Where to Stay in Crete for History and Culture (Best Areas + Brief Hotel Guide)

Where to Stay in Crete for History

Known as the cradle of Western civilization, the island of Crete is a brilliant place to visit if you love history and want to learn more about the roots of Europe.

However, Crete occupies a vast territory (it is the largest Greek island!), and it isn’t easy to find one place to stay, making it easy to check out many historical sites.

In this article, I grouped the most important cultural places you can visit in each region. I added some of the area’s best-reviewed hotels or home rentals. This way, deciding where to stay in Crete for history and culture can be easier.

Posts include affiliate links to products or services. I might earn a commission if you make a purchase.

Best Places to Stay in Crete for History & Culture

where to stay in crete for history

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📍 Top tours I recommend on the island:
Boat cruise to Balos Lagoon & Gramvousa
Ticket to Knossos Archaeological Site

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Crete’s complex past spans over 7,000 years or more, shifting between times of hardship and prosperity.

Therefore, you’ll find fantastic museums, archaeological sites, monasteries, and ruins in every corner of the island, both on the land and under the sea!

where to stay in crete for history
Knossos Palace, Heraklion Region.

Generally speaking, it’s safe to say that Heraklion is the best region to stay in if you’re a history buff.

Most remarkable sites and museums are located in a central position in Crete, in the region of Heraklion.

So you’ve probably already read suggestions claiming that Heraklion is the region to stay in if you love history.

However, there are many other remarkable places to visit in Crete if you love history.

And not all of them are in Heraklion! Let’s now see the highlights of Crete’s historical sites, museums, and more.

Archaeological Sites and Ruins

The Four Minoan Palaces

Minoan Palace of Phaistos
Minoan Palace of Phaistos

Other than several stunning archaeological sites. These four different Minoan palaces have come to light in Crete.

Three of them are located in Heraklion. They are the Minoan Palaces of Knossos and the Minoan Palace of Malia, in the northern area of the Heraklion region, and the Minoan Palace of Phaistos, close to the coastal town of Matala, in the southern part of Heraklion, occupying the important Messara Plain.

The fourth Minoan Palace is located in the Lasithi region. It’s the Minoan Palace of Zakros.

All these archaeological sites are open to the public and range from the center to the island’s east.

However, if you take a map of Crete and look at those four spots, it’s clear that at least one major center of power should have been located west of Crete.

And you wouldn’t be wrong…

A Fifth Minoan Palace?

where to stay in crete for history
Minoan Kydonia.

Many experts are convinced that a fifth Minoan center of power, probably the Minoan Town of Kydonia, remains buried underneath the present city of Chania.

Right in the neighborhood now known as Kastelli Hills, located roughly opposite the Egyptian lighthouse, more or less behind the Mosque at the Venetian Harbor.

This low hill was occupied from the Early Minoan period to the end of the Late Minoan period.

However, the old town of Chania is also a densely populated area, and the Minoan town remains buried under modern Chania and other layers of ruins from different historical eras, including the Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, and Ottoman times. As a result, excavations are pretty limited.

Supporting the idea of Minoan Kydonia are the ruins that came to light years after the Nazi air raid of 1941. These are visible to the public in different spots in town, the most important one on the corner of Kanevarou and Kantanoleon streets (GPS coordinates: 35.517106, 24.019511).

CURIOUS FACT: Although the site is known as Kydonia, its original name remains unknown.

Places to Stay Close to the Minoan Palaces of Crete

Minoan Horns, Minoan Palace, Crete
Knossos.

Where to Stay near Knossos

Knossos is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on the island. The site is considered Europe’s oldest city. The palace covers an important area of Kefala Hill, about 7 km south of Heraklion’s city center.

ACCOMMODATION:

Where to Stay Near Malia

Malia is on the North coast of Crete, East of Heraklion. It’s the third largest of the four Minoan palaces. The palace is located 3 km from the modern town of Malia, a lively coastal resort.

The palace from the Middle Bronze Age underwent heavy damage during an earthquake and was rebuilt in the Late Bronze Period.

