Crete holidays

Crete holidays are a definite must-book if you’re into powder-white soft sand, pristine waters and stunning sunsets. After all, this Greek island (which is the biggest of them all) is home to a wealth of beautiful beaches where couples and families of all ages come to 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 hunting for the mythical Minotaur at the Palace of Knossos, you can experience the warm hospitality and traditions of the locals. They’ll always be able to offer some insider tips – just ask them about Crete’s best beaches and most picturesque villages.

Things to do

Aside from the island’s glorious coastline, holidays to Crete will take you to some of the oldest and most beautifully preserved remains of the Ancient Greek world. It’s all thanks to the Minoans, known for their impressive cities, palaces and naval empire – no wonder Crete was at the forefront of Bronze Age culture.

Discover the excavated ruins at Phaistos in the heart of the island, or head to the Palace of Knossos near Heraklion. The palace covers over 20,000 square metres with lots to explore. Legend has it this is where the Labyrinth was built, home to the monstrous Minotaur of Greek mythology. That should get the kids’ imaginations going!

For a taste of Crete’s more recent ‘hippie history’, take a stroll around the cave homes carved into Matala Beach’s sloping cliffs. Dating back way further than the Flower Power era, they’ve also housed Roman tombs and a Christian church. There are more surprises underwater, so pull on a snorkel and flippers for a look at the Roman ruins hidden beneath the surface of the bay.

Beach life

So, you already know there are plenty of beaches where you can spend your days relaxing on the soft sands and basking in the sunshine. But how do you choose which to visit?

You’ll find breathtaking islets lined with pink coral sand and surrounded by crystalline waters in the south. Elafonisi Beach, on the southwestern tip of the island, offers a little slice of paradise. Stretching for almost a mile, it’s covered in lush pink and white coral sands, lapped by a lagoon. It’s so shallow you can even wade right across the water to the islet you can see from the beach. It’s well worth it for a look around, as this peaceful wilderness is home to untouched shores, incredible rock formations and caves – but not much shade, so remember your hat.

Prefer your beaches with more facilities? Head west to Falassarna. It’s ideal for windsurfing, or you could simply enjoy the sands full of sun loungers, umbrellas and snack bars. Not just for sun-worshippers, this gem is also popular with day-trippers wanting to see the ruins of the harbour that stood here centuries ago. So, it’s a perfect place to find out more about the area’s fascinating past.

In the east, party locations such as Malia promise energetic beaches with a buzzing atmosphere and lots to keep you occupied. Believe it or not, this clubbing hotspot is also a sand-lover’s paradise, with six golden kilometres to lounge on. That’s a lot of sunbathing space!

You get the picture – whether you’re looking for a quiet retreat away from the crowds or somewhere a little livelier, you won’t run out of places to soak up the glorious weather in Crete.

Cultural delights

Crete’s Mediterranean climate means you can pack for hot sunny days during much of the year but holidays here offer much more than just sun, sand and sea. You’ll soon notice the island has its own strong identity, shaped by a rich history of mythology, empire, and cultural traditions (such as the world-renowned Renaissance Festival). Delicious Cretan cuisine, popular folk dancing, and upbeat music are all part of the picture.

Those with an avid interest in mythology can also embark on a day trip to Psychro Cave, which is supposed to be the birthplace of the Greek god Zeus. Uncover his secrets on a guided tour or wander through the jaw-dropping crystal chamber at your own pace.

All this exploring will surely make you hungry, so when you’re ready for a break, join the locals in one of Crete’s seafront tavernas for a rich stifado (beef stew) or a flavoursome Greek salad doused in olive oil. You’ll be welcomed with a glass (or two) of ice-cold raki, one of those classic must-tries of Greece holidays.

Places to stay

If you’re new to Crete holidays, head to the ever-popular medieval town of Chania on the western coast. With incredible beaches, chocolate-box streets, an idyllic harbour, the towering White Mountains (‘Lefka Ori’), and the rocky Samaria Gorge among its many attractions, this resort promises stunning scenery. With a romantic air for loved-up couples, it’s also ideal for sunbathers, watersports enthusiasts, hikers and wildlife spotters of all ages.

