Blue water on Crete's southern coastline with the village of Loutro in the distance.

Crete beckons travellers from across the world tempted by its sunkissed beaches, rugged mountains and legendary history. From the labyrinthine ruins of the Minoan palaces to the Venetian fortresses casting shadows over old harbours, Crete’s past is both complex and captivating.

Venture through the island's diverse regions to learn the stories and see the traditions of Crete. Whether you choose to lose yourself in the bustling streets of Heraklion, embrace the serenity of the Lasithi Plateau, or follow the trails leading through the Samaria Gorge, Crete promises an adventure for every visitor.

This guide to Crete is designed to help you plan your trip to this remarkable island. Here's what you need to know before you visit.

At a glance

Regions in Crete

A short overview

Many travellers mentally divide Crete into east and west when deciding where to visit, then pick a base for exploring that side of the island. Western Crete is the most popular, with the city of Chania, the impressive Samaria Gorge and the famous beaches of Elafonissi and Balos.

Eastern Crete is generally quieter, although the resort towns of Agios Nikolaos and Elouda are more developed, and Heraklion is a busy city. Beyond them, there are many beautiful beaches and the peaceful Lasithi Plateau, surrounded by mountains and dotted with windmills.

However, regardless of whether you’re on the east or west of the island, the northern coast is much more developed, while you’ll find tiny seaside villages and secluded beaches in the south.

Administratively, Crete is divided into four main regions, each with its own distinctive culture, landscapes and history.

Heraklion

This is the heartland of Minoan civilization, surrounded by ancient cities, fertile vineyards, and dramatic landscapes. Beyond the bustling streets of Heraklion city, this region stretches across central Crete and includes the legendary Palace of Knossos, the mysterious caves of Matala, and the idyllic beaches of Malia. 

Chania

The Chania region is wrapped in the rugged White Mountains and is home to some of the island's most pristine beaches and its enchanting capital, Chania. Here, you’ll also find the Samaria Gorge with its scenic trails, leading to the remote southern coast and small towns like Loutro and Sfakia.

Rethymno

The Renaissance charm of Rethymno’s Old Town contrasts with the wild beauty of the surrounding countryside. Venture up Mount Psiloritis for challenging treks and breathtaking views, or seek head further from the city to relax on secluded southern beaches. Visit the villages of Anogeia and Margarites and the Arkadi Monastery, a poignant symbol of Cretan resistance. 

Lasithi

The Lasithi region presents the quieter side of Crete, with traditional towns and stunning natural attractions. This is where you'll find the palm forest of Vai, the ancient ruins of Zakros, and the historically rich island of Spinalonga. For more luxurious options, head to the seaside towns of Elounda and Agios Nikolaos.

Where to stay in Crete

Cities and towns

Many travellers to Crete opt for one or two of the major towns below as their base in Crete, and take day trips to see more of the island.

While this approach means you don’t have to move around as much, you do miss seeing some of the wonderful towns and beaches in the evenings and at a slower pace. Organised day trips can also be pricy and parking can be challenging in the cities and larger towns.

If you have the time, it’s worth spending a few days in one of the smaller towns or villages to experience some of the quieter destinations in Crete. In fact, I would suggest spending more time in the smaller towns and less in the cities.

That said, if you’re looking for good nightlife, luxury accommodation and food beyond the village taverna, the cities and larger seaside resorts could suit you better. 

Below are some of the most popular places to stay in Crete, along with some lesser-visited options.

Chania

A favourite with travellers, Chania is a captivating city with its Venetian Old Town, historic harbour, and cultural museums.

Stay at the five-star Domus Renier Boutique Hotel in the heart of the Venetian Harbour.

Heraklion

Many travellers find themselves arriving in Heraklion, Crete's vibrant capital. It is a working city – in fact, it’s sometimes called “Little Athens” so if you’re looking for something small and charming, you may want to look elsewhere. But here, you'll find world-class museums, historical landmarks, bustling nightlife, and renowned wineries.

Base yourself at 3 Pines Design Living, a sustainable aparthotel situated in Heraklion Town.

Rethymnon

Rethymnon's pedestrianized Old Town and excellent dining scene make it a great place to spend a few days. Rethymno combines accessibility to sites, beaches, and great restaurants making it a great central location.