ACCOMMODATION:

Malia
Malia.

Where to Stay near Phaistos

Unlike the two previous palatial complexes, Phaistos is closer to the southern coast of the Heraklion region.

The complex lies 62 km south of the city of Heraklion, and it is the second-largest Minoan Palace in Crete. If you want to combine a visit to the site with a coastal town, check out Matala for a place to stay.

It is also important to know that if you stay near Phaistos, you will also be able to visit both the ancient site of Gortyna, the ruins of Kommos, and the archaeological site of Agia Triada in the surrounding area.

ACCOMMODATION:

where to stay in crete for history

Where to Stay near Zakros

Known as Zakro or Kato Zakro, the site is considered one of the four main administrative centers of the Minoans, as well as an important commercial hub for trade to the east.

The site is located 38 km from Sitia. The Palace of Zakro was originally built around 1900 BC but rebuilt at least two subsequent times.

The whole complex extends from Upper Zakros (Epano Zakros), higher up on the hillside, to Lower Zakros Kato Zakros, near the sea. The upper and lower parts of the site are connected by a gorge known as the Gorge of the Death, where excavations brought to light numerous burials in the caves along the ravine’s walls.

ACCOMMODATION:

Zakros Palace - Minoan Ruins near Sitia Crete
Zakros excavations. (Source: Vladimír Držík, Own work, Public Domain)

Where to Stay near Ancient Kydonia

As I mentioned before, it is believed that there was an essential Minoan complex or town in West Crete, probably the Minoan Town of Kydonia.

Unlike all the other sites located far enough from heavily inhabited areas, Kydonia stands beneath the center of Chania, making excavations difficult, so not many ruins have been unearthed.

ACCOMMODATION:

You can also read Guide to Driving in Crete: Everything You Need to Know + Tips for Car Rental!

Other Archaeological Sites in Crete

You can explore several ancient ruins and sites in every region of Crete.

Rethymnon

In Rethymnon, it’s possible to visit the imposing Ancient Eleftherna, described in this Rethymnon post, not far from the area of Arkadi Monastery, but also the Ancient Minoan Necropolis of Armenoi.

Other important ruins are located near the modern Argyroupoli, the Ancient City of Lappa.

where to stay in crete for history
Eleftherna, a part of the archaeological site.

Where to Stay near Eleftherna

Eleftherna (Also Eleutherna), also known as Apollonia, was an ancient city estate about 25 km from Rethymnon and 8 km from the Monastery of Arkadi.

Eleftherna was a Dorian settlement that grew and flourished during the period known as the Greek Dark Ages (1100 BC-750 BC) and was inhabited until the Byzantine times.

ACCOMMODATION:

  • Villa Satra hosts large groups (up to 10 guests). It is a traditional villa in the modern village of Eleftherna. Lush greens surround the house, and it has a beautiful swimming pool with a stone-paved sun terrace and views of the Cretan Sea and the surrounding mountains. Nearby towns include Panormos and Stavromenos.
    Click here for more information and the latest prices.

Where to Stay near Ancient Lappa

Thought to have existed at least since the Geometric Period, Lappa flourished during the Roman times when it was at its peak of power. The settlement had luxurious thermae (hot baths) and it minted its coins.

ACCOMMODATION:

  • Enastron is a beautiful, historic home housed in a 500-year-old mansion in Argyroupolis. It features traditional studios with stone details and comfortable amenities. The villa is also close to the beach of Episkopi, about 15 km from Lake Kournas and 23 km from Rethymnon.
    Click here for more information and the latest prices.

Chania

In the region of Chania. Close to the port of Souda, up above a hill, the imposing site of Ancient Aptera dominates the entrance of the bay of Souda.

where to stay in crete for history
Aptera, the ruins of the ancient theater.

On the other hand, both Kissamos and Falasarna are excellent places to stay to visit Ancient Phalassarna and Ancient Polyrrenia.

