Things to do in Crete

Things to do in  Crete

An island of mythical proportions

The largest of the Greek Islands, Crete could almost be its own country—especially with its fascinating history as the birthplace of the Bronze-Age Minoan culture. Yet, although visiting the 4,000-year-old Palace of Knossos is one of the best things to do in Crete, the year-long sun, sea, and sand, great wine and food, friendly pastel-colored towns and villages, 17th-century Venetian and Ottoman architecture, rugged mountains, rolling vineyards, and beautiful beaches also do a lot of the heavy lifting on the holiday-maker map.

Top 15 attractions in Crete

Old Venetian Harbor

Venice ruled Crete for more than 400 years and built Chania’s scenic port during the 14th century. Today, the Old Venetian Harbor is the beating heart of Chania Old Town, with restaurants, bars, and stores nestled beside landmarks from the Venetian Lighthouse to the Firkas Fortress, Grand Arsenal, and Hassan Pasha Mosque.More


Built around the ruins of the ancient agora, Plaka is among the oldest residential areas in Athens and was considered the Turkish quarter during Ottoman rule. Much of it burned down during a fire in 1884, exposing many ancient sites below the neighborhood, and archaeological research has been carried out in the area ever since.More

Venetian Lighthouse

Perched at the end of the breakwater, the Venetian Lighthouse—constructed around 1570 when Chania was under the control of the Republic of Venice—is the most striking building on the town’s Venetian Harbor. One of the oldest lighthouses in the world, its spectacular architecture makes it one of the most photographed landmarks in the city.More

Palace of Knossos

Once the glorious capital of Minoan Crete and one of the most powerful cities in the eastern Mediterranean, ancient Knossos is a place steeped in legend. Today, it’s Crete’s largest and most important archaeological site, crowned by the hilltop Palace of Knossos—built around 2,000 BC—which reveals a fascinating history that stretches all the way back to the earliest European civilizations.More

Elafonisi Beach

With shallow waters, pale pink-tinted sands, and sweeping dunes, Elafonisi is frequently and deservedly listed among Europe’s best beaches. The beach is connected to a protected island nature reserve, which is home to a variety of rare plants and animals, including loggerhead sea turtles.More

Balos Beach and Lagoon

Bridging the gap between the wild Gramvousa Peninsula and the idyllic Cape Tigani, Balos Beach is a startlingly blue lagoon, framed by jagged sea cliffs and pristine pink and white sand beaches. A pocket of paradise, Balos Beach is one of Crete’s most photographed natural beaches.More

Archaeological Museum of Chania

Archaeology buffs can trace Crete’s history from the Neolithic and Minoan to late Roman times at the Archaeological Museum of Chania, thanks to its collection of treasures found during excavations around the town and across western Crete. Located in the historic Church of St. Francis, the museum is a highlight of Chania’s old town.More

Heraklion Archaeological Museum

With artifacts covering some 5,000 years, from the Neolithic era (c. 7000 BC through to Roman times (c. 300 AD, the Heraklion Archaeological Museum in Crete is second only in size and importance to Athens’ National Archaeological Museum. It’s also widely regarded as one of the most important historical museums in Europe.More

Koules Fortress

Built in the 13th century when Crete was under Venetian rule, Koules Fortress is known by many names. Sometimes called Rocca al Mare, or simply the Venetian Fortress, it was initially designed to protect Heraklion from invasion. Today it houses exhibits on the history of Heraklion.More

Marathi Beach

Comprising two sandy stretches extending from either side of a pier, Marathi Beach overlooks the vivid blue waters of Souda Bay and the White Mountains of Chania. The beach is well sheltered from the elements, meaning the waters are waveless and calm. Traditional tavernas near the sand serve fresh fish to hungry beachgoers.More

Samaria Gorge

Samaria Gorge, in southwestern Crete, is one of Europe’s longest canyons. A popular hiking destination, its rugged river valley trail runs 10 miles (16 kilometers) from Xyloskalo in the White Mountains to he coastal village of Agia Roumeli. The gorge is part of Samaria Gorge National Park, which enjoys a seat along the Libyan Sea coast.More


Discover one of Crete’s most important archaeological sites during a visit to the ruins of Archanes. Along with learning about the area's history and seeing evidence of aqueducts, a reservoir, and a theater, you'll see more personal remnants, such as ancient musical instruments, pottery shards, and cooking pots, at this archaeological site and museum.More

Ancient Aptera

The Aptera archaeological site is home to the ruins of a powerful ancient city founded in Minoan times. From its strategic position above Souda Bay, the city thrived for millennia before being brought down by invasions and earthquakes. Today, visitors can explore the remains of a fortified tower, a city gate and wall, an amphitheater, and a temple.More

