Destination Guide to Crete

Crete: Myths, Minoans & a Midsummer Mediterranean Dream

10. Jun 2022
by Punita Malhotra

Greece’s largest island has it all…lofty mountain ranges, deep gorges, dreamy beaches, aquamarine waters and jaw-dropping archaeological ruins.

Bathed in a cultural tapestry stitched with influences of three continents, Crete is more than a stunning island with picture-perfect harbour towns.

Firka Venetian Fortress


Visualise a 80-kilometre long coastline, brilliant blue seas, seashell-studded beaches, towering mountains and rugged canyons. Centuries-old archaeological sites, frescoed Byzantine chapels, Turkish bathhouses and Venetian fortresses. Medieval harbour-side towns, narrow cobbled streets and flower-draped villages. Topped with vibrant culture, flavourful cuisine and buzzing nightlife. Hello, mythical birthplace of Zeus and home of the Minoans, Europe's earliest evolved civilization. Acclaimed writer Nikos Kazantzakis waxed eloquent about its perfumed citrus trees and the poetic quality of the sea in his acclaimed work, "Zorba the Greek". The largest of Greek islands, Crete, packs in all the prime ingredients for a midsummer Mediterranean dream.

Balos Beach


Crete's lively capital, Heraklion, is the ideal place to set the ball rolling on the island. From the 16th-century Venetian harbour to the stone-walled city, this is truly a history lover's playground. The highlight of the surrounding area is one of the most fascinating archaeological sites globally, the 185-acre Minoan Palace of Knossos. The complex of the Bronze Age metropolis is a treasure trove of glorious riches, like the bull-leaping fresco, goldwork and rock-crystal vases. Dig deeper into the legend of King Minos and Minotaur while you gawp at the extensive ruins, which once housed a massive population of 100,000.

Rocca a Mare Fortress


Switch gears for a more urbane vibe in the delightful coastal city of Chania. Continue the heritage theme in the lovingly preserved historic centre, dotted with Venetian and Ottoman mansions. Hours flit by exploring the back streets, scouring for secret finds and quaint crafts like authentic Cretan knives. Some pitstops to bookmark in Chania include Tabakaria, known for leather production and Neoria, a former arsenal. End your day at the beachside Turkish neighbourhood of Kum Kapi or catch a glorious sunset at the Egyptian lighthouse.

Old Venetian Port of Chania


Another gorgeous city to add to your itinerary is the Venetian-Ottoman styled Rethymnon. The old town's labyrinth is a wanderer's delight scattered with mosques, minarets, fountains, a Venetian Harbour, and a 16th-century ruined citadel. Head 20-kilometres out of town to find the Sacred Monastery of Arkadi, the most revered symbol of the struggle of the Cretans for liberation.

Monastery of Arkadi


If you care to venture further away from the beaten track, try exploring some sleepy villages as far off the tourist map as you possibly can. Take a long, lazy cruise into the open seas. Soak up the joys of slow travel...find locals sipping raki, herding sheep, making cheese or harvesting grapes. Go hunting for traditional hand-woven baskets and Minoan-style pottery, white Sariki headscarves or engraved woodwork. Rekindle a passion for picture-perfect lagoons at the emerald waters of Balos Beach. Drift into a dream on the rose-pink sands of Elafonissi. Pretend to be Robinson Crusoe with a hideout in sea caves, collect shells from the beaches and get a tan. Sip a Greek coffee in a kafenio by the waterfront. Make time to pamper yourself with the agenda of nothingness and contemplate the idyll of island life.

Gramvousa


Shopping

1866 Street, Heraklion: This famous historic street should be your destination to buy quality souvenirs as gifts for friends and family. Consider browsing for delicious national delicacies, Greek cheese, herbs, mint, spices, honey and local sweets. The sights and sounds of the market make quite a charming background.

1866 Street, Heraklion


Chania
: Browse for homegrown fashion made using earthy, natural fibres at Parthenis. Fine ceramics, jewellery and crafts are the mainstays of Carmela, close to the harbour. Pay a visit to the Greek designer Georgina Skalidi to stock up on attractive, contemporary leather accessories and jewellery. Hand-made jewellery is a big draw in Chania, and gold and silver jewellery are sold by weight. Necklaces, chains, pendants, bracelets, rings, earrings, with or without precious stones… what's your poison?

Chania


Rethymno is an excellent choice for arty souvenir shops, handicrafts and antiques. Take a stroll along the harbourside promenade for budget shopping needs, but if you are looking for more refined products, spending time on Arkadiou Street will be worth your while.

Rethymno


Museums & the Arts

The Archaeological Museum, Chania: Housed inside the Venetian Church of San Francesco, this museum will be your key to unlocking historical discoveries from the Neolithic and Minoan periods to the late Roman era. Among the extensive wealth of archaeological exhibits is the exotic collection of vases and weapons from the Minoan age.

The Archaeological Museum, Chania


The Nautical Museum, Chania
: Located near the city’s Venetian harbour, this museum is an ode to the island’s nautical past. The wide variety of displays includes model ships from ancient to modern times. History buffs will have a treat poring over relics and pictures related to the Byzantine naval war, Turkish occupation, Greek War of Independence, Balkan Wars and the two World Wars.

The Nautical Museum, Chania


The Archaeological Museum, Heraklion
: Take a capsule course on five millennia of history in this important museum, containing objects from the Neolithic Era to the Roman Empire. Artefacts from the Minoan civilisation, pottery and frescoes from Knossos deserve a special mention. One of the most well-recognised displays is the ancient Malia bee pendant, a masterpiece of Minoan jewellery and a gorgeous example of Aegean Bronze Age metalwork.

