Every Greek island, even a very small one, has its own unique character. Crete, therefore, being the largest and the most populous of them, has a lot of character. Whether you prefer to spend your holiday on a beach, doing sports or learning about history, Crete will be a great destination for you. For our research on Crete, we’ve chosen 5 most exciting things to do there, then went on and did them! Honestly, we were not disappointed!
Learn about Minoan Civilization
There were huge palaces and fine arts on Crete long before the peak of the Greek civilization. Remember those pictures of beautiful Minoan civilization items in your school history textbook? Chances are, the originals are now all in one place, and that place is Heraklion Archeological Museum. The new building hosts everything that was dug up in Knossos and other palaces. The collection is organized so well that you learn a lot even without a guide. Everything is thematically and chronologically grouped, and there are thorough explanations in English.
On the other hand, the archeological site of the Knossos palace itself is a bit underwhelming. The ruins of the palace have seen some rather radical and controversial plaster restoration in the 20th century. As a result, now it’s difficult to tell which parts reflect the true layout of the palace and which – one British archaeologist’s vision of it. Besides, it’s expensive and crowded. By the way, don’t forget to take your student card with you everywhere in Greece! With it, you’ll have discounts and sometimes free entries to a lot of places, like Knossos and the Archeological museum!
Stroll through Chania Harbor
Chania is the capital of western Crete, and you can get there from Heraklion in 2.5 hours by bus or by car. Chania harbor is a beautiful testimony to the importance of Crete as a sea-trading hub. In the 15th century, Crete was under Venetian occupation. The Venetians protected their ports with castles and walls that are still there today. A lot of seafaring infrastructure like Venetian shipyards is also intact.
If you want to learn even more about Crete sea history, pay a visit to Chania Maritime museum. Its main building hosts a collection of small historical ship models and detailed plans of sea campaigns held in Cretan waters. Besides, there is a whole floor of II World War naval artifacts. The second part of the collection occupies a Venetian shipyard and holds a full-size Minoan ship! It also displays educational materials on sails, lighthouses and other seafaring stuff.
Hike Samaria Gorge
Samaria Gorge hike is one of the must-dos on Crete, even if you are not a particularly enthusiastic hiker. The gorge is said to be the longest and the most beautiful in Europe, and you can easily believe that! The narrowest and the most beautiful part of the gorge called “The Gate” is just 3.5 meters wide! Most of the path goes along the river that winds its way to the sea among fantasmagorical stone formations. In short, you’ll love it there!
The gorge is open from April to October, and the buses on the line Chania – Omalos start going to the entrance of the gorge from 6 a.m. In summer, the earlier you start, the less you’ll have to walk in the midday heat. The gorge meets the sea in Agia Roumeli – a beautiful small town with restaurants, beaches and nothing else, not even a road. The only way to get out of there is to take a boat to Sfakia or Sougia and catch buses back to Chania from there. If you come by car and leave it in Omalos, there are buses there from Sougia too.
The hike is about 16 km long, and mostly it’s a pleasant slow descent on a good path. However, the first 3 km are a bit tough, as you have to descend 900 meters. If you’re not sure your joints are up to the challenge, you can start from Agia Roumeli, walk up to the Gate and then walk back. There are toilets and water fountains along the way, but no restaurants, so take food! Don’t worry if you finish your hike much earlier than your boat leaves – Agia Roumeli beach is awesome, so take your time to enjoy a swim!
Sail to Spinalonga Island
Spinalonga Island is favorably positioned to guard the entrance to Elounda harbor. No surprise that the Venetians further fortified it with a castle in the 16th century. In the 20th century, Spinalonga was transformed into a leper colony and continued in this function until 1957 – becoming one of the last active leper colonies in Europe. Although imagining the misery in which leper patients spent their lives here is no fun, don’t let it distract you from the beauty of the island! You can see the whole Elounda harbor from the top, the boats leaving white traces on the radiant blue water of the sea.
Boats come to Spinalonga from Plaka, Elounda and Agios Nikolaos. If you want to be there before the crowds of tourists, try to catch the first boat at 9.30 from Plaka. The majority of people come between 10 and 11 on big tour boats from Agios Nikolaos. Besides, the boat from Plaka is also the cheapest option (8€ there and back).
Eat Cretan Food
You can’t say you know a country without tasting its traditional cuisine. It is doubly true in case of Crete because eating is such an important part of the culture and socializing here. Surprisingly, fish is not popular here, even though Crete is an island. This is because living by the sea was dangerous thanks to corsair raids, and the Cretans preferred to live in the mountains. Hence, one of the must-try of the Cretan cuisine is meat – goat, lamb, and pork are equally awesome as a main dish.
Every Crean dinner is a lavish affair which starts with local red wine and appetizers. Some of the most unique ones are fried snails, Radiki, Dakos, and Fava. The latest is my particular favorite: it’s a hummus-like dish from peas, served with olive oil, onion, and capers, which you spread over delicious fresh bread. Speaking of bread, Cretan pastry is gorgeous! Of special interest are pastries with local cheese myzithra, which is of a very good quality.
And of course, don’t forget to finish your dinner with Raki – a local strong alcoholic drink.