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Que faire en Crète : Balos Beach

Step into the vibrant world of Crete! Like every region in Greece, it boasts its own unique flair. A heavy influence from the Orient sets it apart from the rest of Greece, coloring its architecture, enriching its culture, spicing up its culinary scene, and adding a touch of the exotic to its awe-inspiring beaches. A truly unforgettable adventure awaits you! But what are the things to do in Crete?

After discovering it during my last trip, it’s now time I unveil all its secrets. Remember, Crete is the largest island in Greece and it deserves to be fully explored. So, clear your schedule, and most importantly, plan at least a week to immerse yourself in the endless wonders of Crete!

PS: If you’re looking for a Google Map of Crete filled with great addresses, simply click here!

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Before revealing the best things to do in Crete, here are a few practical tips. Crete has two major towns: Heraklion, the lively capital in the island’s heart, and Chania, the enchanting city on the west coast. Both have airports and are easily accessible from abroad. To give you an idea of the island’s size, it takes roughly 2 hours by car (excluding heavy summer traffic) to travel from Heraklion to Chania.

Heraklion is home to a fascinating archaeological museum and is near the historic Palace of Knossos, but that’s pretty much all there is to enjoy there as a tourist. With so much more to discover in Crete, you might want to limit your stay here to a single night.

Find a hotel in Crete

The ideal spot for your stay in Crete depends on the kind of vacation you desire: are you dreaming of a laid-back vacation at an all-inclusive resort, or exploring Crete?

If it’s all-inclusive relaxation you seek, consider staying near Elounda (near the small town of Agios Nikolaos), a charming fishing village. Elounda Beach Hotel is a must-stay – I was lucky enough to spend a night there during an event and it was all you could wish for!

Elounda
Elounda Beach Hotel

If you decide to rent a car and embark on an adventure, I suggest dividing your stay between different locations, as points of interest are scattered. The west side of Crete was the most interesting for me, boasting some of the island’s most stunning beaches and towns. If you only have a week in Crete, skip the East and head straight to Chania!

To rent a car, I always go through RentalCars.com, I find the platform really practical to compare offers from different rental agencies and I always find the best price.

On my most recent trip to Crete, I spent a night in Heraklion, 3 nights in Rethymno (a small town between Heraklion and Chania), and finally 3 nights in Chania. It was a really good itinerary. And while Chania is larger and offers more activities, Rethymno, with its charming alleys and shops, completely stole my heart! If you’re lucky enough to have more time in Crete, consider a stop around Elounda to explore the island’s East side.

What to do in Crete: 12 places and activities you can’t miss

Balos Beach

Que faire en Crète : Balos Beach

Balos Beach, the quintessential postcard of Crete, is the stuff dreams are made of when planning your trip to Crete, and even more so when you finally arrive. It’s one of those views that takes your breath away in an instant, where you go “wow, just wow,” and it stays etched in your memory forever. The scenery alone is a spectacle, with countless shades of blues and greens playing and merging with the currents.

While plenty of ferry companies offer day trips to Balos Beach, I wouldn’t recommend going that route because, even though it’s more convenient, you’ll unfortunately miss out on the view!

Que faire en Crète : Balos Beach

To fully enjoy Balos Beach, head there in the morning to avoid the crowds and the scorching sun while heading down to the beach. The road to the starting point of the hike is a bit bumpy, but don’t worry, your rental car will handle it just fine. Allow about 20 minutes of slow driving.

Then, you’ll need between 30 and 45 minutes to walk from the parking lot to the beach, depending on what time you arrive… Yep, it’s a view that’s worth earning! Don’t forget your hat or cap, as there’s no shade along the way. On the beach, you’ll find a small food truck to eat, as well as sun loungers and parasols if you feel the need.

Knossos Palace

Que faire en Crète : Le palais de Knossos

During a trip to Crete, you can’t miss the fascinating history of Knossos Palace, located near Heraklion. It’s an iconic archaeological site dating back to the Bronze Age, offering a glimpse into the Minoan civilization, one of the oldest in Europe.

Legend has it that King Minos ordered its construction around 1700 B.C., on the ruins of an ancient palace, by the architect Daedalus. The reason? A story as tragic as it is captivating: to punish his wife Pasiphae, who had given birth to the Minotaur, half-man, half-bull, after falling in love with a divine bull, Minos allegedly ordered Daedalus to create a labyrinth from which the monster could not escape. Thus was born this imposing palace with its complex architecture, spanning five floors and 1,300 rooms.

Que faire en Crète : Palais de Knossos

I was amazed by the majestic ruins of the site, which testify to the architectural ingenuity and cultural richness of that time. During your visit, you can explore rooms adorned with colorful frescoes, and even mysterious underground passages.

To make the most of your visit, plan to go early in the morning or late in the afternoon, and buy your ticket online in advance to avoid long queues.

Things to do in Crete: Knossos Palace

Heraklion Archaeological Museum

After exploring the mysteries of Knossos Palace, a visit to the Heraklion Archaeological Museum is a must to complete your immersion in the history of ancient Crete! This museum houses an impressive collection of Minoan artifacts, offering a unique glimpse into the daily life, religion, and art of this ancient civilization. You can also admire famous Minoan frescoes, directly imported from Knossos Palace.