The Archaeological Museum, Heraklion


The Historical Archives and Museum of Crete
: If you have a keen interest in folk culture, bookmark this unique museum located in a neoclassical building in Chania. The dazzling collection of documents, maps, coins, holy vessels and 6,500 books, including personal memorabilia of Eleftherios Venizelos.

The Historical Archives and Museum of Crete


Natural History Museum, Heraklion
: Head to this impressive museum located at the University of Crete to learn about the ecology and environment of the Eastern Mediterranean region. The most staggering display here is the Deinotherium Giganteum, the skeleton of one of the largest animals of its kind found near Sitia, Crete.

Natural History Museum, Heraklion


Sports

Diving: The undersea geology at Crete is astonishingly diverse, with various stone arches, bottomless abysses, secret caves, rocky volcanic reefs, abundant marine life and unique black corals. Diving sites are scattered all along the coastline. In fact, one of the most popular diving areas is in Chania itself. In this magical underwater world, you can also dive for shipwrecks and plane wrecks. Snorkelling and fishing are other popular water activities on offer.

Mediterranean Sea turtles 


Surfing
: Most surfing spots in Crete lie along the western coast. Chania Surf Club is one of the best surf schools on the island with ISA-certified trainers, ideally suited for amateurs. The bay of Kasteli Kissamoss, located an hour away from Chania, is another favourite, and it boasts of some of the largest waves on the island. Palaiochora, on the south side of Crete, is another excellent choice, but you need to get your own gear.

Surf's Up!


Cycling
: Crete is a beautiful destination for outdoors enthusiasts. Road biking, mountain biking and e-biking are perfect options in a land covered with deep canyons, high mountains, flat plateaus, lush valleys, fields, farmlands and villages. So take off for an unforgettable ride.

Great for a cycling holiday


Restaurants & Bars

Peskesi: Crete's most talked-about restaurant is the epitome of rustic sophistication, occupying an elegant Venetian villa in Heraklion. Prepare to be bowled over by authentic dishes, traditional slow-cooking techniques and organic ingredients, including aromatic olive oils from the restaurant's farm. The meal is accompanied by an all-Cretan wine list.

Peskesi


Avli
: Set in a 16th-century Venetian building in the old town of Rethymnon, this establishment is a true destination for epicureans. Traditional and avant-garde dishes on the menu celebrate the fresh produce, high-quality ingredients and fine local wines.

Avli


Cavo Rethymnon
: Be assured of a romantic ambience when you book a table at this fabulous restaurant by the rocky sea coast, with spectacular views of the bay and the fortress. The menu is decked with typically Cretan dishes with the freshest local ingredients. Order the grilled fish of the day, complemented with a premium wine or signature cocktail.

Cavo Rethymnon

 

Kanali: If you are craving Greek staples served without frills and fancy, reserve an afternoon for a delectable meal in this old stone building. Salad, sardines or grilled fish with a glass of wine are great choices to satiate the palate and the tummy.

Kanali


Exclusive Experience

Gastronomes should not miss the chance to embark on an olive oil farm tour for a full download on this much-coveted ingredient, its history and production, including harvesting and extraction techniques. Walk around ancient olive trees in a grove and sample varieties of olive oils. A thrilling add-on would be to pay homage to the oldest olive tree in the world, 3000 years to be precise, which happens to be located in the village of Ano Vouves of Kissamos in Chania.

The world's oldest oilve tree


Must-buy Souvenir

Traditional Cretan boots called 'Stivania' are part of the everyday attire of locals living in mountainous regions and remote villages, and they are an essential part of outfits during special feasts, celebrations and folk dances. You can get a pair of boots custom-made at the leather centre at Chania and have them shipped to your address a few weeks later. Just imagine the feeling of dressing up in boots that fit you like a glove!

Stivania


Side Trip

Head to the eastern part of the island, home of the lofty Lasithi Plateau, a region with a profoundly haunting appeal. Think secluded beaches, authentic villages and the last few windmills of Crete. Visit the Diktean Cave, where the Greek God Zeus is said to have been born. Visit a raki distillery and a cheese-making facility. Stop by the capital of Lasithi, the resort town of Agios Nikolas, to gasp at the drama of the Mirabello Bay. How about a dip in the lake where Goddess Athena is believed to have bathed?

Agios Nikolas


Hidden Gem

Give the predictable a miss by sailing out to the pretty fishing village of Loutro, an isolated piece of paradise dressed in quintessentially Greek blues-and-whites. Be transported to the Mediterranean of the yesteryears, where cats crouch in bougainvillaea-draped cobbled streets and whitewashed houses with blue doors. Linger by the aquamarine waters of the bay with mountains rising up directly behind you and gorge on fresh seafood like you have nowhere else to go to. 

Loutro


Hotels

The island of Crete has been a favourite holiday destination for affluent travellers for decades. It boasts a plethora of superb and diverse hotels & resorts.

The BusinessClass.com guide to the best luxury hotels in Crete

The St Nicolas Bay Resort Hotel & Villas


Getting around

Most travellers land at Heraklion International Airport or Chania International Airport and hire taxis to the main cities. Hiring a car is the most convenient mode of transport on the island and affords the flexibility to travel long distances to other sites beyond the town areas. Cities like Heraklion and Chania are eminently walkable and best explored on foot.

Scooters, bicycles, taxis .... and even walking!

 

BusinessClass.com searches hundreds of travel sites at once to help you find the best premium travel offers for both flights and accommodation in Crete. 

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