It’s as though Crete can’t make up its mind. Does it want to be a sandy haven for beach dwellers or a labyrinth of vestiges for history buffs? Rocky bluffs and secluded coves make for a dramatic and picturesque coastline, while the cities showcase a history stretching back thousands of years. There are also countless fun opportunities for kids, with water parks, aquariums, and other family-friendly options. Plus, the summers here last longer than anywhere else in Greece, due to the island’s southern location.
It’s also the largest in the 6,000-strong archipelago, which raises a philosophical question of which the Ancient Greeks would be proud: when is an island no longer an island? Is Australia an island? We’ll leave you to ponder that. Being so vast, it might be difficult to choose where to base your holiday. The island (yes, we’re going with that) has all manner of quaint villages, beach resorts, and impressive cosmopolitan cities, and here at Plum Guide we've undertaken extensive research into all of them to come up with the ultimate guide for you (you're welcome). So, here is our stance on where to stay in Crete.
Traditional boats and stone lighthouse in the Venetian harbour of Rethymno, Crete, Greece
If architecture and history are high on your list of things to do in Crete, you should definitely pay a visit to Rethymno. Walk next to the ramparts of the Rethymno Old Town and marvel at the blend of Venetian and Ottoman architecture. Delve into the street markets of Arkadiou Street and Antistaseos Street for a sense of the local culture. Gaze up at the crumbling ruins of the Fortezza Castle, which looms over the city. Other highlights include the Museum of Contemporary Art of Crete, the Archaeological Museum of Rethymno, and the Folklore Museum of Rethymno, which stands in an old Venetian Castle. Claim the castle as your own and live there forever. Make the most of the hot weather with a picnic in the leafy environs of the Municipal Park. Wander through the Old Venetian Harbour of Rethymno and check out the deluxe yachts.
Far-reaching view of white buildings and sea in Heraklion, Crete, Greece
When it comes to where to stay in Crete, you should definitely consider the capital city of the island, which has countless treasures dating back centuries. The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is among the main draws, with all sorts of jewellery, tools, and works of art dating back to the Bronze Age. You should also visit the Natural History Museum of Crete, the Cathedral of St. Minas, and the Knossos Archaeological Site, where the 3000-year-old Minoan civilisation developed. Stroll through the place like you own it, and visit the Koules Venetian Fortress. It’s not all history stuff in Heraklion, though - there’s something for everyone on this island. Why not try the local grapes (our way of saying 'gulp down masses of wine') at the Douloufakis Winery or the Lyrarakis Winery?
Old-world Greek cities
A lighthouse lit up at sunset in Chania, Crete, Greece
The island is packed with old-world cities with vestiges you wouldn’t believe. Marvel at Chania's well-preserved ruins and ramparts, where you’ll find ruined Turkish Bathhouses and Venetian structures. See the Venetian fort in Lerapetra and visit the traditional tavernas of Sitia. Cycle out to the Firka Fortress or wander around the Mosque of Janissaries for something a little bit different. Try your hand at wine tasting (like you need the practice), or enjoy a bite to eat in one of the local restaurants - you could even take a cooking class to learn exactly how to whip up the family's new favourites.
Boats docked in the clear blue water of Elounda, Crete, Greece
After all the crumbling ruins, it’s time for a little glitz and glamour. Elounda is where to stay in Crete if you enjoy the finer things in life. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are known to have stayed here, so you’ll fit right in amid the five-star resorts and upscale establishments. Just across the bay is Spinalonga Island, an abandoned former leper colony with a Turkish fortress. Dine at Kanali for spectacular views and classy cuisine. You’ll get a sense of the best Greek food here while looking out over the islets across the bay.
Waves crashing onto the sand at a beach in Malia at sunset, Crete, Greece
If you’re a little younger (or at least feel that way), you might enjoy the youthful ambience of Malia. Head out for a night on the town and knock back ouzo (other spirits are available) at the bars lining the backs of the beaches. Go dancing until the early hours in one of the discos, and drink enough to forget about all the culture and history you learned about in the previous days. After all, aren’t the Ancient Greeks known for their own rowdy indulgence?
A white boat sailing across clear blue water in Lasithi, Crete, Greece
A little off the beaten path (that blasted beaten path that everyone is always going on about), you’ll find the picturesque mountain plateau of Lasithi. Known for its luscious sandy strips and eye-catching scenery, Lasithi is the ultimate Greek destination for those of you hoping to connect with the world around you - if you’re coming here for slow travel, you’ve made a very, very wise decision. See how the old stone windmills have been turned into converted homes. Hike your way around Richtis Gorge, before settling down to work on your tan at Avlaki Beach, Vai Beach, or Boufos Beach. For your fix of both scenic sights and golden sands, there’s no better place - just don’t forget your camera.
Sheep grazing in front of mountains at Samaria Gorge, Sfakia, Crete, Greece
Rounding off this expertly curated guide to the very best areas that Crete has to offer, we have Sfakia. It’s an incredibly small area within the Chania Regional Unit, with only a few hundred locals, but there is still an abundance of things to do here as a tourist. Of course, being in Crete, Skafia has a collection of highly appealing beaches, including such sandy strips as Ilingas Beach, Vrissi Beach, Orthis Amnos Beach, and Frangokastello Beach - so be sure to pack the bucket and spade. Alternatively, treat the family to a trek through the Askyfou Trail or take a memorable trip to the Castle of Frangokastello. The Samaria Gorge National Park is also well worth a visit. Sfakia may be small, but boy, it packs a punch.