The island of Crete is full of beautiful places that are totally worth visiting. If I was about to write about all the amazing activities you can do there and the monuments to see, this article would take you hours to read.
That’s why we decided to summarize the top places to visit on Crete. Keep reading and start planning, Crete awaits you!
1. Samaria Gorge hike
This whole trip, Samaria Gorge hike included, will take you the whole day. The hike is long but totally worth it. I rank it high, it’s probably one of the 10 best hikes I have ever trekked, and certainly THE top place to visit on Crete.
If I’m about to name what to do in Crete, I can’t start with anything else than the Samaria Gorge hike (I have an entire article on Samaria Gorge, so check that out for details!). If you are in Crete sometime between May and October, which is the time when this hike is opened, you simply have to visit this breathtaking place in Samaria National Park.
It is a one way 14.5 km (9 mile) long hike along the gorge. Around 4th km the hike starts to descend a lot so get your knees ready for this adventure!
If you want to avoid the crowds, get there in the morning, the hike is very popular and it shows! We got there around 10 am and it was already full of hyped tourists waiting to hit the road with their trekking poles. Before you enter you pay €5 entrance fee which is basically nothing based on what you will experience.
The first kilometer of the hike you get some spectacular views and I guarantee you’ll just walk with your mouth wide open. Then you enter a forest for another 5 kilometers with no views. But don’t worry there you can enjoy more than 450 types of flora with 70 endemic species—that means they only occur there and you won’t see them anywhere else in the wild the whole world! But unless you are botanist or plant enthusiast, it’s pretty boring.
And then again, breathtaking views of mountains covered in cypresses and pine trees. Oh my God just imagine the air scented by the trees. It simply drives away all your worries. Of course, only until the point you stumble across slow walkers on your way. Yeah, we get it, you’re enjoying the views. But would it kill you to let faster people pass in front of you? It surely can kill us when we try to pass around you. Please be responsible guys!
Tip: If you like hiking, you will love Scotland! See the best hikes in Scotland, and, since there are so many of them throughout the small country, I even have an article just about the hikes on the Isle of Skye.
2. Zakros Gorge—Gorge of the Dead
On the other side of the island is something people call a hidden gem. Well, I’m not a fan of these cliches but to be honest Zakros Gorge truly felt like we found one. However, I must admit its name doesn’t sound tempting at all.
But you don’t have to worry they don’t call it Gorge of the Dead because the hike would be super dangerous or something. Actually, it got its name because of its use in ancient times. The Minoans used the caves on the steep walls of the gorge to bury their dead.
The place itself reminded me Zion National Park in Utah, so if you’ve been there and liked it, you might enjoy this place as well. The gorge has dramatically steep walls which are truly breathtaking.
The hike we took is out and back type and is around 11 km (6.1 miles) with elevation gain almost 350 meters (1148 feet). On your way you meet a nice viewpoint from unpaved road, many herbs and unique geological structures. And of course I can’t forget, goats wherever you look!
More details about the hike on Alltrails (no affiliation, I just think they awesome).
Do you know the E4 European walking path? It starts in Tarifa Spain and ends right here at Kato Zakros! In Crete it is a 320 km (198 miles) long path leading though Zakros Gorge with some picturesque views and wonderful nature.
You can leave your car in free parking close to the start of the trail. It’s 3 hours drive from Heraklion so be ready to make it a whole day trip or you can sleep somewhere in eastern Crete.
Hotel tip: We stayed in Terra Minioka Boutique Resort which was only 300 meters from the beach and the views were just amazing. The host prepares you trays with fresh pastries and fruits for breakfast. In this area there are no hotels per se, but mainly apartments. This one was very clean with super comfy beds that we appreciated after the hike!
3. Balos Beach
Crete is full of wonderful beaches. And one of them totally worth visiting is Balos Beach and the lagoon with its turquoise water and white sand. This beach looks literally like an advertisement on beaches by travel agencies.
