What are the best things to see and do in Crete?

Marissa Tejada

You’ll have plenty of things to see and do in Crete, the largest island of Greece. From exploring the island by car to sunbathing on the beach, here are five things our Forbes Travel Guide editors feel belong on your must-do list:
 
1. Palace of Knossos. This Minoan Palace will open your eyes to the fascinating rise and fall of the Minoan civilization. Tour the palace, then check out the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion.
 
2. Samaria Gorge. This Greek national park is Europe's longest gorge and arguably its most splendid. Hike through it to check out a diverse variety of birds and flowers.
 
3. The beaches. Relax at the beaches and ruins of Falasarna near Kissamos, where there are no hotels or bars in sight. To the south, the inviting coves of Plakias, Frangokastello and Magkrigialos beaches are also worth a look and swim.
 
4. Elafonissi Beach. The main things you’ll find here are coral-pink sand, the sun and sea, but if you get hungry there are a few simple tavernas nearby.
 
5. Spinalonga Island. Spinalonga is a former leper colony that’s now uninhabited. A visit here provides an interesting look into Crete’s history as you explore the fortress, the spooky streets and crumbling remains of old buildings.

  • On September 17, 2012
    Marissa Tejada answered the question: Marissa Tejada

    What are the best festivals held in Crete?

    Crete hosts a succession of seasonal festivals every year. Many are religious, while others are simply a good excuse to get together and enjoy the things Cretans love best: good food, music and dancing. Here are five festivals our Forbes Travel Guide editors recommend checking out if you’re in town:
     
    1. Renaissance Festival (Rethymno). Performances that celebrate the music and history of the island take place in the city’s Venetian fortress from late August to September.
     
    2. The Wine Festival of Rethymno (Rethymno). Local wine tastings take over the Public Gardens every July and are a chance for area producers to show just how far Cretan wines have come over the last 15 years. In addition to the wine, the festival features live music, speakers and fun activities for kids.
     
    3. Carnival in Rethymno (Rethymno). It’s not exactly Rio de Janeiro or New Orleans, but as far as Greece is concerned Rethymno’s Mardi Gras party is the best around. Check out the impressive street parties each year during the days leading up to Lent.
     
    4. The Mediterranean Festival of Arts (Heraklion). This festival gives you a taste of the dramas of ancient Greece. Take in renaissance shows as well as modern and traditional Greek music concerts at Koules Venetian Fort, Kazantzakis Garden Theatre and the Hadzidaksis Theatre every year from July to September.
     
    5. Agios Nikolaos Arts Festival (Agios Nikolaos). This festival held from July to September features performances by Cretan dance troupes and musicians in venues overlooking the beautiful Mirabello Gulf.
  • On September 17, 2012
    Marissa Tejada answered the question: Marissa Tejada

    What is the best thing to bring home from Crete?

    Our Forbes Travel Guide editors feel a fine bottle of locally produced olive oil is one of the best things to bring home as a memento of your trip to Crete. Olive oil is more than just food in Crete, where the valleys are filled with family-owned olive groves — it’s a piece of Cretan culture. Locals boast that thanks their island’s strong sunshine, climate and soil their olive oil is not just the best in Greece, but in the world — and they just might be right.
     
    Since extra-virgin olive oil is a key ingredient in the Cretan diet, you’ll find large bottles and small tins of it in markets, shops, grocery stores — just about everywhere.
  • On September 17, 2012
    Marissa Tejada answered the question: Marissa Tejada

    What are the best Crete food experiences?

    Given its close proximity to the sea Crete has several top food experiences that involve fresh fish, and luckily for you Cretans are also serious about showing their visitors just how good their dishes really are. Here are five Forbes Travel Guide-recommended food experiences in Crete:
     
    1. Raki. The locally distilled spirit known as raki (or tsikoudia) is usually housemade and found at nearly any Greek restaurant on the island. Known for aiding digestion, it’s traditionally consumed slowly with small appetizers – and with good company.
     
    2. Honey. Crete's famous golden honey is mainly produced from flowers, thyme and pine trees. Try it with plain Greek yogurt.
     
    3. Wine. Cretan wine goes all the way back to the Minoans, who produced it around 1600 BC. Today many Cretan families and restaurants offer housemade wine – and it’s a big business. Crete is home to dozens of fine wineries, many of which are starting to see more and more visits from traveling oenophiles.
     
    4. Dakos. These dry rusks are a traditional Cretan food full of healthy flavor when moistened with olive oil and mixed with oregano, cheese and tomatoes.
     
