The Getaway
Highlights of Greece's Crete Island

Greece is an intriguing nation with a long history. It is often thought of as the cradle of Western civilization. Greek influence is prevalent throughout art, history, sports, politics, and especially philosophy. Heraklion is the capital city of Crete, the largest of the Greek islands, and a popular vacation destination. The island offers such a wide variety of attractions that almost everyone finds something to love. Remnants of ancient civilizations, gorgeous beaches, mountains, and unique cuisine are just a few of Crete's marvels.


01 Summer on the Greek islands

greek island crete portishead1 / Getty Images

Summer is the ideal time of year to experience life and culture on the Greek islands. Greek summers are hot, and the warm waters of the Aegean Sea are perfect for swimming, water sports, and even swim-up bars. Almost all the activities and attractions on the island of Crete are accessible during the summer months. There are countless natural and cultural treasures to explore in the countryside, and a relaxing day on a boat observing the island's many features is a great way to recharge.


02 Matala Beach Festival

festival crete Gatsi / Getty Images

The Matala Beach Festival is a lively three-day concert at the end of June. Incorporating this festival into a fun summer holiday on Crete ensures an exciting vacation. A commune was established around the caves and beaches of Matala in the 1960s, and the Matala Beach Festival epitomizes their desire for a peaceful and joyful life.


03 Beaches

beaches crete mbbirdy / Getty Images

Crete has an abundance of beautiful beaches. The Mýrtos and Matala beaches complement the bohemian style of the Matala Beach Festival. Free sunbeds are provided, and several ancient Minoan sites in the area offer hours of exploration. The isolated Sweetwater Beach is perfect for relaxing in nature and enjoying white sands with turquoise surf. Sweetwater Beach is only accessible by boat or on foot over winding trails.


04 Coffee

coffee crete OKrasyuk / Getty Images

Coffee is very important in Greek culture. The traditional Greek process of making coffee has been practiced for over 500 years. Think Tank in Heraklion, Crete, is a cafe serving current popular beverages and traditional blends from Greece and Crete. Patrons can watch specially trained baristas prepare drinks with a wide variety of equipment, ingredients, and techniques. They even demonstrate traditional preparation using hot sand. The head barista at Think Tank takes coffee very seriously. He founded and runs a training seminar for baristas.


05 Castles and Museums

crete isle siete_vidas / Getty Images

Several Venetian and Byzantine castles are open for public exploration. Castles of note include Kastelli and Frangokastello in Chania, the Fortezza in Rethymno, and the castle of Heraklion. Crete is also home to many fascinating museums. Three, in particular- the Cretaquarium, the Museum of Natural History, and the Historical Museum of Crete- are good starting points to learn the highlights of Crete's long history and varied civilizations.


06 Samaria Gorge

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Samaria Gorge is a national park famous for Portes or the Iron Gates. It is sure to entice those who enjoy hiking and climbing. The park is also one of the World's Biosphere Reserves and an ideal location for simply observing nature's beauty and wildlife. Hundreds of flowers, birds, and animals are native to this ecologically diverse region. Visitors can take part in organized tours ranging from a seven-hour hike to small, motorized carts, so everyone has an opportunity to enjoy the park.


07 Unique Foods

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The Cretan diet is a regional variation of the Mediterranean diet. Traditional dishes incorporate sea salt, cheese, extra-virgin olive oil, and artichokes. Small family-owned restaurants and cafes, known as taverna, offer local delicacies, including a piquant cheese or graviera and many herbs and salad greens unique to the region. Staka is a local clotted cream made from sheep's milk. Favored regional dishes include dakos rusk salad with tomatoes and mizithra cheese, fried snails, sweet cheese pastries known as kalitsounia, savory cheese pies, and egg-lemon lamb with artichoke hearts. The world-renowned wedding pilaf, gamopilafo, also comes from Crete.


08 Walk with Donkeys

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A delightful experience for families with children is just south of Agios Nikolaos. The Walk With Donkeys Farm is a combination of animal rescue and tourist attraction. Older donkeys in retirement or given up by owners are cared for at the farm. Tours through the country and visits to local wineries, sites of olive oil or cheese production, and beautiful natural vistas are available year-round. The donkeys are doted on and live out their later years healthy and happy. Frequent shrieks of delight from visiting children are the best evidence of the joyful nature of this charming farm.


09 The Palace of Knossos

crete island Vladimir_Timofeev / Getty Images

The capital city of Heraklion is a common entry point upon arrival in Crete, but it is a working city instead of a tourist town. Heraklion's claim to fame, and an important feature of Crete overall, is the Palace of Knossos. People familiar with ancient history or mythology have heard of Knossus, the capital city of the ancient Minoan empire. Mycenaens from mainland Greece conquered the Minoans and took over Knossos. The Mycenaens are well-known too. They were the invading army that laid siege to Troy. Knossos is also central to the myths and stories of the Minotaur and labyrinth. The palace itself covers a huge area. Licensed guides and enterprising locals are more than happy to lead visitors on tours.


10 Nightlife

crete Vladislav Zolotov / Getty Images

Chania has all the conveniences of a modern city, while the interior holds Venetian homes and architecture. Anyone wanting to experience Greek nightlife will be delighted when the sun goes down. The cafes, restaurants, and bars around the harbor light up in a dazzling display as revelers flood in for a night of fun and excitement. Discos and nightclubs crowd the inner harbor, and venues on the waterfront have small floating bars and tables joined by walkways of wood and rope.