Mild hike leads there and it is more a way to the beach from parking than a hike per say. It is not even 2 km (1.4 miles) long with only about 100 meters (328 feet) descent to the sea. But judging from the red faces of some people coming up like they’re reaching one of the eight-thousanders it can be quite the achievement.
Anyways, the lagoon is even prettier from the view up the hill. So don’t forget to take some pictures on your way down.
On one side of the beach the lagoon is very shallow, so it is perfect for kids to play in. The other side is exactly the opposite—rocky, wavy and deep. Connection of tiny Cape Tigani to the mainland Crete creates (pun intended) an isthmus that gives the whole scenery a real tropical vibe.
I 100% recommend visiting this Balos Beach. The only minor inconvenience is the hell of a road leading there. The drive from Chania takes you about an hour and this unpaved road is about a half of it. It sure sounds a bit annoying, but it was one of the prettiest beaches we’ve ever encountered.
4. Lyrarakis winery estate
Greece is probably most famous for its production of an olive oil. But olives are not the only delicious commodity that groves there and is processed. Let’s talk wine!
We visited the family wine estate Lyrarakis winery located south of Heraklion and we must tell you more about it. It was founded in 1966 by brothers Sotiris and Manolis and these days it produces 400,000 bottles a year. That’s what I call a family business.
If you imagine a small vineyard with kind of a traditional feel when I say it’s family-owned, you couldn’t be more wrong. The whole estate certainly has a luxury vibe and you can see plenty of investments coming in as they are very passionate about the wine culture. No wonder, imagine Ancient Greece without wine! Its rich history in this area is one of the oldest in the world.
You can take a free tour through the vineyard with paid degustation. We obviously did both. The tour itself was not only about the wine but also its extremely pretty panoramas on the way. As the knowledgeable guide explained to us, the production of the wine is fully organic. Not because of some crazy hippie shit but because the wines are simply that. That’s some higher efficiency skill I can respect!
We ended up spending the whole afternoon there tasting wines and loading our mouths with cheese. The unusual thing is that you actually go through the vineyard outside. That’s different than other tours we took around the world where they took us inside and explained the winemaking process to us. This was something else and we enjoyed it way more.
Tip: Learning about local alcohol production around the world has somehow become my thing. There was that incredible whisky distillery in Scotland, my two favorite places in Belgium’s Bruges were beer tours, and in Peru, I learned what else you can make from grapes in the Ica vineyards!
5. Imbros Gorge
Imbros Gorge is moderate difficulty but it’s still one of the easiest hikes you can take in Crete. So, if you aren’t hiking enthusiasts, put it on your to-do list! Or if you are on a family vacation and want to take your restless little angels and channel their energy into something else than constant fighting for your attention, this should wear them off.
The hike is about 8 km (4.1 miles)—not 6 km (3.1 miles) as AllTrails states—long of the out and back type and it probably won’t take you more than 2 hours. But be careful, the road is covered with small rocks and can be very slippery.
You can find the start of the hike in Imbros village right next to the parking lot. There is a big sign guiding you to the trail so you can’t miss it, the entrance is €2.5. And as I almost always say, get there as soon as you can otherwise there will be many tourists even in October.
The end of the hike is in Komidates village where you can take a bus or a taxi from back to Imbros.
Overall, I rank the hike positively, some places are worth seeing, especially the narrowest point not even 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) wide.
6. Preveli Beach and monastery
Preveli Beach is also being referred to as Palm Beach thanks to its—you guessed right—many palm trees! The tree line grows all the way from the beach into the gorge and it is truly stunning.
The weather at this second most famous beach in Crete is pleasant as the river flows into the sea there. Therefore, the temperature of the sea is regulated by the cold river, so it has this semi hot and semi cold feel.
You can get there from a parking lot close by in about 10 to 15 minutes. The way down is steep with descending about 150 meters (492 feet) so be careful and don’t roll all the way down straight to the sea.
If you are not sunbathing type of a guy like me, take a walk from the beach around the river through the palm forest. I didn’t expect much from this place but once we got to Preveli Gorge I was truly amazed. One of the most beautiful places on Crete!