Looking for the perfect base for a family holiday? Hersonissos boasts kid-friendly places to eat, the fantastic Lychnostatis Open Air Museum and lovely big beaches for children to play on. Plus, waterpark fans will definitely want to check out the thrills at both Acqua Plus and Star Beach. And as the resort’s only about 25km from the city of Heraklion, you can easily combine some key sightseeing with your chill-out time. No wonder this former fishing village is one of the most popular places to stay in Crete!

And if you’re coming to Crete for the nightlife, you should 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 that stay open from dusk till dawn, plus party boat trips, it’s a real favourite with younger couples and friends up for late nights and lazy days. Other lively nightspots include Stalis and Elounda, while Aghios Nikolaos, Chania and Heraklion are perfect for more relaxed evenings out.

More travel guides

Find out more about holidays to Crete with our guides to Aghios Nikolaos | Elounda | Heraklion | Hersonissos | Malia | Rethymnon | Stalis

 

Map of Crete

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11 - 40 ℃

Crete’s Mediterranean climate means warm summers and mild winters, perfect for sun-soaking and sightseeing.

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Heraklion Airport (HER) is the island’s main airport. You might also fly into Crete Chania Airport (CHQ).

Crete is best for...

Beach fans: Beautiful beaches are a big draw for holidays here. You’ll find sandy stretches dotted all over the island’s 650-mile coastline, including pretty spots in Aghios Nikolaos, Chania and Heraklion. While Malia’s a hit with fun-seeking young couples, families will feel right at home in Stalis, a former fishing village with bags of charm and all sorts of things to do.

Explorers: You’ll adore the tiny abandoned island of Spinalonga – yes, that’s the old leper colony you read about in Victoria Hislop’s bestseller ‘The Island’. See it as part of a boat tour or jump on the ferry from Elounda and discover the village ruins under your own steam. Or, if you love a bit of rock-climbing, head inland to the spectacular White Mountains; ideal if you’re the outdoorsy type.

History buffs: Travel back into the Bronze Age at the ancient palaces of Knossos and Phaistos, discover glorious Venetian architecture in the town of Rethymnon, and spend a few hours exploring the fascinating Lychnostatis Open Air Museum in Hersonissos. For a totally child-friendly history lesson, pay a visit to Minoan’s World 3D Museum and 9D Cinema in Chania – it’s about as far from boring as you can get!

Fast facts for Crete

Language: Crete’s official language is Greek. Most people speak a local version known, unsurprisingly, as Cretan Greek. Road signs and menus are usually written in English, but learn a few handy Greek words and phrases before you go to smooth the way with the island’s residents. ‘Efharisto’ (‘thank you’) is an easy one to start with.

Currency: Order Euros (€) for your Crete holiday.

Local time: Crete is 2 hours ahead of GMT/UK time, so you’ll need to move your watch forward.

Fly to: Heraklion International Airport. If you’re not driving yourself to your hotel, you can add transfers to your holiday to make things easier when you land. The journey’s between 15 minutes for Heraklion hotels and 2 hours 40 minutes for Elounda.

Flight time from UK: You’ll fly to Crete in around 3.5 - 4 hours from a choice of airports around the UK.

Tourist information: Visit the official Crete tourism website.

Visa and health: Get the most up-to-date information on entry requirements and health from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.

Holiday destinations in Crete:

Getting around Crete

By hire car: Crete is the largest of the Greek islands, so it’s worth hiring a car to see all the highlights. It’ll also give you the freedom to explore in your own time. Just be prepared for winding mountain roads and frequent stops for goats and pigs!

By bus: The island’s local bus services are regular and efficient, so they’re an excellent alternative to driving. They run throughout the day between Heraklion (the island capital), the biggest towns and all the main resorts, beaches and archaeological sites.

By boat: You can’t go to a Greek island and not take at least one trip across the waves! Why not hop on a boat tour from Chania and head for the unspoiled islet of Gramvousa and the luminous Balos Lagoon? Alternatively, catch the ferry from Aghios Nikolaos to see a different side of Greece with a day on the beautiful island of Santorini.

