Captivating Crete is jam-packed with more must-sees than you could possibly imagine! From mesmerising coastal lagoons to soaring mountains and luscious canyons, the spellbinding natural beauty of this idyllic island is matched only by its unique character and historic heritage. Bustling cities, sleepy villages, ancient treasures and blissful beaches are just begging to be explored. While mouth-watering dishes of traditional Cretan cuisine will be waiting for you at the local taverna after a day of adventure. Here's our guide to some of the best things to do in Crete.
What're holidays for if not gorging yourself on gorgeous gastronomic dishes!? It's a well-known fact that diets don't travel with you, so ignore the scales and set your sights on Crete's classic culinary delights. Fortunately, the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest in the world – and Crete is no exception, so you can gorge without the guilt! Food is fresh, healthy, flavoursome and simple. There's no meze-ing about here!
The Cretan staple you'll find everywhere is olive oil (or 'liquid gold' as it's fondly referred to). It's used with everything, and makes for the perfect holiday souvenir for friends and families too. You'll find it bottled all over the island in varying shapes and sizes. Cheese enthusiasts will rejoice over the amount of choice, with most meal times including the beloved dairy product. Traditional farming methods whip up wonderful creations including Kefalotyri and Graviera.
Eat your way around Crete and be sure to sample some traveller's favourites. Delicious delicacies are to be found on every menu, but don't miss out on sumptuous sarikopitakia and luscious loukoumades. The former is essentially a cheese pie, a melt-in-your-mouth cheese-filled pastry fried in olive oil and served with a dribble of honey. What's not to love? The latter – loukoumades – are another first-class fried offering. The little doughnut like balls are served with a side of ice-cream, nuts and honey. Yum!
Dakos is a must-try meze that should top your list of food to try on the island. Elegantly simple, the dish comprises a slice of soaked barley, topped with chopped tomatoes and creamy goat's cheese. For a taste of the more obscure, put your palette to the test with a side of snails… hailed as the 'lobsters of Cretan cuisine', the locals can't get enough of the shelled gastropods.
When it comes to washing it all down, Raki is the iconic alcoholic drink synonymous to Cretan culture. Available in a variety of flavours, treat yourself to a shot or three and see which one's your favourite! Besides Raki, Crete is overflowing with wonderful wines thanks to the island's perfect wine-growing conditions and some of the largest vineyards in all of Greece. With traditions extending back some 4,000 years, follow the wine trails and enjoy tasting the finest local produce first hand.
Adorned with a diverse and dazzling landscape, Crete is a nature lover's playground! Whether your enthusiasm is for hiking, canyoning, cycling, horse riding, diving, caving, skiing, mountain climbing or windsurfing – there's every conceivable type of adventure to be had! Go off-road with quad bike and jeep tours, or treat yourself to a bird's eye view courtesy of some adrenaline-pumping paragliding.
The stunning Samaria Gorge is found in the heart of the White Mountains' National Park (Crete's only national park), and offers sanctuary to over 450 species of animals and plants. Soaring canyon cliffs make up one of the longest gorges in all of Europe, which is an impressive 150m at its widest point and 3m at its narrowest!
Hiking the 16km trail is high on the list of must-dos for outdoor enthusiasts, and is extra beautiful in April and May when wonderful wildflowers bloom all over the park. Wild and rugged, this breathtaking slice of Cretan paradise is found in the southwest of the Greek island and takes between four to eight hours to complete depending on fitness levels. The pathway is kindly marked with motivational kilometre points, plus there's friendly rangers strategically placed to offer guidance and plenty of toilet stops en route too!
Peaceful and unspoiled, the Lasithi Plateau is an area both secluded and steeped in rural traditions – and a must see for anyone visiting Crete! Surrounded by the dramatic Dikti Mountains and peppered with only a handful of villages, this is where you'll truly 'get away from it all'. Once upon a time, the land was covered with around 20,000 windmills – now there's only around 5,000 still standing. Old and crumbling, the iconic ruins with their torn sails make for fantastic photo opportunities for any artsy picture snappers!
