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After returning back home from my perfect Greek vacation, I realized that I still feel so inspired that we can discuss the top things to see in Crete on my blog forever. As the largest Greek island, Crete has so much to offer to its visitors – the iconic places from Greek Mythology, the unmatched paradise beaches, and the romantic fishing villages. Not to mention the beyond-delicious local cuisine …

Nevertheless, I feel like all of these were not the only reasons this getaway has made it to my list of favorite trips ever. When a certain place feels special – it simply does.

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My perfect Greek vacation

The loyal blog readers would know about my lifelong love story going on with Greece. When I wrote a post about my top experiences to fall in love with Greece – that was only my first step while tapping into everything I liked and enjoyed across the country. I am already daydreaming to return to Greece again and surprise you with new travel stories.

First time I visited Greece with my parents: we stayed a week at the cost of the Peloponnese and got to explore Athens. My second trip to Greece turned out to be my very first Mediterranean Cruise, which included stops in Rhodes and Santorini. A few years after I was already planning a new trip to the Greek islands – with 2 days in Mykonos and 4 days in Crete. Not to mention my numerous getaways to Cyprus (which despite being a separate country has an undeniable Greek vibe).

By the time you will be reading this post about Crete – who knows how many more Greek adventures have already happened in my life…I will try to keep you updated though!

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Happy to explore the top things to see in Crete

About Crete

With a population of more than 600,000, Crete is the 5th largest island in the Mediterranean.

Crete is known for its top place in Greek Mythology since it was the birthplace of the King of the Gods – the almighty Zeus. Moreover, Crete was once the center of the Minoan civilization (dating back to 2700 B.C.). One of Crete´s most iconic historical sites, Knossos, is considered Europe’s oldest city.

Why visit Crete?

Crete is one the islands with the most complete travel experience I have ever seen (even compared to the diverse Spanish Islands): the list of things to see in Crete is really long.

History lovers will know it as the birthplace of Zeus, full of unique spots from Greek Mythology and impressive Minoan sites. The fans of European small-town charm will enjoy Crete´s romantic fishing villages and historical fortresses. Nature lovers will be surprised by a few challenging hikes. Even if you’re simply searching for a new beach getaway – Crete will absolutely fit the bill.

Don´t forget the delicious and homemade local cuisine of Crete. While I am a bit biased on this one, with Greek food being one of my all-time favorites (alongside the Spanish food, of course) – I haven’t met anyone who´s been to Crete and did not enjoy eating there. For this trip, I packed several tight-fitting dresses and ended up sucking up my stomach all the time. So, get yourself some stretchy pants and oversized dresses – we only live once!

If you are on a mission to see as many of Crete´s epic sights as you possibly can – this post about top things to see in Crete might come in really handy.

Crete - views on the road
Views on the road around Crete
a Crete landscape - sea, mountains and olive trees
Views on the road

When to visit Crete

This time I was visiting Crete in September and felt that it was a perfect moment to enjoy the island. It was still touristy, but the peak season has already ended. Yet the weather was totally summer-like.

How to get to Crete

Our flight was from Barcelona to Heraklion. Another alternative for plane travels is Chania. Besides seasonal international offers, both Heraklion and Chania have a constant connection with Athens and Thessaloniki all year round. There’s a third tiny airport on Crete – Sitia/Lassithi, but it only offers domestic flights in summer.

best things to see in crete
Greek salad in Agios Nikolaos

Where to stay in Crete

Crete has surprised me with reasonable prices for apartments and restaurants (unless you go to the biggest cities and the most touristy sights). We stayed two nights in Heraklion: one after arrival, and another one – before the departure (basically not to rush to pick up and drop off our rented car).

For the next 3 days in Crete, we drove to a wonderful hidden bay in Kato Zakros, where we had booked Yannis Retreat (this place is amazing for those of you seeking to hide away from the rest of the world for a few days).

