Are you ready to travel to a gorgeous Greek island packed with balmy beaches, huge gorges, and ancient sites? Join me as I run you through the best things to do in Crete that perfectly blend history, local charm, and natural beauty!
Crete is one of my absolute favorite places to visit in Greece.
As soon as you get there, you’ll be blown away by the incredible pristine and wild vegetation that grows all around the land and the shimmering azure waters that surround the island.
Plus, there are some historical places well worth exploring!
As Crete is the largest island in Greece, there’s a lot to do.
You can easily spend a month here and not have enough time to see it all, trust me. Plus, it takes a while to travel across the island, even if you rent a car.
So, to help you out, I’ve gathered together a list of the best things to do in Crete that’ll be a great starting point to plan an incredible itinerary.
From well-known attractions to hidden gems like secluded beaches and hidden monasteries, I’ve got it all!
Now, let’s dive right in!
15+ Best Things to Do in Crete
1. Get lost in Chania Old Town
To kick off this list of amazing things to do in Crete with a bang, it’s the Old Town of Chania!
This is probably the most aesthetic part of the city and is characterized by colorful storefronts and waterside eateries.
I loved getting lost in the gorgeous Venetian port, winding alleyways, and taking a tour of the striking lighthouse that overlooks the town!
Ok, I wouldn’t say this place was large enough to get lost in per se (don’t worry!).
But you can easily spend hours exploring everything from local cuisine at the Municipal Market to the vibrant Turkish District.
While you’re wandering around, I also suggest stopping by the Minaret, the local boutique shops, and the Row of Boots.
If you can make time for dinner, I highly recommend Salis, located directly at the Venetian port. The dishes are not only fresh but also beautifully presented. Plus, its incredible location offers a delightfully romantic atmosphere.
Before you move on from the Old Town, make sure you check out the historic Firkas Fortress that dates to 1620! It offers panoramas over the harbor and is a fantastic place to stop for a photograph of the main town (and the crystalline waters!).
2. Visit Knossos
The archaeological site of Knossos is sometimes called Europe’s oldest city and is super popular with tourists.
It dates back to the Bronze Age (yep, really!) and is home to incredible sights like the Minoan Palace of Knossos.
This is one of the ancient sites in Crete that sees upwards of 600,000 visitors a year.
So, crowds can get intense during peak periods, and you’ll want to leave plenty of time to explore.
If you’re not familiar with Greek mythology, this place was supposedly home to King Minos and the infamous Minotaur.
Just for a bit of context, this violent beast was said to have the body of a man and the head of a bull. Now, the hero Theseus eventually slays the beast, but you’ll find out all about that fascinating story at the palace itself!
While you’re walking around the palace, make sure you check out the piping systems and storage rooms. It’ll show you just how sophisticated the Minoan civilization was!
Once you’ve had your fill of Knossos, head to the Heraklion Archaeological Museum.
It’s one of the oldest museums in the country and houses tons of ancient artifacts from the Minoan period.
You can grab a combined ticket for the Minoan Palace and the museum if you like (which can save you a few euros!).
Knossos is busy, and I always recommend getting ahead of the crowds by arriving before 10 a.m. If you can’t, visiting late in the afternoon as people are leaving is equally good!
Oh, and if you want all the background history, it’s worth booking an expert tour. This one lets you skip the line and includes a guided tour of the palace!
3. Explore the Breathtaking Balos Beach
I have to say that a visit to Balos Beach is an absolute must if you go to Crete.
This incredible destination will transport you to a world of stunning wild beauty that will leave you in awe.
Although getting here requires a bit of effort, the experience is truly worth it.
Located approximately 56 kilometers northwest of Chania, Balos Beach is nestled on the Gramvousa Peninsula.
To reach this paradise, you can take a boat from the nearby Kissamos port (in the village Kavonisi).
Or you can drive there down a dirt road (where you’ll need to pay a fee of €1 per person – cash only and €3 to park).
The road is ok’ish, but you need to go slow, and it’ll take you around 30-40 minutes to get to the car park. From there, you’ll need to hike down a rocky path (not too difficult), which will reward you with one of the most incredible top-down views of this stunning beach).
Whichever route you choose, you’ll be captivated by the breathtaking scenery that unfolds before you.
Upon arriving at Balos Beach, you’ll be greeted by crystal-clear turquoise waters and a coastline adorned with soft, white, powdery sand.
It’s an idyllic setting that feels like stepping into a postcard. The beach is also known for its unique shape, with a lagoon-like bay on one side and a picturesque island known as Gramvousa on the other.
Make sure to bring plenty of water, and don’t forget to pack snacks or a picnic lunch.
There are a couple of bars on the beach, but they are incredibly expensive and with very little choice.
