What to see in Crete – Main attractions
Crete is the largest island in Greece, with an area of 8,336 km², it has many of the characteristics present in other smaller Greek islands, making it an ideal destination for all types of vacations. Besides the wonderful sea of Balos, Falasarna, Elafonissi and other famous beaches in the world, Crete really offers a lot to its visitors: archaeological sites (Knossos, Phaistos, Heraklion), museums and art galleries, entertainment and nightlife (Hersonissos, Malia ), beaches and small islets, spectacular sunsets (Loutro, Matala), charming cities, nature and much more!
- What to see in Crete – Main attractions
- What to see in each province of the island of Crete
- map of the island of crete
- Where to stay in Crete?
- How to get to Crete?
- More about Crete, Greece and other Greek islands
What to see in Crete – Main attractions
The island of Crete was a place of conquest for many populations and traces of their presence are still evident. It was the land of the Minoans, one of the most advanced peoples of antiquity, who survived the Mycenaeans only after the great catastrophe on the island of Thira, the present-day island of Santorini. The famous Minoan palaces, political and economic administration centers, were so extensive that they appeared like real cities. The most interesting places to visit in Crete are the archaeological sites of Knossos and Festo, the two most visited among the many sites scattered throughout the island.
Among the most important cities to visit in Crete, without a doubt its capital, the city of Heraklion (Heraklion) with a mandatory visit to the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, one of the most beautiful museums in Greece. Chania (Chania) and Rethymno (Rethymno) are also worth a visit: their historic centers are filled with elegant Venetian palaces and fountains, museums and art galleries, and many other must-see attractions.
Near the capital of Heraklion is the Palace of Knossos, discovered at the beginning of the last century by the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans. His discovery gave more foundation to many episodes from the past that were believed to belong only to mythology: King Minos, the Minotaur's labyrinth, and Arianna's famous thread, although they are fictional stories, the places where they took place may have been real..
About 50 km south of Heraklion (Heraklion), along the road to Matala, 2 km away, is the ancient city of Gortyna, an ancient city whose founding time is still unknown. It certainly flourished when Crete was conquered by the Romans who chose it as the capital of the Roman province of Crete and Cyrenaica. The site is very interesting because within it the laws of Gortyn were found, the oldest testimony of the received laws.
The second most important Minoan palace on Crete is the archaeological site of Festus, an ancient Minoan city that historians say was ruled by Rhadamanthus, brother of Minos. In this archaeological site, about 10 km from Matala, the famous Phaistan disk was unearthed, a mysterious object that is exhibited today in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion (Heraklion), another place that cannot be missed by any lover of history and history. culture.
The religiosity of the Cretans is evident when looking at the large number of churches and monasteries scattered on the island. Only in the capital of Heraklion, there are dozens of churches of different ages, relevant from a historical and architectural point of view. Many monasteries played a fundamental role in the history of the island of Crete. They were often the last bulwarks of resistance against continued domination by the Turks. Visiting them means savoring not only the mystical and relaxed atmosphere that exists in them, but through their history and architecture, you can relive the history of Crete.
Crete offers many opportunities for nature lovers. The European route E4 is one of the most interesting routes on the European trail network. Between forests, valleys, rural areas, mountains and canyons, the island is perfect for trekking sessions or relaxing walks in nature.
What to see in each province of the island of Crete
The island of Crete is so large that it is divided into four prefectures: Iraklio, Lasithi, Chania (Chania) and Rethymno ( Rethymno ). Due to its size and the general conditions of the roads and means of transport, it is quite difficult to visit Crete in a few days. It would take at least 7 days to see most of its attractions, cities and beaches. For this reason it is good to separate the attractions according to their proximity, so that they can organize your trip.
Attractions to see in the province of Iraklio – Crete
It is the most touristic province of the island of Crete, where the famous archaeological sites of Crete are located. In addition, the airport of Heraklion, the capital of the island, is the first and main airport, connected with many scheduled and low-cost airlines with the most important European airports.
The Minoan Palaces of Knossos and Festus:
The Palaces of Knossos and Festus are a unique heritage not only of Crete, but of all of Greece and the world.
The archaeological site of Gortyn:
Gortyna was the capital of the Roman province that included Crete, Gortyia (or Gortys) is a historical place with incredible charm. Between statues, Roman buildings and Christian basilicas, it offers a very interesting itinerary.
Heraklion or Heraklion, the capital of Crete, is a hectic city, with a lot of movement, typical of coastal cities. Recommended a walk through the area of the Venetian port and the streets of the center that will make you discover several interesting monuments, as well as being ideal for those who want to go shopping.
The Archaeological Museum of Heraklion:
The Heraklion Archaeological Museum houses a large number of finds from the island's archaeological sites. Among these masterpieces, such as the disk of Festus and the goddess of snakes.
