Take it easy on the terrace of your Cretan villa overlooking your own private pool with a glass of the enviable local wine, or crank it up on mountain bikes on a tour through the Samaria Gorge. Learn more about your ideal holiday in Crete with our comprehensive travel guide – split handily into foodie experiences, hidden gems, fun for the kids and ideal group activities.
With castaway beaches, warm shallow lagoons, rugged mountain landscapes and atmospheric harbour-side towns, Crete has everything you could wish for in a Greek island. Away from the beaches, there are ancient archaeological sites and treasure-trove museums, charming fishing harbours with taverna-lined squares, and teeny tiny churches hidden in unexpected corners of the mountains.
When to visit
The warm waters and mountainous terrain of Crete enjoy a reliably long summer season, with mild, sunny days as early as April and as late as October. April and May, when spring flowers are in full bloom and the weather is warm but not uncomfortably so, are prime visiting months. The crowds are usually out in force at Easter, but for the rest of spring you can expect to have much of the island to yourself.
Temperature and visitor numbers both begin to climb in June, before the real rush and hottest days arrive in July and August. Autumn is another fine time to visit, when the pace switches down a gear, crowds begin to disperse and the temperature rarely dips below 20 degrees Celsius. Winters in Crete are mild and the weather can be pleasant, but many places shut up shop completely and the rain makes regular appearances.
• Knossos – Discover myths and legends at the ancient Minoan palace.
• Samaria Gorge – Hike 16 kilometres through rugged National Park land.
• Chania – Feast in Chania’s harbourside restaurants.
• Balos Lagoon – Paddle in crystal-clear turquoise waters.
• Spinalonga – Explore evocative remains on an island that once served as a leper colony.
• Rethymno – Wander the elegant streets of the old town.
• Heraklion Archaeological Museum – View the world’s best collection of Minoan artefacts.
• Elafonisi Beach – Unroll your towel on pink-hued sand.
- Public transport: An hourly bus service links all of Crete’s main towns and resorts along the north coast, while less frequent buses run to remote villages and the towns in the south.
- By boat: A handful of ferry companies offer return services to Crete’s more secluded beaches. When a ferry isn’t available, arranging a trip with a local fisherman is usually pretty straightforward.
- Taxis: Taxis in Crete are good value and drivers are used to long distance journeys, so if you want to day trip to somewhere that isn’t serviced by regular buses, you can arrange for a cab to pick you up.
- By bike: If you’re willing to tackle Crete’s mountainous terrain, cycling is a great way to take in the scenic surroundings. Bikes can be hired all over the island.
- By air: There are airports at Heraklion and Chania on Crete. Heraklion is the larger one, but both are well-served by a huge array of airlines flying regularly from the UK.
- Hiring a car: Hiring a car from the airport is best done in advance. Alternatively, try renting a car from a Cretan company near your hotel; car hire prices from local companies are often cheaper. Small vehicles are preferable, as village streets tend to be on the narrow side.
- For true Robinson Crusoe-style island living, Gavdos, Crete’s largest offshore island, is about as far from civilisation as you can get. Luxurious it isn’t, but if you’re looking for an isolated beach and a quiet place to cook your fishing catch, this is the place to come. Nowhere on the island has 24-hour electricity, but the silver lining is that the nightly blackout makes for excellent stargazing.
- The tiny off-the-beaten track hamlet of Zakros in eastern Crete is home to little more than a pebble beach and, impressively, the Minoan Palace of Zakros, which dates from between 1600 and 1450 BC. Daytrippers to the palace make up most of the seaside village’s visitors, so arriving here in-between coach journeys will give you the place more or less to yourself.
- Two different mountain caves claim to be the birthplace of Zeus, the Ideon Cave and the Dikteon. If you can manage the steep walk to the entrance of Dikteon, near Psyhro, it’s well worth a look. According to legend, a newborn Zeus was hidden from his father here. A dark staircase descends through stalactites into the 2000-square-metre cave, where there is evidence of cult worship from the Minoan period.
The concept of a kid-friendly holiday with separate activities for children doesn’t really apply to Crete. Small people are so warmly received in this part of the world that they are welcomed without question all around the island. Families can expect to feel at home just about everywhere and children who join in the local custom of afternoon napping can fully take advantage of joining in the fun at tavernas, shops and squares late into the evenings.
Daytimes in Crete for kids are a magical mix of beaches, boat rides and adventures to hidden corners of the island. Long stretches of sand and warm, shallow waters are what Crete does best, while active families are spoilt with wildlife-rich hikes, cycling routes that lead to remote parts of the island and boat trips to secret beaches and caves. There are also museums that offer free passes for kids, aquariums with interactive features aimed specifically at younger visitors and high-adrenaline waterparks packed with slides.
With its status as a family holiday wonderland, you’ll have no trouble planning an unforgettable trip to Crete with kids. But if you’re looking for some inspiration, here are a handful of suggestions to get you started.
