Crete beckons millions of vacationers with stunning beaches, a rich culture, and picturesque villages. The sense of history is omnipresent, as you explore a land whose civilization stretches back into the mists of time."
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Shop for beautifully designed Crete gifts and merchandise such as these mugs and beach totes.
Crete Framed Prints
An exciting collection of photographic framed prints, perfect for introducing a bit of international flair to your home or office. All prints are custom manufactured using archival inks and acid-free paper. Framed prints are matted and framed in a stylish black frame that includes complete backing. Frame size: 19" x 15". Select for more details.
Crete is like a continent in miniature...
...where snow covered mountains tumble down toward subtropical beaches, an ancient culture proudly greets the future, and a spontaneous celebration of life happens around every corner."
The Old Harbor of Heraklion
Crete is the largest island of Greece, positioned south of the other islands in the Aegean Sea and just 306 kilometers from the north coast of Africa.
This geographic position, at the crossroads of three continents (Asia, Africa, and Europe), has contributed to a remarkable history that stretches back to the Minoan civilization and into the Neolithic era. This history has created a wonderfully strong and independent Cretan spirit, so much that some consider Crete to be like a small country unto itself. The remarkable range of geologic features, from towering mountains to turquoise beaches, reinforces this image, and today the island is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Mediterranean. People come to vacation on the miles of beaches that line the coast, with some of the clearest and most brilliantly blue water you will ever see.
The Throne Room of Knossos
They also come for the history. On Crete you can explore many excellent archeological sites bearing witness to the magnificent ancient civilization of the Minoans. From about 2700 to 1450 BC, the Minoan civilization flourished as a seafaring and commerce-based culture that dominated the Eastern Mediterranean. This corresponded to the Old Kingdom Period of Egypt until Egypt's New Kingdom Period, so there was much contact and trade between the Minoans and the nearby Egyptians who lived just a short distance across the water. In fact, the Egyptians called the Minoans "the Sea Peoples" and had a fond appreciation for Minoan pottery and ceramics, prized for their wonderful shapes and sea-inspired designs. When you visit Crete, you can see many examples of these in the Archeological Museum in Heraklion. The range of shapes and motifs is remarkable.
Minoan pottery in the Archeological Museum
Among other incredible finds on display at this museum are exquisitely detailed gold necklaces and earrings, and the painted frescoes discovered in the palace rooms of the Minoans. Before visiting the ruins of the Minoan palace at Knossos, I recommend a visit to this museum as a prelude. Later, when you visit the ruins and partially reconstructed palace, it helps your mind envision the daily life that took place here.
Located on the north coast, in roughly the center of the island, Heraklion is a town where most visitors stay for a night or two before proceeding to the more charming towns and villages of the island. I would recommend that first time visitors head West toward Rethimno and Chania. Both of these towns are excellent places from which to base your stay on the island, each having old ports lined with Venetian architecture, restaurants, and shopping. Rethimno is a great town, but if you have only a limited time on the island, I would choose Chania over Rethimno and use that as my base.
Chania is divided into an Old Town and a new city. The Old Town is a fantastic place where you'll want to spend the majority of your time. The beautiful promenade edges the harbor. Small bed and breakfasts, dozens of seaside restaurants, shopping, and entertainment venues line the narrow pedestrian streets that radiate from the harbor.There's a festive, international atmosphere during the tourism months from roughly May to October. Anything you want or need, you will be able to find here.
The harbor of Chania
From Chania you can jump off to many of the most dramatic natural attractions of Western Crete. The famous Samaria Gorge, the largest in Europe, is a short drive from Chania and considered a must-see when visiting the island. The thing to do is hike downward from the mountains to the sea, starting in the morning. The downward trek through the gorge is about 13 km long, ending at the Libyan sea on the south coast of the island, where a refreshing swim awaits you at the end of your hike. The natural scenery in the gorge is stunning, and the whole experience makes an unforgettable day trip.
