Crete, the biggest island in Greece, and it’s an island that has something for every visitor. It doesn’t matter if you’re a lover of history, nature or sports, or whether you just need some rest on one of the best beaches in Crete, there are so many fantastic things to do in Crete that it will be a real challenge to make up your mind.
In this list, I’ve included 50 of my favorite things to do in Crete, things that I’ve been doing both during my years as a tourist on Crete but also since I moved to the island. Crete has been my home for a good while now, so don’t expect this to be a quick top 10 list of things to do in Crete.
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50 unmissable things to do in Crete
Choosing only 10 or 15 things to do in Crete is clearly impossible for me. I could do that with other destinations, but now with my island. So, this is a very comprehensive free guide of Crete. I want to show you all the amazing things you can do on Crete island!
I understand that choosing what to do in Crete can be a daunting experience, especially if you’ve never been before. Even more so, if you are used to some of the smaller Greek islands.
On the other hand, it would have been easy for me to write about 100 things to do in Crete, but this would have turned out to be crazy long and even more overwhelming if you’re still in the planning stage of your trip.
This first-round of suggestions include the top 10 things to do in Crete. All of these places to see and things to do in Crete will easily fit in 2 or 3 weeks on the island.
Next up, I go into more detail according to the regions of Crete. This way you will be able to see my selection of things to do in Crete’s regions: Heraklion, Chania, Rethymnon, and the easternmost Lasithi.
If you’re on the island just for a few days and wondering what you can do in Crete, it’s a great idea to start with the first items: 10 top things to do in Crete.
To fit these suggesting part of your travel plans, check out my Crete itineraries for shorter holidays. These are mini itineraries you can combine, such as 1-3 days in Heraklion, 1-3 days in Rethymno, or 1-3 days in Chania.
10 top things to do in Crete
Let’s start with my most favorite things to do in Crete. These also happen to be the most popular places to see on the island, and it’s my opinion that all of them should be included on your own list of things to do in Crete. Take a look!
1. Discover the Ancient Minoan Civilization
The island of Crete has always been considered the cradle of western civilization.
In fact, the Minoan culture lived and thrived on the island for thousands of years, leaving a legacy that you can still see in the different archaeological sites scattered all over Crete.
But not only the Minoans! On the island it’s possible to discover ruins dating back to the Hellenistic and Roman periods, to the Byzantine rule, the Venetians, and the Ottoman occupation, to name a few. Getting to know the local culture also through its complex past is a wonderful experience.
So when sitting down to plan your holiday, remember that choosing to visit an ancient settlement, a museum, or even an old town is certainly a must-do thing in Crete to really discover what the island is all about.
2. Swim on the Southern Coast of Crete
Some of the most beautiful beaches of Crete are located on the southern coast of the island, bathed by the pristine waters of the Libyan sea.
Many of these beaches are among Crete’s top shores, while others remain unique hidden gems that only a few manage to discover.
If you’re planning to escape the chaotic northern coast, seeking a relaxed and tranquil holiday, you should certainly check this list including the best beaches in southern Crete to pick where to go and where to stay, but also everything you need to know to get there. Including the GPS coordinated too!
The southern coast of Crete is one of those unforgettable places you always dream of when you think about complete relax, beautiful landscapes, and total isolation. These beaches should never miss in any list of the best things to do in Crete.
3. Marvel at the Beautiful Cretan Monasteries
Monasteries played an important role for centuries all over Crete. The stood next to the locals when it was time to set free from the Venetians, the Ottoman rule (1645-1898), or devastating Nazi occupation at the times of WWII.
Some of these historic monasteries are tucked away in the mountainous landscape of the island, often hard to reach and sheltered within a perimeter of thick fortified walls. Other times, located in beautiful, strategic positions, close to the sea to protect the island from pirate incursions.
You can check some of my favorite ones in this article about The most beautiful monasteries, churches, and other religious buildings in Crete.
4. Sail to the Islands Off the Coast of Crete
There are many small islands along the coast of Crete that you can visit. On the southern coast, Koufonisi and Chrissi are two uninhabited islands where you can spend a wonderful day swimming in some beautiful shores.
Further south, the somewhat bigger Gavdos Island is a unique place to visit. Gavdos belongs to the region of Chania and it’s Europe’s southernmost point, closer to Africa than to mainland Greece.
On the northern coast, instead, the small Dia Island is opposite the shore of Heraklion, and can also be seen with a day trip departing from the port of Hersonissos.
Spinalonga instead, is an island where you cannot spend a day at the beach, however, you can learn a lot about Crete’s past, as it was the last leper colony to close in the country.
Always in the northern coast, you can take a boat to visit the island of Imeri Gramvousa, close to the fantastic beach of Balos and spend a morning exploring the ancient Venetian fortress on the highest point on the island. A visit to the small islands off the coastis another great thing to do in Crete
5. Have a Shot of Cretan Raki
This is definitely a must-thing to do in Crete. It doesn’t matter whether you’re visiting the island for the first time or not. Nobody who comes to Crete leaves the island without a toast with Cretan raki.
Raki, or Tsikoudia, is a local spirit, usually produced at home, with a very high volume in alcohol, served before or after a meal… or even on both occasions!
Yet, raki means a lot more. It’s Crete’s natural expression of hospitality, a way to welcome you and thank you for your visit.
If you’re curious about this drink, how it’s made and all the legends connected to raki-making, take a look at this guide to Cretan raki.
Among all the things to do in Crete, sampling a shot of raki is something you will definitely do… even if you don’t plan for it!