Stay at the White Swan located in Kallithea of Rethymnon for a touch of luxury with all of the amenities.

Agios Nikolaos

Agios Nikolaos, with its unique lake connected to the sea and vibrant marina, offers a laid-back atmosphere perfect for exploring eastern Crete's beauty and enjoying waterfront cafes.

Stay at the adults-only Casa Porto Boutique Hotelwith views over the sea and the town.

Elounda

With clear waters and a peaceful setting, Elounda is ideal for relaxing by the sea. It's perfect for families and has easy access to the historical island of Spinalonga.

Stay at the Elounda Beach Hotel & Villas with direct access to the beach.

Sitia

Sitia is a welcoming town with a friendly vibe, offering visitors beautiful beaches, a charming harbour, and relatively affordable accommodation.

Stay at the Elysee Hotel on the promenade and near the beach.

Lesser-visited destinations in Crete

While many travellers choose to base themselves in one of the cities, arguably the best thing about Crete is its villages and small towns. Here are a few alternate places to stay with picturesque town centres, small hotels, good tavernas and fewer crowds. 

Myrtos

Myrtos offers an authentic glimpse into Cretan village life, away from the tourist crowds. The Myrtos Mare Suites, located by the beach, ensure a comfortable and immersive stay in this quaint coastal village.

Archanes

For those preferring a quieter base in the Heraklion region, the village of Archanes is a delightful alternative. It provides a tranquil setting amidst vineyards and olive groves, with easy access to Heraklion's attractions. Manili Boutique Suites & Villas offers five-star accommodation in the centre of town.

Anogeia

Nestled in the mountains of the Rethymno region, Anogeia offers a profound connection to Cretan history and tradition. Known for its musical heritage and resilience, this village is a gateway to exploring the authentic side of Crete. Base yourself in a local guesthouse to immerse in the community known for its hospitality and vibrant cultural life.

Lassithi Plateau

The Lassithi Plateau, with its verdant landscapes and traditional windmills, is a haven of peace and natural beauty in the Lasithi region. Ideal for those interested in rural life, hiking, and historical sites, stay in a family-run hotel in one of the plateau's villages and soak in the mountain views.

Palekastro

Palekastro, on the eastern coast of Crete, is perfect for travellers seeking unspoiled beaches and an escape from the crowds. This small village is close to some of the most beautiful and secluded beaches on the island, including Vai and Itanos. Opt for a hotel in Palekastro or a self-contained apartment by the nearby beach.

Sfakia

Sfakia, in the rugged southern part of the Chania region, is a destination for those looking to explore Crete's wild landscapes. Known for its gorges, remote beaches, and traditional Cretan spirit, Sfakia offers a blend of adventure and cultural immersion. A stay in a waterfront guesthouse in Chora Sfakion provides a perfect base for hiking, exploring local caves, and boat trips to Loutro and Glyka Nera Beach.

For more details on some of these destinations, read our guide on where to stay in Crete.

Things to do in Crete

Ancient sites, beaches and more

There are many things to do in Crete beyond exploring the cities and towns in the above sections (although do that too!) Here are a few of the many activities you can do across Crete, encompassing history, outdoor activities, culture and, of course, beaches.

Historical and archaeological sites

  • Palace of Knossos (Heraklion): Explore the heart of Minoan civilization at this ancient palace complex, renowned for its mythological significance and intricate frescoes.

  • Spinalonga Island (Elounda): Visit this former leper colony and Venetian fortress, a poignant site accessible by a short boat trip from Elounda or Agios Nikolaos.

  • Ancient City of Phaistos (Heraklion): Explore the ruins of this Minoan palace, offering insights into Crete's ancient past with fewer crowds compared to Knossos.

  • Archaeological Site of Gortyn (Heraklion): Once the Roman capital of Crete, Gortyn is home to the oldest and most complete laws inscribed in stone from ancient Greece.

  • Ancient Eleutherna (Rethymno): This site dates back to the 9th century BC and includes an acropolis, ancient tombs, and Roman and Byzantine remains.

  • Gournia (Lasithi): Often referred to as the best-preserved Minoan town on Crete, with well-organized streets, houses, and the remains of a palace.

