Enjoy a 360 virtual tour of Crete with its perfect climate, amazing food, stunning scenery, and generally hospitable people.
Greece really surprised me with its perfect climate, amazing food, stunning scenery, and generally hospitable people. I wouldn’t have normally come here for a holiday, but a very good friend was getting married and I couldn’t miss out on seeing her special day. I was worried Crete would be aimed toward the all inclusive and spa retreats and man made beaches, but Crete has some “real” life to it, beyond the tourism there are major cities, and the island is big enough so that you can actually go “off the beaten track”.
Crete is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Greece and is Greece’s largest island, with a population of around 600,000. It gives you the best of both Worlds. You get the beauty and charm of the Greek islands, without feeling like you’re trapped on a tiny island that’s overrun with tourists. When compared to the other islands like Santorini which is only 30 square miles, Crete is over 3,200 square miles, so it’s more than 100x as big.
I stayed in an apartment to myself in Analipsi, near Heraklion at the fraction of the cost my friends were paying to stay at the all inclusive Stella Island resort next door. They may have had free food & drinks until 9pm and a very nice pool, but those of you that know me that’s just not my scene. I get bored way to quick sitting around doing nothing. I mean you’re in a different country you have to go out and explore don’t you?
My first day I wandered the local area and walked the entire length of the beach and soon realised I was going to need to hire a car. Anilipsi is set up for the all inclusive hotels, even the beach in front of the hotels is claimed so you can’t just rock up and sit on much of the beach without paying to use a chair and the bits that were free obviously weren’t the best.
Mikey who was the main man at my apartment pointed me in the direction of a hire company just down the road and I could use his name for discount. It was only a small little runner but it had aircon and got me everywhere I wanted to go. It cost me €154.50 (£133.26) for 6 days and I did decide to add an extra day on at the end as my flight out was early evening which cost me an extra €30 (£25.88). I still had the morning to do some more exploring then.
Driving is easy, and you can drive for hours and hours and enjoy breathtaking views at every turn. It gets very hot especially from midday to mid afternoon, the cars temperature often hit 37º. It’s a good idea to always have a drink on hand, I got into the habit of stocking the fridge or freezer the night before so I had a cold drink to start the day with. I recommend the Aloe Vera drinks I tried all of them and apart from one which wasn’t particularly to my taste they were all nice. The red bull cactus fruit was great and helped perk me up after having a few beers the night before.
The Old Town of Chania is probably the most beautiful town in Crete with the Medieval style and elegant Venetian mansions, it’s a wonderful place to walk around. I tried some of the snails here with a magnificent view of the harbour. As for the snails, I didn’t rate them, very bland it was just like chewing on meat covered in olive oil, certainly not a patch on the escargot you get in France.
Probably the most famous and one of the best beaches in Crete is Elafonisi, known for having pinkish sand because of the shells that have been ground down by waves over the years. The beach is on the most southwesterly point of the island and can be challenging to reach by bus, so a rental car is recommended. Make sure you have sufficient fuel as it’s a long drive down lots of narrow windy roads, there is one station you drive past but it’s a still a fair way from the beach and it’s very expensive compared to the shell garages on the main roads. Parking is free once you arrive, though it gets busy fast so get there early if you can or you may struggle to find a space.
My personal favourite beach though was Prevelli. Warning there’s a whole load of steps to get down to it, but it is worth it. It took me 10 minutes non stop to walk down. What I like about this is it’s not just a beach, it has the river running right through the centre of it, giving you the added option to walk up the river to the cascades. It’s not that deep either so you can easily walk right up the middle if you wanted.
If you like waterfalls then you’ll want to stop at the Big Waterfall. On your way to Prevelli or on your way back, stop off at the a tiny little chapel by the side of the road. It’s here where the path starts that takes you down to the small church and the falls. It’s only a short walk down to the fall and very picturesque.
On my way back from Prevelli Beach, I stopped at Rethymno and the old Fortezza, the vast fortress built to protect the port from any marauding pirates in the 16th century and walked around the old town’s tangle of streets and the Venetian Harbour all of which is a maze of delights. I only spent a few hours here but I didn’t think much more time was needed, I could’ve walked along the beach, but I had to get back to meet the others. If you do come there’s free parking on the sea side of the fortress.
The Diktaion Andron otherwise known as the Cave of Zeus. The Myth according to Ancient Greek mythology, Zeus, the Olympian ruler of the skies, used to hide in the cave to escape the fury of his brother Poseidon, the ruler of the seas after Zeus angered him. Poseidon, in his wrath, would unleash very high waves and other dangerous water conditions with his trident.
