30 Best Things to Do in Crete (Greece)

colorful street in chania

It is not surprising that Crete is the most popular summer vacation choice in Greece.

The island is one of the very few places in Europe and in the world to successfully combine all the most important aspects of the perfect summer break.

If you still experience any hesitations about where to go for your next vacation, you should consider all these advantages of Crete:

This is the place with the best climate in Greece and Europe;

Healthy food (according to world-renowned nutritionists);

The best beaches in Europe (and some of the best in the world);

The largest variety of all the Greek islands;

Some of the best wines;

The great archaeological treasure.

On the other side, if you have already decided to spend your next holiday in Crete, the following list will be very helpful for you:

1. Cool yourself in the waters of Balos Bay

No, this is neither the Bahamas nor the Caribbeans.

Situated in the northwestern part of Crete, Balos Bay is a place of unique natural beauty, and is a great way to cool and refresh yourself in the summer heat.

From early spring till late autumn the turquoise waters attract as a magnet thousands of visitors from all around the world.

Despite being one of the top spots to visit in Crete, Balos Bay is a relatively quiet place thanks to its more isolated location.

2. Try some of the best wines in the world

wine vats
Wine vats by Nelo Hotsuma/Flickr

With their exceptional tastes, aromas and colors, Cretan wines are considered to be among the best in the world.

In addition their top reputation, we should mention also their affordable prices.

Locals often say you don’t need to be rich to drink a high quality wine on the island.

Some of the best wine tasting places in Crete are in the area of Hania.

Popular names are the Karavitakis and Manousakis wineries.

3. Swimming and snorkeling in Europe’s most clear lagoon

elafonissi lagoon
Elafonissi lagoon by Franco Vannini/Flickr

One of the first and most recommended things to do on the island is to visit the irresistible lagoon of Elafonissi.

It is located in the southwestern corner of the island, and is known for its rich underwater fauna, white sands and turquoise waters.

No matter if you are into snorkeling or swimming, this place offers the best possible experience.

4. Visit the best archaeological museum on the island

archaeological museum of heraklion
Archaeological Museum of Heraklion by Tim Schofield/Flickr

The rich collection of the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion offers the quickest and easiest way to touch the historical past of the island.

You can see artefacts from different eras, including clay pots, sculptures, ornaments, models of ancient cities and many others.

5. Adventure in the Samaria Gorge

samaria gorge
Samaria Gorge by alphis tay/Flickr

Nestled between the mountains in the southwestern part of Crete, the Samaria Gorge is a unique natural phenomenon.

It is approximately 16 km long, and its bottom is covered with fresh Mediterranean forests.

Rocks and mountain rivers diversify the scenery.

The gorge is a home of rare species of animals.

One of the rarest birds in Europe, the Golden Eagle, can be seen here, as well as the Cretan wild goat, which rapidly climbs the steep rocky slopes.

6. Climb the highest peak

mount psiloritis
Mount Psiloritis by Elisa Triolo/Flickr

Situated in the very heart of an ecologically clean natural park, Mount Psiloritis (also known as Mount Ida) is the highest point on the island.

With its 2456 meters, it reveals a stunning panorama of the surrounding mountains and fertile valleys.

And that’s not all.

It is a memorable experience to climb the peak, not just because of the panorama itself, but also because it offers the opportunity to enjoy some of the most beautiful areas on the way up.

In addition, this is a good opportunity to find some coolness even in July and August when the temperature hardly exceeds 13 degrees.

7. Visit the biggest palm forest in Europe

palm forest
Palm forest by Spiros Vathis/Flickr

Located on the hottest and driest eastern coast of Crete, Vai is the biggest palm forest in Europe.

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It has a narrow and elongated shape and is nestled between low rounded hills.

No matter where on the island you are, this place is one of the most recommended to visit.

As a secluded natural oasis, Vai offers everything you need to spend your day in the best way possible.

The palm trees offer pleasant shade during the hot summer days, and the golden sand beach is just a few steps away.

8. Discover one of the greatest cities of the ancient world

ancient knossos
Ancient Knossos by Ania Mendrek/Flickr

Discovered in the late 19th century, Knossos is considered the most important city of the Minoan civilization, and one of the most important cultural and economic centers of the ancient world.

It experienced its apogee during the period 17th – 15th century BC when the total population of the city reached 100 000 people.

Nowadays, you will find here excavations of a palace, residential and public buildings as well as surprisingly well-preserved infrastructure.

9. Immerse yourself in the atmosphere of Rethymno

view to rethymno
View to Rethymno by Vitka Vitkovic/Flickr

Visiting Rethymno should be one of your top priorities while on the island.

This is a destination that attracts different types of tourists, and everyone finds what he needs.

This pearl of Crete combines old mosques, wooden Ottoman time houses, wonderful Orthodox churches and charming cobblestone streets with colorful shops.