Events in Crete

Bands on the beach: Matala Beach Festival (held annually at the end of June) is one of Europe’s biggest free music festivals. You can expect stages on the beach and a host of other events inspired by the 1960s hippie era, when this fishing village became a popular hangout.

Chania Summer Festival: From July to September, the idyllic city of Chania hosts a long list of cultural events. Think theatre nights, religious festivals, art exhibitions and traditional Cretan music and dance – there’s plenty going on!

Renaissance Festival: Late summer sees Rethymnon bustling with performers and festival-goers in celebration of the town’s rich Venetian heritage and the island’s role in the European Renaissance. Visit during this famous event and you’ll find historical plays, music and comedy everywhere from the narrow old streets to the open-air Erofili theatre.

Crete safety and security

Do I need a passport?

Yes, all visitors to Crete need a passport, including children and babies of course! For information on current passport requirements and other entry specifications for Crete, head to the Greece section of the FCDO website.

As Crete's in the EU, the rules might be different from when you last travelled, so make sure you check the requirements carefully, including validity for both your entry and exit dates. You might need to apply for a new passport.

Do I need a visa?

British citizens travelling to Crete on holiday do not currently need a visa - you can find out more from the Greek Embassy in the UK.

For further Crete visa information and other entry requirements, visit the UK government travel advice website.

Health and Safety

Should I get travel health insurance?

Absolutely! We always advise anyone planning a holiday to take out comprehensive travel and health insurance, regardless of the destination. This way if you’re injured or become ill on your trip, you’ll be covered for the cost of emergency medical treatment or even your return back to the UK. Without insurance, the bills can mount up really quickly.

It’s a good idea to read through your policy documents properly before your trip, just so you’re aware of what is and what isn’t covered. We also recommend checking that any activities you’re planning for your holiday will be covered by your insurance so you don’t get caught out.

Crete weather

Temperature: 11 - 40 (°C)

When’s the best time to go?

From the ancient capital of Heraklion to the sandy beaches of Ierapetra, Crete is one of the most beautiful Greek islands, and also the largest. Packed with Insta-friendly beaches, ancient treasures and sleepy villages, a holiday here is sure to be a memorable experience. But when is the best time to go to Crete and what do you need to know before you jet off?

Crete has a Mediterranean climate with hot, sunny summers and mild, wet winters. The hottest month is August with the average temperature reaching around 29°C, making summer the ideal time for a beach break. Sometimes a heatwave can see temperatures as high as 35 - 40°C, so be prepared!

The sea is at its warmest from July to September, which is ideal for swimming and snorkelling. From mid-May to mid-September the sea can get rougher due to coastal winds, making Crete a great destination for windsurfing.

If you’re planning on visiting ancient ruins or taking excursions, spring or autumn is the best time to visit Crete, when attractions aren’t as busy and the weather is cooler. Spring is one of the most popular seasons, with plenty of sunshine. May’s deliciously toasty with temperatures ranging from 19°C - 27°C.

From October to March, Greece has its wettest weather. It can be a little chilly, with temperatures averaging around 10°C during the day. Of course, it’s likely to be lower than that at night. During the coldest period, when skiers take to Crete’s mountain slopes, beach breaks aren’t really a thing in Greece. The holiday season ends in October, so most hotels are closed from November to February/March.

What should I pack?

Crete’s Mediterranean climate means you’ll need to pack summery clothes for most of the year. If you’re planning your holiday for the warmer months, take plenty of lightweight, cool clothing, swimwear, and of course, sun cream!

Since there are plenty of ancient ruins and beautiful wild places to explore on the island, comfy shoes are a must. And don’t forget your sun hat and sunglasses too. You’re sure to need them, whatever you’ve got planned.

Going to Crete during one of the cooler months? Add a few extra layers to your packing list (and perhaps a waterproof jacket) for the wetter weather. Evenings and nighttimes from autumn to spring can be chilly, particularly on the coast or in mountainous regions, so make sure you take a jumper.

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