Sofia Adventures

Welcome to Sofia!

Sofia is an intriguing city, with corners that show at various times a glint of the splendor of Vienna, the charm of Istanbul, the quirkiness of Budapest, and the brutalism of Moscow. You’ll find Roman ruins in our subway stations, medieval icons in the church basements, and Thracian relics in the former presidential palace. Yet Sofia brings all of these seemingly disparate traditions together into one magical, inspiring city.

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DISCOVER SOFIA

DISCOVER SOFIA

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How to Visit the Minoan Palace of Knossos (from Heraklion + Elsewhere)

One of the best things to do during a trip to Crete is to take some time to discover the past of the island.

A complex series of events that span for centuries until the present date. Arguably one of the most important civilizations that lived and ruled on Crete were the Minoans, an advanced culture that left stunningly beautiful traces in several areas of the island.

Let’s take a look at the most remarkable of them, the Minoan Palace of Knossos, an easy day trip from Heraklion.

Bull fresco

Who were the Minoans?

The Minoan civilization flourished on the island of Crete and other islands of the Aegean during the Bronze Age from 2700 to 1450 BC. Their decline period started around that time and the civilization finally faded aways in about 1100 BC.

It was a very advanced civilization, a maritime trading power maintaining commercial routes with other important cultures around the Mediterranean, exporting products such as wine and olive oil in places as far as Egypt and Syria.

Their palaces were more palatial complexes, buildings with areas dedicated to religious rituals, but also important workshops and spaces mainly devoted to the storage of goods produced.

Other places inside the complex included dwelling areas for the ruling and sacerdotal (religious) classes.

Buildings usually developed around a large open courtyard that would provide air and ventilation to other rooms and areas. The would have complex and advances piping systems too.

The wall paintings and frescoes still surviving the period usually portray scenes related to nature and everyday life.

There are not battling or violent scenarios, which leads to deduce that it was a peaceful civilization: an idea also reinforced by the fact that no Minoan Palace ever had defensive walls.

Minoan culture.

The Minoan Palaces of Crete: More than Just Knossos!

Four different palaces have been unearthed on the island, although it’s believed that there were many more scattered in every region. They were probably powerful centers of different city-states ruling in every area.

In the region of Heraklion, three palaces have been discovered and excavated, and the three of them are open to the public.

The biggest and most important and one is Knossos, followed in importance by the Minoan Palace of Festos, on the southern area of the region, and the smaller Minoan Palace of Malia, on the eastern coast of Heraklion, about 30 minutes away from the center of town.

In Lasithi, eastern Crete, the fourth palace that has been discovered is the Minoan Palace of Zakros, the smallest of the four. All of them can be visited.

A fifth Minoan Palace is believed to lie under the modern city of Chania, Ancient Kydonia.

Although some portions of it have been accidentally discovered following the Nazi bombing of the city, after WWII, the area has an extremely high number of inhabitants, and no further excavations are bound to take place.

There several are other archaeological sites worth a stop on Crete. However, many of them belong to different periods and civilizations. 

The following are some of the ones worth a visit:

Chania region

  • The Archaeological Site of Aptera
  • The Ruins of Ancient Falassarna
  • The Archaeological Site of Polyrrenia

Rethymnon region

  • The Archaeological Site of Eleftherna
  • The Ancient City of Lappa

Heraklion region

  • The Archaeological Site of Lato
  • The Ancient Ruins of Gortyn, 
  • The Ancient Port of Kommos, 
  • The Archaeological Site of Agia Triada  – The last three archaeological sites are relatively close to the Archaeological Palace of Festos.

Lasithi region

  • The Archaeological Town of Gournias
  • The Sunken City of Olous, 
  • The Archaeological Site of Spinalonga 
  • The Archaeological Site on the Islet of Mochlos

Facts about the Archaeological Palace of Knossos

Dolphin fresco.
  • The first excavations in Knossos started around 1878; however, they were stopped for political reasons. 
  • Formal works of excavations were later carried out by the Englishman Arthur Evans, who purchased the land in order to be able to excavate without interference.
  • Evans revealed the entire palace in 1931 and created important controversy in the archaeologic community due to the liberties he took to recreate the architecture of the palatial complex.
  • The Palace stands on Kefalas Hill, just a few kilometers away from the sea.
  • There are intricate corridors and staircases that shape a sort of labyrinth structure.

Things to See Inside the Minoan Palace of Knossos

Central court

This is a huge open space and the most important courtyard. It’s located in the center of the complex. This might have been the place where the different religious ceremonies took place.

West court

This could have been a place for public meetings and it could also be the area where the marketplace stood. In this court, you can see three circular pits, probably used to store goods.

Throne room

The room of the throne.

One of the most visited places in the palace, a very reduced space with the throne probably used for sacerdotal rituals. You will have to queue to enter and take a good look, there’s reduced time to see everything, so get your camera ready!

Grand staircase

An imposing staircase made of stone, clearly visible, that takes you directly to the underground level to see the rest of the royal rooms. These rooms are closed to the public, but it’s possible to observe their magnificent frescoes from the outside.

Royal apartments

These gorgeous rooms with ample spaces and probably comforts od all kinds where probably the residence of the members of the ruling class as well as other authorities since they are not big enough to be considered the rooms of the royalty.

Queen megaron

The suite known as the room of the Queen is the one housing the fantastic fresco with the dolphins (of which you can see the original in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion).

King’s room

It’s located under the Queen megaron, and it has a personal chamber for the ruler known by the name of the Hall of the Double Axes.

The Archaeological Museum of Heraklion

It’s a great idea to visit the Archaeological Site right after or soon before having also seen the exhibits in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, which gathers objects coming from most Archaeological Sites on Crete, not just from Knossos.

The building has two floors devoted to the different civilizations that flourished on the island over the years, from the Minoan Period onwards, covering also the Mycaenean, the Dorians, the Hellenistic Period and the Roman Times, to name a few.

A visit to the Archaeological Museum is key to better understand the complex structure of the Minoan civilization as well as to picture everyday life within the walls of the Minoan Palaces of Crete.

How to Visit Knossos Palace from Heraklion

You can get to the Archaeological Site of Knossos from the center of Heraklion by car or bus. The site is only 5 kilometers from Heraklion and the trip takes about 15 minutes. 

If you choose to get there by bus, remember the following:

  • The bus leaves from the (old) public bus station of Heraklion.
  • The bus is number 2 – Knossos.
  • The bus runs 3-5 times per hour all year round.
  • Its final stop is Knossos. The ticket is 1.50 € one-way. 
  • Running hours: from 8.00 to 19.00 in summer and from 8.00 to 15.00 in winter.

It’s always better to visit early in the morning or just before sunset to avoid crowds and extreme heat.

Things You Need to Bring with you to Knossos Palace

  • Plenty of water, the visit can last from 2 to 3 hours and once you pass the ticket control there’s no place inside the complex to buy water.
  • Sun protection, especially if you visit between May and October. Most of the site is exposed to the elements, there’s no shade or another way to protect yourself. The area is very hot too.
  • A hat and sunglasses for the same reasons stated above.
  • Comfortable walking shoes. Forget about heels or flipflops, you will be climbing stairs, walking on irregular soil and slippery rocks thousands of years old. Avoid incidents and wear closed shoes or hiking sandals.

More Tips for Visiting Knossos Palace

Set aside at least 2 hours to see the site, a bit more if you’re seeing the place with a guided tour.

Likewise, allow enough time to visit the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion (at least 2 more hours). It’s always better to combine both visits on the same day.

Visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon, around sunset time to avoid extreme heat and sun as well as to skip lines faster and avoid crowds. There are tours you can book to especially skip the line both in the site and the museum.

What does it cost and what are the hours of Knossos Palace?

Buy a combined ticket to save some money. The entrance to both places is €16. Otherwise, you will be paying €15 to enter the museum and another €15 to enter the site. The ticket is valid for 3 days.

The following are the hours for visiting Knossos Palace from Heraklion or elsewhere in Crete.

Archaeological Site


Winter:  8:00 – 17:00. Last admission at 16:45
Summer: 8:00 – 20:00. Last admission at 19:45

Archaeological Museum

Winter: 9:00 – 16:00.
Summer: 8:00 – 20:00.

Where to Stay in Heraklion

We have a complete guide on where to stay in Heraklion here, with suggestions for every budget category and type of traveler, but we’ve chosen our favorites here for you to peruse when planning your Heraklion itinerary.

Budget: Intra Muros Boutique Hostel 

Crete - Heraklion - Hostel
Stephanie stayed at this boutique hostel in Heraklion and loved it!

The hotel is named after the Latin phrase that translates as “within the walls,” and you’ll love how they work to make the space between their walls a home away from home.

Backpackers and group travelers will enjoy this boutique hostel; not only is it strategically located in the heart of the city (and close to most tourist spots) but it also has a nearby bus stop so you can save on transportation expenses. You can also walk to the port if in case you want to ride a ferry and go to other locations and dreamy islands near Crete.

They have dormitories with shared bathrooms available for as low as $13 USD for a night with bunk beds with privacy curtains. You can choose from a mixed or all-female dorm room.

There’s also a shared kitchen equipped with a stove, oven, refrigerator, and utensils. You can cook quick meals here since there is a nearby mini market outside! The service desk is not open 24 hours, but if you inform them of your late arrival then they can arrange someone to meet you at the said time.

>>Check guest reviews, prices, availability, and more photos here.<<

Mid-Range: Infinity City Boutique Hotel 

Infinity City Boutique Hotel is a very modern hotel that features contemporary style and comfort. The hotel is a bit narrow due to the building’s structure, but it has spacious and soundproof rooms. It has 6 floors and a total of 21 rooms that have their own balcony with a view of the amazing blue sea plus a private bathroom with complete amenities.

Each room has flat wooden ceilings and tiled floors to match the contemporary and modern style of the hotel. Guests love how the hotel design balances style and comfort, with a mini-fridge and other in-room amenities. The private bathrooms are a bit small, but comfortable, with toiletries included.

You can try their free continental breakfast and have some of their coffee, juice and some tasty croissants. Of course, for many people, mornings aren’t complete without eggs, which they make to order!

>>Check guest reviews, prices, availability, and more photos here.<<

Luxury: Stella Palace Resort and Spa 

The pool view of this resort hotel is marvelous – actually, everything about the hotel is! It has its own water park, bars, spa, and so many more world-class features to offer its guests. They have rooms, suites, and maisonettes where you can even have your own private pool or hot tub.

