A few days ago in my article about Athens (you can read it here) I told you that I’ve spent one week in Crete with my boyfriend during my vacations. It’s now time to share our experience in the largest Greek island with you, telling you about our favorite places, those we didn’t like so much, and those we haven’t have the time or the occasion to visit!
Crete is a really large island, contrary to what we might think, therefore it will take you more than a week to visit the whole island if you want to see everything. We recommend you to move from one region to another staying around 3 days in each one. We also recommend you to rent a car for the duration of your stay. For our part, we had our pied-à-terre in Gazí, just outside Heraklion, and we decided to rent a car for three days in order to venture into places we couldn’t do by bus.
WARNING: The bus network is the only means of transports that exists in Crete if you decide not to rent a car. But don’t worry, it’s really expended and pretty cheap (a day ticket costs 5 euros and a one-way ticket costs between 1.20 euros and 2 euros).
We also wanted to share the link of our Airbnb with you because we had an amazing experience. The apartment is really big, has two balconies, is located 50 meters from the beach and the owner is adorable; for example, he offered us a bottle of white wine and a basket of fresh fruits. It was “advertising time”, but now let’s talk about the places we visited during our stay!
Places to see absolutely
Let’s begin with a huge must-see in Crete : the old capital Chania (also called Xaniá) and largest city of the west side! Like all cities of the island, there are only a few places to visit, because the city atmosphere is felt walking through its narrow streets and on its Venetian port. You can also discover the east side of the port walking along the Sabbionara rampart to the lighthouse through the Guardians house.
Lose yourself in the streets of the city, don’t hesitate to go a little deeper into the heart of the less touristic districts. Take a walk to the old market and if it’s too hot (which wouldn’t be surprising!), the Folklore Museum and the Maritime Museum will be perfect for you!
If you have some time or simply like to swim, the almost transparent water of the Mediterranean Sea will call you for a short diving from the rocks or beaches that surround the city.
Seitan Limani and its beach
Located 30 min by car from Chania, Seitan Limani’s rocks and its famous beach are a must if you want to swim in a transparent/blue/green water but also if you have an adventurer spirit. The descent by car can be scary because the road is quite narrow and the curves very tight, but the view when you arrive on the wild car park is totally worth it!
If you plan to go to the beach, don’t forget your snickers (don’t wear flip flops) because you will need good shoes to go down the mountain. We don’t recommend that place if you’re afraid of heights or if you have young children because it’s very steep. But if it’s not the case, go there and enjoy it!
On our way to go to the west coast of the island, we stopped by to visit the city of Rethymnon, third largest city of Crete. As for Chania, feel free to walk through the streets of the city to discover all its secrets. We really loved Rethymnon when we shouldn’t have stopped there normally; what a mistake it would have been!
But the main attraction in Rethymnon is its fortress. Count 4 euros to visit it and don’t forget your hat and your sunscreen because the site is not shaded. We highly recommend it to you because the view of the city and the see is really beautiful and the buildings are very well preserved, specially the mosque in the center.
30 min by car from Rethymnon, don’t miss the Arkadi monastery, a site we fell in love with. This place steeped in history (I let you read the Wikipedia page about it, this is really interesting) has served as a refuge during the ottoman conquest in the 19thcentury. The warm colors of the stones, the flowers, the greenery, the view of the Cretan mountains, everything was stunning. But because images speak often more than words, admire it.
If you have time, a car and 2 euros for the entrance, go there, you won’t be disappointed!
Bali and Sissi
These two villages weren’t on our itinerary at all, but as we turned around, we first stopped to admire the village of Bali. We didn’t have time to adventure ourselves through its streets but the view from the road was breathtaking in itself. It reminded me the car journeys with my parents when we stopped on the roadside to admire the landscape (it’s nostalgia time). If you have some time, I’m sure the village is worth it!
Another place we fell in love with is the village of Sissi. There are no monuments to see in particular but to wander the streets and discover the little port of the village at the corner of one of them is worth it. Feel free to go down to the beach through the shaded alley made for it and enjoy the view there.
