Here are some of the best places to go in Crete. I've picked these highlights from a 2 week road trip around Crete I recently took, along with other visits. If you're going to take a road trip on this incredible Greek island, or are looking for the best things to do in Crete, start your Crete sightseeing itinerary planning here!
Last updated: 21 March 2018
Crete – the perfect Greek island?
Ask somebody that doesn't live in Greece what their favourite Greek island is, and they might answer Santorini. Ask people who live in Greece though, and many will answer Crete. There's many reasons for this. Perhaps it's a sense of admiration for the independent minded people of Crete, or the wild like feel the south of the island still has. Perhaps it's the weather, the beaches, or the food? Most likely, it's a combination of all these things. Personally, I love it, and have visited several times now. Most recently, I took a road trip there, and whilst I did, I came up with this guide to the best things to do in Crete.Let's start with how to get to Crete from Athens on the ferry.
Taking The Ferry From Athens to Crete
Crete is the largest of the Greek islands, and the ferry takes about 8 hours to get there from Athens (Piraeus port). Only two companies make the route, and during the summer they offer day and night services. We took the overnight ferry to Heraklion with Minoan Lines going out. On the way back, we used the day ferry with Anek Blue Star Ferries from Chania to Piraeus. The total price for this including the car, two passengers and numbered seating, was about 290 euros.
Photos from a 2 week road trip around Crete
The aim of our 2 week road trip around Crete, was to combine beach time with a little sight-seeing. Crete is too big to ‘do it all’ in 2 weeks, and even if it was possible, I wouldn’t want to. This was a vacation, after all! Instead, we picked a route which took in some of the major places of interest in Crete, whilst leaving enough to see next time. Yes Crete, we will be back! Here then, are some of the highlights of our road trip featuring some of the best things to do in Crete.
Knossos and Archaeological Museum
Knossos is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Greece, and is one of the best places to visit in Crete for mythology buffs. It has long been connected with the myth of King Minos and the Minotaur. Some people even consider it to be the Labyrinth itself. The site is interesting to spend some time at, and there is also an archaeological museum in Heraklion which helps make sense of it all. There's some great artefacts on display there, including the famous Phaistos Disc which still remains undecipherable until this very day. I first visited here over 35 years ago as a kid with my parents. Maybe it was those early vacations which gave me the travel bug? You might find this article interesting if you want to find out more about the Palace of Knossos – Tips for visiting Knossos in Crete.
We stayed in Heraklion for a couple of days. Take a look here for hotels in Heraklion.
Dikteon Cave and Lasithi plateau
I have a thing for caves. There is something very other-worldly and timeless about them. According to the Mrs, I have too many Neanderthal genes! Anyway, legend has it that Zeus was either born or sheltered in the Dikteon cave. He then hid here as a child to escape his cannabalistic father Cronus who had already eaten his other siblings! When visiting the Diteon cave in Crete, you certainly get the feeling that it was a fitting place for a Greek God to live. The cave can be found on the Lasithi Plateau, and it is one of the Crete points of interest I would recommend to anyone with their own transport.
Spinalonga Island Crete
Visiting a former leper colony might not immediately sound like one of the fun things to do in Crete, but it is an interesting experience. Another popular sight-seeing destination for people touring the north of Crete, it is reached by a day trip. The island is complete with the remains of a castle, and has a sad recent history as a leper colony. Even if you don't get a chance to visit Spinalonga which is one of the Crete top attractions, I suggest you read The Island by Victoria Hislop. Very moving.
Milatos Cave in Crete
At the start of our 2 week road trip around Crete, it seemed that we visited more caves than beaches! Milatos cave was very special though. During the Ottoman occupation, it acted as a refuge for the local population which ended in tragedy in 1823. Now, there is a small chapel built inside the cave. You can reach Milatos cave very easily, and explore inside. You will need to bring a torch with you to make the most of it. There is also a slightly eccentric ex-pat who sits outside in the mornings, and hires torches out for a euro a time. We picked him up hitch-hiking on the way back down to the town of Milatos!
Diskos Beach (Near Lentas)
This was our favourite part of Crete, and a place we could have spent much longer. Located in the more isolated south of the island, the beach was just amazing! I am not going to include photos here, because it was a part nudist beach. By the way, no I didn't! I burn easily at the best of times, and that is the LAST place I want to get sunburn! If you are interested in staying in the area, you can free camp on the beach. There are also a couple of hotels on the beach area and in the wider area. Searching out quiet beaches is one of the fun things to do in Crete when you have a car!
Crete Historical Sites – Gortyna and Phaestos
These two Crete historical sites can be visited on the same day. My favourite was Gortyna for the scale, but Phaestos had the best views. In some respects, I found these sites to be more interesting than Knossos. They certainly hadn't been so badly reconstructed as Knossos is! These two sites are best reached by you own vehicle. If you don't have access to a vehicle of your own, a tour could be booked from your hotel. They're certainly worth adding onto you list of things to see in Crete.
Matala Caves – Flintstone Caves in Crete!
Looking for a Yabba-Dabba-Doo time in Crete? The Matala Caves could be just for you! The caves date back thousands of years, and appear to have been used throughout all periods of antiquity. More recently in the sixties, a collection of hippies seeking the simple life moved in and made them home. The hippies are long gone now, but the caves remain an interesting tourist attraction and one of the must see Crete sights. A small entrance fee must be paid to gain access as it is classed as an archaeological site.
Triopetra Beach in Crete
I have to say, I love the south of Crete! There are endless miles of isolated wild beaches, and it is the perfect place to relax. I have included Triopetra beach here, but could have included any of the other countless beaches we visited. If you are planning a road trip around Crete, make sure to check out as many beaches as you can!
We more or less stumbled on this area by accident. It is a quiet bay area, backed by a castle. For us, the attraction was the location, and the great room we had. The room at Maria's Studios was the best we had for the trip, and we liked it so much, we stayed an extra day! A somewhat off the beaten track attraction, but only because there is so much to see and do in Crete it gets missed out!
The Pink Sands of Elafonisi
Elafonisi is perhaps the most famous beach in Crete. You will most likely have seen photographs of its pink sands. I'm not exactly sure where they get those photos from though, because it didn't look that pink to me! Also, it was a bit too crowded for my tastes. We had to walk a good 20 minutes to find a quiet spot, which you can find pictured above. Still, no trip to Crete is complete without visiting Elafonisi really!
Kedrodasos Beach in Crete
Right next to Elafonisi Beach is Kedrodasos Beach in Crete. You have to walk to get here, and directions are at times vague. Once there though, a beautiful beach complete with dunes and cedar trees reveals itself. This is a beach known for free camping and naturists, but not all that well visited. The problem with this beach, is that the free campers have left a lot of rubbish to blow in the wind. Why spoil paradise? I don't get it. When we visited, we were fortunate to have it mostly to ourselves. Whilst one part of me wants to recommend this as a great place to visit in Crete, another part of me wants to keep too many people away from it!
Chania in Crete
Our 2 week road trip around Crete finished in Chania. This is a very pretty Venetian port town, with an interesting ‘old' section. We spent our time wandering around the streets, and also had a great meal at To Koutourouki. Chania was very busy with tourists when we visited in early September. I would suggest visiting it during the off-season periods to really soak up the ambience.
Planning your road trip around Crete
I hope that gives you enough inspiration to either plan your own road trip, or put together a Crete sightseeing itinerary. I also have a HUGE resource here about planning a road trip to include the best places to see in Greece. If you have any questions, would like any advice, or would like to share your experiences, please leave a comment below!