They have 4 restaurants on-site which means you have many options of what to eat (though every restaurant in Heraklion is delicious as well). Elia serves Greek dishes, Enso offers yummy authentic Asian dishes, La Veranda treats you to an Italian dinner or lunch plus a good selection of wines and lastly, Poseidon, which offers a huge selection in their buffet. A night of fun won’t be complete without checking their different bars where each offers a different ambiance and a different selection of drinks and snacks.

Fitness freaks will love their gym because it has everything you could ever look for when it comes to getting your daily exercise. You might not find some of the treatments they offer at their spa elsewhere, because most of the ingredients they use are locally sourced in Crete. Highly-skilled therapists and massage practitioners will bring you the ultimate relaxation experience here!

>>Check guest reviews, prices, availability, and more photos here.<<

What to Pack for a Crete Beach Vacation

Greece - Crete - Heraklion - Old Venetian Harbor Luggage

If you’re planning a trip to Crete, you’ll want to pack all the normal essentials, but here are a few things we strongly recommend bringing that may not have crossed your mind. For more, check out our Essential Crete Packing List.

– A Physical Guidebook – While travel blogs are great, we also definitely see the benefit of having a good paper guidebook in hand to refer to in your on-the-ground travel. We own and recommend the Lonely Planet Greece book as a starter, but you may also want to pick up the Lonely Planet Crete which covers the island more in-depth. 

– A water bottle with a filter. While generally, the tap water in big cities on Crete is drinkable, we generally recommend using a water bottle with a purifying filter to reduce your plastic consumption and ensure you won’t drink any funny-tasting water on your stomach that could make your trip unpleasant! We recommend the GRAYL water bottle – it filters water perfectly in an instant so that you can even drink from lakes, bad taps, etc.

– Motion sickness pills. Crete bus rides can cause motion sickness! If you have a weak stomach like we do, save yourself and bring some non-drowsy motion sickness pills.

– Wet wipes, hand sanitizer, TP & other Balkan transit needs. Bathrooms in the Balkans on trains and buses tend to be… how can we say it?… not so well-stocked. Save yourself the disappointment and bring a mini-rescue pack of wet wipes & hand sanitizer.

 Travel safety items. We think Crete is very safe to travel, but at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Allison or I use these.

Instead, we both carry the same PacSafe anti-theft backpack. It has locking zippers, slash-proof construction with metal mesh hidden in the fabric, and tons of other smart security features — all while being cute and stylish enough to be our everyday bag. We recommend it highly for both male and female travelers, as it’s neutral enough to be unisex. We also strongly recommend travel insurance! Our recommendation is at the bottom of the post.

Read more: Essential Crete Packing List: What to Wear & Pack for Crete

More Crete Travel Resources

Crete - Heraklion - Old Venetian Harbor Stephanie Selfie

Headed to Crete? We have some great travel resources to help you with your trip. First read our guide to planning a trip to Greece, which covers visas, budgets, vaccines, and much more. We also have a Balkan currency guide which explains how money works in Greece and local tipping customs.

If you’re still trying to work out where to go on the island, check out our guide to the best places to visit in Crete and our favorite Crete beaches.

If you’ll also be spending a few days in Chania, here is our guide to visiting Seitan Limania from Chania (which is our favorite beach in Crete) and Chania’s best Instagram spots. 

If you will be spending time in Heraklion, check out our guides to the best Instagram spots in Heraklion and the city’s best restaurants and cafes. 

If you’re interested in taking a day trip to Rethymnon, check out our Instagram guide to Rethymnon next, and perhaps our guide to things to do in Rethymnon and the best Rethymnon hotels.

If this will be one of your first trips to the Greek islands, check out our massive Greek Island hopping guide as well as our recommendations for where to go in Greece and when is the best time to visit. 

We publish new content about the Balkans almost every day! For more information about traveling to Greece and the Balkans, bookmark our Greece and Balkan travel pages so you can find out what’s new before your trip.

Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!

I’m sure you’re aware that it’s a good idea to have travel insurance for traveling in Crete, the Balkans, or anywhere in the world! We have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption. 

While Greece is safe, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel like theft or injury, so it’s better to play it safe.

>>Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.<<

Your Picture-Perfect 2 Days in Corfu Itinerary

The island of Corfu, known as Kerkyra by the Greeks, is located off the Northwest coast of Greece, right in the heart of the Ionian sea.

The island is a hot holiday destination in Europe, a favorite place to visit in Greece for its culture, history, and amazing beaches.

The old town as seen from the port.

About Corfu

Green and with a varied rugged landscape, the island is an excellent place to hike, practices water sports, and discover unique experiences. 

Although Corfu presents itself as one of Greece’s most popular holiday spots, the island is big enough to be able to find isolated sandy beaches. There are off-the-beaten-track regions that you can discover too if you have enough time and if that’s the kind of vacation you’re looking for.

In this article, though, we will focus on Corfu’s best-known places. With this short but intense 2 day Corfu itinerary we want to give you a great first-timers guide to explore the island. Let’s see some of the best things you can do in Corfu in two days.

Day 1 in Corfu

The Old Town

Old Town Corfu

Devote your first morning to learning about the unique past of Corfu. The best place to start your day is in the picturesque old town, where you will bump into unique Venetian buildings and fortresses that have shaped the architecture of the city and the past of the island.

Corfu Old Town is still under the spell of the beautiful buildings left behind by the Venetian rulers which dominated the island from the 15th to the 18th centuries. The capital of the island is listed in the UNESCO for its outstanding universal value. 

Take some time to visit the system of fortifications, some of which date back to the late Byzantine period (8th century). The city is, in fact, one of the many major Mediterranean fortified port cities.

Once you’ve wandered the romantic yet busy alleys of the old town, stop for a quick bite.

One of the most popular places to eat in town is Taverna Diporto, just a few steps away from the Catholic Church of Saint Giacomo. The restaurant has a relaxed, laid-back atmosphere, and it’s a great place to try traditional Greek food at very convenient prices.

Tower Bell of Annunziata.

In the area, you can take a look at the fantastic Tower Bell of Annunziata, a remarkable monument that stands as a memory of the Church of Annunziata (the Italian for the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary).

Although the church was lost due to the German bombings in 1943 and later, it’s still possible to admire the impressive tower dating back to the 14th century.

Paleokastritsa Beach and Monastery

Paleokastritsa Monastery.

One of Corfu’s most enchanting beaches is Paleokastritsa, about half an hour from the old town.

Once you get there, it’s a good idea to first head to the Monastery of Paleokastritsa.

You will not only get a magnificent view of the beautiful beach standing below, but you will also visit one of Corfu’s most beloved religious centers.

The sea of Corfu as seen from the Monastery of Paleokastritsa.

The beautiful location rewards you with unique views of the spectacular sea of Corfu, breathtaking cliffs and lush vegetation. 

Next up, head down to Paleokastritsa Beach to enjoy the cool pristine waters. Here it’s also possible to rent a boat and explore the magnificent caves in the area.

The beach of Paleokastritsa.

Gastronomic staples of Corfu

End your day learning about the local gastronomy. The island is known for its quality honey and extra virgin olive oil, however, nothing screams Corfu louder than Kumquat. So, it’s our suggestion to book a tour that takes you right into the heart of Corfu’s kumquat.

Kumquat originally comes from China, and its name means golden orange in Chinese.

The kumquat trees have a very old tradition on the island. The small, sweet fruit was first introduced on the island back in 1846 by an English botanist and the local climate has since then proved to be excellent for this plant to grow.

Some of Corfu’s staple products are made from kumquat, among them the liquor, the marmalade, and the unique spoon sweet that is served after every meal with a small portion of Greek yogurt.

Day 2 in Corfu

Explore Canal D’Amour and Corfu Beaches

The lovely Canal D’Amour

Pack your beach bag because you will be spending a fantastic day in some of the most famous beaches of the island.

Our beach day starts traveling North from the capital to reach the romantic Canal d’Amour, in the town of Sidari.

Also known as the Love Canal, the unique landscape is formed by clear rocky formations with quite odd shapes and textures. 

You can simply lay on the sand and enjoy the dolce far niente in perfect Greek style, sipping a frappe (Greek cold coffee) or a chilly with a local beer. 

Otherwise, you can also do what most people that get to the area actually come for: jumping off the cliff into the turquoise sea.

The canal that gives name to the beach leads you under the cliff above. And as everything in Greece, it comes with its own legend.

According to popular belief, swimming through the canal is all you need to do to find a perfect match and get married in no time. It’s quite easy to swim the canal as it is shallow and not very long. So there you go, it’s up to you to include that swim among the things you must do in Corfu!

Bonus day trip: The nearby islands of Antipaxos and Paxos

Sailing towards Paxos.

If you’re lucky to be able to add one more day to your Corfu itinerary, don’t doubt it and jump on a boat.

A really popular excursion in Corfu is the one that takes you along a whole day of adventure, sailing from Corfu’s port to the nearby islands of Antipaxos and Paxos.

I bet that if you’re reading this article it’s because Corfu has been on your radar for a while now, Therefore, you’ve most probably already seen those fantastic shots in which sailing boats seem to be floating over an incredible light blue sea. Haven’t you? 

Boat off the coast of Antipaxos.

If the answer is yes, and you really want to enjoy this view in person, a sailing trip around the island of Antipaxos is all you need. 

You will be able to jump off the boat and swim in such clear waters for a while. You will also find that such a trip is great for snorkeling too. The submarine landscape around this tiny island is colorful and truly gorgeous.

If you booked a full day tour, your next stop will be the somewhat bigger island of Paxos, where you can spend a few hours exploring the coast as well as the old town, with its picturesque church, houses, and tavernas.

The colorful village of Gaios, in Paxos.

Choose any of them for a bite of local seafood, shop gastronomic souvenirs, such as honey or olive oil, and head back you Corfu island for a dinner in style.

There’s a little bit of Italy all over Corfu. And there’s definitely a lot of Italy on the menu you’ll find at Pomo d’Oro. This cozy restaurant in the heart of the city center is not your regular Italian joint. Here, flavors are infused with Corfu’s flavors and Mediterranean style.

Where to Stay in Corfu

We have a full post on where to stay in Corfu Town here, but if you want our quick and easy top 3 picks, you can find them below.

