak Season Amenities: During peak season, you can rent chairs and there is a restaurant available. However, if you visit during the off season, these amenities will be closed, so be prepared to bring your own supplies.

Balos Beach & Lagoon is a must-visit for anyone traveling to Crete, offering a unique and unforgettable natural beauty that is truly impressive in person.

3. Visit the Best Beaches in Crete

Best Beaches in Crete, Greece

Crete boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the Mediterranean, and they truly surprised me with their beauty. Unlike the typical pebble beaches found in other parts of the region, Crete offers long stretches of golden sand and crystal-clear waters. These beaches are truly breathtaking and provide the perfect setting for relaxation and adventure.

Best Beaches on the Island
  • Falasarna Beach: Known for its expansive sandy shore and stunning sunsets, Falasarna is perfect for sunbathing and swimming.
  • Elafonissi Beach: Famous for its pink-hued sand and shallow, turquoise waters, Elafonissi is a unique and picturesque spot that feels like a slice of paradise.
  • Kommos Beach: A quieter option with a long stretch of golden sand, Kommos is ideal for those seeking tranquility and natural beauty.
  • Voulisma Beach: Also known as Golden Beach, Voulisma boasts fine white sand and crystal-clear waters, making it a favorite for families and swimmers.
  • Vai Beach: Nestled amidst a unique palm forest, Vai offers a tropical vibe with its soft sand and clear waters, perfect for a refreshing swim.

Crete’s beaches are a highlight of any visit to the island. They offer a variety of stunning landscapes and pristine waters that are sure to impress. Whether you’re looking for a lively beach with amenities or a secluded spot to unwind, Crete has something for everyone.

4. Visit the Lasithi Plateau & Zeus’ Cave

Lasithi Plateau in Crete

The Lasithi Plateau, a fertile plain surrounded by the Dikti Mountains, is a captivating destination in Crete known for its picturesque landscapes and rich history. One of the most significant attractions in this area is Zeus’ Cave, also known as the Dikteon Cave, where, according to mythology, the king of the gods was born.

Exploring this cave offers a fascinating glimpse into ancient Greek mythology and the natural beauty of the region. The plateau itself is dotted with charming villages, windmills, and traditional farms, providing a serene escape from the bustling coastal areas.

Tips for Visiting
  • Transportation: Renting a car is the best way to explore the Lasithi Plateau and reach Zeus’ Cave. The drive offers beautiful scenery, but be prepared for winding mountain roads.
  • Footwear: Wear comfortable shoes suitable for hiking, as the path to Zeus’ Cave can be steep and rocky.
  • Timing: Visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds and enjoy a more peaceful experience.
  • Local Delights: Take the time to visit some of the local tavernas in the villages around the plateau to enjoy traditional Cretan cuisine and hospitality.

Visiting the Lasithi Plateau and Zeus’ Cave provides a wonderful blend of natural beauty, cultural heritage, and mythological intrigue, making it a must-see destination in Crete.

5. Spinalonga Island

Spinalonga Island in Crete

Spinalonga Island, located off the northeastern coast of Crete, is steeped in a rich and fascinating history. Originally a Venetian fortress built in the 16th century, the island later became a leper colony from 1903 to 1957, making it a poignant symbol of resilience and isolation.

Despite its somber past, Spinalonga is much more beautiful than one might expect, with its crumbling fortifications, scenic views, and azure waters creating a striking contrast against the island’s rugged landscape.

Tips for Visiting
  • How to Get There: Take a ferry from the town of Elounda or Agios Nikolaos. The short boat ride offers stunning views and a pleasant start to your visit. You can also take a boat tour from one of the major towns on the island.
  • Timing: Go early during the peak season to avoid the midday heat and large crowds, ensuring a more comfortable and enjoyable exploration.
  • Explore the Entire Island: Don’t just stick to the immediate town area; make sure to wander around the entire island. Discover hidden corners, ancient ruins, and breathtaking vantage points that offer a deeper understanding of Spinalonga’s history and beauty.

