Crete is the largest island of Greece. Situated at the southeast border of Europe, for thousands of years it has been a crossroad between Europe, Asia and Africa. Thanks to such disparate influences, it has an extremely rich culture that connects Asian tradition with European cultural heritage. In fact, Crete could be seen as a cradle of European civilization, as Europe’s most ancient kingdom, called Minoan, was born there. Crete is where the myth of the Minotaur and its labyrinth has origins. Although the mystical history is extremely attractive, there is much more to see and try in Crete. In addition to the important historical sights, there are extremely beautiful cities, picturesque villages, stunning nature with beautiful beaches as well as delicious fresh food. Everyone will find something they love in Crete. As the attractions are numerous, here are few tips for the most interesting things to do.
1. Visit the Knossos Palace
You can’t visit Crete without visiting its most important monument – the Knossos Palace and Archaeological Site. Knossos is the largest Bronze Age archeological site in Crete and it is considered the oldest European city where the Minoan civilization was born. The ruins help visitors to paint at least a partial picture of the life and the culture of this fascinating civilization, which is veiled by myths. You can find the most ancient European paintings and mosaics, ceramic pottery as well as two Minoan scripts called Linear A and Linear B. In fact, the former has not yet been deciphered and always stays mysterious. This large archaeological site was found in 1878 by a Greek called Minos Kalokairinos and the excavations that followed were led by English archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans. Knossos is situated near Crete’s capital, Heraklion, and you can get there comfortably by bus. The entrance fee is 6 EUR (6.6 USD).
2. Chill out at the hippie town of Matala
Matala is a tiny village port situated on the south coast of the island. Matala is popular for its beautiful beach surrounded by wild cliffs. Matala also has an important archaeological site: the artificially created caves on the left side of the village hide a great number of ancient tombs from the Neolithic period.
In addition, the village is also interesting for its history connected to hippies. In fact, the hippies and hitchhikers came here from Europe and the U.S. during the 60s and 70s and formed a strong community here. In Matala, hippie culture remains prevalent. The coloured paintings on the pathways, numerous street sellers offering original homemade jewels, as well as the chilled-out atmosphere on the beach where people play guitar and sing during the sunset give Matala a particular atmosphere that you could hardly find anywhere else. It is like time has stopped there and ordinary life has disappeared. Immerse yourself into this problem free world and enjoy life!
3. Hike through Samaria Gorge
Next to its rich history, Crete is also full of beautiful nature. It is full of orange and olive trees, stunning hills and tiny rivers. One of the most interesting natural sites of the island that you should not miss is surely Samaria Gorge that is considered, with its length of 16 km (9 mi), one of the longest in Europe. Samaria is located in the National park of Samaria in western Crete and it was created by a tiny river running between the White Mountains (Lefká Óri) and Mt. Volakis. You can get to the area by a special bus from Chania City. The bus leaves early each morning, so you can have all day to hike. It will take you around 6 hours to get through the gorge, so prepare some snacks for the road as the path will lead you through some really wild terrain. You can hardly imagine its stunning beauty: pure blue river water, untouched forests and steep wild cliffs. The path ends at a small coastal village, Agia Roumeli, where you can find restaurants as well as shops with local specialities. Buy a jar of Samaria honey as a souvenir. The bees collect nectar and pollen from local plants, so it is really delicious! Afterwards, take a ferry to Chora Sfakion (also spelled Hora Sfakion) or Sougia Village, which will lead you the bus station back to Chania. The entrance fee to the gorge is 5 EUR (5.5 USD).
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4. Visit Chania’s beautiful port
I mentioned Chania before, but let’s talk a bit more about it. Chania is the most picturesque port situated on the west coast of the island. In 13th century, the port was sold to Venetians, who constructed many fortifications all around the city. Actually, these fortifications, even if only its eastern and western part survived, serve as a demarcation of what is nowadays known as the old town. Old town is the most interesting part of the city, full of narrow streets with coloured houses and flowers, traditional Greek taverns and shops with local products. The streets will lead you to the old Venetian harbour, the most interesting building of which is a beautiful medieval lighthouse. Take a walk around and then sit down for some tasty Cretan food. Enetikon Restaurant at 57, Zampeliou Street has a great familiar atmosphere.
Chania offers good transport possibilities; it is the perfect starting point for day trips to other interesting places. For lovers of quiet days on the beach, there is a special place you should not miss – Elafonissi, the beach with white sand and pure turquoise water that will make you feel like you are in Thailand.
Best things to do on Crete
Crete is full of important archaeological sites, picturesque cities with narrow streets and great food, beautiful beaches with pure water, as well as stunning wild hills. Simply said, everyone will find something they love in Crete. As the attractions are numerous, here is a list of the ones that you should not miss!
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