Kournas Lake

Situated in a valley surrounded by dramatic mountains, Lake Kournas offers a picturesque alternative to Crete’s many beaches. It’s the only freshwater lake on the island, and its warm, turquoise, spring-fed waters reflect the rocky peaks above like a mirror. Summertime visitors come to swim, boat, or just loll on the beach.More


The now-uninhabited island of Spinalonga (Kalydon) sits in the Elounda Gulf along Crete’s northeastern shore. During the 16th-century Venetian occupation, the invaders built a defensive fortress here protecting Mirabello Bay. Today visitors can tour the massive structure and the abandoned buildings that sit along its turreted walls.More

Trip ideas

Top activities in Crete

Crete Wine and Olive Oil Tour
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Crete Wine and Olive Oil Tour

From Rethymno private trip to Spili-Kourtaliotiko-Kalypso beach
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The Real Cretan Cooking Experience
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Half-Day Rethymno Quad Safari

Half-Day Rethymno Quad Safari

Crete Culinary Journey: Olives, Raki, Archanes Feast Delights
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Crete Culinary Journey: Olives, Raki, Archanes Feast Delights

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Snorkeling and Boat Tour in Crete

Snorkeling and Boat Tour in Crete

Explore the White Mountains of Crete
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All about Crete

When to visit

Crete draws the most visitors between May and October, when it earns its stripes as one of Greece’s hottest islands, with temperatures that hover around 75°F (24°C). Visit in August if you’re looking for maximum heat and a party atmosphere. High season also brings cultural events, including Chania’s Summer Festival and Rethymno’s Cretan Diet Festival. Crete is also great in spring and fall, when the warm, pleasant weather creates ideal conditions for exploring the island’s historical treasures and flower-filled countryside.

Getting around

Cities like Chania, Heraklion, and Rethymnon are easy to explore on foot or in a cab; if you hail a cab, make sure to agree to a price before you take a ride. Every Cretan city also has local buses. To get from town to town along the north coast, take KTEL buses, which are cheap and frequent. That said, to explore Crete’s countryside, south coast, and hidden beaches, you’ll want to rent a car; just be prepared for frenetic urban traffic and narrow, unpaved rural roads.

Traveler tips

While tourists pack the Knossos ruins outside of Heraklion, most miss another of Crete’s ancient sites: the archaeological remains at Aptera. Perched on a hillside overlooking Souda Bay, east of Chania, these ruins mark what was once a Greek and Roman city. For a small fee, you can explore several Roman cisterns, which offer a powerful sense of history, a crumbled amphitheater, a Roman villa, and other structures. Take sunscreen and a hat; there’s no shade at the site.

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People Also Ask

What is Crete best known for?

Crete is famous for offering some of the hottest summers, beautiful beaches, and history-steeped ruins in Greece. Its headline sights include Knossos, home to the UNESCO-listed, 4,500-year-old remnants of the ancient Minoan civilization. Don't miss the charming Venetian-built harbor city of Chania, top-tier archaeological museums, Samaria Gorge, mountains, or rural wineries.

How many days do you need to see Crete?

Allow for at least a week, with any number of days on top, depending on your interests. Seven days is enough to cover Crete’s highlights including Knossos and Chania, the island's White Mountains, villages, and wineries; and the Samaria Gorge. Go for longer to delve deeper or add some beach downtime.

What is the best part of Crete to stay?

For city sightseeing, consider Heraklion, the capital, for its Venetian-era walls, fortress, museums and proximity to Knossos. For additional history, dining, and shopping, both Chania and Rethymnon boast boutique-filled lanes, medieval mansions, and a restaurant-hemmed harbourfront. For family fun, stay at Hersonissos, or for beaches and partying, Agios Nikolaos or Malia.

Is there a lot to do in Crete?

Yes. History enthusiasts have plenty of ancient and medieval gems to explore—think Knossos and Chania—while nature-lovers can immerse themselves in the wild White Mountains, Lassithi Plateau, and Samaria Gorge. Plus, all along Crete’s north coast are resorts offering beaches, watersports, and restaurant and nightlife scenes.

Is Crete touristy?

Yes. Resorts like Hersonnisos cater squarely for sun- and fun-loving tourists with stacks of amenities, restaurants, and nightlife. Yet Crete still has many uncommercialized havens. Find the quieter pockets of Chania and Rethymnon; explore the White Mountains or Lassithi Plateau; or escape to Crete’s remote, rugged south coast.

Is English spoken in Crete?

Yes. Although the prevalence of English speakers depends on location. Unsurprisingly, English is widely used in the hotels and restaurants of Crete’s resorts. And while English is less spoken in rural areas and the south, you’ll still find it's fairly well understood. It’s polite, however, to speak some Greek, wherever you are.

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