Outdoor enthusiasts will be delighted to learn that the Lasithi Plateau is covered in a never-ending network of natural trails. Experienced hikers can make their way to the top of Dikti's highest peak – Spathi. Here you'll stand in awe as the breathtaking view of (what feels like) all of Crete unfolds before you. As well as the majestic mountains, there's also gorgeous gorges and canyons ripe for exploration! One of the most famous sights of the region is the mythical Diktaean Cave, celebrated as being the birthplace of Zeus. Decorated with magnificent stalactites and stalagmites – you can venture in to this magical place and come face to face with Greek legend.
Brimming with blissful bays and beautiful beaches, Crete is well catered for when it comes to lazy days spent on the sand. There's countless paradisiacal places to lay down your towel, but whatever you do – be sure to bathe at Balos Beach. The best of the best, this jaw-dropping lagoon showcases shades of blue that are almost so vivid they don't look real! Enveloped by exotic scenery and wild natural beauty, it's a real-life holiday haven. Paddle in shallow, warm waters or take a leisurely stroll along the sands – which shimmer with a pinkish hue thanks to millions of crushed shells.
Owing to its impressive size, Crete packs a punch when it comes to charming cities and traditional towns. Running along the northern shores, there are three must-see cities to swoon over. Delightfully distinctive and undeniably unique, from west to east coast there's a sufficient sampling of seductive marinas, historic haunts and enchanting architecture.
Picture-perfect Chania is one of the prettiest cities in Crete. Nicknamed 'Venice of the east', hundreds of thousands of visitors wander through the scenic narrow streets that culminate at the 14th Century Venetian harbour and lighthouse. Lovely little candy-coloured town houses and waterfront restaurants line the walkway, while beautiful old buildings, museums and churches are peppered throughout the elegant Old Town. The city's Venetian character is unique to the island, and Chania is the only place this craftsmanship has managed to maintain (most of) its original glory.
Travellers don't take long to fall under Chania's spell. Teeming with all the best elements of a carefree holiday, this city is the ultimate combination of leisure and pleasure, and the setting is simply stunning. Surrounded by sparkling blue seas in the north and majestic mountains in the south, the views are second to none. Saunter your way through the serpentine streets and savour every second of this western gem. Sip on a cocktail, take a dip at the beach, visit the historical sites and enjoy a balmy romantic evening meal (or two).
Another colourful coastal town, Rethymno shares many of the coveted qualities that makes Chania such a hit with holidaymakers. Just a few hours from Crete's capital Heraklion, life moves much slower here – especially in the romantic Old Town. Awash with narrow, cobbled streets and a heavenly harbour, you're sure to spot Venetian influences everywhere you look. The fortress dominates the city and is a focal point of postcards, with picturesque pedestrianised streets meandering besides charming old buildings below.
Blessed not only by historical and architectural beauty, Rethymno is home to a huge sandy beach, which you'll find right next to the Venetian port itself. Golden shores are lapped by crystal clear shallow waters – making this the perfect place to have a paddle and cool down after a day of exploring. It's almost as if this charming spot was created with couples in mind, so be sure to grab your loved one's hand and enjoy a romantic evening stroll. During the summer months you may find you'll have to share the beautiful beach with sea turtle eggs!
Meet the medium sized town with the small town feel! The east coast's answer to Chania's picture-perfect beauty, Agios Nikolaos is another of Crete's prettiest towns. Famous for its chic twin harbours, you'll find this lovely addition in the Lasithi region of the island. Overlooking the mesmerising Mirabello Bay and peaceful Lake Voulismeni, the shores of this charismatic town welcome holidaymakers with open arms. Wander beneath tree-lined promenades and treat yourself to a tipple or two at the lively lounge bars.
Shopping in Agios Nikolaos is bags of fun! Whether it's woven fabrics, china, bespoke jewellery, local food produce or unique fashion finds, there's plenty of bargains to be found by Lake Voulismeni. If you're visiting on a Wednesday, shop 'til you drop at the local street market. The early bird catches the worm with this wonderful slice of Cretan life, so set your alarm and be ready to rummage through piles of souvenirs and other unique keepsakes.
Don't forget to marvel at the Minoan capital of Knossos, just 5km south of Crete's modern day capital Heraklion. The Minoan palace was built with over 1200 rooms and is one of the biggest attractions on the entire island. The palace is connected with world-famous legends, like the Labyrinth, the Minotaur and the story of Daidalos and Ikaros.