Although Crete remains one of the most popular European destinations for holidays, many visitors are unaware of some very interesting facts about the island. If you’re looking for reasons to travel to Crete or simply want to satisfy your curiosity, check these unique and fun facts about Crete. They might make you want to visit the island even more!
This article may have affiliate links to products and services that I use. If you make a purchase through these links, it might earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you.
- Here’s the reading challenge!
- Preparing the Travel and Reading list
- 1. Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
- 2. Jorge Luis Borges, The Aleph
- 3. J.R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
- 4. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
- 5. Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek
- 6. Tiziano Terzani, A Fortune-Teller Told Me
- 7. Sujata Maasey, The Sleeping Dictionary
- 8. David Lodge, Small World
- 9. Stephen King, On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft
- 10. Lonely Planet, The World: A Traveller’s Guide to the Planet
- Final words… (and here is where I cheated!)
Facts about Crete you should know before your trip
The more time I spend on the island, the more I learn interesting facts about Crete that I had no clue about before moving here. Of course, you’ve already heard some of the most famous ones, but I’m sure that this list includes some fun and interesting things you still didn’t know about Crete. Take a look!
1. Zeus Birthplace
The most important god in the Greek pantheon, Zeus, was born on the island. According to the legend he was born in a Cretan cave. What maybe you didn’t know is there are two different caves on the island that claim to have been his place of birth: the Psychro cave in the Lasithi Plateau and the Ideon Cave on Mount Psiloritis.
2. A matter of size
When it comes to rankings, Crete is the biggest Greek island, the 5th biggest in the Mediterranean, and 88th biggest island in the world.
The island has an elongated shape, it’s 260 km long (161 miles) and the width ranges from 60 km at its widest point (37 miles) to 11 km at its narrowest (7 miles). The island has a total area of over 8300 square kilometers (5157 miles). Crete is also the most populous island in Greece.
3. Crete and the Minotaur
One of the best-known legends in Greek mythology takes place in Crete, inside the palace of King Minos. The king who ruled on the island, ordered the construction of the labyrinth under the palace to keep inside the minotaur. The monster, known as Asterion, half bull and half human, was the son of his wife Pasiphae and a bull she mated with after a curse by Poseidon.
4. The House of Asterion
The House of Asterion is a fantastic short story by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges that tells the story of the Minotaur from the point of view of the monster and its house, the labyrinth.
5. The myth of Icarus starts in Crete
Everybody is aware of the terrifying Minotaur, but less people know that the legend of Daedalus and his son Icarus originated on the island, from where they managed to escape using wings. Icarus, however flew too close to the sun, the wax keeping wings attached to the body melted, and he fell in the sea.
6. There are no harmful animals on Crete
Also following the Greek mythological tradition, in an attempt to please the god Zeus, Hercules drove all harmful animals away from Crete. As a result, all animals in Crete are harmless.
7. Everything Began on Crete
Indeed! Crete is the birthplace of the modern European civilization. The history of of the island can be traced as far back as the 7th millennium BC, more than four millennia before the Minoan civilization appearing on Crete. As a matter of fact, the history of Crete is older than the history of the continent itself!
8. Oldest city in Europe
Knossos, now home to one of the most visited archaeological sites in Greece, is considered to be the oldest city in Europe.
9. Crete wasn’t always Greek
People often surprise when they learn that Crete was not a Greek island until December 1913, when it united to the country. As a matter of fact, Crete underwent endless years of foreign occupation before becoming par if the Greek state.
10. It snows on Crete
Another fact that seems to surprise tourists is learning that snowing is quite common on the high mountains on the island. Winters can be pretty cold in the White Mountains (Chania region), the Psiloritis (Rethymnon region) and the Dikti mountain range (Lasithi).
11. Cretan Music
There are different musical instruments that originated on the island of Crete, including the laouto (or Cretan lute), the Cretan Lyra, and – some say – even the violin! Other popular instruments on the island include the mandolin and the unique askomandoura, a kind of bagpipe extremely popular on Crete.
The Cretan Lyra is the most popular surviving form of Medieval Byzantine instrument, and an ancestor of most European bowed musical instruments
12. What’s the weather like in Crete?
Did you know that the island of Crete enjoys not one but two different climates? The Mediterranean climate is typical of the northern coast of Crete, while the climate in the southern part of the island is North African.
13. Words matter
Crete has its own language. The Cretan dialect is a variety of modern Greek spoken not only on Crete but also abroad by the Cretan diaspora in places such as the US, Australia, Germany and some Cretan Turks.
14. First Cretan, then Greek
Cretans are a proud bunch! Many citizens of the island love to refer themselves as Cretans rather than as Greeks. Of course, there are some exceptions to the rule…
15. More islands
The region of Crete (Periferia Kritis) is one of the 13 different regions of Greece and there are several small islands off its Aegean and its Libyan coasts. Some of them are Chrissi, Paximadia, Gavdos, Elafonisi in the south, and Gramvousa, Souda, Theodorou, Spinalonga in the Sea of Crete (North).