Balos Beach is extremely popular. To avoid the crowds and fully immerse yourself in this magical place, consider planning your visit in May or October. These shoulder months offer a more peaceful atmosphere and increase your chances of finding the perfect spot to relax and unwind. Also, if you can drive here, try to arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Tour boats typically dock at around midday and the beach gets really crowded around that time.
4. Hike the Samaria Gorge
One of the top things to do in Crete is, without a doubt, hiking the Samaria Gorge!
The gorge is inside Samaria Gorge National Park and takes you through the rugged White Mountains.
The trail is only open between the 1st of May and the 31st of October, meaning you’ll need to plan your visit based on that.
Along the way, you’ll spot enormous cypress trees, the Agios Nikolaos Church, and even blooming wild orchids.
Halfway through the hike, you’ll also have the chance to explore the 14th-century (but empty!) village of Samaria.
Now, this walk isn’t for the faint-hearted as it’s quite long at 16 km and usually takes around 5 or 6 hours to complete (if you are a seasoned hiker!).
So, I suggest taking a few snacks and plenty of water along (especially if you’re visiting during the summertime), as there aren’t many resting points with fresh water available.
For obvious reasons, you’ll also want to pull on your best walking shoes as there are several rocky descents. Also bring a hat, as the last part of the gorge is exposed to the sun.
Keep an eye out for the Kri-Kri (or Cretan Mountain Goats) as you walk. They often blend into the rocks and climb on the steep rocks – and they love looking for snacks in your bags!
5. Visit Spinalonga Island
Spinalonga Island is a fortified inlet that’s loaded with remnants from the Venetian and Ottoman times, making it a perfect pitstop for history buffs.
Despite feeling worlds away from the bustling Old Town, you can get here in just 10 minutes from the small village of Plaka.
Otherwise, it takes around 25 minutes from Elounda if you’d prefer to zip off from here.
The average boat trip is between 10 and 12 euros (it depends on the service!), while the small fee to visit the island itself is 8 euros.
Kids under 18 don’t need to pay to visit. But adults will have to pay once they arrive on the island.
While you’re here, you can tour the fortifications like the Tiepolo Bastion, the famous Tunnel of Tears, and the incredible tower.
Then, you can head to the colorful doors of the Museum of Spinalonga where you’ll learn all about the infamous leper colony.
I also recommend taking a bit of time to schmooze around the island’s churches and explore the cemetery.
The latter attraction is a bit somber, but it’s fascinating.
Bring some proper walking shoes if you’re planning to climb the tower. There are several steps to the top and some of the fortifications can be slightly uneven and rocky.
6. Explore Seitan Limania Beach
This beautiful beach is very close to Chania (around 20 km away) and is at the foot of an incredible zig-zag gorge.
It’s a bit of a trek to get down, but nothing too difficult.
It’s super popular with cliff jumpers because of its jagged and climbable cliffsides.
But the sandy section of this remote beach is ideal for sunbathers! Although it gets crowded pretty quickly, so it’s best to get there before 10 a.m.
Swimming between the gorgeous cliffs is an incredible experience, especially between May and September, thanks to the tepid and calm waters you get at this time of year.
And do you remember those mountain goats from the Samaria Gorge? You’ll find them here, too, so don’t leave snacks and food unattended while you dip in the sea.
And be warned: the goats also love to leave little “gifts” on your beach towels (in the form of pee and poo). Don’t ask me how I know….
Because there are no facilities here (and you need to hike down), you’ll want to bring the right stuff with you. I advise packing sturdy shoes for the walk down, beach essentials like towels, and plenty of water and snacks.
7. Relax on Elafonisi Beach
Another incredible place for catching some rays on the island of Crete is Elafonisi Beach.
This gem can be found on the southwestern coast and it boasts aquamarine waters and incredible pink sand.
If you’re trying to figure out why it doesn’t have white sand, it’s because there are thousands of broken seashell specs hiding here!
The beach is approximately 76 km from Chania, 132 km from Rethymno, and 211 km from Heraklion.
So, it’s a bit of a trek. But the gorgeous landscape is worth the time in the car – trust me.
Entry is completely free, but you’ll need to rent a sun lounger from a local beach bar if you don’t want to lie on a towel.
It’s also worth mentioning that there are no trees here to shade you, meaning the sun can be brutal between 12 p.m. and 3 p.m.
My suggestion is to get here early and explore the whole area by walking around. The water is so shallow that you can reach the small island of Elafonissi on foot, which is so incredible that it’s a natural reserve.
You can’t bring beach chairs or umbrellas here, so there aren’t many people.
But you can find some little coves and some shadow behind some rocks while enjoying the clear azure water and lush vegetation.
As the island is quite isolated, it’s popular with nudists. So, if it’s not your thing, keep an eye out for them.
