Best Places to Visit in Crete
Crete is unlike any other island in Greece, with more than 1,000 kilometers of coastline and stunning beaches backed by mountains at 2,400 meters above sea level. It is the largest of the Greek islands and the fifth largest in the Mediterranean.
Crete’s main attractions are the incredible golden sands and turquoise waters of the Mediterranean, but the island is also an important Minoan archaeological site, gorgeous canyons, Venetian harbors and castles, and beautiful cities and places to get away from home. a seaside town with a comfortable pace of life.
On the north coast are the centuries-old port towns and cities of Chania, Rethymnon, Heraklion and Agios Nikolaos, the island’s most popular tourist destinations. Crete’s best shopping, nightlife, museums and cultural attractions are all located on the north coast.
On the far south coast, facing Africa across the Libyan Sea, are quaint seaside villages where you can escape the main tourist attractions. This is the perfect place for travelers looking for a quiet escape but still wanting to enjoy a beach holiday.
The scenic, mountainous interior is home to charming whitewashed villages with narrow winding streets, along with fertile land where you’ll find much of the country’s agriculture. Good roads and highways connect cities on the north coast with towns on the south coast and facilitate beautiful roads through the mountains.
Have a look at our list of the Best Places to Visit in Crete and make your trip enjoyable.
10 Best Places to Visit in Crete
Let’s explore the top 10 Most Beautiful and Best Places to Visit in Crete:
1. The Beaches of Crete
Spending time on the island’s beautiful beaches is one of the top things to do for most tourists who come to Crete in the spring and autumn. Not all beaches here are created equal. Some of Crete’s beaches are pebbly, but others are among the most beautiful soft sands in the world, and the sea is clear and turquoise in the Mediterranean sun.
The most famous beaches are Elafonissi and Balos, known for their white and pink sand, or Balos Lagoon as it is commonly known. Both are within striking distance of Chania. While these are must-sees, they’re just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Crete’s stunning beaches.
Head to the far south coast for spectacular views. Here, in the end, you will find Matala, a quaint town with a very beautiful beach and caves. Located at the end of the canyon and with a large cliff behind it but still accessible by a short hike, Preveli Beach is another major attraction on this side of the island.
On the north coast, you might also want to see the beaches around Agios Nikolaos in the picturesque Bay of Mirabello. One of the most popular destinations here is Voulisma Beach, but if you have time to explore further afield, Vai Beach, also known as Palm Beach, is one of the best beaches in Crete.
2. The Palace of Knossos
Knossos is the most important archaeological site in Crete. A pre-Bronze Age culture and the first naval power in the Mediterranean, the Minoans are named after the legendary Minoan king. Knossos, near the city of Heraklion, is considered the palace of the Minoan kings.
The Minoan Palace is a massive residential complex located in the center of a huge courtyard that appears to have staged a “bull jump” that involves running, grabbing its horns, and somersaulting a bull.
Knossos was abandoned around 1450 BC. Archaeologists aren’t sure why – it may have been a catastrophic earthquake following the eruption of the Santorini volcano or the destruction of Crete by invaders. Whatever the reason, the Minoans completely disappeared.
3. Agios Nikolaos
Surrounded by beautiful beaches and overlooking the scenic Mirabello Bay, Agios Nikolaos is a small and charming town on the east coast of Crete, about 65 km east of Heraklion. While definitely a tourist town, it feels much less touristy than a place like Chania.
Sights include a stroll along Lake Voulismeni, with its many seaside cafes and restaurants, and the nearby sea-facing port area. Walk from the port to Kitro Platia beach and you will pass two famous statues and enjoy breathtaking views of Mirabello Bay and the towering mountains of eastern Crete.
Near Agios Nikolaos, you can also visit the Diktean caves with stalactites and stalagmites, or climb the mountains to the hillside village of Kritsa, where local artisans sell traditional handicrafts such as leather goods, ceramics and hand-woven rugs. On the way to Kritsa, stop at Panagia Kera (Lady of Kera), a small church built in the 13th century, to admire beautiful Byzantine frescoes.
Not far from Agios Nicholas are the luxury beachfront hotels and villas of Elounda. You can go here to see Elounda, then cross the bay to see the ruins of Spinalonga Island, which was also used as a leper colony. Most people visit the island by boat departing from the port of Agios Nikolaos.
Chania, the main city in western Crete, was the island’s capital until it was moved to Heraklion in 1971. Overlooking the Aegean Sea and supported by the snow-capped White Mountains in winter, the old town’s façade dates back to centuries of Venetian rule (1204-1645). Chania is a great place to explore on foot.
The town is a romantic street with pastel-coloured buildings lining the remains of a 16th-century fortification and leading to a beautiful fishing port. The municipal market, which was established in 1911, is worth seeing with its seasonal fresh products and gifts such as Cretan cheese and honey.
Chania has an airport (12 km northeast of Akrotiri town) and is served by regular ferries from Athens’ port of Piraeus. It is an ideal base for visiting the beaches of Elafonissi and Balos, as well as for walking the Strait of Samaria.
