The majestic and mythical Crete is Greek’s largest island, situated on the southern side of the Aegean Sea. With over 600 miles of coastline to play with, there is no shortage of beautiful beaches and scenic views. Home to ancient treasures, vibrant towns and sleepy villages, a holiday to Crete offers a taste of true Mediterranean life and a wealth of places to explore. Here’s why you should visit Crete…
Across Crete’s four main regions – Rethymno, Chania, Lasithi and Herakloin – there’s a varied terrain of mountains, caves, valleys, beaches and towns. Its wild natural beauty is one of the many reasons people gravitate here. One of the most notable landmarks are the famous snow topped White Mountains – or Lefka Ori – in western Crete. While in the south, a more rugged and untouched side of Crete exists in the form of small villages like Chora Sfakion and the billowing Kourtaliotiko Canyon.
Regions and Landmarks
The mesmerising region of Chania is largely dominated by the White Mountains and Samaria Gorge National Park. But with a charming Old Town and Venetian Harbour, it’s also a beautiful place to simply wander and take in the sights and smells of local bakeries, café’s and bars. There are also Blue Flag beaches here for enjoying the crystal clear waters.
Heraklion is the island’s capital and main entry point for visitors. The region is home to a number of great archaeological treasures including the Minoan Palace of Knossos. It’s the labyrinth of Greek Mythology. In many ways a concrete jungle of old ruins and regeneration, there is still a lot to enjoy here as the city navigates between the past and present. Beyond the noise of the bustling town and beeping scooters, you’ll find plenty of cultural offerings at your fingertips. Explore the city walls, Koules Fort, Venetian Loggia and Church of Agios Mathaios Sinaites.
Several of the surrounding towns and villages here in the eastern region of Lasithi are untouched by tourism. Some of the more refined and cosmopolitan areas include the beautiful harbour town Agios Nikolaos. Largely dominated by Voulismeni Lake, the harbour is teaming with café’s, market stills, bars and boutique shops. Nearby Elounda Beach is dotted with luxury resorts and hotels along the water’s edge making it a popular spot for families and couples wanting to experience a laid back and well kept beach. You can also explore Spinalonga Island and Schisma from here.
Slow the pace down in Rethymno. The romantic region is steeped in a fairy tale history and remnants of its Venetian and Ottoman past are evident. Admire the churches, tombs, mosques and mansions dotted around inland, while the coastal towns and beaches are where tourists set up camp in peak season. Visit the compact Venetian Harbor and Fortress in the Old Town – it’s the perfect place to sip a coffee, people watch and take a break from sightseeing.
There are so many incredible beaches throughout Crete, each offering different landscapes and attracting diverse crowds.
Visit Preveli Beach in Rethymno in the south, named after one of the largest and most important monasteries on the island called Preveli. It’s an oasis of calm and offers striking views into the Libyan Sea. For a taste of the tropics, Balos Lagoon in Chania is largely deserted on the peninsula of Gramvousa in the northwest of Crete. It’s one of the most photographed beaches for its exotic white sand which is often compared to that of the Caribbean.
Also known as Finikodassos (Palm Forest), Váï beach is the obvious choice in the region of Lassithi. Made famous in the 70s after a TV commercial, it has remained popular. In peak season, families flock here to enjoy the gently curved sweep of golden sand and surrounding palm forest of 5, 000 trees. Belegrina (Golden Beach) in the same region on Chrissi Island is a vast and beautiful beach accessed by boat.
In the urban Herakloin region, Matala Beach was best known for its hippie crowd in the 70s, striking caves and rock formations, and close proximity to Phaestus. About 80km south of Herakloin is Agiofarago Beach. Accessed by a short hiking route, this small and secluded pebble beach is perfect for rock climbing.
It’s easy to visit the Cyclades Islands from Crete. The main route is direct to Santorini via ferry. In peak season, they leave from Herakloin a couple of times a day. From there you can easily get to Naxos, Kimolos, Milos and other islands.