Looking for things to do in Crete? Years ago we were able to visit the biggest island in Greece. Traveling to Crete then was a Minoan dream that we had to fulfill before we left the Mediterranean. Three years later we found ourselves traveling the 260 km long island once again, in search of best things to do in Crete.
We traveled all over, from Stefanou Beach to the famous Pink Sand Beach and were never disappointed. The Wikitravel page for Crete states that “If there was 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 holiday goers. Here are some of our favorite things to do in Crete!
Things to Do in Crete, Greece
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 very presence is hindering 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.)
The Four Different Regions of Crete
Crete is divided into four main regions and each has its own gems to be discovered. Click on any of the links to jump to that section.
Things to do in Lasithi
Lasithi is the least visited out of all the prefectures. However, Lasithi has a lot to offer visitors with its clear beaches, crisp mountain air, and undiscovered Greek villages.
1. 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 anyway. What we found after driving past all the resorts was a quiet pebble beach, with calm and clear waters to hang out in for the day with a great view looking out to the tiny island of Spinalonga.
2. Check out 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, 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.
3. 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.
What to do in Chania
We found all of the prettiest and vastly different beaches in Chania (pronounced HAN-YA). In my opinion, if you have only one region to visit in Crete, it should be Chania.
4. Bath in 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. Don’t worry – you can ride a donkey up for about €5 if that fits your fancy. This is a must visit beach on the island of Crete.
5. Find Stefanou Beach
Warning – the drive to 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 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 tourist. 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 for the sake of having a secluded beach. That’s why this was my favorite thing to do in Crete and probably all of Greece for that matter. I would even do the drive again just to spend another day here!
6. Get Pink at Elafonisi 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 Elafonisi 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 Elafonisi beach, the pink sand beach is the easiest to get to by car (through paved mountain roads).
7. Go to Lake Kournas
The only fresh water lake in Crete lies in a valley among green, rolling hills. The lake isn’t massive, but it is worthy of a couple of a few hours stop to see the clear, blue, fresh water. The thing to do here is rent a paddle boat for €5 and enjoy the calm lake water.
8. Hike Samariá 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. The 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.
9. Be smitten in white in Loutro
For the famous white washed houses that are so identifiable as “Greek” head to Loutro. Loutro is a small seaside village on 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.
Things to do in Heraklion
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, 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.
10. Get the history in Knossos
Knossos is the largest archeological site on the island and is considered to be the oldest city in Europe. Knossos is situated very close to the capital and can easily be visited in a couple of hours. It’s definitely one the most interesting things to see in Greece! as 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 Minoan 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.
11. 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 go 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.
12. Stroll around 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 accommodation 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.
13. 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 60’s when European hitchhikers and free spirits settled here.
14. Get drunk on a Winery Tour
Many of Cretes 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, with your own car, you can easily spend the whole day visiting all the different wineries in the region. Just 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!
Things to do in Rethymno
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. Thes surrounding villages show off true Cretan hospitality.
15. Wander through Rethymno
Rethymno is a colorful coastal town with the best nightlife in Crete, and definitely worth a day or two of exploring. You can spend a whole day here just wandering through the alleyways and cobbled streets, snapping photos at each and every colorful building. If history is your thing then Rethymno is filled with ancient ruins, or just promenade along the harbor and pick from the plethora of restaurants to eat at.
16. Bask in the sun at Plakias Beach & Prevali Beach
It is here on the southern side of Rethymno prefecture that 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. 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.
17. 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.
It doesn’t matter…
Where you go in Crete. There is something to see in each nook and cranny of the island. Like previously 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. A good car hire option in Crete is Rental Center Crete. They have pick up/drop off locations all over the island. We personally picked our rental car up as soon as we arrived to Crete in Heraklion town center and dropped it off at the airport.
It’s also important to remember that everything in Crete is very spread out. We didn’t really take that into consideration 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. See more of our rental car tips here!
Don’t forget to eat while in Crete…
One of the best things to do in Crete is eat! The Cretans used to have one of the healthiest diets in all of the world (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
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.
Located in Maleme this has to be one of the best places we stayed in Crete. The rooms are comfortable, affordable, and in a good location. However what made the stay memorable were the owners. A cute Greek couple who have been running the hotel for years.
Still our favorite place we have ever stayed in Greece to this day. Homes suites is run by Eleni, another great Greek who takes hospitality to a whole new level. If you want a comfortable stay with a full kitchen to cook stay here.
We stay in so many Airbnb’s around the world. They let us live in someones home and experience a more local way of life. They are great for those that want their own kitchen too! Check out a few of our Airbnb tips before booking.
In some ways, Crete doesn’t even feel like it’s part of Greece. The island is massive and truly acts like its own nation. Greek, Cretan, Minoan, or Alien – Crete is full of incredibly friendly people and that truly adore their island country. We could have spent years here and still would not have seen everything. So kick back and go to the lovely beaches, eat the delicious food, and meander through the traditional villages of Crete.
What to Pack for Greece?
Seriously, bring a pair of comfortable flip-flops to wander around the Greek islands. The key word here is comfortable as there will be a lot of walking involved. Yes, you could wear tennis shoes everywhere for optimal support, but Greece is a laid-back place with a lot of sunshine. So you don’t want to seem too uptight or get those ugly tennis shoes and sock tan lines around your feet.
I have sung praises about my Rainbow sandals for years. Since I bought them in 2009, I have only had to get a new pair once and that was only because my first pair got stolen in Thailand. They have arch support, are comfortable, and look great. Check out more of our favorite travel shoes here (for men and for women).
Travel Water Bottle
Plastic pollution is a problem in Greece so it’s best not to contribute to the problem buying plastic water bottles everywhere – plus the water from the taps here is perfectly safe to drink. We’ve shifted to using an insulated aluminum water bottle as it handles the hot sun well. However, we also love filtered water bottles in areas we’re uncertain of the water supply. Read more about favorite water bottle for travel in our post.
You will absolutely need sunscreen for your trip to the Mediterranean. You can purchase it when you get there, but then you’ll be searching around for it and may pay a premium for a generic brand. Please consider spending a few extra dollars for reef safe sunscreen. The typical sunscreens like Coppertone, No Ad, and Banana Boat have many chemicals in them that will run off your body while swimming damaging the precious coral and marine life. We have this reef safe sunscreen for our ocean adventures.
Most hotels will provide you with a towel, but they often aren’t suitable or allowed on the beaches. I like to travel with a microfiber towel because they are light and fold up small, and they also don’t cling on to sand our dirt. Here are a few of our favorite travel towels.
These were great to have! You’ll do a lot of walking around Greece in the extremely hot sun. Hiking sandals allow for your feet to breathe and they do not collect sand when trudging through the desert. You bet we’ve reviewed the best hiking sandals for travelers!
We don’t travel without travel insurance and neither should you. You never know what can happen in a foreign country and it’s best to be prepared. World Nomads provides good short term coverage.
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