Visiting Spinalonga Island is a journey through time, offering a unique glimpse into Crete’s multifaceted past while also showcasing its unexpected natural beauty.

6. Matala Beach & Caves

Matala Beach and Caves Best Things to Do in Crete

Matala Beach, located on the southern coast of Crete, is renowned for its striking cliffs and the ancient caves carved into them. These caves were originally Neolithic dwellings and later used by Romans as tombs. In the 1960s, they gained fame as a haven for hippies from around the world.

Today, Matala Beach offers a unique blend of history and natural beauty with its golden sands, clear waters, and fascinating caves. The vibrant village atmosphere, with its colorful murals and lively tavernas, adds to the charm of this must-visit destination.

Tips for Visiting
  • Explore the Caves: Don’t miss the chance to climb up and explore the famous caves. They provide a cool escape from the sun and offer incredible views of the beach and sea.
  • Footwear: Wear sturdy shoes if you plan to explore the caves, as the paths can be rocky and uneven.
  • Timing: Visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the heat and crowds, especially during the peak season.
  • Local Amenities: Take advantage of the local tavernas and shops in Matala village. Enjoy some fresh seafood and soak in the laid-back atmosphere.

Matala Beach and its iconic caves provide a captivating mix of history, culture, and natural splendor, making it a highlight of any trip to Crete.

7. Taste Cretan Wine at Zacharioudakis Winery or Others

Wine Tasting in Crete

Crete is renowned throughout Greece for its exceptional wine, thanks to the island’s ideal climate. The rolling hills of vineyards in the central and southern parts of the island create a picturesque landscape perfect for wine production. There are numerous vineyards where you can enjoy tastings and learn about the island’s rich winemaking traditions. One standout is Zacharioudakis Winery, which offers a memorable experience with its stunning views and delicious wines.

Tips for Visiting
  • Plan Ahead: Many wineries require reservations for tastings, so it’s a good idea to plan your visit in advance.
  • Visit Zacharioudakis Winery: Located in the southern part of Crete, this winery is known for its breathtaking views and high-quality wines. It’s a must-visit for any wine enthusiast.
  • Transportation: Consider hiring a driver or joining a wine tour to safely enjoy your tastings without worrying about driving.
  • Time of Visit: Visit in the late morning or early afternoon to enjoy the vineyards in the best light and take advantage of cooler temperatures.

Exploring the vineyards and tasting Cretan wine offers a delightful glimpse into the island’s culture and natural beauty, making it a must-do activity for visitors.

8. Knossos Palace

Knossos Palace, the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete, is a must-see for history enthusiasts. Believed to be Europe’s oldest city, it served as the political and ceremonial center of the Minoan civilization.

The palace complex, with its labyrinthine layout, is famously linked to the myth of the Minotaur. Visiting Knossos offers a fascinating glimpse into ancient history with its well-preserved frescoes, grand courtyards, and intricate architecture.

Tips for Visiting
  • Guided Tour: Consider hiring a guide or joining a tour to fully appreciate the historical significance and details of the site.
  • Timing: Visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the peak crowds and heat.
  • Comfortable Footwear: Wear comfortable shoes as the site is expansive and involves a fair amount of walking.
  • Hydration: Bring water, especially during the hot summer months, as the site has limited shade.

Exploring Knossos Palace is a journey through time, offering an unparalleled look into the grandeur of the ancient Minoan civilization.

9. Taste Local Cuisine

Cretan cuisine is a delightful experience that combines regional specialties with classic Greek staples. The island’s culinary tradition emphasizes fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, offering a unique and flavorful journey for food lovers. While on Crete, you’ll have the opportunity to savor a variety of dishes that reflect the island’s rich cultural heritage.

