If your holiday on Crete is coming to an end, I’m certain you will want to take back home some beautiful memories of the island that will help you revive those unique moments once you are back home.
Here is a list of the best 13 souvenirs you can buy during your trip to Crete for yourself or for your friends and your family.
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Where to Stay in Crete
The island of Crete is so big and diverse that it’s almost impossible to make everyone happy when It comes to deciding on the best areas to stay on the island.
Since you will most probably be arriving at the capital, Heraklion, or spending some time in the wonderful western town of Chania, we have included here some of the top accommodations in both places. For more places to stay in Crete, check this site.
Here are our top suggestions for where to stay in Crete. In most cases, budget means hotel stays for around $40 a night, mid-range is from about $50-80 per night, and luxury will cost over $100 per night.
Best Souvenirs from Crete
In no particular order…
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Crete is well-known for the stunning quality of the olive oil produced on the island. Locally considered the liquid gold of Crete, olive oil production accounts, together with tourism, for the most important source of income on Crete.
Crete’s extra virgin olive oil is one of the key ingredients of the healthy Cretan diet, and it’s used to cook every possible dish you can imagine, often replacing less healthy sources of fat, such as butter and margarine.
Olive oil is produced by several traditional companies, cooperatives, and even some of the monasteries on the island. It’s a fantastic present to bring home from Crete and to use in your own kitchen when trying to emulate the local recipes.
Olive oil comes on the island comes from the two local varieties of olives: tsounato and koroneiki. While the first one produces a robust variety with notes of oak and walnut, the second olive variety gives a more pungent kind of oil, fruity and spicy, ideal to season fresh salads or simply to drizzle on top of freshly baked bread.
The second staple of Cretan cuisine also comes in a bottle. But this time it’s not olive oil. It’s the local spirit which you will be served from day one on Crete.
No matter the time of the day, the occasion, or the meal, Tsikoudia (also known as raki on the island), can be found on the table either before or after dinner, with a savory aperitif or with fresh fruit and spoon sweets.
Cretan tsikoudia is a typical drink served to welcome travelers and friends. It’s shared with plenty of conversation, and it’s a symbol of the legendary hospitality that has made Crete one of the most beloved Greek islands.
Take a bottle of tsikoudia back home, or choose a bottle of rakomelo, a variety of tsikoudia with delicious and authentic thyme honey from Crete.
Knives are one of the most traditional products you can buy on Crete to bring back home as a souvenir. Part of the typical dress of the Cretan mountain shepherd, the local knife presents a unique V shape specially designed for a better and safer way to grab the knife during the battle.
You can either buy a war knife or a kitchen knife with beautiful handles that can be made from olive wood, horn, or even bone.
Many of these knives feature a local poem engraved on the blade. The poem is called Mantinada and it another typical element of the Cretan culture.
When shopping for a Cretan knife, try to buy it from the producer, you will be able to get knives of excellent quality that will certainly last you for ages, even if you use them every day in your own kitchen.
The Arabs that conquered and lived on the island between the two Byzantine periods did not stay on Crete enough time to leave monuments or memorable buildings. However, they left a variety of traditions and knowledge that the locals adopted and are still part of the local life.
Other than spices, coffee, and tobacco, the Saracens taught Cretans everything they knew about working with leather.
From the traditional tall boots that Cretans wear in the mountains (known as stivania), to the beautiful leather bags, jackets, and shoes, you will be able to find lots of leather products in Crete to take home with you.
Leather sandals are one of the best souvenirs you can buy, they are light and durable and will always remind you of the amazing weather of Crete anywhere else in the world you wear them. If you’d like to take part in a shopping experience where you can find the most authentic products in Crete, we recommend you to check this Chania shopping tour.
Cookbook of Cretan Recipes
Cretan food is considered among the healthiest as well as the tastiest diets in the world. It’s at the base of the famous Mediterranean diet and features just a few simple ingredients that, according to the cooking method used, can produce an endless variety of dishes.
No matter the time of the year or the occasion, the Cretans will always have the perfect excuse to gather around a table to enjoy the authentic taste of Crete.