5. Samaria Gorge
Crete is known for its excellent gorges, but the most impressive is the Strait of Samaria. It is located in Samaria National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Walking the 16 km trail that runs through the canyon is one of Crete’s most popular activities.
From Xylóskalo just outside the mountain village of Omalos, the canyon descends 1,250 meters into the Libyan Sea at Agia Roumeli on Crete’s sunny south coast. The Tarraios River, which dries up in the summer and overflows in the winter, flows along the length of the canyon and is surrounded by high cliffs. The canyon is open to visitors from May to mid-October.
While the hike is mostly downhill, most of the altitude loss occurs in the first few kilometers, the stony trails are a bit challenging and not recommended for those with knee problems. This is a must for hikers who don’t mind a day hike.
The hike can take between four and six hours depending on your physical condition, but if transportation is available, plan at least 12 hours a day between your departure and return from your hotel in Chania. It’s a one-way walk with ferry and bus rides that take visitors back to the city.
Most people trek as part of an organized trekking day trip from Chania, which takes care of all your transportation. You can also take a Samaria Gorge walk from Heraklion, but it makes for a long day.
The island’s capital, Heraklion, is a pleasant surprise for first-time visitors. The Old Town is a maze of charming pedestrian streets lined with shops and restaurants. Large trees provide plenty of shade in the square and one can linger for hours with a cup of coffee in the outdoor cafe.
Heraklion is also an obvious starting point for visiting Knossos and exploring central Crete. Like many of Crete’s best seaside towns, it achieved its current order under the rule of the Venetians, who ruled from 1204 to 1669; this is a period that saw significant cultural prosperity on the island and produced Artists such as El Greco from Fódele, near Heraklion.
The famous 20th century writer Nikos Kazantzakis (author of The Greek Zorba of 1946) is also from Heraklion and you can see his tomb inside the old walls.
Many tourists start their trips from Heraklion, which has an international airport (5 km east of the city) and a ferry terminal that connects Athens to the port of Piraeus and many other Greek islands. You can also visit Santorini on a day trip from Heraklion.
7. Heraklion Archaeological Museum
At the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, you can be sure to fully understand the history of ancient Crete. 550-year-old works are exhibited in 27 different halls. The beautiful 3500-year-old frescoes from Knossos and the glazed ceramic snake goddess dating back to 1600 BC are noteworthy. Another notable project is the Phistos Disk. Dating to 100 BC, this is a clay disc with a peculiar spiral symbol.
The pride of the place belongs to the Minoans, and their captivating murals depict proud and slender young men and women in vibrant terracotta reds, ocher yellows and cobalt blues.
This world-class museum is Heraklion’s main tourist attraction, located east of the old city.
8. Preveli Monastery
The 17th-century monastery of Preveli is located close to the top of the hill and offers expansive views of the Libyan Sea, making it a pleasant day trip from nearby towns such as Rethymnon or Georgioupoli. Highlights include courtyards and terraces, mountain springs, and a small air-conditioned museum with religious artifacts. You will also find many friendly cats waiting to greet visitors here.
There is a small fee to enter the monastery and a modest dress is required. If women’s clothing does not exceed the knees, give skirts.
A short drive from the seaside village of Plakias, the monastery is a great place for lunch. Not far from the monastery is Prevelly Beach, another popular tourist destination in Crete. The walk to the beach is a bit, but if you don’t want to go directly to the water, you can stop for the beach and seaside views.
Official website: http://www.preveli.org/files/moni/endex.htm
9. Preveli Beach
Preveli Beach is considered one of the most amazing beaches in Crete. It is located on the south coast at the mouth of a small estuary, facing the Libyan Sea, surrounded by towering cliffs on both sides.
Easily accessible by good roads from the north coast, this beach is a great day trip destination. However, be aware that you will have to walk for 30 minutes along the rocky road from the parking lot. It may not seem that hard, but getting back in the hot afternoon sun will definitely be more exhausting, so bring good shoes and plan accordingly. You can also reach Preveli Beach by boat from nearby Plakias.
If you’re out sightseeing for a day, take a trip here and stop at the nearby Preveli Monastery. Then head to Plakias for lunch and some traditional Greek food.
10. Matala Beach
Matala Beach is one of the most interesting and most visited beaches on the south coast of Crete. The beach is a huge sand arc with ancient caves lining one side of the rock wall overlooking the incredibly blue waters.
A great day trip from destinations on the north coast like Matala, Heraklion or Rethymnon. You can relax in the sun, swim, explore ancient caves and enjoy lunch at a seaside restaurant. Afterward, buy souvenirs from one of the shops on the walkway behind the beach.
The cave was the hippie paradise of the 1960s. Travelers of a certain age will recognize the name of the beach from the famous Joni Mitchell song Carey.
Hope you like our choice of the best places to visit in Crete. If you think there are some more beautiful places to visit in Crete, we should cover them. Write us below in the comment box.