6. Try an Outdoor Adventure
The vast landscape of Crete is not only about (awesome) beaches! There are also many high mountains (with a height average of 2400 meters), deep gorges, plateaus, valleys, rivers, lakes, and even waterfalls. Crete offers the perfect scenario to practice any kind of sport.
Either extreme or soft, Crete is a land of adventures. A trip to Crete can include hiking one of Europe’s longest gorge, but also many other revines with varied length and difficulty. On Crete you can also go rock climbing, bungee jumping or simply trekking.
As expected, water sports are also popular, including kayaking, windsurfing, kite-surfing, scuba diving, snorkeling and more.
It’s also possible to go horseback riding in different areas of the island. Those interested in softer experiences can get in touch with one of the many yoga associations for a class surrounded by some of the most beautiful landscapes of Crete.
7. Indulge in the Staples of the Cretan Cuisine (Is there any better thing to do in Crete?)
The island perfect place to sample the healthiest diet that’s out there. Seasonal, simple products, fresh fruit, abundant greens, pulses, bread, cheese, and yogurt… but also a reduced amount of animal protein and a bounteous quantity of extra virgin olive oil give shape to the Cretan diet.
However, even when you could make an attempt to eat this way at home, what makes this way of eating so special is that mealtime is also an occasion to share. And that’s key in the Mediterranean diet, in the Cretan diet, and on Crete.
Gathering around a table to share a meal is an excuse to share conversation, laughter, and to be together.
You could spend a good 4 hours at a table and don’t even notice the time going by. Let’s be honest, which dish doesn’t taste a lot better if shared in good company?
8. Explore the Small Hidden Villages
The authentic Cretan way, the traditions, and the rituals are very much alive in every small village around the island. In fact, one of my favorite things to do in Crete is to jump on my car and simply drive around until I decided it’s time to stop in any given village I find.
This way, you can walk around the streets, check the houses, and the local kafenio, the traditional bar when men still today gather for a cup of Elliniko (Greek coffee), a glass of raki, and a lot of conversation.
Some of these villages have become well-known and are used to receiving tourists every year, more or less visited, they can be a good place to start exploring what life in the village is all about. Yet, some others, have remained lost and forgotten. I definitely encourage you to discover those captivating places you can only find getting lost on your own.
9. Choose your Favorite Beach on Crete
It happens! If it’s the first time you’re planning to visit Crete the only thing you care about is the beaches. And some time may go by until you learn there’s more to the island than the most unspoilt shores you can think of.
So yes, let’s start by exploring the beaches. My personal suggestion? Don’t just go for the obvious! Of course, Balos and Elafonisi are worth a visit, but explore more!
You can also fid out about the best beaches for naturists, the best beaches in the lesser-known Akrotiri Peninsula if you’re staying in Chania, and of course, those traveling with children, take a look at the best family-friendly beaches in Crete! The island is an awesome destination for children, I guess you already know that!
From all the things to do in Crete, swimming in any of the island’s beaches is one more of the top things to do in Crete!
10. Sip a Glass of Cretan Wine
Wine tourism is a thing on Crete, a big thing! There are dozens of wineries spread in every corner of the island producing phenomenal quality wines and most of them are open to the public.
You can choose to explore the wine region in Heraklion and visit a small local winery. Or you can attend a wine seminar and learn about the 13 native grape varieties that are rocking the Greek wine scene.
You can taste the wines of Chania, either in a monastery, in the wineries of the region or even in a wine cellar in the center of town. Or you can travel all the way to the east to discover what is the wine production like in Lasithi.
Cretan wine is making some noise worldwide too, so why not checking what the local association Wines of Crete has to tell you about the regional varieties and wine production on the island.
Let’s now see the top things to do in Crete, region by region…
10 best things to do in the Chania region
11. Explore the Old Town of Chania
The second most important city of Crete is Chania, on the west of the island. Other than being a modern town with plenty of activities for every taste, Chania is also home to the most captivating old town in Crete (and some would even argue that’s the prettiest in Greece!)
The Old Town of Chania is a maze of cobblestone alleys, colorful Venetian houses, and other stunning buildings that speak volumes of the city’s history and the foreign rules that the whole island underwent. In this ancient seaside town, ancient Turkish minarets share the skyline with Catholic churches and belltowers, but also with the Orthodox cathedral, a few old-time monasteries, and several museums.
Donkey steps, gardens with blossomed bougainvillea, Venetian dockyards, a romantic harbor, and an Egyptian lighthouse are also part of the old town landscape. And the list of things to do in Chania certainly doesn’t end here. Check what else is there to do in Chania in this article, or include a two-day visit to Chania’s old town in your travel itinerary.
Still wondering if you should visit Chania or not? Trust me, spending a few days in Chania is one of the unmissable things to do in Crete!
12. Don’t Miss a Trip to Elafonisi Beach
Crete’s most talked about spot, that place that everyone wants to visit, is the pink sand beach of Elafonisi. A fascinating littoral on the southwestern tip of Crete that attracts more and more visitors every summer.
However, a trip to Elafonisi can be a lot more than just one more day at the beach. First up, the two best roads to get there are simply stunning. One of them guides you through an awe-inspiring ravine. The second way, the coastal road, presents a magnificent seaside landscape especially at sunset.
On the way to Elafonisi, it’s also possible to explore forgotten caves, a wonderful monastery by the sea, or enjoy stop for a prodigal lunch in a village with a chestnut forest.
A trip to this beach is packed with opportunities to see every aspect of Crete in just one day. Check this complete guide to visit Elafonisi to get ready for the adventure.
13. Discover the Turkish Quarter in the Old Town
Back in the old town of Chania, once you’ve explored the Venetian district, the oldest synagogue, and the museums, it’s time to venture in the most picturesque neighborhood of Chania’s old town, Splantzia.
