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13 of the best things to do in Crete

By Roxanne Wells

29 July 2019 | Updated 27 March 20246 min read

Picturesque town of Agios Nikolaos on a sunny day showing the harbour, town and sea on the island of Crete in Greece

Agios Nikolaos You'll find plenty of top attractions close to this popular resort.

Mixing acres of mountainous countryside and a sandy 1,050km (650 miles) coastline with a rich history stretching way back to the myths and legends of ancient Greece, it’s safe to say that Crete is a holiday destination that comfortably ticks all the boxes.

Popular with everyone from history buffs and active explorers to party-hard groups and fun-loving families, Greece’s biggest island has enough going on to keep all types of visitors busy.

Here we round up 13 of the best things to do on a holiday in Crete.

1. Take a history lesson in Heraklion

Crete’s biggest city, busy and bustling Heraklion is crammed full of historic highlights. For €4 you can climb the landmark Koules Venetian Fortress to get amazing 360 degree views over sea and city, or visit the Palace of Knossos (entry from £9) to admire the churches and monasteries that decorate the centre of this crumbling historical site. If you’re interested in more of the island’s history, you’ll love the Heraklion Archaeological Museum and the Historical Museum of Crete.

When you’ve worked up an appetite, Herb’s Garden Restaurant serves up great Greek food and breathtaking rooftop views over the city to one side and across the fortress and out to sea on the other – try to bag a corner table for the best of both!

Elounda Ilion Hotel

  • Elounda, Crete, Greece
  • 8 September 2024
  • All-inclusive
  • From Stansted

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2. Get wet and wild at a waterpark

It’s hardly a surprise that this holiday haven boasts several waterparks within easy distance of the main tourist resorts.

Watercity and Acqua Plus are the two biggies for those staying in Heraklion, Malia, Hersonissos or Agios Nikolaos, although the Star Beach complex, which offers waterpark, watersports and beachfront activities on a pay-as-you-use basis, is also popular.

If you’re staying in the Chania region, the Aqua Creta Limnoupolis water park offers free tickets for toddlers under 110cm and cheaper tickets for everyone else if you visit after 3pm. Alternatively, save your euros and have a splash in the sea for free – Chania is home to some of the best beaches in Crete, including Balos beach and lagoon, the pink-sand Elafonissi, and Falassarna beach, which boasts incredible sunsets.

3. Sail to Leper Island

There’s something undeniably eerie about Spinalonga, which was used as a leper colony as recently as 1957. Boat tours run to the island from nearby mainland resorts Elounda, Plaka and Agios Nikolaos, and children can enter for free.

To really set the scene, Victoria Hislop’s novel, The Island, is based on Spinalonga and is a great holiday read!

4. Visit the underground birthplace of Zeus

Dikteon Cave is a must for fans of Greek mythology, as the legend goes that it was where Rhea hid newborn Zeus to save him being eaten by his father. God-saving credentials aside, it’s an impressive cave, with huge stalactites dripping from the ceiling and stalagmites reaching up to meet them.

As it’s carved into the rocky slope of Mount Dikti, you face a stiff uphill walk to reach the entrance, but the panoramic views add to the experience.

Thalassi

  • Stavromenos, Crete, Greece
  • 30 August 2024
  • Half board
  • From Birmingham

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£545

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5. Taste traditional Crete at an olive oil farm

For little over a euro you can enjoy a tour and tasting at the Cretan Olive Oil Farm near Agios Nikolaos. This pretty working farm uses traditional methods to produce not just top quality olive oil, but honey, cheese, wine and raki too.

Pottery workshops and cooking lessons are also offered, starting from €7 and €38 respectively.

6. Hike Samaria Gorge

Samaria Gorge is one of Crete’s most exciting attractions for nature lovers – and one of the island's best spots to visit if you're on a budget. The vast national park in which it sits is a playground for active types, with the six-hour mountainside hike along the river being the most popular route.

There are many organised excursions to Samaria Gorge available from the popular resorts across the island, but if you’d prefer to set your own schedule (and cut out the endless hotel pick-ups and drop-offs on the way) you could hire a car.

7. Get lost in Rethymnon Old Town

While Crete’s definitely got its fair share of party resorts and tourist attractions, it also has plenty of places to escape the banana boats and disco bars to experience ‘old Crete’ at its best. Rethymnon Old Town is one such place.

As one of the best preserved towns of the Renaissance, you’ll find its maze of streets lined with examples of Venetian architecture mixed in with influences from its Turkish occupation from the 17th-19th century.

For a fun twist on this history lesson (recommended if you’ve got teens in your group), why not take a Segway tour of the Old Town?

8. Get a noseful of fresh air at ‘Stinky Lake’

Agios Nikolaos is one of the island’s most popular resorts, thanks to its charming harbour and adjoining Lake Voulismeni. It might surprise you, then, to learn that this bottle-green beauty was once known by the nickname ‘Stinky Lake’ for its stagnant smell – which thankfully is no longer present!

For great views, head to Alexandro’s Rooftop Cocktail Bar. It’s a lively place for drinks and dancing, but also welcomes families with children too.

Summer Dream

  • Rethymnon, Crete, Greece
  • 21 July 2024
  • Self-catering
  • From East Midlands

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£584

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9. Combine culture, sunshine and sand at Lychnostatis Museum

This hidden gem of a museum sits right on the beach, epitomising Crete’s distinct mix of culture and coastline in one attraction. You’ll find a variety of artefacts and structures related to Cretan folk tradition and ethnology, culture, nature and the environment.

Set up in the open air to mimic a Cretan village of yesteryear, this museum allows you to step back in time in sunny, scenic surroundings.

10. Saddle up for a horse riding adventure

If hiking isn’t quite your thing, or you’ve got young children in your group, what about exploring some of Crete’s varied landscape on horseback? Finikia Horses, just south of Heraklion, is well-known for its excellent treks into the mountains, through the Cretan countryside and along coastal paths and beaches.

Pick-ups, drop-offs and lunch are included, making it a great value family-friendly day away from the sun-loungers.

11. Explore an ancient monastery

Seeking incredible architecture and breathtaking views? Crete’s historic Greek Orthodox monasteries blend both.

The Arkadi Monastery near Rethymnon is a particularly poignant spot, known for its brave stand against the Ottomans during the Cretan revolt. Immerse yourself in the island's history and spirituality, all while enjoying the serene atmosphere. Entry is €3 for adults and free for children under 16.

12. Head beneath the waves

Once you’ve splashed in Crete’s crystal-clear waters, head beneath them on a snorkelling or scuba diving tour to meet the island's vibrant marine life. Companies such as Blue Adventures Diving, based in Chania, or Stay Wet Diving Center, located near Heraklion, cater to all experience levels, from complete beginners to seasoned divers, and offer a variety of dives at sites around Crete.

For experienced divers, the wreck of Dia Island near Heraklion, with its abundant fish and ancient artefacts, is a must-see. Shallow turquoise bays like those near Elafonissi are perfect for beginners after a glimpse of the underwater world.

Amazones Village Suites

  • Piskopiano, Crete, Greece
  • 19 July 2024
  • Bed & breakfast
  • From East Midlands

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£589

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13. Discover the island's flora

The Botanical Garden of Crete, nestled in the foothills of the White Mountains, is a delightful escape into the island's abundant flora.

Wander through fragrant herb gardens, lush citrus groves and exotic fruit orchards, then enjoy a delicious meal at the park's restaurant, where traditional Cretan dishes incorporate the freshest local produce grown on-site.

Admission is affordable too, at just €7 for adults, €4 for children aged 6 to 12 and free for children under 6.

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