Budget: Local Hostel & Suites

This brand new hostel (with private rooms available) is small, offering an intimate and personal experience with only 10 rooms. You can choose from a dormitory type room or a private room with an ensuite bathroom.

Location is the name of the game here: it is very close to the port (great for doing day trips to other islands or even Albania!), yet it’s also located just 10 minutes from the heart of Old Town.

While it’s easy to walk to the Old Town, there is also a nearby bus stop that can get you back and forth from the town easily — great as taxis in Corfu are crazy overpriced, similar to many other touristic Greek islands. The facilities are all brand new because they just opened around August of this year, so you’ll enjoy comfortable and modern amenities.

All of their rooms have clean and crisp minimalist styles. They have a minibar which serves snacks during the day, and every morning, they offer coffee (with refills)! Past guests commended the cleanliness of the place – calling it squeaky clean! The only issue some guests found was that there can be some noise from the kitchen in the morning or at night.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Local Hostel & Suites ««

Mid-Range: Corfu Mare Boutique Hotel

Despite being a short trip by bus or taxi to the heart of the Old Town from this hotel, it still gets plenty of guests for its phenomenal amenities. In fact, you should hurry if you see there’s a room available – virtually every past guest of this hotel says that it is 100% worth staying here!

Corfu Mare has multiple room types and configurations (with a total of 51 total rooms). For a more modern room, look to their junior suite for stylish vibes. Most of the rooms have simple, classic decor elements to make each room look elegantly fabulous. Their beds use Coco-mats for the mattresses: they’re made out of natural fibers, and they’re also very comfortable and sturdy.

All of their rooms and suites are fully equipped with all the best features you can expect for a mid-range priced hotel. Interconnected rooms are also available if you are a large group of travelers. The hotel is tucked away from the main streets of Corfu Town. You will love how enclosed and exclusive the entire property is, and the fact that there’s also free and secure parking.

Just be reminded that there’s not much in the way of shops and restaurants nearby, so you’ll have to head into the heart of the Old Town for more action. The main views of the hotel are its private pool, garden, and the sea nearby, so if you want Old Town vibes, other Corfu Town hotels may be a better fit. Still, it is a wonderful, classy, and afforable place to stay in Corfu Town — and that’s one reason of many that so many guests return.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Corfu Mare Boutique Hotel ««

Luxury: Bella Venezia

Bella Venezia is a luxury hotel in the Old Town of Corfu that showcases what a typical mansion looked like during the 18th century. It stands out from the other buildings in the town due to its peach-painted exterior. The location is also perfect, bothnearby to the attractions in the Old Town plus easy access to a local beach.

It was recently renovated in just 2016, transforming it into the modern hotel is it now. It’s a cozy hotel, with just 30 rooms and 1 suite, so service is individualized and personal. In terms of style, the interiors are decorated with exquisite furniture and embellishments. The lobby showcases pure elegance and class with its style choices.

Their rooms have parquet floors, and some bed frames are made out of wood and others from iron. One thing’s for sure: the mattresses are soft and comfortable, and many of their past guests raved about it! The hotel mixes and matches different classic pieces to create that romantic and sophisticated style for all the rooms. Most of their rooms have a balcony and the views are mesmerizing!

Check out the fridge in the room for a complimentary bottle of wine or champagne, plus a bunch of gorgeous roses to welcome you on your first day! A/C and heating give you choice over the climate control to keep you comfortable regardless of the season.

You will love how they put tealight candles in the ensuite bathroom to make it even cozier, and toiletries and towels are for your disposal here as well. It also has an enclosed shower to keep the toilet area dry and comfortable.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Bella Venezia ««

5 Things to Bring with You to Greece

Greece - Crete - Heraklion - Old Venetian Harbor Luggage

If you’re planning a trip to Greece, you’ll want to pack all the normal essentials, but here are a few things we strongly recommend bringing that may not have crossed your mind. For more packing tips, check out our complete Greece packing list.

– A physical guidebook, in paper or on Kindle. We own and love Lonely Planet Greece for this region and strongly recommend it to supplement blogs. Blogs are great, but a combination of a blog and a guidebook is key to having the best access to information easily at your fingertips.

– A water bottle with a filter. While generally, the tap water in most of Greece is drinkable, we generally recommend using a water bottle with a purifying filter to reduce your plastic consumption and ensure you won’t drink any funny-tasting water on your stomach that could make your trip unpleasant! There are places in Greece, especially on the islands, where the water tastes like minerals or have been desalinated and have a funky taste.

We recommend the GRAYL water bottle – it filters water perfectly in an instant so that you can even drink from lakes, bad taps, etc.

– Motion sickness pills. Often, Greek roads are winding, especially around the coast. If you have a weak stomach as we do, save yourself and bring some non-drowsy motion sickness pills.

 Travel safety items. We think Greece is safe to travel, but at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Stephanie or I use these. Instead, we both carry the same PacSafe anti-theft backpack (the small bag pictured above).

It has locking zippers, slash-proof construction with metal mesh hidden in the fabric, and tons of other smart security features — all while being cute and stylish enough to be our everyday bag. We recommend it highly for both male and female travelers, as it’s neutral enough to be unisex. We also strongly recommend travel insurance! Our recommendation is at the bottom of the post.

Read More: Essential Greece Packing List: What to Wear & Pack for Greece

More Greece Travel Resources

First read our guide to planning a trip to Greece, which covers visas, budgets, vaccines, and much more. We also have a separate guide to tipping in Greece so you know what to give to different servers and staff while you’re here.

Next, you’ll want to read our all-season Greece packing list.

If you are still trying to figure out your Greece itinerary, check out our guides on where to go in Greece, the best places for island hopping in Greece, and when is the best time to visit. 

If you know you’ll be spending time in Athens, check out our Athens Instagram guide, the best Athens day trips, and our complete Athens hotel guide. We also have a guide to the best things to do in Athens in winter

We also have Athens safety tips so your trip can be hassle-free. We are currently working on our mega-post of things to do in Athens as well as our itineraries, so stay tuned! 

We publish new content about the Balkans almost every day! For more information about traveling to Greece and the Balkans, bookmark our Greece and Balkan travel pages so you can find out what’s new before your trip.

Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!

I’m sure you’re aware that it’s a good idea to have travel insurance for traveling in Greece, the Balkans, or anywhere in the world!

Stephanie and I have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption. 

While Greece is safe, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel like theft or injury, so it’s better to play it safe.

>> Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here <<

5 Things to Bring with You to Greece

Greece - Crete - Heraklion - Old Venetian Harbor Luggage

If you’re planning a trip to Greece, you’ll want to pack all the normal essentials, but here are a few things we strongly recommend bringing that may not have crossed your mind. For more packing tips, check out our complete Greece packing list.

– A physical guidebook, in paper or on Kindle. We own and love Lonely Planet Greece for this region and strongly recommend it to supplement blogs. Blogs are great, but a combination of a blog and a guidebook is key to having the best access to information easily at your fingertips.

– A water bottle with a filter. While generally, the tap water in most of Greece is drinkable, we generally recommend using a water bottle with a purifying filter to reduce your plastic consumption and ensure you won’t drink any funny-tasting water on your stomach that could make your trip unpleasant! There are places in Greece, especially on the islands, where the water tastes like minerals or have been desalinated and have a funky taste.

We recommend the GRAYL water bottle – it filters water perfectly in an instant so that you can even drink from lakes, bad taps, etc.

– Motion sickness pills. Often, Greek roads are winding, especially around the coast. If you have a weak stomach as we do, save yourself and bring some non-drowsy motion sickness pills.

 Travel safety items. We think Greece is safe to travel, but at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Stephanie or I use these. Instead, we both carry the same PacSafe anti-theft backpack (the small bag pictured above).

It has locking zippers, slash-proof construction with metal mesh hidden in the fabric, and tons of other smart security features — all while being cute and stylish enough to be our everyday bag. We recommend it highly for both male and female travelers, as it’s neutral enough to be unisex. We also strongly recommend travel insurance! Our recommendation is at the bottom of the post.

Read More: Essential Greece Packing List: What to Wear & Pack for Greece

More Greece Travel Resources

First read our guide to planning a trip to Greece, which covers visas, budgets, vaccines, and much more. We also have a separate guide to tipping in Greece so you know what to give to different servers and staff while you’re here.

Next, you’ll want to read our all-season Greece packing list.

If you are still trying to figure out your Greece itinerary, check out our guides on where to go in Greece, the best places for island hopping in Greece, and when is the best time to visit.

We have more Corfu content on the way, but for now, check our guide to accommodations in Corfu Town.

Want more Greek itineraries? We have guides to 2 days in Mykonos, and 2 days in Chania, Rethymnon, and Heraklion (all on Crete).

If you know you’ll be spending time in Athens, check out our Athens Instagram guide, the best Athens day trips, and our complete Athens hotel guide. We also have a guide to the best things to do in Athens in winter

We also have Athens safety tips so your trip can be hassle-free. We are currently working on our mega-post of things to do in Athens as well as our itineraries, so stay tuned! 

We publish new content about the Balkans almost every day! For more information about traveling to Greece and the Balkans, bookmark our Greece and Balkan travel pages so you can find out what’s new before your trip.

Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!

I’m sure you’re aware that it’s a good idea to have travel insurance for traveling in Greece, the Balkans, or anywhere in the world!

Stephanie and I have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption. 

While Greece is safe, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel like theft or injury, so it’s better to play it safe.

>> Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here <<

How to Spend a Magical One Day in Istanbul: Mini Itinerary

Have you ever visited a city and developed an instant connection with its striking architecture, bustling streets, and amazing vibe? This article is about the city that has the potential to make one fall utterly in love with it in just 24 hours: Istanbul.

Istanbul, the most populous city of Turkey, is celebrated as one of the most favorite tourist destinations around the world, offering a tangible meaning to the phrase where “the East meets the West”: the city itself literally spans both Europe and Asia.

With a magnificent history, rich culture, compassionate people, and scrumptious cuisine, Istanbul has something for everyone.

Whether you’re planning to make the most of a long layover in Istanbul or adding a while-stop one day in Istanbul during your European tour, this brief guide brings to you to the best of Istanbul in 24 hours!

Before It Begins: At the Airport

Turkey - Istanbul - Arriving at Ataturk Airport
The old Ataturk airport, now no longer in use

I am certainly not one of those who follow a strict itinerary when traveling, but it’s best to plan a little ahead and have a rough idea about the places you would like to visit, especially when it’s a race against time.