Of course, for many people the main attraction of Crete is relaxation on one of the many splendid beaches. If you're staying in Chania, there is a local beach available right next to town, but I recommend opting for something more adventurous, like a visit to the Balos Lagoon, or the beach at Elafonisi. These are day trips from Chania, providing some of the most dramatic beach scenery you are likely to find anywhere. The Balos lagoon is located next to a peninsula on the northwestern tip of the island, roughly 58 kilometers from Chania. Incredible turquoise water and multicolored sand stretch all around you, without any modern structures to spoil the sense of remoteness and wonderful tranquility. You have a couple of options to reach the lagoon. An early bus will take you from Chania to Kastelli. From there, you get a boat at 9:30 am that brings you the rest of the way. It anchors in the water while you spend the entire afternoon in the lagoon, and then leaves for the return trip at 4:00 pm.
Small boats bring visitors to Balos Lagoon
The boat ride is short and pleasant, passing through crystal clear waters. It's the easiest way to get to the lagoon without any drama. The other option is to use a 4 wheel drive vehicle or a motorbike to travel along a rough, unpaved road of about 10 kilometers until you park it and hike a further 15 minutes to the beach. I'm glad the road stays unpaved...too many tourists with around-the-clock access would ruin the place. Whichever route you decide, the Balos lagoon certainly qualifies as one of the best beaches in the whole Mediterranean, and well worth the extra effort it requires to get there.
Perhaps my favorite beach in all of Crete is Elafonisi. The first time I set eyes on this remarkable expanse of turquoise water, I felt like I discovered a hidden jewel. First of all, there are no hotels or large structures in sight of the beach. You are surrounded by nature at its most glorious. The transit company KTEL has a bus that will get you there from the central bus station in Chania.
You depart the crowded town center and the air conditioned bus whisks you toward the countryside. The buildings dissipate and soon you will ascend into the mountains of the interior, along dramatic winding roads and past sleepy villages, through a ruggedly beautiful landscape very different from the coastal beach areas. After an hour or so of breathtaking scenery, you will descend down the other side of the mountain range toward the sparkling Libyan Sea and Elafonisi Beach. It's true that tourist buses bring many visitors each day, but I've never had a problem finding an isolated spot to enjoy complete tranquility. You simply walk beyond the sun beds where most people set themselves, and wade through a shallow lagoon that's only a couple feet deep, until reaching the sandy islet that will be your paradise for the afternoon. The gently rolling sand dunes of the islet are studded with small white lilies. You have arrived in a truly remarkable place.
Pink sand at Elafonisi Beach
One of the special qualities of this beach is the pink color of the sand at the waterline, a result of corals. At some places I noticed the gently lapping waves had deposited the pink coral into stripes. You can see it in the picture. Yes, I'm talking about paradise.
Near the main beach, where the buses drop you off, there's a small shop selling delicious yet inexpensive sandwiches, and some bathroom facilities. Thankfully there isn't much else, because the Greek government has placed an order restricting development in the area; this will preserve the pristine environment for future generations to enjoy. In a few days I'm going to add a slideshow of pictures from Elafonisi, since I have too many good ones to fit into the main photo tour at the top of the page. (There are also going to be a couple of short Elafonisi video clips in the video section, further down.)
Mountainous interior of Crete
With more than 1000 kilometers of coastline, Crete has so many beaches and coves that it's impossible to describe them all. Whether you're looking for crowded beaches with all of the amenities of a first class resort, or wild stretches of sand without the intrusion of others, this island has a beach for every preference. The challenge is to pull yourself away from the lovely beaches, and dedicate some of your visit to an exploration of Crete's fascinating interior. Mountain villages, archeological sites, olive groves, wineries, the Samaria Gorge, the green and fertile Plain of Lasithi...the list goes on. Above all you will be captivated by the Cretans themselves, always hospitable and eager to share their culture, their opinions, their smiles.
Basilica of Saint Titus
Clearly, Crete has loads of things to excite even the most jaded traveler, so plan your trip accordingly. You will want to budget more time here than you might for the smaller islands on a Greek island-hopping itinerary. I think three days is minimum, or you will feel too hurried. Five to seven days is a more reasonable time to sample the pleasures of this remarkable island. For more information, check out the virtual Crete photo tour, video clips, and links to Crete related resources further down the page.
Georgiadis Park, Heraklion
Yiali Tzami Mosque, Chania