Herbs, vegetables, cheese, and just a moderate quantity of meat, everything with abundant olive oil and a strictly seasonal choice of ingredients, you will certainly love to emulate the dishes of the island once you’re back home.
What better souvenir then? Get one of the many Cretan cookbooks you will be able to find in the bookstores of the island and even in many of the souvenir shops in the most touristic cities of Crete.
Sariki, the Cretan Headscarf
A great souvenir that does not take lots of space inside your bag and that is certainly a Cretan token is the sariki, the scarf that Cretans normally wear on their heads.
The word sariki finds its root is in the Latin word kerasikon, which was the overlay of Caesar’s head-worn to show off power.
The sariki is usually worn on wrapped around the head letting the edges (known as tears) fall gracefully to the side. Other people prefer to wear it on the shoulders creating two ends that join on the chest.
This special embroidered scarf has great traditional value on the island, it’s a symbol of the Turkish yoke on Crete. It can be knit in two colors, white and black, while the white sariki is worn on cheerful occasions, the black one is preferred on mournful occasions while it is also a symbol of honesty and pride.
Another great souvenir you can buy on Crete is a musical instrument. It can be a bit more expensive than the other souvenirs listed in this article, but be certain that if you intend to give this present to a music fan, it will certainly be much appreciated.
The Cretan Lyra is a Greek instrument shaped like a pear, with three strings and played with a bow.
The instrument plays a leading role in the traditional music of Crete but it can also be found in other islands of Greece, for instance in the Aegean (Cycladic islands) and the cluster of the Dodecanese.
Usually described as the most popular surviving form of the medieval Byzantine Lyra, the Cretan Lyra is the rightful ancestor of most European bowed instruments.
If you are uncertain as to which type to get, it would be useful for you to know that there are three major types of Cretan Lyra: The lyraki which is a small model of Lyra, very similar to the Byzantine era. The vrontolyra has a very strong sound and the common Lyra, also known as Lyra koine, has a design that shares features of the lyraki and the traditional violin.
Local Herbs and Spices
Although the local diet is made of a limited choice of simple ingredients, the unique tastes, and mouthwatering flavors usually come as a surprise… how can the same ingredients always taste differently according to the dish you’re making? Well, herbs and spices seem to be the answer!
With such a simple diet, flavors needed to be enhanced in one way or another. Cretans learned to do so with the wise use of endless spices and herbs that add a different touch of flavor to every dish they cook.
Local herbs such as oregano, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, and sage are very much loved and abundantly used in pies, to season bread, with meat, vegetables, stews, and soups.
Spices such as sweet paprika, cinnamon, or cumin are also part of the traditional cuisine and they are so easy to carry with you as a present or souvenir.
For those who love teas, it’s a good idea to buy herbs such as malotira or dictamo to make a delicious cup of Cretan mountain tea once back home, you can either enjoy it hot with a spoonful lo Cretan honey or drink it cold in summer, with a few drops of lemon and a slice of fig left inside the jar to infuse.
Baklava and Other Greek Sweets
Those with a sweet tooth will be happy to take home all kinds of sweets of Middle Eastern origin that have become one more characteristic ingredient of the Cretan diet.
Sweets and pastries of Turkish origin have been adopted by the locals after years of foreign occupation and have turned into traditional Cretan sweets served on any occasion.
Turkish delight, baklava, kadaifi… delicious pastries drenched in sweet syrup, or honey, sprinkled with pistachios, nuts, or almonds can be bought in very convenient boxes to take back home… if they ever make it to the final destination!
Another staple product on the island is the fantastic honey that is produced in different Cretan regions. Usually made from pine tree, orange blossom, or thyme, the honey made on Crete has a strong flavor and unique antiseptic and healthy properties
Cretan honey is fragrant, thick, very tasty but never overly sweet, and it can last for ages if kept in a dark place inside a glass jar.
Some of the best honey on the island comes from the region of Sfakia, in the White Mountains of Chania. You can get excellent honey in the Public Market of Chania as well as in the village of Chora Sfakion, near Loutro, on the south coast of Crete.