Where to Stay near Aptera

Aptera was an ancient Greek city located about a kilometer inland from the southern part of the Bay of Souda, 14 km from the center of Chania that strived from the Minoan period until the Hellenistic times.

ACCOMMODATION:

Where to Stay Close to Ancient Phalasarna

The archaeological site of Ancient Phalasarna is located about 10 minutes from the modern seaside settlement of Falasarna and about 14 km from Kissamos.

The harbor town flourished during Hellenistic times, where you can still see stone quays and mooring stones connected to the sea through artificial channels.

ACCOMMODATION:

You also read Fantastic Places to Stay in Falasarna.

Where to Stay Close to Polyrrenia

Polyrrenia (or Polyrhenia) was a city-state that flourished during the Archaic Period, contemporary to another important site on the island, Ancient Lato.

The city flourished in Roman times while its urban configuration lasted well into the Byzantine Era. Polyrrenia is about 8 km from Kissamos in West Crete.

ACCOMMODATION:

Lasithi

where to stay in crete for history
Itanos, Lasithi.

Lasithi is rich in archaeological sites to visit. We have already mentioned the important Minoan Palace of Zakros, but there are other places to visit in the region.

On the extreme eastern coast, close to Vai Beach, the Ancient Mycenean Site of Itanos is one of the many examples.

Lato is another archaeological site close to Agios Nikolaos and is among the best-preserved ruins on the island.

Those interested in an even more curious archaeological site should visit the sunken Minoan city of Olous, not far from the resort of Elounda.

Also, in Lasithi, the important archaeological site of Gournias and its port are clear examples of Crete’s important maritime past.

Spinalonga, the former leper colony in Mirabello Bay, is also a remarkable archaeological site.

You can also read Best Places and Areas to Stay in Crete or Best Places to Stay in Crete for Families.

Where to Stay near Ancient Lato

The ruins of Ancient Lato can be found about 3 km from the gorgeous Cretan village of Kritsa, in the region of Lasithi.

Lato was a Dorian city-state built overlooking the Bay of Mirabello. The settlement was destroyed in about 200 BC. However, its port (known as Lato Kamara, close to Agios Nikolaos) remained active until Roman times.

ACCOMMODATION:

  • Villa Kamari – The small villa is located in the village of Kritsa, less than 10 minutes from the ancient site of Lato, but also close to other historical landmarks, such as the church of Panagia Kera, also worth a visit. The island of Spinalonga is less than 15 km from the home.
    Click here for more information and the latest prices.

Where to Stay near Olous

The sunken city of Olous is among the island’s most mysterious and fascinating ruins.

Scholars and archaeologists have made several discoveries, including ancient texts that connect the town with Knossos and even the Greek island of Rhodes.

Elounda is the nearest place to stay for a visit. Today, it is possible to check out some remnants of the city by swimming in the bay of Elounda.

ACCOMMODATION:

Olous, Crete
Under the sea, the walls of ancient Olous.

Where to Stay Near Itanos

Located near Erimopolis, Itanos was an important city and port that stood on a promontory. It was known as Itanum by the Romans.

According to archaeologists, the site was inhabited since the eighth century BC and played a remarkable role in the region for trade and commerce during different eras.

The whole area surrounding Itanos is rich in archaeological sites, including an outstanding Minoan town in the village of Roussolakos.

The area is very isolated. Therefore, the best places are the nearby city of Sitia or the small village of Palekastro.

ACCOMMODATION:

You can also read More than 35 Fun & Interesting Facts about Crete that will Surprise You!

Religious Centers (Monasteries, Churches, Mosques & More)

where to stay in crete for history

The island of Crete is home to impressive monasteries, beautiful cathedrals, and lonely chapels in inaccessible areas, either in the mountains or by the beaches of the south.

There are also several mosques, a testimony of the Ottoman occupation, and the last remaining synagogue of Crete in Chania. Here are some of the religious buildings worth seeing in Crete.

>> Read everything about Rethymnon’s former mosques here.

Chania

where to stay in crete for history
Agia Triada Monastery.

