The Minoans, determined to have founded Europe’s first urban culture thousands of years before the Common Era, once dominated Crete. It was also the site of a huge German invasion during World War II, when New Zealanders, British, Australian, and Greek troops all fiercely tried to protect the island. With so much history and so much natural beauty, it’s no wonder there are so many unique things to see and do on Crete Island.
Places to Visit in Crete
- Palace of Knossos
- Heraklion Archaeological Museum
- Chania Old Town
- Samaria Gorge
- Preveli Beach
- Dikteon Cave
- White Mountains
Unique Things to See and Do in Crete
- Hike the 16-kilometre route through Samaria Gorge
- Peruse the waterfront in Chania Old Town
- Relax at one of the beaches
- Eat at a Greek taverna by the sea
- Go club hopping in Heraklion
- Hike the Gorge of the Dead and visit the Minoan palace ruins
There are many ways to experience Crete’s culture firsthand. Crete is a bit of a microcosm – it does its own thing sometimes, and is a little different from the rest of Greece. Its long and rich history dating back from the Minoans through to Roman, Turkish, and German occupation (and now modern-day democracy) means that culture here is as varied as the landscape.
One way to get in touch with Cretan culture is to learn its history by visiting its archaeological sites, of which there are plenty. The most impressive is the Palace of Knossos, a late Bronze Age settlement. Knossos was the capital of Minoan Crete, and is located just beyond Heraklion. There are some extremely fine frescoes left behind here. One particularly noteworthy piece is the depiction of the Minotaur. Another impressive ancient site that doesn’t get nearly as much tourist traffic is Phaistos, with the second largest palace complex after Knossos.
The architecture around Crete is a good testament to the island’s cultural diversity. You’ll see Byzantine churches and monasteries, Venetian and Neoclassical buildings (especially in Chania), and even mosques. Cretans are great at celebrating life: music and traditional dance play an important role, and if you’re lucky enough to attend a festival or party, you’ll witness plenty of it.
Don’t pass up the opportunity to experience some small village life. Sure things may be less lively than in places like Chania or Heraklion, but you’ll see men enjoying frappe and raki while women crochet outside their homes, and you’ll likely be invited for a home cooked meal from a neighbour. Most of the population is Greek Orthodox, and if you get the chance to observe a religious holiday, you should. Some are celebrated quietly; others are subject to big colourful festivals. Name Days in particular are worth seeing. Orthodox Greeks observe their Name Day rather than their birthday!
Getting around Crete
You can fly into Crete, or you can take one of the many ferries that frequent the Greek islands. In bigger towns like Heraklion and Chania you’ll find public buses. In Heraklion, there are routes that will take you from the city to Knossos. There are also inter-city buses all around the island.
Taxis are readily available anywhere in Crete, but most are unmetered. It’s best to negotiate a fare before you get into the taxi. Ultimately, though, the best option is to hire a car. This way you can travel at leisure, and conveniently. Remember, Crete is BIG! Car rental prices vary, but if you’re not picky, you can get a decently priced vehicle.
Did you know…?
In the Odyssey of Homer, Crete was described as an island full of people from 90 different cities, and each city had its own language. Crete has always been diverse!
Did you ALSO know…?
Crete did not become a part of Greece until 1913.
Best time of year to travel to Crete
Unlike many of Greece’s islands that depend primarily on the tourism industry, Crete is a very self-sufficient island and there’s a large population that lives here year-round. Therefore, it’s one of the best islands to visit any time of year. Summers can get quite hot, but spring and fall are both mild. Winter can be chilly, but since Crete is located so far south, it’s warmer than most.
Even if you come in the summer, you won’t find things too congested with tourism. The island is big enough to withstand the influx of visitors, and you don’t have to go far to find a corner of tranquility to claim as your own.
Ready to plan your visit to Crete? Check out these popular guides and trips.