Crowd-pleasing Crete is a medley of ancient sights, beautiful beaches, idyllic countryside and heavenly harbour towns. From the relatively fresh-faced resort of Elounda and its A-list clientele, to Rethymno's colourful labyrinth of courtyards and Venetian mansions. One thing's for sure – there's never a dull moment on a Crete Holiday.
Crete has countless claims to fame. Not only is it the birthplace of Zeus (according to Greek mythology), it was home to Europe's earliest civilisation – the Minoans – and boasts the largest palm tree forest on the continent. Packing the cultural clout of a whole country into one supersized island, you're sure to come across traces of ancient empires and architectural masterpieces from across the ages. Good news for history buffs who are on the hunt for archaeological treasures!
Nature is undoubtedly the island's ultimate muse. Covered in legendary caves, soaring peaks, freshwater lakes, dramatic gorges and rocky islets, not to mention a whopping 650 miles of coastline… Catapulting Crete's beaches into pole position in terms of traveller priority, take your pick between lagoonal paradise, off-the-beaten-track beauties and family-friendly Blue Flags. Wherever you set down the towel, it's shore to set hearts soaring.
Friendly locals are as sweet as the smell of citrus trees and olive groves that linger in the air. Known for their generous nature, be sure to swing by a traditional taverna and spend an evening with the sociable Cretan community. Peppered with sleepy fishing villages and time-honoured towns which still play a huge part in the island's identity, you'll find plenty of opportunities to soak up the authentic atmosphere. After all, an evening with the locals is part and parcel of the Greek island experience…
Lap up the longest summer in all the Greek Islands! Crete is blessed with scorching summers and mild winters, making it the perfect choice for off-peak sun and pocket-friendly prices. Days are pleasantly warm all the way through to the end of October, where climes are still touching 23°C. April beckons in the beginnings of Spring, where temperatures start to trend upwards. Nature lovers can make the most of outdoor adventures courtesy of cooling breezes, as can day-trip devotees who want to feast their eyes on the island's iconic landmarks. Crete beach holidays are at their most popular during the summer season. Temperatures skyrocket to 28°C in June, maxing out at 30°C+ in August and still hitting 27°C highs in September.
Crete packs a whole host of action-packed activities into its borders, so if you're after hidden delights and bucket list sights then you're in luck! Boasting an eclectic mix of itinerary additions, the list of things to do in Crete could rival a meze menu in length…
Welcome to one of Crete's best preserved towns from the Renaissance. Overflowing with Venetian and Ottoman architecture, the entire old quarter is a living museum of monuments and mansions. Wander through rustic alleys and spellbinding cobblestone streets, where lazy afternoons take care of themselves in quaint coffee shops and sun-dappled courtyards. The hum of traditional music and lively bars marry into the magic of the palm-fringed harbour front, with views over the town's landmark lighthouse. Life moves at its own pace in romantic Rethymno, especially when you factor in the town's stunning sandy beach. A match made in heaven for an evening stroll, even the local loggerhead turtles agree – with many picking these golden shores to lay their eggs.
Rethymno's 16th century citadel and fortress are a must that you cannot miss! Sitting pretty on Palekastro hill, be sure to have your camera at the ready for sweeping views across the harbour and out to sea. History hunters and culture vultures will feel as though they've hit the holiday jackpot with well-preserved barracks, stately buildings, a hospital, warehouse and domed mosque.
Sharing many of the same coveted qualities as nearby Rethymno, Chania's Old Town is equally as enchanting. Best viewed from the picture-perfect port, stroll along the magnificent mole harbour. From here you can admire the brightly coloured building facades as their reflections dance in the glistening sea water. Often hailed as the 'jewel of the city', the Venetian lighthouse is at the heart of a holiday in Chania. One of the most famous in the world, and oldest in all of Greece, it's a popular spot for an evening stroll and match made in heaven for loved-up couples. Wander the breakwater walls hand in hand and don't forget to soak in the panoramic views across the picturesque port. With a backdrop of soaring mountains – bucket lists are made for moments like this!
