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A whole country in one island

Renowned for its incredible music, spectacular food and impossibly beautiful landscapes, Crete is perhaps the most magical of all the Greek islands – and your Crete holidays can take it all in with ease. Divided into four distinct regions – Chania, Rethymon, Iraklio (Heraklion) and Lasithi, Crete is blessed with a mystical scenery and dynamic local culture. You’ll find a vibrant countryside dotted with picturesque villages, giant mountains looming skyward and stone gorges cutting through the land.

The 1,000-kilometre coastline features blue lagoons, swaying palm trees and pink sand beaches – while the cities, particularly Chania and Iraklio, have a distinct cosmopolitan flair and boast fantastic museums, nightlife, restaurants and hotels. History is alive and well on holidays to Crete. You’ll find traces of ancient civilisations, relics from the Ottoman and Venetian occupations, and Byzantine-era buildings. And while there’s a millennia’s worth of heritage to explore, Crete also has a vibrant, contemporary local culture that’s evident across the island. Food, drinking, and socialising are all huge parts of Cretan life. You can have some of the best nights of your life here – chatting with locals, joining the traditional dances and eating sun-warmed figs, grilled lamb chops and crunchy rusks of carob bread – all washed down with bottles of local wine and raki.

Three tips for a top trip

Hop on the bus

Travel like a local. Crete has a very decent and affordable network of buses that will zip you from one end of the island to the other.

Take your time

With so much to see, you’ll be tempted to squeeze everything into one trip. Instead, focus on exploring one or two regions in-depth for more fulfilling Crete holidays.

Follow the music

Cretans are known for their parties. Called ‘glendis’, they’re advertised on posters and include dinner, dancing and music in a village square. Don’t be shy – join in the fun!

Best attractions to see in Crete

Elafonisi Beach

Featuring pink sands and impossibly calm turquoise lagoons shielded by curving sand bars, the gorgeous Elafonisi Beach looks like something airlifted out of the Caribbean.

Palace of Knossos

The sprawling, ancient Minoan capital is Crete’s most important archeological site and is rumoured to be Europe’s oldest city. Built in 1700 BC, it features restored frescoes and crumbling palaces.

Samaria Gorge

The 16-kilometre hike through Europe’s longest gorge will take you into forests and past villages, between cliffs and over rivers, before ending up at the sea.

Your Crete questions, answered

Cretans are renowned for their hospitality and deep humanity. They are incredibly proud of their culture and will undertake every effort to make you feel at home.
Crete has a vibrant crafts culture, and your purchases will support local artisans. Consider picking up a pair of leather boots, engraved knives or pretty weavings.
Chania and the surrounding areas like Agia Marina are where you’ll find many of Crete’s Blue Flag beaches. Golden Beach – also known as Chryssi Akti Beach – and Agioi Apostoloi Beach are just two of the stretches of sand that have been awarded Blue Flag status. But that’s not to say you won’t find incredible beaches elsewhere on the island. Rethymno and Agios Nikolaos are ideal for beachy holidays.
It’s worth visiting during the shoulder seasons (April-June and September-October). The crowds have thinned out, but the weather is still warm enough for swimming.
The north coast of Crete tends to be the most popular with holidaymakers. That’s because the north is where you’ll find most of the main holiday resorts like Malia, Heraklion, Rethymno, Kissamos, and Chania. Central Crete is primarily mountains and isolated mountain villages with fewer options for visitors. There are a few nice places on the south coast, like Matala, but, as it only takes just over an hour to get there by car from Heraklion, a visit to Matala could easily be done as a day trip from the north.
As Crete is an island in the Mediterranean, the food here is typical of a Mediterranean diet. Think plenty of olive oil, tangy lemon juice, fresh fish, and seasoned chicken and lamb. You can sample lots of Cretan food by ordering a meze dish providing different flavours and tastes. But, in the larger towns in Crete, there’s definitely no shortage of international cuisine, either. So, if you’re travelling with kids or picky eaters, you don’t need to worry. There’s almost always something to appeal to everyone’s tastes.
Yes. There is a lot to do with kids in Crete and the island is very family-friendly. Many families like Crete because of the great weather and lovely beaches. Families can enjoy splashing around in the sea and building sandcastles before enjoying a picnic with great views. There are also plenty of attractions, like theme parks and aquariums, and outdoor activities like walking or cycling through tiny mountain villages. And perhaps best of all, Crete is home to lots of family-friendly hotels that cater brilliantly to children.
The sea in Crete can be very warm. Over winter, the waters off the coast of Chania range from 15-18°C, which may be a little too chilly for some people, especially for the little ones. But the water does start to heat up in May, reaching between 17 and 21°C, which can be pleasant. The warmest sea temperatures in Crete are found in July, August, and September. At this time of year, the water can reach temperatures of 23-28°C which is lovely and warm. You won’t want to get out.
Whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Crete depends on where you stay, and what you want to do on your holiday. If you’re staying in Chania or Heraklion and don’t fancy venturing out of the cities, there’s no need for a car. But if you want to take day trips to other destinations, or venture into the mountains, it's something to think about. There’s no railway in Crete, so for travelling, your options are car or bus. Having a car means you don’t have to worry about figuring out schedules.