Crete is full of breathtaking gorges, so if you want to see more of them, I wrote a whole article just about gorges.
Only about 6 minutes away by car from the beach you get to a nearby monastery. Small and peaceful heaven on Earth. That’s how I would describe Preveli monastery. And I didn’t even catch on fire the second I entered (but that’s probably thanks to well isolated shoes I had on).
The place truly feels divine as you discover more of it. There is an interesting little museum on the premises full of historical religious items and the entrance fee is €3.
7. Arkadi Monastery
Arkadi Monastery is hands down probably the most beautiful and historic monastery in the whole of Crete. And you know me, I’m a big history fan so the interesting past of this place caught my attention.
The monastery was built in the 16th century but its important part in Cretan history came in 1866 during the rebellion against the Ottoman conquerors. The rebels fighting for their freedom found shelter in the monastery with almost a thousand of Cretan men, women and children. More than a 15.000 Turks attacked it and when the situation looked rather unwell for the rebels, they blew up the gunpowder stores. They rather killed themselves than fall into the captivity.
The massage of this massive sacrifice quickly spread around and became a symbol of Greek’s fight for independence. The museum inside the monastery tells the breathtaking story of the rebel’s act of resistance.
Arkadi Monastery is a picturesque place to visit and you should put it on your to-see list of the mandatory places to visit on Crete, especially the basilica on its premises. You can easily find a parking space right on the spot and leave it there for the time of your visit.
8. Knossos Palace
Even if you’ve lived under a rock and never attended elementary school history class, you’ve probably heard at least once about the famous Knossos Palace, the heart of Minoan civilization. And if not here’s everything you need to know about it before your visit.
Knossos is the number one historical place in Crete and the most important archeological site on the island. The place is connected to many myths and legends including the most famous ones, about Minotaur or Ikarus.
The brief history of Knossos starts 7000 BC when the first people inhabited the place and ends in 1350 BC with the end of Minoan civilization. During its peak around 2000 BC Knossos Palace represented the center of culture and religion.
Fun fact: The first excavations and discoveries of the wonders this place hid for centuries began in 1878 by a businessman called Minos. Just imagine making such a huge discovery the whole civilization and an important part of history is being named after you. Pretty cool, huh?
At the beginning of the 20th century Arthur Evans bought the place and started to uncover the mysteries of the archeological sites. His methods were heavily criticized and very controversial. He was accused of misinterpretation of important archeological evidence and even ruining some. But it is easy to be wise after the event. Thanks to him we know the history of Europe’s oldest city, so you know where you can shove your political correctness. I appreciate his efforts and I like what he and his crew did to this place!
During the main tourist season the place can be crowded with people and with never-ending lines for buying the tickets. We recommend doing so online in advance at their official website. Knossos is 15 minutes car ride away from Heraklion and a huge parking lot is on the spot.
Hotel tip: The night before visiting Knossos we stayed in Mossa Well Being Hotel and we had a great time there! It surely lives up to its name.
The staff was so friendly and gave us many useful tips about the city. Our room was very spacious and clean but oh my god the beds. I had the sleep of my life.
The breakfast was continental and à la carte style with many delicious options so I think even picky eaters can find something nice to start their day with there.
9. Vai Beach
As you are already there don’t forget to visit Vai beach which I consider one of the most beautiful beaches in the whole of Crete. And you know that there’s competition!
The line of palm trees along the sandy beach with clear sea are probably the reason that it is packed with tourists in the main season! So if you try to avoid crowds of almost naked people sandbathing and children screaming, maybe you should visit this place in the shoulder season.
But one thing for sure, you can’t miss this place because it’s just too beautiful not to visit! It got awarded with Blue flag by Foundation for Enviromental Education. You know I don’t care about this hippie stuff but it basically means that the beach is nice and clean. And that I care about a lot!