    5. Watch the Filo Master. You’ll be in awe at how deftly Yiorgos Hatziparaskos manipulates, stretches and throws filo dough by hand at his Old Quarter shop in Rethymno. After the show, step inside to pick up the best baklava and kataifi on the island.
  • On September 17, 2012
    Marissa Tejada answered the question: Marissa Tejada

    Where is the best nightlife in Crete?

    Our Forbes Travel Guide editors report that the vibe of Crete’s nightlife scene can lean local, international or just plain touristy, depending on where you go. You’ll almost always find a wild party at the bars clustered in the more touristy sections of the island, such as in Agia Galini and Plakias, or you can spend time listening to Cretan music at a Greek club in Heraklion, Chania and Rethymno. All have clubs and bars that play international pop, Greek pop and traditional Cretan music.
     
    In Heraklion the bars and clubs around the main squares start to fill up after midnight, while the foreign party animals tend to revel at the Heraklion resort towns of Hersonissos and Malia. Rethymno’s sophisticated nightlife is right in town at the old harbor, with a variety of beach bars and clubs by the sea as well. Locals love to just go for a stroll in their beautiful city of Chania, where after your walk you can grab a drink at the many bars and clubs centered in the Old Town. 
  • On September 17, 2012
    Marissa Tejada answered the question: Marissa Tejada

    What is the best way to see Crete in one day?

    You’ll need a car if you hope to cover a lot of ground in just one day on Crete, the largest island of Greece.
     
    Our Forbes Travel Guide editors suggest starting your morning by exploring the ancient ruins of Aptera, an important Minoan city dating back to 700 BC that’s located 10 miles east of Chania. Next you’ll head 15 miles northeast of Chania to the Akrotiri Peninsula, where you can go for a refreshing early afternoon swim at sandy, scenic Stavros Beach (scenes from the 1964 film Zorba the Greek were filmed here). The island’s most impressive monasteries, Tsagarolon and Gouverneto, are nearby as well, and you can recharge your batteries with a delicious traditional Cretan lunch at one of the many beachfront tavernas.
     
    Start the late afternoon by taking a tour of Chania and its colorful, charming Venetian harbor and clustered mix of Venetian, Turkish and Greek architecture. A stroll around Old Town, where you’ll find historic sites like the lighthouse along with carefully restored Venetian homes and hotels, is also recommended. Look for the beautiful 16th-century Agios Frankiskos Church, which houses the Archaeological Museum.

    Take in the bustle and bargaining at the expansive cross-shaped indoor Agora Market — all the Greek products you’ll want to take home can be found here. After shopping, have a fresh seafood dinner while enjoying the sunset at acclaimed beachfront restaurant Akrogiali.

    Finally, experience Crete’s nightlife at Pallas Roof Garden Café-Bar on Akti Tobazi. It takes 44 steps to get up there, but the view is worth it as you sit back, drink in hand, and watch the night take over Chania.
  • On September 17, 2012
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    What are the best places to eat at in Crete?

    The famed Mediterranean diet is synonymous with the island of Crete, and the best restaurants across the island will give you a good idea why Cretan dishes are considered by many to be the best in the world. Here are our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for five of the best places to eat in Crete:
     
    1. Waves on the Rock. The rugged Rodopou Peninsula in Chania leads you to this excellent restaurant specializing in fresh fish.
     
    2. Akrogiali. Enjoy a great sunset view and fresh seafood dishes at this Chania beachfront restaurant.
     
    3. The Well of the Turk. Located in Chania’s old Turkish quarter, this restaurant features tasty cooking with a touch of Middle Eastern flair in a unique setting.
     
    4. Prima Plora. This Rethymno restaurant offers a chic, modern atmosphere and sophisticated seafood dishes at tables by the sea.
     
    5. Pelagos. Dine in this Agios Nikolaos restaurant’s scenic garden and enjoy an excellent selection of fresh fish with local vegetables and wine.
  • On September 17, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the best places to stay in at Crete?

    Crete is the largest island in Greece and attracts a quarter of Greece’s international tourists every year, so you’ll find a full range of top-quality hotels here that aim to enhance the island’s breathtaking surroundings. Here are our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for the five best places to stay:
     
    1. Domes of Elounda. It may look like a Mediterranean village, but it’s all modern-day luxury at this charming spot on the sea. On the coast of Elounda, the hotel features small architectural domes, touches of Moorish accents (mirrored furniture, silver basins) and local art throughout the property. Guest rooms are a mix of dome-topped villas and suites — all have stunning sea views.
     