  • Aptera (Chania): Overlooking Souda Bay, the ancient city of Aptera was one of the most important city-states of Western Crete during ancient times.

  • Lato (Lasithi Region): An ancient Doric city-state that flourished in the Hellenistic period includes the remains of temples, an agora, and a well-preserved theatre

  • Zakros (Lasithi Region): The site of the fourth-largest Minoan palace, and the "Valley of the Dead" is the resting place of several Minoan tombs in a dramatic gorge.

Natural wonders

  • Samaria Gorge (Chania): Challenge yourself with a hike through one of Europe's longest gorges, a breathtaking natural reserve teeming with endemic flora and fauna.

  • Elafonissi Beach (Chania): Relax on this exotic beach with pink sand and crystal-clear waters, located on the southwestern tip of Crete.

  • Balos Lagoon (Chania): Discover the stunning beauty of Balos, with its turquoise waters and white sandy beaches, accessible by boat or a hike.

  • Lasithi Plateau: Surrounded by the Dikti mountain range, this scenic plateau is dotted with traditional windmills and the Dikteon Cave, reputedly the birthplace of Zeus.

  • Richtis Gorge (Lasithi): A less frequented hike that leads to a stunning waterfall and a secluded beach, perfect if you’re seeking a tranquil spot.

Beaches

In addition to the popular Balos Lagoon and Elafonissi Beach mentioned above, these beaches in Crete are also well exceptionally pretty:

  • Preveli Beach (Rethymno): Explore this unique beach where a river flows into the sea, surrounded by palm trees and accessible by boat or foot.

  • Matala Beach (Heraklion): Visit the famous beach known for its artificial caves carved into the cliffs, once a hippie haven in the 1960s.

  • Vai Beach (Lasithi): Famous for its palm forest, the largest in Europe, Vai Beach offers a unique tropical experience on the island.

  • Seitan Limania Beach (Chania): A breathtaking and narrow cove with deep blue waters, accessible via a steep hike, offering a more adventurous beach day.

  • Falassarna Beach (Chania): This expansive sandy beach is known for its clear waters and stunning sunsets, offering excellent conditions for both swimming and windsurfing.

  • Marathi Beach (Chania): Offering a sheltered bay with calm waters, Marathi is ideal for a relaxed beach day with great facilities and a view of the Drapanos peninsula.

  • Plakias Beach (Rethymno): A long and wide beach with plenty of amenities, Plakias is perfect for those looking for a beach with space and a variety of water sports options.

  • Agiofarago Beach (Heraklion): Reached by hiking through a scenic gorge or by boat, this secluded beach near Matala offers clear waters and a peaceful atmosphere.

Cultural experiences

  • Cretan cooking classes: Join a cooking class to learn about Crete's culinary traditions and how to prepare local dishes using fresh, island-grown ingredients.

  • Traditional Cretan music and dance: Experience an evening of traditional Cretan music and dance at one of the many local festivals or tavernas, immersing yourself in the island's vibrant culture.

  • Olive oil farm tours: Learn about the production of Crete's liquid gold and enjoy tastings at one of the many olive oil farms across the island. These are often combined with wine tours.

On (and in) the water

  • Ferry Trip to Loutro (Chania): Take a scenic ferry ride to the secluded village of Loutro, unreachable by car, from Chora Sfakioon Crete's southern coast.

  • Sailing around Crete: Charter a sailboat to explore Crete's stunning coastline from the sea, discovering secluded beaches and hidden coves.

  • Olous (Elounda) Snorkel over the submerged ruins of the ancient city-state of Olous, including walls, streets, and building foundations.

  • Diving the HMS Perseus (Ierapetra): The British submarine sank in WWII and is remarkably preserved with its exterior and part of its interior accessible to divers.

Outdoor activities

  • Mountain biking in Psiloritis Range: Tackle the rugged terrain of Crete's highest mountain range on a mountain bike, exploring remote villages and breathtaking landscapes.

  • Canyoning in the White Mountains: For the thrill-seekers, canyoning through Crete's dramatic canyons offers an unforgettable adventure.

  • Agiofarago Gorge hike to Secluded Beach (Heraklion): An adventurous hike through a gorge ending at a beautiful, secluded beach, perfect for those looking to escape the crowds.