Splantzia or the Turkish quarter is an area that has managed to remain quite isolated from mass tourism and still guards an unchanged atmosphere of a bygone past. And still, there’s a vibrant atmosphere at all times. The neighborhood is home to the places that locals love the most. The most convenient restaurants, the authentic kafenia, bookshops, artisan workshops… you name it!
It’s a pity to visit Chania and to miss a walk along the alleys of the Turkish district, so if you’ve made up your mind and want to visit, check the 10 best things to do in Splantzia, one of Chania’s most authentic neighborhoods.
14. Swim in the Fantastic Beaches of West Crete
The region of Chania treasures some of the best beaches of Crete. And you don’t even need to drive far to see them. Even close to the city center, there are fantastic beaches as well as safe and clean shores for every member of the family.
And if you’re not renting a car to explore further seaside villages, even close to the old town there are a few beautiful beaches, such as Nea Chora, Koum Kapi, and Tabakaria.
Also close to the city center, it’s possible to swim in Agii Apostoli, Agia Marina or Platanias. Or you can even venture further, and check the beaches closer to Kissamos, Kolymbari or the region of Apokoronas.
In this article, I’ve included over 40 beaches in the region of Chania and a lot of tips to make the most of your beach day on any of them.
15. Hike one of the gorges in Chania
Home to the imposing White Mountains, the regional unit of Chania counts with dozens of gorges for those who into hiking, trekking, and exploration.
Every year, hundreds of people from all over the world board a plane to Crete with the intention to cross Samaria. And who could blame them? Samaria is one of the longest gorges in Europe, it’s 13-km long and you will need to walk about 3 km more to reach the nearest town so as to make it back to the city.
Yet, there are several other gorges you can explore, some of them from the comfort of your own car if you believe you’re not up to the hiking experience.
For instance, the gorge of Imbros, in Sfakia, can take you about 3 hours to cross and is often included in the list of the “easiest gorges” in Crete. Other gorges include Aradaina, Agia Eirini, Topolia, Deliana, and Therisso, to name a few.
There are dozens of gorges to can explore in the region of Chania… As a matter of fact, hiking is one of the most popular things to do in Crete.
16. Take a Day Trip to Falassarna Beach
Another top beach in the region of Chania is Falassarna (or also Falasarna), in the extreme west of the island. It’s only a bit more than an hour from the center of the city, and it can be a great place to spend a day or two.
Falassarna is a huge open bay with ideal conditions for water sports when it’s windy, and great for swimming when it’s not. The huge sandy beach is great to play tennis, beach volley, and for small kids to play and explore without any fear of getting lost.
There aren’t many things to do in the area of Falassarna, so it’s often considered a great place for an extremely lazy holiday. However, if you’re keen on exploring archaeological sites, check the ancient settlements of Falassarna in the area, and also Polyrrenia if you’re up for a longer drive.
Not far from the beach, in the town of Kissamos, you can also visit the Archaeological Museum that exhibits many objects found in both ancient settlements.
Falassarna is also a great place for inspiring romantic views, and home to some of the best restaurants in Crete. Here you can check everything you need to know to plan a day or a whole week in this solitary corner of Crete.
17. Choose a Beach in the Akrotiri Peninsula
Cape Akrotiri is the place I chose as my home in Crete. The area is conveniently close to the center of Chania, yet far enough to avoid it if you feel like spending some time away from the summer crowds. All good reasons to include it as one of the best places to see in Crete.
There are plenty of things to discover in Akrotiri, including three magnificent monasteries open to the public. Akrotiri also hosts the Tombs of Venizelos in one of the parks with the best views of the old town. But more than anything else, the Akrotiri Peninsula boasts some remarkable beaches. One of them, for instance, made all their way to Instagram and went from being practically unknown to one of the hottest spots to see on the island, Seitan Limania.
The peninsula is also famous for Stavros beach, which was a Hollywood set for the Oscar-awarded film Zorba the Greek. Other beaches still remain unspoiled, such as the beaches of Loutraki, Kalathas, and Tersanas.
18. Visit the Botanical Park & Gardens of Crete
Not far from the Omalos Plateau, at the foothills of the White Mountains, the Botanical Park & Gardens of Crete is a 20-hectare open space with gardens where you can spend a day doing something completely different.
Countless flowers, trees, and bushes. Gardens with berries, grapes, citrus, exotic plants, and native species are part of this walk surrounded by the most stunning expression of nature.
Get acquainted with over 150 types of fruit trees, as well as herbs and medicinal plants that have been used on the island for centuries.
There’s also a farm and a magnificent restaurant at the end of the trail serving dishes made with products locally frown in the park. Even a simple orange juice taste completely different in the gardens, especially since it’s paired with the unbelievable landscape and colors of Crete’s highest mountains.
19. Plan a Trip to Balos Beach & Lagoon
I’ve already mentioned two of my favorite beaches n the region, Elafonisi and Falasarna. However, a trip to Balos cannot miss from any list of unmissable things to do in Crete.
Crete’s most exotic beach and probably the most famous image of the island you can find anywhere online is the magnificent shape of Cape Tigani with the crystal blue waters of Balos and its spectacular white sand.
Among the most visited places in Crete, there’s no way you postpone a trip to Balos, no matter what time of the year you come to the island
Balos has become a must day trip not just for who stays in Chania, but for anyone staying in any of Crete’s other regions. Even if it’s quite far from places such as Heraklion or Agios Nikolaos, people travel from every corner of Crete to visit Balos.
Balos is also known for being quite difficult to access, and for that same region many decide to board a day cruise and spend the day sailing to reach this beach.
