Top Things to do in Crete island by regions
Crete is the biggest island of Greece (8336 square KM), it’s more than 6 times bigger than Rhodes island!
The island is located on a highly strategic spot crossing Asia, Africa, and Europe. For that reason, there was lots of blood spilled for ruling that land across the years and it changed many hands.
Between the 13-17 centuries, it was ruled by the Venetians.
17-19 centuries by the Turks
And the last ones who took over this island were the Germans who wanted to use the island as a base for air operations in the second world war. This was the only island that was taken completely from the air by paratroopers in 1944.
4 Regions of Crete and what to do in each of them
Crete island is divided into 4 regions from West to east:
Region of Chania
Its capital is the beautiful city of Chania which we think is the most beautiful and impressive city in Crete. Chania, for many years, was the island’s main capital city until 1972 when Iraklion replaced it.
7 Top attractions in Chania Region
1. The beautiful city of Chania
If you are visiting this area, take our advice and don’t hesitate to spend at least one night in the old town of Chania. This city is the most beautiful in Crete. You can see the mixture between the Venetian and the Ottoman architecture style that makes this place so extraordinary and interesting.
We could spend days exploring every single small alley and entering every small shop we met on our way.
2.Visit the Kucjk Hassan Mosque
This building isn’t functioning as a mosque anymore, but it still stands out from the local view. It is a place that hosts lots of art exhibitions that are changing all the time and jewelry designers who are coming from all across the island to sell their handicrafts.
3.The leather market
Back in the days, this was the place where shoemakers had their workshops. Now this place offers lots of small shops selling leather items like bags, sandals, purses, belts, and mostly all the leather-made items you can think of.
This is the place where we are buying our flip flops while in Crete and our advice for you is always to check the prices in all of the stores if you would like to buy something. Many places have similar items at various prices and of course, if you’ve found anything you like, you can always bargain to take the price down a little bit.
4. Samaria Gorge
The biggest gorge in Europe and a major tourist attraction. The trail of the gorge begins 1200 meters above sea level and goes down for around 18 km till its meeting point with the Libyan sea. The most famous spot inside the gorge is the “iron gate”- where the sides of the mountains are narrowing to a width of 3 meters. The height of the iron gate is 600 meters (two times the Eiffel tower!)
There are two ways of visiting the gorge:
The first one would be hiking down the whole 18 Km from the highest spot to the lowest STARTING FROM Xyloskalo trailhead.
The Second option would be taking a short ferry ride from Chora Sfakion to Agia Rumeli at the bottom of the gorge, and then climb up 3 KM till the iron gate
5. Kissamos (Balos Lagoon)
A PERFECT lagoon with clear water that changes its colors as the day moves on. This beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in the entire world, that every time we are vising it, we can’t believe that these shades of blue exist in nature, it is remarkable and more beautiful in real life than in any edited version you’ll lay your eyes on. Trust us.
two ways are arriving Balos:
1.The easy way is by a cruise from Kissamos port (around 40 minutes driving from Chania).
2.The second way is by car. This way makes it much harder and not only because of the gravel road near the cliff that you have to drive nearly half an hour until you will arrive at the parking spot but because of the curly way down with lots of steps, and of course, you will have to climb the same way when you are will be leaving.
BUT in our opinion, it worth it. That is the only way you can see the island and all of its stunning colors from above, as the iconic shot of this place, and while driving you’ll pass some beautiful roads and the view is priceless. (FYI, if you’re lucky enough, you’ll meet some new goats’ friends on the road!)
located in the south-western corner of the island (around one hour and a half from Chania city), Elafonisi is the name of a small island in the Chania region, and of the stunning beach that lays in front of the island and named after it.
Elafonisi is absolutely a delight to the eyes and is known as one of the most beautiful beaches that Crete has to offer. The most impressive thing you’ll discover in Elafonissi is the color of its sand, which is pink.
And the last nice thing to know about it is that when the water is shallow, you can walk from the beach to the island itself!
7.seitan limania beach
Another amazing beach in the Chania region. Located nearby the Chania airport. A narrow tongue of the sea cutting between the mountains, in the shape of lightning, creating one of the most unique beaches you have ever seen.
Note that there is no settled trail to get down to the beach, you need to be careful on your way down, and remember that for getting your way up, you need to climb, so have that in mind before arriving, so it won’t catch you by surprise.
PAY ATTENTION- the road to the parking could be dangerous and windy so drive with caution.
Top 4 Attractions in Rethymno region
where you can find the biggest Venetian fort in Crete. You will enjoy walking around the old Venetian streets with their unique environment, and the lots and lots of local authentic restaurants and shops.
The biggest Venetian citadel in Crete. Built-in the 16th Its purpose was to protect the locals from attacks of the ottoman empire who were threatening to take over the whole region after they conquered Cyprus.
You still see many structures standing untouched inside the citadel, although many were destroyed during the second world war by air attacks of the Germans.
A beautiful Venetian port that was built in the 16th century nearby the time when the castle was built, the harbor made Rethymno become the 3rd most important city in Crete, after Heraklion and Chania.
It’s a beautiful place for having a lovely trip or to find a nice restaurant with a view of the sea.
Lays on the border between Rethymno region and Chania, a beautiful sweet water lake, hidden between mountains (also called “The hidden lake”).
Its clear water and impressive 3.5 km perimeter make it a well-known attraction for families that are renting a small pedal boat for sailing the lake and taking a dip in the cool water. You can also enjoy the restaurants on the banks of the lake and many souvenir shops all around.
