Journey to Crete: the unmissable experiences

Journey to Crete: the unmissable experiences

Crete has a little bit of everything. Whether you like the seaside or the mountains, excellent food or nature trips, rich history or crazy parties, Crete has you covered. Keep in mind that Crete is a big island, quite different from east to west.

When to travel to Crete

Most people will know Crete as a summer destination; however, Crete is beautiful all year round. With mild winters and sunny summers, the best time to visit depends on your taste. Personally, I prefer June and September, as it’s not very hot and at the same time the summer sunlight makes everything look better.

If food is an important part of your holiday, it’s useful to know that it changes throughout the seasons, as the Cretan diet is based on local, fresh ingredients. To be honest, I can’t decide which is better: summer’s Greek Salad, spring’s Dolmades or winter’s Smoked Pork!

What to do in Crete for a week

Let’s say you have a week to explore Crete. The first thing to do right out of the airport is to hire a car. The island is big and the best way to reach its hidden gems is by car, at your own pace.

Best places to visit in Crete

Day one: from the sea to the mountains in Chania

Chania has a lot of (very) famous beaches like Balos or Elafonisi. However, there are a lot of other beautiful places to visit. One of my favorites is Falasarna, on the west side of the island. It is a very long, tropical-colored sand beach. It is so long that it never feels crowded!

After a relaxing morning there, you can go up to Omalos, the plateau at the beginning of the famous Samaria gorge. If you are into hiking, this is a must (and you probably already know it). By the way, Crete is full of beautiful gorges all over the island.

samaria gorge creta
Samaria gorge: Photo by Kostas Vourou on  Unsplash

One more unique beach is Seitan Limania (it means “Devil’s port”), located very close to the city of Chania. I really love the scenery there, as the narrow rocks that surround it give it a special feeling.

seitan limania crete
Seitan Limania from above: Photo by Jānis Beitiņš on Unsplash

Day two: Renaissance monastery and graphic villages in Rethymno

Rethymno offers my favorite cheese selection in Crete, as it has the highest mountain on the island (where the goats live). On the way to the mountain, there are a lot of nice villages, like Spili, that I really like for a nice lunch or coffee.

One of the places I love in the Rethymno area, is the historic “Arkadi” monastery, with its rich (and rebellious) history and exceptional architecture.

Arkadi Monastery
Arkadi Monastery: Photo by Leonhard Niederwimmer on Unsplash

Day 3: folklore festivals and astronomy

If you spot a Panigiri, local music festivals usually dedicated to a saint, don’t miss it! Even if you’ve never heard Cretan music before and don’t know how to dance to it, it is an authentic living tradition worth experiencing. They are held throughout the summer all over the island, peaking on the 15th of August. The best one I’ve ever been to is in Avdou village: great local food, the best lira players and 3000 people attending every year! Go early to find a good table!

Crete is ideal for stargazing, as it has low light pollution and clear skies, so if you enjoy watching the sky, I highly recommend visiting the Skinakas observatory, located on the eponymous peak of Psiloritis. The observatory is open to the public once every month (have a look at their website to consult the opening days), sometimes with live music and tours.

The view is simply amazing, both on the island and the sea below and the stars above. Even if climbing to the mountain’s peak is just too much for you, then Arvi seaside village is the best alternative for stargazing; plus, you can have a nice swim and try my favorite local bananas!

Arvi beach crete
Arvi beach from above: Photo by Manousos Bouloukakis on Unsplash

Day 4: ancient cities, museums, and more beaches!

You have probably heard about Knossos, the palace that is so old that it was considered ancient during ancient times! Did you know that there are actually a lot of ancient cities and palaces on the island? By far my favorite archeological site is Lato, in Lasithi area, as you can really walk among the buildings and recognize what you see, even without a guide.

The archeological experience is complete, only if you visit the archeological museum in Heraklion, which displays an unbelievable collection of artifacts. Every time I visit it, I confess that I cannot take my eyes off the bull’s head.

Day 5: underwater experience and wine tasting

One of the locals’ favorite sports is scuba diving. There are numerous amazing diving spots that local diving centers can guide you to: a sunken WWII fighter plane, underwater caves or an ancient port with the bottom covered in ancient vases, still visible today!

underwater vases crete
Ancient vases on the seabed: Photo by Filippos Marakis

And what better way to enjoy the day after an exciting dive, than a wine tasting experience in the local wineries that offer varieties that only grow in Crete! I recommend you try my favorite white wine, “vidiano”, or simply try them all to find your own favorite!

Day 6: Palm tree forest and medieval monastery dining

On the east coast of the island, you will find the only natural palm tree forest in Europe, leading to a beautiful tropical beach, called Vai. I honestly cannot stop taking pictures every time I visit it.

On the way to Vai, there is a medieval monastery that is now used as a tavern! Dining there is one of my favorite subtle experiences, as the buildings and the area take you back in time.

vai crete
Palm trees on the way to Vai: Photo by Joshua Kettle on Unsplash

Day 7: The island-city and nightlife

There is a tiny island, very close to Agios Nikolaos, and 15 minutes by boat from the shore, called Spinalonga. The whole island is an old town, surrounded by medieval walls. Over the centuries, the island has been used as a pirate hideout, a fortress, and even as a hospital! Today, I love walking around the remains, as it is one of the best relaxing walks you can have: you can really feel the rich history surrounding you.

After a day trip there, you can finish the day (or start the night) in the world-famous Malia or Hersonissos nightclubs. The area is in the middle between Agios Nikolaos and Heraklion (which also have excellent nightlife). So, depending on your taste, you can spend the night in wild nightclubs or more relaxing wine bars.

Where to stay in Crete

Crete offers world-class luxury hotels, exceptional apartments, and anything in between. You can find amazing places to stay all over the island, so the only thing to consider is where you want to go.

As it is a big island, you must choose carefully: east side or west side? If you, like me, cannot decide, I would consider staying in the middle, in Heraklion, specifically in a hotel or apartment in Agia Pelagia, as it is the ideal starting point for day trips around the island.

Crete is truly an amazing island, with so many places to visit and experiences to enjoy, that you’re sure to need more than one visit to see it all. Perhaps that is why so many people choose Crete as their vacation destination every year! Mediterranean spirit, hospitality, unique beaches, gorges and mountains, great flavors and so much more… What else could you ask for?

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