The largest and most populous of the Greek islands, Crete is a popular tourist destination due to the year-round warm weather, beautiful surroundings, and range of activities and attractions to enjoy. It is located in the Mediterranean Sea, and it bounds the southern border of the Aegean Sea. If you choose this as your vacation destination, then you will find a vast array of ways to keep yourself entertained during your visit. So that you can plan your stay and get the best experience possible of the island, here are the 20 best things to do in Crete for first-timers.
20. See the Animals at Aquaworld Aquarium
An attraction that is suitable for all the family is Aquaworld Aquarium. Although it is probably smaller than other aquariums you may have visited while on vacation in other destinations, that only adds to the attraction’s charm. It is one of only three aquariums in Greece, and most of the animals you see have either suffered an injury and been nursed back to health, or they are unwanted pets offered a home by the aquarium. The staff at the aquarium are happy to talk to visitors about the animals.
19. Explore Mirambello Bay
Mirambello Bay is one of the largest bays in Europe, and there are several activities you can enjoy at this location. Many people like to explore the reason by driving or taking a bus trip around the bay. Others prefer a more active approach and take a dip in the Sea of Crete. While you are visiting the bay, go to the town of Agios Nikolaos. There, you can enjoy a delicious Greek meal at one of the many excellent restaurants.
18. Spend Time at Falassarna Beach
Falassarna Beach is on the west coast of Crete, and it consists of five beaches. It has consistently ranked as one of the best beaches in Europe. You will find the beach where the Gramvousa Peninsula joins the mainland, and it stretches along a large bay. Those who want to sunbathe usually choose the central beach, which has pale sand and shallow waters. Further along the beach, you can enjoy watersports and paragliding.
17. Eat Greek Food
During your stay, you should sample as much Greek cuisine as possible. There are amazing restaurants around the island where you can sample traditional Greek dishes. Seafood is a specialty of Crete, so try to order some of the dishes featuring fresh and locally caught fish and seafood. Also, try to sample some of the locally produced cheese, as these are delicious. If possible, try to sample some lamb antikristo-style. The lamb is rubbed with salt and then slow-cooked over a wooden fire for many hours. One place you can sample this is at a restaurant called Antikristo, which is in Perivola.
16. Visit the Small Villages
While the main cities are the areas that usually attract tourists, there are many small villages to see. Including a visit to some of these will give you a glimpse of traditional life in Crete. One village to visit is Loutro, which is a tiny fishing village that you can only access by boats or by scrambling over rocky hills. It is a picturesque place to visit, and there is an excellent restaurant. Another fishing village to visit is Sissi, which is a charming and laid-back village where you can sit and watch the boats. It also has a tiny beach, which is a more peaceful place to relax than the popular tourist beaches.
15. Have a Day Out at Cretaquarium
Cretaquarium is one of the largest aquariums in Europe, says The Culture Trip. Open since 2005, the aquarium is a great day out for all the family as it has something that will appeal to all ages. It is home to marine life, including sharks, jellyfish, fish, sea horses, and many more creatures that live in the ocean. There are interactive and educational activities that help visitors to learn about the creatures, marine sustainability, and the environment. Therefore, this is an attraction that is both fun and educational.
14. View the Exhibits at Lychonostatis Open Air Museum
The Lychnostatis Open Air Museum is a private museum. It was founded by Dr. Yiorgos Markakis, and he personally spent six years building the six structures in this village. The open-air museum is located in Hersonissos, and visitors can take a tour using an audio guide that tells them about the traditions and trades of Crete, along with Cretan folk culture. Some of the things to see at the open-air museum include wine and olive presses, weaving and crafting workshops, a merchant’s warehouse, a farmhouse, and a distillery. There is also an exhibition of stones and minerals, along with a gallery exhibiting Cretan folk art. Furthermore, there are gardens that highlight the native cactuses, herbs, and fruit of Crete.
13. See the Ruins of Malia’s Minoan Palace
Legend says that Sarpedon, one of the brothers of King Minos, had his throne at the Palace of Malia. The palace and the surrounding site were abandoned, but they once boasted two courts, a theater, a loggia, workshops, and royal quarters. Several excavations have taken place, and some of the ruins are under a glass canopy. You will find the palace on the north coast of Crete.
12. Stop by the Holy Trinity Monastery
The Holy Trinity Monastery is a 17th-century religious structure on the Akrotiri Peninsula. It is set in beautiful surroundings of olive groves, cypress trees, and vineyards. The monastery church is a beautiful building with three domes, two Corinthian columns, and four Doric columns. The architectural style of the structure is a combination of Western Mannerist and Greek Orthodox. Inside, the ceiling is painted blue and dotted with gold stars, and there are icons around the room. The monastery has a separate museum containing religious artifacts, paintings, and rare manuscripts. There is also a monastery shop selling goods made by the monks using the produce of the vineyards and olive groves. You should also visit the Arkadi Monastery, which is southeast of Rethymno.