10. Mili Gorge
Mili gorge is an easy 1.5-hour long trail close to Rethymno city—only 15 minutes car ride—near a city of Mile. No, I’m not an illiterate dummy, it can also be Myli you can find both versions and both are right.
There is a tourist bus stop close to it but as always, I recommend going by car. If you do so, put in your GPS “Mili Gorge Trailhead” than only “Mili Gorge”, otherwise it will lead you somewhere else. Unfortunately, there is no dedicated parking lot or anything even remotely close. Therefore, we left our car along the road. I felt like a true Greek, they park LITERALLY everywhere.
The hike itself is quite short but full of scenic views. It’s only 5km (3.1 miles) with an elevation of 200 meters (656 feet) and if you start at the south entrance, you mostly walk down.
The path is very green and so fairy tale-like! Pretty unusual for Cretan hikes. We even saw some rare species of flora. You walk past breathtaking flower of tree arches. And look out for ruins on your way. I saw one that reminded me Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I know, didn’t expect that as well.
Entrance is free and with its easy access I don’t see a reason why you shouldn’t visit it. You can also walk through the small Mili city. Wondering how it got its name? You guessed right, thanks to its many mills. Greeks are so imaginative!
Chania is a glorious city in the northwest of Crete. This city was throughout the times a home to many cultures and nations—ancient Greeks, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottomans—and you can notice that in the architecture.
The city is not vast so you can walk almost anywhere. If you want to spend the whole day wandering around—do. You can walk around Chania, admire historical Venetian walls, visit municipal markets and try local food.
Restaurant tip: The Five Restaurant is a trendy restaurant with modern Greek restaurant. Every course is about €10 and you need to order like 4 or 5 of them. We had pasta with capers, tabouleh, ceviche and lamb balls—and everything was amazing. On top of that the views from the restaurant are stunning, so I recommend booking a table for the evening to enjoy the sunset. And do so in advance, the restaurant was full. No wonder, I had one of the best dishes ever there.
After we packed our stomachs, it was time for a walk. And sightseeing in the center of the city was just the thing to do for our evening and its Chania’s top thing to do—wander. The slightly lit buildings and monuments felt romantic and picturesque. The city of Chania is exactly how I imagine Greek town.
12. Agios Nikolaos
Agios Nikolaos lies in the eastern part of Crete. This small harbor city with a long coastline is in Mirabello Bay and offers many great restaurants and bars.
What makes Agios Nikolaos extraordinary is its lake. Well, there are lots of lakes in Crete so what is so special about this one? Have you ever seen a lake in the center of the city? Me neither until I visited Agios Nikolaos! Voulismeni is technically not a lake anymore because it was connected to the sea by a canal at the end of the 19th century, but it’s still exceptional, I guess.
In the city center itself there are some museums you can visit, for example the Archeological Museum with rich collection of archeological findings from Minoan times.
It was probably the visit of this city that made me fall in love with Cretan architecture. If you are about to visit this city and stay until evening, walking along the waterfront promenade is going to do the same for you.
Agios Nikolaos has plenty of restaurants, cafes and bars, many with stunning views. But if you are only passing by this city, make a stop at least for a cup of coffee. It’s worth it, I swear.
Maybe this will surprise some of you who have already visited Heraklion, but I didn’t enjoy it much.
We visited Heraklion Archeological Museum in the city center. The entrance was €12 and I took us about 2 hours. The collection is rich but what bothered me the most were the descriptions of exhibits. It was only raw names of the things and that was it! For example, the bust was descripted as “a young man with round face and straight hair”. Wow, truly imaginative again, Greeks! I expected more from one of the top things to do in Heraklion.
After the museum we were pretty bummed out, so we did the only thing that always improves my mood significantly. To get some food!
7 Thalasses is seafood and fish restaurant with a kind of Asian and Greece fusion that worked well for me. We had sushi and a tuna steak and ceviche and we both enjoyed it a lot! The price was reasonable, the check was €60 for us both. So, the Heraklion was not all bad at the end. But is it worth it? Meh.
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