And yet, going to Balos by car is not so difficult after all, and it can be a very rewarding experience and a super fun thing to do. If you’re wondering how to get to Balos on your own, check this complete Balos guide to know everything you need to know about it, including where to stay, when to go, how to go, and much more!
Don’t put off swimming in Balos Lagoon when you visit Crete!
20. Take a Photographic Tour of the Abandoned Tanneries
One my my favorite corners of Chania is the old quarter of Tabakaria (also Tambakaria), not far from the old town, and just next to the aristocratic neighborhood of Chalepa.
The island of Crete was ruled by the Byzantine on two occasions, but between the first and the second Byzantine rule, Saracen pirates took over and dominated the island. When they were gone, they had left no physical evidence of their time on Crete, what they did leave are habits, crafts, and traditions that have become one more ingredient of Crete’s individual traits. They taught us all about smoking, drinking coffee, using spices, and working leather.
And that’s when you encounter the fascinating world of the abandoned tanneries of Chania. A walk by the sea in this quarter at sunset grants unique sights and landscapes with suggestive beauty. A perfect place for intrepid photographers, a visit to Tabakaria can take you directly to the soul of a time long gone by. Check this guide to photo-shooting in Tabakaria to better plan your visit.
Best things to do in the Heraklion region
Hundred are the things you could do in Heraklion if you had a lot of available time… unfortunately, we usually have just a few days to devote to each region of the island. These are Heraklion’s top destinations. Checking at least a few of them can be a great addition to your own list of things to do in Crete!
21. Tour the Minoan Palace of Knossos
Yes! It’s Knossos the place on the island that receives the highest number of visitors year after year. And it’s a place you should visit too!
The archaeological site of Knossos is a palatial complex dating from the Bronze Age, located just 5 km south of the center of Heraklion, quite easy to reach with public transport or driving your own car.
Significant restoration works by the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans modified the aspect of the ruins according to his personal interpretation of life and architecture during the Minoan period. However, and despite Evan’s own view, the site manages to show us how everything could have looked like in the times of the Minoans.
When visiting Crete, you cannot postpone or avoid a trip to Knossos, even if you’re not a big fan of history. (There are even special tours for those who simply want a quick view of the palace). Instead, if you really enjoy archaeological sites and ancient settlements, do schedule a visit to Knossos, with or without a guided tour, to find out about the mysteries of the island and its past.
Knossos remains Greece’s second most visited archaeological site after the Acropolis in Athens! So if you want details on how to avoid crowds, tips to prepare the visit and navigate the site on your own, visiting hours, entrance fees, public transport, and suggestions to enjoy your day in the Minoan Palace, check this article about Knossos.
There’s no doubt about it, a visit to the Minoan Knossos is one to the most stunning things to do in Crete!
22. Visit the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion
The best way to complement your visit to the Archaeological Palace of Knossos is to head to Heraklion’s Archaeological Museum just before or right after checking the Minoan Palace.
Among the most important museums in Europe, the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion is hosted in a former Venetian-Franciscan friary that suffered severe damage during an earthquake in 1865.
A day at the museums will put on display over 5500 years of Crete’s history since about the year 7000 BC (Neolithic period) until the Roman times on the island (about 200 AD).
There are impressive objects found in some of Crete’s different Minoan Palaces (Malia, Faistos, and Zakros, other than Knossos), including jewellery, pottery, weapons, and curious objects such as ancient board games, erotic figurines, and personal objects.
The most famous object in the museum is the Disc of Phaistos, a very small clay disc not bigger than 15 cm in diameter, with symbols carved on both sides, which still remains one of the best-known mysteries of archaeology and ancient civilizations.
23. Check the Top Attractions in the Capital of Crete
Even when many people think of Heraklion as just little more than the gate to access Crete, the capital of the island has much more to offer than the Palace of Knossos and the Archaeological Museum.
The center of Heraklion has some of the best examples of Venetian architecture, with its Loggia and the fantastic Lion’s Fountain.
Equally important, the Venetian Fortress in the old port as well as the churches standing along the pedestrian street 25th of August, the former Basilica of Saint Mark’s, now Heraklion’s Municipal Art Gallery, as well as the church of Agios Minas. All these landmarks are included in my 2-day Heraklion Itinerary with greater detail.
A cosmopolitan city with plenty of shops, fantastic restaurants, and an animated nightlife, the capital of Crete can be a true surprise. Besides, Heraklion is a great place to stay to explore the rest of the region and, thanks to its central position, it’s also a perfect place to stay if you want to tour the nearby regions of Lasithi and Rethymnon too.
24. Discover Matala, the hippie beach
The south coast of Heraklion’s regional unit has some ravishing beaches worth the trip. The most famous of them is Matala, with its impressive caves and the stories about the 60s, the years when Matala was worldwide known for hosting a hippie community.
Not far from the village of Matala, there are more places you can come across and enjoy, including the naturist Red Beach, just a short hike away from Matala, the archaeological sites of Agia Triada and Gortyn, and Crete’s second most important Minoan Palace, Faistos.
This guide to Matala includes all the landmarks mentioned, as well as other places worth checking, such as the ruins of Kommos, the beach of Kalamaki, and several small villages where you can spend the night as well. Don’t skip Matala when you travel to the island, a trip to this beach is among the many unforgettable things you can do in Crete.
25. Have Fun in Heraklion’s Theme Parks
Popular activities and parks concentrate in the area surrounding the capital of Crete. So, other than great museums and ruins, once in Heraklion, you can discover theme parks and aquatic parks thought for the whole family.
