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We arrived at Crete almost by chance after closing a new housesitting that would take us to a small town on the island for almost a month. It would also be our first time in Greece and although we didn’t think about moving much, we wanted to explore the island to the fullest.
A month is a long time and we certainly use it more to live as locals than to do tourism but we had enough days to travel the most recognized points in the island and explore other not so exploited. While our time in Crete we were located in Mieres, a small town completely local about 50 km south of Heraklion.
You can take a look at the prices of accommodation in Crete here and you also have a 35 € discount code on Airbnb for your first reservation.
Crete is a huge island, much bigger than it seems on the map so if you don’t have the time that we had the most likely is that you focus on one area and do not cross the island from side to side as it is impossible to do in one day. If you have a bigger budget or you want your holidays to be special you can also rent a Gulet to explore Crete or other islands (the also do cruises) at Gulet Expert.
When is the best time to travel to Crete?
Summer (from June to September) is the high season of the island (and in general in Europe) is also obviously the time with better weather but also with higher prices and greater crowds.
End of spring and early Autumn (from April to May and October to November) have a little bit of everything and are certainly the best time to travel to Crete. The temperature is not yet very low, prices have already been reduced and the crowds have decreased considerably.
If you get close to winter most likely is not the ideal to enjoy the beaches, we travelled during November and it was too cold to dip into the water, but our main interest was not the beaches so it seemed like an ideal time for us. I’m sure the end of September and early October are the jackpot.
Finally during winter and its surroundings (from the end of November in early April) temperatures are lower but prices are also the cheapest you will find. Tickets to most attractions also cost half (from November 1th to March 31th).
What to do in Crete?
We will divide some of the attractions by their nearest cities because with all security in one of them you will base (at least a few days) and from there you will move around. As I say, travelling from one tip to another of the island is complicated at least in one day so keep that in mind when you plan your itinerary.
What to do in Elounda?
One of the most recognized areas of Crete is Elounda, it is also the most expensive area and where most high-standing resorts are housed. We just went through there a day to enjoy one of the beaches and the views, but if what you want is calm and a little luxury then most likely you will end up here. We liked it very much and during our time there it was shown as a quiet and friendly village. The road that goes to the mills in the middle of the sea is a wonder you should not miss.
Very close to Elounda you will find another small coastal city very visited by this area. The streets close to the coast are narrow and colourful and it’s all a pedestrian, you can walk it in less than an hour. It’s a little posher and expensive than the rest of the island (just like Elounda) but it’s nice and deserves a visit.
The Lasithi Mills
The Lasithi Mills are a perfect example of how you can find completely incorrect information on the internet, especially because of the people who write about places in which obviously they haven’t been.
The first time we were looking for information about the Lasithi mills we found the typical photos of White Mills (more like Mykonos) and we thought it would be something similar. Obviously after searching and searching and doing all the way to the top of the Lasithi plateau (which is totally worth it even if it is only for the landscape), we realized 90% of the information we found online about this area is wrong.
The Lasithi Mills were the largest source of energy in the area before the industrial revolution and are located in a special location where the wind is something that is certainly not missing. They are fixed Mills oriented in the dominant direction of the wind and are built of local limestone with walls up to 1 meter wide.
They will not be as photogenic as their neighbours of other islands but are certainly an important architectural work and worthy to admire in your way through Crete.
What to do in Chania?
Another very popular city in Crete but located completely to the other end of the island. Chania offers options for all budgets and types of travellers so if your pocket is not as big as Elounda most likely you will end up here or in some nearby town.
Don’t be discouraged, there are A LOT of things to see in Chania and all of them (inside the city) can be done just walking, the whole old city centre is a pedestrian area but finding parking can be complicated so plan at least 30 minutes to drive around searching for a good spot.
Once in the historic old town, you will find posters with some of the locations such as the fortress of Firka, the maritime museum of Crete, the municipal market or the synagogue among others. Walk atound the area of the port and the lighthouse!
We loved Chania.
Agia Triada Monastery
An Orthodox monastery located just a few kilometres north of Chania much less known and visited than the Arcady monastery (you will see it below) but not less special.
