What to see in Crete?! That´s not an easy question to answer as this largest Greek island has so much to offer: you won´t believe it till you visit it yourself! Just keep this in mind: in Crete, you can find everything you need for a perfect vacation. No matter your personal holiday choices and preferences! History geeks, nature lovers, beach aficionados, photography freaks, family travelers, and solo adventurers – your amazing vacation time in Crete is just a matter of wise planning. You´ll be seriously spoilt for choice!

What to see in Crete, Greece - Pinterest

A perfect Greek Island vacation: Crete

Why visit?

Here´s a short recap of all the things you´ll find in Crete: the impressive Minoan sites, the iconic places from Greek Mythology, the most romantic fishing villages, a few challenging hikes, some spiritual churches, unique historical fortresses, unmatched paradise beaches, breathtaking views, and even a few lonesome places to hide away from the rest of the world.

Not to mention the local cuisine: I packed with me several tight-fitting dresses and ended up sucking up my stomach all the time. Get yourself some stretchy pants and oversized dresses, we only live once!

So, what to see in Crete?! – Unless you’re into a lazy beach getaway, your mission should be visiting as much of Crete´s epic sights as you could possibly manage.

Crete - views on the road
Views on the road

Crete´s iconic historical sites

You might think that there are actually many impressive Greek Islands out there, what makes Crete so special?

First of all, with a population of more than 600,000, Crete is the 5th largest island in the Mediterranean. Add to this the very special place Crete has in the Greek Mythology: an island was the birthplace to the King of the Gods – the almighty Zeus. And as if it would not be enough – 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.

Also read: Top Experiences to Fall in Love with Greece

Besides, you already know how much I try to avoid visiting the same place twice. There are way too many destinations on my ever-increasing travel bucket list. Well, Crete is the first one on my “revisit list”, cause there were so many places we just couldn´t cover. No way you can do it all in a week!

But before we start with “what to see in Crete” list, I´d love to share with you my little secret safe heaven…

Where to stay?

Crete has surprised me with reasonable prices for apartments and restaurants (unless you go for the biggest cities and the most touristic sights). We’ve chosen a place called Yannis Retreat in Kato Zakros.

This place is amazing for those of you seeking to hide away from the rest of the world for a few days. Also, it is quite a drive to get there. Especially as driving in Crete is all about sharp turns and mountain roads (not quite as rough las the Masca road in Tenerife, but still it slows down your sightseeing plans significantly). I honestly did not expect the high mountains within the range of Cretan landscapes.

However, driving around towards the less touristic areas is the only way you could get an authentic taste of the island.

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

Finding a Save Heaven: Yannis Retreat in Kato Zakros

Let me share with you more details from our stay. The owners of Yannis Retreat were very friendly and left us a welcome basket with local seasonal products. In general, it felt like we were visiting friends. The retreat had around 6-7 houses, each one with a small kitchen(+fridge), bathroom, balcony-terrace. The territory was full of plants, fruit trees, hammocks, and greek decorations.

A beach (with no sand though) was within a 5-minutes 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.

Yannis retreat - Kato Zakros, Crete, Greece
Yannis Retreat

Crete has many family-owned places with lovely hosts and budget-friendly prices. Although the most lonesome and romantic ones are normally far away from the main sights: you´ll need to set up your vacation priories from the very beginning! If your goal is sightseeing, a place like Yannis Retreat is too far away from everything. You can definitely escape and relax for a few days, but keep in mind those mountainous roads I´ve already told you about!

We stayed several days in the small village of Kato Zakros because we really wanted to see the less touristic side of Crete. Then a few days near Heraklion and Chania to visit some of the main sites.

Pmgranates at Yannis retreat, Kato Zakros, Crete
Yannis Retreat

Places not to miss: What to see in Crete?

1. Samaria Gorge

A must stop and one of the most impressive natural wonders on the island of Crete. Samaria Gorge is about massive rocks separated by crystal waters, where you can hike through one of the longest gorges in Europe!

