Crete is the largest Greek island, the birthplace of Zeus, and the center of tourism in the Mediterranean. Also, it is the birthplace of one of the oldest civilizations, the Minoans. While archeologists excavate the palaces built by King Minos, tourists explore the ruins of the Knossos Labyrinth, where the ancient Greek monster Minotaur lived. The Turks, Venetians, and Arabs lived here, and mosques, fortresses, and monasteries of various ages coexist peacefully.

Visitors to Crete will feel equally at home if they want to relax as much as those who come to the sunny island to recharge their batteries and simply lie in the sand. There is a magical blue-green sea, a bright sun, and excellent beaches. There are palm trees, mountains, and gorges. The people of Crete are always friendly and hospitable. They will feed you to your heart's content, teach you to dance the sirtaki and show you how to live a leisurely life.

The regions of Crete

The four main areas are Heraklion, Lassithi, Rethymno, and Chania.


Heraklion is the central and largest area of Crete with the most developed tourist infrastructure. Here, along the northern coast of the Cretan Sea, are comfortable hotels, bustling resort centers, and two waterparks. Ancient Heraklion is a city with a seaport, an international airport (3 km east of the city), various stores, souvenir shops, restaurants and disco bars. Despite the fact that Heraklion was severely damaged during the Second World War, many sights have survived to this day: temples, fortresses, and fountains. Heraklion has three Minoan palaces, including the famous Knossos, with its Minotaur labyrinth. The Minoan era finds are preserved in the large Archaeological Museum.


Rethymnon is called the "soul of the island." The area has preserved its old appearance: cobbled streets, ancient churches and mosques, and tiled roofs. In this part of Crete, the tourists are the most. Besides the postcard views, they are attracted by the mountain gorges and caves, valleys and beautiful beaches. Rethymnon is the best place to stay in Crete, whether permanently or as a "base camp" for trips around the island.

Firstly, because of its location. Rethymnon is not as far from Heraklion as Chania, but at the same time it is much closer than the capital to such attractions as the lagoon of Balos, the springs of Argyroupoli, Lake Kourna, and the Gorge of Samaria. Secondly, because of the resort surroundings, around Rethymnon, there are beautiful resort areas for both quiet and fun. Finally, Rethymnon itself is a beautiful and interesting city that rivals Chania in terms of its Byzantine heritage, old port, narrow streets, and other charms. It also has a lot of entertainment and a vibrant nightlife. Rethymnon has 16 km of nice, clean sandy beaches, among which there are intimate rocky bays and smooth sandy beaches with a gradual slope of the sea bottom. Plus, the scenery is the best. Also, there are quiet and peaceful villages on the coast, suitable for secluded and family vacations with children.


Lassithi is the sunniest and perhaps the most expensive area on the island. Moreover, Lassithi is rich in history and beautiful scenery. For example, the most beautiful bay in all of Greece, the Mirabello. The most popular resorts are Agios Nikolaos, with its famous deep-water lake, and the nearby prestigious resort of Elounda, set deep within a cozy cove. The rich natural landscape of the plateau, the most beautiful bay of Mirabello in Greece, and the variety of landscapes make the region a very attractive holiday destination. It offers the best resorts with excellent beaches and luxury hotels. The traditionally high level of tourist services, well-developed infrastructure, and many luxury hotels have made the holidays in Lassithi attractive to the most influential and famous people in the world.


Chania is the most green part of Crete. It has everything for the best vacation: incredible scenery, ancient streets (witnesses of the Venetian rule), architectural and natural attractions, and a variety of cultural life. Even if you are staying on the other side of the island, it is worth making a trip to Chania, at least for a day. Its Old Town is considered the most beautiful on the island, and the Venetian harbor is the most picturesque in all of Greece. There are many colorful tavernas and stores; the Turkish heritage is intricately mixed with Venetian, Greek, and Byzantine.

The White Mountains, 12 gorges, and Europe's largest canyon — Samaria — are all located in this region. To the south of the White Mountains lies the small district of Sfakia, known for its wild empty beaches. In the south-west of Chania stretches the plain of Kantanos, built with ancient temples, and on the coast there is Paleochora, a resort with an ancient fortress. The northwest of Chania is full of the pink sands of Elafonisi and the archaeological sites of Polirrinia and Diktyna. This destination is the best for active tourists.