The main accent is the harbor, which is a traditional place with numerous cafes and restaurants.

10. Spend at least one day in the most popular city

colorful street in chania
Colorful street in Chania by Atli Harðarson/Flickr

Chania is considered the most popular tourist center on the Island, and indeed, it offers everything you need for a perfect vacation.

First of all, this is the place to find one of the best urban beaches in Crete.

It meets all the highest eco-standards and is Blue Flag awarded.

Just a few steps from the beach are some of the best hotels, restaurants, shops and cafes on the island.

In addition, the city is located very close to almost all the major tourist spots in Crete, including all the world-famous lagoons and some of the most popular archaeological sites.

11. Day boat trip to Gavdos island

gavdos island
Gavdos Island by Jörg Weingrill/Flickr

If you are a more adventurous person searching for something different, then the island of Gavdos is recommended to you.

This place is extremely rare populated, and the people who live here are mainly engaged in farming and agriculture.

This is one of the southern-most spots in Europe, and if you have decided to take this little adventure, it is good to prepare yourself for the high temperatures here with stronger sunscreen and water.

12. See the windmills

lassithi plateau windmill
Lassithi Plateau Windmill by Peter Huys/Flickr

If you think you need to go to the Netherlands to see windmills, you should first take a look at the Lassithi Plateau.

In fact, you will find much more windmills here.

Actually, it rather comes to wind powered water pumps, whose main purpose is to ensure water for irrigation of the surrounding agricultural lands.

We should also mention that Lassithi Plateau is considered the birthplace of Zeus.

13. Visit the palace of Sarpedon

palace of sarpedon
Palace of Sarpedon by Rolf Dietrich Brecher/Flickr

Malia is one of the must visit archaeological sites in Crete.

Here you will find the excavations of a legendary palace.

It is certainly not the biggest one but is definitely quite popular as it is considered the place where Sarpedon, the brother of King Minos, lived.

14. Phaistos – visit the archeological heart of the South

Phaistos is an important archeological site to visit.

This is the place where many of the artefacts in the archeological museum in Heraklion come from.

It is located in the central part of southern Crete, and offers the opportunity to visit the excavations of an ancient city and fortress.

It dates back to the late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age, and flourished during the Minoan civilization.

15. Visit the excavations of Zakros

excavations of zakros
Excavations of Zakros by Elisa Triolo/Flickr

Zakros (also known as Zakro or Kato Zakro) is one of the most important economic centres of the ancient Minoan civilization.

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Thanks to its location on the eastern shore of the island, the settlement was a very important commercial port.

Because of its closeness to the coast, you could easily combine the visit of Zakros with some beach fun.

16. Swimming and sunbathing at Voulisma Beach

voulisma beach
Voulisma beach by Franco Vannini/Flickr

Voulisma Beach is located in a little well-shaped cove in the eastern part of Crete.

It is famous for its shallow and smooth sapphire waters, which are ideal for swimming and snorkeling.

Typically, the place remains relatively calm and secluded even at the height of the summer season.

17. Enjoy the beach with the most amenities

platanias beach
Platanias beach by I C/Flickr

Platanias Beach is considered one of the beaches with the most amenities to offer on the island.

It is located west of Hania, in a very well developed tourist area.

Everything you need and all the entertainments are always just a few steps away.

Here you can easily combine the day at the beach with some shopping, visiting restaurants or bars and many others.

18. Find some tranquility in Plakias village and its area

plakias village
Plakias village by Pat Neary/Flickr

If you always search for seclusion, solitude and tranquility, you will find it on the southern coast of the island, in the small coastal village of Plakias.

It has a superb beach but is usually relatively quiet and peaceful, even at the height of summer.

The area of the village is a great place for long walks, and offers some really good eco-paths to enjoy.

19. Kayaking at Paleochora

village of paleochora
Village of Paleochora by Pat Neary/Flickr

Situated on a small peninsula in the southwestern part of the island, the village of Paleochora is a charming place to walk around.

However, the small town is famous for something else.

If you are into outdoor activities (and you probably are because you have decided to visit Crete), Paleochora is the perfect destination.

You can rent a kayak and reach a number of fabulous beaches in the area.

They are all a few minutes away from you, and the smooth sea surface will make it easy to reach all of them.

20. Diving at Stavros Beach

diving at stavros beach
Diving at Stavros Beach by Aurimas Mikalauskas/Flickr

Stavros Beach is located in the northwestern part of Crete, not far from the city of Chania.

It is situated in a quiet bay, and offers a combination of emerald green waters and golden sand.

In most days of the year the water is very smooth as in a swimming pool.

This place is one of the most attractive for diving, and this is not surprising, especially considering the rich biodiversity in the area.

Dolphins and sea turtles are just an example of what you can see here.

21. Visit the Arkadi Monastery

arkadi monastery
Arkadi Monastery by stefg74/Flickr

The Arkady Monastery is considered one of the most beautiful in all of Greece, and is a place that must surely be visited.

