Crete is the largest island by size in the Aegean Sea. Crete carries in its veins the histories of many great ancient civilizations.
It was founded during the Minoan civilization, one of the most important civilizations of the world (2600-1150 BC). Then around 69 AD the Romans annexed Crete as part of ever expanding empire. After the fall of Roman empire, Crete fell under the domination of the Ottomans in 824, and stayed under it for 137 years. During those years the city of Heraklion was founded.
When I visited Greece in early October, I visited a few islands including Crete. But no other island captured my interest as Crete did. It has so many things in one place. There is history, architecture, old monasteries, sumptuous seafood, beautiful coastline, palm grove forest, gorges, portes etc etc.
If you have a week, it should be enough time to hit all the spots in Crete. Rent a car if you can, as public transportation across the island is sparse. I was lucky enough to meet some fellow hostel mates who offered me a ride to these gorgeous destinations.
Heraklion and Chania are two major coastal towns in Crete. It is very likely that you land in Heraklion when you come by ferry from Athens or from some other island. Use that as your first stop to explore the historical sites and beaches near the capital city.
What to do in Heraklion?
Visit the historical sites.
- Old Town is filled with beautiful Venetian architecture, museums and shops.
- The Palace of Knossos
- Heraklion Archaeological Museum
- Arkadi Monastery
- Toplou Monastery
When you get to Chania stay in Chania Hostel which is easily one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed in Greece (and possibly in Europe). I have good memories of this hostel as I made many friends during the 4 day stay in the hostel.
Also next to the hostel you will find some beautiful landscape with Olive groves, grape vineyards, mountain hills, hiking trails and waterfalls.
I highly recommend hiking the waterfall located near the hostel. Start climbing from the deep of the bottom of the gorge and make your way up to the top of the gorge (water fall) to find the Magic Bridge. This would make a great trip on a hot sunny day. Make sure to wear water shoes and swim shorts as you will be walking in knee deep of the water.
Hike the Samara Gorge.
Samara Gorge is the longest gorge in Greece and in Europe. It is about 16 kms long. I’ve hiked a similar gorge in Turkey near Fethiye. I started our hike very early in the morning around 5:00 am. It took about 5-6 hours to complete the hike. There is a narrowest part of the gorge called the Iron Gates you will pass through close to the end. Of course you will see many other hikers in the gorge. Bring some food so you can have a picnic stop. There is a good account of this hike from a travel blogger on the Samara blog post.
The Palm grove beach in Prevalí is located on the west coast of Crete, a close drive from both Chania and Heroklion. A big fire in 2010 turned a lush green palm grove forest into a devastating ruin, but mother nature fought back renewing the palm groves from its damage to its former self. Now it is an adventurous paradise. When you walk through the forest you can still see remnants of the fire. The white sandy beach on Prevali is really great. You can do some water sports if the weather is nice.
Elafonisi lagoon and beach
The Elafonisi lagoon and beach is almost like a paradise of little islets with clear white sandy beaches. You could easily walk to the island as the water is shallow. In fact is is so shallow that when you get to the middle of the island you will notice that you are just surrounded by water everywhere. The island is a safe heaven for the endangered loggerhead turtle. If you are lucky you will see a few floating around.