The Great Island Where The Sun Meets the Sea
With more than 1000 km long coastlines dotted with lovely peninsulas, gorgeous sandy beaches, breathtaking natural surroundings and more coves and bays than one can count, Crete or Megalonisos (meaning Great Island) as Greeks also like to refer to it, is the largest Greek island and a popular holiday destination for a very good reason.
Summer & Winter Vacation
#Best Known For
Its historical importance (Crete was the cradle of Minoan civilization during the Bronze Age) and significant archaeological finds at Phaistos and Knossos combined with its vast diverse areas hiding holiday gems waiting to be discovered by the more adventurous ones. It is also famous for its beautiful sandy beaches, Cretan cuisine, and all-night-long parties.
#Best Time to Go
For moderate weather and lower accommodation rates, the season between May and June, as well as the second half of September, is ideal. The heart of summer is the time of the year when the sea is warm and tourists swarm the beaches. Be prepared for a feast of colors from the blossoming nature and enticing scents of jasmine, which blend with the sounds of the Cretan lyre, and lots of iced raki (locally produced alcoholic drink) flowing in people's glasses all day round!
If you are not comfortable with crowds, you can pay a visit in late October, when high season ends in southerly Crete and you can enjoy the serenity and tranquility infused in the island.
For those longing for winter vacations with a touch of snow on the White Mountains that gives the countryside a more romantic and cozy feel, the cities of Rethymnon, Chania, and Heraklion are superb options, from November and throughout early spring (sometimes, you can still see streaks of snow on the peaks in early June!).
#Best Places to Visit (at a Glimpse)
Hikers find their heaven at the Samaria Gorge; the most spectacular canyon (of the many on the island) that arrives at the sea after slashing through some rough terrain and rugged mountains.
History lovers will have the chance to see the world's greatest showcase of artifacts from the Minoan civilization at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, some of the most impressive Minoan palaces at the nearby city of Knossos, and medieval ruins (Ottoman and Venetian tenures) in the towns of Chania and Rethymnon.
Those with a beachy disposition can head north, where beaches are sandy and longer than the more secluded ones of the south. As for people interested in exploring the inland, there are plenty of opportunities for bird watching, plant studying, and going on hikes that will take them through the beauties of the landscape and frescoed 14th- and 15th-century chapels.
World-famous beaches with exotic crystal waters and not-so-known spots preferred by locals for their incredible sea, soft white sand, and trees (cedar or palm) licking the coastline include:
• Marathi Beach (Akrotiri Peninsula)
• Stavros Cove (Akrotiri Peninsula)
• Sweetwater Beach (west of Sfakia)
• Balos Beach (Chania) – Most famous beach on the island for its Caribbean-like waters.
• Elafonisi Beach (Chania)
• Vai Beach (Lassithi) – Amazing backdrop scenery full of lush greenery.
• Falassarna Beach (Chania) – With organized facilities; ideal for families with small children. Also a great spot for windsurfers.
• Preveli Beach (Rethymnon) – Unorganized. Perfect for all sorts of water sports and nature fans.
• Matala Beach (Heraklion) – Used to be a hippie go-to spot. Now, it is a great family-perfect location with a lovely seaside village and tavernas.
• Rodakino Beach (Rethymnon) – Partly secluded and partly organized; ideal for people and families looking for relaxed, calm moments, next to seaside taverns and apartments.
• Plakias Beach (Rethymnon) – Lots of tourist facilities, yet, far away from the hustle and bustle of the larger cities.
• Tympaki Beach (Heraklion) – Organized, with both pebbled and sandy parts. Great place for excursions as it's located between 2 main tourist places (Agia Galini and Matala).
• Istro Beach (Lassithi)
#Best Places to Stay
It depends on what you are after and the kind of vacation you need. There are 4 main areas that draw most of tourists' attention:
1. Chania (west Crete) – It is a scenic Venetian harbor that manages to combine the past with the present; the traditional and the modern aspects of Cretan life. Its narrow streets, quaint cafes, art galleries, and ancient ruins distinguish the area.
2. Heraklion (center of the north coast) – The capital of the Megalonisos is diverse, modern, and upbeat. One of the wealthiest cities in Greece, it offers adventures for those looking for fun, a chance to party around the clock, and plenty of things to do.
3. Rethymnon (northern coast) – With the ruins of a Venetian fortress guarding the area, Rethymnon is where you want to stay if you need proximity to some of the most popular beaches, excellent restaurants, taverns, and cafes.
4. Lassithi (eastern side of Crete) – You can choose to have completely remote or cosmopolitan holidays. Lassithi has only a few largely developed villages for tourists flocking the eastern side of the island (i.e. Sissi and Elounda) while most of it has kept its original character and remained far away from the noise and overcrowded places. Here, you can see anything from old monasteries and traditional villages, to fab gorgeous and secluded beaches.
Based on your preferences, you can find lots of luxury, spacious, comfortable, air conditioned villas that can accommodate up to 25 guests, with jacuzzi baths, private pool, gorgeous sea views, BBQ and many other amenities required for a pleasant, home-away-from-home stay in any of the 4 areas mentioned above.
#Best Places to Eat
You can taste delicious Cretan dishes at Elia in the Sellia village in the southern part of Crete. The owners only use local produce and virgin olive oil and serve mouth-watering pork in lemon, souvlaki skewers, and other meals that you can savor while gazing at the sea and surrounding mountains from the terrace of the taverna. Another restaurant with equally friendly atmosphere and dishes that follow the Cretan diet to the letter is Dounias on the foot of White Mountains (Chania). Wood-stove cooked food, poultry and meat dishes from the owner's farm, and herbs picked from the slopes of the mountains nearby are some of the things that has made the place many people's favorite.
#Other places to taste excellent Greek cuisine:
1. Family-owned Ferryman Taverna (Elounda harbor) serving freshly-baked bread and dishes with home-grown veggies.
2. Alekos restaurant (Rethymnon) with tasty giant salads (only local produce), local sausages, traditional Cretan dishes and local desserts.
3. Gramvoussa (near Balos) with awe-inspiring views of the Kissamos bay and popular dishes that include lamb wrapped in pastry, salad with goat's cheese, and rabbit wrapped in lemon leaves.