Among my favorite, I always include Cretaquarium which although not big, has an interesting collection of proposals, visits, and interactive activities always going on. Not far and also fantastic for children is Dinosauria Park. As the name anticipates, Dinosauria is an amazing journey into a remote past. Both parks are in the area of Gournes, just minutes from the center. Not far, you can also discover everything about Crete and it’s labyrinths in the Labyrinth Park.
For those who want to add some more adrenaline, Heraklion is home to some water parks as well, Watercity is in Anopolis, a small village about 20 minutes from the capital. Acqua Plus is a water park for everyone in the family, with a special area devoted to relaxing and several water games also for adults. If you’re traveling to Crete with kids and want to discover more theme parks and family activities, check the family holidays in Crete article.
26. Go Clubbing in Hersonissos
Nights in Heraklion are all about Hersonissos and the close-by town of Malia, both on the northern coast, just minutes away from the capital.
Club Sensation, New York Beach Club, Palm Beach Club are some of the clubs where every summer night thousands of tourists and locals alike choose to have drinks, dance and meet new people.
Likewise, the coastal resort of Malia, minutes away from Hersonissos, is another favorite area with many pubs, discos, bars, and night clubs, such as Candy Club or Reflex. Most of them concentrate along Dimokratias Avenue and stretch until the port where there are also a few popular beach bars too.
Nightlife in Crete is generally quite laid-back in most cities of the island. There are a few clubs in the area of Agia Marina-Platanias (in Chania) and in Elounda (Lasithi), yet, the movida in Crete happens between Malia and Hersonissos.
Eager to experience the nightlife on the island? If that’s your goal, heading to Hersonissos is one of the best things you can do in Crete!
27. Explore Heraklion’s Wine Region
More than 65 % of all Cretan wineries are located in Heraklion, distributed all over the region and concentrating in areas such as Peza, Archanes, and Dafnes. These are, in fact, threes of Crete’s Protected Designations of Origin (PDOs).
Wine tourism is on constant growth all over the island, and it’s always a smart idea to visit some of the local wineries when touring Heraklion.
You can opt to visit a small family winery with a more informal setting but also where it’s also possible to talk with the owners. This experience gets you closer to winemaking and you might even be invited to a homemade lunch with a few glasses of the winery’s production, of course!
You can also go for a visit to a bigger winery, with tour packages that can include, food pairing lessons, wine seminars, lunch, vineyard tours, or more sophisticated wine tasting experiences.
28. Explore the Archaeological Palace of Malia
About 30 minutes from the center of town, on the coast facing the Sea of Crete (North), there’s another archaeological site you can visit in the regional unit of Heraklion, the Minoan Palace of Malia.
Inside the archaeological site it’s possible to visit a small but captivating museum.
Once you access the area with the ruins and the excavations, you’ll be impressed by the storage rooms as well as by the different containing jars or pithoi of impressive measures.
Other things to check inside Malia are the staircases, and a circular structure known as kernos, similar to a round table that bears a central hole and smaller cavities around, probably used by the Minoans to make offers to their gods in exchange for an abundant crop.
29. Try your Sailing Skills on the North Coast of Heraklion
The northern coast of Heraklion is not just the cosmopolitan and chaotic Hersonissos and Malia, if you move to the west of the capital, you’ll find different beaches with a more laid-back atmosphere, some of them great to practice water sports.
Beaches such as Agia Pelagia or Ligaria are fairly protected bays where it’s possible to rent paddle boats, kayaks or fishing boats.
You can also sail to discover the nearby hidden coves, or swim beaches otherwise impossible to access.
In some of these smaller resorts, it’s also possible to rend a small boat without needing a sailing license and test your skills as a captain. I’ve written about my experience in Agia Pelagia inside my Heraklion itinerary for 2 or 3 days.
30. Check Heraklion’s Unique Museums
Other than the fantastic Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, there are many interesting museums to visit in the capital as well as in the rest of the region.
Some of them are the Historical Museum of Crete and the Natural History Museum of Crete, with a variety of special activities (some interactive) especially thought for children.
Also in the city, the Museum of Visual Arts, and one of my favorite, the small but fascinating Museum of Ancient Greek Technology with its exhibition Hi-Tech Inventions of Ancient Greeks.
In the broader area, check the Open Air Museum Lychnostasis (in Kera village), the Kazantzakis Museum (in Myrtia village), the Museum of Rural Life (in Piskopiano village), and the Thirathen Museum of Greek Folk Music and Musical Instruments (in Krousonas village) devoted to Greek traditional music, Cretan instruments and native music of the island. Choosing any of these lesser-known museums can be a unique experience… And definitely one more great thing to do in Crete during your holidays on the island!
Best things to do in the Rethymnon region
Rethymnon is another region you should include in your trip. The area is brimming with things to do, places to discover, and landscapes that will definitely impress you. Take a lot at the wonders of this unique Cretan region…
31. Check the Top Attractions in the Old Town of Rethymnon
The Republic of Venice dominated and ruled on the island of Crete from 1212 until the Ottoman conquest in 1649. Rethymnon is one of the Cretan cities which hosts a picturesque old town with unique memories from the Venetian period.
Rethymnon’s Old Venetian Harbor, the Lighthouse, the Fortress, the Loggia, and the historic Rimondi Fountain are some of the constructions that still stand, a living memory of the Italian influence in the city’s style and architecture.
The Ottoman occupation of Crete, from 1669 until 1898 also left its mark with mosques and tall minarets shaping the skyline of Rethymnon’s old town. If you’re planning to visit, you might want to discover what are the best things to do in Rethymnon.
32. Learn about Crete’s History in Arkadi Monastery
Maybe Crete’s best-known religious center, the Holy Monastery of Arkadi has always been a key player in Crete’s history and the island’s fights for freedom.
