CRETE Travel Guide | The Largest Island In Greece
Crete is a fascinating place where Greek mythology and ancient temples meet luxurious hotels, turquoise beaches and challenging hiking paths, and the echoes of history resonate in every corner. In this episode we will take you on a tour through the largest island in Greece and visit its greatest attractions and best kept secrets. But let's start with some interesting facts about Crete. Crete is strategically positioned at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa. It lies south of the Greek mainland, bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, and the Libyan Sea to the south. Throughout its history, Crete has witnessed the influence of many different civilizations, especially the Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, and Ottomans, leaving behind a rich architectural legacy.
The population of 600,000 is spread across towns, villages, and cities, creating a unique blend of modernity and tradition. The locals are famous for their high life expectancy, thanks to the Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, vegetables and fish. The airports of Heraklion Chania receive charter flights from abroad, mainly from European cities. You can also reach Crete by sea, by taking a ferry from Piraeus port.
Heraklion is the largest city of Crete, located on the island's northern coast. It is also one of the main urban centers in Greece. The history of Heraklion dates back to ancient times, with its roots tracing back to the Minoan civilization that thrived around 2,000 BC.
As the birthplace of the legendary King Minos and the center of the powerful Minoan Empire, the city played an important role in shaping the island's cultural and economic landscape. Heraklion has masterfully blended its ancient heritage with modern facilities, creating a captivating atmosphere for tourists to enjoy. The city grew under a cosmopolitan influence over the years and there are so many Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman buildings to see. One of the most important and outstanding landmarks in the city is the 16th-century Koules fortress, which is located on the westernmost edge of the ancient Venetian harbor.
The city's Venetian walls, which encircle the old town, are a marvel of medieval engineering. The Heraklion Archaeological Museum hosts a huge collection of artifacts, showcasing the city's rich history and offering a captivating journey through time. Perched about five kilometers southeast of Heraklion, Knossos is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete, and has a history that dates back over 4,000 years. It was the heart of the Minoan civilization, a sophisticated and enigmatic society that flourished from around 2,000 to 1450 BC. The archaeological site of Knossos has a labyrinthine complex of grand palaces, residences, workshops and public spaces. The most iconic feature is the world-famous Palace of knossos, a building that was not only a royal residence, but also a seat of power and cultural activity.
The myth of the Minotaur, a half-man half-bull creature confined in a labyrinth, is often associated with Knossos. While the actual labyrinthine structure of the palace might have inspired this tale, the truth behind the myth remains shrouded in mystery. While the exact reasons for the collapse of the Minoan civilization remain a subject of debate, the prevailing theory suggests that the eruption of the Thera volcano on Santorini around 1600 BC, was the catalyst for the civilization's decline. Before we continue, please consider hitting the like button to help our channel grow. Rethymno stands as a prime example of a Cretan Renaissance city, showcasing a unique historical character. With a population of 30,000 residents, It is Crete's third-largest city. Rethymno resides on the ground where ancient Rithymna
once existed. After the Byzantine era, Rethymno underwent fortification and further enhancement under Venetian influence. The city's old quarter is a very popular tourist attraction, offering a real journey into the past. The old town retains its Venetian and Ottoman influences, remaining untouched by modernity. In contrast to Heraklion and Chania, Rethymno's character primarily reflects Greek Renaissance elements, a consequence of the Venetian period's Greek nobility. Near the old town's narrow streets lies
the grand Fortezza, Crete's largest fortress. Other notable sites are the Venetian harbor crowned by a lighthouse, The Rimondi Fountain, the Historical Museum, and the Mosque of Kara Musa Pasha. Lake Kournas is Crete's only freshwater lake. It was known as Lake Koressia, but later got its current name from the Arabic word for lake. This lake occupies