16. Cretan poetry
Crete has its unique and own form of poetry, the mantinada. These short rhyming poems, often improvised, are usually performed with the music of the Cretan Lyra. The name comes from the Venetian term matinada, meaning morning song. They usually celebrate love, friendship and the island itself but they can also be sad and even sang in funerals.
17. Crete made its way to… Amsterdam!
Did you know that one of the finest and most expensive cannabis sold in Amsterdam comes from Crete? This cannabis variety is from the area of Mylopotamos, in Rethymnon.
18. The end of the continent
Crete is home to the island of Gavdos, the southernmost point in Europe, about 170 nautical miles from Libya.
19. Unique fauna
Crete is home to animals growing nowhere else in the world. The most famous of them is the wild Cretan goat, known as agrimi or kri kri. This beautiful creature lives in the protected reserve of Theodorou island (opposite Chania) and in the gorge of Samaria. Other rare endemic animals are the Cretan wildcat and the Cretan shrew.
20. Elephants on Crete?
During prehistoric times, Crete used to have its very own variety of elephant, a dwarf mammoth.
21. As ancient as an olive tree
Olive trees have thrived on the island for centuries. Some of the two oldest olive trees in the world are still pretty much alive and it’s possible to visit them. One of these trees is in the village of Vouves, in the Chania region, while the other one (maybe the oldest of both) is in Kavousi, a small village in the region of Lasithi.
22. Cretan love their guns
Crete has the highest ratio of guns per inhabitant in the European Union. It’s a fact that most Cretans own a gun and also that they love to shoot. And still… Crete remains one of the safest destinations in the whole world, so no reason to fear!
23. Healthy air
The air in Crete is thought to have true healing powers. This fact was supported by the father of medicine, Hippocrates, who was convinced that the air on Crete could work miracles on anybody’s health!
24. Clear waters
The sea in Crete is truly transparent. In fact, the waters on the coast are so clear that it’s possible to have a 40-meter deep view from above.
25. Blue Flags
As a consequence, the island of Crete is home to the biggest number of beaches awarded a Blue Flag in Greece.
26. Famous Cretans
The island was the birthplace of several important artists, among some of the most famous ones are the Cretan writer Nikos Kazantzakis and the Cretan Renaissance painter el Greco. Also, the opera singer Nana Mouskouri was born in Chania.
27. Friends from Crete
The famous Hollywood actress Jennifer Aniston, leading character in the wonderful Friends sitcom, is the daughter of Cretan actor Yannis Anastassakis who changed his name to John Aniston.
28. Origin of the name
The earliest reference to the island go back to the Syrian texts from the eighteenth century BC on which the island was named Kaptara. Crete was described as Capthor in Assyrian records as well as in the Bible. For the Egyptians, the island was known as Keftiu. The present name dates back to texts from the fifteenth century (Mycenaean) while the current name Κρήτη (Crete, in Greek) first appears in Homer’s Odyssey in Ancient Greek.
The name of the island became Creta in Latin and Iqritis in Arabic, however, the whole island later became known by the name of Chandax (which was the name of the city of Heraklion). From Arabic this word comes the Latin Candia, used during the Venetian occupation. In the years of the Turkish rule, the island was known as Girit.
29. Where are you from?
The island of Crete is home to a huge expat community which mainly concentrates in the main cities. People from all over Europe choose the island as a place to live after their retirement.
30. As old as wine
Wine has been produced on the island at least since the Bronze Age by the Minoans. Protropos was the name given to a Cretan sweet wine that was exported to Italy in the years of the Roman Empire (second century BC).
31. Cretan wines
The island is home to over 13 unique native grape varieties, being Vidiano and Vilana, two white grapes, among the most famous ones. There are different Cretan appellations, including Peza, Dafnes, Archanes and Sitia.
32. Turk or Cretan? Or both?
The Cretan Turks (Tουρκοκρητικοί in Greek and Giritli Türkler in Turkish) where the Cretan Muslims living on the island of Crete until 1923. Today, this name is used to identify their descendants who mostly settled in Turkey after the exchange of population established by the Treaty of Laussane
According to the treaty, after the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922) the Muslims of Crete were exchanged for the Greek Christians of Anatolia, a moment that marks one of the saddest chapters in the history of the island. Cretan Muslims can also be found in some islands of the Dodecanese, in Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt.
33. Nobel Prize
Odysseas Elytis, a remarkable Greek poet born in Heraklion and with origins in the Greek island of Lesbos, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1979.
34. Italian Renaissance… on Crete
During the period of the Venetian occupation, a new, different form of art, including poetry, religious paintings, and architecture flourished on the island with magnificent examples still to be found in several churches and monasteries. It was the island’s own expression of the Italian Renaissance, the so-called Cretan Renaissance.