  • Botanical Park and Gardens of Crete (Chania Region): See the island's diverse flora and commitment to ecological preservation.

  • Dikteon Cave (Lasithi Plateau): Also known as Psychro Cave, this is the mythical birthplace of Zeus and offers a fascinating cave experience.

  • Hiking in the Imbros Gorge (Chania): A less strenuous alternative to the Samaria Gorge, this 8 km trek is rich in natural beauty and suitable for most fitness levels.

Museums in Crete

As with much of Greece, you are never far from an archaeological museum on Crete. There are also many others, showcasing different aspects of the island's history and culture. Here are a few of the most popular.

  • Heraklion Archaeological Museum: Located in the heart of Heraklion, this museum is one of the most important in Greece, showcasing the world's most comprehensive collection of Minoan artifacts. Highlights include frescoes from Knossos, the Phaistos Disc, and exquisite jewellery, pottery, and sculptures spanning over 5,000 years of Cretan history.

  • Historical Museum of Crete (Heraklion): This museum offers a broader look at Crete's history, from early Christian times through the Byzantine, Venetian, and Ottoman periods, up to the modern era. It features an extensive collection of historical artifacts, religious icons, folk art, and two paintings by El Greco, a native of Crete.

  • Maritime Museum of Crete (Chania): Situated at the entrance of the historic Venetian fortress in Chania's harbor, this museum celebrates Crete's maritime history. Exhibits cover the island's naval tradition, including models of ships, nautical instruments, and relics from the Battle of Crete during WWII.

  • Rethymnon Historical and Folk Art Museum: Housed in a 17th-century Venetian mansion, this museum in Rethymnon offers insight into Crete's folk traditions and art. The collection includes Cretan costumes, textiles, ceramics, and everyday objects that depict the island's rural life and customs through the ages.

  • Archaeological Museum of Agios Nikolaos: This museum, located in the eastern town of Agios Nikolaos, features artifacts from eastern Crete's archaeological sites, spanning from the Neolithic to the Roman periods. Its collections include pottery, sculptures, and Minoan art, highlighting the region's significant historical contributions.

  • Lychnostatis Open Air Museum (Hersonissos): An open-air museum dedicated to Cretan folk tradition and natural environment, Lychnostatis offers a hands-on experience with traditional Cretan life. The museum includes a replica of a traditional Cretan village, herb gardens, a windmill, and exhibits on local crafts such as weaving and pottery making.

  • Natural History Museum of Crete (Heraklion): This museum provides an in-depth look at the island's flora and fauna. There are also interactive exhibits ideal for families.

  • War Museum of Chania: Documenting the martial history of Crete, this museum provides insight into the island's role in various conflicts, particularly during WWII.

Tours in Crete

While you can visit the majority of the sites independently, here are a few tours which are well worth doing while you're in Crete, particularly if you don't have your own transport.

  • Knossos Palace guided tour: A tour of this ancient Minoan palace brings to life one of Crete's most significant archaeological sites, with insights into the island's rich history and mythology.

  • Phaistos Disk and Gortyn Law Code tour: Explore the ruins of Phaistos, home to the mysterious Phaistos Disk, and visit Gortyn, where the oldest and most complete known example of a code of ancient Greek law is inscribed on the walls.

  • Samaria Gorge hiking day trip: If you don't have your own transport, join a guided hike through the breathtaking Samaria Gorge, a challenging but rewarding experience with stunning natural scenery.

  • Balos Lagoon and Gramvousa Island Boat Trip: A boat trip to the turquoise waters of Balos Lagoon and the historic Gramvousa Island offers a perfect blend of relaxation and exploration without the tricky drive and hot walk

  • Cretan cooking class: Experience Crete's culinary traditions first-hand with a cooking class that includes preparing local dishes and tasting Cretan wines.

  • Traditional Cretan villages tour: Spend a day visiting traditional villages, where you can learn about local crafts, enjoy Cretan music, and sample homemade delicacies.

  • Elafonissi Beach day trip: Also great if you don't have a car, this guided trip to Elafonissi allows you to relax on one of Crete's most famous pink sand beaches, with transportation and logistics handled for you.

  • Sailing Crete: Discover the secluded beaches and hidden coves of Crete's coastline, accessible only by boat, for a day of swimming, snorkelling, and sunbathing.