Chania

As the second largest city in Crete, Chania is located in the northwest of the island. It will charm you with its medieval city with picturesque bustling streets, its Venetian harbor dating back to the 14th century with vibrant colors, and above all its countless restaurants where you’ll indulge in delicious flavours!

Que faire en Crète : La Canée

Stroll along the waterfront, enjoy the lovely view of the Chania lighthouse, stop for some mezze and a refreshing ouzo… And most importantly, take your time, Greek-style! I recommend walking to the lighthouse, from there you’ll have a beautiful view of the harbor and the mountains in the background.

Que faire en Crète : La Canée

What I particularly loved about Chania, and Crete in general, is the profusion of beautiful plants adorning every street in the city center. Colors burst from every corner, creating a bohemian and dreamy atmosphere… Everything I adore!

Que faire en Crète : La Canée
Que faire en Crète : La Canée
Greek travel phrases guide Grecce travel guide

Another feature that sets Cretan cities apart from the rest of Greece, and that you’ll find in Chania, is the presence of minarets within the ancient city. You’ll easily spot them around a corner! These minarets date back to the Ottoman occupation, which lasted over 250 years between the 17th and 19th centuries.

Que faire en Crète : La Canée

To sum up, here’s what to do in Chania:

  • Take a stroll along the Venetian harbor
  • Walk along the pier to its iconic 26-meter high lighthouse
  • Discover the Kucuk Hasan mosque
  • Wander through the narrow streets, discover the squares and shops where you’ll find many treasures!
  • Visit museums: the Maritime Museum of Crete or the Folklore Museum of Chania
  • Head to the beach: the city is surrounded by beautiful beaches where you can spend the afternoon… Check out Agia Marina, Glaros, Agii Apostoli, or Yannis.

Many guides recommend visiting the covered market – as of now, it’s under reconstruction and there’s absolutely nothing to see there.

LoutrĂł

Loutró is a small fishing village nestled in a bay on the south coast of Crete. Accessible only by boat or hiking, it’s a true little paradise where you can relax for a day! The surrounding ochre land contrasts beautifully with the turquoise water of the cove, where small fishing boats and sailboats drop anchor for an afternoon. A truly magical setting!

Que faire en Crète : Loutró

To get there, head to the village of Sfakiá where you’ll find shuttles to Loutró. Several ferry companies operate throughout the day, every 30 minutes to 1 hour. You don’t need to book your tickets in advance, but you can check the ferry schedules of the Anendyk Seaways line here.

Que faire en Crète : Loutró

The boat ride is very beautiful, giving you time to admire the red rocks plunging into the azure sea as well as the few beaches lining the coast between Sfakiá and Loutró (Ilingas beach, Glyka Nera, and Perivolákia). It’s a truly unique and fascinating landscape!

Once there, you’ll find plenty of tavernas to lunch at and sun loungers with umbrellas on the beach to relax. One of the best things to do in Crete!

Que faire en Crète : Loutró

Elafonissi

A magnificent lagoon in the southwest of Crete, Elafonissi is renowned for its turquoise waters and pink-hued sand, a true spectacle found only in rare places! Magic, you think? Well, if you look closely, you’ll realize that the sand is made up of a multitude of small shell fragments that give it this unusual color. A real treasure!

Access to Elafonissi isn’t the easiest, it took us a good 2 hours’ drive from Chania to reach the beach due to traffic! We arrived in the late afternoon and the magic of colors wasn’t there, although the place was very beautiful. So I recommend going there early in the day to fully enjoy the landscape.

The lovely pink hues of Elafonissi's sand, still visible even in the late afternoon!
Sunset at Elafonissi

Rethymnon

Rethymnon is a beautiful small town between Heraklion and Chania! Less touristy than its big sister Chania, it’s the perfect place to stay for a few nights to explore central Crete. I particularly enjoyed strolling through the narrow streets of the old town, full of charm and animated by a multitude of bars and restaurants, browsing its lovely shops, and admiring the picturesque view of its small marina.

Que faire en Crète : Réthymnon
Que faire en Crète : Réthymnon
Que faire en Crète : Réthymnon

What to do in Rethymnon:

  • Take a walk through its charming streets
  • Discover the small old port and its Egyptian lighthouse
  • Admire the Rimondi Fountain
  • Stop by the NeratzĂ© Mosque to see its impressive minaret
  • Pass through the Guora gate
  • Visit the Venetian fortress
  • Pay attention to its unique architecture
  • Indulge in traditional Greek and Cretan dishes at its many tavernas!

Que faire en Crète : Réthymnon
Que faire en Crète : Réthymnon

Discovering local gastronomy

Crete is known for its fertile land where an impressive variety of fruits and vegetables grow year-round, both continental and exotic, as well as aromatic plants that delicately enhance traditional Cretan dishes.