My two favorite monasteries to visit in Chania are Agia Triada Tzagarolon and Gouverneto Monastery, both in the Akrotiri Peninsula. In the same area, you can explore the virtually unknown Korakies nunnery. On the Rodopou Peninsula, you can visit the Panagia Odigitria Monastery.

The beautiful Chrysoskalitisa Monastery (near Elafonisi) dominates the landscape above the Libyan Sea in the south.

In the old town of Chania, check the magnificent churches, the few remaining mosques and minarets, and Etz Hayyim, the last synagogue on Crete, dating from the 15th century.

Rethymnon

things to do in crete: visit preveli monastery
Preveli Monastery

The two most important monasteries in Rethymnon are key to the history of Crete. They played a decisive role in freeing Crete from the Turkish occupation.

Arkadi Monastery is a few minutes from the center of Rethymnon, while Preveli Monastery is on Rethymnon’s southern coast, just a few minutes from the gorgeous Preveli Beach.

In the city center, you can also visit some unique churches and several mosques, one of them inside the magnificent Fortress of Rethymnon.

Heraklion

where to stay in crete for history
Byzantine Church of the Panagia, Fodele.

There are beautiful churches to visit in the center of the capital, such as Crete’s most important cathedral, Agios Titos, and the curious building that hosts the church of Agios Minas in the center of town. These churches are described in this article.

However, my favorite churches in this region are not as famous. The first of them is the old Byzantine church of the Panagia, in the little village of Fodele.

The second, Savvathiana Monastery, is high above the mountain village of Rogdia. It’s a fortified monastery badly damaged by the Turks during Turkish domination on the island.

Lasithi

where to stay in crete for history
Toplou Monastery

There are unique religious buildings located all over Lasithi. Here you can read about the most beautiful ones in Agios Nikolaos and the surrounding areas.

The most famous and important monastery in Lasithi is Moni Toplou, close to the beach of Vai and the important center of Sitia.

The impressive building is in a remote, solitary location, and it’s currently one of Crete’s best producers of wine and olive oil.

Closer to the Katharo Plateau, a few minutes from Agios Nikolaos, you can pay a visit to Panagia Kera, one of Crete’s most important Byzantine churches, and its remarkable frescoes.

Museums and Landmarks

where to stay in crete for history

The same as archaeological sites to visit on the island are endless, there is no lack of museums and important monuments and constructions to visit on Crete.

Here I list the top five places (including museums or historic buildings) that you can visit in each of the regions.

Chania region

  • Archaeological Museum of Chania
  • Maritime Museum of Chania
  • Souda War Cemetery
  • Archaeological Museum of Kissamos
  • Folklore Museum of Chania
  • Check out Chania museums

Heraklion Region

  • Archaeological Museum of Heraklion
  • Museum of Natural History
  • Museum Nikos Kazantzakis
  • Historical Museum of Crete
  • Ancient Technology Museum Kotsanas
  • Check out Heraklion museums

Rethymnon region

  • Archaeological Museum of Rethymnon
  • Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Museum of Ancient Eleftherna
  • Museum of Arkadi Monastery
  • Paleontology Museum of Rethymnon
  • Check out Rethymnon museums

Lasithi region

  • Spinalonga Island
  • Kazarma, Sitia’s Venetian Fortress
  • Archaeological Museum of Sitia
  • Giant Windmills of Lasithi
  • Archaeological Collection of Ierapetra
  • Check out Lasithi museums

Crete’s Regions: Deciding Where to Stay on the Island

where to stay in crete for history

When we talk about Crete, the first thing that comes to mind are the long distances that you need to travel around to visit several places on the island.

Besides, there’s plenty to do in every region, so you might be wondering which is the best region to stay in to experience the most when it comes to the culturally rich scene of Crete.

However, there are also other things to consider, for instance, which will be your arrival point (port or airport. Two main airports receive international flights, Chania (West Crete) and Heraklion (center of the island).

Also, both Chania and Heraklion have ports receiving ferries coming from mainland Greece and cruise ships.

Take into account as well, that some ferries dock in Rethymnon and Sitia on some days during the summer.