Samaria Gorge, Crete, Greece
Samaria Gorge

2. Heraklion

Heraklion is one of those big touristic island capitals I normally try to avoid. However, history geeks, an Archaeological Museum here is a must! 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.

Also read: The impressive Roman mosaics in Cyprus

You might have heard of the world´s archaeological marvel – Phaistos Disc. It is covered on both sides with symbols and archaeologists still can´t claim with all certainty what´s on it! There are lots of debates, but no official announcement on the meaning till the present day! Phaistos Disc is displayed in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion – come and try to read it yourself!

Also, don´t miss 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.

Views from Herbs Garden Restaurant in Heraklion, Crete
Views from Herbs Garden Restaurant in Heraklion

3. Agios Nikolaos

Agios Nikolaos is such a lovely little town, mainly because of its picturesque Lake Voulismeni – a small lagoon in the heart of the city, used as a small harbor for the fishing boats. Here, we had a lovely lunch with views and did some souvenir shopping.

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

3.Vai Beach

I haven’t seen that many palms together since the Palm Grove (Palmeral) of Elche. Some claim the famous Bounty advert was filmed here. Not sure about that – I’ve heard of at least 4 perfect beach locations where it was filmed. But who cares?! – Vai Beach looks like the place from Bounty advert – it´s all that matters!

Also read: The land of never-ending summer – A Guide to Cyprus

A huge palm forest nearby is quite impressive. You could also buy some local bananas – the tastiest I´ve ever had, by the way. Sorry to state the obvious: you must go earlier in the morning, after 11 a.m Vai Beach gets too crowded. For the record, we were one of the first cars to arrive and in an hour the parking was complete. Not quite a Bounty place… so we didn’t stay there long. But it´s definitely worth a visit.

a paradise Vai Beach with lots of palms /  Crete, Greece
Vai Beach

5. Knossos Palace

Archaeology and history lovers can´t miss this place: Knossos Palace – Europe’s oldest city and the most important center of Minoan civilization. Have a look at the stunning frescoes and impressive Throne Room.

Many people get disappointed here because they expect to see the famous Minotaur´s Labyrinth from Greek Mythology. But the labyrinth itself has never been found and there are other possible locations for it, like the cave complex near Gortyn. However, a famous British archaeologist Arthur Evans, who excavated the site between 1900 and 1935, believed the labyrinth was located in Knossos.

Throne Room in Knossos, Crete
Throne Room in Knossos

6. Preveli Beach

More palms 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 what to see in Crete. But it´s such a unique location!

Also read: Best beaches in Spain Off The Beaten Path

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

Preveli beach, Crete
Preveli Beach

7. Chania

One of the prettiest Cretan harbor cities, Chania´s Old Town is the best place to wander around in search of unique shops, local restaurants, souvenir shops, and traditional taverns! Don’t miss the Venetian Lighthouse and some epic sunset views!

Chania Harbour, Crete
Chania Harbour

What´s left for the next visit?! More travel ideas

As I’ve already mentioned, there’s so much to see and do on Crete that it is hard to see it all in a week or two. It´s like one week in Greece – never enough, but perfect to kick off and start getting to know the culture, food, and history!

Here I leave you more places we considered to visit, but simply had no time to cover everything we wanted. Crete really has so much to offer, whether you’re a nature or history lover, or even if you plan a simple laid-back beach vacation, – you’ll have plenty of choices. One way or another, you´ll have a good reason to come back!

More beaches: Tersanas, Seitan Limania, Falasarna, Stavros, Elafonisi, Kedrodasos, Agia Fotia, Agiofarago.

More hikes&nature: Imbros Gorge, Lake Kournas, Balos Lagoon, Melidoni Cave

More historical sites: Spinalonga Island, Holy Trinity Monastery, Sacred Monastery of Arkadi, The Cave of Zeus Crete (also Psychro Cave or Dikteon Cave).

More fishing villages: 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