Crete is not only the largest of the Greek islands, it’s also the most popular given its unmatched splendor 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.
Top Things To Do In Chania Crete, Greece
Chania is a beautiful port city on the north-western coast of Crete, the largest of the Greek islands – this bustling place has a charming atmosphere reflecting its Venetian and Turkish past, and is often described as one of the most beautiful cities in Greece. Chania offers everything from beach-life, shopping, walking, scenery, nature and great cuisine. Here are some great tips to get the most out of Chania and what the area has to offer…
Visit The Old Town
The old town is centered around the harbor, and is the most charming area of the city.
Take a romantic stroll along the 14th century Venetian harbor, visit the famous historical light house and St Nicholas Bastion, and let yourself be brought back a couple of centuries as you explore the maze of narrow streets and alleyways, old houses and local taverns.
Visit the Maritime museum by the Firka Fortress to learn more about the islands history, sit down and enjoy a refreshing Frappe, or shop for local handicrafts in the boutiques.
Day Trips To Beaches, Gorges & Lagoons
You can’t visit Greece without spending at least a couple of days at the beach. The beach in Chania city, Nea Chora is ok for a short swim, but nothing to write home about. Instead, go a little bit further and visit Agi apostoli and Kato Stalos, which are easily reached from the city.
Two other great day trips would be to Elafonissi Lagoon, with its pretty pink sands and beautiful sunsets, and Samaria Gorge.
Samaria Gorge is a national park, and many people choose to take the 16 kilometer long hike through the gorge, which has plenty of scenic spots along the way.
If you decide to spend the night before an early flight to Crete at the Gatwick Hilton by the airport, don’t get tempted to shop and fill your bags before you’ve even arrived, because Chania is the perfect place in Crete for shopping. The streets of the Old Town are full of boutiques selling traditional handicraft, with charming handmade souvenirs to take home.
The traditional products that are typical for Chania are leatherboots, silverware, knives and woven rugs.
There are also a lot of artists in Chania with their own galleries and shops, selling glass, ceramic, and jewelry. For the more modern, head to the new town and shop til you drop at the many boutiques. Tip! Remember that shops are open from 9am – 2pm, and on tuesdays, thursdays and fridays they are also open from 6pm – 9pm. On Sundays everything is closed.
Indulge In Seafood
Greece is famous world wide for its delicious cuisine, and in Chania, the sea food is especially good. Calamari is very popular, but if that’s not for you, give the traditional Greek dish of Moussaka a go – delicious and authentic.
Another dish typical for Chania is Boureki, a pie consisting of layers of potatoes, zucchini, myzithra and mint.
Crete is easily reached during summer, with flights from many UK airports. You can lower the costs by taking advantage of great value airport extras, such as airport hotels, offering convenience and great rates – check out the Courtyard by Marriot at Gatwick Airport if flying from Gatwick, or alternatively, the Sofitel at Gatwick. These are merely just a few things to do when visiting Chania in Crete, what are your favorites?