Heraklion

most of the flights arriving in Crete land in Heraklion, so there’s a chance that you’ll go through the city during your trip.

Often labeled the best place to stay in Crete for history, it is indeed true that Heraklion is the capital of the island; therefore, you will find very interesting museums as well as art galleries, exhibitions, and unique historic buildings, such as the Venetian Loggia or the Cathedral.

But first and foremost, Heraklion is the region of the most important archaeological sites: three different Minoan palaces (Knossos, Malia, and Phaistos) worth a stop.

>> Click here to learn more about the best things to do in the Heraklion region.

Chania

Despite being the second region in importance on Crete, when it comes to holidays, Chania is one of the most popular places to stay on the island.

Home to a mesmerizing old town and amazing things to do in the region, you can never go wrong picking Chania as your base to see the best beaches in Crete and explore the impressive Lefka Ori, Crete’s White Mountains, home to dozen of spectacular gorges and offering the opportunity to enjoy fantastic hikes.

>> Click here for everything to do in the Chania region.

Rethymnon

Rethymnon region sees a lot of activity and visitors during the high season and year-round. It is a remarkable university town, making it a great place for nightlife and entertainment.

Although there are no remarkable Minoan ruins, some important archaeological sites, such as Eleftherna and some of the most important monasteries in Crete, played a key role in liberating the island from the Ottoman Empire.

Rethymnon is an area with beautiful beaches, especially in the south. Some unique mountain villages, a wonderful landscape, and family-friendly gorges exist.

And if all those reasons aren’t enough, many people pick to stay in Rethymnon as a compromise region, halfway from Chania and Heraklion.

>> Check out everything about the Rethymnon region.

Lasithi

Finally, one of the places I love the most in Crete is the region of Lasithi.

Solitary and utterly unspoiled, home to ancient untouched traditions, the extreme East of Crete is a fairly small region, but there’s plenty to do and see.

Starting from the lively town of Agios Nikolaos, the capital of the region, but also includes unique coastal villages, mountain settlements, great beaches, and magnificent natural scenarios such as the Lasithi Plateau.

Lasithi is a perfect place to stay if you want to visit the sites in Heraklion as well as the Minoan Palace of Zakros. Perfect for history buffs but also ideal for those into hiking and outdoor adventures with its magnificent Gorge of the Death.

>> Head to this post to discover more than 50 incredible things to do in Lasithi.

What about you? Do you love history? Where are you planning to stay in Crete?

What Kind of Accommodation to Book in Crete

Crete is an island with a wide variety of choices when it comes to accommodation. Suiting every need, every style, and — most importantly — every pocket.

Hotels & Resorts:
Hotels: Crete has hotels in every category. From family-run hotels to international chains. From 1 to 5 stars.
Boutique Hotels: Usually located in important urban centers. Boutique hotels cater to just a few guests and offer dedicated services.
All-Inclusive Resorts: These are in special areas, such as Elounda, Agia Pelagia, Platanias, or Kavros.

Check these regional hotel guides:
– Best Hotels in Chania: Accommodation Guide for All Budgets!
– Where to Stay in Rethymnon: Top Hotels in Rethymnon Town and Region
– Where to Stay in Heraklion: Insanely Helpful Accommodation Guide For Crete’s Capital
– Best Agios Nikolaos Hotels: Where to Stay in Agios Nikolaos, Lasithi, Crete
– Best Hotels in Elounda
– Best Hotels in Matala
– Best Hotels in Falasarna
– Best Hotels in Hersonissos

– Best Hotels in Agia Pelagia
– Best Hotels in Amoudara

Check these thematic hotel guides:
– Stunning Boutique Hotels in Chania Old Town
– 17 Picture-Perfect Luxury Resorts in Crete for a Top-Class Experience!
– Where to Stay in Crete For Beaches: Best Places and Hotels in Each Region
– Best Places in Crete for Families: Where to Stay and Top Family Resorts
– Best Places to Stay in Crete for Young Couples: The Most Romantic Areas, Resorts, and Hotels
– Best Resorts and Spa Hotels in Crete for a Relaxing Getaway

My favorite way to travel in Crete is on the road. For me, the ideal road trip includes many stops & short stays.