8. Try the local Cretan cuisine
No trip to any of the Greek islands would be complete without trying some local cuisine!
You’ll find stuff like gyros, homemade olive oil, and amazing meats at most local restaurants and cafes.
But you should also keep an eye out for dishes made with mountain herbs, fresh fish, and appetizers like tzatziki and dolmádes (stuffed vine leaves).
If you can, though, it’s those tiny mountain villages that hide the best foodie gems.
Platanes and Sissi are gorgeous places to visit, while the fishing port of Milatos is the place to be for old-school seafood tavernas.
A couple of my favorites!
At the wood-fired Bakery Marinakis you’ll feel like time stopped 40 years ago. Their traditional breads and bakes are simple but out-of-this-world delicious.
We loved stopping here for a slice Spanakopita (a Cretan pastry filled with spinach and feta) before heading to the beach.
But it’s the cozy Topos & Elias that is truly unforgettable. This tiny little restaurant is nestled in the mountains. We spotted it on our way to Elafonisi and decided to come back for lunch.
From the vine leaves stuffed with rice to the moussaka to the lamb, everything tastes divine. And don’t forget to try the kiunefe! You can thank me later.
If you want to try delicious Cretan homemade food, this is the place to go to!
9. Wander through Rethymnon Old Town
Rethymnon (aka Rethimnon) is an incredibly well-preserved medieval town with a Venetian Harbor and an imposing Fortress.
Like Chania, this place is packed with cobbled streets and charming waterfront restaurants.
But it’s the Fortezza Castle that pushes this place over the edge and makes it worth a separate visit.
It was built way back in 1573 and it overlooks the town and the water from above.
While you’re here, you can explore the striking bastions and ramparts that jut out from the top of the structure.
And remember to admire the wealth of Turkish history and architecture here.
From the beautiful mansions (with Turkish balconies!) to the minarets and the Mosque of Neratze, there’s plenty to explore.
Before you go, try and check out the famous Loggia, which is right in the center of the Old Town.
It’s been around since the 16th century and boasts several huge arches and a small shop selling local artwork.
Considering how remarkably preserved it is, you’ll certainly want to snap a picture or two!
10. Visit the Arkadi Monastery
If you’re traveling to Crete by car (or are willing to grab a taxi or bus!), the Arkadi Monastery is an incredible attraction to visit.
It’s about 23 km from Rethymno, meaning you’ll need to set aside a few hours for the entire experience.
This historic site dates back to the 16th century and is a great spot for a few photos.
It’s built in the Venetian style, boasts incredible columns, and represents the area’s journey to freedom!
This monastery was essentially a fortress for local Cretan revolt fighters who were opposing Ottoman rule.
As a result, you’ll learn a lot about Crete’s Ottoman history here (including the horrific Holocaust at Arkadi Monastery).
It’s grim, but it involved locking women and children inside the gunpowder store and letting it all explode.
As you walk around, you’ll see several Byzantine and Cretan paintings, the Ossuary, the gardens, and the Monks’ cells.
If you have time, it’s also worth stopping by the Museum of Moni Arkadi, which is home to religious manuscripts and engravings.
I recommend checking the opening times for your visit carefully to avoid disappointment. It’s usually open from 9 am to 6 pm between April and October (AKA: the high season) but closes early at 4 pm during the off-season. The entry fee is affordable, though, and will set you back just €3.
11. Spend the day at Falassarna Beach
Greece is home to the most beautiful beaches in Europe.
So, it’s a pretty good idea to head down to Falassarna Beach for its powdery white sands, crystal-clear water, and amazing sunsets. It’s one of our favorite beaches to relax and unwind.
Not only is this a surprisingly good beach for surfing, but you can paraglide over the coast or even go jet skiing!
Yup – this one’s for you, adrenaline junkies.
The main sandy beach area (Pacchia Ammos) is around 1 km long and it’s dotted with snack bars, beach umbrellas, and small cafes.
It can get pretty windy here as the beach is really exposed, so it’s worth checking wind direction on this websites before you go there.
If you head slightly north, you’ll find a smaller beach that’s typically less crowded, as not as many tourists know about it!
Although the main draw of this area is the beach itself, there’s also a stunning Hellenistic harbor attached to the area.
It’s been around for over 1,500 years, which makes it an antique attraction that’s well worth a look.
Just be aware that it’s only open from Tuesday to Friday and closes at around 3 p.m.
I suggest visiting in the late afternoon to avoid the blistering summertime heat.
Plus, you’ll be able to stick around for one of the best sunsets in Crete over the water here!
12. Relax at the fishing village of Sissi
No trip to Crete would be complete without a trip to the charming fishing village of Sissi.