In addition to the Greek specialties you’ll find everywhere, Crete has its own gastronomy. Among the most famous local dishes and products, try:

  • myzithra, a cheese made from sheep or goat milk with a texture similar to ricotta, distinguished by its salty and slightly acidic taste. You’ll often find it in Greek salads (also called “choriatiki”).
  • graviera, a hard cheese that pairs well with olives.
  • dakos: perfect for a snack or appetizer, these are thick black rusks topped with tomatoes and cheese (feta or myzithra) and garnished with olive oil and oregano. Simple but delicious!
  • hortopitakia and kalitsounia: the local versions of the famous stuffed pastries found all over Greece (spanakopita and tyropita). For these two recipes, traditional local products are used: a mixture of wild herbs, onions, fennel, olive oil, and myzithra cheese for the first one, and simply myzithra cheese for the second.
  • grilled dishes: try arni or katsiki tsigariasto or even antikristo, excellent grilled goat or lamb.
  • arni kleftiko: lamb marinated in olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice, then stewed with vegetables, potatoes, and cheese, and served in parchment paper. A true delight!
  • gamopilafo: a very good dish made with rice cooked in meat broth and usually accompanied by lamb, goat, or chicken.

The list goes on! For even more inspiration, you can find other typical Cretan dishes here.

Plats typiques grecs : la salade grecque
Plats typiques grecs

To discover the full range of Cretan flavors, consider taking a cooking class! It’s an activity I really enjoy during my travels, always filled with good mood, beautiful encounters, and memorable exchanges.

Things to do in Crete: take a cooking class

Finally, the most famous product of Crete, as in many regions of Greece, is olive, and more specifically olive oil! And with no less than 30 million olive trees counted in Crete, there’s much to do.

Thanks to its richness in antioxidants, Cretan olive oil is often said to be the secret to the longevity of its inhabitants… Without further ado, I bought a small bottle of extra-virgin olive oil to take home with me from a local farm I passed by. Which brings me to the next point!

Visit an olive grove and taste olive oil

To better understand how this wonderful golden liquid is produced, explore an olive grove and meet local families who pass down the precious knowledge of olive cultivation from generation to generation! In addition to discovering the different techniques of olive oil production, it’s also an opportunity to immerse yourself in Greek culture and traditions.

A fantastic place to taste olive oil: Cretan Olive Oil Farm.

Things to do in Crete: olive oil tasting

Seitan Limania

Que faire en Crète : Seitan Limani

Nestled on the northwest coast of Crete, Seitan Limania is a true hidden gem that deserves to be discovered during your trip! Off the beaten path, it’s a picturesque little cove with crystal-clear waters and a white sand beach framed by steep cliffs, creating a breathtakingly beautiful landscape. The adventurous ones will enjoy heading down to the beach, just be sure to get there early to find a spot to lay your towel as the beach is quite small!

I personally didn’t make it down the beach, I simply enjoyed the superb view from the parking lot. The beach is wild but you’ll find a small canteen before starting the final descent (by car) to Seitan Limania.

Agia Triada Monastery

Que faire en Crète : Monastère d'Agia Triada

On the way to Seitan Limania lies a magnificent monastery that is absolutely worth a visit: the Agia Triada Monastery. Despite its slightly austere surroundings, once you cross the giant gates, you’ll discover a lush oasis with a thousand flowers and plants! It’s a place filled with serenity that I loved visiting.

Preveli Beach

Crete is full of diverse and varied landscapes, and Preveli Beach is a prime example! Here, you’ll venture along a river in a palm forest that totally transported me to an exotic oasis while being right in the middle of the Mediterranean.

To reach this little piece of paradise, you can take a boat from the nearby village of Plakias, follow the picturesque trail through the Kourtaliotiko Gorge for a longer hike, or park near Preveli Beach and descend several steps before reaching your destination.

Be sure to bring a water bottle with you as there’s no shade along the way and you won’t find anything to refresh yourself until you reach the beach!

The beach itself isn’t impressive, but it’s when you venture into the palm grove that you discover the beauty of the place.

Que faire en Crète : Preveli

Last words

Crete is full of other magical places that were recommended to me but that I haven’t had the chance to visit yet:

  • Hiking in the Samaria Gorge
  • Discovering Matala Beach and its caves
  • Taking a day trip by boat to the island of DĂ­a or ChrysĂ­
  • Walking around Lake Kournas
  • Visiting Agios Nikolaos and the small village of Elounda

My final tip: always have cash with you! There are still shops in Crete where credit cards are not accepted. So remember to withdraw cash when you arrive at the airport!

Things to do in Crete: Google Map with my favourite addresses

To easily access the addresses mentioned above, including my favourite restaurants, beaches, and other off-the-beaten-path activities to do in Crete, I invite you to download my Google Maps of Crete! You can add it to your own Google Maps account to navigate and get around easily while you’re there.

Those are all my tips! You now know everything there is about the things to do in Crete đź’™ I hope you enjoyed this guide and that it will give you some ideas to make the most of your vacation in Crete. Happy sightseeing and enjoy your trip!

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Things to do in Crete
Things to do in Crete