If you like your adventures a little different, then set your sights on Spinalonga Island! A one-time military stronghold and former leper colony, the rocky islet's colourful past is just one of many reasons to visit. Set sail across the startling blue waters of the Mirabello Gulf and admire the honey-hued peninsula as you curve round the coastline. Covered in the crumbling remains of Cretan and Turkish homes, the abandoned village has been restored with colourful wooden shutters in places. To top it off, the island is dominated by a Venetian fortress, boasting the best sunset views on Spinalonga.
Whoever said size doesn't matter has obviously never been to Crete. Totalling in at a mind blowing 650 miles of sun-drenched coastline, you're sure to find a lot of 'best beaches' for your buck! From the paradisiacal shores of Balos, to the silky, pink sands of Elafonissi – there's more heavenly hotspots than you can possibly pack into one holiday. Bright blue waters lap against exotic bays and Caribbean-like coves, while majestic mountains and palm forests cocoon the cinematic scenes.
The summer season is prime time for a Crete beach holiday with plenty of sunshine, so soak up the golden rays and laze away the days island wide! Blue Flags fly proudly over pristine sandy stretches and are kitted out with all the essentials to keep things carefree. Covered in the footprints of families, there's plenty of entertainment and refreshments close to hand too! If seclusion and tranquillity are more your cup of tea – you'll find there's plenty of sand to go around away from the buzzing seaside resorts. Feel like a local as you lounge on the golden sands of Kyani Akti, or slip into sweet holiday daydreams in dazzling Damnoni. Considered one of the best off-the-beaten-track beaches of the bunch, the waters glisten in gorgeous emerald green tones. A sight you're sure to treasure long after you've landed back in the UK!
The Greek Islands have one of the oldest gastronomic traditions in the world, which means there's been plenty of time to perfect the a-meze-ing dishes! Delicious, fresh ingredients are the backbone of any Cretan creation, so expect plenty of home-grown delights and local specialities. Dakos is Crete's answer to Italy's bruschetta and makes a mouthwatering starter for any meal. Chopped tomato, crumbled cheese, a sprinkling of herbs and a generous dousing of olive oil sit on top of a paximadi (hard bread) and are a firm favourite amongst travellers and locals alike.
If you're on the hunt for something that can only be eaten on the island, look no further than Lamb Stamnankáthi. A staple, hearty dish, the Stamnakáthi plant isn't found anywhere else in the world! Generally served boiled with olive oil and lemon, it's the perfect accompaniment with lamb and a must for foodie fanatics. Cheese lovers are in for a treat too, with a huge assortment available in street markets and at restaurants. Fussy eaters needn't worry though, as there's plenty of international choices to sink your teeth into in the main tourist towns.
A holiday isn't a holiday without a little light retail therapy, and as luck would have it, Crete knows a thing or two about shopping experiences! Whether you're after quintessential markets that sell local produce and crafty keepsakes, or something a little more luxurious – there's plenty of places to treat yourself. Prices are pocket-friendly and the choices are extensive, from beloved labels to Cretan health and beauty remedies, be sure to bag yourself something unique from the island.
Fresh food will make cooking in your villa all the more fun, with an abundance of butchers, fishmongers, bakers, farmers markets and familiar supermarkets all on hand to help you with ingredients! Maybe this is your chance to learn some new culinary showstoppers? Or add Grecian twists to home favourites?
The main towns of Chania, Rethymno, Heraklion and Agios Nikolas offer the chance to buy bargain brands at a fraction of the cost, as well as stocking up on holiday essentials like sun cream and beach balls. Leather goods are a solid souvenir choice, with belts, shoes, bags and wallets available across Crete. Olive oil, jewellery and handmade pottery are very popular too!
Crete is one of the best Greek Islands for driving, and hiring a car makes getting around a cinch! Whether you're cruising coastal roads or traversing mountain top tracks, you can't beat the freedom of being able to pull over and take in the stunning scenes at your own leisure. From sleepy seaside towns to rural retreats and hidden bays, take the wheel and forgo the crowded tours – driving is your chance to explore the real Crete without hundreds of other tourists hot on your heels.
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