If you don’t like archeological sites, this place is not for you. But, on the contrary, if you like to visit ruins and to discover the places that have shaped the history of Crete, don’t hesitate! Accessible from Heraklion by car but also by bus for only 5 euros and in 30 min, the Knossos archeological site is clearly worth a visit. Some ruins are really well preserved and some others have been restored, but generally speaking, the site is really interesting and large. The site is also related to Greek mythology because it is said to have housed the famous Daedalus labyrinth in which the Minotaur was enclosed.
For 16 euros (or for free for students), you will be able to buy a ticket for the archeological site (which costs 15 euros alone, which is pretty expensive) AND a ticket for the archeological museum of Heraklion (which normally costs 10 euros). This is a great deal if you want to do both. The ticket is available for 3 days. But be careful, Knossos is a popular site for tourists and group, therefore we highly recommend you to go there at the opening at 8am if you can.
The city of Heraklion, largest city in Crete, is not a must-see for me but a great pied-à-terre on the north east coast. It is also not a place I don’t recommend you, because the city has some charm and it’s really pleasant to walk around. It’s port is really charming even if it’s kind of little, and walk along its fortress is agreeable (but be careful because the sun is very treacherous, I burned that day!).
If you like archeological museums, don’t hesitate to go to the archeological museum of the city. At the bend of the streets, admire the Agios Minas cathedral and the Lions Square. On your way, stop to have an ice cream at Da Vinci or eat something at Peskesi restaurant, one of the best (and probably the most beautiful) we tried in Greece.
Places to see for which we didn’t have time
Due to lack of time, there are a lot of places that we were unable to visit to our great regret:
- Samariá Gorge: located in the south-west of the island, the Samariá Gorge are the perfect place to do a hike and discover some wild landscapes in Crete.
- Elafonissi beach: a beach with pink sand, what to ask for more?
- Balos Lagoon: a lagoon really beautiful where we wanted to swim so much.
- The village of Loutró: located nearby Samariá Gorge, we were really interested by this village of fishermen with white houses. But be careful, we have read that the village has many naturist beaches so maybe it was a good idea to not go ahah. But the view seems stunning!
Places that are not worth it
Located in the east, the city of Agios Nikolaos really disappointed us. The proof is that we stayed there for only an hour and I took only about fifteen pictures. Except for its little port which is very charming and the water still blue/green, the city is not worth a visit. With all the places beautiful in Crete, don’t waste your time there!
Malia and Stalida (or Stalis)
If you want to swim and sunbathe among tourists and spend your days on the beach or drinking drinks, the seaside resort of Stalida is made for you, but apparently isn’t for us! I even came back without any pictures! Concerning Malia, we didn’t go there but we made some research and we found that it’s a city very similar to Agios Nikolaos and Stalida, a very touristic coastal city with just a nice port. But if you really like archeology, stop by to visit it archeological site.
- As for Athens, don’t forget you hat and your sunscreen because even if there’s wind (particularly on the cost), the sun is treacherous and a sunburn is never too far.
- Someone will probably tell it to you when you’ll arrive, but don’t drink tap water and buy bottled water instead. It’s not very ecological, but it’s for your own good!
- Rent a car is almost necessary if you want to visit Crete so don’t hesitate to compare prices and especially opinions about rental agencies. There are a lot of them so you’re not immune to a bad experience. For our part, we rented a car for 3 days at an Hertz agency for 95 euros with the most complete insurance (necessary when you see how Cretans drive). The diesel fuel was a little more expensive than in metropolis as we expected it to.
- If you are staying for only a few days and you are planning to stay in the same region, prefer to go to the west of the island which has much more charm and places/sites to visit.
- If you are planning to take an excursion (for instance Santorini), be careful to compare prices to avoid scams, because as for car rental agencies, travel and excursion agencies abound.
Crete is the ideal destination if you like to stroll through cities, get lost in more wild places, learn from archeological sites and museums, but also to rest and sunbathe by the sea. We loved Crete and I think that if the opportunity presents itself, we won’t hesitate to go back.
See you soon!