The main church is built in Byzantine style and has small chapels around the walls. Constructed in 1613 and transformed in to a theology school in 1833. Within the grounds of the monastery, there are several vineyards and olive trees that generate olive oil and wine since 1632 (and you can buy in the monastery).
A small coastal town mainly populated by fishermen and only accessible walking or by boat so it is isolated from absolutely everything. Arriving here will take you a morning walk and is certainly worth it. Don’t listen to google maps because it will take you on an infinite winding road to the coast (not paved) which is scary and has no possibility to turn around. On the other hand, if you want to save some walking time then go down the road as from there you can take a small walking path covering the two kilometres that separate you to Loutro.
Probably the most tourist and most photographed beach on the island as well as one of the best. You’ll find it on the north coast past Kissamos. Once you take the detour to the coast you will have to pay 1 € entry and drive on a not paved road until you get to the parking to finally make the last meters walking.
Photos don’t do it justice and certainly it’s a much more interesting destination during summer.
Hike the Samariá Gorge
The Samariá Gorge is park of the most visited National Park in Crete and for sure one of the main destinations, as it’s totally recommended to everyone. We were able to only make a small stretch due to the rains but it is possible to get to Agra Roumeli in a six hour hike.
If you make the journey remember to bring enough water with you, especially if you do it in the summer time when temperatures reach its maximum and the sun does not forgive in Crete.
Try to start early to avoid the strongest sun hours.
Pink Elafonisi beach
As its name indicates a few kilometres from Chania you can find this pink sand beach near the national park. The colour of the sand, although not treated for a strong rosé, is due to the small fragments of coral spreaded.
If you are on the beach you will find it very close to Balos beach and it is certainly worth stopping to spend the day if time accompanies. Sadly It wasn’t our case when travelling in November.
Probably the most reculed beach in the area since a meandering road not suitable for everyone is between you and Stefanou beach. Finally, when you get to the parking lot you will still have to walk about 15 minutes to get to the beach and it’s not such an easy walk. Because of its difficult access is not one of the most visited places on the island but is probably one of the best beaches in the summertime.
Probably our favourite beach although we couldn’t enjoy it by swimming in the water we were a few hours doing a little picnic. Remember to take with you everything you need since, at least in the time we travelled to there, we found absolutely nothing over there.
What to do in Rethymno?
Rethymno is possibly our favorite city of Crete. About 40.000 people lives in this beaytiful city and being a middle size town you will find anything you need. Its historic old town has a special magic. The city dates back to the year 1250 so even only for historical purposes is an important point on the island.
The colourful narrow streets full of flowers transport you to another place and time, during the winter they are quiet and most of the stores closed but during the summer it is filled with outdoor markets. We walked them in low season and still we loved it every bit.
Just outside the city you will find the city fortress, a small walled area that formerly made the role of the citadel. It was built in the 16th century by the Venetians during their kingdom and captured by the Ottomans in 1646. Today is preserved little of those times but it is a wide-open outdoor area and still has some buildings you can visit.
Ticket price: 4€ per person
Family ticket: 10€ up to four (two adults and two children)
Opening times: 9:00 a 16:30
Una ruta por los pueblos del interior
If you have some time then scape the main roads and take the tiny ones leading you to small villages inland, specially around Rethymno and Heraklion, we could not be more happy we did this as most of this towns are about three streets, totally local and full of picturesque people and places, if you want to experience the real Cretan life then this small villages will be the best place.
We made a couple of stops to buy something in small grocery stores because most businesses were closed, we assume that if during the winter it closes on the coast the interior businesses have even more restrictive schedules but still worth it every second.
The best thing was to see the vineyards conquering the houses and abandoned buildings, by not being on the coast is a completely local village and barely touched by tourism.
Located about 25 kilometres south of Rethymno you will find the Arkadi Monastery, a catholic church dating back to the 16th century with a particular architecture full of Renaissance touches. During the 16th century, the monastery was used as a small school and had an extensive library.