Also, it was quite a road to get there. Especially as driving in Crete was all about sharp turns and mountain roads (not quite as rough as the Masca road in Tenerife, but still it slowed down my initial sightseeing plans).

On the other hand, driving around toward the less touristy areas was the best way to get an authentic taste of the island. A few times on the road we saw tiny Cretan villages, where some local senior women would be dressed in all-black. My husband said his grandmother in Spain used to dress up like that (after her husband had died), but he hasn’t seen it anywhere across Spain for the past 20 years.

Yannis retreat - Kato Zakros, Crete, Greece
Yannis Retreat
Pmgranates at Yannis retreat, Kato Zakros, Crete
The pomegranate season was around the corner
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Waking up to this view in Crete

The owners of Yannis Retreat were very friendly and left us a welcome basket with local seasonal products. At times it felt like we were visiting friends.

The whole retreat had around 6-7 guest houses: each one with a small kitchen(+fridge), bathroom, and balcony terrace. The territory was full of plants, fruit trees, hammocks, and Greek decorations.

A beach (with no sand though) was within a 5-min walking distance. There were several very local restaurants on the coast: all of them had deckchairs. If ordering lunch in one of them, you´d be offered to use those for free all day long. Not to mention a lunch would hardly cost us more than 35-40 euros (for 2): including fresh fish (different every day, depending on what the fishermen brought), homemade wine, local fruits, and salad… everything was homemade and so delicious.

Crete has many family-owned places with lovely hosts and budget-friendly prices. However, the most lonesome and romantic ones usually are far away from the main sights.

Top things to see in Crete

*this post has been updated on August 2023 with new things to see in Crete (During our first 4-day Crete itinerary we only managed to visit Heraklion, Agios Nikolaos, and Vai Beach).

1. Samaria Gorge

One of the top things to see in Crete for nature lovers is Samaria Gorge.

It is one of the most impressive natural wonders on the whole island. Samaria Gorge is formed by massive rocks and the turquoise waters run in between. Here, you can take a chance to hike through one of the longest gorges in Europe.

The gorge is open from May to October and gets really busy in summer. Although this trail is considered quite challenging – you will need from 4 to 6 hours to complete it.

The easiest way to do the Samaria Gorge hike is by booking a tour. However, you can also go on your own by taking a bus from Chania to Xyloscalo.

Samaria Gorge, Crete, Greece
Samaria Gorge

2. Heraklion

Heraklion is one of those big touristy island capitals I normally try to avoid. But this time I didn´t regret having a day in Heraklion. The Archaeological Museum here is a must for the history geeks since it´s one of the top places in the world to view Minoan art. Built-in the 1930s, it holds many different archaeological treasures discovered in Crete. The most famous piece on a global scale is Phaistos Disk: the meaning of its symbols is rising debates till the present day.

Also read: The impressive Roman mosaics in Cyprus

Also, in Heraklion, you will find the 16th Century Fortress of Koules. For now, the historical site is closed for entry, but you can still have a look at the structure from the outside. Don’t miss the local Cathedral of St.Minas – another impressive 19th-century building on Crete.

The Morosini Fountain (from 1628) is located in the heart of Heraklion city. It was once connected to a 14-km aqueduct and provided drinking water for the citizens.

On our last day in Crete, we really enjoyed shopping in the Old Town, and a nice Heraklion waterfront stroll. My husband was most impressed when he got a pork kebab in one of the local food stands (since usually, the kebab places don´t serve pork meat).

Views from Herbs Garden Restaurant in Heraklion, Crete
Views from Herbs Garden Restaurant in Heraklion
best places in crete
The Archaeological Museum
The Morosini Fountain in Heraklion

3. Agios Nikolaos

Agios Nikolaos is such a cute small town. Its uniqueness is granted by the picturesque Lake Voulismeni – a small lagoon in the heart of the city, used as a harbor for fishing boats. Here, we had a lovely lunch with views and did some souvenir shopping. I got new Greek sandals, a T-shirt and a dress (you can see me rocking all of these in my Mykonos pictures).