The cave is a little out of the way so it’s be best to include it with other stuff on route in the area. I passed some old windmill ruins, a random ‘modern art’ car on top of a container and the homo sapiens museum.
Once at the cave car park the path to the cave entrance is mostly evenly paved, although it’s up a small gradient all the way to the top and the last 500 yards is rough uneven ground to the ticket booth, so take care here. There is the option to pay for a donkey ride, but I personally don’t like that and felt sorry for the poor Donkeys in the heat of the midday sun. It actually takes longer to walk all the way up from the car park than it does to walk down and around the cave itself, that took me around 30 minutes and I stopped to take a lot of photos. There are around 200 steps to navigate into the cave and back up again. The temperature plummets when you’re in the cave, but it was a sight to behold with all the stalagmites and stalactites and pools of water all softly lit up in green. It’s something you don’t get to see often, so I thought it was worth it. It reminded me of Kents Cavern back home in Torquay.
Like in Thailand their are also the noisy Cicadas here. I had never seen one before only heard them, but here I actually saw quite a few and managed to get a photo of the noisy little buggers.
Crete turned out to be a pleasant surprise, I managed to cover the majority on the island of what I wanted to see. Would I go back? Well yes, I would. I didn’t do any of the far eastern side of the island which included Spinalonga Island, probably the only place I didn’t get to on my to do list and there are more beaches and waterfalls that side. I’d probably only stay a day or two and then moving on island hoping to Santorini and the like.
Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the 88th largest island in the world and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea.
- Crete became part of Greece in December 1913.
- The locals are known as Cretans.
- Heraklion is the largest city and capital of Crete, holding more than a fourth of the island’s population. Chania was the capital until 1971.
- The island is mostly mountainous, and its character is defined by a high mountain range crossing from west to east. It includes Crete’s highest point, Mount Ida, and the range of the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) with 30 summits above 2000 metres in altitude and the Samaria Gorge, a World Biosphere Reserve.
- Humans have inhabited the island since the Paleolithic age. Excavations in South Crete in 2008–2009 revealed stone tools at least 130,000 years old.
- No shark attacks have ever been reported in Crete. There are sharks in the Mediterranean but they do not approach the shore. You are safe from jellyfish stings on most Cretan beaches, as the currents keep them away from the shore.
- There are four species of snake on Crete. None of them pose any threat to people.
- Time zone in Crete, Greece (GMT+3)
- Country Code: +30
- Currency: € (Euro)
Crete was the centre of Europe’s most ancient civilization, the Minoans. Three and a half thousand years ago, the tiny Aegean island of Thera was devastated by one of the worst natural disasters since the Ice Age – a huge volcanic eruption. Fifty years after the eruption, the civilisation was in ruins.
- During World War II, Crete was occupied by the Germans and attained the dubious distinction of being the first place to be successfully invaded by paratroops.
I stayed at the Kasapakis Hotel Apartments and had an entire apartment to myself for the week at a fraction of the cost my friends were paying at the Stella Island resort or Insula Alba next door. If like me you like to get out and explore there’s no need to pay out all that extra for all inclusive if your not going to be there. Mike was the guy running the show and he was great, willing to help out any way he could. The bed was comfy and the aircon worked and wasn’t too noisy. The plug socket was a little dodgy, but it worked.
- Airbnb, available everywhere in Crete. I booked an entire apartment to myself for 7 days for €283, (£241).
- Hostel, €16-20 per night regardless of size.
- B&B & Guest Houses, two-star hotels start at €25
- Hotels,These range from simple two-star to lavish five-star and all-inclusive resorts. There are city hotels, business hotels, beach resorts and even a nudist hotel. My Friends stayed in the Stella hotel were they also got married.
Tip: If staying at Kasapakis and want the breakfast, you have to say the day before so they can order it in. It costs $5 and served between 8am – 10am.
- Chania Rock Festival, traditionally takes place in the month of July.
- Chania’s Summer Festival takes place between July and September.
- Chestnut Festival, West Crete, end of October.
- Sardine Festival, The first Monday in September is the date for this annual Chania festival at the small harbour by the town beach, with plentiful free fish and wine with local musicians and dancers.
- Sultana Festival Sitía, in August. The region is well known for its sultana production, and the harvest is celebrated with traditional Cretan music and dance in the main square, accompanied by food and wine.
- Tsikoudiá (Raki) Festival, mid-October and early November. At the end of the grape harvest the must-residue from the wine press is boiled and distilled to make tsikoudiá (raki), the local fire water. Hot tsikoudiá, with an alcohol content as high as 60 percent.
