With mile upon mile of Mediterranean paradise to explore, it’s no surprise that Tripadvisor has chosen Crete as one of the world’s best destinations. So what puts this Greek island ahead of the rest when it comes to a European summer vacation?
Well, from the sights and sounds to the food and drink, we’re here to fill you in on the best of the best. After all, these are the reasons why we kicked off our own small group trip to Crete as well!
Long and narrow, Crete stretches 160 miles from east to west and is home to a massive 650 miles of coastline. Tack on the fact that it’s located roughly halfway between the European mainland and Africa (much farther south than other Greek islands), and you’ve got all the makings of one balmy sea-worthy vacation.
With gorgeous secluded bays peppered along the coast and dozens of tiny islets easily reachable by boat, it’s tough to choose favorites; however, we’ve certainly fallen hard for a couple of sandy spectacles.
Located just 7 miles north of the port town Agios Nikolaos off Crete’s eastern coastline, you’ll find this little strip of sandy perfection hidden inside a tiny bay. Wild and untouched, the beach can be reached by a short boat ride through the Gulf of Mirabello or by car via Elounda. Those looking for a resort vibe should steer clear; this is one for nature lovers—sunny, sublime, and untouched by development.
Travelers who head to Crete’s west coast should make sure they visit Elafonissi. While it’s certainly less of a secret than it was a decade ago, there’s still something magical about these pink sands, rolling dunes, and glassy turquoise waters. Make a day of it and swim across the shallow bay to Elafonissi Island.
Local, fresh, healthy, and impossibly delicious, Crete’s a foodie’s dream come true. With several key elements, like olive oil, honey, cheese, and goat, the island’s cuisine is rich in tradition and history. Anyone who visits Crete should make sure they’re prepared to eat out as much as possible. From psistarías which focus on grilled meats, to psárotavernas, specializing in fish, and even alcohol-laden ouzerís, the options are as diverse as they are delicious. It’s no surprise TripAdvisor named this one of the best foodie destinations.
Unsurprisingly, most cheese on Crete comes from goat’s or sheep’s milk (or both). A few of our favorites are the more mild mizithra, nutty and sweet Graviera, which is the island’s most famous cheese, and the soft, sour, and creamy xynomyzithra.
It’s hard to ignore the meat in Crete. In tiny villages, big cities, and just about everywhere else across the island, you can find some sort of meat grilling over open flames. We’re big fans. Arguably the island’s most famous dish and one of our absolute favorites is tsigaristo, a mouth-watering feast of lamb or goat. While there are numerous variations of this delectable dinner, the most important aspect is that the meat involved cooks low and slow for maximum tenderness.
It’s tough to mention Crete without diving into its legendary past; this is Zeus’ old stomping ground, after all. So, if you’ve got the chance to visit, you’ll absolutely need to check out some of the island’s extraordinary history.
Crete’s largest Bronze Age site and arguably Europe’s oldest city (seriously), the site of Knossos Palace was actually first inhabited in the Neolithic period around 10,000 years ago, but most of what travelers will find here dates to the Minoan period when the palace was built (roughly 2,000 BC). The well-preserved ruins were the political and cultural centers of civilization in the area before eventually being abandoned around 1100 BC.
Venetian Fortezza Castle
A focal point to this day in Rethymno, the Fortezza is a citadel that stands proudly on a hill overlooking the sea. Originally constructed by the Venetians in the 1600s the citadel was conquered by the Ottomans during the fifth Ottoman-Venetian War. Today, visitors the gates, walls, bastions, and mosques of the sprawling stone structure
With thousands of years of diverse history and influence behind it, Cretan culture varies significantly from the rest of Greece. The arts, music, and dance that are common on the island draw from the Arabs, the Byzantines, the Venetians, and the Ottomans (all of whom once claimed the island as their own).
From the massive natural Lake Kournas to the towering Agia Sofia Cave, Crete is an eye-popping stretch of land home to a wealth of natural beauty. All of the island is safe and explorable, and there are spectacular viewpoints along many of the roads. Those aiming to visit should try to balance their time between small towns, larger cities, the dreamy coasts, and the rugged interior. There’s really an amazing amount to discover.
Crete’s a place for traveler’s in the know and our trip to the island is designed for those who want to take an all-encompassing, deep dive into the best it has to offer.
After you’ve checked it out, consider hopping on a tour of the other Greek islands or the Amalfi coast —summertime in the Mediterranean is tough to beat.