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.
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The Best Crete Hidden Gems & Secret Spots
In no particular order…
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.
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€.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.