When you think about Crete holidays, powder-white soft sand, pristine waters and stunning sunsets spring to mind. After all, this Greek island (which is the biggest of them all) is home to a wealth of beautiful beaches where couples and families can soak up the Mediterranean sunshine. But there’s so much more to explore beyond the beaches. For a start, 4,000 years of civilisation have left behind world-class archaeological sites, and it’s well worth hiring a car to see them for yourself. When you’re not off hunting the minotaur, you can experience the warm hospitality and traditions of the locals, who’ll always be able to offer you some insider tips; just ask them about the island’s best beaches and the most picturesque villages.
A Mediterranean climate means warm summers and mild winters.
4 hours from the UK to Heraklion Airport (HER) and Crete Chania Airport (CHQ).
Elounda is a cosmopolitan, beachfront resort located on the east coast. Head here for some celeb-spotting and seaside exploration: its countless hidden coves and underwater city of Olous are the best place to start from. Also located in the east, you’ll find the small village of Sissi. Enjoy serene, romantic walks next to its harbour and indulge in its fish tavernas. Not far from Sissi is fun-packed Malia. Join top music names on its Strip by night followed by maxing out your adrenaline levels by the beach. From jet-skis and giant-trampolines to go-karting and seafront parties, Malia keeps the fun going past sunrise.
Beyond the island’s glorious beaches, holidays to Crete will take you to some of the oldest and most beautifully preserved remains of the ancient Greek world. It’s well worth taking a trip to Phasios, where you’ll discover an archaeological site dating back to the Bronze Age. For a taste of the island’s ‘hippie history’, take a stroll around the cave homes carved into Matala Beach’s towering rocks before heading underwater to explore the Roman ruins beneath the surface. All this exploring will surely make you hungry, so when you’re ready, join the locals in the seafront tavernas; you’ll be welcomed with a glass (or two) of ice-cold raki.
Southwest of Heraklion, you’ll find the gigantic man-made caves that shelter Matala Beach’s golden sands. Dating back to Roman times (and inhabited by ‘flower children’ from all over the world in the 1960s and ’70s), these aren’t the only archaeological treasures you’ll discover here. Don your snorkel and look beneath the waters to see fantastic Roman-era remains. In the north-east of the island lies the best place for fans of mythology, the Palace of Knossos (or the Palace of the Minotaur). Take a stroll around the remains of royal underground rooms, intricate pillars and colourful wall paintings, dating all the way back to 1,400 BC.
Head for the beaches
Right on the island’s southern tip, you’ll find the pretty pink sands of Elafonissi Beach, brushing up against the warm, shallow waters of the turquoise sea. Its distinct colour is the result of thousands of years of corals crumbling naturally into sand-like grains, and its glistening, transparent waters have led to its ‘Greek Caribbean’ nickname. Meanwhile, over on the northern tip, you won’t want to miss out on a visit to Crete’s number one attraction: Vai’s Blue Flag beach. Shaded by Europe’s largest natural palm tree forest, you can expect golden sands and water sports galore (including windsurfing and group scuba diving).
Cretan food and drink
Cretan cuisine is all about fresh, local produce and unique island flavours. Pure olive oil, sweet-vine tomatoes and garlic are used as a base for many island delicacies. Cretan Plaki is one delicious example; it’s freshly-caught fish baked with tomatoes and a lemony parsley sauce. Sticking with seafood, shrimp saganaki (hot shrimps baked in cheese) is particularly tasty when paired with a glass of the Cretan raki. This is a potent brandy made with raki grapes, and usually served in shot glasses. And why not try out traditional tyropites (crunchy filo parcels)? They’re bursting with chunks of feta cheese and sprinkled with sesame seeds.
CRETE HOLIDAY RESORTS
HOLIDAYS IN CRETE
Safety and Security
For up to date advice on travelling to Crete, please visit Safety and security - Greece travel advice
Crete is best for…
Beach lovers:Beautiful beaches are a big draw for holidays here. You’ll find sandy stretches dotted all over the island’s 650-mile coastline, including pretty spots in Aghios Nikolaos, Chania and Heraklion.
Explorers: You’ll absolutely adore the tiny island of Spinalonga, which you can cruise over to and discover village ruins. If you love a bit of rock-climbing, head inland and you’ll find the spectacular White Mountains; ideal if you’re the outdoorsy type.
History buffs:Travel back into the Bronze Age at the ancient palace of Knossos and discover glorious Venetian architecture in the town of Rethymnon (which also plays host to the annual Renaissance Festival).
Language:The language spoken is Greek.
Currency:The currency used is the Euro (€).
Local time:Crete is 2 hours ahead of GMT/UK time.
Fly to: Heraklion International Airport. Transfers take between 15 minutes for Heraklion and 2 hours 40 minutes for Elounda.
Flight time from UK: The flight time to Crete is 3.5–4 hours.
Tourist information:Find further tourist information before your Crete holiday at www.incrediblecrete.com.
Visa and health:For health and visa recommendations, visit Greece travel advice
Weather and climate
Temperature: 11-40 (°C)
The weather in Crete varies from region to region. Coastal resorts enjoy scorching summer temperatures of up to 40°C, while central areas tend to experience more comfortable weather in the mid-high 20s. Spring and autumn seasons are mild, too, so book your holiday for this time of year if you want to do some sightseeing or head out into the natural landscape. As for winters, temperatures vary from cool highs of 17°C in the coastal regions to snowy conditions and single-figure temperatures in the mountainous areas.
By hire car: Crete is the largest of the Greek islands, so the best way to cover long distances is with a hire car. It’ll also give you the freedom to explore in your own time.
By bus: The island’s local bus services are regular and efficient; they run throughout the day to and from Heraklion (the island capital) and biggest cities to all the main resorts, beaches and archaeological sites.
By boat: Why not hop on board a boat tour from Chania and head for the unspoiled islet of Gramvousa and the luminous Balos Lagoon?
Bands on the beach:Matala Beach Festival (held annually at the end of June) is a free summer celebration in the south; you can expect lots of music on the beach and a host of other events inspired by the 1960s hippie era.
Renaissance Festival:Since 1987, this famous festival has taken place every year in late summer in the Cretan town of Rethymnon. Plays, music and comedy take place all over the town to celebrate the Cretan and European Renaissance and Rethymnon’s rich Venetian heritage.
Chania Summer Festival:From July to September, the ancient city of Chania plays host to a long list of cultural events; think theatrical nights, art exhibitions and traditional Cretan music and dance.