Crete

Travel Guide at a Glance
  • Best time to travel: April - October
  • Getting there: By Ferry By Air
  • Getting around: car/moped, bus, boat, foot
  • Combine with: Crete is a destination in itself. It can take months just to explore the island alone and it offers enough variety to keep every traveler happy with the multitude of holiday styles it offers.
Destination best for: Crete is a very large island. You will find a spot for sightseeing, relaxation, swimming, isolation, party, night life, shopping, archaeological site, historical site, museum, folklore, family vacation, and many places off the beaten path!
Visitors rating:

Picture of Chania old town.
Chania old town
Chania is only a small highlight among a plethora of spectacular and diverse destinations Crete has to offer!

Introduction

Crete (Creta, Κρήτη) is the largest Greek island and one of the most popular travel destinations of Greece. It is located at the southernmost end of the country and as such it enjoys a prolonged period of fair weather that starts early in the spring and lasts well into October.

The island's illustrious history, it's unique culture, it's people, and the diverse landscape render Crete a favorite destination with thousands of repeat visitors each year. One can find here a vacation spot for every style: from meditating isolation, to extreme nature hikes, to intense night life.

The northern coast of the island is the most developed and a host to the four largest cities - Agios Nikolaos, Chania, Heraklion, and Rethymo - which act as either the first stop of an island exploration, or as travel destinations in their own right. Heraklion is the largest city of the island and one of the the major metropolitan centers of Greece. It hosts the largest port and the main airport of the island, and thus it receives the bulk of the visitors first. Chania and Rethymno to a smaller extend have ferry connections of their own.

Crete's interior alternates between rugged mountains and fertile plateaus, while it's southern coast offer some of the most quiet and isolated spots in Europe. It's entire coastal perimeter is laced with superb beaches, villages, resorts, and historical sites of every kind.

Given the size and diversity of the island, it is best to visit Crete on an extended holiday. While it is possible to see much on a two week vacation, realistically it would take over a month (or multiple visits) to absorb it all comfortably.

History

Crete is host to the first European advanced culture: the Minoan civilization flourished between 3000 and 1100 BCE, and bejeweled the island with a plethora of archaeological remains of remarkable sophistication. The Minoan palaces of the Bronze Age featured elegant stylistic refinement, indoor plumbing, beautiful wall frescoes, and multi-level architectural plans of such complexity that they are identified with the mythic labyrinths.

The Minoans were a powerful maritime power and dominated the eastern Mediterranean both commercially and militarily. It is a testament to their powerful navy that none of the excavated palaces have defensive walls, and none of the grave offerings include weapons (which are found only in the graves of the very last stage of the Minoan era). Goods from Crete have been found through the eastern Mediterranean coast, and there is evidence that they dominated culturally, commercially, and militarily the islands of the Aegean as well as the southern parts of the Greek mainland.

Read more about Ancient Crete.

The Minoan civilization lasted of about 2000 years in the Bronze Age, but the island's history did not end with their demise. Extensive artifacts from the Geometric and Archaic periods show that the island's culture was still active, albeit it diminished in importance well into the Classical and Hellenistic eras. Crete enjoyed a revival in importance under Roman administration and was part of the Eastern Roman Empire (otherwise known as the Byzantine Empire) from the 4th century CE.

Throughout its long history Crete has been one of the most important and contested islands by every major maritime empire that coveted it's strategic location at the center of the eastern Mediterranean.

The Arabs conquered the island in 820 and formed the Emirate of Crete until the Byzantines reconquered the island in 961 CE. When the Fourth Crusade dissolved the Byzantine Empire briefly in 1204 Crete became the property of Boniface of Montferrat who sold the entire island to Venice in 1205. Venice's rivals, the Genoese controlled large parts of the island for a brief period, but eventually the island passed and remained under Venetian administration (named the kingdom of Candia) for several centuries until its conquest by the Ottoman Empire who formed the Walis of Crete in 1699.

The Ottomans retained control of Crete until the end of the 19th century. The Cretan revolt of 1866 resulted in an independent Cretan state in 1898, and the eventual unification of the island with Greece in 1912.

 

Things to do

Beaches

Balos beach in northwestern CreteSome of the best beaches of Greece are located in the island of Crete:

 

See more about the beaches of Crete

The Choices

For a typical two-week holiday choose one part of the island and plan to explore it with a rental car or the local bus lines.

For the best beaches stay on the east part of the island, in Chania or Kissamos, although you will be able to find great beaches all around the island. For quiet relaxation choose either eastern Lasithi or the southern coast of Heraklion. For extreme partying the stretch east of Heraklion all the way to Malia that includes wildly popular with youth Chersonisos.

If you want to explore ancient Crete make Heraklion your base and most archaeological sites and museums will be within a day trip by car - except for Zakros and Palekastro that would be best visited on an overnight trip to eastern Lasithi.

Some of the most luxurious resorts dot the land around Agios Nikolaos, and both Chania and Rethymno offer that certain Greek island atmosphere and cityscape that attract large crowds of visitors each year.

Travel Advice and Guide

BEST TIME TO GO

Given it's location to the southern tip of Greece, Crete enjoys an extended tourist season. Chances are good that the weather will be favorable from April till October.

GETTING THERE

Many charter flights from Europe fly directly to Heraklion along with connection flights from Athens. Several ferries per day connect Pireas (Athens) to the same city, while fewer sail to Chania or Rethymno. More...

Don't Miss

WHAT'S NEARBY

In the summer there might be ferries connecting Heraklion with Santorini, and less infrequent ones connecting Sitia with Karpathos and Chania with Kythera. None of these trips would be possible one-day cruises though.

TIPS & ADVICE

Given that many beautiful parts of the island would require you to drive on dirt roads, if you rent a car, make sure it's a rugged one.

Photo Gallery

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