Are you looking for things to do in Crete, Greece? Years ago, we were able to visit the largest island in Greece. Traveling to Crete then was a Minoan dream we had to fulfill before we left the Mediterranean. Three years later, we found ourselves visiting the 260 km long island again, searching for the best things to do in Crete, Greece.
We traveled from Stefanou Beach to the famous Pink Sand Beach and were never disappointed. The Wikitravel page for Crete states, “If there were a beauty contest for Greek islands, Crete would surely be among the favorites.” After visiting Crete, with its secluded bays, empty villages, deep valleys, and pink sand beaches, we can attest that Wikitravel is right.
The island is vast, stunning, rugged, and filled with friendly Cretans that may even be more hospitable than their mainland counterparts. It’s no wonder that the island is a top destination for European beach holiday goers. Here are some of our favorite things to do in Crete, divided by the four different regions of Crete.
In this Crete Travel Guide we’ll cover
- Where Is Crete?
- The Best Things To Do In Crete
- Best Restaurants On Crete
- How To Get To Crete
- The Best Time To Visit Crete
- Where To Stay In Crete
- How Long Should You Spend On Crete
- The Best Beaches Around Crete
CRETE AT A GLANCE
- When to Visit: The best time to visit Crete is between May and September. I absolutely love traveling to Greece in September when the weather is not so scorching hot and crowds are a little lower.
- Where to Stay: The most luxurious place to stay on the island is Nana Princess Suites Villas & Spa in Hersonissos.
- How to Get Around Crete: Crete is a huge island, and the best way to get around is with your own rental car.
- Top 3 Crete Highlights: Balos Beach, Stefanou Beach, and Elafonissi Beach
- Good to Know: Crete is divided into four prefectures Chania, Rethymno, Heraklion, and Lasithi Prefecture
- Travel to Other Islands: Crete is well connected to other Greek islands. Always check Ferry Hopper to plan your route.
Where is Crete?
Before we dig into the best things to do in Crete, let’s talk about where Crete is located. Crete is the largest island in all of Greece, and once you’re on the island and driving around, you’ll definitely feel the scale. It’s one of the most well-known Greek islands and is also one of the most visited, especially in the summer months. Being the fifth largest island in all of the Mediterranean Sea, there is plenty of space to wander around here. However it can take hours to get from one area to the next, which isn’t common on most other Greek islands.
Crete is located in the southern Aegean Sea between mainland Greece and Libya. Crete has drastic white mountains rising out of the sea and stunning white-sand beaches. The Greeks here are called Cretan. Crete has a population of almost 635,000 people!
Best Things to Do in Crete, Greece
When you’re wondering what to do in Crete, Greece, consider that there are four main regions of this huge island. The regions are broken down as follows: Lasithi, Chania, Heraklion, and Rethymno. We’ll break down all the top destinations in Crete by region.
Lasithi is the least visited out of all the prefectures of Crete. However, Lasithi has a lot to offer visitors with its clear beaches, crisp mountain air, and undiscovered Greek villages.
Relax in Elounda
Elounda is well known for being the resort hub of Crete. If you have money, are a celebrity, honeymooner, or just plain fancy, you may be staying somewhere in Elounda. Unfortunately, we aren’t any of these things, but we decided to venture around Elounda.
After driving past all the resorts, we found a quiet pebble beach with calm and clear waters to hang out in for the day with a great view of the tiny island of Spinalonga.
Check Out the Lasithi Windmills
If you’re wondering what to do in Crete and want something different head to the Lasithi windmills. I found images of the windmills on Pinterest and immediately made sure we drove to the Lasithi Plateau while we were in Lasithi. The plateau has a couple of small, traditional Greek villages around, but the real draw here are the windmills.
There must have been thousands of white-sailed windmills in this beautiful plateau back in the day. However, most are abandoned now in favor of modern technologies, but there are still a few that have the white sails on them and they make for great photos and good viewing. I truly thought visiting the windmills resembled the best of Crete.
Explore Agios Nikolaos
When you visit Crete make sure to explore Agios Nikolaos. In the far east of Crete is the capital of Lasithi, Agios Nikolaos. It’s a great little town to explore and is definitely one of the least visited on the island. We enjoyed having a coffee along Mirabello Bay while gazing at the Sitia mountains.