Under 25 km from the center of Rethymnon, Arkadi is a fave day trip to anyone staying in the area.
The tragic history of the Arkadi Holocaust, during which over 900 men, women, and children chose to die rather than surrendering to the Turks, contrasts with the peaceful beauty of the monastery’s gardens and the imposing Baroque church in the center of the courtyard.
If you wish to visit, you will find maps, visiting hours, as well as more details in this article about Arkadi Monastery as well as in this guide to Crete’s most remarkable religious sites.
A pleasant mountain drive all the way to this famous historic monastery is one to the most interesting things to do in Crete on one of those days you don’t really feel like going to the beach!
33. Experience a Boutique Winery
Crete’s star grape, Vidiano, originally comes from the Rethymnon region, if you’re a wine lover, that reason alone should be enough for you to go wine tasting in a local winery.
Although there are not many wineries open to the public in the region, one of them will certainly surprise you with is boutique approach to wine making.
Klados Winery is in the small village of Skepasti, about 20 minutes from the center of Rethymnon city. Here, a young Cretan producer constantly works with a small selection of native and international grapes to produce only a few labels of Cretan excellence.
Either you’re staying in Rethymnon, or driving along Crete’s National Road, put Klados Winery in your GPS and make some time to taste their innovative reds and fantastic whites. Read here about my experience.
34. Find all you can Do in Amari Valley
One more traditional mountain area to check on Crete is the Amari Valley as well as the several small mountain settlements in the area, all of them at the foot of the impressive Mount Psiloritis, Crete’s highest mountain (2456 m) belonging to the UNESCO’s Global Geoparks Network, and Mount Kedros (1777 m).
A center of resistance during the Battle of Crete, the villages in the valley, on and on Mount Kedros were especially castigated by the Nazis during the German occupation during the tragic episode known as the Holocaust of Amari (or the Holocaust of Kedros).
Nowadays, spending a day in Amari is a journey into the traditions of the island, as well as into the nature of the region. It’s a good idea to visit the beautiful and lush Patsos Gorge or, if you’re fit enough, try reaching the peak of the Psiloritis. Our visit to Amari included experiences such as witnessing the raki distillation and baking bread in a traditional wooden oven.
35. Explore the Archaeological Site of Eleftherna
The Archaeological Site of Ancient Eletherna (also Eleutherna) is a settlement in the region of Rethymnon, no more than 30 km south from the city center.
Eleftherna is also close to the pottery village of Margarites, and the Holy Monastery of Arkadi, therefore combining the three of them in a day trip is always a great idea.
In this site, you can observe remarkable findings from different periods, including an ancient Christian Basilica, since the area has been continuously occupied since the early Minoan periods until the early Byzantine era.
This is another archaeological site of utmost importance so you can also find information to organize your visit in this list with the most prominent Cretan archaeological sites open to the public.
36. Check the Traditional Mountain Villages
There are beautiful, traditional villages in every corner of the island. They can be close to the sea, or hidden in the mountains. The region of Rethymnon hides villages with an important history, which treasure rituals and habits unique to Crete.
One of these villages is Anogia, standing almost next to Mount Psiloritis, and home to some famous musicians, including Cretan Lyra players.
Other villages to visit in the region include Spili, with is head lion fountains, Asteri, and the extravagant Poliou House and Folklore Museum, and Axos, home to a well-known wood artisan and wood-carving museum.
This article here, not only includes the most picturesque villages in Rethymnon, but also different villages and small towns hidden in each Cretan region.
A short trip to some of the local mountain villages can be a one-of-a-kind experience, definitely another unmissable thing to do in Crete if you want to really explore the lesser-known places on the island.
37. Discover the Best Beaches in Rethymnon
Rethymnon is a region with a wonderful south coast, boasting beaches such as Plakias, Ligres, Preveli, or the wide shore of Triopetra.
Damnoni beach is close to the village of Plakias, it’s a rather long sandy beach and a special, secluded corner where naturists have been sunbathing and swimming for years.
Always in the area, Ammoudi and Skinaria are two gorgeous beaches also popular for the different immersion schools that take their students there for scuba diving classes.
The beaches south of Rethymnon face the crystal clear waters of the Libyan sea and some of them have such unique characteristics that a drive across the mountains is more than worth it.
38. Spend a Day at Preveli Palm Beach
Another wonderful beach you can visit on the south coast of Rethymnon is the Palm Tree Beach of Preveli, with a unique exotic landscape.
The beach is 35 km south Rethymnon city, at the mouth of Kourtaliotako Gorge where the Megas Potamos river flows until getting to the Libyan sea.
On both sides of the river, there’s a palm forest that suffered a severe fire a few years ago, although it’s still quite a green area.
The shore is sandy but there’s no organization.
On the east side of the beach there’s a huge rock that has the shape of a heart and which has become another landmark of Crete’s southern coast.
Since Preveli is a protected natural area, there’s no organization on the beach. You can read about Preveli in this article.
39. Visit Preveli Monastery Complex
One more beautiful monastery in the region, with an impressive past and history, as well as an important role during the Ottoman rule of Crete as well as in the Nazi occupation is Preveli.
The complex is formed by two different monasteries, Kato Monastiri (the lower monastery, today in ruins) and Piso Monastiri (the rear monastery), which you can visit since it’s active and open to the public.
The role of Preveli monastery and its monks during the Battle of Crete (1941) was very important both in the battle against the invading German forces, in the support of the allied forces even as a refuge for those soldiers who weren’t rescued and had to remain on the island.
Together with Arkadi Monastery, Preveli is among the most important religious centers in Crete. You can read about both of them in this article about monasteries, churches, and mosques of Crete.
