The fifth-largest island in the Mediterranean was the birthplace of Europe’s earliest civilisation, which flourished about 2700 BC. You may learn about the Minoans by visiting Bronze Age archaeological sites all throughout the island, as well as the spectacular Archaeological Museum in Heraklion’s capital.
The palaces and cities of King Minos, Daedalus, and Icarus blur the borders between fact and Greek mythology. The Venetians also left an indelible mark on Crete’s towns, constructing ports, fortifications, and fortresses that can still be seen in Heraklion, Chania, and Rethymno centuries later.
Away from the city, the island is dotted with mountain ranges and gorges, including the life-changing Samaria, as well as some of the most stunning beaches you’ll ever see. Let’s Check Best Things To Do In Crete.
Heraklion, Minoan Crete’s capital, was located a few kilometers south of Crete’s current capital.
In the 18th century BC, Knossos was the name of a palace and its surrounding city, which had a population of up to 100,000 people. The palace was built some 3,000 years ago and is known in Greek mythology as King Minos’ throne when he commissioned Daedalus to construct a labyrinth to house his son, the Minotaur.
Knossos was hit by a series of natural disasters, including invasions, earthquakes, and the Theran Eruption in 1625 BC. It was first excavated in 1900 by Arthur Evans, a British archaeologist who restored some of the building and frescoes.
You may visit the wide reception courtyard where the royal family would entertain guests, the Throne Room, Sanctuary, and the Royal Apartments, which are built on four storeys, by walking a segment of the Royal Way in the direction of the coast.
2: Heraklion Archaeological Museum
Look no further than Heraklion’s superb archaeological museum to properly comprehend Europe’s oldest civilization. This museum houses the world’s largest collection of Minoan relics, with 20 rooms arranged chronologically. You’ll begin in Neolithic ages, long before Crete’s palaces were created, and you’ll see jewellery, liturgical figurines, vases, weapons, and armour in the chambers that follow.
The museum has acquired entire frescoes from Minoan sites on Crete, as well as the iconic ivory figurine of the bull leaper from Knossos Palace. The Phaistos Disc, 15 cm in diameter and covered with symbols organised in a spiral, is one relic that has remained a mystery.
The Arkalochori Axe, discovered in the same cave and carved with 15 symbols, is another artefact with unusual inscriptions.
3: Elafonisi Beach
Elafonisi Beach, often referred to as one of the world’s nicest beaches, must be seen to be believed.
The beach is a nature reserve on the mainland’s waterway with Elafonisi, a rectangular island known for its pink sand beaches and dunes.
The water between the mainland and the island is clear, shallow, and lagoon-like, and you can frequently walk between them on sand bars without getting wet.
There’s a huge natural pool where you can paddle or float in dazzling water that’s only ankle or knee deep.
With the white beach, turquoise water, an azure sky, and views of Crete’s rugged southwest coast, you’ve got yourself a small slice of paradise.
4: Balos Lagoon
Balos Lagoon is a beach that rivals Elafonisi in terms of beauty and is one of Crete’s most iconic images. Balos is 60 kilometers northwest of Chania and is accessible by ferry from Kissamos, which is 18 kilometers distant. The lagoon is sandwiched between two capes, Gramvousa and Tigani, and it traps a pool of shallow, turquoise water that is both attractive and safe.
If you travel by car, the walk down the rough hillside is an adventure in itself, and you’ll round a corner to see the lagoon surrounded by white sand against Tigani’s granite mass.
By boat, you’ll be able to see the Gramvousa islands up close, including Imeri Gramvousa, which features a historic fort erected by the Venetians.
5: Samaria Gorge
Walking this ravine the real way, from the Omalos Plateau, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The 16-kilometer journey begins at a viewing platform at the bottom of a winding route and wooden steps, where you’ll be knocked off your feet by the nearly 300-meter-high granite walls.
The valley will narrow along the way to a section known as the “Gates” or “Iron Gates,” when the gorge tapers to just four metres broad. Look up as you walk to see the endangered kri-kri, a type of feral goat that can easily scale even the steepest of cliff cliffs.
The coastal community of Agia Roumeli is three kilometers from the gorge’s end, where you can catch a ferry to Sougia in the west or Sfakia in the east.
6: Rethymno Old Town
The island’s third-largest city also boasts the island’s best-preserved old town. The city’s tight cobblestone streets, which were once behind walls, were built out in the 14th century while Crete was in the hands of the Republic of Venice, and have kept their Renaissance houses, arches, and catholic churches.
The Neratze Mosque is the edifice that most encapsulates Rethymno’s turbulent past. This building began life as a Venetian church before being converted to a mosque for nearly 300 years, until 1925. It is now Rethymno’s municipal odeon, which hosts regular music performances.
The 17th-century Loggia and the Rimondi Fountain from 1629, framed by two pairs of Corinthian columns adjacent to a Gothic arch, are among the Venetian monuments that have survived in Rehtymno.
7: Arkadi Monastery
None of Crete’s notable man-made and natural features mean as much to its people as this monastery, which is located just over 20 kilometres southeast of Rethymno.
The Arkadi Monastery, which is said to have been founded by the Byzantine emperor Arcadius in the 5th century, sits on a plateau surrounded by vineyards, olive trees, and oak trees. The current structure dates back to a 16th-century restoration in the early Venetian Baroque style.
It was known for its gold embroidery and extensive library during the Ottoman period. Then, in 1866, during the Cretan Revolt, 943 Greeks, mostly women and children, locked themselves in the monastery and held out for three days against the Ottomans.
When the Cretans chose martyrdom over capitulation, they fired their gunpowder barrels, bringing the siege to a horrific end. The location has been designated as a Greek national shrine, and the anniversary of the explosion, November 8, is commemorated in Arkadi and Rethymno.
8: Lake Voulismeni
In the eastern village of Agios Nikolaos, this odd body of water is surrounded by boats, coffee shops, and restaurants.
Because a waterway was built in 1870, Lake Voulismeni is no longer properly a lake. It is connected to the town’s harbour and the sea. Despite the lake’s narrow width of only 137 metres, the water appears to be quite deep due to its blackness. The lake has a local tradition that it is bottomless, although that is a big fiction given that it only reaches a maximum depth of 64 metres.
Stop by for a coffee and a view of the fish during the day, or a supper and a view of the lights on the water in the evening. The majority of the town gathers on the water’s edge on the Saturday night before Orthodox Easter for a fireworks display and to light their own firecrackers.