This means choosing simple studios, family-run hotels, and rental houses away from the main cities.

However, I’ve often stayed in city hotels for work or before taking a plane or ship. I’ve reviewed some of them. Click on the links below to read the reviews:

Check these hotel reviews:
– Unique Stays in Crete: Porto Maltese Boutique Estate in Agios Nikolaos
– Unique Stays in Crete: Domus Renier Boutique Hotel in Chania
– Unique Stays in Crete: Olive Green Hotel in Heraklion
– Unique Stays in Crete: Galaxy Iraklio Hotel in Heraklion
– Unique Stays in Crete: The Theodore Boutique Hotel in Chania
– Unique Stays in Crete: Pepi Boutique Hotel in Rethymnon

Property rental & Vacation homes:
Budget: This option includes renting a room or a studio (one-room apartment), both via online booking platforms and on-site upon arrival.

Mid-range: It’s possible to book small apartments and suburban houses at convenient prices, mostly if booking in advance.

Luxury: You can rent a bigger house or a villa with a pool, bbq, and other amenities.
Even when it comes to homes often promoted as “Airbnbs” I usually prefer to book via Booking.com as it is more reliable and there are no cleaning fees.

Check these rental home guides:
– Airbnbs and Vacation Homes in Heraklion
– Airbnbs and Vacation Homes in Chania
– Airbnbs and Vacation Homes in Rethymnon
– Airbnbs and Vacation Homes in Agios Nikolaos and Lasithi region
– Airbnbs in and Rental Homes in Paleochora
– Airbnbs and Rental Homes in Elafonisi
– Airbnbs and Rental Homes in Gavdos
– Unique Stays in Crete: Blossom Living Residence in Heraklion

– Best Villas in Chania
– Best Villas in Heraklion
– Best Villas in Rethymnon

– Best Villas in Agios Nikolaos

Camping:
There are about 15 official camping sites in Crete. Check here for information about some of the facilities

Although Greek law forbids outdoor camping in public places, many tourists camp illegally, especially in the south.

No matter what option you choose, remember to respect the island’s delicate environment. 

Check this guide to camping in Crete:
– Camping in Crete: Where to Camp in Crete + 3 Tips To Have Outdoor Fun!

>> Join our Facebook Group!

More resources to enhance your Crete adventure

Start by checking out my ultimate guide to planning your trip to Crete, packed with helpful essential information. Explore the articles on prices in Crete, common mistakes to avoid, and insider secrets for an unforgettable experience.

When it’s time to plan, explore the best places to visit on Crete Island, discover my tours and activities, and be amazed at Crete’s incredible beaches. If you are exploring specific areas like Heraklion, Rethymnon, Lasithi, and Chania, I’ve got detailed guides to help you make the most of your time.

Suggested accommodation in Crete

No time to read all my accommodation guides? Check out these places to stay:

More useful travel resources

  • Check out all the digital travel guides I’ve specifically written about Crete. They are affordable and practical to check from your mobile.
  • Find convenient ferry tickets with Ferryhopper.
  • Welcome Pickups offers a convenient pre-paid airport transfer service, while Discover Cars is my favorite engine for finding a rental car on the island.
  • To book adventures, tours, and cultural experiences, I recommend Get Your Guide for its flexible cancellation policy.

Pin this Accommodation Guide to the Best Places to Stay in Crete for History and Culture!

Where to stay in Crete for history

About me:

Gabi Ancarola | The Tiny Book

Gabi Ancarola

I have lived in Chania, Crete, since 2016. As a local, I have an intimate knowledge of the Crete. I host culinary and concierge tours and experiences in Crete and write about the island for several travel media. During the last five years, I have helped many travelers plan the perfect holiday in Crete. I co-authored DK Eyewitness Top 10 Crete and had more glasses of frappe than any regular person could ever handle.

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