    2. Paradise Island Villas. These 12 Mediterranean-style villas in Anissaras offer the charm of a luxury boutique hotel with sea and mountain views. Choose between a sprawling family villa and one made just for two. The hotel also has two main outdoor pools, a restaurant, poolside lounge and a spa.
     
    3. Blue Palace Resort & Spa. This hotel on the coast of Elounda offers all the perks of a large resort with the seclusion of a boutique hotel. Come here to enjoy private infinity pools, a sprawling gym and elevator that will whisk you right down to the cliff-side beach. The excellent beachside spa has three thalasso pools and two traditional Turkish hammams.
     
    4. Grecotel Amirandes. Designed in the spirit of grand Minoan palaces, lavish Grecotel Amirandes features private beaches and over 60 private pools. The Heraklion hotel has six restaurants, private beaches, a spa, an outdoor seawater pool and 212 guest rooms with luxe amenities.
     
    5. Elounda Peninsula All Suite Hotel. One of the island’s most high-end hotels, the Elounda Peninsula offers standard guestrooms that include jetted tubs and private sun decks. Once you move to a suite, you’ll be treated to additional perks like private gardens and easy beach access.
  • On September 17, 2012
    Marissa Tejada answered the question: Marissa Tejada

    Where is the best shopping in Crete?

    The best shopping experiences in Crete are found in the island’s lively markets, where you’ll find rows of vendors selling fresh fruit, herbs, cheeses, honey nuts, raki and all kinds of other Greek specialties. Beyond local foods you can also pick up arts and crafts, cheap clothing and shoes at the markets – and if you enjoy bargaining, these are the places to do it since Greek sellers expect a little price haggling.
     
    Our Forbes Travel Guide editors have two favorite markets. The first is the central market on 1866 Street in Heraklion. It runs from the Meidani to Kornarou Square, and the street name refers to the three-year Cretan Revolt against the Turks that began in 1866. Another recommended market is Agora Market, where you’ll find 80 stalls spread out in a cross-shaped indoor structure on Sofoklis Venizelos in Chania.
  • On September 17, 2012
    Marissa Tejada answered the question: Marissa Tejada

    What are the best things to do with kids in Crete?

    The beach isn’t the only place to go for some family fun in Crete — kids will enjoy the many educational and sporty activities the island provides as well. Here are five things to do with kids recommended by our Forbes Travel Guide editors:
     
    1. Aquaworld Aquarium Hersonissos Crete. Kids will love looking at the more than 60 tanks here that are filled with more than 250 Mediterranean sea creatures.
     
    2. Pirate ships. Board the Barbarossa or Captain Hook pirate ships and cruise off from Rethymno to explore the coast of Crete.
     
    3. Water parks. Crete has four great water parks to choose from: Limnoupolis Water Park in Chania; the Acqua Plus Water Park and Star Beach Water Park in Hersonissos; and Water City in Iraklio.
     
    4. Sasteria Observatory. Located in the mountainous village of Agios Stefanos, the Sasteria Observatory is open day and night to view the sky through a collection of modern telescopes.
     
    5. Dikteon Cave. Take a tour to discover the stalagmites and stalactites in Dikteon Cave, where according to Greek mythology Zeus was born.
  • On September 17, 2012
    Marissa Tejada answered the question: Marissa Tejada

    What are the best things to see and do in Crete?

    You’ll have plenty of things to see and do in Crete, the largest island of Greece. From exploring the island by car to sunbathing on the beach, here are five things our Forbes Travel Guide editors feel belong on your must-do list:
     
    1. Palace of Knossos. This Minoan Palace will open your eyes to the fascinating rise and fall of the Minoan civilization. Tour the palace, then check out the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion.
     
    2. Samaria Gorge. This Greek national park is Europe's longest gorge and arguably its most splendid. Hike through it to check out a diverse variety of birds and flowers.
     
    3. The beaches. Relax at the beaches and ruins of Falasarna near Kissamos, where there are no hotels or bars in sight. To the south, the inviting coves of Plakias, Frangokastello and Magkrigialos beaches are also worth a look and swim.
     
    4. Elafonissi Beach. The main things you’ll find here are coral-pink sand, the sun and sea, but if you get hungry there are a few simple tavernas nearby.
     
    5. Spinalonga Island. Spinalonga is a former leper colony that’s now uninhabited. A visit here provides an interesting look into Crete’s history as you explore the fortress, the spooky streets and crumbling remains of old buildings.