The giant island of Crete has so much to offer. Its natural beauty shines with its incredible beaches, endless pink flowers and adventurous hikes, but Crete is also rich in history, culture and cuisine. In fact, it’s such a treat that one week won’t feel like long enough (Seriously, we need to go back!). Because most travellers like to beach-hop the Greek islands, we understand there is limited time. Read what we think are the must-see’s and must-do’s with just one week on Crete!
Enjoy the idyllic Elafonissi Beach
Arguably one of Crete’s most beautiful beaches and Europe’s best, Elafonissi is a must visit for any beach lover. On the southwestern side of Crete, Elafonissi is made up of gorgeous, soft white sand and clear green-blue water that you can wade through to get to the tiny island 200 metres from the shore. On a good day, the sand even sparkles pink from all of the tiny, broken seashells. It’s perfect for any type of beachgoer, from families to couples and everything in between. Those who enjoy a bit of shade will be delighted to know there are a large number of sun beds to enjoy. A food shack and a few small stands are set up for anyone who forgot the necessities.
Another fantastic thing about Elafonissi? The drive out there from Chania is incredible! With winding hairpin turns on the tiny mountainside highway, impressive views and sneak peeks into tiny villages await.
Explore exciting Rethymno
Rethymno is a bustling city on Crete just one hour west of Chania. The Old Town is definitely worth exploring. Its narrow cobblestone streets are made up of old shops and quaint houses with brightly coloured doors and shutters. Bright pink flowers adorn many of the windows. Look close enough and travellers will see little snippets into the relaxed Greek lifestyle. Whether shopping, eating, or simply admiring the streets and locals, visitors can get lost in the Old Town for hours!
Other highlights in Rethymno include the Fortezza. It is a wondrous citadel of the city of Rethymno just waiting to be explored. Built in the 16th century, there are a few historic buildings remaining inside the gates, as well as plenty of ocean views. The city also has a picturesque lighthouse near the harbour that glows in the sunset. Enjoy a meal or drink at one of the many Greek restaurants and tavernas along the waterfront while watching the sun go down.
Learn a bit of history in Heraklion
Heraklion is the largest city on the island of Crete and houses the famous Palace of Knossos. A visit to the Bronze Age settlement is worth it if you enjoy history, though it’s wise to pair with a ticket to the museum since most of the ruins have been reconstructed and many of the original Minoan artifacts are now being housed there. Beyond the ruins, the city offers a historic fortress to explore, as well as a busy, city beach for fun in the sun. Since Crete has so many other spectacular sights, it’s recommended to simply visit the historical wonders in Heraklion then move on.
Hike the fascinating Samaria Gorge
Many would be surprised to learn that Crete is an incredibly mountainous island with many gorges to explore and hikes to climb. The popular Samaria Gorge hike is a long 17 kilometres, but it’s a fairly easy adventure that’s mostly downhill. In the roughly 5 hours it takes to hike the path in the national park, travellers will bear witness to majestic mountain views that rival that of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. With soaring cliffs of 980 feet and passageways as narrow as 12 feet, there is an undeniable beauty here. Fresh water taps allow hikers to become one with the environment. Then, after the long haul, hikers can soak their sweaty, achy bodies in the Libyan sea in the town of Agia Roumeli while waiting for the ferry to return them back to the city.
Admire the well-preserved Gonia Monastery
Near the village of Kolymbari, Gonia is one of the best preserved monasteries on all of Crete. It resembles a fort and holds many manuscripts and sacred utensils. Residing on the edge of a cliff, the calm seaside views from this monastery will take your breath away.
Get to know beach goats at picturesque Seitan Limania
Located in a well-hidden corner of the Akrotiri peninsula on Crete, Seitan Limania is a beach like no other. The views along the way are absolutely unreal. After admiring a perfectly painted white and blue church and a small gathering of goats, the hairpin turns down to the coast will impress and excite. It is quite the climb down to get to the beach, however once there, travellers are rewarded with stunning turquoise waters surrounded by white, rocky cliffs. The water here is deep, yet clear, making the beach a perfect place for cliff-jumping and swimming the afternoon away.
Because of the many cliffs surrounding the water, beachgoers will find plenty of goats defying gravitational odds as they climb the steep walls. Some of the goats will even come down to the beach to try to steal any food laying around! Don’t say we didn’t warn you 😛
Roam the streets in Chania
The second largest city in Crete, Chania is home to the Old Venetian harbour, narrow streets in the Old Town and waterfront restaurants. It is a bustling place and a fantastic home base when staying on the island of Crete as it is close to some of the main attractions.
Nearby towns like Stalos are just a 5 minute drive away from Chania, and provide a much quieter place to stay and eat (highly recommended!) Stalos also has a nice, clean beach to relax on when time is of the essence and you just don’t feel like driving to get anywhere.
Savour the tasty Greek food
There is so much delicious food to be had on the island of Crete. The Cretan salads are some of the best in Greece. The vegetables and herbs used are all grown locally and they taste so fresh and flavourful. Because olive trees are everywhere in Greece, there will be no shortage of olives in the salads. Embrace it! Other vegetarian options include savoury stuffed tomatoes, peppers or vines. Even the fries are delicious because they are sprinkled with fresh herbs! Meat eaters will be happy to enjoy souvlaki or the famous gyros (pitas filled with veggies, fries and your choice of meat). Be warned though, serving sizes in Greece are huge! Restaurant and taverna owners on Crete are very proud of their dishes and oh, so accommodating and kind. They will often bring guests a free dessert and a shot of Ouzo as a thank you.
Revel in a gorgeous sunset
Impressive sunsets abound on the Greek islands and Crete is no exception. Watching sunsets on the beach are always incredible, but don’t forget to sit seaside in the cool Old Towns of Crete’s cities to enjoy a sunset as well. Our favourites to witness included seaside seats in Rethymno and beach views from Stalos.
For next time
As mentioned previously, Crete is a huge island with lots of long drives. There’s nothing wrong with taking a slower pace. With just one week on the island, we couldn’t do it all, but that’s just all the more reason to return one day! Here’s what we’ve saved for our next trip to Crete. If you’ve got the time, check these out.
Much like Elafonissi, Falassarna is another beauty of a beach worth visiting on the west side of Crete. Soft white sand that sometimes shines pink and clear blue waters entice visitors worldwide.
Though we missed this opportunity because of poor planning, Balos Lagoon is one of the most famous beaches on the island. Accessed only by ferry or 4-wheel drive, this lagoon is a sight for sore eyes (or so we’ve heard!) We can’t wait to go back one day to discover it ourselves.
Enjoyed this post? Pin it!
We hope you enjoyed our first post about Greece! We have so much more to share with you, so stay tuned! And as always, thanks so much for visiting 🙂
Peace & Love,
Marcella & Tim