It’s home to several sandy beaches, but it’s the mountains and laid-back feel that make this spot a hidden gem.
This is a perfect place to check out for a romantic trip as there are several sea-view restaurants on offer.
Just FYI, Taverna Amelia is a must-visit for traditional Greek eats and fresh fish.
But you can also spend your time walking along the coast to Potamos Beach or exploring the quaint bakeries and shoe shops.
Don’t worry, though – this place isn’t just for loved-up couples.
The Happy Train is an amazing attraction for kids that takes you up the mountains and to the nearby monastery.
Plus, the Sissi Mini Golf Course is a decent way to blow off some steam if your tykes are full of energy.
Whatever you do here, you’re bound to appreciate the stunning coastal views.
13. Take a day trip to Chrissi Island
If you are staying in the South Eastern side of Crete, you must make time to explore Chrissi Island.
This uninhabited island is the epitome of paradise and is around 15 km off Lerapetra on Crete’s South Coast.
It’s a bit of a boat trip to get there, but it’s totally worth it.
Once you reach Chrissi’s shore, you can check out the clear waters and soft sands at Golden Beach before heading over to the secluded Kataprosopo Beach for snorkeling.
The rocky seabeds around here can be sharp (so be careful and bring beach shoes if you have them!). But the surrounding 300-year-old cedar woods make it a special place to explore!
Before leaving, you can also trek up Kefala Hill (which is about 31 meters high) for views over the entire island.
To get to Chrissi Island, you’ll need to catch a boat from Ierapetra, which costs around €20.00.
Pack your own food and water, as there aren’t facilities on the island – and the loos at the port are to avoid. While the island is breathtakingly beautiful, some areas have litter. Please help preserve its beauty by taking all trash back with you.
Like many other Cretan beauty spots, Chrissi Island is pretty busy between June and September.
To beat the crowds, I suggest trying to visit in May or October. During this period, you’ll have a much better chance of renting a lounge chair too!
I also recommend taking a few travel sickness pills if you’re motion-sensitive. Strong winds can make the boat trip over quite rough (which you may not appreciate!). This is something I wish I had known before I boarded the boat, lol!
14. Stroll around Lake Kournas
If you’ve had your fill of the best beaches in Crete, you might want to take a trip to Lake Kournas!
It’s the only freshwater lake in Crete and is just 4 km from Georgioupolis and it’s surrounded by the rolling hills of the White Mountains (so it’s stunning).
It’s just as picturesque as any of the beaches, and you can swim, head out on a boat, or sunbathe.
When you’re out on the water, make sure you keep an eye out for the eels, turtles, ducks, and giant carp.
Pedal boats are the best way to get up close, but you might even be lucky enough to spot them from the circular walking path!
If you have time, hop over to the nearby village of Kournas to explore the ancient settlements dotted around its center.
15. Visit Agia Triada Tzgaroli Monastery
Now, there are tons of monasteries in Greece.
But Agia Triada Tzgaroli Monastery is a Greek Orthodox one that’s just beautiful.
It’s just 15 km from Chania in the Akrotiri Peninsula and is still central to Crete’s ecclesiastical scene.
The monastery’s museum is a must-visit while you’re here. It’s home to relics like utensils and documents from the Greek War of Independence in 1821.
However, I’d say that it’s the Venetian architecture, high domes, and general silhouette of the building that make it worth a visit.
To make things even sweeter, there’s a wine cellar and olive oil press on site (thanks to the surrounding vineyards and olive groves!).
So, this is one of the best places to buy homemade wine, soaps, and oil that you can take away with you!
Souvenirs made by monks? Now, that’s going to impress your family back home.
16. Relax at Vai Beach
Unlike Elafonsi Beach, Vai Beach is packed with gorgeous palm trees that offer plenty of shade.
The waters are incredibly calm here (which is ideal for swimmers!), but it’s the soft white sand that takes the cake.
Despite being incredibly beautiful, this rocky cliff-lined beach is rarely overrun with crowds because it’s a bit off the beaten track.
In my opinion, the best time to visit is either May or October, as you may struggle slightly during the summer months.
It’s around 30 minutes from Sita and you can easily park around 50 meters from the entrance for €3 (a steal!).
Another major selling point is that it has been awarded a coveted Blue Flag, which means it’s very clean.
And hey, who wouldn’t want to visit the largest palm forest in Europe? I know I do!
There you have it!
Crete is an incredible island. I’ve been twice, and every time, I fell in love a bit more with its charming villages, incredible beaches, irresistible food, and simple way of living.
There are so many incredible things to do, and this list of my favorites just scratches the surface of what it has to offer.
It’s definitely a place that you’ll want to explore more and more.
And if you have any questions about your trip to Crete, let me know in the comments!