Explore Crete (About Crete)

The island, the largest in Greece, separates the Aegean from the Libyan sea, marks the boundary between Europe and Africa. Its plateaus are split by deep gorges and end up in fertile valleys.The scenery is constantly changing. In one place harsh and barren, in another wooded and gentle.Its villages smothered in greenery. Olive trees, orange groves, vineyards, early vegetable market gardens. Old stone farmhouses, monasteries and villages perched on mountain ridges, castles and chapels forgotten on steep slopes. Shores lined with forbidding rocks, often inaccessible, but also lots of endless sandy or pebbly beaches.Crete is also renowned for its flora and fauna. Its massifs are home to the Cretan wild goat, locally known as kri-kri, a symbol of the free spirit of Cretans. The main cities-ports on Crete, Hania, Rethymo, Iraklio, Agios Nikolaos, Sitia, are developed on the north side. Ierapetra is the only port on the south coast, on the shores of the Libyan sea, facing Africa. The island has three significant airports, Nikos Kazantzakis Heraklion Airport, Daskalogiannis Chania Airport and a smaller one, Sitia Public Airport. All Cretan airports serve international routes, acting as the main gateways to the island for travellers. The island is well served by ferries from Piraeus and some aegean islands, mostly in Heraklion Port, Chania Souda Port, Rethymnon Port, Agios Nikolaos Port and Sitia Port.

Archaeological sites and museums

There is a large number of archaeological sites of the Minoan civilisation which include the Minoan sites of Knossos, Malia, Phaistos, Gortys. There are a number of museums throughout Crete. The Heraklion Archaeological Museum displays most of the archaeological finds of the Minoan era.

Environmentally protected areas

There are a number of environmentally protected areas. One such area is located at the island of Elafonisi on the coast of southwestern Crete. Also, the palm forest of Vai in eastern Crete in the municipality of Sitia, Lasithi, have diverse animal and plant life. Vai has a palm beach and is the largest natural palm forest in Europe. The island of Chrysi, 15 kilometres (9 miles) south of Ierapetra, has the largest naturally grown Juniperus macrocarpa forest in Europe. Samaria Gorge is a World Biosphere Reserve and Richtis Gorge is protected for its landscape diversity.

Points of Interest (POI) in the island of Crete.

Heraklion Prefecture

Heraklion downtown

Heraklion is the capital of Crete and of the prefecture of Heraklion. This town is a very busy city, especially during the tourist season. The National Road is easily reached from Heraklion. You can drive to Agios Nikolaos in 1 h (65 km) and Chania in 2 hours (138km) and Rethymnon in 1 h (79km). There are a number of attractive old buildings and churches but the Old Town has largely disappeared. The harbor boasts Venetian walls and a Venetian fort. Heraklion is an important shipping port .Travellers can take ferries and boats from Heraklion Port to a lot of destinations. Heraklion International Airport,or Nikos Kazantzakis Airport is located about 5 kilometreseast of the city. It is the second busiest airport of Greece.

The palace of Knossos

Knossos is the site of the most important and better known palace of Minoan civilization. According to tradition, it was the seat of the legendary king Minos. The Palace is also connected with thrilling legends, such as the myth of the Labyrinth with the Minotaur, and the story of Daidalos and Icaros. The site was continuously inhabited from the Neolithic period (7000-3000 B.C.) until Roman times.The Palace at Knossos is the largest (it covers an area of 20,000 square metres) and most spectacular of all the Minoan palatial centres.

Matala

Matala is a small holiday resort with a lovely sandy beach in south Crete 70 km from Iraklion .That combines quiet and relaxing holidays with intense nightlife. The turquoise blue sea, and the red disk of the sun which sets in the evening horizon create a hue of colors that evoke novel emotions. Owing to its exceptional natural beauty, Matala became the meeting place of the "Flower Children" in 1968, during the 60's the caves were hosting a hippie commune, nowadays are inhabited during summer.

Chersonissos

(Hersonissos) is a charming harbor town and very popular with tourists. While there are many "party" spots, this town is more sedate and refined than its neighbor Malia.

Agia Pelagia

Agia Pelagia is a seaside fishing village built in the centre of a picturesque amphitheatric bay, 24 km northwest from Heraklion capital city of the island of Crete.The village also has sandy beaches that attract tourists.