Getting the e-visa in advance and choosing to land on the New Istanbul Airport on the European side of the city instead of Sabiha Gokcen Airport in Kurtkoy on the Asian side is an important decision. Since almost all of the touristic spots are situated on the European side, this saves on transportation costs as well as time.

Google Maps is undoubtedly a traveler’s best friend, but since one won’t always have access to Wi-Fi, buying a tourist welcome SIM card pack with several GBs of internet is a good way to begin. At the airport, you’ll find the three biggest mobile Internet providers of Turkey: Turkcell, Vodafone, and Turk Telekom. Check out their packages online and buy the cheapest one as you’re here for just a day!

Also, don’t forget to get your local currency exchanged into Turkish Liras, and if using a debit card, make sure the bank is notified of its use abroad. When taking out money from the ATM, beware of the extra ATM charges, which are deducted from your account. Make sure you have enough 5 TL, 10 TL, and 20 TL bills, as credit cards and bigger bills won’t work in the local transport systems.

Another thing to sort before you finally go out to explore Istanbul is to get your hands on the super-useful Istanbul Kart! If you don’t wish to spend all your hard-earned money on the taxi rides or get stuck in the crazy Istanbul traffic, spend 6 TL on an Istanbul Kart, load it with around 50 TL, and travel through the well-established public transportation system of the city. Keep in mind that you’ll be exploring Istanbul majorly on foot so make sure to invest in a good pair of walking shoes!

First Stop: Sultanahmet Meydani

The New Istanbul airport is situated about 49 km from the famous Sultanahmet Meydani, the heart of the old city.

Also known as the Hippodrome of Constantinople, the square is often the first stop on any Istanbul itinerary, as most of the touristic sites are situated here at a walking distance from each other.

The best way to reach here is to take the airport shuttle service, Havaist. Take the bus that reads Sultanahmet, as its final destination and it will drop you at the Hagia Sofia in just 18 TL. The tramline here connects almost every touristy place!

Kahvaltı Platter or On-The-Go Breakfast? You Decide!

Being a true foodie at heart, I would recommend starting the journey early with authentic Turkish breakfast. The options are numerous! Depending on your preference you can either choose to eat at a restaurant or grab a quick bite.

Head Southwest and then take a left to reach the Dervish Café, a 24-hour open café located at the Kabasakal Caddesi.

Here you can enjoy a spectacular view of the Blue mosque and a delicious kahvaltı platter with ekmek (Turkish bread), eggs, olives, a variety of cheese, jam, butter, honey, sausages, ham, vegetables, and a steamy cup of Çay (Turkish tea).

However, if you are planning on treating yourself with a scrumptious kofte lunch, I would suggest sticking to the on-the-go breakfast staple, simit (a Turkish roll similar to a bagel covered in sesame seeds) and a cup of çay, available everywhere on mobile carts.

Walking Down History Lane

Turkey - Istanbul - Blue Mosque - Canva

Arriving early for your one day in Istanbul will have its benefits. You can start from the magnificent Sultan Ahmed Camii, also known as the Blue Mosque.

This is the smartest way to begin as most sites and museums open at 9:00 AM, whereas the mosque with the six-minarets is open for visitors at all times (except during the five prayers).

Entering from the Hippodrome, which is at the West side of the mosque, you’ll relish the peaceful ambiance of the glorious prayer hall adorned with 20,000 blue Iznik tiles.

Turkey - Istanbul - Hagia Sofia

Walk right across the mosque and in two minutes you’ll reach the Hagia Sophia Museum – an architectural testament to the historic significance of Istanbul.

The grandiose of the chandeliers handing from the giant dome, the intricate Arabic calligraphy, well-preserved Biblical mosaics, and the beautiful paintings would surely get you some Instagrammable pictures!

As of 2020, the entrance fee is 100 TL. You can even buy the entrance tickets online by paying a little extra or invest in the Muze Kart (museum card) if you wish to visit Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum and the Istanbul Archaeological Museum for free for the whole year.

While Topkapi Palace is just 3 minutes away, I would not include it in my one-day tour, as exploring the palace alone would take half a day.

Instead, it’s best to head northwest and add the ancient Basilica Cistern to your one day in Istanbul itinerary, as it’s only a minute away and would cost you no more than 30 TL.

The eerie beauty of the underground Roman reservoir is accentuated with the dimly lit passageways and two blocks carved with Medusa’s visage. You can notice several gleaming coins thrown by the tourists inside the little water that remains in the cistern!

A Mouth Full of Köfte and Souvenir Shopping

While walking out of the Cistern, you might hear your tummy grumbling and that’s what I call the köfte-cry!

After all the sight-seeing, all you need is a hearty meal comprising of delectable Turkish meatballs doused in flavorful tomato sauce, served with pickled green peppers and crunchy ekmek bread. Match it up with a side of piyaz (Turkish bean salad) and a glass full of frothy ayran (a sour buttermilk-like drink) and you’ll be good to go!

My favorite lunchtime spot is the Tarihi Sultanahmet Köftecisi Selim Usta, located alongside Divan Yolu. Don’t be surprised to find this multi-floor restaurant full and buzzing, as it’s as popular among tourists as among locals.

Assuming that it’s NOT a Sunday, you should next be headed towards the largest covered bazaar of the world, the Grand Bazaar.

You can either opt for a short tram ride from Sultanahmet to Beyazit or take a 10-minute walk. My vote goes to walking, as it would give you a chance to explore the eye-catching gift shops and people-watch the crowd.

The crowded narrow streets of Grand Bazaar, bustling with energy, colors, and chaos, can easily make you lose the sense of time. Someone who knows the art of haggling would have a chance of finding everything from ceramics to jewelry and from spices to rugs to crockery!

If you’re a fan of spices, pay a visit to the Mısır Çarşısı, also known as the Spice Bazaar in Fatih. But I would recommend saving some shopping for Istiklal Street!

Crossing the Galata Bridge

Sunsets in Istanbul are to die for! Don’t you believe me? Take a stroll across the Galata Bridge, spanning the Golden Horn or the inlet of the Bosphorus River.

Watching the reflection of the last of the sunrays into the twinkling river filled with ferries and fishing boats and the spectacular view of the Süleymaniye Camii from this bridge is surreal.

With an upper level lined with fishing lines and lower levels housing floating eateries, the Galata bridge takes you straight to the Beyoglyu district.

And, while you’re there, don’t forget to grab a Balik Ekmek (Fish Sandwich) from Osmanli Balikçisi.

The Panoramic View from the Galata Tower

A 10-minute walk from the Karakoy Station takes you to the skyscraping Galata Kulesi. The tower is a personal favorite as the view is like a dream!

You can go up the medieval stone tower and experience the most breathtaking panoramic view of Istanbul and its surroundings by paying an entrance fee of just 35 TL.

However, keep an eye on your wristwatch as the line to this hot tourist attraction can be pretty long!

Istiklal Caddesi – A Street Full of Music, Food, And Budget Shopping

To me, Istiklal is the street that never sleeps. In fact, it becomes alive just as the sun sets.

Lined with shops showcasing branded clothes and shoes, glittering, colorful Turkish lamps, hand-made leather products, customized t-shirts, gift items, books and stationery, fridge magnets, key chains, mugs, home décor products, musical instruments, paintings, ancient coins and maps, and what not!

Sprinkled among these shops are eateries offering Turkish fast food and cute cafes with the most amazing deserts and coffee! You can also have a look at the Madame Tussauds Istanbul on Istiklal Street for a touristy treat.

You can get a Turkish mosaic lamp perfect for your bedside table in less than 60 TL – a must buy! If planning to buy some cool and affordable clothes, drop by LC Waikiki or Koton, two popular shops on Istiklal Caddesi. You’ll find brands like Zara and Mango here as well.

Even if you’re running short on the shopping budget, you can appreciate the street musicians playing a variety of instruments and ensuring that the people have a good time.

Thanks to all the walking, you’ll have some space for the melt-in-the-mouth favorite, a potato-based fast food called Kumpir. You’ll find a couple of shops selling the best kumpirs – try them out!

In case you have a sweet tooth like me, try out the warm cheesy kunefe served with a quenelle of kaymaklı dondurma (Turkish ice cream) at MADO.

If you’re in a mood to have a more traditional dinner, walk straight to the Hatay Medeniyetler Sofrası – a restaurant by the Internet celebrity chef, CZNBurak!

The restaurant is always full, but you might not have to wait if you get lucky. The food is finger-licking good, but the best part is the awesome music played by the servers with the spoons and plates to entertain the customers.

Be sure to click some pictures with the vintage tram moving along Istiklal Caddesi and with the Republic Monument in the middle of Taksim Square.

The Bosphorus Night Cruise – A Perfect End to the Perfect Day in Istanbul

The end to such a memorable journey has to be as unforgettable and I am sure you’ll cherish the Bosphorus tour for the rest of your life.

You can choose a Bosphorus tour offered by a private company (will most probably offer pick and drop as well) or choose the light-on-the-pocket, moonlight cruise on the Bosphorus offered by Şehir Hatları, Istanbul’s official ferry company.

You will have unlimited options when booking a private tour. If you haven’t had your dinner, a Bosphorus dinner cruise would probably be the best. Many cruise tours offer Turkish Night Shows with belly dancing, traditional food tastings, and live performances.

If booking the Mehtap Gezi tour by Şehir Hatları, you can save big as it will cost you just 20 TL. You can check the schedule and other information on their website.  The ferry leaves at 10:30 PM from Eminönü and takes you all the way to the Black Sea and back.

Last Words of Advice

Even though Istanbul is a dream destination throughout the year, the best time to visit the city is late spring, during May and June, as summer could get really hot and winter can be pretty cold.

When visiting mosques or other religious sites, please respect the dress code. Wear long skirts, pants, and full-sleeved shirts. Women are supposed to cover their head with a scarf as well. Also, don’t forget to check the opening hours of the places you wish to visit beforehand.

You’ll find the streets of Istanbul full of cute cats and dogs. These animals are vaccinated and are often pampered by tourists, so don’t hesitate to pet them or share a bite with them.

Turkish people are extremely compassionate and welcoming, so return the warmth by smiling and saying ‘Merhaba’ (hello in Turkish)!

So, book your trip to Istanbul and let the magical city make you fall in love with it!