Traditional Greek cuisine is very healthy with a lot of fresh vegetables, olive oil, lamb, fish, pork, cheeses (especially feta), and yogurts. Crete also has its own unique dishes, such as snails in cracked wheat (Saligaria or kohli bourbouristi), slow-cooked pork with potatoes (psitos), Cretan dakos (Crete’s version of the Greek salad), and horta (wild greens). Try Saganaki cheese which essentially is deep-fried cheese. If you want a nice refreshing drink then the Lemon Mythos Radler was amazing, after a hot walk around the palace of Knossos, I knocked back one and ordered another straight away and to top it off it’s only 2% so you can drive. If you go out for an evening meal, then expect it to be a long affair. One place we ate at they even had singing and dancing between courses, it took over 2 hours or more before we left. The fillet Souvlaki I had though was amazing.
Tip: Eat Gyros (and other street snacks) usually only cost a few euros. They are quick and easy and can keep you full for less than €10 per day!
Tip: Most beers bought tend to come with a free snack of nuts or crisps and are only half pints €2.50-3. If you do find a large beer it’s usually €4.
Tip: After every meal you’ll be given a free shot of Raki, often it’s a double shot glass.
- Balos Beach
- Big Waterfall
- Elafonisi Beach (Pink Beach)
- Diktaion Andron, Cave of Zeus (Psychro Cave)
- Fortezza Castle (Rethymno)
- Golden Beach (Chrisi Island)
- Heraklion Archaeological Museum
- Imbros Gorge
- Kourtaliotiko Gorge
- Liquid Bungy Aradena ((Europe’s second highest)
- Lychnostatis Open Air Museum
- Malia Palace Archaeological Site
Modern Art Muscle car on Container (Don’t go out your way, but if passing)
- Old Venetian Harbour (Chania)
- Olive Tree of Vouves (at least 2,000 years old, and likely 2,900 years old)
- Palace of Knossos
- Phaistos Minoan Palace
- Preveli Beach – There’s a fair few steps to get up and down, taking me around 10 minutes non stop, but it is worth it. I thought this was the best beach on the island.
- Richtis Waterfall
- Rocca a Mare Fortress (Heraklion)
- Samaria Gorge
- Spinalonga Island
- Tours (There are lots of pre bookable tours)
- Vai/Palm Beach
- Windmills of Seli Ambelou
- Wine Tasting, there are a number of vineyards around the island. The white Vilana and the red Mantilari, Kotsifari and Syrah grapes are the local varieties. Tours are usually only undertaken during the summer months.
- Almi (Hersonissos)
- The Alchemist (Hersonissos)
- Arismari & Varsamo
- Atrium (Hersonissos)
- Avli tou Devkaliona
- Gallini (Chania)
- Gilani (Hersonissos)
- The Grill
- Jailhouse Rock Bar
- Karavi Restaurant
- Molos Cafe
- Ocean Seaside Food & Cocktails
- Sofas Taverna (Old Hersonissos)
- Starlight (Port of Hersonissos)
- Stone Project
- Tavern Taksiarhos special grill
I hired a car to get around, which was much needed as without it I would have been so bored. It was only a small little runner but it got me everywhere I wanted to go. It cost me €154.50 (£133.26) for 6 days and I decided to add an extra day at the end which was an extra €30 (£25.88) as my flight out was early evening, so I still had the morning to do some more exploring.
- Car, almost everywhere is covered by the road network, but in the interior of the island they can be windy and narrow. I did notice out of the major towns their is no green light at traffic lights, just red and flashing amber for go. Where the speed cameras are there were always 2 warning signs before the camera. I only saw cameras on the expressway.
- Taxi, You’ll need cash if taking a cab. It’s best to agree on a price before you get in, especially late at night.
- Train, There are no rail lines on Crete, although there are plans to construct a line from Chania to Heraklion via Rethymno.
Tip: Fuel isn’t cheap costing even more than the UK. You don’t fuel the cars, pull into the service garage then someone will come out to you and you let them know how much you’d like. You may need to go in to pay though, very few places have contactless. Also they often close at around 9pm in the more rural areas.
Tip: The speed limit in Greece is 50 kph (30 mph) in urban areas and 90 kph (55 mph) in rural areas. While on the expressway it’s 110 kph (70 mph) and on the motorway the speed limit is 130 kph (80 mph).
Tip: If you plan on driving remember to download offline maps so you can still get around without signal.