40. Walk around the Mountain Springs in Argyroupoli
The mountain village of Argyroupoli is a mountain village about 27 km southwest the city of Rethymnon. Argyroupolis was once a powerful Roman settlement, known as Lappa, a remarkable city with traditional Roman characteristics, including aqueducts, and public baths.
In recent years, archaeologists found ancient Roman villas of unique beauty, but also mosaics, statues, vases, and pottery. The importance of Ancient Lappa is highlighted by the coins that the city minted, also found during the excavations.
Some of the things you can see in the area are the waterfalls surrounded by lush vegetation as well as the several springs that originate in river Mouselas.
A day trip to Argyroupoli is a popular thing to do in Crete if you’re staying in Rethymnon, you can also walk Argyroupoli’s hiking paths, visit the cave with the church of Agios Ioannis, or eat in one of the several restaurants settled close to the springs and surrounded by exuberant plants and trees.
Best things to do in the Lasithi region
I’m a fan of Lasithi, for me it’s one of the nicest regions to explore. It concentrates all the best there’s to do in Crete, including sailing to the islands of Spinalonga, Chrissi, and Koufonisi, discovering the local gastronomy, checking lonely monasteries, and exploring unique archaeological sites.
41. Spend Time in Agios Nikolaos
Agios Nikolaos is the capital of the region of Lasithi and an important touristic resort on the northern coast of Crete, nestled in the heart of the Mirabello Gulf.
If you’re traveling around the region of Lasithi, Agios Nikolaos is a great place to stay in order to visit the different landmarks of the region.
Among the many things to do in Agios Nikolaos, it’s a good idea to check some of the several beaches right in the heart of the city as well as not many kilometers away, both towards the east and the west.
The main characteristic of the city is the beautiful Lake Voulismeni, which connects directly to the sea. Around the area of the lake, there are several bars and restaurants worth a visit.
In town, check the staircases that connect the hilly landscape of the city. Some of them have been embellished by artists and students.
Agios Nikolaos is also home to some gorgeous churches, such as the old Byzantine church of Saint Nicholas, close to the bay or Ormos, which also gives the name to the city.
42. Tour the Lasithi Plateau
A unique place to see in the region is the Lasithi Plateau, a scenic drive along a 23-kilometer road that takes you to unexplored mountain villages, surrounded by a fantastic mountain landscape.
There are several villages along the way where you can discover everyday life in Crete, or even enjoy a traditional homemade Cretan lunch with authentic and fresh products grown locally.
If you’re not certain about which towns you can visit, start with a stop in Tzermiado, a traditional village populated with ancient kafenia (Greek cafés, traditional houses, and a small but gorgeous central church.
Other villages worth a visit are Agios Giorgos, and its Cretan Folk Museum dedicated to several Cretan crafts and traditions.
Also along the road, you can stop at the village of Psychro and visit the Dikteon Cave (or Cave of Zeus) or admire the magnificent stone mills in the old village of Kera.
43. Explore the Cave of Zeus
The Cave of Zeus is another site worth a stop whenever you visit the Lasithi Plateau, in the eastern region of Lasithi. Also known as Dikteon Andron, the cave is an ancient Minoan site of worship which the locals found out by chance at the end of the 19th century.
There are several chambers you can visit inside the cave once you’ve reached the entrance, located at the end of a very steep path, after a 20-minute walk up the hill. Right in front of the cave, you can stop for a wonderful lunch and to enjoy the fantastic views of the Lasithi Plateau and the remaining windmills of the area.
For more information about the opening hours, the entrance fee, as well as some extra details about the history and the myth behind this fantastic cave on Crete, check this guide to visiting the Cave of Zeus.
44. Sail to the Former Leper Colony of Spinalonga
The islet of Spinalonga is on the northeastern coast of Crete, opposite the seaside resort of Elounda. It’s one of Crete’s best places to visit in the region of Lasithi. Spinalonga is also easy to visit from Heraklion on a day trip.
The island has a tragic history as a leper colony during the 19th century. If you’re planning to sail there, bookmark these tips to visit Spinalonga island.
Spinalonga is a fortified island that can be seen in less than an hour sailing from the nearby villages of Plaka or Elounda, as well as from the port of Agios Nikolaos.
The island’s past goes back in time to the Venetian times, long before becoming an infamous reclusion place for those affected by leprosy.
After the Venetians surrendered to the Ottoman Empire (1669), Spinalonga remained in the hands of the Venetians until 1715. The island has been an Archaeological Site since the 1970s.
The Fortress of Spinalonga has been included in the tentative list of World Heritage Sites, for its outstanding universal value regarding the architecture, urban planning, and history as a leper colony. You can read more here.
One of the most remarkable things to do in Crete is to jump on a small boat and reach the forgotten leper colony of Spinalonga.
45. Swim at Vai Palm Tree Beach
Usually ranking among the best beaches of the island, Vai Palm Tree Beach is on the extreme east coast of Crete.
Although it’s a magnificent sandy bay with a rather calm sea, it’s not as much visited as the famous beaches of the west, and yet, the trip to Vai is totally worth it.
Vai’s most important feature is its impressive date palm tree forest, the largest in Europe, that covers a vast area in the region, and which starts a few kilometers before you even reach the beach. What’s more, the beach is well organized despite being in such a remote position.
46. Go Wine Tasting in Toplou Monastery
The Holy Monastery of Toplou is located in the Lasithi region, just a few minutes away from the palm tree beach of Vai. It is a fortified structure built on the premises of a former church during the 15th century.
