Crete Island holidays

Experience Crete Island

Experience [destination]

Best Places to Visit

The must-see on Crete is Knossos, the ruins of the main settlement of the 4,000-year old Minoan civilisation, rediscovered in the late 19th century by Sir Arthur Evans, a British archaeologist. The site is inextricably bound up with ancient Greek myths, legends and heroes, including the famous Minotaur tale. Crete's beautiful countryside hides charming coastal villages, rural idylls in the interior and the towering White Mountains, the island's highest massif.

Knossos was the legendary seat of the powerful Minoan king Minos, with its underground labyrinth the site of the battle between Greek hero Theseus and the half-man, half-bull Minotaur. The site was first settled around 7,000 BC and subsequently by the Minoans, which became the most important civilisation in the Mediterranean until it fell after the massive volcanic eruption on the nearby island of Thera, now Santorini.

Heraklion Archaeological Museum holds the premier finds from the excavations at Knossos and the other Minoan sites on Crete. Highlights include the Bull-Leaping Fresco, images of the Snake Goddess, Minoan seals and exquisite gold and silver jewellery, and the enigmatic Phaistos Disk. It's one of the world's great museums for its coverage of this magnificent culture, now lost in the mists of time.

Crete's tiny towns and villages offer an escape from the crowded tourist scene and a glimpse into everyday life on the island. Myrtos is a traditional village set west of Ierapetra, with endless deserted beaches, archeological sites and trails leading to hill villages. Lasithi has sacred sites, mysterious caves, Minoan ruins and picturesque windmills.

The Samaria Gorge is one of the most dramatic natural formations on the island, and perfect for trekking and getting close to stunning nature. Sapimanos, the rugged grey mountain at the start of the gorge, was Crete's legendary throne of Zeus, and the gorge itself held an oracle. Elounda Lake holds the remains of Olos, a lost city which is clearly visible beneath the waves on calm days. Diving trips to the underwater ruins can be arranged.

The magnificent White Mountains massif is the tallest on the island, with its bare peaks snow-covered in winter and gleaming white in the summer sun. Although access is tricky, it's possible to take a guided trek over the rocky, rugged slopes and through the heart of the range during the summer months.

Top Landmarks

Most of the island's top landmarks are historical, with Crete having such a rich history. Yet this is not a destination where heritage can only be soaked up in museums, as Crete features numerous archaeological ruins which can be toured for insight into the island's past.

The Venetian fortress of Koules has guarded Heraklion since its construction in the early 16th century, and is now the city's symbol. Its massive walls are nine metres thick and the Venetian Winged Lion is found above two of its gates.

The ancient ruined city of Gortyna was Crete's capital during the Roman era, and holds Roman temples and an amphitheatre. There is also a sacred spot where the simulated flooding of the Nile was enacted for worshippers of the Egyptian deities Serapis and Isis, as well as the ancient plane tree under which Zeus and Europa allegedly made love. The magnificent Roman statuary found at the site is set in the Iraklion Museum.

Chania Old Town and Harbour is one of the loveliest spots on the island, with the white-painted houses and shops curved along the harbour wall and the pretty beach, backed by rocky slopes. Its Venetian heritage shows in its architecture and there are many secluded beaches running from the town along the coast.

Imposing Mount Psilitoris dominates the surrounding lands at 2,500m tall, and the Nidi Plateau at its base is encircled by a ring of smaller mountains. The peak's Ideon Cave was the reputed home of the god Zeus during his childhood and the views from here are breath-taking.

Entertainment

Crete's nightlife and entertainment experience is in line with its popularity as a holiday island. Cretans like to eat out with family from 22:00 until late, meaning most bars and restaurants stay open until the early hours. The scene in the major tourist towns and resorts caters for all ages and budgets, and in the smaller towns and villages it's quieter but just as enjoyable.

Heraklion offers a variety of bars, pubs and clubs, most of which are set along the beach and harbour. Beach bars set almost on the sands are the most popular and regularly feature traditional Greek music and dance, as well as rock and pop. Others offer entertainment such as karaoke, comedy and live music nights, and interesting bars are also found in the back streets.