Must-Try Local Dishes
  • Dakos: A traditional Cretan salad made with barley rusks, ripe tomatoes, feta or mizithra cheese, and a drizzle of olive oil.
  • Kalitsounia: Small pastries filled with sweet or savory ingredients, often featuring cheese or wild greens.
  • Gamopilafo: A creamy rice dish traditionally served at weddings, cooked in rich meat broth and often accompanied by lamb or goat.
  • Chochlioi Boubouristi: Fried snails, a Cretan delicacy, typically cooked with rosemary, vinegar, and olive oil.
  • Greek Staples: Don’t miss out on classic Greek dishes. Moussaka, souvlaki, and tzatziki are widely enjoyed on the island.

Exploring Cretan cuisine is an essential part of the travel experience, offering a delicious way to connect with the island’s culture and traditions.

10. Visit the Many Towns on the Island

Crete is home to a variety of charming towns, each with its unique character and attractions. Exploring these towns allows you to experience the diverse culture, history, and natural beauty of the island. From bustling cities to serene coastal villages, Crete’s towns offer something for every traveler. Wander through ancient streets, enjoy local cuisine, and soak in the stunning landscapes that make each town special.

Notable Towns to Visit
  • Agios Nikolaos: This picturesque town is known for its beautiful lake, vibrant waterfront, and relaxed atmosphere. It’s a great spot for shopping, dining, and enjoying the seaside views.
  • Rethymno: A town with a blend of Venetian and Ottoman architecture. Rethymno boasts a charming old town with narrow streets, a historic fortress, and a lively harbor. It’s perfect for history enthusiasts and those looking to experience Crete’s rich cultural heritage.
  • Heraklion: As Crete’s capital, Heraklion offers a mix of modernity and history. Visit the renowned Archaeological Museum, explore the bustling markets, and enjoy the lively nightlife.
  • Agia Galini: This quaint fishing village on the southern coast is ideal for those seeking tranquility and scenic beauty. Its pebble beaches, charming harbor, and relaxed vibe make it a perfect getaway.
  • Loutro: Accessible only by boat or on foot, Loutro is a hidden gem with whitewashed buildings, clear blue waters, and a peaceful ambiance. It’s an ideal destination for those looking to escape the crowds and enjoy a serene coastal retreat.

Exploring these towns provides a wonderful opportunity to immerse yourself in the diverse experiences Crete has to offer, from historical sites to beautiful coastal views.

Additional Best Things to Do in Crete

  • Samaria Gorge: Hike through one of Europe’s longest gorges, spanning 16 kilometers. The trek offers stunning views, diverse wildlife, and ends at the beautiful village of Agia Roumeli by the sea.
  • Archaeological Museum of Heraklion: Explore one of Greece’s most important museums. It houses an extensive collection of Minoan artifacts, including frescoes, pottery, and the famous Phaistos Disc.
  • Loutro: Visit this serene coastal village. Accessible only by boat or on foot, enjoy its tranquil beaches, crystal-clear waters, and traditional Cretan hospitality.
  • Visit Nearby Islands by Ferry: Take a ferry to explore nearby islands. Consider Gavdos, the southernmost point of Europe, or Chrissi Island, known for its exotic beaches and cedar forest. You can also take a ferry to famous islands such as Santorini from Crete.
  • Therisso Gorge: Drive through this scenic gorge located near Chania for breathtaking landscapes and a taste of traditional Cretan villages.
  • Kournas Lake: Relax at Crete’s only freshwater lake, surrounded by mountains and offering activities like paddle boating and bird watching.

Conclusion

I absolutely loved my month on Crete and highly recommend a visit to this incredible island. There are so many amazing things to see and do. From exploring ancient ruins and hiking stunning gorges to relaxing on pristine beaches and tasting delicious local cuisine.

Keep in mind that Crete is a very large island. Many of these attractions are spread far apart. Plan your trip accordingly to make the most of your time here. Whether you’re a history buff, a nature lover, or simply seeking a beautiful place to unwind, Crete offers something for everyone.

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Best Things to Do in Crete Greece
Hayden