Wines have been produced on the island for centuries, even since the Minoan times. In fact, one of the oldest presses in the Mediterranean has been found on Crete, as a witness of this century-long tradition.
At present, there are over 12 different grape varieties that give birth to unique wines with very characteristic fragrances and flavors. When visiting Crete, you cannot leave the island without taking with you a few bottles of local wine.
Go for white wines such as Vidiano and Vilana, if you want to take with your the best-selling wines of the island.
Instead, if you love reds, go for a bottle of Liatiko or Kotsifali, or choose a bottle of Mantilari if you’re looking for a bold native grape, usually aged in oak barrels.
Embroidered carpets, tablecloths, towels, and many other home decor pieces have long been a traditional skill that has kept women busy in the mountain villages for centuries.
If you visit the mountain settlements of Lasithi, for instance, Kritsa, or in the unique hamlet of Gavalochori, near Chania, you will be able not only to buy some of these delicately embroidered pieces decorated with hand-made lace.
In this village, you can also witness how women still handcraft some of that lace with the ancient technique known as kopaneli. We suggest you check this and other traditional crafts with this great tour of the Apokoronas region villages in Chania.
Another great souvenir you can buy in Crete is those wonderful handmade covers made of wool in traditional villages. They are normally bright red, green, or blue, and locals use them not only as covers but to dress beautiful tables, as a cover for their sofa, and even on their beds.
Locals call them veletza, which resembles the Italian word “beauty” and certainly relates to the years of the Venetian occupation of Crete.
Hand-weaving is a very old tradition on the island, especially in the mountains where women still weave beautiful pieces of cloth that are used to create the traditional shepherd bags (known as bouria), runners for tables, tablecloths, and more.
Hand-weaving is a skill that has been passed from generation to generation during centuries on Crete. Although hand-weaving seems to be an art that is being lost on, it’s still possible to find fine products in the villages of Anogeia (in Rethymnon) and close to the Old Port of Chania.
The traditional art of pottery has long roots on the island. It probably started way back in time, during the Minoan period and it has, since then, been an important part of the lock traditions and economy.
You can get home any kind of ceramic object you can think of, from small appetizer dishes to salt and pepper sets, cups, salad bowls, and even pans that can be used in the oven!
Worry Beads (Komboloi)
Another local souvenir, particularly good for men, are these beautiful and colorful worry beds that Greek man usually handle and play with while enjoying a cup of Greek coffee or engaged in conversation.
They say they can work wonders for quitting smokers or to reduce levels of anxiety. However, the komboloi has a more spiritual origin, coming from the religious area of Mount Athos, one of the holiest places in the country.
You can get any kind of komboloi, from the ones made with fragrant tree wood types such as sandal or patchouli to beautiful (although expensive) amber, including bone, ivory, acrylic, and plastic
As you can see, it’s not so hard to get rid of the obvious fridge magnets and to get some really original present from this wonderful Greek island. Have you made up your mind? What are you bringing back from Crete after your next Greek adventure?
5 Things to Bring with You to Crete
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 packing tips, check out our complete Greece packing list.
– 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 generally, the tap water in Santorini 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 on the island where the water tastes like minerals.
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. Santorini 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.
– Wet wipes, hand sanitizer, TP & other Balkan transit needs. Bathrooms in the Balkans 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 Santorini is very safe to travel to, but at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Stephanie nor 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.
More Crete Travel Resources
Most people who come to Crete explore different parts of this beautiful island. Here are additional Crete travel resources to help you with your trip. Start getting ready by checking what Crete is known for!
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 that explains how money works in Greece and local tipping customs.
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 Nomads. I’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.
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Gabi Ancarola is a translator and travel journalist living in Crete. She regularly writes about the island for several magazines about travel, gastronomy, and hospitality. She has published several travel guides about Greece and runs a local gastronomy tour in Chania. She loves cooking local dishes, taking photos, and driving on the mountain roads of Crete.