Stalida

Stalis is a village that lies between Malia and Hersonissos on the north coast of Crete, Greece. It is a lively resort, attracting tourists from many European countries. It has a long, sandy beach and a variety of bars and tavernas. Popular with families, it is 30 km from Nikos Kazantzakis airport in Heraklion.

Amoudara

Amoudara, 5km from Heraklion downtown offers a pleasant alternative to the party villages of Malia and Chersonissos with its quieter, relaxed lifestyle and long, beautiful beaches. During the summer months, Amoudara is always several degrees cooler than the crowded streets of Heraklion.

Famous beaches in Heraklion Prefecture

Kali Limenes beach, Vathi beach, Kalamaki beach, Agia Pelagia beach, Vathianos Kambos beaches, Lendas beach, Stalida beach, Matala beach,  Analipsis beaches, Fodele beach, Ligaria beach, Kokkini Hani beaches, Anissaras beaches, Gournes beaches, Gouves beaches, Hersonissos beaches, Malia beach, Tertsa beach, Karteros beach, Ammoudara beach in Heraklion, Keratokampos beaches.

Lasithi Prefecture

Agios Nikolaos downtown

Agios Nikolaos the charming capital of Lasithi Prefecture is a coastal town on the Greek island of Crete, lying east of the island's capital Heraklion, north of the town of Ierapetra and west of the town of Sitia. Tourist attractions include the small lagoon Lake Voulismeni, small beaches in the town, the tiny island Agioi Pantes and the archaeological museum. The lagoon features a small park with a trail, traditional fishing boats, ducks, pigeons, an amphitheatre and many cafès and restaurants.Just a short ferry ride away from Agios Nikolaos is the island of Spinalonga, an old Venetian fortress turned ex-leper colony in the beginning of the 20th century. Agios Nikolaos is accessible from the mainland and the whole of Europe through Nikos Kazantzakis Heraklion airport, and through Heraklion port and Agios Nikolaos port.

Ierapetra downtown

Take a leisurely walk in the vivid centre of the town along the coast, or into the quiet picturesque narrow streets of Kato Mera, the old town of Ierapetra. Pick a handmade gift from any colour full market stall and enjoy the exciting sounds of the busy Cretan life... No doubt, Ierapetra "the bridge of the Libyan sea" is the sunniest holiday resort in Europe... The character and charm of the old warm neighbourhood has been retained and the visitor can enjoy delicious food in the traditional tavernas.Ierapetra is build on the longest beach in Crete, offering an endless choice of golden beaches with deep crystal blue waters, far away from industrial areas and ships passing by! All major beaches of Ierapetra from Myrtos to Makry-Gialos, are awarded with the European Committee's BLUE FLAGS each single year.

Vai

A palm forest unique to Europe and situated only 1 km south of Itanos, in a valley that ends in a breathtaking sandy beach and 26 km from Sitia there is the unique forest of palms in a landscape of unusual tropical beauty. Every year the beach of Vai is awarded with the "Blue Flag" confirming that it is oneof the most well organized and clean beaches of Greece.It offers a variety of water sports, restaurants, cafes etc…

Koutsounari

A coastal village 9 km east of Ierapetra. At Koutsounari there is one of the longest and prettiest beaches of Ierapetra. Long Beach Koutsounari is 700 meters from the village, 8 km away east from the town of Ierapetra, on the national road Ierapetra - Sitia. The Beach wich is well known as "The Long Beach" has dark sand and pebbles. The beach has sea-sports, umbrellas, seats, wooden walkways, and other facilities.

Chrissi Island

"Chrissi" island or Donkeys island.A small picturesque uninhabited island with woods of cedar, the old chapel of St Nicholas, alluring golden sandy beaches and the facilities at the Municipal canteen. For Ideal long lazy hours swimming and sunbathing, just 8 miles south, from the port of Ierapetra (daily boat services).

Mochlos

This coastal settlement is unique in beauty. A small picturesque village by the sea characterized as a landscape of exquisite, natural beauty. It is located in Crete, north of Lasithi prefecture, between Agios Nikolaos and Sitia, at equal distance (30-35km) from the three major cities(Agios Nikolaos, Sitia, Ierapetra).Ideal place for holiday or special weekends. You will enjoy the most colourful sunset there.

Sitia

Sitia with population of 10.000 is a picturesque town, amphitheatrically built and it is located at the far northeastern end of Crete. There are direct charter flights during the tourist season in Sitia Airport. Sitia Port is well served by ferries from Piraeus and some aegean islands. Sitia is famous for its clean beaches that have been awarded the blue flag, for its mild climate, its hospitality and for its fine wines.