Attractions of Crete

On a relatively small territory of the island, there are a huge number of natural and historical attractions: castles, monasteries, palaces, caves, bays, and parks. The landmark of Crete is the palace of Knossos, built by King Minos at the height of the Minoan civilization. A giant rectangular palace had several floors and more than a thousand asymmetrical rooms. This is where the famous Minotaur's Labyrinth was located.

One of the best monasteries on the island is the Arcadian. It is located on the slopes of Ida, 25 km from Rethymno. According to one version, the monastery walls were built in the 5th century and the Baroque church in the 16th century. Although the monastery has been destroyed by the Turks several times, it has always been rebuilt again and has never stopped. From the Arcadi Monastery in the 19th century began the revolt against the Ottoman yoke. Today, the monastery is a symbol of the fearlessness and independence of the Greeks. The ancient city of Falasarna was founded in the 8th century BC. It was a powerful city that, at one time, even minted its own coins. Archaeologists have found burials carved in the rocks; the ruins of dwellings and pottery workshops; and the remains of fortress walls.

An interesting site that has survived since Byzantine times is the fortress of Frangokastello, 85 km from Chania. It was built in the 14th century in order to protect the town from pirates and to maintain order in Sfakia, which was at that time considered a very troubled area. Mount Dikti, located to the east of the island, is where Zeus was born in a cave. In the center of Heraklion, there is one of the largest and best museums in Greece, the Archaeological Museum. Not far from the capital is the house-museum of the artist El Greco. As for the Cretan natural treasures, besides the many amazing beaches, bays, and lagoons, there is also the famous Samaria Gorge — the largest in Europe, and Lake Voulismeni, which creates the appearance of the city of Agios Nikolaos. One of the newest attractions is the Botanical Park, near the city of Chania. It appeared on the island in 2009. The park is home to hundreds of species of butterflies, wild birds, vineyards, orange trees, and date palms.

Crete's beaches

How many beaches are there in Crete? Several hundred, from tiny secluded coves to world-famous, iconic beaches. The northern part of Crete is said to be one endless beach. The best beaches are Elafonisi, with its stunning pink sand and azure sea, the pirate harbor of Balos, and Vai, with its date grove, once a hippie habitat. Elafonisi and Vai are fully equipped with umbrellas, sun loungers, and changing booths. Each beach has a parking lot. Lagoon Balos doesn't have such advantages, but it's for the best. The number of people on this wild beach is much less than on the Elafonisi, and the scenery is not worse. In addition to the white sands and sea shade of aquamarine, Balos is famous for its pirate legends. A shipwreck and an old fortress in the area prove that pirates really lived here.

Diving in Crete

On the beaches of Crete, there are dozens of diving clubs and schools. You can dive just once for fun or take a serious course with a diving certificate. Both beginners and world-famous divers come to Crete to explore the sea surroundings at shallow depths and sunken ships. The northern coast of the island is the best diving spot; the water is warmer and the sea scenery is brighter. The places of attraction for professional divers are the neighborhoods of Gives and Hersonissos. There is the so-called Anchor Graveyard near Paromno. Near Skinaria are the stunning sea canyons. Diving into the underwater volcano of Santorini is the best experience for extreme sportsmen. At Plakias, you can see cuttlefish, giant sea turtles, octopuses, and colored fish. Near Chania, divers will find the Elephant Cave, with its bright stalactites.

Shopping in Crete

Everyone knows that Greek furs are the best in the world. Often, people come here specifically for a fur coat. However, lovers of shopping in Crete will not be bored, even if you do not plan to buy expensive fur. On the island, you can buy things with stunning handmade lace, high-quality woolen clothing, sheepskin rugs and blankets, leather accessories, and handmade shoes. The local natural cosmetics are also great. It is based on olive oil, herbs, and seaweed. Crete is famous for its gold jewelry. It is sold in many different shades, and you can find exclusive creations in the stores.

The best souvenirs from Crete are olives and local olive oil, Greek honey, mountain tea, and high-quality local brandy or wine.