a beautiful landscape in a valley between hills, around 4 kilometers away from Georgioupolis in the western part of Crete. Its dimensions are relatively modest, stretching up to 1,100 meters in length, and spanning 880 meters at its widest point. It has a maximum depth of 22 meters and an elevation of about 20 meters above sea level. Streams flowing from nearby mountains, feed Lake Kournas. This peaceful lake proves perfect for leisurely afternoon walks or nearby day trips and picnics. You can go for a walk in the countryside, swim or ride a pedalo on the lake. At the lake's southeastern bank, you'll find two springs,
one of which is visible in late summer. 15 kilometers northeast of Chania, you'll find the small and quiet village of Stavros. The area features the Vardies mountain, towering across from Stavros' harbor. only 30 years ago, Stavros was a modest fishing village, but recently it has evolved into a tourist destination, with hotels and essential tourism infrastructure. Despite its evolution, Stavros proudly maintains a significant portion of its traditional Cretan architecture, characterized by whitewashed houses and narrow streets. The primary beach, located east of the village, is a semi-circular lagoon, effectively shielded from prevailing winds. On
the other hand, the secondary beach, located north of the village, offers a mix of sandy and rocky terrain. It's important to note that this beach lacks protection, resulting in potentially wavy waters. While a limited number of public buses connect Stavros with other towns in this region, having your own vehicle is better, so you can move around easily. Located on the northern coast of Crete, The charming city of Chania is known for its natural beauty And cultural treasures. The most defining chapter of Chania's history was its Venetian
period, lasting from the early 13th century until the late 17th century. The Venetians recognized Chania's strategic harbor and transformed it into a fortified maritime center. The city's Venetian-era architecture, narrow alleys, and busy harbor create a unique atmosphere, and the backdrop of the White Mountains adds to the breathtaking scenery. The Venetian Fortress of Firkas
overlooking the harbor, is a reminder of the city's defensive past. Today, it houses The Maritime Museum, which offers insights into the region's seafaring history. The old Venetian Harbor, with its iconic lighthouse and colorful buildings, is also one of the main attractions you shouldn't miss.
The city's culinary scene is a delight. Chania is known for its emphasis on the Cretan diet, rich and olive oil, fresh products and healthy ingredients. Only 15 kilometers northwest of Kissamos, you'll find the famous lagoon of Balos, which was formed between the tiny capes of Tigani and Gramvousa and underneath the Platiskinos mountain range. Balos is perhaps the most photographed beach in Crete, and also a popular topic in many travel magazines.
Prince Charles and Princess Diana traveled to Balos on their private boat many years ago. This beach is famous for its turquoise water, stunning exotic landscapes and untamed natural beauty. Thousands of tourists travel there during the summer, largely on ferries that depart from Kissamos port. You should avoid going to the beach in July and August if you dislike crowds.
Additionally, it is a great idea to get to Balos early in the day, before the boats from Kissamos arrive. Young children can play safely in the shallow, warm water of the sea. Because of millions of broken shells, the sand in many places has a wonderful pinkish color. On the southwestern tip of Crete lies Elafonisi, positioned 75 kilometers west of Chania. Elafonisi, which is actually a peninsula, frequently divides into two segments due to surrounding waters, creating the illusion of a separate island. This region,
designated as a protected area, is characterized by its sand dunes. It is under strict prohibition to disturb or extract plants, animals, shells, or sand from this place. On either flank of the peninsula, exotic beaches with white sands and turquoise waters remind of the Caribbean. It's easy to reach the opposing side of the peninsula by crossing the shallow lagoon. The beach's eastern side, overlooking
The lagoon, is organized and popular among tourists. It has umbrellas, showers, lifeguards and changing rooms. Near the beach, a parking area is available, with a handful of rooms for rent further afield. While the road to Elafonisi is narrow and full of twists and turns, the breathtaking landscape along the way compensates for the challenging drive. The Samaria Gorge is located in the southwestern part of Crete in the region of Chania.