Where to Stay in Istanbul

Turkey - Istanbul - Hammamhane

We have a ton of resources to help you decide where to stay in Istanbul!

Check our giant neighborhood guide and hotel recommendations, or look specifically for our favorite Sultanahmet hotels near the Blue Mosque or our favorite Bosphorus view hotels.

If you just want our quick recommendations, here are our top picks for each budget category.

Budget: For a great budget-friendly hotel, you can stay in single or double rooms at the Dreamers B&B. Colorful and cozy, the B&B boasts a fabulous location in Beyoglu, less than a kilometer from Taksim Square. You can explore all of Beyoglu from here, and then head to Sultanahmet when you’re ready to see the old city. Check pricing, reviews, and availability here.

Mid-Range: For an affordable, yet trendy boutique hotel, we recommend Peradays. It’s perfect for all Istanbul visitors, from first-timers to Istanbul veterans. The lofted rooms are generously large, so you can spread out and relax after a long day of sightseeing. They also have two cats that live here, Pera and Daisy, which you’ll be happy to greet after counting cats all day when out in the city. Check pricing, reviews, and availability here. 

Luxury: Istanbul has no shortage of fabulous hotels, but we love Hammamhane, a boutique apartment-hotel that was originally a hammam, and the sister hotel of Peradays. Built in a historic hammam (Turkish bath), the suites are spacious and luxurious. Located in the heart of Cukurcuma, the antiques district, Hammamhane is within walking distance to art galleries, design stores, antique shops, and chic cafés. Check pricing, reviews, and availability here.

What to Pack for Istanbul

Greece - Crete - Heraklion - Old Venetian Harbor Luggage

We have a guide of what to pack for Turkey, but here are five things you definitely want to bring with you!

The Lonely Planet Turkeya good guidebook can help you with the kinds of safety tips you need if you’re out in the city and feel a bit lost, especially if you don’t have internet or a cell signal. These also have specific neighborhood information that will help you in different parts of the city, and it’s a great supplement to blog posts like this one!

Unlocked Cell Phone: Stephanie and I both have unlocked cell phones that we bought in Europe (Stephanie uses a Samsung and I use an iPhone). This allows up to get sim cards when we travel so that we always have the internet. This has gotten us out of so many jams! If you don’t have an unlocked cell phone that can use a Turkish sim card, you can buy a cheaper unlocked phone online and bring it with you!

Pacsafe Citysafe or Other Anti-Theft Bag: This is the bag both Stephanie and I use for all our travels. It has a pouch with RFID technology so our credit cards can’t get scanned from afar, interlocking zippers to make it harder to pickpocket, and it’s roomy enough to be a perfect sightseeing day bag, yet it’s still quite stylish for all of its security features. If you’d rather bring something smaller, you can pack a money belt instead. 

Grayl Water FilterWhile the water is *technically* safe to drink in much of Turkey, I would still avoid it. If you don’t want to be buying millions of plastic water bottles, you can get a reusable water bottle that comes with a water filter so that you can stick to the tap water and reduce your plastic waste. If you’ll be traveling outside of the major tourist centers, check if the water is potable locally.

Seabands: If you get seasick easily, pack some Seabands or seasickness pills so you don’t miss out on the best parts of Turkey – being on the water! A trip to Turkey isn’t complete without a cruise or at least a quick boat trip, so make sure you’re prepared to enjoy it to the fullest!

More Turkey Travel Resources

Turkey - Istanbul - Istanbul in Winter Snow Selfie Stephanie

Headed to Turkey? We have some great travel resources to help you with your trip.

If this will be your first time traveling to Turkey, check out this guide to planning a trip to Turkey (including visa information) and this guide beautiful places to visit in Turkey. You can also check out our Balkan currency guide, which explains how the Turkish lira works and guidelines for tipping in Istanbul.

If you’re heading to Istanbul, we have you covered. Start with our essential Istanbul Travel Tips and guide to staying safe in Istanbul

We’re working on our massive things to do in Istanbul post, plus you can check out our guide to the best Instagram spots around Istanbul, tips for shopping in Istanbul, the best Turkish food to eat, how to plan an Istanbul honeymoon, and what to do in Istanbul at night.

If you will be visiting in winter, we have a special winter in Istanbul guide plus an overview of Istanbul weather in January.

If you want to be in the city for just a few days (four or less), check out our Istanbul city break guide, which breaks down the best of the city so you won’t miss anything!

Headed to Cappadocia? If you’re curious about the most Instagrammable places in Cappadocia, we’ve got you covered. We also have posts on the best things to do in Cappadocia, and how to plan a perfect 3 day Cappadocia itinerary, plus how to get to Cappadocia from Istanbul.

We have tons more Turkey and Balkans resources, and we publish new content nearly daily. Bookmark our Turkey and Balkans travel pages so you can find any new resources that come out before your trip!

Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!

I’m sure you’re aware that travel insurance is a good idea for traveling in Turkey (or really, any part of the world)! We have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption.

While Turkey is safe to travel around, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel, so it’s better to play it safe.

>> Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here <<

10 Crete Hidden Gems & Secret Places for Your Next Crete Adventure!

If you’re reading this article, chances are that you are preparing your next trip to Crete. Therefore, you’ve already heard about the beaches of Elafonisi, the city of Chania, and the old town of Rethymnon.

You’ve probably read about the archaeological sites, the magnificent Knossos Palace and the capital Heraklion. You may have even discovered the lesser-known east and the best things to do there. Now you’re here because you want to know a bit more. Well, you’re in the right place.

Although it’s one of the most touristic Greek spots, visited by thousands of tourists year after year, Crete is such a huge island that there are several places still unknown to those who visit often and even to locals themselves! Hidden beaches, gorges, and bizarre landscapes are not an oddity on Crete… on the contrary, they are the norm. So keep your eyes wide open. In this article, we will reveal some of those secret places of Crete that only a few know about, including my favorite hidden gems in Crete and the best offbeat places.

Can’t read now? Pin for later!

Secret Crete Hidden Gems

The Best Crete Hidden Gems & Secret Spots

In no particular order…

Lake Kournas

Not many are aware that Crete is not just the perfect beach paradise of the Mediterranean. The island is also home to awe-inspiring mountain ranges, valleys, plains… and even lakes! 

And when it comes to lakes and wetlands, artificial reservoirs and several dams can be found in different areas of the island. These have been built to meet the local needs of water supply and are often filled with snow that melts from the high peaks of Crete. However, the island is also home to one natural freshwater lake of stunning beauty. Lake Kournas.

Kournas is a small village about 50 km from the center of Chania, in the western region of Crete. The village overlooks the beautiful lake which stands surrounded by fantastic green hills. Kournas is home to several natural species and a variety of birds, and it is also a great place to relax away from the most popular resorts usually crowded in summer.

On the lake, it’s possible to rent paddle boats or eat in one of the many fantastic Cretan tavernas that populate the waterfront in the area. The village is a great place where to buy Cretan ceramics and other crafts to take back home as an original souvenir.

Sfinari Beach

Everyone knows and loves the spectacular beach of Falassarna, on the western coast of the island. Falassarna is a wide bay better-known for being the hotspot on Crete when it comes to witnessing the best sunsets in the Mediterranean.

However, not far from Falassarna, on the same coast and therefore, with the same western orientation, favorable to observe those magnificent sunsets, stands Sfinari, a rather hidden pebble beach, with almost no organization, where you can spend a holiday in total isolation. 

Sfinari is not as crowded as many other beaches of west Crete, but it’s definitely a hidden place you should check out on the island.

Roman Cisterns of Aptera

Usually less-crowded than other archaeological sites, such as Knossos, Malia or Festos, Aptera is a fairly big archaeological site located in the regional unit of Chania. It’s located up on a beautiful hill facing the spectacular natural bay of Souda, one of Crete’s main ports.

Aptera, which has been occupied since the Minoan times until the Byzantine period, hides one of the best-preserved Roman aqueducts and cisterns of the island. The archaeological site is open to the public from 8.30 to 15.30, every day except Thursdays, and the entrance fee is 4€.

Richtis Gorge

Greece - Crete - A girl admiring the Richtis Gorge waterfall. It is a state protected park near Exo Mouliana, Sitia, eastern Crete. The hiking trail is about 4 km in length of easy to moderate difficulty.

Moving towards the eastern region of Lasithi, several are the off-the-beaten-track places that Crete hides. The gorge of Richtis is one of them.

Located halfway through the city of Agios Nikolaos and the port of Sitia, Richtis is a hidden small gorge that you can walk all the way until you reach its fantastic waterfall and isolated beach.

The area is covered with abundant vegetation, colorful flowers and even fresh berries that you can pick and eat on your way.

Once at the entrance of the gorge, you are welcomed by a stone ancient bridge, from there, follow the course of the small river that lands you directly on the beach of Richtis after a walk of about forty minutes.

Palm Tree Forests

Crete hosts Europe’s biggest palm tree forest at the beach of Vai, on the extreme eastern coast of the island. This unique grove of  Crete date palm is located on a very wide shore and limited by high rocky cliffs on both of its extremes. 

The beach of Vai is shallow and well-protected from the winds, which makes it a perfect destination, especially for families.

Vai, however, is not the only palm tree forest in Crete. In the region of Rethymnon, the beautiful beach of Preveli, on the southern coast of the Rethymnon prefecture is another area with abundant palm trees, this time growing on the sides of a river that ends its course on a wonderful sandy beach.

Agia Lake

We said before that Crete’s only freshwater lake is Kournas, however, there are also some artificial lakes worth a visit on the island. One of them is Agia, not far from the Omalos Plateau in the prefecture of Chania and less than half an hour from the city center.

Agia is one of the most important wetlands in the region home to one-of-a-kind biodiversity. The rich flora is characteristic of the area, while several species of birds migrate from and to Agia during the different seasons making it a fantastic natural environment, ideal for a walk in summer, or a cup of hot Greek coffee in winter, in one of the few cafeterias located right in front of the lake

Potamida

One of the weirdest sights you can witness in Crete is the odd formation of Komolithi. Located also in the region of Chania, the village of Potamida hides the small but impressive hills in the valley of river Tyflos.

These low grey mountains are surrounded by lush vegetation and have a characteristic green top while the rest of them is made of arid and dry clay.

They are easy to climb and the perfect place to see a completely different image of Crete. Those coming from Chania can reach Komolithi about 15 minutes after the detour to Elafonisi beach.