Toplou played an important role during the German occupation of Crete, helping the network of the resistance. In fact, one of the best things to do when you visit the monastery is check the museum which exhibits a lot of weapons, helmets, and even a clandestine radio used in those times.
The second thing to do in Toplou is to visit their fantastic winery and taste some of their labels, their extra virgin olive oil and their raki too.
If you’re thinking about including a trip to the monastery to the list of things to do in Crete, check this detailed guide to the most important monasteries and churches of Crete and read the part about Toplou.
47. Spend a Day in Ierapetra
Despite not being the capital of any region, Ierapetra is the fourth important city in Crete in population. It’s the only city on the southern coast of Crete and it can be a great place to stay if you intend to explore more remote beaches, such as Xerokampos, Myrtos, Makrygialos, and Agia Fotia.
Near the city of Ierapetra, there are a few impressive gorges, some of them fairly easy to hike too.
In the city, take some time to check the Venetian fortress, the former mosque with its beautiful fountain in the courtyard, as well as a tiny house hidden in the alleys close to the port, where the legend says that Napoleon spent a night without revealing his identity until he was gone.
Here’s more information to visit, including the things you can do, where to eat and what to do at night in Ierapetra.
48. Sail to Chrissi Island (another of the many unmissable things to do in Crete!)
Chrissi, or officially Gaiudouronisi, is a very small, uninhabited island located off the southern coast of Crete. It’s about an hour away from the port of Ierapetra, one of the two ports that have boats to reach the island (the other place is Makrygialos).
The best way to visit Chrissi is to spend at least a night in Ierapetra to sail to the island, because, since it’s uninhabited, it’s not possible to spend the night over there (although many people ignore this rule and camp in the protected juniper forest of Chrissi).
As a matter of fact, the island is a protected reserve.
Chrissi is a very tiny island about 2 km wide. You will eventually cross from the south – where the harbor is – to the north when you disembark in order to reach the beach. The total length of the island is about 7 km, and there are a few beaches you can explore. Its main beach is organized with umbrellas, sunbeds and a beach bar as well. If you are getting ready to visit, take a look at this guide to Chrissi included in the list of best things to do in Ierapetra.
49. Check the Exclusive Resort of Elounda
If there’s a place in the region of Lasithi that has gained an international fame, that place is the tourist resort of Elounda.
The village is located on the Mirabello Gulf, right opposite the former leper colony island of Spinalonga and a few minutes away from the relaxing and equally famous fishing village of Plaka. Elounda is well-known for its exclusive resorts, some of them among the most exclusive and expensive all over Greece.
The small beach of Elounda is also very popular, and the sea so calm that is has often been compared to the surface of a lake: no waves, and usually no wind either.
Those staying in one of the exclusive hotels in the area will certainly enjoy private access to their own beach, sometimes even from their own room. In the area, you can also visit the unique Olous, a sunken ancient settlement from the Minoan times. Discover more about Olous in this article.
50. Disconnect at the Most Remote Beach in Crete
Xerocampos is one of the most remote places you can visit on Crete. It’s a wonderful collection for usually deserted beaches, with crystal clear waters and shores for every tasty: Fine sand, coarse sand, pebbles, and even rocks.
The area is little known and there were no good roads to access until not long ago. Besides, Xerocampos is very far away from Crete’s two international airports and from the island’s main ports as well.
There are limited places to stay and just a few spots for food.
Disclaimer: Bear in mind that some of the links in this post are affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Keep in mind that I link to products & companies that I personally use and recommend for their quality.
The perfect way to move around in Crete is to do it by car. My personal experience has taught me to always choose a local rental company over an international one. I have often used Rental Center Crete because the have very convenient fees and no hidden costs.
Besides, there’s a zero-excess insurance policy, free mileage, and extra driver included, this becomes very handy when you are tired of driving since you can cover very long distances in one day. Check this car rental website and use my promo code to get a 5% discount.
TRANSFER IN CRETE
Sometimes people prefer not to drive, and other times it’s very convenient to be picked from the airport and then book a car on the second day. This is something that a surprisingly high number of people do. You can decide between airport transfers from Chania or also transfers from Rethymnon and transfers in taxi or minibus from and Heraklion.
If you’re looking for the best dining experiences, without the hassle of doing thorough online research on where to eat, booking a table and more. I’ve found that these pre-booked dining cards are a genius resource. You can get your Chania Dinner Card for 4 Restaurants here.
Whenever I need to book accommodation in Crete I personally use Booking.com, the island is really big to choose only one area to stay and see the rest of Crete with day trips. Even if I live on the island, I often rent a place to stay when I see other regions. With Booking I can take advantage of their Genius Loyalty Programme to find better fees. As they say, the more you stay with them, the more rewards you get.
TOURS & DAY TRIPS
One of my favorite ways to travel is independently, but I must also admit that I have discovered and learned a lot more about Crete booking a few organized activities, I usually book my tours through Viator and GetYourGuide. From transfer to cooking lessons, including archaeological site visits, skip the line attractions, and boat trips. The two platforms are time and money savers.
Getting to Crete can be really comfortable with an airplane, but nothing beats the romantic experience of traveling by sea. Choose Let’s Ferry to visit several Greek islands, to travel directly to Crete or even to buy tickets to the smaller islands around Crete itself.
Greece, and especially Crete, is a very safe destination, however, you should never travel abroad without an insurance policy for complete peace of mind. My favorite? World Nomads, click here for a quote, you won’t be disappointed.
Useful Guides to Plan your Trip to Crete
Tips to better plan your trip to Crete.
Essential tips for driving in Crete.
Best regions to stay in Crete.
Which of these made it to your own list of unmissable things to do in Crete?
Let me know in the comments below!
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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!