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11 Best things to see & do in Crete

  • Crete, Greek Islands, Greece

Last updated: 06 May, 2023
Expert travel writer: Rachel Howard

Knossos

  • Crete, Greek Islands, Greece

Knossos

Bucket List Experience

Knossos

Knossos is one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece, the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete, and is known as Europe’s oldest city, dating back to the Neolithic period.

It was the palace of King Minos, founder of the Minoan civilisation that flourished 4,000 years ago. This is also where Theseus slayed the mythical Minotaur, after navigating through the labyrinth with the help of Minos’ daughter, Ariadne.

The size of a small town, the palace itself resembles a labyrinth. With its stunning frescoes, mosaics, ceramic vessels, and painted columns, the site is remarkably well preserved (though some archaeologists object to Arthus Evans’ partial reconstructions of the site).

Adult price: £5

Good for age: 13+

  • Crete, Greek Islands, Greece

Hike Samaria Gorge

Bucket List Experience

Hike Samaria Gorge

Running from a plateau in the White Mountains all the way down to the Libyan Sea, Samaria Gorge is one of the longest and most spectacular canyons in Europe.

Well-trodden and well-maintained, the 16-kilometre trail goes through incredibly diverse scenery. You might spot some of the 450 species of flora and fauna, alongside freshwater springs, abandoned villages, and isolated chapels. Look out for the increasingly rare kri-kri goats, an endangered breed endemic to Crete.

It’s possible to hike a much shorter route, if you start at the end point: the coastal village of Agia Roumeli, where you can cool off with a plunge into the Libyan Sea.

Good for age: 8+

Duration: 1 day

  • Crete, Greek Islands, Greece

Hike Aradena Gorge

Bucket List Experience

Hike Aradena Gorge

There are dozens of gorges on Crete; so if you’re looking for a shorter (and less busy) alternative to Samaria, the Aradena gorge ticks all the boxes.

The 7.5-km trail takes you from the ghost village of Aradena (abandoned in the 1950s, after a bloody vendetta between two local families), along very old, cobbled mule tracks (called kalderimia), crisscrossing the riverbed and climbing up and down the sheer cliffs. The rock face is covered in tiny flowers in spring. (Be warned: you need a head for heights.)

The route ends at the pebble cove of Marmara on the Libyan Sea. This beautiful, hard-to-reach beach is also home to a fantastic taverna.

Good for age: 8+

Duration: 2-3 hours

Heraklion Archaeological Museum

  • Crete, Greek Islands, Greece

Heraklion Archaeological Museum

Experience

Second only to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, the astonishing collection focuses on Minoan art. Highlights are: vivid frescoes from Knossos,  tablets inscribed with the syllabic Linear B script, and the enigmatic Phaistos disc whose spiral pictograms and signs have yet to be deciphered.

Adult price: £8

Good for age: 18+

Balos Beach [sailing]

  • Crete, Greek Islands, Greece

Balos Beach [sailing]

Experience

Crete’s luminous ‘blue lagoon’, Balos is a shallow turquoise bay with powdery sand that could be in the Caribbean. It’s a bumpy, dusty 40-minute drive down a dirt road, followed by a 30-minute hike down to the photogenic beach. For a more relaxed experience, sail there from Kissamos port with Balos Sailing.

Good for age: 4+

Spinalonga

  • Crete, Greek Islands, Greece

Spinalonga

Experience

Lepers were once marooned on this tiny island opposite Elounda. Uninhabited since 1957, it’s now a haunting national monument, accessible by fishing boat or on a day cruise. Go early: the crowds and heat get pretty intense by midday.

Good for age: 18+

  • Crete, Greek Islands, Greece

Crete’s best food & drink

Bucket List Experience

Crete’s best food & drink

Seasonal, local, and traditional, Cretan food is phenomenally fresh and tasty. With its balmy climate and diverse landscape, the island produces a vast range of amazing produce, from olive oil, honey, wine, and cheese, to more atypical crops such as avocadoes, bananas, and mangoes.

Grilled, roast, or stewed meat is much loved by locals, particularly goat and lamb, which is often free-range. There’s less of a fishing industry than on smaller islands.

Cretans are generous hosts. Portions are generally huge, and you’ll be offered shots of raki (local grappa) wherever you go.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Manousakis Winery

  • Crete, Greek Islands, Greece

Manousakis Winery

Experience

Cretan wine has come a long way since the days of home-made retsina. At the exceptionally well-run Manousakis winery, not far from Chania, tastings, pairings, and cooking classes take place in a beautiful olive and orange grove. Before you go, pick up beautifully packaged olive oil, tsikoudia (Cretan grappa), and sea salt, along with a case of the excellent Nostos Pink rosé.

Min age 18

Good for age: 18+

Manousos Chalkiadakis Ceramics

  • Crete, Greek Islands, Greece

Manousos Chalkiadakis Ceramics

Experience

In the hamlet of Paidohori, in the foothills of the White Mountains, Manousos Chalkiadakis moulds and throws clay into collectable homeware and sculpture. As well as decorative boats, pomegranates, and fish, you’ll find beautiful stoneware lamps and Cycladic-style figurines. Pottery workshops can also be arranged.

Good for age: 18+

Monastery of Arkadi

  • Crete, Greek Islands, Greece

Monastery of Arkadi

Experience

More than a religious landmark, this 16th-century monastery is a symbol of the Cretan struggle for independence from Ottoman rule. In 1866, hundreds of locals took refuge inside the monastery, but were besieged by Turkish troops; rather than surrendering, they blew themselves (and their enemies) up. The fortress-like compound is still inhabited by a handful of monks.

Good for age: 18+