The gorgeous island of Crete, on the southern portion of the Aegean Sea, is one of Greece’s most diverse islands. As well as one of the most beloved islands by tourists, many of which return to the island every year or two, all of them willing to experience a different adventure each time.
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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.
What is Crete Best Known For
If you’re wondering what is it with Crete that makes it such a popular place among travelers, it might be a good idea to discover what is Crete best known for… what is it that makes Crete so famous and loved all over the world.
Let’s take a look!
Stunning Natural Landscapes
It’s no secret that the island of Crete is home to a unique variety of landscapes, each one of them with special characteristics. The richness of the island relies on the fact that you would need to travel to many different places to find all the things that just this place has to offer.
On Crete, you will be able to discover pink sand beaches but also shores with colorful pebbles of any size. On some coastal areas, some cliffs dramatically plumb into the sea while in other spots, gentle dunes give shape to a more delicate landscape.
You can sunbathe on white-sand beaches, or travel all the way to Voulisma Beach, in Lasithi, for a magnificent extension of golden sand. On the southern coast, near the caves of Matala, instead, there is a red sand beach ideal for snorkeling and relaxation.
There are caves to explore, such as Psychro Cave in the Lasithi Plateau, the Sfendoni cave in the area of Zoniana, and the breathtaking Melidoni Cave near Rethymnon.
Crete is also home to high mountains, including the Dikti range in Lasithi and the White Mountains in the Chania region. The highest peak on the island, Mount Psiloritis (2456 meters high), is in the heart of the Rethymnon region and it’s a great place to go hiking.
All these mountain ranges also host wonderful gorges and canyons, such as Ha gorge, Topolia gorge, and one of Europe’s longest gorges, Samaria. In the area of Psiloritis, instead, Patsos gorge is another natural gem to explore in Crete.
On the island, there are lakes, hidden waterfalls, and beautiful rivers with their own native flora and fauna. And there are two wonderful palm tree groves too, one in the east, the other one on the southern coast, close to Preveli Monastery.
Beaches Like You’ve Never Seen Before
Some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe are located in Crete. You’ve probably already heard about the spectacular Elafonisi, a wide shore on the southern coast of Crete, with shallow turquoise waters and pink sand. Elafonisi is a great place for water sports, such as kitesurfing and windsurfing because it enjoys great wind conditions.
Not far from Elafonisi, the fantastic Paleochora is another beach that both tourists and locals enjoy from May to October.
Always in the Chania region, but on the northern coast, the wide bay of Falasarna and the Caribbean-like beach of Balos with its pristine lagoon are often listed among the top beaches in the world. The best way to visit Balos is with a day cruise like this one.
Long Months of Mild Weather
Another feature that makes Crete such a popular place among tourists is its fairly long summer. If compared to other Greek islands, Crete enjoys one of the longest hot seasons, mostly on the southern coast.
Summers on the island tend to be also dry, so if you’re among those who fear that one occasional shower could ruin their holidays, then you should put Crete on your travel bucket list.
Short winters, with some rain and snow, make Crete a favorite place for all those people who don’t really enjoy cold temperatures. But it also makes the island a great destination to go skiing… Did you know that Crete is one of the few places in the world where you can ski while you enjoy the views of the sea!
Usually counted as one of the top reasons to visit Crete, local food is truly delicious. One of the main characteristics of the Cretan diet is its simplicity. But don’t be fooled, on the island, simple dishes are not synonyms with tasteless food.
The key to its success relies on the fact that the local gastronomy strictly uses seasonal produce, top quality extra virgin olive oil, and fragrant wild herbs. One of the most entertaining things to do on the island is to join this great food tour to discover all the secrets of the Cretan diet.
This simplicity is a winning element on its own, but when it combines with the rich soil of the island and the awesome weather conditions, local ingredients result in incredibly flavorful and genuine dishes.
The local spirit of Crete, commonly known as raki or tsikoudia is another Cretan staple in the local gastronomy.
Tsikoudia is a grape distillate that Cretans usually produce a few weeks after the grape harvest is over and wine has been made. The strong spirit has become a trademark of local hospitality and cannot miss from any Cretan table.
The drink is usually offered before or after every meal and shared with small dishes (or meze) including with rusks, tomatoes, feta cheese, and olives if before lunch, or with fruit or yogurt and honey after a meal.
Tsikoudia goes especially well with friendly conversation, dancing, Cretan Lyra music, and traditional songs during the many Summer festivals that Crete celebrates every year.
The island, known as the cradle of the occidental civilization is another of those things why Crete is best-known for. It was on Crete that the legendary Minoan civilization grew and strived during the Bronze Age and left an immense treasure behind.
On the island, you can visit countless archaeological sites, ruins, ancient settlements, and museums where you can learn a lot about the past of Crete. If you don’t know where to start from, head to Heraklion.
There are three Minoan Palaces you can visit in this Crete region. The most important of all, Knossos Palace, is another gem you wouldn’t want to miss on Crete… And another reason why Crete is so famous. If you plan to visit Knossos, the best you can do is go for an organized your that tells you every secret about the site, this is the one we recommend.
As centuries went by, the island was also ruled by the Venetians and the Ottoman Empire, so it’s another great possibility to wander the old towns of Chania and Rethymnon to discover the different cultures that left an influence on the customs and traditions as well as on the local architecture.
Probably the number one reason for visitors to come over and over again is the genuine friendship you will find on Crete. Greek hospitality is worldwide known, but Cretan hospitality goes even beyond. It is indeed one of those things that put Crete miles away from any other destination.
It’s said that Cretans friendliest people in the country, it’s not odd to find travelers who make long-lasting friends on Crete and come back to Crete every year to meet them again.
Cretans have the gift of making foreigners feel at home, even if you’re coming from very distant lands. Crete is a piece of home far from home to everyone who visits. Just setting a foot on the island will be enough to prove it.
You won’t need much to realize that locals are always willing to share the best of what they have with those genuinely open to discover this wonderful island.
5 Things to Bring with You 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 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.
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.
Pin this Guide to the Best Known Facts About Crete for Your Island Experience!
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.