Enjoy Vai Beach
Vai Beach is one of the must do things in Crete as it’s one of the most beautiful Crete beaches. Vai Beach features the largest natural palm forest in all of Europe. Here you’ll find Cretan date palm which will be hard to find almost anywhere else in the world.
Back in the day, Vai was a full-on backpackers destination, but now it is a protected area with the forest being completely recovered from the dumping ground.
We found all the prettiest and vastly different beaches in Chania (pronounced HAN-YA). In my opinion, if you have the time to visit only one region to visit in Crete, it should be Chania. It’s best to rent a car in Crete and hit up as much as you can.
Swim on Balos Beach (One of the best things to do in Crete, Greece)
When considering what to do in Crete, consider Balos Beach! This beach may be touristy, but it is the most beautiful touristy beach I have ever seen. To many, this is one of the top things to do in Crete and definitely one of the best beaches in Crete. Located on the very western tip of Crete past Kissamos is Balos Beach.
Once you pay the €1 entrance fee per person to drive on the never-ending dirt road to the parking area, you must then walk down to Balos beach.
The entire way down, you will have the most stunning view of Balos beach and all the different colors of blue that encompass it. Spending the day here is relaxing, cool, and idealistic. Save some drinking water, though, for the only way out is to walk up all the stairs you just came down. It is possible to hire a donkey, but we wouldn’t recommend it as these donkeys aren’t kept in the greatest condition.
Find Seitan Limania (Stefanou Beach)
Warning – the drive to Seitan Limania (otherwise known as Stefanou Beach) is heart-stopping, and once you decide to take the path down to this beach, there is absolutely no turning back. The road down is narrow, zig-zagged, and straight down. I literally thought we were going to die on our way down to Stefanou Beach. However, once we got to the parking area and saw this beach, I forgot all about the drive because it was absolutely incredible.
The fun doesn’t end once you get out of the car either; you still have to walk down 15 more minutes through rough terrain to get to the sand, so bring some tennis shoes. Make sure to bring some snacks and drinks while you’re at it too, trust me, you don’t want to have the make the trek back up for goodies.
Either no one has heard of this beach, or people don’t want to make the hard trek to it because it was pretty isolated in terms of tourists when we visited. When we were here, not a single person sunbathing was over 30 years old. Maybe it’s just the youngins who are willing to risk their lives to have a secluded beach. It is one of my favorite things to do in Crete and probably all of Greece, for that matter. I would even do the drive again to spend another day here!
Find Pink Sand on Elafonissi beach
Do the beaches of Crete sound enticing yet? Well, I’m finally getting to that pink sand beach in Greece. Make sure to spend at least one day at Elafonissi beach (that is what the pink sand beach is called).
This beach is not too crowded, is situated next to a national park, and the sand is PINK. Okay, it’s not bright pink like some other places in the world, but in the sunlight, the sand sure does shimmer different hues of pastel pink.
The pink sand is caused by the coral being broken down into tiny fragments. **Between Balos, Stefanou Beach, and Elafonissi beach, the pink sand beach is the easiest to get to by car (through paved mountain roads). If you’ve done everything else and still what to do on Crete Island this is it.
Chill at Lake Kournas
The only freshwater lake in Crete lies in a valley among green, rolling hills. The lake isn’t massive, but it is worth a few hours to stop to see the clear, blue, freshwater. The thing to do here is rent a paddleboat for €5 and enjoy the calm lake water.
Hike Samaria Gorge
This is a National Park of Greece and a main destination for tourists in Crete. It is arguably one of the best places to see in Crete and is many visitors’ favorite thing to do in Crete. Visitors can hike through the gorge from the Omalos plateau to Agia Roumeli.
This Greek hike takes five to seven hours, depending on physical ability and how much you stop. Summers in Greece are very hot and very humid so make sure to start early and bring lots of water to avoid a terrible day.
Snap Photos of Loutro
Loutro, on the coast of Crete, may be one of the top things to do in Crete, Greece. For the famous whitewashed houses that are so identifiable as “Greek” head to Loutro. Loutro is a small seaside village in the southernmost part of Chania.
There aren’t many tourists here because Loutro can only be accessed by foot or boat. No cars, no large hotels, no overcrowded streets, just pure Greece. One of the best things to do in Loutro is enjoy a Greek meal at Anopoli Tavern.
