Crete is a wonderful destination for those who love food, people, nature, sun, history, or parties. Whether you’re a daredevil looking for thrills and spills or a nature enthusiast looking for a place to sit and relax, Crete is a stunning vacation destination for those who want to stay active or prefer to be horizontal on a beach. Take a look at our list and prepare for your dream holiday on this magical island.
For some, snorkeling is just not enough – diving deeper will reveal a gorgeous underwater world full of life and wonders. Many companies around Crete are specialized in scuba diving lessons for beginners and even offer rental equipment. More experienced or skilled divers can enjoy a wide range of excursions, such as night and cave diving.
Crete hosts a vast number of migratory birds in the spring and fall, and there are many observation towers and huts around the island. Crete is also full of stunningly beautiful birds of prey, such as eagles, falcons, and vultures. The bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) is one of the rarest raptors in Europe, and currently there are seven pairs of them in Crete, producing approximately five juveniles every year.
The many mountains of Crete offer breathtaking views of the island, and if you climb high enough, you will see both the Aegean Sea in the north and the Libyan Sea in the south. The rugged tracks are paved with fragrant herbs and if you’re lucky, you might even spot some goats jumping about near cliffs. The most famous mountain ranges in Crete are the Psiloritis range and the White Mountains. Crete is sometimes called “the land of the gorges” because there are so many. The Samaria Gorge is the most famous of them all, located in the sierra of the White Mountains in Chania. It is 18 kilometers long – making it the longest gorge of Crete and Europe – and it’s also one of the homes of the famous, but rare, Cretan wild goat, kri-kri.
Rock climbing is accessible mainly for those who have previous experience and their own equipment. Many visitors travel to Crete solely to climb, since the rocks and cliffs, as well as the beautiful views, offer a unique experience for anyone seeking an adrenaline rush. The best rock climbing area in Crete is said to be Kapetaniana, 75km south of Heraklion. It’s a small village and a peaceful place for climbers, with more than 130 different routes and a wide range of grades.
Horses have been a vital part of everyday life in Crete for a long time, and even today many Cretans have their own horses. Many horse riding clubs and stables offer riding courses or excursions around the island. For example, Plakias Horse Riding Center in the mid-southern part of Crete offers rides at the beach, which will surely be an unforgettable experience.
Crete has approximately 4500 mapped caves and sinkholes available for exploration. One of the deepest precipices, with a depth of 1208 meters, is Gourgouthakas located in the Lefka Ori Mountains. The Geoparks of Sitia and Psiloritis and mount Stroumboulas in Heraklion are good places for speleologists around the world to investigate the fascinating rock formations and flora.
Windsurfing has become highly popular in Crete. A must-go place for windsurfers is Kouremenos bay next to Palekastro. They have the necessary equipment to rent and strong winds throughout the day. It’s suitable for both beginners and more experienced surfers. The best season to visit Crete for windsurfing is from May to October – when the wind is strongest but the water is warm.
Another wonderful way to explore Crete is cycling, either off-road or on asphalt paved roads. Visitors can choose from rugged dirt tracks, roads along the seaside, or narrow streets passing through small villages. Rental companies offer deals by the hour, day, or even by the week. The Tour of Crete, a multi-stage cyclosportive for amateur cyclists, gathers more than 4 million cyclists to the island annually. This year the tour will be running May 12-17.
Wine tasting, Chania
Some of the best wines come from Crete, and many wineries offer a possibility for visitors to come and taste their products. One example is The Manousakis Winery in the village of Vatolakkos, just 15 minutes away from Chania. Guests have a choice between five different tour options, and it’s good to make a reservation in advance.
Olive Oil Experience, Chania
In addition to wine, Crete is known for its olive trees and all the things they produce. Many producers offer a chance to visit their farms, and some even organize tasting sessions. Terra Creta in Kolymvari offers a guided tour around the olive farm. The tour shows how the olives are harvested, introduces their innovative olive mill, and finally takes visitors inside their bottling unit, where they offer a chance to taste three different kinds of extra virgin olive oils.
LasinthosEco Park, LassithiPlateau
Located 43 kilometers from Agios Nikolaos in the valley of Lassithi Plateau, Lasinthos Eco Park aims to introduce the old traditions and customs of past Cretan life to their visitors. Surrounded by Crete’s natural beauty, the Eco Park offers activities such as wood carving, pottery, and weaving. Visitors can also walk through the herb garden or visit the animal farm, where they have horses, donkeys, and various birds. Suitable for a day trip, but accommodations are also available.
The first carnival of Rethymnon was organized in 1914, and through the years it has slowly grown to become one of the biggest annual carnivals in Greece. In March, the whole town becomes one big party when locals and visitors join together to celebrate before the 40-day lenten fast begins. The theme of the carnival changes yearly and the main event is a big parade going through the center of Rethymnon.
Especially during the summer, many tavernas offer live music for free, mostly on weekends. Traditional Cretan music is very unique, and the tradition is strongly preserved today. Crete has many traditional instruments, such as the stringed lute-like laouto and the three-stringed violin-like lyra. Both are considered symbols for the island, and the essence of Cretan music is said to be the fusion of artist and instrument.
Ancient Eleftherna, Rethymnon
25km southeast of Rethymnon, Eleftherna is one of the archeological sites that has not been fully excavated yet. The town was founded by the Dorians in the 9th century BC, and the city’s location made it a natural crossroads for thoroughfares connecting two big Minoan cities, as it was located between the ancient city of Cydonia and the palace of Knossos. The findings from this ancient town are exhibited in a museum close to the site.
Artisan Cheese Workshop and Tasting, Chania
Crete is the Promised Land for cheese lovers, as they have many different types of traditional cheeses including mizithra, anthotiri, and kefalograviera. Visitors can book in advance a spot on a practical workshop in Litsarda Village, where they teach how to make artisan cheese using fresh pasteurized local goat milk. It costs 65€ and the price includes the workshop, lunch, and wines.
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Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons License: CC-BY-SA Copyright: ISS Expedition 28 crew