Top Reasons to Visit Crete, Greece
Almost every day is a beach day when you see 300 days of sunshine a year | © Eleni Afiontzi / Unsplash
If you’re planning a visit to the Greek Islands, a trip to the largest, Crete, should be firmly on your agenda. With sights including the ancient palace of Knossos to see, plus unique food and traditions to experience, you’ll never be short of things to do on Crete, Greece.
There are hundreds of reasons to visit Crete at any time of year. The largest Greek island has mild weather, pristine beaches, great offerings for foodies and wine lovers, hundreds of ancient sites, breathtaking landscapes and hiking paths and wild nightlife. It is the largest island in Greece, but has its own unique history and culture. One trip to Crete may not be enough.
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Crete boasts the best beaches in Greece, and some are among the best beaches in the world. With 300 days of sunshine a year, almost every day is a beach day here. You’ll love the pink-sand beaches of Elafonisi, Balos and Falasarna and the palm tree forests at the beaches of Vai and Preveli. Keep your beach bag with you at all times, because you’ll surely encounter a beach you can’t resist while you explore the island.
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History lovers will find dozens of archaeological sites to explore throughout the island. Crete was the centre of one of the oldest known civilisations in the world, that of the Minoans, who made the island their home during the Bronze Age, from about 3000 to 1100 BCE. Since then, many empires and settlements have come and gone, each leaving their own distinct mark on the architecture and culture on the island. You can visit the ancient palaces of Knossos and Phaistos from the Minoan era, as well as Roman settlements, Byzantine churches, Venetian ports and fortresses and Ottoman mosques and minarets.
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Here’s your chance to gaze at faraway mountains, while sunbathing on a white-sand beach next to a turquoise sea. Crete has gorgeous landscapes with constantly changing views. Rolling hills of olive groves, vineyards and patchwork farmland make up most of the inland, while the imposing mountains divide the island from north to south and the deep-blue Mediterranean water is ever-present in the distance.
The food and drink
Restaurant, Greek, $$$
There’s a saying in Greece: “Go to Santorini to fall in love, to Mykonos to party and to Crete to eat!” The foods of Crete are the cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet. Fresh vegetables, ripe fruits, wild greens, thick yoghurt, freshly caught fish and, of course, lots and lots of olive oil are essential ingredients to try when visiting Crete. However, no meal in Crete is complete without a glass of local wine from indigenous grapes such as vidiano or liatiko.
The unique sights
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Crete is full of places like no other, from its sea depths to its mountaintops. There are natural wonders here such as the largest gorge in Europe, the Samaria Gorge; and fascinating caves such as Psychro, where Zeus himself is said to have been born. There are well-marked historic and archeological sites everywhere you look from the Minoan, Roman and Venetian eras. Be spontaneous and follow the signs and you won’t be disappointed.
The mountain towns
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The only time you’ll hit traffic in Crete is when you’re in the mountains and the stubborn sheep and goats block the roads, but the mountain villages are worthy of the scenic drive on winding roads to get to them. It’ll give you a different perspective of life on Crete. The pace is slower, and in some villages it feels as if you’re stepping back in time. Stop in a tavern or kafenion (traditional cafe) and chat with local people; they all have stories to share.
Those living on Crete have a reputation for being a little rough around the edges, but you will not find friendlier people, and Cretans pride themselves on their hospitality. Because of the central location the island occupies in the Mediterranean, travellers and merchants have been stopping by for millennia. Cretans believe it is their moral obligation to take care of strangers – so much so that they even have a word for it, philoxenia (“friend to the stranger”). Mingle with local people and you’ll experience this welcome for yourself.
Crete has been part of Greece for just over 100 years, so Cretan traditions are different to those of other Greek islands. Attend a panigiri (celebration of a patron saint) to experience the best of Cretan traditions. You’ll hear the sounds of the Cretan lyra and laouto, follow the steps of folk dances that are only performed on Crete, eat a traditional Cretan feast and see traditional costumes with incredible embroidery detailing. And of course, you’ll experience that famous Cretan hospitality.