  • Wine, gods and stars tour: While not a dark sky reserve, Crete's clear skies offer perfect conditions for stargazing. An astronomy tour can take you to remote locations for an unforgettable night under the stars, often including telescopic viewing and guidance from an astronomy expert.

Many people are interested in visiting other islands from Crete, however, given the distances involved, it isn't really practical. It is possible to visit Santorini in a day, but don't expect much time on the island. A better option is to spend your time exploring a different part of Crete.

What to eat in Crete

Local specialities

Crete's food scene reflects its rich history and agricultural abundance. Here's a guide to some of the island's most iconic dishes and the best places to try them:

  • Dakos: Often referred to as Cretan bruschetta, dakos consists of a barley rusk topped with grated tomato, crumbled feta or mizithra cheese, a drizzle of Cretan extra virgin olive oil, and a sprinkling of herbs. It's a staple appetizer that you'll find in almost every taverna.

  • Moussaka: This famous Greek dish has a special twist in Crete. Layers of sautéed eggplant, minced meat, and béchamel sauce are baked to perfection. The best moussaka is often found in places that prepare it fresh daily, like Lithos in Heraklion, where traditional recipes are revered.

  • Lamb with stamnagathi Roast lamb is a Cretan specialty, usually served with wild greens known as stamnagathi. For a memorable experience, head to the mountainous region of Anogeia and dine at Arodamos.

  • Chochlioi boubouristi (fried snails): A delicacy in Crete, snails are fried with flour and hot olive oil, then finished with a splash of wine or vinegar and rosemary. In the rural villages outside of Rethymno, such as Taverna Aravanes in Thronos, you can enjoy this dish with a view of the countryside.

  • Kalitsounia: These small cheese or herb pies resemble a sweet pastry but are typically savory, filled with local cheese or greens, and sometimes sweetened with honey. Kormoranos Bakery Café in Agios Nikolaos bakes them to perfection throughout the day.

  • Sfakiani pita: A unique flatbread from the region of Sfakia, this pita is stuffed with mizithra cheese and drizzled with honey. It's best enjoyed in its place of origin, in the coastal village of Sfakia.

  • Seafood and fish: With its extensive coastline, Crete offers an array of fresh seafood. For the freshest catch, visit the seaside tavernas like Thalassino Ageri in Chania, where you can select your meal straight from the fishing nets.

  • Cretan cheeses: Cretan cheeses like graviera, mizithra, and anthotyros are essential to the island's diet.

  • Sweet treats: For dessert, sample local pastries such as baklava, kalitsounia, and loukoumades at traditional bakeries like Savoidakis Bakery in Heraklion, known for their sweet delicacies.

  • Cretan wine and raki: No Cretan meal is complete without a glass of local wine or a shot of raki. Visit the vineyards and wineries of the Peza or Archanes regions to taste organic wines and learn about winemaking traditions.

If you're interested in traditional Cretan food, read our article on foods in Crete.

Getting around Crete

Cars, buses and boats

Crete's diverse landscapes and spread-out attractions call for thoughtful planning when it comes to transportation. Here's how you can navigate the island's towns, villages, and natural sites.

Driving

Renting a car offers the most flexibility to explore Crete at your own pace. It's ideal for reaching remote beaches, mountain villages, and less accessible archaeological sites. Rental agencies are available at airports, major cities, and tourist areas. Ensure you have an International Driving Permit if required.

In cities and popular tourist spots, parking can be challenging. Look for signed parking areas and be mindful of parking rules. Rural and mountainous roads can be narrow and steep. Always drive cautiously and keep an eye out for animals on the road.

Buses

The public bus system in Crete, operated by KTEL, is reliable and covers most of the island, including cities, towns, and popular tourist destinations. Buses are a cost-effective way to travel, especially for connections between major centres like Heraklion, Chania, Rethymno, and Agios Nikolaos.

Check the KTEL website or local bus stations for the latest schedules as they can change seasonally.

You can purchase tickets at bus stations or sometimes on the bus itself.  Not all buses stop at every listed stop unless there's someone waiting, so signal the driver if you wish to board.

Taxis

Taxis can be a convenient option for shorter distances or if you're travelling in a group. They're readily available in cities and tourist areas, and you can book them for longer journeys as well, like airport transfers or trips to isolated attractions.