Best Things To Do with Kids:
- Adventurous kids will love the chance to learn to fish in Crete’s crystal clear waters. Nostos Cruises make a day of it, touring picturesque parts of the coastline with regular stops for swimming along the way.
- Waterbabies and non-swimmers alike are enchanted by boat trips skippered by Captain Nick, who has been taking families on nautical adventures in Crete for a quarter of a century.
- For adventurous and curious kids, Crete has a plethora of enticing caves to explore. Dripping stalactites, clear lagoons and fantastic history and myths are sure to fascinate kids and parents alike! There are plenty of tours to choose from on the island, or you can just turn up at bigger ones like Skotino or Dikteon.
Best Family-Friendly Beaches:
- Chrissi Akti is the huge, golden expanse of sand directly east of Chania. The silky sand and shallow water is ideal for smaller kids, and there’s even a play area!
- The facilites at Agia Pelagia are fantastic for families, with patrolled calm waters, watersports, snack bars and sunloungers with parasols. It is conveniently located just over 15km from Heraklion.
- The beach at Aghios Panteleimonas is situated in Istron on the picturesque bay of Mirabella. It quiet, secluded and beautiful, with calm clear waters to play in. It’s a real hidden gem and well worth a drive.
Few holiday destinations can claim to be as diverse and crowd-pleasing as Crete. If it’s blissful beaches you’re after, Crete has those in spades, with miles of little sandy stretches in shades of white, yellow and even pink. Boat trips are available all along the coast, sailing to picnic spots on secluded beaches or into snorkel-friendly waters teeming with marine life.
If all that choice has left your head spinning, here are a few suggestions to get your holiday planning started.
There’s no shortage of ways to get your pulse racing on the hugely varied landscape of Crete. Take to the mountains on a Jeep Safari , or work those quads on a mountain bike. Strap on your hiking boots to explore the stunning Samaria Gorge or dive in to the blue water at Balos Lagoon.
More Laid Back Things To Do:
For a laid-back time in Crete, you’ll have no shortage of ways to mellow out. Aside from lazing by the pool of your villa, you should also definitely explore the island’s famous beaches, like the pretty-in-pink Elafonissi. You could also hire a yacht to see them from the ocean with SeaStar Chania. If you see a private beach that takes your fancy, hop ashore and have an explore – or ask the crew to whip you up some lunch while you admire the view.
Or, if you’re feeling indoorsy – how much more chill can you get than a spot of pot(tery)? Make your own in traditional style at EA Ceramics. It’s a wonderfully relaxing way to while away an afternoon out of the sun.
Crete’s cuisine has all the hallmarks of the Med’s longevity-boosting diet. Fresh produce sourced locally, home-grown meat and lashings of olive oil are a fixture on dinner tables throughout the island. Market stalls are loaded with fruit and vegetables of the highest quality and the countryside is awash with wild herbs that perfume the air with wafts of oregano, sage, parsley and thyme. Crete is also one of Greece’s biggest wine producers, and the hills are studded with vineyards and wineries.
Classic Cretan eats like freshly fried seafood and slow-cooked pork are must-tries, and long lunches served family-style is the way to eat like a local, with dishes brought out on sharing plates for everyone to tuck into. There are plenty of fine-dining restaurants in Crete, but you’ll probably eat your most memorable meals at humble rustic tavernas. Wherever you dine out, you’ll find the same method of cooking employed just about everywhere: quality ingredients, cooked simply.
We’ve put together a handy list of restaurants, wineries and foodie excursions to kick off your culinary adventures in Crete.
Best Restaurants in Crete
- Kids are welcomed at the casual, al fresco dining space at Gramvousa restaurant in the village of Kaliviani. Enjoy the gorgeous view over the sea, and the traditional, delicious menu.
- Sometimes, the best things are worth the wait. Book in advance for a romantic seafood dinner at Thalasino Ageri in Tabakaria, one of the island’s best-kept secrets.
Dishes Not to Miss in Crete
- On a villa holiday in Crete, you really must make the most of the amazing local olive oil and fresh produce, and cook up a storm! You should also make sure to try as much local cheese as you can, pretty much every village has their own signature style.
- If you’re eating out, make sure to try lamb with stamnagathi, a locally grown green veggie that’s become pretty popular recently. Everywhere in Greece has their own delicious and unique way of preparing lamb, and Crete is no different.
Best Foodie Experiences in Crete
- Get fully invested in the celebrated Cretan olive oil, and learn all about how it’s made at Terra Creta. See every stage of production, from traditional harvesting to pressing in the hyper-modern olive mill.
- Cretan food is often touted as one of the healthiest cuisines in the world, and luckily it’s also one of the scrummiest. Learn some tricks to take home with you with a class at Vamos Village.
- Of course, there’s always time for wine – and Cretans have plenty of it! Find you favourite with a tasting tour of the island’s vineyards and wineries.