11. Go to Phaistos Palace and Archaeological Site
Crete has many fascinating archeological sites, and one of the best to visit is the Phaistos Palace and Archaeological Site. After Knossos, Phaistos Palace is the second-largest Minoan palace on the island. According to Greek mythology, it was once home to Rhadamanthus. It is possible for visitors to explore the archaeological site, which also allows you to enjoy views of the surrounding plain.
10. Enjoy a Fireworks Display at Lake Voulismeni
Lake Voulismeni is a beautiful spot to visit. The lake has many restaurants and coffee shops around the edge, so you can enjoy a cup of coffee or a bite to eat while admiring views across the lake. Fishing is another popular way to spend time at the lake. The best time to visit the lake is at Easter, as there is a celebratory firework display attended by the locals.
9. Visit the Nautical Museum of Chania
The Nautical Museum of Chania first opened its doors in 1973, and it is housed in the entrance to the Firka Fortress, which you will find in the old harbor of Chania. One of the highlights of a visit to the museum is seeing the extensive collection of both ancient and modern ships. The museum also houses war relics, historical photographs, nautical instruments, and paintings. The exhibits are displayed in chronological order, so they tell the story of the island’s nautical history. Some of the periods covered include the Bronze Age, the Venetian occupation, and the post-war period. It is an attraction that will appeal to children and adults alike.
8. See Balos Lagoon
One of Crete’s most impressive sights is Balos Lagoon, one of Crete’s most famous images. The lagoon is between the capes of Tigani and Gramvousa, and it is a popular ferry day trip for visitors to Crete. You can also walk down a rugged hillside to see the lagoon, which is lined with rocks and sand. If you opt for a boat trip, then you can also see the Gramvousa islands. One of the islands has a Venetian fort.
7. Go to the Venetian Harbor at Chania
Chania is the second-largest city in Crete, and it is also one of the island’s most important ports. The Venetians began building the city’s harbor in 1320, and it took three centuries to complete. A mole runs from the eastern end of the harbor and leads to a lighthouse, one of Chania’s most significant landmarks.
6. Take a Boat Trip to Spinalonga Island
Hand Luggage Only recommends taking a boat trip to Spinalonga Island. Spinalonga is one of Crete’s tiny neighboring islands, and you can reach it by boarding a small boat. The island has a unique history and a turbulent past, and it is a fantastic place to explore the island’s Venetian history.
5. Stroll Around Rethymno Old Town
Rethymno is the third-largest city in Crete, and it boasts one of the best old towns. The Old Town was once behind walls, and the cobblestone alleys date back to the 14th century. Some of the sights to admire in the Old Town include catholic churches, pretty arches, Renaissance mansions, the Neratze Mosque, the Rimpndi Fountain, and the 17th-century Loggia, which is now a mosque.
4. Relax on Elafonisi Beach
Elafonisi Beach is a nature reserve along the channel between the island of Elafonisi and mainland Greece. Elafonisi is a small, rectangular island that is famous for dunes and pink sand. It is often possible to reach Elifonisi by jumping along sand bars, as the water of the channel is only shallow. The beach is described by many as one of the best in the world, as it boasts white sand against a backdrop of the mountains of Crete’s southwest coast. There is also a large natural pool for paddling.
3. View the Wonder of Samaria Gorge
If you are a fit and active person that enjoys outdoor pursuits, then the best way to see Samaria Gorge is to complete the hike through the ravine. It begins at a viewing platform at the bottom of the gorge, where the 300-meter high cliffs dwarf you on either side. You will see some wonderful sights along the ravine path, including the goats that amble up the almost flat cliff faces. When you reach the end of the gorge, you can continue for just over a mile to visit the coastal village of Agia Roumeli.
2. See the Exhibits at Heraklion Archaeological Museum
The Heraklion Archaeological Museum contains the largest collection of Minoan artifacts in the world. There are displays spread over 20 rooms, and these are in chronological order. The first room covers the Neolithic times, which is the period before the palaces were built. Some of the exhibits include weapons, armor, jewelry, cases, and figurines. There are also frescoes and items containing strange symbols and inscriptions that are the subjects of mysteries.
1. Visit the Historic Site of Knossos
According to The Crazy Tourist, one of the best things to do in Crete, Greece, for first-timers is to visit the historic site of Knossos. It is a few miles south of the island’s modern capital, and it is a palace and its encompassing city. The palace and city were built approximately 3,000 years ago, and during the 18th century BC, it had a population of around 100,000 people. Throughout its history, the site has suffered various catastrophes, such as earthquakes and invasions. Some sections of the site have since been restored. It is possible to visit the site and see the four-level royal apartments, the reception courtyard, the sanctuary, and the throne room.