The largest of all the Greek islands, Crete has so much to offer for holidaymakers after sun, sea, and sand. But unlike some European coastal destinations, Crete also has an abundance of history and culture to add extra value to your holiday itinerary. On such a big island, it’s important to know where to stay in Crete because wherever you base yourself can impact on the kind of holiday experience you will have.
One of the most instantly recognisable places on the whole island, Chania is generally regarded as one of the prettiest cities in all of Greece. Chania may be near the top of your ‘where to go in Crete’ list, but despite that, not many people know how to pronounce it. If you want to sound like a local, don’t pronounce the C and start with the H – you’re welcome.
The town is known among locals as the best place to stay in Crete. So if you’re after a slice of cultural history, the port here has attracted everyone from the Egyptians, Venetians and Ottomans since the 14th century. The old part of the city is located around the grand Venetian Port, which is instantly recognisable by its great swathe of golden stone. The port area is still protected by most of its original walls, and also contains several huge old warehouses which now house museums and galleries. You’ll also find some tiny narrow streets full of studios, shops, restaurants and cafes.
If you’re the type of person who likes to join a tour when visiting a new place, there’s a unique option you can take when ticking off the places to visit in Crete. ‘The Locals’ is an initiative started by Crete natives which sets out to guide visitors on free walking tours of the old town. You can find more information at local tourist centres.
Almost every tour will stop at the port for an evening nightcap, meaning you can watch the sunset over the harbour with a shot of local ouzo in hand. You can watch the fishermen sail out for a night’s work just as the artists begin packing up their easels and sketchbooks. And the best part? You need do nothing more than sit and watch.
If you’re not keen on long transfers, then Chania is an ideal place to be. The airport is just a few miles from the centre, while the city also acts as a gateway to many of the best day trips on Crete, as well as some of the best beaches.
The island’s capital, Heraklion has got a lot going for it. Nearby Knossos is recognised as the oldest city in Europe, making Heraklion a great spot for history buffs. The centre of the Minoan civilisation some 4,000 years ago, Knossos is famous for its palace, labyrinth and the legend of the minotaur. A visit to the Palace and labyrinth is one of most enduring activities in all of Greece – offering a unique insight into how things used to be on this spectacular Greek island.
Other ancient attractions include the Old Town area with its scenic promenade, Koules Fortress, the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, and the Cathedral of St. Minas.
Despite all this talk of ancient history, Heraklion is still one of the best Crete cities when it comes to modern activities. You can enjoy 21st-century delights in and around Heraklion which provides access to great beaches, fantastic watersports and terrific hikes. Then there’s the Natural History Museum of Crete, which covers the zoology and botany of the eastern Mediterranean region, as well as exhibitions featuring palaeontology, mineralogy and geology.
Set on the north-eastern coast, Agios Nikolaos was once a tiny fishing village. Now a wonderful family-friendly resort, it’s sheltered by three hills and possesses one of the best Blue-Flag beaches on the island.
With a wide choice of hotels, villas and resorts, plus a host of cafes, restaurants and bars, it’s also an ideal base for those with little ones. The water is both shallow and clear, while the sun paints a gorgeous vista for miles. Agios Nikolaos is also home to the mythical bottomless lake, one of the most unique attractions on Crete. Greek legend says this is where Athena and Artemis bathed, so, if you manage to catch a glimpse of them, remember to snap a photo.
Generally considered one of the least tourist-focused spots in all of Crete, Sitia is the place to be if you and your loved ones want to escape the crowds. Boasting some gorgeous sandy beaches, a few stunning monasteries, and the same friendly locals you’ll find throughout Greece – it’s a slice of romantic paradise.
This spectacular area of Crete is found deep in the White Mountains – so called, because they’re beautifully capped with snow all year round. The region is a heaven for walkers and hikers with spectacular scenery, wonderful wildflowers and one of the most famous walks in all of Greece – the Samarian Gorge. This 16-kilometre stretch is a great trek which will reward you with some stunning vistas.
The place to be if you’re an adrenalin seeker, a stay in the East Coast area will bring you incredible water sports like jet-skiing, banana boating, scuba diving, parasailing, and much more.