When you think about Crete holidays, powder-white soft sand, pristine waters, and stunning sunsets spring to mind. After all, this Greek island (which is the biggest of them all) is home to a wealth of beautiful beaches where couples and families can soak up the Mediterranean sunshine.
But there’s so much more to explore beyond the Crete beaches. For a start, 4,000 years of civilisation have left behind impressive archaeological sites, and it’s well worth hiring a car to see them for yourself. When you’re not off hunting the minotaur, you can experience the warm hospitality and traditions of the locals, who’ll always be able to offer some insider tips. Just ask them about the island’s best beaches and most picturesque villages.
Things to do
Beyond the island’s glorious beaches, holidays to Crete will take you to some of the oldest and most beautifully preserved remains of the ancient Greek world. It’s well worth taking a trip to Phastios, where you’ll discover an archaeological site dating back to the Bronze Age.
For a taste of the island’s ‘hippie history’, take a stroll around the cave homes carved into Matala Beach’s towering rocks before heading underwater to explore the Roman ruins beneath the surface. All this exploring will surely make you hungry, so when you’re ready, join the locals in the seafront tavernas; you’ll be welcomed with a glass (or two) of ice-cold raki.
This picturesque island is home to plenty of beaches where you can spend your days relaxing on the soft sands and basking in the sunshine. You’ll find breathtaking islets lined with pink coral sand and surrounded by crystalline waters in the south. In the east, party locations such as Malia promise energetic beaches with a buzzing atmosphere and lots to keep you occupied. Whether you’re looking for a quiet retreat away from the crowds or somewhere a little livelier, there’s a beach haven for everyone in Crete.
Elafonisi Beach, on the south-western tip of the island, offers a little slice of paradise. The beach stretches over almost a mile; it’s covered in lush pink and white sands, surrounded by shallow, lagoon-like waters. The breakdown of coloured coral in the Mediterranean Sea gives this beach its unique pink tinge. Take a walk across the mesmerising islet and discover the incredible rock formations and caves as you go.
Or head down to Falassarna Beach where you can enjoy clear turquoise-blue water and a sandy shore full of sun loungers, umbrellas, and a selection of snack bars. Located on the western edge of the island, it’s popular among day-trippers due to its interesting historical background. Those interested in archaeology can visit the ruins of a Hellenistic harbour here and learn about the area’s unique past.
History and culture of Crete
Holidays to Crete are about much more than just sand and sea. Crete’s rich history is shaped by a fusion of mythology, empire, and cultural traditions (such as the famous annual Renaissance Festival) which characterise this island’s strong identity. Delicious Cretan cuisine, popular folk dancing, and upbeat music are all part of Crete’s culture. The historical background is particularly fascinating.
By 3000 BC, the Minoan civilisation began to emerge in Ancient Crete. The island became the forefront of the Bronze Age culture. The Minoan civilisation peaked around 1600 BC and was renowned for its construction of impressive cities, palaces, and strong naval empire. Take a trip to the Palace of Knossos where you’ll find an example of just one of the many grand structures built under this civilisation. Located just south of Heraklion, the palace covers over 20,000 square metres with lots to explore. Legend has it this building was the location of the famous mythical Labyrinth.
Those with an avid interest in Greek mythology can also embark on a day trip to Psychro Cave, believed to be the birthplace of Zeus. Uncover his secrets while exploring an impressive chamber full of crystal formations. Here, you can choose to follow a guided tour or wander through at your own pace.
If it’s your first time holidaying in Crete, head to the ever-popular ancient town of Chania on the western side of the island. Characterised by incredible beaches, towering White Mountains, and the National Park, this resort promises stunning scenery and plenty to keep the whole family entertained.
Suppose you’d like to spend the majority of your holiday sightseeing. In that case, the island’s capital of Heraklion is the place to be. This city is renowned for its incredible archaeological treasures. It’s home to several historical points of note and a vast valley complete with olive groves and vineyards. Hersonissos, situated about 25km east of Heraklion, is ideal for a family holiday. This resort boasts two water parks and lovely big beaches for children to play on.
And if you’re coming to Crete for the nightlife, consider staying in Malia in the north-eastern quarter. This lively resort is rightly known as Crete’s party capital, home to an array of nightclubs and bars which stay open from dusk till dawn. Put on your dancing shoes and leave your troubles aside as you boogie the night away.
What should I pack?
Crete’s Mediterranean climate means you’ll need to pack for hot sunny days during much of the year. Add a few extra layers and perhaps a waterproof jacket for the wetter, cooler weather during the winter months. Evenings and nighttime in winter can be chilly, particularly on the coast or mountainous regions, so make sure you pack a jumper.
If you’re planning a holiday to Crete in the summer, take plenty of light, cool clothing, swimwear, and of course, sun cream! Don’t forget your sun hat and sunglasses too for lazing by the pool or on the beach. Since there are plenty of ancient ruins and historical sites to explore on the island, comfortable shoes are a must if you’re planning on seeing everything that’s on offer.
More Travel Guides
We also have travel guides available for destinations, including Aghios Nikolaos | Elounda | Heraklion | Hersonissos | Malia | Rethymnon | Stalis