Spinalonga

The island of Spinalonga is located in the Gulf of Elounda in north-eastern Crete, in Lasithi, next to the village of Plaka. During Venetian occupation the island was used for defence purposes and a fort was built there. The island has also been used as a leper colony. Spinalonga has appeared in novels, television series, and a short film.

Richtis Gorge

Richtis Gorge is a gorge in Lasithi Crete, Greece and it is a state protected park that starts at the traditional village Exo Mouliana and ends at the secluded Richtis beach. It is located on the national road between Agios Nikolaos and Sitia.The hiking trail is about 4 km in length of easy (spring/summer/autumn) to moderate (winter) difficulty. Rich vegetation (mainly platanus trees, wild berries and local flowers and herbs) and animal life (mainly local species of butterflies, small reptiles, birds and small mammals) can be observed along the way, as well as old stone bridges and water mills before it culminates with the Richtis Waterfall and beach, making Richtis gorge trail one of the most diversified hiking experiences in Crete.

Elounda

Elounda is a quiet village, located 11 km north of the cosmopolitan town of Agios Nikolaos. With its picturesque views of the clean, blue sea and the nearby islands, the village offers a breathtaking sight of a Mediterranean landscape in the gulf of Mirabello. Once a small fishing town, this is now the "jet set" area of the island visited by celebrities, with many five-star resorts and exclusive villas. It's located on Elounda Bay with the abandoned Spinalonga Island, a former Turkish fortress and leper colony. It really worths travel in Elounda.

Lasithi Plateau

Lasithi Plateau is a large fertile plateau in the mountains, with traditional villages in the center of the Lasithi Prefecture. It is the site of numerous old stone windmills, which once provided the power and water for the agriculture that is based here. Some of these windmills are ruins, and some have been beautifully restored as private homes. Active windmills today are powered by diesel and electricity. Psychro Cave (Diktaion Antron) is one of the putative sites of the birth of Zeus. Psychro is 1,025 metres above sea level.

Monastery of Toplou

Within a distance of 11km from Palekastro and 19km from Sitia, it is one of the most important and historic monasteries of Crete. Dedicated to the name of The Virgin Mary and to St. John the Theologian, it is still generally referred to as "The Great Monastery". The time of its foundation is uncertain. When the last wall paintings were uncovered, experts have come to the conclusion that the small Temple of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary which was constructed in the 14th century became the central point of the monastery. Today the monastery has many precious treasures, even though some had been occasionally plundered by different conquerors. Two ground-floor halls of the monastery operate today as museums. In one of them the Holy Scriptures are displayed and portable icons of exquisite artistry.

Sarakina gorges

17 km from Ierapetra in a short distance from the village of Mithi, the small Sarakina Gorge starts and ends near the coastal village of Mirtos. The length of the canyon reaches 1.5km and its width ranges from 3 to 10 meters, with only a few points exceeding that. The walls reach a height of 150m, making this narrow gorge very impressive. In the gorge, Kryopotamos river is flowing all over the year. The canyon is rich in vegetation, birds and gurgling water. This is a canyon with most of its length being accessible, with water, ponds and some climbing points.

Famous beaches in Lasithi Prefecture

Makrigialos beach, Galini beach, Vai palmgrove, Vathi beach, Itanos beaches, Hiona beach, Xerokampos beach, Koutsounari beach, Ahlia beach, Agia Fotia beach, Alona beach, Ferma beaches, Sitia beach, Kouremenos beach, Palekastro beaches, Sissi beaches, Kolokytha beach in Elounda,  Ammoudara beach in Agios Nikolaos, Plaka beach, Myrtos beach, Elounda beaches, Voulisma beach in Istron, Almiros beach in Agios Nikolaos, Koutsouras beaches, Ierapetra beach, Katharades beach, Mochlos beaches, Milatos beaches.

