Under the rule of Greece but with its own strong sense of identity, Crete is the country’s largest island and offers a strikingly diverse variety of terrains, from verdant greenery to white sands to snowy peaks, known as the Lefka Ori (White Mountains). The Ideon Cave, located on Mount Ida – the highest peak – is said to be the birthplace of Zeus, the great ancient Greek god. With dozens of mountain villages and Bronze Age settlements to explore, glittering azure lagoons to luxuriate by and exhilarating activities such as hiking, climbing and water-sports to enjoy, a visit to Crete truly represents an escape from everyday life.
During the Bronze Age, Crete was home to a great number of Minoan settlements, many of which exist in beautifully preserved states to this day. The most popular is Knossos, ancient finds from which are displayed in the Iráklio Museum of Architecture, another fascinating spot that is certainly worth visiting. If you just can’t wait to get outdoors and take in the rolling landscape to the East of the island, you should certainly look into taking a hike along the beautiful but eerily-named Gorge of the Dead – so named because Crete’s ancient civilisations would bury their dead in the caves there. If you’re looking for sun, sea and sand, Crete has it all in abundance. Elafonisi beach is a well-known beauty spot on the island, boasting a beautiful islet that can be reached on foot at low tide via a sandbar. The islet boasts a number of smaller secluded beaches hidden from the mainland, and is popular with nature lovers interested in birds migrating to Africa. Of course, Crete’s beaches also offer activities such as surfing and diving for those looking for a thrill.
With summer highs in Crete reaching around 26 degrees Celsius, though even in mid-spring, temperatures are likely to surpass twenty degrees. Winters are often cold and wet, however, and the temperatures in the higher regions of the White Mountains are often icy.
The spectacular sandy beaches and blue azure waters in Crete make it the perfect island getaway for an amazing beach holiday.
Whether you are jetting off to Crete with your family, your partner or a group of friends you’ll have no trouble finding a magical beach retreat for the holiday of a lifetime.
From long family-friendly beaches with plenty of activity going to secluded and tranquil coves, this awe-inspiring island escape has it all.
Elafonissi Beach is superb with its white sands, rolling dunes and child-friendly lagoons. There's also plenty of wildlife to look out for at this amazing sandy expanse including exotic birds and endangered Loggerhead sea turtles.
Potamos beach at Malia is a quieter stretch of sand if you want to stay clear of the crowds of sunbathers you’ll find in some other locations. This long and sandy beach is ideal for swimming.
Falassarna Beach, one of the biggest beaches on Crete, has been voted in the top 10 beaches in Europe several times. Huge waves at this beach make it a magnet for surfing enthusiasts.
Matala Beach is a fantastic spot with its glorious sands, clear waters and exciting caves to explore. You'll also find a great choice of bars and restaurants to keep you fed and watered during your visit to this lovely beach.
Frangokastello Beach in the south of the island is a popular choice for families and has shallow waters which are ideal for children who love to paddle. There's a castle behind the beach and a little village nearby.
Vai Beach at Sitia is a hot favourite with couples seeking a romantic time strolling barefoot along the sands. This charming expanse has plenty of bars for sipping refreshing cocktails and is next to Europe's largest natural palm grove.
If you are looking for a truly private and secluded beach, look no further than Aspri Limni beach, a gorgeous hidden gem near to Chrysoskalitissa monastery. Visitors flock to nearby Elafonissi lagoon, but few are aware of this gorgeous tranquil location.
Other stunning beaches which help make Crete a magical getaway in the sun include Red Beach near Matala with its red sands and towering cliffs, Balos Beach at Kissamos, Stavros beach near Chania and Domata Beach near Sougia.
The people of Crete host an impressive range of festivals and other special events throughout the year. Here are some of the most popular.
Colourful carnivals are held in February across the island and feature huge parades, music, dancing and drinking. The biggest event takes place in Rethymno and carnival time is a big favourite with children as it includes plenty of attractions such as masquerade parties, competitions and treasure hunts.
This takes place in July and August in the city of Agios Nikolaos. It features concerts, folk dancing, art exhibitions, theatre performances and visits by international musicians.
This is an exciting celebration of music, art and food which is held in the village of Houdetsi. The event takes place in August and lasts 4 days.
This takes place in late July and involves 2 weeks of wine tasting, as well as plenty of music and dancing.
This is an international festival held in June in Matala. It is a journey back to the 60s and 70s with a huge celebration of music, art and literature from that era.
This is a joyous event which brings people together with the aim of celebrating Greek tradition. These famous spectacles go on all year round with groups gathering in the town or village squares around the island to take part in traditional dancing until the early hours.
Crete is renowned for its gastronomic delights and visitors to the island will easily find something to have their taste buds going wild.
Gamopilafo is a popular risotto-like dish which consists of poultry and meat which is boiled for hours until extra tender and accompanied by rice cooked with butter and lemon.
Stifado is a delicious beef, rabbit or hare stew cooked with pearl onions, red wine, vinegar and cinnamon.
The people of Crete love to eat snails and they have come up with many inventive ways of cooking them in a range of recipes. Braised snails, fried snails, skillet snails with olive oil and snails with artichokes or broad beans are among the most popular choices.
Spanakopita is a scrumptious offering which comprises chopped spinach, feta cheese, egg, onions and seasoning. This mixture is then wrapped in filo pastry with butter or olive oil and baked to perfection.
A simple but delicious snack is Sarikopitakia - these are pastries filled with sheep’s cheese and fried in olive oil and served with a drizzle of honey on top. Baklava, which is a classic in the other Greek islands, is also a flavour to savour, consisting of layers of pastry with sweet honey and nuts.
There are many wonderful restaurants all across Crete but among those of note are Elia in the southern village of Sellia, Taverna Dionyssos in the mountain village of Myrthios and O Gero Tsegas in the fishing port of Psarolimano.