There are endless opportunities to stand up paddleboard around the Greek islands, but Chania has got to be one of the best locations. The water here is crystal clear, calm, and you may even spot a sea turtle. If you book a tour, you’ll likely be able to find some awesome cliff jumping spots as well!
Wine and Olive Oil Tour
Crete is home to many family wineries and olive oil factories, so why not combine a trip to see both! Spend the day meandering around fragrant olive trees (some of the oldest in the world at 3000 years old), and after enjoy some cold Greek wine.
Many of the wines in this area are award-winning local wines right from the Kissamos region!
Most trips to Crete will start or end in the capital. Heraklion is home to the main port in Crete and also the largest airport on the island. Heraklion is the capital city and has all the capital city things for an island nation.
A Starbucks, an Archaeological Museum, and lots and lots of traffic. The city is a good place to visit for a day or so before jumping off to the rest of the prefecture.
Learn About History at Knossos
Knossos is the largest archeological site on the island and is considered the oldest city in Europe. Visiting here is one of the best things to do in Crete for families. Knossos is situated very close to the capital and can easily be visited in a couple of hours. It’s definitely one of the most interesting things to see in Crete. The Palace of Knossos is undoubtedly the highlight of the archeological site and is where most Minoan political and ceremonial activity took place.
If you are unaware of who the Minoans are, like I was, then just know that they were an Aegean Bronze Age civilization from Crete before Ancient Greece was even a thing. These Minoans are OLD, like 3600 B.C. old.
Party in Malia
Hailed as the party town of Crete, we made sure to try and steer clear of Malia. However, if partying is your thing, then Malia is the place to drink, eat, and party the night away with like-minded young British holiday goers.
We accidentally drove through this town and couldn’t wait to get out. Crowds were sky high and I completely forgot I was in Greece and started to remember my early college days in Panama City Beach…and not in a good way.
Catch the Sunset at Chersonissos
Not far from the town of Heraklion lies Chersonissos. We didn’t find anything incredibly notable in Chersonissos but spent about a week here because it had some of the most affordable accommodations on Crete.
Chersonissos has plenty of little Greek villages to stroll around before heading to the beach and makes for a great base to explore the rest of Heraklion.
Be like Zeus in Matala
It is said that Matala Beach is where Zeus swam ashore in the guise of a bull with Europa before having sex with her. Romantic. Matala Beach is a great base for exploring southern Crete.
The beaches here are clean, the water pure blue, and there are impressive rock cliffs and caves to explore. Matala Beach is also known as a “hippie haven,” particularly from the ’60s when European hitchhikers and free spirits settled here.
Sample Local Wines on a Winery Tour
Many of Crete’s best wineries are situated in the Heraklion prefecture. We went to Lyrarakis Winery in Monofatsi village and had an excellent wine tasting with cheese for €10.
However, in your own car, you can easily spend the whole day visiting all the different wineries in the region. Make sure to have a designated driver to get you safely home on the Cretan roads! Here is a good wine tour that will take care of all that for you!
Sail to Dia Island
Dia, also pronounced locally Ntia, is a small uninhabited island off northern Crete. You can easily take a sailing trip there from Heraklion and explore the many coves.
Small group sails of 8 people or less leave frequently and will ensure you have a fantastic day out on the water, whether that is swimming, fishing, snorkeling, or enjoying some hiking on the trails on Dia.
Located right in the center of the island, Rethymno (or Rethymnon) should not be missed. Rethymno’s old town is vibrant and full of life. The surrounding villages show off true Cretan hospitality.
Wander Around Rethymno Town
When wondering what to see in Crete, don’t skip Rethymno. Rethymno is a colorful coastal town with the best nightlife in Crete and definitely worth exploring for a day or two. You can spend a whole day here just wandering through the alleyways and cobbled streets, snapping photos at every colorful building.
If history is your thing, then Rethymno is filled with ancient ruins. Or promenade along the harbor, and pick from the plethora of restaurants to eat.
Bask in the Sun at Plakias Beach
Here on the southern side of Rethymno prefecture, you will find a 1300-meter-long sandy beach. Plakias is a small village nestled deep in the mountains, and below the town is Plakias Beach, one of Cretes’ most famous nudist beaches.