Argyropouli

The small village of Argyropouli is in the region of Rethymnon, about 27 km from the city of Rethymnon. Formerly home to the Ancient Settlement of Lappa, Argyropouli is a fantastic natural environment made of countless natural springs and waterfalls that descend from the mountains.

The area is permanently green and has pleasant temperatures, and it’s a perfect place to spend a day away from the coast. In the area, several restaurants serve grilled trout and other fish varieties that are directly picked from the ponds and coked right in front of you.

Ravdoucha

The mysterious Rodopou peninsula is the wildest and most remote area of Crete. Largely uninhabited due to its harsh landscape and lack of accessible roads, the peninsula hosts fantastic beaches that only a few people know about.

One of the lesser-known beaches in Cape Rodopou is Ravdoucha, with pristine waters and a mix of sand and dark rocks, Ravdoucha offers great shelter and isolation to spend some time in complete disconnection from the rest of the world.

The only way to reach Ravdoucha is by car or taxi (there’s no public transport reaching the area), traveling for about 35 minutes from Chania’s city center towards the west.

On the beach, there’s almost no organization, just a one to eat, and only a few rooms to rent. The best place to stay if you want to reach the area is the small village of Kolymbari, at the base of the peninsula.

Odigitrias Monastery

Remain on the same peninsula of Rodopou to visit another unique hidden spot on the island.

Crete is a land of churches and monasteries, some of them very famous, others, extremely old and abandoned, and many of them remarkable for their role in Crete’s history and yet pretty much unknown to visitors and even to locals!

Everyone floods the monasteries of Preveli and Arkadi, but not many are aware of the beautiful Odigitrias Monastery, also known as Monastery of our Lady of Gonia, less than 25 kilometers from the center of Chania. 

The religious building is on a steep hill facing the Gulf of Chania and played a key role during the Nazi occupation of Crete as the place where local groups for the resistance of Crete would gather forces and organize to fight against the Nazis.

The monastery is known also for its fortified walls and the beautiful floor of the courtyard made of small cobblestones completely surrounded by the cells of the monks.

Key Things to Pack on Your Trip to Crete

Greece - Crete - Heraklion - Old Venetian Harbor Luggage
 

If you’re planning a trip to Greece, you’ll want to pack all the normal essentials, but here are a few things we strongly recommend bringing that may not have crossed your mind. For more packing tips, check out our complete Essential Crete Packing List: What to Wear & Pack for Crete

– A physical guidebook, in paper or on Kindle. We love Lonely Planet Greece for this region and strongly recommend it to supplement blogs. Blogs are great, but a combination of a blog and a guidebook is key to having the best access to information easily at your fingertips.

– A water bottle with a filter. While often, the tap water in Greece is drinkable, there are places where it isn’t, including some popular tourist destinations like Santorini.

We generally recommend using a water bottle with a purifying filter to reduce your plastic consumption and ensure you won’t drink any funny-tasting water on your stomach that could make your trip unpleasant!

We recommend the GRAYL water bottle – it filters water perfectly in an instant so that you can even drink from lakes, bad taps, etc.

– Motion sickness pills. Many Greek roads are winding, especially around the coast. Not to mention how choppy the ferries can be if you’re not lucky with the weather! If you have a weak stomach as we do, save yourself and bring some non-drowsy motion sickness pills.

– Wet wipes, hand sanitizer, TP & other Balkan transit needs. Bathrooms in Greece aren’t always well-stocked. Save yourself the disappointment and bring a mini-rescue pack of wet wipes & hand sanitizer.

 Travel safety items. We think Greece is very safe to travel, but at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Stephanie or I use these. Instead, we both carry the same PacSafe anti-theft backpack.

It has locking zippers, slash-proof construction with metal mesh hidden in the fabric, and tons of other smart security features — all while being cute and stylish enough to be our everyday bag. We recommend it highly for both male and female travelers, as it’s neutral enough to be unisex. We also strongly recommend travel insurance! Our recommendation is at the bottom of the post.

Crete Travel Resources

Crete - Rethymnon - Neratze Mosque or Gazi Hussein Mosque in Mikrasiaton Square

Most people who come to Rethymnon also explore other parts of this beautiful island. Here are additional Crete travel resources to help you with your trip.

We have some great travel resources to help you with your trip. First read our guide to planning a trip to Greece, which covers visas, budgets, vaccines, and much more. We also have a Balkan currency guide which explains how money works in Greece and local tipping customs.

Since you’ll be in Rethymnon, check out our Instagram guide to Rethymnon next, our guide to things to do in Rethymnon, and the best Rethymnon hotels.

We also have Chania, Heraklion, and Rethymnon itineraries.

If you’re still trying to work out where to go on the island, check out our guide to the best places to visit in Crete and our favorite Crete beaches.

If this will be one of your first trips to the Greek islands, check out our massive Greek Island hopping guide as well as our recommendations for where to go in Greece and when is the best time to visit. 

We publish new content about the Balkans almost every day! For more information about traveling to Greece and the Balkans, bookmark our Greece and Balkan travel pages so you can find out what’s new before your trip.

Don’t Travel to Crete without Travel Insurance

Finally, make sure you always travel to Crete with a valid travel insurance policy. While Rethymnon is a very safe place to travel, you want to make sure you have your possessions covered if they’re stolen and your medical bills covered if you get sick or injured.

For travel insurance, I use World NomadsI’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.

Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.

Pin this Guide to Crete Hidden Gems & Secret Places for Your Trip!

Secret Crete Hidden Gems

What to Eat in Crete: the 11 Best-Kept Secrets of the Cretan Diet

The island of Crete is a magnificent treasure that guards hundreds of traditions and rituals you cannot easily find anywhere else in Greece. One of these secrets is the local food.

You may be wondering what to eat in Crete. Well, the Cretan diet is a wonderful array of taste and color made of very healthy dishes that conquers everyone visiting the island. Cretan dishes are, indeed, one of the key elements you’re bound to always remember whenever you look back at your holidays on the island.

Whether you dine in a modern or high-end restaurant in Chania, or in a lost taverna in the middle of the mountains, there’s one characteristic that makes them all stand out, the complete adherence to the following main principles of the Cretan cuisine.

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What to Eat in Crete - Cretan Diet

Basic principles of the Cretan Diet 

If you want to eat like a local in Crete, here’s what you need to keep in mind.

Olive oil rigorously extra virgin

 

Blessed with more than 2 million olive trees scattered around the whole territory, Crete remains one of the world’s first producers of top quality extra virgin olive oil. These trees not only cover the local needs of oil but much of it is exported worldwide. 

Besides, Cretans are the top consumers of extra virgin olive oil in the world with more than 20 liters per person consumed yearly on the island, a huge number if compared with the 5 liters consumed yearly per person in other European countries, or the 1.7 liters used per year in a huge country such as Australia.

Olive oil is the main fat used in Cretan cuisine. It’s used to prepare salads and to season any dish you can think of, but it’s also added to bakery products and basic doughs used to cook pies, cookies, and even cakes.

Cretan Extra virgin olive oil is not only a magnificent superfood, but it is also a source of healthy fats that contribute to the control of food-related diseases such as diabetes or cholesterol. Moreover, olive oil is responsible for the unique freshness and taste that characterizes every Cretan dish.

Cretan olive oil is mainly produced from two different olive varieties, koroneiki and tsounato, known for being super resistant to the dry and hot weather of the long Cretan summers.

Fresh herbs

Herbs grow abundantly in every region of Crete. Locals usually hike the mountains to gather fresh mint, oregano, dill, thyme, sage or rosemary which never miss in any preparation. 

They are key to introduce a note of freshness and flavor to Cretan dishes, either in salads or vegetarian preparations, but also as the main condiment for meats, fish, and sauces.

Fresh herbs are also chopped and added in big quantities to vegetable pies. The famous Greek spinach pie, locally known as spanakopita, for instance, usually has a completely different taste on Crete than what you may have tried on other Greek islands.

Seasonal ingredients

Every ingredient used on the island to prepare your meal is seasonal. Cretan cuisine has a well-known reputation for its dishes full of genuine flavors.

The secret to these is achieved by using strictly what the earth gives in any given moment of the year.

For example, you cannot beat the taste of courgettes and tomatoes in summer, and that’s the only moment when you’re bound to find them at the table, and the same applies to fruit.

While the best watermelons and plums are a favorite dessert during summer, oranges and tangerines will be the fruit of choice during colder months.

Quality wine

We have already discussed in our guide to Cretan wine the importance that grapes have always had on the island, even since the Bronze Age.

As a matter of fact, Crete has been continuously producing wine since the Minoan times and it is home to a fantastic vineyard with over 12 different native varieties.

But not everything is about Cretan wonderful wineries, home-made wine is another tradition pretty much preserved on Crete, so even in a small, modest tavern in a lost village, you will probably find great local wines you’ve never tried before.

Abundant greens

There are over 20 wild greens that grow only on the island of Crete. These have made it to the local collection of dishes that are characteristic of the Cretan diets.

Greens which are often disregarded and even considered as a worthless weed in other Mediterranean countries are central to Cretan cooking and can sometimes be served as a side dish of greens to go with your meat of choice.

The fantastic variety of wild greens used in the Cretan cuisine is a source of vitamins and taste that are of primary importance when putting the Cretan diet among the healthiest diets in the world.

Simple cooking methods


Less is more when it comes to Cretan cuisine. Simplicity is key when it comes to preferred cooking methods.

An abundant dose of extra virgin olive oil, a bunch of fresh wild herbs, some lemon juice, and some sea salt are the four key elements that are going to enhance the original flavor of the main ingredients without masking or hiding its taste and freshness

When visiting Crete, forget everything about Greek salad, gyros, or souvlaki, and instead, try some unique traditional dishes.

The following five dishes are some of the best and most authentic plates you can find on Crete. Try them all and then tell us what you think about them!

Chortopites

Green pies are one of Crete’s staples when it comes to the use of wild greens in Cretan cuisine, either in the form of Kalitsounia, small fried pies with greens and sometimes cheese inside, or shaped as bigger pies, winter and spring are the best moments to try greens in pastry due to the abundance of greens in this period.

The quantity of green pies is endless, and they vary from east to west and from region to region. Their taste is always unique since the greens are often combined with a wide variety of aromatic herbs that donate a unique fragrance and distinct flavor to each Cretan pie. 

The most common pastry used to prepare them is phyllo dough, which is made with an outstanding ancient technique and abundant olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil also adds to the final taste and healthy characteristic of every pie.