You may want to consider using local taxi apps like Taxiplon or Beat to book rides. They usually offer fare estimates and electronic payment options. 

Motorbikes and scooters

For the more adventurous, renting a motorbike or scooter can be an exciting way to get around, especially in the summer. It's a popular choice for couples and solo travellers looking to navigate Crete's winding coastal roads.

Helmets are mandatory so check that you're provided with one that fits properly. Keep in mind that you'll need the appropriate license for the engine size you wish to rent. Riding in Crete is also best suited for experienced riders due to the terrain and local driving habits. 

Cycling

Crete's varied terrain makes it appealing for cyclists. While challenging, it's a rewarding way to see the island's scenery. You can also rent e-bikes if you’re planning on going further afield. Once again, be sure to wear a helmet. 

Organised tours

Joining organised tours is an excellent way to get around without the hassle of driving. Tours often include transport, guide services, and sometimes meals, providing a comprehensive experience of Crete's highlights. You’ll find tours from Heraklion, Chania and Rethymno to most of the island’s major attractions.

Boat trips

For coastal exploration, consider boat trips. They're a great way to access remote beaches, such as those in Loutro or Gramvousa, and provide a different perspective of Crete's stunning shoreline.

You can book in advance or at local harbours, but during peak season, advance booking is recommended. Keep in mind that these can be weather-dependent, so you may want to have a backup plan.

Walking and hiking

Making your way around parts of Crete on foot is also an option. There’s a network of ancient paths and trails that crisscross the island, leading to monasteries, gorges, and hidden coves.

Wear appropriate footwear and carry water, especially during the hot summer months.

It’s best to check on the condition of the trail at your accommodation before you go – they can be affected by severe weather.

General tips

  • During peak season, book your car rental and boat transfers in advance to avoid disappointment.

  • Always have cash on hand for bus fares and taxis, especially in remote areas.

  • Consider downloading the latest maps on your smartphone for offline navigation.

  • In rural and mountainous areas, services may be less frequent, so plan accordingly.

When to visit Crete

Seasons and festivals

In short, the ideal time to visit Crete depends largely on your interests. For beach lovers and those interested in vibrant cultural festivities, the summer months are perfect, albeit crowded.

If you're looking to explore Crete's natural beauty, enjoy its culinary offerings, and immerse yourself in local culture with fewer crowds, the shoulder and low seasons offer an appealing alternative, with the added benefit of lower costs. 

Weather and seasons

Crete has a Mediterranean climate, with mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. The nicest time to enjoy Crete's splendid weather and natural beauty is between late spring (May) and early autumn (October).

In May and June, the island is usually blooming with wildflowers, with comfortably warm days ideal for exploring the countryside and enjoying the beaches without the high summer heat. September and October are equally appealing, as the sea remains warm, the summer crowds have dissipated, and the landscape is still vibrant.

Peak Season (Jun to Aug)

The summer months are peak tourist season in Crete, marked by hot weather and busy beaches, towns, and attractions. While this period offers the best weather for sunbathing and water sports, it's also when Crete is most crowded.

Accommodations and flights should be booked well in advance, and prices are at their highest. However, this is also a time when Crete's cultural life is most vibrant, with numerous festivals and events celebrating Cretan music, dance, and food.

Quiet months in Crete

For those seeking a quieter experience, late fall (November) through early spring (March) offers a unique perspective of Crete. Though some beach resorts and restaurants may close, most towns and archaeological sites remain open, allowing for a peek into everyday life.

This period also coincides with the olive harvest season and accommodation prices are lower. With fewer tourists, there's a better chance to mingle with locals and participate in authentic cultural experiences.

Good times to visit for lower prices

The best times for discounts are during the shoulder seasons (April, May, October) and the low season (November through March). During these periods, you can find reduced rates on accommodations and potentially cheaper flights, except around major holidays like Christmas and Easter.

Car rental prices may also be more favourable, offering an affordable way to explore the island's diverse landscapes and hidden gems.

Festivals in Crete

Crete has many cultural traditions and hosts various festivals throughout the year. Here are some favourites.