Lake Voulismeni in Agios Nikolaos in Crete
Lake Voulismeni in Agios Nikolaos

3. Vai Beach

Vai Beach is touristy, but still worth a visit. I haven’t seen that many palm trees together since the Palm Grove of Elche, a must-stop on every Alicante road trip in Spain.

Some claim the famous Bounty advert was filmed here, at Vai Beach (although others assure it was shot in Thailand or New Zealand). But who cares?! – Vai Beach definitely looks like the place from the Bounty advert, it´s all that matters!

Also read: The Blue Lagoon – A Carribean Paradise in Cyprus

A huge palm tree forest nearby Vai Beach was quite impressive. You could also buy some local bananas – the tastiest I´ve ever had, by the way. To enjoy Vai Beach must go earlier in the morning, after 11 a.m it gets too crowded. For the record, we were one of the first cars to arrive and in an hour the parking was already complete.

We only stayed for one hour at Vai Beach, in order to be able to explore other top things to see in Crete.

crete vai beach
explore crete vai beach
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The stunning Vai Beach

5. Knossos Palace

Knossos Palace is Europe’s oldest city and the most important center of Minoan civilization. Just have a look at those stunning frescoes and impressive Throne Room.

The Palace is one of the most emblematic things to see in Crete. Many visitors here get disappointed since they expect to see the famous Minotaur´s Labyrinth from Greek Mythology. While the famous British archaeologist Arthur Evans, who excavated the site between 1900 and 1935, believed the labyrinth was located in Knossos, it was actually never found. Also, there are other possible labyrinth locations, like the cave complex near Gortyn. So, you can choose your own truth here.

 Throne Room in Knossos, Crete
Throne Room in Knossos

6. Preveli Beach

More palms are on the radar! Don´t miss a chance to climb down and visit Preveli Beach. It might not be the first place to pop up when you start researching the top thing to see in Crete. But it´s such a unique natural setting!

Also read: Best beaches in Spain Off The Beaten Path

Preveli Beach is surrounded by a palm tree forest and there´s a small stream running through the center out to sea.

Preveli beach, Crete
Preveli Beach

7. Chania

Chania is known as one of the prettiest Cretan harbor cities. I have heard about this place long before visiting Crete: I saw by accident one interview with Jennifer Aniston, where she said he father was born in Chania and she went there for a vacation to meet up with Greek relatives.

Chania´s Old Town is the best place in Crete to wander around in search of unique stores, local restaurants, souvenir shops, and traditional taverns. Its architecture has a Venetian vibe and differs from other cities on the island.

Don’t miss the Venetian Lighthouse and some epic sunset views around it. Other interesting places in Chania are the Maritime Museum of Crete and Firkas Fort.

Chania Harbour, Crete
Chania Harbour

More things to see in Crete

As I’ve already mentioned, there’s so much to see in Crete you would need a few weeks to cover it all. But even with one week in Greece and a few days in Crete – it´s a good start. No matter how many days you have for this Crete getaway – the island is worth visiting.

Below, I leave you more places I considered visiting in Crete but simply had no time to see it all. Anyway, now I have a good reason to come back!

  • More beaches in Crete: Tersanas, Seitan Limania, Falasarna, Stavros, Elafonisi, Kedrodasos, Agia Fotia, Agiofarago
  • More hikes&nature in Crete: Imbros Gorge, Lake Kournas, Balos Lagoon, Melidoni Cave
  • More historical sites in Crete: Spinalonga Island, Holy Trinity Monastery, Sacred Monastery of Arkadi, and The Cave of Zeus (also Psychro Cave or Dikteon Cave).
  • More fishing villages in Crete: Loutro, Sissi, Chora Sfakion, Makrygialos

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a perfect Greek Islands vacation on Crete

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This post is linked up with The Weekly Postcard and Feet Do Travel