35. Palm Trees
The impressive palm tree forest in Vai Beach, Sitia, is the biggest and most important palm forest in Europe. The palm variety is the Phoenix Theophrasti or Cretan date palm. There are four palm tree forests in Greece, three of them on the island. Other than Vai, the other two are Preveli, in south Rethymnon and Agios Nikitas on the southern coast of Heraklion.
36. Not only olives!
Although the island is well-known by the massive olive groves and endless citrus trees, many other fruit also grow on the island. Thanks to the North African climate on the southern coast, plants of banana, kiwi, prickly pear, mango, avocado, pineapple, papaya, guava, and passion fruit strive on Crete.
Another interesting fact about Crete is that, on the island, it’s also possible to find strawberries, cherries, melons, watermelons, plums, apricots, apples, grapes, pears, dates, pomegranates, figs, loquat, and even aloe!
37. And if there’s no tourism…
Despite the fact that the local economy is mostly based in the tourism industry. Agriculture is still an important asset, so much so that Crete is one of the few islands in Greece which could still support itself independently even if it didn’t rely on seasonal tourists.
Are you ready to explore Crete? It can be the trip of your lifetime. Get in touch if you need extra help to plan your itinerary. Or check this guide if you’re touring West Crete. You’ll find detailed info about where to go, what to see, where to eat, and more!
Coming to Crete any time soon? These fantastic resources will help you organize the trip!
- Start by heading right to my post with helpful tips to plan a trip to Crete, which goes over every detail you need to know, from when it’s best to travel to what documents you need, or how to get a SIM card. You can also check my post to plan a Crete trip with kids!
- Probably, you’re also planning to spend some time at the beach on the island. Check my guide to the best beaches in Crete to choose the one you like the most. Read this article to decide what area suits best to stay in Crete, or check this post is you still don’t know all the things you can do in Crete.
- Finally, to have updated information about the island, join my private group on Facebook about Crete and download a copy of my West Crete Travel Guide to have it always with you on the island!
Finally, make sure you’ve got everything you for a hassle-free trip!
- I never move around the island with any of these… my Osprey backpack has been the most loyal travel partner over the last 5 years. It’s sturdy, light, roomy, and super comfortable! I just love it. To visit the old town, archaeological sites, and museums, this little crossbody bag is always around.
- When driving around Crete, I always pack my Michelin map, clear, accurate, and easy to read and my Nikon D7200, I’m lost without any of them. In summer I also carry good sunscreen lotion, the sun on the island can be pretty aggressive.
- Greece, and especially Crete, is a fairly safe destination, however, I’m sure you know that it’s always better to travel with an insurance policy for complete peace of mind. My favorite? World Nomads. Already left home? Buy your travel insurance online now!
- Always bring with you a good travel guide to Crete! The best Crete Travel Guide I’ve found so far is the one published by Lonely Planet. It has all the information you need.
- Airfares to Crete can vary immensely from one airline to the other, make sure you always compare ticket prices with a powerful search engine. Getting to Crete can be really comfortable with an airplane, but nothing beats the romantic experience of traveling by sea. I always choose Let’s Ferry to visit other Greek islands or to travel directly to Crete from Athens. It has a powerful search engine to get the right ticket you need!
- If I need to book accommodation in Crete or anywhere else, I personally use Booking.com. Their Genius Loyalty Programme allows me to find better fees. As they say, the more you stay with them, the more rewards you get.
- Road trips in Crete are the most authentic way to explore the island. Find the cheapest rental car using a good car rental search engine. Discover Cars searches over 500 trusted rental companies for you to find the best deal. Compare prices for rental cars in Crete here.
- Sometimes, the best way to get to know a place better and make the most of your time on Crete is to join an organized tour. GetYourGuide has a great selection of proposals that help you save time and money. From cooking lessons to archaeological site tours, skip-the-line attractions, and even airport transfer!
Do you have everything you need? Then you just have to get ready to discover Crete, Greece’s most beautiful island!
- Further reading
If you would like to read more about Chania, you should also check the best things to do in Chania and read about the beautiful Botanical Park & Gardens, not far from the city center. If you’re touring the island, don’t miss a visit to one of the many unique monasteries and religious sites in Crete or stop for a walk in a picturesque Cretan village. Also, in the Chania area, a tour to Biolea will teach you every detail about the fragrant extra virgin olive oil from Crete.
If you’re planning to check the fantastic beaches of Falasarna or Balos Beach and Lagoon, in the Chania region, don’t miss this incredibly helpful guide to pack a beach bag and get ready to visit the unspoiled coast of the West. Finally, before you leave your country, why not get even more inspired by any of the best movies set on Crete? I’m sure it will make you even more eager to get on that plane to Greece!
Were you aware about these curious facts about Crete?
Let me know in the comments below!
- Pin for Later
About the Author
Hola! I’m Gabi. Welcome to The Tiny Book – Crete Travel Blog! I moved to Crete to explore the island all year round. I love taking pictures and driving on the mountain roads of Crete. I’m a beach freak and on this island I’ve found heaven on earth!