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Chania Mosque, Crete, Greece

The 13 best things to do in Crete

Hike a gorge, eat snails, sip raki and sunbathe on a pink beach—these are just some of the best things to do in Crete

Written by
Jessica Bateman

Crete is the largest of all Greek islands, so you can bet your last penny that there is no shortage of great things to do here. This place has it all; richly-layered history, vast sandy beaches, dramatic mountains and some seriously fantastic food. Oh, and lots of raki, so get ready for famous Cretan hospitality and no shortage of dancing. Don’t be surprised if you do all that at a wedding…

There is nowhere in Europe quite like Greece, and there is nowhere in Greece quite like Crete. Enjoy the best of the best when it comes to adventure on Greece's largest island.

Best things to do in Crete

Enjoy a sundowner at Chania port

1. Enjoy a sundowner at Chania port

What is it? The old Venetian port in Chania with its stone walls and painted buildings. 

Why go? The port is one of the most beautiful spots on the island to drink, eat, or simply wander around. It’s enjoyable any time of day, but to experience its full glory, head there at sunset and take your pick of the bars looking out over the water.

Visit a DIY museum at Sfakia
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Jakednb

2. Visit a DIY museum at Sfakia

What is it? Take some time to learn the island’s history at one of the DIY museums opened by locals – the most famous is in Askifou, Sfakia.

Why go? Today we might associate Crete with beauty and beaches, but the island has a dark and tumultuous past. It’s been invaded countless times, most recently during the Second World War, and many Cretans hold strong memories of the German occupation.

See an exhibition in Chania’s mosque

3. See an exhibition in Chania’s mosque

What is it? After the Ottomans were expelled from Crete, all the mosques they built were shut – but not destroyed. Chania’s mosque (built in 1645) is the island’s oldest Ottoman building and still stands today as a major landmark at the port.

Why go? The renovated building is now an exhibition space, and you can wander around for a small fee.

Eat snails in Kissamos

4. Eat snails in Kissamos

What is it? Kissamos is a rural town on the west of the island, famed for the snails collected from the neighbouring hills.

Why go? Crete’s rich produce means the island has traditionally been self-sustainable in its food supply, and there are many dishes here you won’t often find in mainland Greece – such as snails. Yep, it’s not just the French who eat them as a delicacy. In Crete, they’re fried in olive oil and flour and then served with a dash of wine or vinegar.

Gorge on meat at To Antikristo
Photograph: Courtesy To Antikristo

5. Gorge on meat at To Antikristo

What is it? To Antikristo restaurant in Perivola is named after the simplest and most traditional way of cooking lamb is antikristo-style – slow-roasted for hours over a wooden fire, with just a little salt rubbed in. 

Why go? The mountainous terrain of parts of Crete makes it ideal for raising sheep and goats, and many Cretans have traditionally made a living as shepherds. (When it comes to cooking, the people here know their lamb.)

Go on a road trip from Chania to Sitia
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Nortonisten

6. Go on a road trip from Chania to Sitia

What is it? The coastal towns of Chania to Sitia sit on either side of the north coast of the island. Chania is an attraction in its own right, thanks to its colourful houses and narrow streets, but the drive from here to Sitia down the coast is the must-do. 

Why go? One of Crete’s key features is its magnificent, changing terrain that varies from lush and green in the west to the vivid colours we’d usually expect from Arizonian or Californian deserts.

Hike through the Samaria Gorge
Photograph: Courtesy Viator

7. Hike through the Samaria Gorge

What is it? A huge national park with a dramatic 16km hiking route. 

Why go? It’s not all about sand and sea – the mountains of Crete offer plenty of opportunities for hiking and trekking – and this route is one of the best. It goes without saying this is best tackled in spring or autumn rather than the humid highs of summer.

Sip raki at the Kanali Tavern in Elounda
Photograph: Courtesy Kanali Tavern

8. Sip raki at the Kanali Tavern in Elounda

What is it? You’ve got to cross a salt-pan causeway to get to this bar and restaurant on a conservation island, but once you’re here, you’ll enjoy incredible sunset views and exceptional raki. 

Why go? Cretans love their raki, and it’s usually served up to sip slowly following a hearty lunch or dinner. Many families here brew their own. Drink plain, or try one of the flavoured versions, such as cinnamon or honey. To fully experience raki, visit during the distilling season between October and mid-December.

Relax on Elafonissi beach

9. Relax on Elafonissi beach

What is it? Myrtos beach in Kefalonia may be Greece’s most famous beach thanks to its appearance in ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’, but Elafonissi is considered by many to be its best. 

Why go? This low islet, joined to the mainland at its most south-westerly point, is famously tinted pink thanks to crushed-up shells. The island and sand surround a shallow, warm lagoon of a perfect turquoise sea.

Explore Knossos

10. Explore Knossos

What is it? The bronze age archaeological site of Knossos is thought to have been settled around 7000BC, earning it the accolade of ‘Europe’s oldest city’. 

Why go? To soak in the island’s history. To beat the tour buses, arrive either before 10am or late in the afternoon. History buffs will also want to check out Heraklion’s state-of-the-art archaeological museum, one of the largest and most important in Greece.

Blag an invite to a wedding in Anogia
Photograph: Unsplash

11. Blag an invite to a wedding in Anogia

What is it? In the historic village of Anogia, residents pride themselves on keeping historic wedding traditions alive, such as local dances and songs. They are usually happy to invite visitors, if you arrive at the right time.

Why go? Cretan weddings have a reputation for being the biggest, loudest and rowdiest of all, with thousands of people often invited from all over the island and pre-wedding feasts that go on for days.

Go nude on Gavdos

12. Go nude on Gavdos

What is it? Just south of Crete lies the island of Gavdos – the southernmost point in Europe and possible its last remaining bastion of hippy life. 

Why go? Expect nudist beaches, yoga gatherings and plenty of poi, plus a true sense of being cut off from the rest of the world. Be careful, though – strong winds mean boats often get cancelled to and from Crete, so only go if you have time to spare.

Listening to melancholic music outside Rethymno

13. Listening to melancholic music outside Rethymno

What is it? Dripping with emotion and often telling tales of the island’s revolutionary struggles, Cretan music is hypnotic and distinctive. 

Why go? Most tourist bars will lay on the standard bouzouki fare, so for the real deal, head out to small family-run joints in villages to watch old men sing as they play the lyra (a small violin held in the lap). The villages surrounding Rethymno are a good bet for this.

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