It’s most important role was played during the resistance against the Ottoman occupation during 1866, after more than two hundred years of occupation nearly 1000 Greeks sought refuge in the fortified monastery, 3 days into battle they decided to fill barrels with gunpowder and sacrifice before surrendering to the enemy. Today the monastery is a national sanctuary in honor of the resistance as its sacrifice caught the attention of the international community by calling hundreds of international volunteers to their cause.
A small coastal town on the south coast of the island (about 50 km from Chania) with a picturesque port and full of colour. There is really not much to do and in Agia Galini more than to visit and admire its steep alleys but it is certainly worth giving it a chance while enjoying a coffee with good views.
When we went through there was barely any life, like many other coastal villages, most of the activity focuses on tourism during the high season so we could enjoy it calmly and almost alone with the company of curious stray cats.
What to do in Heraklion?
Heraklion is the largest city in Crete and also its capital so it will probably be your point of arrival to the island even if it is only passing by. Heraklion has more than 100,000 inhabitants so you will not miss absolutely anything during your stay there. You will find yourself more or less in the centre of the island so is certainly be a good place of departure for one-day trips and to use as a base.
Right next to the port, in the centre of the city you will find the also known as Castello a mare, the fortress that crowns the city of Heraklion. It was built during the Venetian Regency over the area, that is to say in the 16th century although it was probably built above the foundations of an ancient Arab fortress of the 9. th century
It is a relatively small fortress but has been recently restored and contains a small history museum of the city and the island, the best part is on its terrace where you can enjoy views of the city and the sea unmatched in the area.
Opening times: from 8:00 to 15:00, last entrance at 14:30
Ticket price: 2€ during high season and 1€ during low season.
Probably the most visited tourist attraction on the island. The Palace of Knossos is the largest and most important palace in Crete but is not only a palace, but the archaeological site also covers a full the city around it. The Palace was built in the influx of two water sources, a key decision for its growth by making it a fertile region like no other.
Before Knossos was built, it’s believed to be a Neolithic Era settlement, this means the first inhabitants were there from between 6700 and 3200 before Christ (impressive uh?). The First Palace was built near 1900 BC although from this time very few original parts are preserved (Almost 4000 years!!) as it was partially destroyed over 1700 BC and replaced by a New Palace, the one you see now.
Knossos and his palace were the cultural, political, economic and religious centre of the island and was used and inhabited for much longer than the rest of the palaces in Crete (approximately in 1450 before Christ most were destroyed).
Ticket: 16€ during high season 8€ during low season
Located about 62 kilometres from Heraklion you will find another ancient palace and important archaeological site, the palace of Phaistos, the second-largest city of Crete (after Knossos). Just like his older sister, Phaistos was inhabited from about 4000 BC but there was no central palace until 2000 BC. It is believed to be a dependence on Knossos.
There is little left today and unlike the “representation” reconstruction that taken place in Knossos, Phaistos has been left unchanged so you will have to put a lot of imagination. We still found it very interesting and certainly, the best thing is to visit the complex after having given an eye to some documentary or read a little story to get into context.
Opening times: 8:00 to 17:00.
Ticket price: 8€ during high season, 4€ during low season.
Lentas and the entire southern area of the island is much less developed than the north due to the complex access (the main road runs over the entire north coast of Crete) yet we believe that they are villages absolutely full of charm and deserve a visit.
Lentas itself has nothing “special”, it could be Lentas as it could be any other nearby coastal town, but here we stopped to have a short coffee on the shore of the sea on an adorable terrace. Keep in mind normally these remote villages close most of their establishments from December to March.
Kali Limenes beaches
Located about 72 km from Heraklion on the coast you will find Kali Limenes and its beaches: Long sand, Fine sand and Stena. All these beaches are only accessible walking so you will not find great crowds, The most popular of all them is fine sand (visited mainly by families). Stena, on the other hand, is the most remote of all of them and is very likely you will not find it in many tourist guides.
We don’t have pictures of the beaches because we made the walk without anything (not even our bags), it’s a simple path and you can not just visit the beaches but also a couple of small monasteries. The road takes you up to 12 kilometres (although you can do as we say and just go to the beaches). No doubt an ideal option if you have time and you want to enjoy a little nature.
As you could see there are a lot of things to do in Crete, it is important to plan and organize properly as the roads will take longer than you expect.
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