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Crete: the ultimate guide

Chania ● Crete ● Heraklion ● Lassithi ● Rethymnon ● 13 June 2018
 
Crete is the largest island of Greece and one of its most touristic destinations. It is impossible to discover the whole island in only a few days. Most people come again and again, exploring each time one of the four prefectures of Crete. It truly has numerous things to do and see. We present you here the ultimate guide for your summer vacation in Crete, and you can choose which place you want to visit. Enjoy!

Chania

Chania is a town with long history, and its archaeological and historical identity is visible in every corner of the city. The mosque, which dominates the scenery of the Old Town, the picturesque Venetian port, the Archaeological Museum and the local shops will impress you in Crete's most beautiful and best-preserved city. It has kept its traditional character and is a must on the island.


Beaches

The wider area around Chania has beaches, which are so beautiful that they have been awarded as some of the best beaches in Greece if not in Europe.

Balos Lagoon amazes its visitors at first sight. White sand, turquoise waters and the feeling that you are swimming in a lagoon make this beach an exotic destination that impresses every visitor. You can reach Balos Lagoon by boat from Kissamos.


Falassarna is also located in a close distance to Kissamos Town. It is a long sandy beach, family-friendly thanks to its shallow waters, soft sand and touristic facilities that include umbrellas and sunbeds. Near the beach, you can visit the archaeological site of Ancient Falassarna, combining a perfect day at the beach with cultural moments.


Elafonissi is a beautiful beach with white and pink sand and exotic waters. Cedar trees reach the coastline creating an impressive scenery. The beach is not organised, and only a few cantinas can be found there, but camping is allowed behind the beach. Get ready to take innumerable photos in this weird landscape!



Historical sites

The prefecture of Chania has not many significant archaeological sites. The town of Chania is a living legend of history, where you can admire the combination of Ottoman, Venetian and Neoclassical Greek elements.
The landmark building on Chalidon Street, the main street of Chania (Old Town), is the central church of Saint Francis Monastery. Since 1963, the Archaeological Museum is housed there, giving you the opportunity to admire some of the most significant exhibits of the Minoan civilisation.

Rethymnon

Rethymnon is the other traditional Old Town of Crete, which will impress you with its Venetian Fortress, called Fortezza, the old churches, the elegant mansions and the astonishing port. Rethymnon combines the aristocratic atmosphere with the modern aspect that captivates every visitor.


Beaches

The prefecture of Rethymnon has managed to kept an authentic character away from mass tourism. There, you can find gorgeous beaches away from the crowds. Overlooking the Aegean or the Libyan Sea, these bays will amaze you with their beauty!

Preveli is one of the most impressive beaches in Greece. A river flows into the sea, passes from many palm trees and forms a lake near the sand. The beach is unorganised and unspoiled, but there are water sports facilities, such as canoeing, to explore the lake and the river. The beauty of the landscape is just magnificent.


Agios Paulos is a beach of imposing beauty, which however, due to the difficulty of the road, is secluded and peaceful, so it is ideal if you want privacy. It is located on the southern side of the prefecture, which has the most exotic beaches. The beach is unorganised, so remember to take with you water from the nearby village.


Agia Galini is a long sandy bay, surrounded by high steep cliffs that create a lunar scenery. The picturesque fishing village with the same name behind the beach is the ideal place to eat and relax after swimming, but remember that Agia Galini beach has to offer a wide range of water sports facilities that make it family-friendly.


Bali is a very popular cove thanks to its wild surrounding environment, the peaceful atmosphere and the emerald waters. Nearby, there is a village with many taverns, cafes and hotels. Bali is the perfect place to relax, enjoy the touristic facilities and sunbathe for hours in the calm sea waters under the famous -constantly shining- sun of Crete.


Historical sites

Rethymnon is a very interesting prefecture with various opportunities for sightseeing in the town and the wider area around it.

Fortrezza, the castle of Rethymnon, was built in 1573 by the Ottomans in order to protect the town from the pirates and the enemies. Today, it is the trademark of the town, standing imposingly at the edge of the cliff. It is a nice spot to walk, admire the Ottoman constructions and the magnificent view from the top of the cliff. A walk in history...
At the entrance of Fortrezza, is located the Archaeological Museum. It has interesting findings of the history of the island from Palaeolithic until Roman Times that was found in the excavations in the prefecture. In Fortrezza, you can also visit the Ibrahim Han Mosque, which reminds you of the multicultural character of the city and will impress you with the history behind it.


