If you’re craving some serious sunshine, sand and sea, stop delaying and begin packing your swimsuits and flip flops for a fun-filled adventure in Crete. Crete is the largest and most southern of the Greek islands and is a popular holiday destination for British holidaymakers. This fascinating island offers beautiful sandy beaches and pebble coves that will fill cameras with postcard-worthy photos from your Crete holidays.
If you wouldn’t exactly class yourself as a beach bum, don’t fret. The stunning island of Crete can offer so much more than a beach holiday. Brimming with majestic mountains, gorges to hike, plains to see and curving coastlines to drive- there’s a plethora of things to do in Crete to get your teeth into. That’s not to mention the 5,000-plus years of history, culture, and delicious mezzes on hand, all rewarding experiences of holidays to Crete.
To stay in tune with the typical lures of an island of Greece, you will want to spend some time relaxing on the beaches. The north is home to an array of sandy stretches and the meltemia – northern summer winds - provide ample opportunity for windsurfing and wakeboarding on the fabulous ocean waters. Those that want to get beneath the water should head to the southern coast for warmer waters and the frequently-rocky beaches of the Libyan Sea for phenomenal snorkelling and diving. Traditionally the cleanest beaches around the island are the Blue Flag beaches like Platanias or Amoudara, near Aghios Nikolaos, proving great locations for families to splash around in.
The city of Chania and its harbour look magical in the evening light, and the lighthouse at sunset provides a romantic feeling that couples won’t shake. The capital of Heraklion is full of winding cobblestone streets that will keep shoppers occupied for days, while Siteia, a quieter option, is worth the drive for its sandy stretch of beach that lasts for kilometres and its archaeological sites situated in the surrounding hills.
For something livelier, descend on the resorts of Stalis and take your pick from the tavernas, modern restaurants, pubs and clubs that line their streets. From a quiet evening in a traditional restaurant to dancing all night in one of the clubs, whatever you decide, holidays to Crete continue long into the night.
Crete is fully of amazing Bronze Age palaces, like Knossos, whose ruins are one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. On your holiday to Crete you can uncover the island’s past from the Minoans at sites like Phaistos and Kato Zakros to World War II monuments in villages. Discover the Hellenistic city of Lato and Byzantine churches, like the Basilica of Ayios Titos in the city of Gortys- the first church founded on the island. You don’t have to be a historian to enjoy Crete’s history!
Discover Crete’s culture with a visit to its many – air-conditioned – archaeological and folklore museums that are home to the thousands of archaeological discoveries. See exciting artefacts found across the island over the centuries, and many date back three or more millennia. The most famous museum, located in Heraklion, houses the artefacts from excavations on the island – temporarily on exhibition. For a more recent past, check out the island of Spinalonga and discover the Greek culture at the Folklore Museum at Aghios Nikolaos.
Samaria Gorge is the perfect place on Crete for a fabulous and scenic hike. The famous Iron Gates, where the gorge shortens to only four feet wide is a marvellous spectacle of nature that is a definite must-see if you’re on the west side of the island. Kato Zakros is an 4000 year old Minoan palace on the eastern side of the island near another national park, and only a few steps away from the brilliantly blue waters and cosy beach of the same name.
For traditional Cretan delicacies and dishes, head to a local tavern, or a restaurant where the locals eat. If you’re looking to sample the local seafood dishes - which are usually freshly caught - then have lunch or dinner in a psarotaverna, a restaurant specialising in fish fare and sports its catches at the front of the establishment. For the local sweet delicacy of cakes and coffee try out the beachside coffee shops or those in the heart of Cretan villages. Don’t forget to try a bit of raki after your meal!
Coming to Crete for the beaches? Don’t fear the island has some of the best beaches in the Mediterranean. For beach bars, activities and plenty of water sports head to the 6 kilometre Malia Beach which has everything a group could want to keep entertained during the day and night.
Malia is packed with bars, pubs and clubs, most open well into the early hours, perfect for dancing the night away. Dimokratias Street is the main strip where most of the bars are situated, the roads are closed to traffic at night and most of the partying happens in the street.
Water sports are the perfect way to spend the day when on a group holiday to Crete, most of the beaches have water skiing, banana boating, paddle boats and other similar water sports available. Boat trips go from most of the major towns on the island and make a great change from the beach.
If you’re feeling adventurous head to a local Tavern or an Estiatria to sample some of the local Cretan food. If an English breakfast is more to your liking then the towns such as Malia and Hersonissos have plenty of English and Irish style pubs and cafes serving up fish and chips and other British classics.
Aghios Nikolaos beach it a great place to relax, there’s plenty of grass and trees making it a lot cooler. Hersonissos has plenty of great beaches to choose from, Star Beach has plenty of activities such as paragliding and paddle boats that are ideal for couples.
If you want to get away from the beach and explore the island there are plenty beautiful views and historic ruins scattered all over the island. Be sure to check out the ancient city Knossos, the ruins of the palace and the Labyrinth that once held the mythical Minotaur.
For traditional Cretan food head to a local taverna or estiatoria, where the locals and tourists go to eat, examples of traditional dishes are moussaka and kleftico. If looking to sample some traditional dishes try Psarotaverna, a restaurant specialising in fresh fish dishes, for cakes and coffee try visiting Zacharoplasito for a Cretan treat.
Samaria Gorge is a national park on the south side of the island and is a beautiful place to spend a day exploring the gorge. If you are interested in wildlife, AquaWorldis Crete’s aquarium that displays local and worldwide marine life and reptiles. A boat trip is a great way to explore and discover some of the most beautiful parts of the island, discovering all its hidden coves and bays.
Agia Galini is a large beach popular with tourists that is very children friendly, there’s also plenty of bars and restaurants to eat during the day. Golden Beach or Chrissi Akti are great for swimming with beautiful shallow waters and are easily accessible from the town. Rethymno Beach has amenities for all the family, water sports for the adults, great shallow stretches for the kids as well as plenty of restaurants.
The ancient Palace and Labyrinth of Knossos makes for an interesting and entertaining day away from the beach, the facilities are well equipped for children of all ages and who doesn’t enjoy a maze?AquaWorld Aquarium is great place for a family day out. The aquarium houses hundreds of species of fish as well as reptiles from all over the world.
If you are interested in sampling the local cuisine then any one of the local tavernas is a good place to start. For traditional cakes and sweets head to a zacharoplasito a Cretan equivalent of a bakery, or if its burgers and chips you are after then most of the bars and restaurants in the resort towns have tourist and children’s menus.
If walking and exploring is what your family enjoy then explore the Samaria Gorge with its many trails and pathways. Water Sports can be found on almost every large beach on the island, with companies offering everything from paddle boating to paragliding and boat trips are a great way to spend a day as a family exploring the island by sea. For families with older children there are diving centres that run tours of the caves and bays of the island.