Carnival (Feb/Mar)

Carnival season, leading up to Lent, is celebrated with various events across Crete, including costume parades, traditional dances, and feasting. The town of Rethymno hosts one of the largest carnival celebrations in Greece, with elaborate floats and costumes. 

Easter (Apr/May)

Easter is the most significant and widely celebrated event in Greece. On Crete, there are a range of Easter traditions from solemn church services and candlelit processions to the jubilant atmosphere of Easter Sunday, when towns and villages come alive with feasts, music, and dancing.

The Battle of Crete (May)

Marking the resistance against the German airborne invasion during World War II, you can expect memorial services, exhibitions, and cultural events across the island, particularly in Heraklion, where much of the battle took place.

Cretan Diet Festival (Jul)

Held in Rethymno, this festival showcases the island's traditional Cretan dishes and products along with cooking demonstrations, nutritional seminars, and folk music and dancing.

Heraklion Summer Arts Festival (Jun-Sep)

Offers a wide range of cultural events, including concerts, operas, and theatrical performances in Heraklion.

The Panagia Festival (15 Aug)

This major religious celebration honours the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Almost every village and town has its own church or monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary, hosting feasts, religious services, and often, traditional music and dancing.

Renaissance Festival of Rethymno (Aug/ Sept)

A celebration of music, theatre, and arts in the Venetian fortress of Rethymno.

Oxi Day (28 Oct)

Meaning “No”, Oxi day commemorates Greece's refusal to allow the Axis powers' entry during World War II. It’s marked by parades in Crete’s cities and towns and is also a public holiday. 

The Chestnut Festival (Oct/Nov)

Held in the village of Elos near Kissamos, the Chestnut Festival celebrates the chestnut harvest with plenty of food, wine, music, and dance. It's a perfect occasion for food enthusiasts to taste local chestnut-based dishes and other Cretan specialities.

The Raki Festival (Nov)

Taking place in various villages across Crete, the Raki Festival celebrates the end of the grape harvest and the start of raki distillation. Visitors can watch the traditional process of making this potent spirit and sample fresh raki directly from the still.

How to get to Crete

Flights and ferries

Flying to Crete

Crete is served by two main airports: Heraklion International Airport (HER), the busiest on the island, and Chania International Airport (CHQ). Both airports offer a range of international and domestic flights, connecting Crete directly with major cities in Europe, especially during the tourist season (April to October).

Outside of these months, you can connect through Athens International Airport (ATH) or Thessaloniki's Makedonia Airport (SKG) for a short domestic flight to Crete.

Heraklion International Airport (HER)

Located near the island’s capital, it provides easy access to central and eastern Crete. It's the primary arrival point for international tourists and offers numerous services, including car rentals, buses, and taxis to various destinations across the island.

Chania International Airport (CHQ)

Situated on the western part of the island, it's an ideal entry point for visitors heading to the western regions of Crete. Like Heraklion, it offers a variety of transportation options to get you to your final destination.

Ferries to Crete

Ferries to Crete sail from several ports on the Greek mainland, with the most frequent connections from Piraeus (Athens). These ferries dock at Heraklion, Chania, Rethymno, and Agios Nikolaos.

The journey from Piraeus to Crete typically takes 6-9 hours, depending on the port of arrival and the type of ferry (conventional or high-speed). Overnight trips are available, offering cabins for a comfortable sleep.

Several ferry companies operate these routes, so you can compare schedules and prices. Booking in advance is recommended, especially during peak travel seasons, to secure the best rates and availability.

If you're interested in island hopping from Athens to Crete, consider the Sifnos - Paros - Crete route. Otherwise, Crete also has ferry connections with Santorini, Mykonos, Rhodes and Karpathos.

Planning a trip to Crete? Read our Greece travel guides.

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Roxanne de Bruyn

Author - Roxanne de Bruyn

Roxanne is the founder and editor of Faraway Worlds. She is a freelance writer and guidebook author and has written for several travel publications, including Lonely Planet and The Culture Trip. With a background in communications, she has studied ancient history, comparative religion and international development, and has a particular interest in sustainable tourism.

Originally from South Africa, Roxanne has travelled widely and loves learning the stories of the places she visits. She enjoys cooking, dance and yoga, and usually travels with her husband and young son. She is based in New Zealand.

Last Updated 17 March 2024

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