Ideon Cave is located near Anogeia, the traditionally Cretan village in a close distance to Rethymnon, the capital of the prefecture. According to the mythology, this was the place, where Zeus was raised by a goat. Until the Roman times, this cave was sacred, and archaeological excavations unearthed various votive offerings. The route to the cave is impressive, with high mountains and wild rock formations. Inside the cave, are many caverns, which have been sculpted naturally by the water and the snow, as well as stalagmites and stalactites. Even during summer, you can find snow blocks inside the cave!

The Monastery of Arkadi, located 23 km from Rethymnon, is the symbol of the Cretan revolution against the Ottoman Empire. In 1866, when the Turkish soldiers violated the monastery after many days of siege, the besiegers, with a monk as a leader, put on fire a room with gunpowder. The explosion killed all the monks and the Turkish soldiers and is until today a symbol of the battle of the Cretan people to gain their freedom.

Ancient Eleftherna is one of the most important historical sites in Crete. It was built where the current village of Eleftherna is situated today. It was one of the most prominent ancient city-states with a fortified hill that protected it from the enemies. The area has been inhabited since 2,000 B.C., but the city reached its peak during the 7th century B.C., being the only site in Crete that flourished in the Minoan as well as the classical ancient times.

Heraklion

Heraklion is the largest city and port of Crete and its capital. It is a busy town that has numerous touristic facilities, restaurants, bars and cafes. The Venetian castle at the entrance of the port is the most beautiful spot of the town, which has not kept its traditional character so much as the other cities. However, the prefecture is the most touristic area of Crete with vivid nightlife, gorgeous organised beaches and the most significant archaeological sites on the whole island. Located in the middle of Crete, Heraklion gives you the opportunity to make many excursions to the neighboring prefectures.

Beaches

Matala is the famous during the '60s and 70's beach as a hippie place. The caves above the beach created a perfect scenery for the hippies to stay and have fun, but today, this long, sandy, organised beach is perfect for families that want relaxation and leisure. Matala is also a popular touristic village and nightlife spot for the tourists.


Malia is the most famous beach resort on the island. It usually attracts young people, who want to party and have fun since the town behind the beach is a perfect nightlife spot with clubs and thousands of tourists, who enjoy the international parties there. Thus, the beach is ideal for party summer holidays in Greece, and the beach bars give you the opportunity to combine sea, swimming, sunbathing and fun from early in the morning until late at night.


Voidomatis is an off-the-beaten-path choice, if you want to find something peaceful around Heraklino. Two big rocks emerging from the sea and a huge cave create an amazing scenery. Due to the 3 km of dirt road to access the beach from Treis Ekklisies village, the place is secluded, away from the crowds of tourists that you will find on the other beaches. If you are seeking something undiscovered to be in touch with the nature, this astonishing bay is the place to be.


Historical sites

Very close to the town of Heraklion, are located the two most important historical sites of Crete, Knossos and Phaistos.

In Knossos, you will explore the Palace of Knossos that is a magnificent testament of the Minoan Civilisation. The most brilliant centre of Minoan Times is a perfect opportunity to learn the history of Crete from the beginning and see also traces of the Neolithic settlement that dates back to 6,000 B.C. You should definitely not miss it!


In Phaistos, there are also ruins of a Minoan Palace, but the place is not as crowded as Knossos. Visit the central courtyard, the royal apartments and the location where the famous Phaistos Disc was uncovered in 1903. Phaistos was the second cultural and commercial centre during the Minoan Times, and it was of great importance for this civilisation.

The Archaeological Museum in the town of Heraklion is a very interesting museum we recommend you to visit. It has a large collection of findings of the Minoan Civilisation. Among these, are the small statue of the Snake Goddess and the Phaistos Disc, a clay tablet with symbols of the writing system Linear A, which has not been deciphered.


Lassithi

The capital of Lassithi prefecture is the town of Agios NikolaosThe main attraction of the town is the Sea Lake, which is connected to the sea through a channel. It is a lovely spot since many fishing boats find a shelter to this lake creating a lovely scenery. Agios Nikolaos is a beautiful seaside town that has kept its traditional character, although it is a developing touristic resort. Neoclassical houses combined harmonically with modern buildings create a destination with cosmopolitan atmosphere. This area of Crete is the most exotic area you will feel like being in Africa in a breathtaking landscape.

