Situated in the southern Aegean Sea and separating the Aegean from the Libyan sea is Crete, Greece’s largest island and the fifth largest in the Mediterranean. With such varied terrain and incredible history along with glorious cuisine and weather, Crete is a place worth going to. Yet such a vast landscape means there is a lot to do and with some places being around 3/4 hours away from the capital, it’s important to plan your trip in advance. So, of course #TeamCoco have put together a list of the top 10 places that are essential to visit whilst in Crete.
First up is Balos Lagoon, this is a tricky one to get to in the north west of the island but it’s so worth it; a white sand beach surrounded by turquoise waters, the scenery is breathtaking and the sunsets are an incredible way to round off your day here. Whether you wish to relax with a book, hike or snorkel, Balos beach is ideal for everyone and is Crete’s mini version of a tropical paradise. The lagoon itself can get busy and local boats and coaches can be crowded so it’s best to book privately and get there early to get the best spot and enjoy the tranquility. There is only one taverna so be sure to bring everything you may need for the day including plenty of water.
Next up is Agios Nikolaos a coastal town on the island. This town had a mix of everything, art, bustling streets combined with relaxing spots and modern Greek style. There are shops for the foodies, the fashionistas and even the hoarders. With a variety of local beaches, authentic tavernas, contemporary bars and high end restaurants you can spend hours just meandering through. There is also a marina (one of the largest in Greece with a capacity for 255 vessels) which is the perfect place to have a coffee and admire the yachts as they come and go.
Another local town in northern Crete is Hersonissos which boasts numerous beaches and tavernas and the only golf course in Crete. Most bars and restaurants on the coast have unbelievable views of the Aegean Sea. With plenty of options to hire cars or quad bikes his is the perfect place to explore from as it’s so central. It’s a modern town with plenty of shops, cafes and clubs, that is definitely worth experiencing.
Ferries connect Crete to the Cyclades islands and the Heraklion to Thira route is a 2 hour direct journey to world renowned, Santorini. Approaching into the port of Megalochori you can admire the iconic whitewashed towns from a different perspective. It can be quite busy so ensure to book on days when less cruise shops are docked. Devastated by a volcanic eruption in the 16th century, the caldera was formed creating the landscape and black red and white lava pebble beaches. Most places offer day trips in which you can visit Oia, Thira and Imerovigli before boarding the ferry back to Crete; alternatively there are two day trips which offer an overnight stay on the island, giving you the opportunity to experience more of the island.
Elafonissi, a natura 2000 protected area that lies in the southwestern side of Crete and about 75 kilometers from the town of Chanai. It’s an exotic paradise style beach that’s a mile long boasting turquoise water and white sand with pink hues that are Instagram worthy. There are a number of caves and coves to explore, making this a gorgeous place to spend the day until sunset.
Another little paradise is Chrissi Island, it’s completely uninhabited Greek island around 15 kilometres south of Crete in the South Cretan Sea. Chrissi or Χρυσή means ‘golden’ which is apt considering the breathtaking gold sand beaches. Again this is a busy place so it’s best to book privately and get there early. There are a few beach tavernas, Minoan ruins and a little chapel but no shops so go prepared. There a hidden coves and a forest to explore or you can laze on the beach and snorkel in the shallow waters.
Heraklion, also known as Iraklio, is the capital of this Greek island and is a port city that has touted to Santorini a, Paros, Mykonos, Rhodes, Ios, Naxos, Chalki, Athens and many more, making it the ideal destination for island hoppers. The city is submerged in history and has a huge archaeological Minoan site, the Palace of Knossos and the 16th century Koules fortress surrounding the marina. There is so much to do and see and wandering through the contemporary Greek streets can either lead you into quaint Greek shops, tourist shops, modern bars and authentic Greek restaurants.
Samaria Gorge is in The Samaria National Park, in western Crete. Narrow and surrounded by cliffs at a passage known as the iron gates. It’s a long walk and can take around 6 hours to walk the whole 16km but it’s an amazing experience that you need to be well equipped for.
Mount Ida, known as various names but most commonly now as Psiloritis. Standing at 2,456 and situated in the Rethymnon region it is the highest mountain on Crete. There are around 5 different routes to the summit, the easiest is from Nida Plateau and the time it takes depends entirely on the climber. The mountain is most famously known for the Greek mythology surrounding it as according to the legends it was were Zeus was born and hidden in one of the caves. So if you’re into history or hiking or just want an incredible experience that has unrivalled views, this is one for you.
Spinalonga is located in the Gulf of Elounda in north-eastern Crete; the island has long been shrouded in history and mystery. Up until 1957 it was home to leper’s colonies, despite the cure for leprocy being discovered in the 1940’s, those who caught the disease were essentially banished from Crete and sent to live on the island after having everything taken from them, including their citizenship and never received treatment. Harrowing but informative and definitely worth seeing.