With an area of more than 8,000 square meters, Crete is the largest Greek island. Not only bathers and beach holidaymakers get their money’s worth here, because the island is also known for its scenic diversity. Accordingly, demanding hiking tours are available in the mighty mountain ranges. Crete is also known for its legendary gorges, which promise fantastic panoramas and adventures.
The most beautiful sandy beaches, however, can be found in the north of the island; this is excellently developed for tourism. Flights are offered from almost every German airport in the main season. Since the flight time is only about three hours, the Greek island is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the Mediterranean.
In the following we present you the most exciting tours, the most beautiful attractions and the best sights in Crete.
1. The Palace of Knossos
The ancient palace of Knossos in the north of Crete is the most famous attraction of the island. The palace is located on an area of more than 20,000 square meters, so you should plan several hours for the tour. You should definitely opt for a guided tour, as you will learn some interesting details on this.
“History lesson with a difference” – there is no better way to describe such a tour. After all, the palace complexes of Knossos are the cradle of European culture. The entrance fee of 15 euros is well invested. By the way, Knossos can be easily reached with the city bus from Heraklion.
2. Spinalonga – the former leper colony
Spinalonga is an uninhabited island also known as the Leprosy Island. All residents of Crete who were sick with leprosy were once exiled to the island of Spinalonga. This is particularly interesting for those interested in history. Leprosy was a highly contagious disease until the 1950s; At peak times there were up to 1,000 sick people on the island. It is best to plan a crossing from Elounda, because from here it is only about five kilometers to the island.
Excursions to Spinalonga also start regularly from Agios Nikolaos in the main season. The advantage of such excursions: A small snack on board and a guided tour of the island are usually already included in the tour price. Even today you can visit not only the houses of the sick on Spinalonga, but also the hospital.
3. Agios Nikolaos – one of the most beautiful cities in Crete
Agios Nikolaos is not only interesting as a starting point for excursions to the island of Spinalonga. Located in the Mirabello Bay, Agios Nikolaos is one of the most important tourist spots in the east of Crete. In addition to Chania, Agios Nikloas is one of the most beautiful places on the island for most tourists. You should not only include the city center with its numerous shops in your travel planning, you will also find an important archaeological museum in Agios Nikloas.
There are even two small city beaches in town, so you don’t have to miss out on bathing fun. The absolute highlight, however, is the small lake, which is located in the middle of the city center and is now used as a port. The Voulismenisee is connected to the sea by a 20 meter long canal. “Tourist pearl in the east of Crete” – this nickname of Agios Nikolaos is quite aptly chosen.
4. The dream beach of Elafonissi
Without a doubt, the Greek island of Crete is visited by many tourists only because of the beautiful beaches. There are countless many of these, but one of the most worth seeing is Elafonissi Beach. The specialty: Here, those who enjoy bathing can expect not only white, but sometimes also pink sand; an absolute rarity. Crystal clear water and an extensive dune landscape also ensure that Elafonissi Beach is so unique.
With a little luck you might even come across a specimen of the hawksbill sea turtle on this beach, which likes to lay its eggs here. The beach is not only perfect for swimming and lazing around. Thanks to the always prevailing walls, you can also kitesurf perfectly here. The only disadvantage: the beach is a bit remote on the west coast of the island and can only be reached by car via a winding road.
5. Picturesque coastal town of Chania
The coastal city of Chania should be visited mainly because of the Venetian harbor located there. This dates from the 14th century and offers fantastic photo opportunities. At the same time, Chania also attracts with numerous cafes and restaurants, in which typical Greek dishes are served. You should definitely stroll through the narrow and winding streets of Chania. Here, too, Venetian influences can be found everywhere.
You should definitely visit one of the taverns where you can get the typical Cretan cuisine. The city is also known for a large number of gourmet restaurants. But Chania is also a destination for everyone who wants to go on a hike through the legendary Samaria Gorge. This is only a few kilometers outside of Chania.
6. Pure adventure and nature: Samaria Gorge
With a length of about 17 kilometers, the Samaria Gorge is one of the longest gorges in Europe and is a true paradise for all hikers. Of course it is a demanding hike, but fantastic panoramic views await you on it. Unfortunately, up to 4,000 nature enthusiasts run through the gorge in the high season. So it is worth starting your hike as early as possible. You can pass the gorge from the beginning of April to the end of October. Access is only blocked in adverse weather conditions.
The entrance is at a height of 1,230 meters. To be able to enter the gorge at all, you have to pay an entrance fee of five euros. Although the path leads almost exclusively downhill, the hike should not be underestimated, as you even have to climb in some parts. At the end of the gorge, however, there is a lovely typical tavern. Here you can fortify yourself before taking the ferry back.
7. Port and Fortezza of Rethymno
Rethymno in the north of the Greek island is one of the most photogenic places on Crete. The small fishing port has beautiful houses and some particularly good seafood restaurants with a direct view of the water. A walk through the old town of Rethymno reveals the many remains from the Venetian and Turkish times. In addition to old fountains and elegantly decorated gates, there is also a Byzantine and Venetian church.
The old fortress Fortezza is located on a hill a little above the city. The castle dates from the late 16th century and is still the largest fortress on the entire island. It is surrounded by a wall more than a kilometer long and is a very impressive sight on Crete. The beautiful view is also worth it!
8. Arkadi Monastery
If you want to visit the oldest monastery on the island, you should pay a visit to the monastery of Arkadi. This more than 1,600 year old building is an Orthodox monastery, which is located about 20 kilometers from Rethymno. The monastery is also an ideal starting point if you want to hike through the Arkadi Gorge.
This is not quite as demanding as the Samaria Gorge and can also be mastered well for less experienced people. The Arkadi monastery is so special, by the way, because it was here in 1866 that the Cretans’ liberation struggle against the Turks took place. The locals therefore have a very special bond with this historic place.
9. The Palace of Zakros
Not as famous as the Palace of Knossos, but also worth a visit is the Palace of Zakros. This palace, built around 1,500 BC, can be found in the east of the island. This top sight is also one of the so-called Minoan palaces. Although there are no more than ruins of the palace today, you can visit the oldest smelting furnace known to man here, among other things.
Due to its somewhat remote location, the palace is visited by comparatively few tourists and therefore promises a particularly pleasant atmosphere. We recommend a combination with the neighboring gorge of Zakros. The hike through the so-called Valley of the Dead takes around 2.5 hours.
10. CretAquarium – ideal in bad weather
Should it rain on your well-deserved vacation, the CretAquarium is a welcome alternative. In more than 60 aquariums you can marvel at around 2,500 sea creatures; This attraction is a lot of fun, especially for families with children. The aquarium, which is also one of the most popular attractions in Crete, can be found in the north of the island near the town of Gournes.
The aquarium is open all year round, in summer the doors are usually closed at 9:30 p.m. and in winter at 5 p.m. The marine worlds offer sand sharks more than two meters long as well as pools with large sea turtles. Regular campaigns and feedings are offered, especially for children.