Rethymnon Prefecture

Rethymnon Downtown

Rethymnon is the third largest town in Crete with about 25.000 inhabitants. A charming and traditional town and also the capital of the Rethymnon prefecture. The visitor gets impressed by the rare nature of the town. The Venetian and turkish monuments, the old traditional houses and neighborhoods, everything makes clear the long history of Rethymnon. A modern town from many aspects that combines today facilities and the atmosphere of centuries ago. For start take a tour to Fortezza and the Venetian monuments. Visit the remarkable Byzantine churches of Agios Fragiskos, Maria Magdalini and Agia Varvara, the Rethymnon port and breath the air of another era, lost some centuries ago. The nearby beaches are magnificent. Finaly Rethymnon is well known for its nightlife. Taverns, live cretan music, bars, you choose…

Panormos

Panormos is a small traditional Cretan fishing village with narrow cobbled streets, shops and an excellent choice of taverns. It lies above the harbor and overlooks three beautiful little coves with lovely sandy beaches for sunbathing and calm waters for swimming. It is the ideal place to relax, go for long walks or just sit at the cafes/taverns overlooking the harbor and enjoy the beautiful view.

Monastery of Arkadi

The Monastery was built in 1587.It was completely burnt in 1866 during the Cretan revolution against the Turks. The Monastery is surrounded by a defensive precinct with two main entrances and one side one. The cells communicate with the yard through a portico. There are also a two storeyed guest-house, store-houses, a cellar a cook-house, and an oven. Inside the Monastery there are also an ossuary and stables. Today the Monastery houses a museum and receives many visitors.

Anogia

Now we're getting into Crete's mountains, 750 metres up on the north face of Mount Psiloritis to be precise close to the stunning Nida Plateau and the Ideon cave (mythology: Zeus grew up here). Birthplace of the famous Greek singer Nikos Xylouris, Anogia has a history that is powerful and tragic - burned by the Turks, then by the Germans who during the war, as reprisal for kidnapping a German general shot all the men they could find in the village. Stockbreeding is the source of wealth in this area. The air is mountain-fresh, the local Raki and food genuinely good and usually made with local ingredients. If lamb is to your liking, the savoury aroma of it cooking at the tavernas in the lower part of the village, is tempting indeed. The square of Agios Georgios is a splendid exhibition of local life and a good place to stop for coffee, buy local cheese and visit the small church of the same name.

Bali

Bali is in Rethymnon Prefecture on the island of Crete in Greece. It has several beaches of varying size and countless hotels and apartment complexes. It has beautiful beaches for you to go and relax on your holidays.

Famous beaches in Rethymnon Prefecture

Preveli palmgrove, Bali beaches, Plakias beach, Rethymnon beach, Panormo beaches, Skaleta beaches, Agia galini beach, Adele beach, Platanes beach, Misiria beach

Chania Prefecture

Chania Downtown

Chania is the capital and the administrative, economic, commercial and communication centre of the prefecture of the same name in Crete Island Greece.It has a population of over than 60.000 inhabitants and it is located on the eastern shore of the bay of Chania, built on the neck of the peninsula. The beautiful town of Chania has managed to keep its local and authentic colours, despite growing tourism.It is considered as one of the loveliest towns of Greece and the more picturesque town of Crete because it still has many vestiges of its past which give it a unique charm.

Samaria gorge

The Samaria Gorge is the longest ravine in Europe (with a total length of 18 km) and offers one of the most spectacular hiking routes. It is breathtaking gorge in the southwestern part of the island in Chania area. Its width ranges from 150 m (widest part) to 3 m (narrowest part). The walk down the gorge takes 6 to 8 hours and ends at Agia Rouméli, a seaside village where visitors can stay overnight or alternatively board the boat that will take them to Loutro, Chora Sfakion, Sougia or Paleochora.

The Frangocastello Fortress

In order to protect the small bay nearby, from the pirates, it was decided, in 1371, to construct this fortress.It is a Venetian fortress of rectangular shape, and on each side there's a tower. The buildings in the interior, as well as the battlements, were constructed during the ottoman occupation. Underneath the fortress, there are the ruins of the church of St Marcus.

Lake Kournas

It is located 44 km east of Chania and 5 km from Georgioupolis. A picturesque lake, the only one natural with sweet water, on the island. The mountains surrounding it are reflected in its calm waters. Choices of taverns are available from which to enjoy the glistening charm of the lake.

Georgioupolis

Georgioupolis lies at the northern coast of Crete, about 39km away from Chania and 21 km from Rethimnon. Georgioupolis is built on the delta of the river Almiros.It is a coastal village situated at the bay of Almiros. The long stretches of golden sandy beaches in front of the village, the lake of Kournas close by and the proximity of the cities of Chania and Rethimnon, make it a good starting place for visitors.

Famous beaches in Chania Prefecture

Balos lagoon, Elafonissi beach, Falassarna beach, Agia Marina beach, Platanias beach, Kavros beach,Gerani beach, Almirida beach, Stalos beach.