Trying to decide whether to visit Crete in winter? Or perhaps you already have plans and you want to know what to do once you get here?
Visiting Crete in winter is a great way to escape from colder climates and enjoy the culture and history of one of Europe’s most popular islands – without dealing with the hordes of tourists who come in the summer!
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What is the Weather Like in Winter in Crete?
I’ll be honest – I underestimated how cold it would be in Crete in winter. Not that it was too cold, more reminiscent of autumn on the East Coast in the US. But I did end up having to buy a pair of gloves and a hat.
The real issue was that I was really cold at night because my accommodations used tiny space heaters instead of radiators. That, coupled with being outdoors in the wind all day, meant I was chilly at night.
The actual temperatures in winter stay relatively warm as the island is close to Egypt. The average highs are generally around 15-16°C/59-61°F and the average lows are around 9-11°C/48-52°F from December through February.
I showed up towards the end of a cold snap, which is why I found my first few nights so cold. Make sure you double-check the weather before you start packing for Crete, and pack a few cold-weather essentials just in case.
If you are looking for some snow, you’ll be happy to know that there are opportunities for skiing and winter sports in Crete’s interior mountains.
The Best Things to in Crete in Winter
While you will likely want to skip swimming at the beach (unless you like cold-weather swimming), there are still tons of things to do in Crete in wintertime. Here are just some of my favorites.
See Chania’s Famous Lighthouse and Venetian Harbor
Chania is a charming town year-round, but if you want to explore its beautiful architecture without the hordes that come in summer, then come and visit in winter!
Some of the highlights on the harbor include the Firka Fortress, the Venetian Lighthouse, and the colorful houses right on the water. Give yourself time to explore, visit the city’s best Instagram spots (which will have far fewer people in them than normal), and soak up the local cuisine in one of the city’s tavernas.
If you want to learn about Chania’s culture and cuisine on an organized tour, you can go on a Walking Tour and Food Tasting with a local.
Explore the Island’s Archeological Museums
If you find yourself wanting to slip out of the cold for a few hours, check out one of Crete’s excellent archaeological museums.
The most famous is the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, which is considered one of the most important museums in Europe. The collection includes treasures from the Minoan Civilizations and a scale reproduction of the Palace of Knossos. Expect to spend ninety minutes to two hours here.
The Archeological Museum of Chania is currently housed in a beautiful ancient church-turned-mosque-turned-museum, but there’s a huge project underway to build a state-of-the-art museum facility estimated to open in 2020. The museum houses a collection of Western Cretan historical objects dating all the way back to the Neolithic era, with a heavy emphasis on the Minoan and Roman periods. Expect to spend an hour to ninety minutes here.
The Archaeological Museum of Rethymno, while smaller than the other two museums listed here, is a great place to stop and see objects from the Rethymnon area. Highlights include objects from the Roman era. Expect to spend thirty minutes to an hour here.
Have a Picnic on the Beach
While I don’t recommend swimming in Crete in winter, you can still enjoy the island’s beautiful beaches with a lovely wintertime beach picnic. The bonus is that beaches that are typically crowded to over-crowded will be nearly empty, so you can enjoy them all to yourself.
Bring your own supplies, since beach-side businesses are likely to be closed. I love the extra level of seclusion, provided you bring your own snacks!
Walk along Rethymnon’s Venetian Harbor
Rethymnon in winter is fabulous since the compact town is infinitely more enjoyable without other tourists crowding the city’s best spots and activities. Highlights include walking around the Fortezza, exploring the Venetian Harbor, and visiting the Egyptian Lighthouse (especially in Golden Hour).
If you’d like to see Rethymnon’s best sites with a professional guide who can tell you about what you’re seeing, you can go on a Rethymnon walking tour. If you prefer to tour the city on your own, you can go on a self-guided mobile tour.
Visit a Raki Bar
We know that it’s nearly impossible to visit Crete without being offered copious amounts of raki at almost any taverna or restaurant on the island; however, you really must experience a Cretan rakadiko, or Raki bar, while you’re here.
Unlike typical tavernas, at a rakadiko, the raki is the star. Instead of individual meals, you order small plates of food to share amongst everyone at the table (think Crete’s answer to Spanish tapas).
One of the most famous on the island is 1600 Raki ba Raki near Rethymnon’s Rimondi fountain.