It's famous for being one of Europe's longest gorges. It was created by the small Tarraios river, running between the White Mountains and Mount Volakias. Spanning 16 kilometers in length, The Samaria Gorge is a masterpiece of geological forces. Its towering walls,
some reaching up to 500 meters in height, create a corridor that winds through the mountains of Crete. Each year, adventurers and hikers from around the world go on an adventure through the gorge, drawn by it's untouched wilderness and the promise of an unparalleled experience. The trail takes them through different landscapes from rocky paths to fragrant pine forests, and eventually leads to the beautiful waters of the Libyan Sea. The Gorge is home to a wide range of plants and animals, many of which are endemic to Crete. Lucky hikers might spot the Kri-kri, a type of wild goat, or the Cretan Wildcat. The Samaria Gorge was declared a national park in 1962, helping to protect its unique ecosystem and ensuring that its natural beauty remains preserved for future generations.
Plakias is located 30 kilometers south of Rethymno, in a lush valley at the mouth of the Kotsifos river, ensuring a consistent water supply throughout the year. Originally a small village in the late 19th century, Plakias has evolved into a popular resort over recent decades. during the 1960s, the beach known as Yialia attracted hippies and became a favoured destination. Now, it serves as a busy resort and a starting point for exploring the natural wonders of the southern region.
Close to Plakias, there are charming mountain villages like Myrthios, Selia and Asomatos, preserving their traditional character and offering breathtaking views of the sea. You can also explore the nearby monasteries and hike through the Kotsifos and Kourtaliotis gorges. Alternatively, Plakias itself is full of hotels, restaurants, bars, water sports facilities and scuba diving schools. Bus services regularly connect Plakias to Rethymno. Preveli lies 10 kilometers east of Plakias. It got its name from the nearby historic Preveli Monastery. What stands out is the presence of two monasteries in the area: the abandoned Piso Monastery and the more contemporary Kato Monastery.
The older one can be found just a brief distance to the south of Preveli's ancient stone bridge. The famous Preveli Beach, also known as Phoenix Beach, stands at the exit of the impressive Kourtaliotikos Gorge, where the river Megalos Potamos flows into the sea. The river forms a 500 meter long, year-round flowing water course that culminates in a small lake before meeting the sea. It's one of the prime tourist attractions in southern Crete, welcoming countless visitors each summer. In the 1960s and 1970s, the beach held particular appeal for hippies.
A devastating fire in 2010, swept through this idyllic area, causing major destruction. However, the palm grove managed to recover from most of the damage. With a height of 2456 meters, Mount Ida is the tallest peak on the island. In Minoan Crete, it was considered a holy mountain, and several myths were closely associated with it. Minoan Crete used to be a wooded place, and so was Mount Ida.
These woodlands still exist on the southern flanks of the mountain. The hiking trail from the Nida Plateau is the easiest hiking path to Mount Ida's peak, out of the five available routes. You'll need between 3 and 6 hours to climb to the top, and 2 to 4 hours to get back. Ida's summit offers an absolutely stunning view. You can see the Libyan Sea and the plain of Messara to the south, Lefka Ori to the west, and Heraklion and the Aegean Sea to the north.
If you plan to spend the night on top, you will need warm clothing, because the nighttime temperature is very low. Kommos Beach can be found just two kilometers north of Matala, near the village of Pitsidia. It's actually the southernmost and also the most isolated part of the extensive beach along Messara Bay. With historical ties,
Kommos formerly functioned as the port for Phaestus, and its ancient port ruins are still visible on the shoreline. You can access Kommos by taking the road towards Matala, until you encounter a sign directing you to Kommos near Pitsidia. The beachfront is fully exposed to prevailing westerly winds that sweep the area. Due to
this, caution is advised, as certain sections of the seabed hold rocky terrain. From May to September, the protected loggerhead sea turtles nest in the sands of the beach. There are no buildings in the area, because Kommos is a protected archaeological area and building is restricted.
Matala lies at the junction of Messara plain at The Asterousia Mountains. Known as a prime tourist spot in Crete, it's most famed for its rock-carved caves and its association with the 1970s hippie culture. Notably, Matala is close to Phaestus, the Minoan civilization's second-largest palace, having served as its port in the past and later for Gortyn during Roman times. Matala Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches on the island of Crete and certainly worth a visit. A 300 meter long sandy beach with fine gravel and crystal-clear deep waters, graces the area. The seabed can be rocky in parts, particularly at the beach's center. A large cave looms on the beach's northern edge, tempting daredevils to dive from its summit.
