Crete is not only the largest of the Greek islands, it’s also the most popular given its unmatched splendour and beauty which elevate it far and above the rest of the Greek Isles. It’s not just the striking landscape that’ll make it hard for you to leave, either; the people of Crete are famed for their hospitality and warmth, too.
The weight of Crete’s culture and history is considerable, and you’ll feel it everywhere you go on the island.
Holidays to Crete are usually measured by how much history you’ve managed to experience while you’re there. After you’ve done some research on cheap holidays to Crete, make sure you do some research on which historical sites you’re going to set aside time to visit.
The island is scattered with monasteries, but if you have to visit one, let this be it. The drive there is long and beautiful, leading you up a winding mountain road. This was the site where hundreds of Cretans – 300 resistance fighters, along with 700 women and children – were slain by occupying Turkish forces in 1866.
The monastery therefore is an important symbol of Cretan independence. There’s an ossuary on site where the skulls and bones of those who died in the fight have been preserved. The church’s golden stone façade survived the fire and is still on display.
The refectory is where 36 of the resistance fighters were executed. Still visible are the sword marks on the wooden table and benches. There’s also a room upstairs with portraits of various Cretan patriots throughout the ages.
All that remains of Gortys, a Greco-Roman city, are small but sprawling ruins that are strewn across beautiful fields and olive groves. Make sure you take a day out to explore these, as the ruins are tucked into a lovely place that is worth wandering through. There’s a 6th-century church named AyiosTitos as well as the ruins of a market.
More importantly, don’t miss the Europe’s first ever Code of Law, present here carved into massive stone blocks and dating back to 500BC.
If you desire to see the ruins of the ancient Minoan civilisation, The Palace of Knossos is the most extensive and famous of all. The Palace is Crete’s biggest attraction and is definitely worth taking time out for. There used to be over a thousand rooms in the Palace, some of which have been recreated to give you an idea of the scale.
There were two palaces that stood here. The first was built around 2000 BC, before being destroyed by an earthquake 300 years later. A second, much grander palace was built in its place, which was also destroyed – in 1450 BC – when the volcano on Santorini erupted.
If you’re visiting during the summer, remember to take extra bottles of water because the site itself can be unbearably hot. Be patient, too; some tourists give up because the site is a little confusing to navigate.
There are more ruins of the Minoan Palace at Phaistos. If Knossos is too rammed with tourists for it to be enjoyable, consider exploring Phaistos instead, as it tends to be overlooked by the majority of visitors. The ruins sit on a hill overlooking a plain, with a beautiful central courtyard, the royal apartments of old, the huge staircase and the discovery site of the Phaistos Disc.
The Disc itself is a total mystery. Discovered in 1903, estimated to have been made in around 1700-1600 BC, nobody knows what the pictograms that adorn it actually mean.
It would be criminal of you not to walk the Samaria Gorge while you’re in Crete. It’s the longest gorge in Europe and one of the most exhilarating experiences that the island has to offer. This is where the scenery is at its best. Make sure you’re prepared for it, as it can be an ordeal unless you’re in shape. It’s just under 20 km long.
The feeling of achievement and joy when you reach the gorgeous Libyan Sea at the southern end (if you came down from the White Mountains) is unparalleled. It can get crowded and hot during the summer, but it’s completely worth the effort.
Rethymnon is Crete’s third-largest town. It does have a modern side to it, along with a good beach and a charming port. However, its historical aspects are not to be missed. It has a massive Venetian fortress that was built around the 1570s, which some claim is the largest ever built.