Chania is possibly the most popular tourist area on the island and a hub for hot nightclubs where the young set can dance until dawn. Kissamos district offers a good choice, and the music bars around the harbour are crowded with revellers every night during the high season. Dance club parties open around 23:00, with at least six to choose from in and around Platanias district.

The attractive town of Rethymno has enough nightlife spots to satisfy most night owls, and Aghios Nikolaos, Ierapetra and Elounda also boast a selection of lively bars. For a quieter night out, beachside tavernas in the less nuzzling districts are perfect, where traditional dishes, local wines and spirits, and Cretan hospitality come as standard.

Dining Out

Greek cuisine is much-loved outside its country of origin and is even more delicious when eaten under the Greek sun or moon. Cretan cuisine is one of the most highly regarded versions of the health-giving Mediterranean diet for its rich olive oil, crunchy salads with goats' cheese toppings, grilled fish and meat, and locally grown vegetables. The myzithra and graviera cheeses are island specialities, with the former mild and creamy, and the latter Crete's answer to Swiss gruyere.

Tavernas and restaurants are everywhere on Crete, with international foods and even English breakfasts available in the tourist hotspots. A typical Cretan meal begins with mezes, small dishes of hummus (chickpea dip), tsatziki (yoghurt, cucumber and mint dip), olives and pickled and grilled vegetables served with warmed, flat pitta bread.

Typical main dishes here are snails with a rich tomato sauce, grilled lamb, kouneli me yiaourti (rabbit in a yoghurt sauce) and grilled fish served with a lemon and oil dressing. Roast chicken slow-roasted with potatoes in olive oil and lemon juice, and smothered in fresh oregano is a rare treat, served with glassfuls of the rich Cretan red wines.

Beach

Beach holidays at all levels are offered on Crete, covering wide stretches of golden sand through tiny coves with white sand edged by rocky headlands. Palm Beach at Itanos is a long, curving stretch of golden sand backed by Europe's largest palm forest, and for snorkelling and diving, Pachai Ammos Beach is perfect, as are the beaches on the offshore island of Thedorou. The loveliest beach is perhaps Elafonissos, and for nude swimming and sunbathing, head for the eastern end of Orthi Ammos Beach.

Romance

Away from the crowded tourism hubs, Crete is the perfect destination for a romantic holiday for two. Ancient buildings converted into boutique hotels, set in glorious countryside and with their own private beaches, restored stone houses with their own private pools and spectacular views, and tiny hillside village hostelries with good facilities are all part of romantic Crete. A late meal with wine in a local taverna with Cretan music in the background and myriad stars above is all that's needed.

Family

Like all Greeks, Cretans adore children and spoil them with treats and love. The safe, sandy beaches are great for a family holiday, with Rethymnan and Hersonissos two of the most suitable destinations for their choice of beaches and family-friendly accommodation. Many resorts and hotels are deliberately family-friendly, offering children's play areas, organised kids' clubs and activities, pools and even baby-sitting services to allow parents a night off.

Adventure

If it's not a holiday without adventure activities to spice it up, don't despair as there are a plethora of adrenaline-fuelled sports on offer in Crete. River trekking through the Preveli Gorge, mountain biking along the Lassithi Plateau, rock-climbing on Agiofarago Beach, sea kayaking from Spinalonga Island, caving and climbing in the central mountains, paragliding and horseback riding can all be arranged through a wide choice of both local and international tour operators. 

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Need to know

Need to know [destination]

Language

Greek is the official language of Crete, although the Cretan dialect varies slightly from the version spoken on the Greek mainland. As a result of Crete's long fame as a tourist destination, English is widely spoken in the main tourist areas and is understood in rural districts. In general, you should find the best grasp of English among hoteliers, restaurateurs and others employed full-time in the hospitality industry. You are likely to hear a large number of other European and world languages during your stay, as many of the people around you will be tourists too.

Currency

Greece is a member of the European Union and the Eurozone, with the euro its official currency. There are banks and ATMs all over the island, payment by credit card is common except in remote rural areas and currency exchange can be had at banks, licensed exchange facilities and hotel desks. Prepaid foreign currency cards offer an alternative if you want to be able to make withdrawals from ATMs, but don't want to take your own bank card from home.