Beaches

In the Libyan Sea, lies the beach of Vai, a beach you won't believe that it is in Greece! Surrounded by the largest palm tree forest in Europe, with 5,000 palm trees, Vai Beach is a bay that reminds of the exotic shores of Africa, Asia and Carib. White sand, emerald waters and the warm sun create a paradise on earth.


From Ierapetra, take the boat for a day excursion to Gaidouronissi, a tiny island also called Chrissi. Crystal turquoise waters, golden sand and few umbrellas that do not spoil the landscape make this beach just stunning.


Historical sites

In a close distance to the town of Agios Nikolaos, the archaeological site of Lato is the cradle of the Minoan civilisation. In the site, you can admire the ruins of an ancient temple, an open-air theatre with capacity of 350 persons and the prytaneion.

Right opposite to the port of Elounda (Crete) and the village of Plaka, is situated a small island, which in Medieval Times was operated as a fortress to protect the island from Turkish invasions. In the 20th century, Spinaloga was used as a leper colony, and nowadays, the islet is a popular tourist attraction, where you can see how the lepers lived. Victoria Hislop has written a world best seller book, "The Island", which refers to the dramatic stories of many people that left their families to be imprisoned in Spinaloga.


Food

The Cretan cuisine is worldwide famous as one of the most delicious and healthiest cuisine in the world. On the island, you will have an amazing culinary experience with various local dishes. Crete is a truly gastronomic paradise!

The most popular dish is a combination of salad and appetiser, dakos. Barley rusks, which are soaked in water or olive oil to get softened, are topped with fresh tomato and cheese, feta or myzithra. Salt, oregano, pepper and Cretan olive oil give dakos an excellent taste.


Fried snails (chochlioi) is a dish that you can find not only in French but also in Cretan cuisine. Fried with flour and hot olive oil, doused with wine and sprinkled with wild rosemary, chochlioi is a special delicacy in the Cretan cuisine.

Don't leave Crete without tasting the Cretan cheese pies (kaltsounia), filled with Cretan cheese, sprinkled with rosewater and topped with honey, combining the sweet with the savoury.

Try also lamb with stamnagathi, a recipe that many awarded restaurants all over Greece serve. Stamnagathi is a wild green vegetable with extraordinary taste, which is very trendy nowadays. The lamb is sautéed is hot olive oil and accompanied with stamnagathi and a sauce of fresh lemon.

Gamopilafo, literally means the rice of weddings, is traditionally served in Cretan weddings. It is a risotto with meat, lemon juice and butter from goat's milk. It has a unique and strong taste!

Part of the Cretan cuisine are of course the drinks that are offered by the hospitable Cretan people. Raki or tsikoudia is the local version of the famous Greek brandy, tsipouro. It has no anise or herbs, unlike ouzo, is drunk from shot glasses, with no water added, and Cretan people usually accompany it with mezedes or dakos. Be prepared to get really drunk!

Where to Stay

Appartment in Heraklion, Greece Matala Dimitris Villa and Hotel
Matala Dimitris Villa and Hotel
Matala, 70200 Heraklion, Greece

Located 12 km from the ancient city of Phaestos, family-run Dimitris Villa Hotel is on the coast of Messara bay, surrounded by trees, just 8 minutes from Matala beach.

Hotel in Heraklion, Greece Pasiphae Hotel
8.8 10
Pasiphae Hotel
34 Poseidonos str. & 1 Naxou str., 71307 Heraklion, Greece

Pasiphae Hotel is located in a quiet part of Heraklion, just a 10-minute walk from the main port of Heraklion and 2.5 km away from Nikos Kazantzakis International airport. The historic center of Heraklion can be reached within 15 minutes on foot.

Hotel in Chania, Greece Halepa Hotel
9.4 10
Halepa Hotel
164, El. Venizelou str., 73133 Chania, Greece

Halepa Hotel is located in the well know, quiet area of Halepa, just 1.5 km from the city center of Chania. Koum Kapi Beach is at 700 m. Chania International Airport "Ioannis Daskalogiannis" is a 15-minute drive away, while the port of Souda connecting Chania with Piraeus, Athens is at 7 km.


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