Most travelers outside of Europe have heard about the famous Santorini and Mykonos and might wonder what to see and do in Crete. After visiting Crete for a week, I just like to share with you why should you put this island on your travel list.
Crete is the southernmost and largest island in the Greek Archipelago, 3206 sq miles and actually, the fifth-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. The best way to explore the island is either to rent a car or using the well-developed Public Bus Services Ktel. In general, renting a car will be lower cost than using the Crete public buses. The local currency is Euro, No visa requirements for US Citizens.
A cradle of the Ancient Minoan Civilization, the island offers the unique combination of romantic, beach and cultural/history immersive vacation. In addition, the hotel rates and dining out/shopping is more affordable than the neighboring and popular Santorini. Crete has a Mediterranean climate, with long summer season until October and milder winter in the 50s (Fahrenheit).
Where to stay in Crete?
My parents and I stayed in magical Chania, built on the top of the ancient Minoan town of Kydonia, and known for its well-preserved old Venetian Harbor, dating back to the Venetian (13-17th Century) and the Turkish rule (17-19th Century), located northwest of Heraklion, the capital of Crete. Chania has an international airport with daily direct flights from Athens via Ryan Air, Aegean, & Olympic Air. A number of boutique hotels offer memorable experience such as Querini & Porto Del Colombo. As an alternative, Rethymno is a smaller town, an hour east of Chania, with intense Medieval architecture and lovely Venetian Port. With its busy industrial vibe, the capital of Crete, Heraklion not suitable for a longer vacation.
What to see in Crete?
Wonder around in Chania's Old Town
If you choose to stay in Chania, start from the Old Venetian Harbor and explore the Venetian Lighthouse, the Turkish Mosque or get lost in the expansive labyrinth of small romantic streets. The Old Town is brimming with boutique hotels, lively, locally run restaurants and fantastic shopping! Have a memorable dinner in Mesostrato restaurant, situated in 16 Century Venetian building or get a cocktail at one of the waterfront cafes. If time permits, visit Archaeological Museum of Chania or the Maritime Museum of Crete or take a day trip to Rethymno. When you are ready to work on your tan, Chania's beach is always an option- although not the best beach in the area, it is walking distance from majority of accommodations.
Visit Knossos Palace, Heraklion
If you have even a remote interest in ancient history, visit Knossos Palace, the capital of Minoan Crete and the mythical King Minos is a must, combined with a visit to the recently-renovated Archaeological Museum in Heraklion where the original finds from the Palace are on display.
Travel Tip: If you are staying in Chania, a day trip (88 miles one way) to Knossos can be arranged with local tour agencies, book in advance.
Explore Crete's pristine beaches
One of the best beaches in Crete can be found in Chania's region. Most of them are easily accessible via car rental(1-1.30 hrs drive). Gorgeous beaches such as Falassarna and Elafonissi, known for their pink sand beaches can be even accessed via Crete's local bus system known as KTEL Public Bus Services. My parents and I decided on taking an organized day cruise to Balos Lagoon & Gramvousa Fortress (dating back to the Venetian Period Rule) with Cretan Daily Cruises- highly recommended!
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