Crete in Greece: 7 Awesome Places to Visit
Updated: Oct 20, 2022
Are you planning a trip to Crete but wondering what this island has to offer? In this article we highlight 7 incredible places you have to visit on this magnificent island. As the largest and most populous island in Greece, Crete is incredibly diverse and has something for everyone: from historic forts to amazing Greek food, sandy beaches, adventurous hiking trails, and breathtaking sceneries. Explore with us the best things to do at these amazing places on Crete.
Check out our video about Crete to get a sense of what it's like there!
Where is Crete and how to get there?
Crete is 160 kilometers or 99.4 miles south of the Greek mainland, making it the southernmost island of the archipelago. It's the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and the largest one of the Greek islands.
You can easily travel to Crete by plane as there 3 airports: Heraklion, Chania, and Sitia. You can either fly directly to them or make a stop in Athens and fly from there. We recommend using Skyscanner to book your flights and find the cheapest deals!
Alternatively, you can take a ferry to Crete. The 3 most used ports are in Heraklion, Chania, and Sitia. You can take a ferry from Athens to Crete but there are also ferries from different neighboring islands such as Milos, Mykonos, Naxos, Santorini, etc.
Once you're on the island, it's definitely best to rent a car! Public transportation is lacking and it's much easier to get around if you have your own vehicle. We rented ours using rentalcars.com and found a great deal. We highly recommend using them if you want a reliable car at the most affordable price when visiting Crete!
Best places to visit on Crete in Greece
Crete has so much to offer and many places to visit, but for this article we chose to break down our top 7 places on this beautiful island.
7. Venetian port of Heraklion
The seventh best place to visit on Crete is the city of Heraklion. This is the largest city on the island and is also the capital of Crete, so it’s the perfect place to start your journey. The Old Venetian harbour of Heraklion is the most central part of the city and definitely worth a visit. You can find a fort, shipyards, many restaurants, bars, and shops here. But Heraklion also has a traditional selection of cuisine and beautiful beaches and architecture around. Some traditional Cretan dishes that you can eat in Heraklion are cheese pie with honey, lamb ofto, dakos, etc. The city has a long history, with both Arab as well as Venetian influences. It’s a great destination for anyone who loves a combination of history, beaches, and food.
Tip: for this part of the island we recommend renting a scooter.
6. Elafonisi beach
The sixth best place to visit on Crete is the awe-inspiring Elafonissi Beach. This pristine beach is located on the west coast of the island, about 72 kilometers south-west of Chania. The clear, turquoise waters have brought travelers here for centuries and it was very busy when we were there as well. Not only does the lagoon have crystal blue waters with excellent visibility, but Elafonissi also has very gentle waves and is the perfect place to swim and relax. In front of the lagoon on the eastern side of the beach, there are umbrellas, showers, lifeguards, snack bars, and changing rooms. You can also sometimes find pink sand here if the conditions are right. but watch out, taking the pink sand with you is illegal due to its rarity.
5. Wine region: Dafnes
Did you know that Crete has a wine region? Right outside of Heraklion you can find hundreds of wineries. Heraklion has attracted ever-greater attention as a wine destination in recent years and more than two-thirds of Crete’s vineyards are found here. The region accounts for about 80% of the island’s wine production. With cool winters and long, dry summers accompanied by rich Mediterranean sunshine, this region would have been just as ideal when the first vines were cultivated here, an incredible 4,000 years ago. We went wine tasting in the nearby town of Dafnes, and highly recommend it. Not only is the setting extremely beautiful, but the wine tastings are also affordable and delicious.
4. Matala beach
Fourth on the list is Matala beach. This beach is located 68 kilometers to the southwest of Heraklion, which is about an hour drive. It’s one of the most popular tourist destinations of Crete and is a true hippie town with some incredible cave and rock formations. These caves were supposedly graves of the Roman and the Christian Era, carved in the soft white limestone thousands of years ago in the northwest walls of the bay. There are several underwater caves as well. Many of them have rooms, stairs, beds, or windows, suggesting that they were once used as residences. To visit these caves, you have to pay a small entrance fee. But also just staying at the beach of Matala is worth it.
3. Knossos ruins
At number 3, we have the ancient city of Knossos, which is widely considered to be Europe’s oldest city. The Palace of Knossos is located just south of modern-day Heraklion, near the north coast of Crete. Built by the old civilization called the Minoans, it covers about 150,000 square feet or 14,000 square meters.
Apart from its construction and architecture, the Palace of Knossos is most famous for its connection to Greek mythology. Namely, the tales of the Labyrinth and the Minotaur as well as the tale of Daedalus and Icarus. If you love reading and you love Greek mythology, we would highly recommend reading Ariadne by Jennifer Saint, which is a novel about Cretan princess Ariadne's life.
We went on a guided tour of the Knossos ruins and highly recommend this because there isn't a ton of informational signage throughout the facility. With a guided tour, you will gain a greater understanding of this city’s importance throughout the history of Greece and Europe in general. Alternatively, if you want to save some money, you can also do an audio tour of the ruins. You can book your audio tour and entrance ticket to the ruins here.
Chania was by far our favourite city in Crete. On one hand, it’s beautiful and different from the other cities in Crete, and on the other hand, it’s a great base to explore the island’s highlights from. The city itself is located on the northwest coast and is known for its 14th-century Venetian harbor, narrow streets, and waterfront restaurants. The old town and Venetian port take you back through time and form a great example of how Venetian, Turkish, traditional, and modern architecture can coexist in harmony. We explored the city of Chania and the surrounding area for about 3 days but wished we’d stayed longer.
1. Balos beach
Balos beach is the number one place to visit on Crete in our opinion. The panoramic views from above are some of the best we’ve seen throughout our travels so far. You can get to this beach by ferry from the nearby port Kissamos or by car following a dirt road. Both offer different experiences. We decided to go by rental car and really enjoyed exploring at our own pace. The car experience was also not as bad as some blogs make it out to be and we never felt unsafe. In fact, there were hundreds of rental cars that took the road there. Balos is located in a wild, remote area about 1 hour to the west of Chania. It’s so spectacular that you may want to spend a full day here.
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More Helpful Info About Crete
If you still need more information about Crete, make sure to check out these other great articles below:
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