Of course, not the whole beach is for baring it all. In fact, a majority of the beach is where you can find families and your average sunbather. The southeastern end of the beach, near the Kakomouri headland, is the only part used by nudists.
Climb Down to Prevali Beach
One of the best things to do in Crete is go to Prevali Beach. If you go farther past Plakias, you will find Prevali beach. Prevali beach is a steep climb down and leads into a beautiful secluded little bay. Behind the beach are extensive rows upon rows of palm trees, of which Prevali beach is most known for.
Check out the Clear Waters of Bali Beach
Bali beach felt like it would have been a vacationer’s dream in the ’80s; now it is filled with hotels and tourists. However, it does boast incredibly clear waters and stunning cove beaches.
Eat all the Cretan Specialties
One of the best things to do in Crete is eat! The Cretans used to have one of the healthiest diets globally (until eating fast food became more convenient and cool). The core traditional Cretan diet focuses mostly on food from natural sources from seasonal products. There are so many delicious foods to try that are not just the typical Greek fare.
Here are some of our absolute Cretan favorites:
- Fried snails
- Cretan Raki
- Fried Feta with Honey
- Yogurt with Honey and Seasonal Fruit
- Olives and Olive Oil
Best Restaurants on Crete Island
- Tavern Stelios in Heraklion: Amazing staff, super clean, reasonably priced and well-reviewed Greek restaurant in Heraklion.
- Peskesi in Heraklion: Traditional Cretan cuisine in an awesome setting.
- Ya Seafood Restaurant in Hersonissos: Value cuisine that tastes absolutely phenomenal. You won’t leave disappointed.
How to Get to Crete
Most Greek Islands either have no airport, or a very small one. However on Crete, there are three airports, two of them being international. Heraklion International Airport is the main international airport and is where you’ll find many flights that will connect you directly to mainland Europe.
Chania Airport is much smaller and far less busy than Heraklion airport and also has direct connections to the UK, Italy, Cyprus, and plenty of other countries. Then there is Sitia, which mainly connects to Athens. You can often find great deals to Crete by air, which makes it a much better option than taking a long ferry.
Crete is extremely well connected by ferry. One of the main routes is to Athens, however that ferry takes over 8 hours, so it’s often worth it to fly instead. You can also easily get to many islands in the Cyclades from Crete like Paros and Santorini. We recommend checking times and prices on Ferryhopper.
How to Get Around Crete
The first thing I need to note is that we were able to get to all these wonderful destinations in Crete because we had a rental car. Traveling around the island would be a serious hindrance if we were only relegated to public transport. Many of the secluded beaches and bays mentioned are only accessible by car. It’s good to note that the terrain on the island varies so much that even if your GPS says something is 10km away, it can still take one hour to get to! A word of caution…
Driving in Crete is not for the faint of heart. The roads are rugged, windy, and sometimes very narrow. It also seems that every Cretan has someplace to be and that your presence hinders them from getting to their next destination. Take caution, and don’t say that I didn’t warn you. (People here ride on the shoulder so their faster counterparts can whizz past.)
It doesn’t matter where you go in Crete. There is something to see in each nook and cranny of the island and there are so many top things to do in Crete. As mentioned, your best bet is to hire a vehicle and make sure it is a reliable car. A couple of these roads are among the worst we have ever been on before, and after driving through all these windy and bumpy roads for awhile, it just gets exhausting.
It’s also important to remember that everything in Crete is very spread out. We didn’t really consider that when planning and quickly had to drop sites and certain beaches out of our day because it simply took too long to get to, even with a car.
Map Of Things To Do in Crete, Greece
When is the Best Time to Visit Crete?
High season (June-September)
Like most places in Europe, Greece’s high season runs from June to mid-September. This is when you will find the best sunny weather as noted above, but also crowds, especially on the popular islands like Santorini, Mykonos, and Crete. Days are longer; the weather is HOT, so you’ll want to be close to a pool or ocean. Hotel and car rental prices are at their highest, but overall it’s one of the best times to visit Greece.