What to do in Heraklion City
Where lays the capital of Crete island, The Heraklion city. Inside the city, there are two main streets with all the attractions. The first is called “Daedalus “after the famous Greek mythology. It is the main street which is paved for pedestrians and has lots of tourist offices and restaurants all along. The second main street is “25 of August” street that begins from the Venetian harbor and the fortress of Koules till the city center, this is a very lively street with various bars, coffee shops and places to eat, and of course lots of shopping for those who need their shopping time.
Markets in Heraklion
Open-air market (Thursday and Saturdays only)
Located only 10 minutes away from the city center, here you can find lots of fresh vegetables, fruits, meat, cheese and fish, everything as fresh as can be. Also, you will find all of the olive products like local olive oil, olive soaps, cremes based on olive oil, and many other things.
Address: Itanou 11, Iraklion 713 07, Greece
Opening hours: (Thursday and Saturdays 7 am – 2 pm
Heraklion central market
Located on “1866” street and the parallel 1821 street. This market is open all week, unlike the open-air market which is open only two times a week. This is an old-fashion market where the locals are coming to make their shopping, so it’s always full of people. Here you will find lots of souvenirs, clothes, spices, meat, and cheese along with small tavernas and coffee houses. If you will look closely, you will see remnants of the old Heraklion town between and even as part of these little shops, which makes walking around this market even more magical.
Address: 1866 street, Iraklion
Opening hours: 07:00 – 23:00 daily
3 Top attractions in Heraklion Region
This small village is best known for being the birthplace of El Greco, the famous painter, sculptor, and architect who left Crete and moved to Venice when he was only 26 and became known all over the world. You can visit the El-Greco museum during the summer from 9 am- 7 pm.
Wishes Tree– in the center of the village stands an old Platanos tree. Some stories tell that if you will surround the tree three times clockwise, your wish will come true. Worth trying right?
Byzantine church You can also find a small Byzantine church from the 11th century with beautiful wall paintings that covers the walls and many remains from the 11th and 12th centuries.
best known for the beautiful beach – ” Matala beach” where you will find a cliff with caves from the Neolithic age that you can enter easily. These caves were used as living spaces.
In the 1960s, these caves were occupied by hippies who were driven out of the military forces later on. You can visit the Matala beach festival that happens once a year since 2011
Also known as the “palm beach”. A beautiful beach where the Preveli lake meets the sea. You will find lots of palm trees on the banks of the river which gives this place a tropical look.
You can enjoy swimming in the river, enjoy the shades of the palm trees on hot days and of course, swim in the sea.
The eastern region of the island with its beautiful capital Agios Nicolas
7 top attractions in Lasithi Region
Lays on the “Mirabello” gulf ( Mirabello= Beautiful view). In the center of the city, there is a sweet water lake called “Voulismeni” ( Bottomless) lake. IT’s called that way because back in the days no one knew how deep was that lake ( that now we know that it is approximately 50-meter depth).
Many tourists are arriving in agios Nicolas via the sea so you can see big tourist ships docking in the harbor. We suggest you taking your time walking around the beautiful streets near the harbor and when you want to rest awhile, climb up to the viewpoint above the lake, there you will have an amazing view of the lake, the Kri-Kri island(rare kind of goats who lives only in this place), Mirabello gulf and Sitia mountains.
2.Lasithi plateau (the windmill valley)
a valley with hundreds of Venetian windmills, most of which are 600 years old. This valley is spread on a territory of 11 KM and is located on mountains that climb up to 1400 meters elevation (while the valley itself is located in 900 meters elevation).
Some of the windmills are still operative for agricultural uses like pumping water. This place is considered to have the best agriculture in Crete.
With one of the most beautiful roads on the island, Elounda is located on a small Fjord, that begins in Elounda and ends in Plaka and the leper island. Not a long time ago, Elounda was only a small fishing town, but because of its beautiful location, it soon became a highly demanded tourist destination. Here you can find lots of exclusive 5 stars hotels, enjoy amazing local restaurants and swim in the gulf.
a small fishing town that lays in front of Spinalonga (The leper island) Here you can take a boat and sail around Spinalonga while hearing many stories about what happened on that island and of course see all the stunning constructions that are still standing on the island since 1903
Spinalonga (long spine) became famous in Victoria Hislop’s novel “The island”. You can access the island from Plaka by tourist boat and walk around the leper colony and the Venetian fortress on the island.
This little village is only 15 minutes away driving from Agios Nicolas. One of the most beautiful and authentic villages in Crete. It’s located 600 meters above sea level and characterized by white Greek-style houses.
You can enjoy walking the picturesque little streets, but some local handcrafts and drink coffee in small coffee authentic coffee houses BUT, there are two things that this village is famous for:
Their extra virgin olive oil – The olive oil made in Kritsa won few worldwide awards for having the lowers acidity of 0.2! (most of the olive oils you can find in the markets have 0.8 – 0.5)
The second thing which makes Kritsa famous is because this was the place where many of the “Zorba The Greek” (Anthony Quinn) movie scenes were taken.
This beach is the biggest palm forest in Europe! This makes this place very attractive for tourists from all around the world. With an amazing panoramic view, clear water, and lots of palm trees you will enjoy this piece of paradise.
After many years of visiting this island, it never stops to amaze us. Every time we visit, we find about new amazing places that we never heard of and many new attractions to try.
Feel free to ask/ consulting us about your never vacation/hotel or whatever you want to know about Crete.