Snails

Snails are a Cretan specialty and there are over 40 different known ways in which the Cretans prepare one of their favorite dishes! Combining snails with vegetables, herbs, and xondros (ground wheat) gives excellent results and some of the best-known recipes.

Snails are a typical dish in every Cretan region and have been eaten on the island since the Minoan times. Snails have also been one of the main ingredients in times of foreign occupations, when, together with wild greens, they where the only available food for the poor.

Both ingredients were abundant and free so housewives all over Crete used their imagination to combine them in original and delicious dishes.

Nowadays, snails fried in olive oil or “Kochli boubouritsi” is one of the most popular ways of serving snails and are a great meze (small Greek dishes) component on any Cretan table.

Goat or lamb in kokkini (red) sauce

I’ve often encountered tourists on my food tour that usually ask me “Where can I try the best fish on the island?” 

It’s a common belief, in fact, that since Crete is an island, the most common food you’re supposed to try is fish. I hate to disappoint you, but although we do have fish dishes and we eat fish, Crete’s main source of meat is in the mountains and not at sea. 

Out top meats are lamb or goat cooked in several different ways. egg-lemon sauce, fried in olive oil, in white wine or with vegetables are very popular ways to find meat on Crete. Also on the spit or cooked in a delicious tomato sauce with onions and peppers.

Goat or Lamb in red sauce, as locals call it, is a typical dish to be found during the colder months, often the stew includes small whole onions that add a unique sweetness to the dish. A very tasty variation of the dish can include artichokes, beans, or okra too.

Dakos

One of the best-known Cretan appetizers is the dako, in many places also called koukouvaia. The very simple preparation is typical during the hotter months, as it is a dish that requires very little preparation and no cooking. 

The Cretan dako consists of a base of Cretan rusks, locally known as paximadia, which is a hard bread that undergoes a double baking process to last for long times. 

This hard bread is hydrated with an abundant quantity of olive oil that won’t only provide taste but that will also make the bread softer and easier to eat. 

On top, a generous quantity of fresh chopped tomato, more olive oil, oregano and a good spoonful of sour goat cheese (either myzithra or xinomyzithra, but also pichtogalo cheese, or even crumbled feta cheese can do).

Spoon sweets

When it comes to desserts, Cretans have a really sweet tooth. You won’t easily find rich chocolate cakes. Instead, the extreme sweetness is reached using abundant local thick and fragrant thyme honey, different nuts, and a spread use of cinnamon. 

In summer, though, a very common dessert on any Cretan table is a simple cot with yogurt combined with a different variety of sweet spoons made with local fruit during winter and preserved like a treasure in every Cretan home.

Sweet spoons can be made with almost any ingredient, on Crete you will easily find citrus, fig or grape spoon sweets, but also carrot spoon sweet and even walnut spoon sweet. 

The basic key to making these fantastic colorful jars is to clean and cut the fruit of choice in small pieces, make it boil for hours in a homemade syrup of water, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla, make it cool and preserve in sterile jars to condiment a dish of thick Greek yogurt and easily create a dessert out of nowhere.

Key Things to Pack on Your Trip to Crete

Greece - Crete - Heraklion - Old Venetian Harbor Luggage
 

If you’re planning a trip to Greece, you’ll want to pack all the normal essentials, but here are a few things we strongly recommend bringing that may not have crossed your mind. For more packing tips, check out our complete Essential Crete Packing List: What to Wear & Pack for Crete

– A physical guidebook, in paper or on Kindle. We love Lonely Planet Greece for this region and strongly recommend it to supplement blogs. Blogs are great, but a combination of a blog and a guidebook is key to having the best access to information easily at your fingertips.

– A water bottle with a filter. While often, the tap water in Greece is drinkable, there are places where it isn’t, including some popular tourist destinations like Santorini.

We generally recommend using a water bottle with a purifying filter to reduce your plastic consumption and ensure you won’t drink any funny-tasting water on your stomach that could make your trip unpleasant!

We recommend the GRAYL water bottle – it filters water perfectly in an instant so that you can even drink from lakes, bad taps, etc.

– Motion sickness pills. Many Greek roads are winding, especially around the coast. Not to mention how choppy the ferries can be if you’re not lucky with the weather! If you have a weak stomach as we do, save yourself and bring some non-drowsy motion sickness pills.

– Wet wipes, hand sanitizer, TP & other Balkan transit needs. Bathrooms in Greece aren’t always well-stocked. Save yourself the disappointment and bring a mini-rescue pack of wet wipes & hand sanitizer.

 Travel safety items. We think Greece is very safe to travel, but at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Stephanie or I use these. Instead, we both carry the same PacSafe anti-theft backpack.

It has locking zippers, slash-proof construction with metal mesh hidden in the fabric, and tons of other smart security features — all while being cute and stylish enough to be our everyday bag. We recommend it highly for both male and female travelers, as it’s neutral enough to be unisex. We also strongly recommend travel insurance! Our recommendation is at the bottom of the post.

Crete Travel Resources

Crete - Rethymnon - Neratze Mosque or Gazi Hussein Mosque in Mikrasiaton Square

Most people who come to Rethymnon also explore other parts of this beautiful island. Here are additional Crete travel resources to help you with your trip.

We have some great travel resources to help you with your trip. First read our guide to planning a trip to Greece, which covers visas, budgets, vaccines, and much more. We also have a Balkan currency guide which explains how money works in Greece and local tipping customs.

Since you’ll be in Rethymnon, check out our Instagram guide to Rethymnon next, our guide to things to do in Rethymnon, and the best Rethymnon hotels.

We also have Chania, Heraklion, and Rethymnon itineraries.

If you’re still trying to work out where to go on the island, check out our guide to the best places to visit in Crete and our favorite Crete beaches.

If this will be one of your first trips to the Greek islands, check out our massive Greek Island hopping guide as well as our recommendations for where to go in Greece and when is the best time to visit. 

We publish new content about the Balkans almost every day! For more information about traveling to Greece and the Balkans, bookmark our Greece and Balkan travel pages so you can find out what’s new before your trip.

Don’t Travel to Crete without Travel Insurance

Finally, make sure you always travel to Crete with a valid travel insurance policy. While Rethymnon is a very safe place to travel, you want to make sure you have your possessions covered if they’re stolen and your medical bills covered if you get sick or injured.

For travel insurance, I use World NomadsI’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.

Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.

Pin this Guide to What to Eat in Crete for Your Trip!

What to Eat in Crete - Cretan Diet

 

The Ultimate Guide to Tara National Park, Serbia’s Green Gem

According to legend, the Serbian mountain Tara was a haunt of the Illyrian gods.

Because of the unique charm of this place, the supreme god Tar chose (and named) Tara as the place where he would build his throne. And if this place is worthy of a god, what can ordinary mortals see and experience there?

Locals proclaim Tara as the most beautiful mountain in Serbia. The competition is great, so this claim must be personally verified!

In addition to the (currently) more famous Zlatibor and Kopaonik mountains, Tara mountain has always been that modest beauty from the shadow. The one that doesn’t stand out too much, but shines at the right time. The one that has so much to offer, but does not brag about that.

That’s why Tara National Park is one of the most stunning places to visit in Serbia, and one that you should prioritize on your Serbia itinerary.


Tara National Park Has It All

If you’re coming to western Serbia, even if you are just passing through, it is worth taking a day to see (at least) part of what Tara National Park has to offer.

Honestly, one day is not enough time because Tara National Park has everything – from the magnificent viewpoints to the hidden recesses rich in flora and fauna, fairy-tale lakes, religious buildings, and many wonders of nature. However, it’s better than nothing at all!

If you think that visiting Tara National Park involves only admiring its beauty, you are wrong. Sure, you can do that, if that’s your thing. Tourists are free to go wherever they want until they don’t break the rules and behave according to where they are.

But if you are a fan of outdoor activities and adventure, the rafting on the Tara River or the Drina Regatta will be something that will exceed your expectations.


The History of Tara National Park

The point of national parks is to preserve the beauty and uniqueness of the site and its wildlife, and not allow the disturbance of the natural balance.

The aim is to eliminate the influence of modern society and maintain the purity of nature, but also to preserve the cultural and historical heritage of those areas for tourists to come and experience for themselves.

Tara National Park is one of the five national parks in Serbia, and it got that status four decades ago. The initiatives to declare this mountain a national park appeared way before that, but it seems that the government at that time didn’t have time to deal with this topic.

After the war years, Serbia’s priority was the restoration of industry and reinstatement of social order, and thus tourism was neglected. But when this country was experiencing a significant economic upswing after the end of World War II, Tara National Park got its deserved status.

What is particularly important about Tara National Park is the conservation and diversity of forests. That is why this mountain is one of the wealthiest in terms of forest areas in Europe (with over 2,000 species of plants and trees).

Some species, such as the famous Serbian Spruce (Panciceva Omorika), live only on this location. The relief of the Tara Mountain is also what makes it unique. Since some areas are inaccessible, it helps in preserving plant and animal biodiversity to a great extent.


The Natural Sights of Tara National Park

The beauty of a place like Tara National Park is impossible to describe in one text.

That is why locals, as well as travelers, left many written traces in the form of prose and poetry. Fortunately, the Serbs were not selfish, so they gladly shared Tara’s wealth and beauty with the world so some future generations could enjoy it too.

Due to its richness and diversity of tourist offerings, Tara is currently one of the most potential-rich destinations in Serbia. The ecologically preserved natural environment, the variety of mountain relief, vibrant and varied flora and fauna, and favorable climate are the advantages of this location, which makes it competitive to the nearby Zlatibor and other mountains of Serbia.

Places to Visit in Tara National Park

Perućac Lake – the ‘Commercial’ Part of Tara National Park

What tourists should see in Tara National Park is most dependent on what time of year they visit. For example, the Drina with the lakes of Zaovine and Perućac is an ideal destination for summertime, when you can refresh yourself on the shores of these artificial lakes.

By the Perućac Lake, right next to the Drina River, there’s an arranged tourist complex, with accommodation, swimming pools, pontoon beaches, restaurants, and entertainment – all organized as if you were at a seaside resort, perfect for a landlocked country like Serbia!

The raft-houses are my recommendation for a stay in this part of Tara National Park. On the Internet, you can easily find more information about this accommodation. These facilities are suitable for several people and have everything you need for a comfortable holiday in nature – barbecue, private boat, fishing equipment (don’t worry, they have electricity and Wi-Fi connection too).