Tip: The taxi from and to the airport was cash only and cost €40.
Tip: The trees at the side of the road are painted white so they’re easier to see at night.
I flew into Heraklion from Exeter with TUI which was a very comfortable 4 hour flight. If you plan to buy anything on the flight then have a debit card ready as it’s a cashless flight, but they didn’t accept Revolut or American Express cards. Lucky I use Starling and had no problems. One other thing I noticed was while I was listening to music with my Galaxy buds pro every announcement over the tannoy automatically lowered the volume of my music. Clever, but also annoying if you’re trying to sleep.
- Ferry, mostly from Piraeus companies such as Minoan Lines and ANEK Lines. Seajets operates routes to Cyclades. During the summer there are daily catamaran sailings from Crete to Santorini if you fancy a bit of island hopping.
- Fly, The island has three significant airports, Nikos Kazantzakis at Heraklion, the Daskalogiannis airport at Chania and a smaller one in Sitia.
Tip: When it comes to flying home from Heraklion don’t go through security to soon, as it’s tiny on the other side with just one burger place and a small duty free shop, there’s no bar. It gets busy fast and you’ll probably end up standing around or like me sat in the corner on a beam waiting, you could sit on the floor but it was filthy.
Tip: Some businesses (like hotels and tour companies) do not operate from November to March, so take that into consideration if you do want to plan a trip during the winter months.
Greek is one of the oldest languages in Europe, with an oral tradition of 4000 years and a written one of around 3000 years. Cretans speak Cretan Greek, which is a variation of modern Greek and, while there are some differences between them, words and sentences are pretty much the same. I tried my best to learn what I could, but it’s not easy. Almost all actually speak English anyway and even the local taxi driver who’d been there for 10 years said he still couldn’t really speak it and told me not to try. The most important information, like signs, museum descriptions, and menus in the restaurants, are usually found both in Greek and English.
- Yiasou (Yah-Soo) – Informal way of saying both ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’
- Yiasas – More formal way of saying both ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ use this when talking to older people or people you’ve only just met.
- Kalimera (Kah-Lee-MEH-Rah) – Meaning ‘good day’, this expression is used until 12:00
- Kalispera (Kah-Lee-SPARE-a) – Good afternoon
- Ne and Ohi – Yes & No
- Efharisto (Ef-Cha-Ri-Sto) – Thank you
- Excuse Me – Signomi
- Water – Nerroh
- Beer – Birra
Tip: Don’t attempt to shake hands unless offered to you – this is not a common custom in Greece.
For Greece there are two associated plug types C and F
Type C: This socket also works with plug E and F
Type F: This socket also works with plug C and E
Your need for a power plug adapter depends on the power plugs used in your own country. Visitors from abroad will need an adaptor for appliances that have been brought from home, such as laptops, hairdryers and phone chargers. Most hotels will have two-pronged European-style sockets for shavers only. What you need to keep you covered is a Worldwide travel adapter, check out what i’m currently using on my travels here. I always travel light and my adaptor stays in my bag all the time. It doesn’t matter where you go in the world this will have you covered and will keep you charged up and ready to go.
- Take some cash with you as contactless payment isn’t available everywhere.
- Taxis are cash only.
- Fuel isn’t cheap costing even more than the UK. You don’t fuel the cars, pull into the service garage then someone will come out to you and you let them know how much you’d like. You may need to go in to pay though, very few places have contactless. Also they often close at around 9pm in the more rural areas.
- The speed limit in Greece is 50 kph (30 mph) in urban areas and 90 kph (55 mph) in rural areas. While on the expressway it’s 110 kph (70 mph) and on the motorway the speed limit is 130 kph (80 mph).
- If you plan on driving remember to download offline maps so you can still get around without signal.
- When it comes to flying home from Heraklion don’t go through security to soon, as it’s tiny on the other side with just one burger place and a small duty free shop, there’s no bar. It gets busy fast and you’ll probably end up standing around or like me sat in the corner on a beam waiting, you could sit on the floor but it was filthy.
- Most museums have some days when admission is free. Check for details as they vary from museum to museum.
- Eat Gyros (and other street snacks) usually only cost a few euros. They are quick and easy and can keep you full for less than €10 per day!
- If you go out for an evening meal, then expect it to be a long affair. One place we ate at they even had singing and dancing between courses, it took over 2 hours or more before we left.
- Some businesses (like hotels and tour companies) do not operate from November to March, so take that into consideration if you do want to plan a trip during the winter months.
- If you experience an emergency dial 112 for assistance.
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