The coastline in this area has even more natural caves, accessible by boat, while the surrounding region reveales numerous archaeological sites and shipwrecks. Situated in the narrowest part of Crete, ierapetra lies 30 kilometers south of Agios Nikolaos, standing as Europe's southernmost city. It occupies the site of the ancient city Ierapytna.
Ierapetra's historical rival, Presos Town, once situated to the east, met its demise in 155 BC. Flourishing during the Roman era, Ierapytna transformed into a thriving cosmopolitan center within the Roman Empire. Its strategic harbor, offering easy access to Egypt, amplified its significance.
Today, Ierapetra stands as a modern city with a population of 13000 residents, predominantly engaged in agriculture. The city plays an important role as a major exporter of vegetables, primarily destined for European markets. impressively organized for tourism, Ierapetra has a range of accommodations, both large and small, lining its picturesque beaches. The seafront promenade, a center of activity during the summer months, is dotted with cafes. Dominating The city's landscape is the famous Kales fortress, constructed in the 13th century and strategically positioned at the entrance of the ancient harbor. Now repurposed for cultural events,
The fortress adds to the city's charm and historical appeal. At the very easternmost point of Crete, you'll find the Vai Beach. It's a stunning, uninhabited beach, with fine sand and rocks. It has an unusual and lush palm forest, made up of a species that is exclusively found on Crete. It is a stunning beach with clear, clean water, fantastic snorkeling, and space for everyone. This beach lacks a community or accommodation, but during the summer, the parking lot is crowded with temporary services selling food, beach equipment and drinks. Rentable beach
chairs and umbrellas are available, and a beachfront restaurant serving excellent Greek food is run by a local Monastery. Popular water sports here include jet skiing and windsurfing. The drive of 24 kilometers from Sitia to the beach is definitely worthwhile. The largest palm forest in Europe is home to a variety of native birds and animals, including the shy Cretan Marten. In order to enjoy Vai Beach to its fullest, arrive there as early in the day as possible, since it gets very crowded in summer.
Sitia is a small town on the eastern coast of Crete. Despite being open for tourists, The town's identity is primarily that of a living community. Sitia is a place full of Venetian and Turkish influences, and you can easily recognize them in the town's architecture. It is actually less touristy,
compared to other parts of Crete. Sitia's charm lies in its uncrowded environment, dotted with monasteries, archaeological sites, palm-forested beaches and mountain trails. The nearby villages of Zou, Ziros and Handras, are also nice places waiting to get explored. The town's sandy beaches are perfect for windsurfing. The journey to Sitia is scenic, passing through beautiful gorges and villages. For travelers, driving from Agios Nikolaos offers a breathtaking coastal route with detours to places like Mochlos. A drive from Heraklion is an option too,
with a stop at Neapoli with its beautiful central square. Agios Nikolaos is the capital of the Lasithi region. It's a beautiful seaside town, actually A medium-sized town with a small-town feel, popular among tourists for its beaches and the year-round pleasant weather. The ruins of the ancient city of Lato pros Kamara are largely buried under the town. The tiny, once
freshwater Lake Voulismeni, which was later connected to the sea, is situated in the town's center. Numerous bars and restaurants can be found near the lake, which keeps the area bustling at night. The streets of Agios Nikolaos are packed with churches, including the little church that gives the community its name. There are other stores with unique goods available. Here you can find woven textiles, cups, mugs, and porcelain ware, as well as a variety of clothing, home decor, and regional foods and specialties. From June to August, the peak of summer graces Crete with sunshine and warm temperatures. It's the prime season for beach holidays, swimming and water sports.
However, you should keep in mind that temperatures during the summer can exceed 40°C, making many outdoor activities difficult. You can also consider visiting Crete during the off-season, from November to March. You'll find fewer tourists, lower prices, and a more authentic experience of the island.
Did we miss a good place in Crete? Let us know in the comments. If you enjoyed this video, hit the like button and subscribe to help our channel grow.