Visas

Citizens of the UK and other EU member states can enter Greece visa-free and stay as long as they like on production of an ID card or passport. Nationals of Australia, Canada, the USA and New Zealand, among other countries can also enter visa-free. Nationals who are not eligible for visa-free entry should contact their nearest Greek Embassy for visa requirement details. If you plan to work during your stay, you may also need to ask about a visa.

Climate

Crete's climate falls into two zones, Mediterranean and North African, with the former the most common. In general, summers are hot and sunny, and winters are mild and wet. The mountainous regions see regular snowfalls in winter, with the highest peaks snow-capped all year, but snow rarely falls in the low-lying areas. High summer sees temperature peaks of over 40 degrees Celsius, with averages of around 30 degrees Celsius. Autumn in September and October is warm and pleasant, although by November the weather is unstable.

Main Airports

Three of Crete's five airports, Heraklion International Airport, Chania International Airport and Sitia Airport, are used for commercial flights. Seasonal routes from Heraklion include London-Stansted, London-Gatwick, Manchester, East Midlands and Leeds Bradford.

Flight Options

The main carriers flying here from the UK and other European cities are low-cost or charter, and the vast majority of routes are seasonal, meaning travellers heading to Crete outside of the main tourist season will need to fly via Athens. UK visitors are served by EasyJet to Heraklion from London-Gatwick and London-Luton, and by Jet2 from Manchester, Leeds Bradford and East Midlands airports. Flight time from London to Crete averages at just less than 4 hours.

Travel Advice

The high summer season sees considerable price increases in both flights and accommodation costs, although charter companies are sometimes known to offer excellent last-minute package holidays. The shoulder seasons of spring and autumn offer lower prices, with the exception of the period around Easter.

Other Transport Options

If flying isn't the preferred option, it's possible to arrive in Athens by long distance bus from the UK, continuing to Crete by ferry or fast boat from Piraeus port. By road, the journey is spectacular, if lengthy, and the modern buses leaving from London Victoria Bus Station are comfortable, safe and have reclining seats. Another enjoyable option involves train travel from London's Kings Cross/St Pancras Station by Eurostar to Paris, connecting with the Euronight sleeper to Bologna in Italy.

Getting Around

Getting around in Crete is by bus, taxi or hire car, and is generally straightforward, with public services regular and well-presented. There are no rail services on Crete, nor are there air links between the island's three regional airports. Buses cover the entire island, and the road network is extensive and reasonably well-maintained, while taxis are cheap and reliable.

Bus

Bus travel is the most popular means of getting around the island, with services cheap, easy to use and generally comfortable. KTEL is the main provider. Excellent service is a hallmark and timetables are trustworthy, although drivers may divert to remote villages as requested by passengers. Heraklion has two bus stations, one serving KTEL and the other for routes around the town.

Car

Sightseeing by hire car is a favourite with visitors, with car hire easily arranged on production of a UK driving licence. There's a good choice of international vehicle rental companies in Heraklion, including at the airport. Renters should check their insurance is fully comprehensive as well as note any marks or damages on the car before they set off. The National Highway is the main road across the island. Roads in rural areas can be narrow and the mountain roads demand care.

MAP

CRETE ISLAND`S WEATHER TODAY

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AVERAGE RAINFALL (mm)

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FACTS

  1. Crete is the furthest south of Greece's European islands, and is actually one of the furthest southerly land masses on the European side of the Mediterranean.
  2. At its narrowest point, Crete is just 12km across, widening to 60km at its widest - and is 260km long. A typical person would take about two and a half hours to cross the narrowest point, and two days to walk end to end.
  3. The Cretan dialect of Greek is Kritika - and it's not just an accent, as you can buy written texts and even dictionaries in the dialect.

FACTS

  1. Crete is the furthest south of Greece's European islands, and is actually one of the furthest southerly land masses on the European side of the Mediterranean.
  2. At its narrowest point, Crete is just 12km across, widening to 60km at its widest - and is 260km long. A typical person would take about two and a half hours to cross the narrowest point, and two days to walk end to end.
  3. The Cretan dialect of Greek is Kritika - and it's not just an accent, as you can buy written texts and even dictionaries in the dialect.

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