Matala is a pretty seaside town on the south coast, known for the hippie atmosphere that made it famous all over the world a few decades ago. You will be able to admire one of the most beautiful sunsets on the island of Crete.
Attractions to see in the province of Lasithi- Crete
Lasithi is the easternmost province of Crete and the only one that does not take its name from its capital, Agios Nikolaos. In this region, tourism has developed a lot, among the main attractions to visit:
It is quite a touristic city, with many visitors especially after sunset, it becomes lively and pleasant, when the taverns and bars are full: and its worldly nights are among the most beautiful in Crete.
This small island was fortified by the Venetians and later became a leper colony, still retaining the charm of the Serenissima. Every day many boats run daily excursions from Plaka, Elounda and Agios Nikolaos.
Panagia Kera just outside the village of Kritsa, is one of the most interesting churches in Crete. Simple and austere in appearance, it is hidden inside some wonderful Byzantine frescoes, one of the most beautiful on the island.
Sitia has a lively historic center both day and night and is home to an interesting archaeological museum that preserves an authentic masterpiece of Minoan art, the Palaiokastro Kouros. Also, it's a good place to stay and visit the beautiful beaches on the east coast.
The Toplou Monastery is one of the most important monasteries in Crete for its historical value and religious significance. Within its walls, as powerful as those of a fortified castle, one breathes a relaxed and mystical air.
The Palace of Kato Zakros:
This Minoan palace is of no less historical importance than the more famous Knossos and Phaistos. Unlike the latter, its structure has not been altered, so this type of Minoan settlement can be better appreciated.
Attractions to see in the province of Chania (Chania) – Crete
Chania is one of the most beautiful cities in Crete and one of the most beautiful in Greece. Its historic center stretches around the Venetian harbor displaying a Venetian structure adorned with Middle Eastern architectural elements. Thanks to Chania International Airport and the large number of "low cost" flights, Chania is one of the best cities to sleep in if you arrive in Crete by plane. Among the main attractions to visit in the area:
The Samaria Gorge:
the second longest canyon in Europe and undoubtedly one of the most interesting excursions to do in Crete. It is an itinerary in nature that non-experts can also follow: it is a unique experience to be in contact with nature and the animals that inhabit the island.
there are few more romantic and relaxing places in the world than this small seaside town, reachable only by boat or a long trail in the mountains. There are no roads, just a few taverns, hotels, a couple of businesses, and a dreamy sea.
a castle in excellent condition around which mysterious stories circulate. Even its position is strange: if fortified structures are normally built in hard-to-reach areas, Frangokastello is located a few tens of meters from the sea.
This idyllic lake is a perfect place to spend a relaxing day swimming or eating in one of the taverns just a few meters from the shore.
Attractions to see in the province of Retimo – Crete
The area of Retimo (Rethymno) is one of the least visited areas of the island of Crete. The inland areas and the south coast offer many places to visit:
It is a city that oozes history and culture. The Venetian architecture, revisited during the Turkish occupation of the island, is enchanting. Do not miss walking through its narrow streets and historic center. Here you can read our dedicated guide: best attractions to visit in Rethymno.
It is the most important monastery in Crete, the protagonist of one of the most tragic pages in the history of the island. A place full of atmosphere and symbol of the Cretan community.
Beyond the high religious value, this monastery is a tangible sign of how the Cretan monasteries were the protagonists of the resistance against the Arab invader.
This quiet town is located at the foot of the high mountains of Crete, suitable if you want to spend a few hours walking through its narrow streets or sitting at a table in a bar or tavern to enjoy moments of pure relaxation.
located on the slopes of Mount Psiloritis is one of the most traditional villages in Crete. Its inhabitants, producers of excellent carpets and tapestries, speak a dialect that also includes some ancient Greek terms.
beautiful yellow sand beach, stretches for several kms. Fairly visited during the summer.
map of the island of crete
On this map you can see the island of Crete, the main attractions, the international airports of Heraklion and Chania and the tourist ports.
Where to stay in Crete?
Crete is quite a large island, so before looking for accommodation it is best to define the number of days and the itinerary. If you visit Crete for 7 days or more, the best option is to take two or three cities as a base to move in the nearby areas. If you are visiting for a few days, sleeping in one city and visiting nearby attractions is best. Without a doubt, it is recommended to rent a car to move more easily.
If you want more information about the areas and cities to stay in Crete, you can visit our dedicated post: Where to stay in Crete? Best areas, hotels and apartments.
How to get to Crete?
You can easily reach Crete by plane, the island has two international airports: Heraklion International Airport and Chania International Airport. Both with direct flights to the main European cities, with low cost and airline companies.
They can also arrive by ferry from other Greek islands and from Athens (Piraeus port). To learn more, read our dedicated post: How to get to Crete by plane or boat? .
More about Crete, Greece and other Greek islands
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