Shoulder Season (April -May and October-November)
The weather in Greece is cooler during these months; some would consider it much more comfortable than prime summertime weather. It’s not as busy as the summertime, but you’ll still see lots of travelers lingering about. Prices on accommodation and car rentals will drop during this time. The shoulder season is typically a fantastic time to visit Greece.
Low Season (Late November- early April)
The temperatures are cooler during the low season in Greece. You’ll still see plenty of sunny days but also overcast days and little to no sunbathing. It’s too cold to take a dip in the water, but you can still enjoy the beaches with some clothes on to keep warm in the breeze. The upside is you’ll find low prices and low numbers of tourists.
Where to Stay in Crete?
There are so many options for accommodation around Crete it may make your head spin when booking. We were on the island for two weeks staying at a plethora of accommodation options. Here are some of our favorites.
How Long Should You Spend on Crete?
Crete is the largest island in Greece, and you’ll realize that as soon as you get there and start thinking about all the best things to do in Crete. If you have been to any other Greek islands and think they seem larger than expected, you’ll be shocked when you get to Crete. It can take over 5 hours to get from one end of the island to the other!
You can easily spend three days here and feel fulfilled. However, you can also spend a full month in Crete and never get bored. There is plenty to do and see! If you are heading to Crete, I recommend staying at least one week on the island.
We personally spent two weeks in Crete and never even scratched the surface of things to do. We know we will be back someday to explore more!
The Best Beaches Around Crete
I’ve mentioned a few of our favorite beaches around Crete in this post, but there are so many more to explore! If you’re a beach lover like me, consider adding a few of the following to your Crete itinerary.
- Agiofarago Beach: Located 80km southwest of the town of Heraklion, it is much more secluded than your average beach, since it’s just off the edge of (and sheltered by) a large gorge.
- Sissi Beach: Sissi, a charming seaside hamlet renowned as one of Crete’s top beach destinations, exudes a tranquil ambiance despite its widespread recognition. Positioned 40 kilometers to the east of Heraklion and 26 kilometers to the northwest of Agios Nikolaos town, it remains a peaceful oasis.
- Kommos Beach: An open beach, that is great for windsurfers as it gets very windy. As this beach is more open, it’s a perfect place to watch the sunset, maybe with a drink in hand from one of the beach taverns.
- Rodakino Beach: Large and sandy beach of Rodakino perfect for families and children
READ MORE GREECE TRAVEL TIPS
I hope you enjoyed this guide on what to do on Crete! Hopefully, you found it useful. Here are a few relevant articles for more travel around Greece!
- How Much Does a Trip to Greece Cost?
- The Best Things to do in Corfu
- The Best Things to do in Milos
- The Best Things to do in Santorini
- The Best Things to do in Rhodes
- The Best Things to do in Paros
Greek Travel Planning Resources
- ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank You’ in Greek: “Yasou” and “Efharisto”
- Currency: Euro – (EUR) – €
- Visa: Schengen visa. Which is 90 days in the European Union out of 180. Many nationalities are granted this on arrival for free. Check with your embassy to see if that is you.
- Weather: The weather in Greece is a Mediterranean climate. This means winters are mild and rainy, while summers are warm and dry with plenty of sunshine throughout the year.
- What to Pack: Warm weather clothes and a swimsuit, don’t forget a good pair of clothes to go and a jacket for cool nights. Read about what to wear in Greece.
- Budget: If you’re in the initial stages of planning check out our awesome post that breaks down how much a trip to Greece costs.
- Rent a Car: We suggest most visitors consider renting a car for the best trip possible. Try Discover Car Hire to compare quotes from different rental agencies. Check Price Here!
- Protect Your Trip: Don’t forget to purchase travel insurance! We always carry travel insurance to protect from injury, theft, or a canceled trip.
- Tours in Greece: Check out our list of the best tours you can enjoy in Greece!
- Travel Adapter: Make sure you find a good adapter to keep your personal electronics charged. Otherwise, you may be paying for a cheap one once you land. Purchase one here.
Best Things to do in Crete
- Vai Beach
- Balos Beach
- Seitan Limania
- Elafonisi Beach
- Lake Kournas
- Samaria Gorge
- Stand-Up Paddleboard
- Wine And Olive Oil Tour
- Winery Tour
- Dia Island
- Rethymno Town
- Plakias Beach
- Prevali Beach
- Bali Beach
- Cretan Food