However, if you are looking for a more typical hotel in the heart of this part of Tara National Park, you can’t go wrong with Garni Hotel Vila Drina, which has rave reviews at an affordable price.

Right next to the beach is the raft restaurant Sidro. There you can dine but also book a ride on a large tourist boat along the canyon of the Drina. If you’re enough of swimming, water sports, and Sun, find your piece of shadow in the restaurant Vrelo. Its location will amaze you – it’s right on the waterfall of small Vrelo River.  Most of the tables are placed on the terrace above the waterfall or on some of the wooden bridges across the river, which makes this environment unique.


Zaovine Lake – A Gem of Wild Beauty

If you are lucky, you can see the Zaovine Lake in its full glory.

However, note that due to the discharge of water used to generate electricity, the Zaovine Lake on the Tara often runs dry. The water level drops, and it’s not quite as much of a sight to see. But when the lake is full, it’s quite clear why this place is one of the gems of Tara National Park.

Zaovine is at a higher position than Perućac Lake, and in fact, many would say this place is more beautiful than Perućac. But as always, there are ‘different strokes for different folks!’

If you want to feel the charm of swimming in the wild beaches and lying down in the shade of pines, you are in the right place. However, depending on the water level, entering the water is not always allowed.


Red Stream Reserve – Untouched Nature and Quiet

In the central part of the Tara National Park, on the plateau called Mitrovac, is the Red Stream Nature Reserve. After heavy rainfall, this small stream of water spills over the clay deposits and becomes a stunning red. color

The Carpet Meadows site also contributes to the beauty of this area. It is moorland, a mixture of forest and vast space covered with deposits of peat. It’s kind of like a jungle,with absolutely no human influence.

It got the name ‘Carpet’ because of the softness of the surface. It bends when you step on it, just like a real carpet. There are well-defined and marked walking paths so that visitors won’t endanger this unique part of Tara National Park — be sure to stay on the paths and don’t disrupt the natural environment, especially for photos!


Rača Monastery – The Cultural Heart of Tara National Park


Tara National Park has a favorable position close to tourist destinations in the immediate vicinity: Zlatibor Mountain, Užice, Mokra Gora, and Višegrad.

These sights often call to tourists basing themselves in Tara National Park usually for one-day trips. If one thinks that Tara has nothing to offer than just beautiful landscapes, the locations listed prove otherwise, and are fantastic to liven up your trip with some cultural experiences!

But don’t give up on Tara National Park itself if you’re looking for a cultural experience. The area of ​​the National Park abounds in numerous archeological sites and cultural monuments dating from the Neolithic to modern times. Many of these digs have been researched, but some remains of the Bronze Age settlements that are still untouched.

All over the National Park, there are numerous settlements and necropolises, which found their places on the UNESCO World Heritage List. For those who prefer some more traditional values, a visit to traditional villages and shacks that are several hundred years old and learning about life before technology and the benefits of the modern world will be a real deal. A place that cultural savants should visit is the Rača Monastery, which is one of the most important centers of Serbian medieval literacy.


Active Tourism at Tara National Park


Mountain and active holidays are a great combination. And if you choose a destination like Tara, be sure you’ll spend an unforgettable vacation, whatever age you are.

But hold your horses with the outdoor activities – camping at the Park is not allowed due to the potential impact on its wildlife.


Winter Joy and Skiing

Tara is a place for all winter lovers and fans of winter sports. Although winter this year in Serbia goes without snow and with high temperatures, the ski slopes on this mountain beauty have a system of artificial snow, so keep that in mind in case future winters also lack snow!

Most beginner-friendly trails are located near the well-known Omorika Hotel. It’s quite decent accommodation at the center of National Park, but note to book in advance, as it hosts several huge seminars and retreats, so be sure to grab your spot early!


Bike and Hike

Winter passes quickly, and spring and summer are the best times to tour Tara National Park by bike. Choose among any of the 15 designated routes in the national park Tara network. And if you’re in really good shape, and want to experience this beauty in full, over 60 miles of hiking trails await you.

These traces connect Tara with other tourist destinations of western Serbia, and adventurers can choose the route according to their physical abilities, sights, and tourist attractions that they want to visit. All cycling and hiking trails have proper signaling and a large number of side canopies and benches for cyclists, walkers, and hikers to take a break.


Lookouts

Whichever path you take, some of them will inevitably lead you to one of the five viewpoints, which are a unique and attractive content of the National Park Tara. The view from above on the unprecedented and immaculately preserved nature is breathtaking.

Believe that there is no better view in Serbia than from Banjska Stena, from where one looks at neighboring Bosnia, Lake Perućac, which is the natural border of the two countries, and the Drina Canyon. Use the opportunity to take stunning photos from this lookout!


How to Get to Tara National Park from Belgrade


The Tara Nature Park is located in the westernmost part of Serbia. The distance from Belgrade is about 200km / 130 miles. However, the mileage is the not the problem, as the roads themselves are complicated (and in poor condition, to be truthful).

So, if you are traveling by car to Tara, the trip itself will be an adventure. From the direction of Belgrade, the easiest way is to take the highway to the exclusion of the city of Valjevo and follow the motorway to Bajina Bašta. That is also the main bus route, should you opt for this means of transport.

However, a personal recommendation is the way via Šabac and Loznica. It’s longer by almost a third of the main route, but you will enjoy the trip so that time will quickly pass by. From Loznica to the very entrance to the Tara National Park, you go along the Drina River. So, in short about this route – much more to see, many places to rest, and a much more comfortable trip.

If you’re not comfortable driving in Serbia, we recommend booking a guided day trip from Belgrade to Tara National Park. If you only have one day, you’ll be a bit rushed, but you can see the highlights of Tara National Park, including the House on the Drina and the main lookout point, on this well-reviewed day trip from Belgrade.

Here’s the fun fact – there is no official entrance to Tara National Park. The park management has not yet built it, so the entrance is open. The best things in life are free, right? The only entry ticket you will have to pay is if you want to visit the Red Stream – Carpet Meadows. Believe it or not, it only costs 100 dinar, or about $1 USD.

Extra Tip for Tara First-Timers: If you decide to explore the beauty of Tara National Park on your own, it would be a good idea to have a map with you. You can buy it at any info center in the park. The forests’ density and lack of orientation increase the chances of getting lost somewhere. An official map that has all necessary topographic elements can help rid you of these troubles!

Where to Stay in Tara National Park

If you want to stay in a larger hotel in the heart of Tara National Park, we strongly recommend the 4-star Omorika Hotel, located in the Crikvenica part of the park near the lake, which is optimal for ski breaks and ‘beach’ vacations!

Another popular option in this area, though a bit more expensive and more upscale with gorgeous palace-like architecture and an enormous pool, is Hotel Kvarner Palace, perfect for travelers who want a bit of affordable luxury with their nature escape.

Meanwhile, travelers on a budget who want to be near Lake Perućac should opt for the affordable boutique Garni Hotel Vila Drina, which has incredible reviews and a rock-bottom price for its gorgeous settings.

And of course, you could always stay in a picturesque houseboat accommodation for something totally unique!

What to Pack for Serbia

Serbia - Gardos - Backpack

We have a full Serbia packing list, but in case you just want the quick version, here are a few essentials you shouldn’t forget to pack!

A good guidebook: While travel blogs are great, we still think a good guidebook is always handy. Lonely Planet Western Balkans is the main guidebook we recommend for Serbia, as it covers the country well plus others in the region.

Pacsafe Citysafe or Other Anti-Theft Bag: This is the bag both Stephanie and I use. It has a pouch with RFID technology so our credit cards can’t get scanned from afar, interlocking zippers to make it harder to pickpocket, and it’s roomy enough to be a perfect sightseeing day bag. If you’d rather bring something smaller, you can pack a money belt instead. 

We feel quite safe in Belgrade, which is not overly touristic and full of pickpockets, but we wear it and suggest it all the same.

Unlocked Cell Phone: Stephanie and I both have unlocked cell phones that we bought in Europe (She uses a Samsung and I use an iPhone). This allows up to get sim cards when we travel so that we always have the internet. We wrote a guide to picking up SIM cards in Serbia, as it’s really quite simple!

Being able to pick up a Serbian SIM card is a great way to stay in touch while on the road. If you don’t have an unlocked cell phone that can use a Serbian SIM card, you can buy a cheaper unlocked phone online and bring it with you!

Travel Insurance: We recommend it for everywhere we go! We suggest World Nomads and go into more detail about why at the end of the post.

More Serbia Travel Resources

Serbia - Subotica - Selfie

If this is your first trip to Serbia, check out our guide to planning a trip to Serbia and Serbia travel advice. 

Most people also allocate some time for Belgrade – where we have tons of resources. We have this mega-guide to 101 things to do in Belgrade, the most Instagrammable spots in Belgrade, what to do in Belgrade in winter, and the best Belgrade street art. We also have a Serbian souvenir guide and Serbian wine guide if you want to do some shopping.

Headed to nearby Novi Sad? Start with our guide to the best things to do in Novi Sad and our 2-day Novi Sad itinerary. We also have a guide of the best Instagram spots in Novi Sad as well as what to do in Novi Sad in winter and how to visit the Novi Sad Christmas Market.

If you love guided tours, here are eleven great Belgrade tours to pick from. If you want to get out of the city for a day, here are our guide to Belgrade day trips and what you should know before renting a car in Serbia. We also have lists of our favorite places to visit in Serbia and the best Serbian towns and cities if you need more day trip inspiration. 

We have tons more Serbia and Balkans resources, and we publish new content nearly daily. Bookmark our Serbia and Balkans travel pages so you can find any new resources that come out before your trip!

Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!

If you’re planning a trip to Serbia, it’s a good idea to travel with a valid travel insurance policy, so that you will be covered in case of an emergency. Travel insurance covers you in case of theft or an accident, which can save your trip if there’s an incident, or cancellation or trip interruption.

For travel insurance, I use World NomadsI’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.

>>Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.<<

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Want to see the best of Serbian nature? Tara National Park is one of the best places to visit in Serbia for exquisite landscapes, photography potential, hiking, biking, skiing, and adventuring. Read this guide to visiting Tara National Park in Serbia, how to visit as a day trip from Belgrade, and why this Serbia nature escape is a must on your Serbia bucket list!
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