11 Explore Seitan Limania Beach

Seitan Limania Beach is a hidden treasure nestled amidst the rugged cliffs of Crete. The journey to this secluded haven is an adventure in itself, with a winding road leading to a trail that descends through steep cliffs. As you make your way down, the view of the turquoise waters against the stark cliffs is nothing short of breathtaking. At the bottom, you'll find a narrow stretch of sand, a serene escape where the Aegean Sea gently laps against the shore. The tranquility here is a far cry from the bustling beaches; it's Crete in its raw, untouched beauty. The clear waters also offer a perfect snorkeling opportunity for those eager to explore the underwater world.


12 Hike Imbros Gorge

The rocky cliffs of Imbros Gorge on the southern part of the island of Crete gkordus / Getty Images

Imbros Gorge, a lesser-known canyon flanking Samaria Gorge, offers a captivating hiking experience. The roughly 5-mile trail is a journey through Crete's wild, untouched landscapes, with towering cliffs casting long shadows over the path. The gorge's narrowest passages are about 5 feet wide, yet they open up to reveal the sky, creating a dramatic play of light and shadow. Along the way, the remnants of ancient cypress trees add a touch of mystique to the hike. The trek is a more beginner-friendly experience compared to the challenging Samaria Gorge, but it's still a wonderful way to explore Crete's natural beauty.


13 Visit Arkadi Monastery

Arkadi Monastery (in Greek Moní Arkadíou) one of the most historic monasteries on Crete. Giorgos Kritsotakis / Getty Images

The Arkadi Monastery stands as a symbol of Cretan resistance against Ottoman rule. Its stone walls hold stories of heroism from the Cretan Revolt of 1866. As you wander through the monastery's courtyards, the blend of Baroque and Renaissance architecture is a visual narrative of Crete's historical journey. The on-site museum narrates the tale of the siege, a poignant reminder of the island's resilient spirit. The peaceful surroundings, with views stretching across the Crete countryside, add a layer of contemplative serenity to the visit.


14 Relax at Vai Beach

Palm Tree Beach (Vai, Crete). borchee / Getty Images

Vai Beach is a unique blend of Crete's natural beauty and exotic ambiance. The beach is home to Europe's largest natural palm forest, creating a tropical oasis against the backdrop of the sparkling Aegean Sea. The golden sands are a warm invitation to lay back and soak up the Mediterranean sun while the gentle waves beckon for a refreshing dip. Nearby regions offer exploratory trails leading to panoramic viewpoints, where the blend of blue and green landscapes is a visual delight.


15 Discover Ancient Phaistos

The ruins of Phaistos transport you back to the era of Minoan civilization. Phaistos offers a more authentic glimpse into the past, unlike the more reconstructed Knossos. The ancient stones, staircases, and remnants of frescoes narrate tales of ancient civilization. As you wander through the ruins, the panoramic views over the Messara Plain add a dramatic backdrop to the historical exploration. Each step is a walk through time, unveiling stories of ancient grandeur and everyday life.


16 Hike to Selakano Forest

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The Selakano Forest is a verdant escape from the island's bustling spots. The dense woodland is ideal for a refreshing hike through pine trees, but the forest is best known as a hub for beekeepers, who release their swarms here in the spring to produce honey. Overall, the tranquility of the forest is a serene retreat.


17 Visit Archanes Village

villages Maxlevoyou / Getty Images

Archanes Village offers a unique blend of ancient ruins and modern winemaking. Nestled in the hills of Heraklion, the village is a journey through Crete's archaeological and culinary heritage. The ancient ruins dating back to the Minoan era are a stark contrast to the thriving wine industry that now defines the region. A stroll through the village unveils traditional Cretan architecture, while a visit to the local wineries is a delightful exploration of Crete's viticulture.


18 Wine tasting in the region of Heraklion

Motorboat at clear water of Loutro town on Crete island Vladimirs_Gorelovs / Getty Images

The wine region of Heraklion is a testament to Crete's renowned history of winemaking. The fertile soils and mild climate have nurtured vineyards that produce some of the island's finest wines. A tour through the local wineries is not just a tasting journey but an educational exploration into the winemaking process. Each sip is a taste of Crete's history, a story of the island's love affair with viticulture.


19 Taste the strong local spirit: Raki

Raki, or Tsikoudia, is more than just a traditional spirit; it's a celebration of Cretan hospitality. This strong spirit distilled from grape pomace is often a companion to good conversation. A tasting session at a local taverna or a traditional distillery is an immersive experience; a tradition passed down through generations.


20 Go paddleboarding in Chania

Motorboat at clear water of Loutro town on Crete island unit-d / Getty Images

The calm waters of Chania's coastline are beautiful, and paddleboarding is a tranquil yet exciting way to explore the area. The gentle rhythm of paddles against the water, the silhouette of the Venetian Harbor in the distance, and the secluded beaches awaiting discovery are an all-day adventure. Local operators offer rentals and guided tours, making it an accessible activity for visitors. It's a unique vantage point from which to appreciate Crete's coastal beauty.


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