You can combine it with a trip to the city of Rethymno, as they are located in the same area.

Its massive stone structure is completed in Venetian baroque, but it definitely brings some Renaissance feeling too.

In addition to the beauty of the monastery, the entire area is charged with a positive energy.

22. Preveli Beach and palm grove picnic

preveli beach
Preveli beach by I C/Flickr

Preveli Beach is considered to be one of the most tempting places on the southern coast of Crete.

It marks the end of a picturesque canyon, and offers a 200-meter strip of creamy-gray sand.

However, it is famous for something else.

Here you will find a natural date palm forest, which is the second largest on the island.

Emerald green river runs through the very bottom of the canyon.

Its shores are covered with lush Mediterranean vegetation, including with fragrant oleanders.

An afternoon picnic in the palm grove near the beach is for sure one of the best experiences while on the island.

23. Traveling in the past: Visit El Greco’s birthplace

el greco's birthplace
El Greco’s Birthplace by Graeme Churchard/Flickr

Located in the small village of Fodele, the Museum of El Greco is a special place to visit.

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This is the birthplace of the famous artist, and the beauty of the surroundings can easily explain his sense of art and beauty.

Surrounded by hills, olive and citrus groves, the village is located not far from the north coast and from Paralia Fodele Beach.

24. Visit a 6000-year-old settlement

gortyn 6000 years old settlement
Gortyn 6000 Years Old Settlement by Andy Montgomery/Flickr

Situated in the picturesque Massara Valley, Gortyn is one of the oldest archeological sites on the island and is located less than an hour drive from Heraklion.

Due to its ancient history, this place is filled with extraordinary energy.

It is considered that the settlement was established approximately 4000 years BC, during the late Neolithic age, and is known as the place where one of the world’s first legal codes appeared.

25. Spend a day in Agios Nikolaos

agios nikolaos
Agios Nikolaos by Radek Kucharski/Flickr

With a number of shady restaurants along the coast and around Lake Voulismeni, the downtown of Agios Nikolaos is the most easily recognizable of all the city centers on the island.

Sunny, quiet, bright coloured and welcoming, the coastal city is a wonderful place to stay or just to visit for a while.

Its sandy or pebble coves nestled between steep coastal cliffs are irresistible.

In the vicinity you will find numerous monasteries where the time seems to have stopped centuries ago.

26. Swimming in Kournas Lake

kournas lake
Kournas Lake by Daniel Enchev/Flickr

Kournas is a small lake which is located just over 2 km from the beach of Georgioupoli, northern Crete.

The most curious fact is that Kournas Lake attracts more swimmers and sunbathers than the beach itself and is actually considered the best lake to swim in Europe!

The combination of sunny and warm weather, white sandy beaches, clear waters and ecologically clean environment is the main reason why people come here.

If you consider also the pleasant shade under the trees and the traditional Greek tavernas in the area, you could spend an entire day here.

27. Cycling into the Forest of Rouvas

forest of rouvas
Forest of Rouvas by fluffisch/Flickr

The Rouvas Forest is considered the most beautiful on the island.

It is located at the bottom of a deep canyon, right in the center of Crete.

The lovers of mountain biking have always been attracted to this place in the interior of the island because of the combination of fresh mountain air, relatively low level of difficulty, lovely quiet and shady trails and lack of dangerous animals.

28. Visit the birthplace of Zeus

birthplace of zeus
Birthplace of Zeus by 4652 Paces/Flickr

Located in the eastern part of the island, approximately midway between Agios Nikolaos and Heraklion, Psychro is considered the most beautiful of all the caves in Greece.

However, it is unique not just because of its enormous stalactites and stalagmites.

The cave is considered sacred by the Minoans, and according to ancient Greek mythology, this is one of the places pretending to be the birthplace of Zeus.

29. Enjoy your favorite water sport in Falassarna

Falassarna by V Manninen/Flickr

Falassarna is the water-sports capital of Greece.

It is located in the northwestern part of Crete, and combines golden sands and azure waters.

This is a must-visit spot, especially if you need something more than just relaxing on the comfortable beach furniture, under the shade of your umbrella.

If you are into surfing, windsurfing or kiteboarding, the chance is to find great conditions here since the wind could rarely stop completely along the western coast of Crete.

However, you will have plenty of things to do even in quiet weather conditions.

This is a top spot for diving, water skiing and jet skiing.

30. Caribbean adventure to Chrissi Island

chrissi island
Chrissi Island by Spiros Vathis/Flickr

If you are curious to feel what it is like to swim and dive into the Caribbean blue waters, Chrissi Island could be a great alternative of Jamaica or Cuba.

Located 15 km south of Lerapetra, this is a real paradise with azure waters and plenty of sunshine.

The island is practically uninhabited with the exception of its 3 permanent residents.