The largest of Greece’s island, Crete has ancient ruins, amazing beaches and a National Park of international importance.
Places to visit on Crete
The largest of the Greek islands is a popular holiday destination with both Greeks and international visitors. One of the reasons it is so popular is because it is a ‘complete’ spot for a vacation. Crete’s size means it can accommodate the tourists that flock there without ever having the feeling of it being a crowded tourist resort, plus it is steeped in Greek history—ancient and modern—but also has the other typical Greek holiday requirements of great beaches, turquoise waters and a lively nightlife.
The Samaria Gorge National Park is some 43 km from Chania. The entrance to the gorge is at a height of about 1227 metres. Walking the descent through the gorge is an expedition for the fit and energetic visitor as it takes between six to eight hours to complete the walk. Be sure to wear appropriate footwear, sunscreen and a sun hat – flip-flops are not suitable! You can get water from taps during the walk. Samaria is listed as one of the most beautiful natural areas in Europe and it was turned into a National Park to protect the flora and fauna, including the Cretan wild goat. The walker is rewarded at the end of the trek with a view of one of the most beautiful beaches in Crete and Agia Roumeli; a village built on the site of an ancient city.
This island off the coast of Crete was a leper colony for the whole of Greece until the middle of the 20th century. Read British novelist, Victoria Hislop’s “The Island” before you visit for some added insight into what life was like for the lepers who lived here before medicine made it possible for the them to leave. Hislop’s book tells a remarkable story of the courage of an outcast community and as you tour the remains of the Venetian fortifications that remain on the island you can imagine what life was like here. Because the island is uninhabited, it’s also a lovely quiet spot to take a picnic from the mainland.
The Palace of Knossos
In Greek mythology, this palace was the site of the famous labyrinth where the bull-headed Minotaur lived. Thanks to Theseus and the help of Princess Ariadne who gave Theseus the thread to help him find his way out of the maze, the Greek hero was able to slay the Minotaur and end the human sacrifices he demanded. The site is near the main city of Heraklion and it takes a good part of the day to explore the ruins, the museum and of course, buy a souvenir in the gift shop.
If you’re looking for a family activity that has more appeal to the younger kids than walking around historical ruins, then travel to Hersonissos, which is east of Heraklion. Here you’ll find Aquaworld, one of the best aquarium centres in Greece. Local sea life and reptiles from around the globe are on display here. Many of them are rescued or injured animals and visitors are encouraged to interact with them. Check the opening times on the website in case of changes. This is an inexpensive activity and it’s an ideal opportunity to take some memorable photos.
Elafonissi Beach and Chania
Elafonissi beach has a reputation for being one of the most amazing beaches on Crete. It’s on the southwest coast of the island and about an 80 km drive from Chania, which is the second largest city in Crete after the capital Heraklion. Indeed, Chania is worth a visit as this town is stepped in Minoan, Byzantine and Venetian history and it has a very pretty Old Town that is considered the most beautiful urban area on Crete.
Elafonissi beach is most easily accessed by car, but you can also get there by bus. The sand is almost white and the water is crystal clear and shallow for several meters out to sea, which contributes to the beach’s rather exotic appearance and tranquil atmosphere.