There are stores of world-famous brands, from mass-market to luxury. Sales take place in January and July. At this time on the island, you can buy clothing, shoes, and accessories with a 30–50% discount. Supermarkets on the island open at 8:30 and close at 20:00. In large resort areas, stores close at 23:00. In non-touristy towns, almost all stores close for siesta from 14:00 to 18:00, and Sunday is a day off.

What to taste on Crete?

First, of course, Greek salad and Greek yogurt. Greeks are said to live long precisely because of a diet based on fresh vegetables and the finest seafood. Both can be found at the nearest open market. The local grape snails are especially appreciated as a source of protein and a powerful aphrodisiac. It’s the best opportunity to taste it.

Be sure to try the famous Cretan tiny snacks "mezedes" and local sweets, Greek buns, and pies. "Dakos" is the Greek relative to Italian bruschetta, something in between a sandwich and a salad. It's made with barley bread with garlic and olive oil, tomatoes, olives, sheep's cheese, and basil. "Bugaca" is a puff pastry pie. This dish came here from Turkey. While the Turks make it with yogurt or cheese and call it "pagasa". Much less often, it is made with spinach or minced meat. Meat is as popular as seafood here. Every restaurant offers baked lamb "kleftiko". The traditional street food is souvlaki and gyros.

The most popular foods on the island are rice, lamb ribs, and roasted "psittos," also called Greek barbecue.

Where to eat in Crete?

The most common type of food in Crete is family taverns with colored shutters, checkered tablecloths, and exclusively homemade food. Here you will be offered a simple but very tasty meal, a glass of wine or a traditional Greek coffee. Fancy servings and refined food are not an issue in family restaurants, but they never get greedy: the portions are big enough for two. Isn't this the best way for travelers? The taverns are usually open until the last customer. Live music plays until late at night, and everyone dances the sirtaki. The fun is enlivened by the traditional throwing of inexpensive glass plates at the feet of the dancers. Dinner at a tavern will cost, on average, 40–60 EUR for two people. There is usually a menu at the entrance, so you can estimate the cost of your dinner before you go in.

In addition to taverns, English pubs are popular in Crete. The menus at beer restaurants are fairly simple: steaks, grilled meat and fish, battered appetizers, and the beer itself. Every guest is sure to get a fresh roll and butter as a compliment from the pub. Pubs usually play rock and roll and have sports on TV. In large cities and resort towns, you may find coffee houses. In addition to the usual espresso and cappuccino, the local coffee shop offers traditional Greek coffee brewed on the sand.

Crete for children

Your kids will love local sea aquariums. The best one, CRETAquarium, is part of the Center for Marine Research in Greece and is considered to be one of the largest in the country and the whole Mediterranean. CRETAquarium is located east of Heraklion. More than 2500 fish, mollusks, and other organisms live here. The glass basins are designed in a way reminiscent of the sea relief, and the inhabitants wander back and forth a few meters away from the visitors, so even the most skeptical visitor gets the feeling of being underwater.

The aquarium-terrarium called Aquaworld is a private initiative. Its kind-hearted owners take in all aquatic animals and reptiles abandoned by their owners. To make enough money to maintain the shelter, they turned it into an aquarium and opened it to tourists. The owners of Aquaworld personally give tours to children and adults, they tell stories about each of their pets with great love and tenderness.

Another favorite vacation spot for all children is a water park. The largest water park on the island is Watercity. It is located between Heraklion and Hersonissos, near the village of Kokkini Hani. It has 13 pools, 23 slides, a couple of waterfalls, a lot of playgrounds and activities for kids. Other water parks in Crete are Acqua Plus, Limnoupolis Water Park, Star Beach Water Park, and Petra Mare. The family park, Labyrinth, is located near Hersonissos. There is a maze, an ATV ride, a movie theater, a garden, an excursion program, and a theme café, reminiscent of an ancient Greek city.

Weather in Crete

Crete has a mild subtropical climate with an optimal humidity of around 50%. There are over 300 days of sunshine per year, and the swimming season lasts from mid-April to mid-November. The unique combination of sunshine, sea breeze, and mountain air makes a vacation on the island a real gift for travelers tired of the fast city life. For those who do not like the intense heat, the best time for vacation in Crete is in June or September.