Things to do in Crete: Attractions and places to visit

Balos Beach Panorama auf Kreta (Filip / stock.adobe.com)  lizenziertes Stockfoto 
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Crete is the largest Greek island with an area of more than 8,000 square meters. Here not only bathing and beach vacationers get their money’s worth, as the island is also known for its scenic variety. The mighty mountain ranges offer accordingly challenging hiking tours. Crete is also known for its legendary gorges, which promise fantastic panoramas and adventures.

The most beautiful sandy beaches, on the other hand, can be found in the north of the island, which has excellent tourist facilities. In the high season, flights are offered from almost every German airport. As the flight time is only about three hours, the Greek island is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the Mediterranean area.

In the following we present you the most exciting tours, the most beautiful attractions and the best sights on Crete.

Loutro (Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho)  [flickr.com]  CC BY 
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Loutro Village (Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho)  [flickr.com]  CC BY 
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From Crete to the Sea (Steve Jurvetson)  [flickr.com]  CC BY 
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1. The palace of Knossos

The ancient palace of Knossos in the north of Crete is the most famous sight of the island. The palace is located on an area of more than 20,000 square meters, so you should plan several hours for the visit. One should definitely decide for a guided tour, as during this one gets to know some interesting details.

“History lessons in a different way” – you can’t describe such a tour more aptly. After all, the palace complexes of Knossos are the cradle of European culture. The entrance fee of 15 euros is therefore well invested. Knossos can be easily reached by city bus from Heraklion.

2. Spinalonga – the former leper colony

Spinalonga is an uninhabited island also known as leprosy island. All inhabitants of Crete who were ill with leprosy were once banished to the island of Spinalonga. This is therefore particularly interesting for people interested in history. Leprosy was a highly contagious disease until the 1950s; at peak times, up to 1,000 sick people lived on the island. It is best to plan a crossing from Elounda, as from here it is only about five kilometres to the island.

Also from Agios Nikolaos there are regular excursions to Spinalonga during the high season. The advantage of such excursions: A snack on board and a guided tour of the island are usually already included in the price. Even today you can visit not only the houses of the sick but also the hospital on Spinalonga.

3. Agios Nikolaos – one of the most beautiful cities of Crete

Agios Nikolaos is not only an interesting starting point for excursions to the island of Spinalonga. Located in the Mirabello bay, Agios Nikolaos is one of the most important tourist resorts in the east of Crete. Besides Chania, Agios Nikloas is one of the most beautiful places on the island for most tourists. You should not only include the city centre with its numerous shops in your travel planning, you will also find an important archaeological museum in Agios Nikloas.

Even two small city beaches are present in the place, so that one does not have to do without bathing fun. But the absolute highlight is the small lake that is located in the middle of the city centre and is used today as a harbour. The Voulismenisee is connected to the sea by a 20 metre long channel. “Tourist pearl in the east of Crete” – this nickname of Agios Nikolaos is quite appropriately chosen.

4. The dream beach of Elafonissi

Without a doubt, the Greek island Crete is only visited by many tourists because of the fantastic beaches. Of these there are countless many, but one of the most worth seeing is the Elafonissi beach. The special feature: Not only white, but also pink sand awaits the bathers here; an absolute rarity. Crystal clear water and a vast dune landscape also make Elafonissi beach so unique.

With a little luck you might even come across a specimen of the hawksbill turtle on this beach, which likes to lay its eggs here. The beach is not only perfect for bathing and lazing around. Thanks to the always prevailing walls you can also kitesurf perfectly here. The only disadvantage is that the beach is located on the west coast of the island and can only be reached by car via a serpentine road.

5. Picturesque coastal town of Chania

One should visit the coastal city Chania above all because of the Venetian port located there. It dates from the 14th century and offers fantastic photo motifs. At the same time, Chania also attracts with numerous cafés and restaurants in which one gets typically Greek dishes served. You should also stroll through the narrow and winding streets of Chania. Venetian influences can also be found everywhere here.

You should also visit one of the taverns where the typical Cretan cuisine is served. The city is also known for its many gourmet restaurants. But Chania is also a destination for everyone who wants to go on a hike through the legendary Samaria Gorge. This is located just a few kilometres outside Chania.

6. Pure adventure and nature: Samaria Gorge

With a length of about 17 kilometres, the Samaria Gorge is one of the longest gorges in Europe and a true paradise for all hiking enthusiasts. Of course this is a challenging hike, but you can expect to experience these fantastic panoramic views. Unfortunately up to 4,000 nature lovers walk through the gorge in the high season. It is therefore worthwhile to start your hike as early as possible. From the beginning of April until the end of October you can pass through the gorge. Access is only blocked in adverse weather conditions.

The entrance is at a height of 1,230 meters. In order to be allowed to enter the gorge at all, you have to pay an entrance fee of five euros. Although the way leads almost only downhill, one should not underestimate the hiking tour, as one partly even has to climb. At the end of the gorge, however, a charming typical tavern awaits you. Here, you can get refreshed before you take the ferry back.

7. Port and Fortezza of Rethymno

Rethymno in the north of the Greek island is one of the most photogenic places on Crete. The small fishing harbour offers beautiful houses and some very good seafood restaurants overlooking the water. A stroll through the old town of Rethymno reveals the many remnants of the Venetian and Turkish times. Besides old fountains and elegantly decorated gates, there is also a Byzantine and Venetian church.

Just above the town, on a hill, there is the old Fortezza fortress. The castle dates from the late 16th century and is still the largest fortress on the island. It is surrounded by a wall more than one kilometre long and is a very impressive sight on Crete. Also the beautiful view is worth it!

8. Monastery of Arkadi

Who wants to visit the oldest monastery of the island, should pay a visit to the monastery of Arkadi. This more than 1,600 year old building is an Orthodox monastery located about 20 kilometres from Rethymno. The monastery is also an ideal

starting point if you want to hike through the Arkadi Gorge.

This is not quite as challenging as the Samaria Gorge and can also be easily mastered by less experienced people. The monastery of Arkadi is so special by the way, because here in the year 1866 the liberation fight of the Cretans against the Turks took place. The locals therefore have a very special connection to this place steeped in history.

9. The Palace of Zakros

Not as famous as the palace of Knossos, but also worth a visit is the palace of Zakros. This palace, built around 1,500 B.C., is located in the east of the island. Also this top sight does not belong to the so-called Minoan palaces. Although today there are no ruins left of the palace, you can visit the oldest melting furnace of mankind here.

Due to its remote location, the palace is visited by comparatively few tourists and therefore promises a particularly pleasant atmosphere. We recommend a combination with the neighbouring gorge of Zakros. The hike through the so-called Valley of the Dead takes about 2.5 hours.

10. CretAquarium – ideal in bad weather

Should it rain during your well-deserved holiday, the CretAquarium is a welcome alternative. In more than 60 aquariums you can admire about 2,500 sea creatures; especially for families with children this sight is a lot of fun. The Aquarium, which is also one of Crete’s most popular attractions, can be found in the north of the island near the town of Gournes.

The aquarium is open all year round, in summer the doors are usually closed at 21:30 o’clock, in winter already at 17 o’clock. The marine worlds include sand sharks more than two metres long and basins with large sea turtles. Regular activities and feeding are offered, especially for children.

More things to do and activities for your Crete holiday

Best time to visit Crete

We recommend the following months as best time to travel for exploring the attractions and acivities of Crete:

April, May, June, July, August, September, and October

You can find more information about the weather, including all climate data, on our climate page for Crete.

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