Sip Cretan Wine on a Wine Tour
Crete has been producing wine since at least the Minoan age, and they’re very proud of their local tradition. However, it’s not exactly easy to find great Cretan wine outside of the island. While here, make sure to get recommendations for the best local wine from your servers. It’s a great way to learn about which wine pairs best with which Cretan dish.
If you want to take your wine knowledge to the next level, go on a Cretan winery tour. Including hotel pickup, several winery stops, visits at a local village, and a delicious Cretan lunch, it’s a great introduction to this important part of island heritage.
Enjoy Heraklion’s Restaurant and Cafe Scene
I spent two weeks in Heraklion in December, and the restaurants in the city blew my mind. Between amazing local cuisine, a few good international restaurants, and scrumptious bakeries and cafes, I still dream about the fava.
Here are my favorite Heraklion restaurants, but you can also get creative and learn while you eat. You can pick from a food tour of the city, a bread-making lesson in a nearby village, or take a full-on Cretan cooking class!
Celebrate at the Heraklion Christmas Market
While I wouldn’t call Crete a Christmas destination, per se, if you happen to be in Heraklion in December you should make sure to stop by the Heraklion Christmas Market. While small, there’s a skating rink for kids, booths with local crafts for sale, and overall festive atmosphere.
Since I was in the city for two weeks, I got to stop by many times. I preferred going after day when you can appreciate the Christmas lights on the trees, but it was also fun (and less crowded) during the day!
Visit the Palace of Knossos – Sans Crowds
The Palace of Knossos is one of the most famous archealogical sites in Europe, but it’s insanely crowded during the summer. If you want to visit without fighting through throngs of people, go during the off-season!
You should still come early if you want a pic of the palace without other tourists in it, but you can also enjoy a visit at any time of day since the weather in the winter is much more pleasant for being outside at archeology sites. Think about it: would you rather be there in high summer when you’ll be covered in sweat or in the lovely cool afternoon of December or January?
Go Ski Mountaineering on Crete’s Mountains
While it’s not as famous as some other Balkan skiing destinations, many Cretans are fond of ski mountaineering – a sport that combines mountain climbing and skiing. Not for the faint of heart, make sure you come prepared and with the right equipment. Here’s a great starting point for ski mountaineering in Crete.
Enjoy Some Winter Hiking
Because Crete stays warmer than mainland Greece, you can comfortably enjoy hiking year-round (provided you dress properly for it).
See the Countryside on a Winter Road Trip
If you stay out of the mountains, you’ll find great road conditions for a Cretan road trip. Road trips are a popular way to see Crete since many of the smaller villages on the southern part of the island aren’t as easily accessible by bus as the cities in the north.
Because Crete gets chilly, but not really cold and snowy (outside of the mountains), you can expect to be able to comfortably drive around the island year-round. And since there are far fewer tourists during the off-season, it’s a great time to get a good deal on a rental car.
Enjoy Copious Amounts of Greek Coffee
Cretans drink Greek coffee year-round, but I found it especially lovely to sip the thick stuff when the weather is a tad cooler. I doubt you’ll be on the island long before you encounter your first cup, but if you want to make it extra special, pair it with a bougasta or other Cretan pastry.
Crete Winter Tours Mentioned in this Post
Here are all the tours I mentioned, in an easy-to-reference list.
5 Things to Bring with You for a Winter Crete Vacation
We have an entire Crete packing list that includes exactly what to bring to dress for winter in Crete, but here are some essentials you don’t want to miss!
A 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.
An ultra-light down jacket: You can wear this on its own or pair it with the jacket for colder days. This rolls up and packs easily in your day bag so it’s good to bring along – I have one really similar to this (women’s) but there’s a men’s version as well.
Sunscreen: Yes, you will want sunscreen in Crete, even during the winter! While you can buy it here, I suggest you buy the good stuff from recognizable brands or better yet, buy it online in advance.
I love this solid Neutrogena sunscreen. Who doesn’t love a good solid for liquid swap? Great to keep in your bag without worrying about sunscreen explosions.
Motion sickness pills: Great for bus rides especially on mountain roads – I buy these non-drowsy ones. You can also try these natural motion sickness bands which use acupressure to reduce nausea – they actually work pretty well.
More Crete Travel Resources
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 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!
Allison 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.
Pin this Guide to Visiting Crete in Winter for Your Trip!
Stephanie has been living in and traveling around the Balkans for the past three years. She’s written for National Geographic Online, appeared on CNN Arabic and in the New York Times, and ridden more Balkan buses than is good for a person.