Top 10 Places to Visit in Crete
1) Knossos Palace
Crete was the centre of Europe's earliest civilization in 7000BC, while the Minoan civilisation flourished between 2700 BC and 1450BC.
Knossos is the largest of the preserved Minoan palaces and thought to be the centre of Minoan civilization.
The Minoan palace and Ancient site of Knossos lies just south of Heraklion. Knossos was the legendery home of King Minos and said to be the souce of the mythical Labyrinth which held the Minotaur.
The palace was excavated and partly reconstucted by British Archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans in 1900. The site monuments include Knossos Palace, The Little Palace, The Royal Villa, The Frescoes House and the Temple Tomb.
The site of Knossos is open summer daily 08.00 - 20.00hrs. In the winter opening times are daily 08.00 to 15.00 November to March. Note: double check opening times in April and October as they may still be on winter hours due to staffing problems from the austerity measures.
2018 Entrance fee: €15 or combined ticket with Heraklion Archaeological Museum €16. Free entrance on Sundays in winter Nov-Mar.
2) Samaria Gorge
A 16km walk, Samaria Gorge, in South West Crete in the prefecture of Chania, is one of the longest gorges in Europe. The spectacular gorge is a National Park and boasts magnificent flaura and fauna.
The start of the walk at xyloskala (the wooden steps) is just beyond the Omalos plateau, high up in the White Mountains "Lefka Ori" at an altitude of 1250m. The gorge is normally open each year from May 1st to October 31st, dependent on the weather. It is closed in the winter as the mountain river running through the gorge in wintertime makes it dangerous and mostly impassable.
Allow a good 5 to 6 hours for this long walk. Good strong footwear is essential, preferably with ankle support as the footpath is hard and rocky underfoot.
A small supply of water should be carried with you which can be topped up en route from the many springs in the gorge.
The walk ends at the Libyan Sea at the small coastal village of Agia Roumeli.
Buses run three to four times daily from Chania (Hania) bus staion to the top of the gorge (Omalos) during the summer season. Journey time is 1 hour 15 minutes. From the end of the walk in Agia Roumeli you must take a boat to either Sfakia (Hora Sfakion) or Sougia, boat journey time 45 minutes. Then take the local bus from Sfakia or Sougia back to Chania (Hania) - journey time approximately 1 hour 30 minutes.
The bus (from/to Chania) and boat fares add up to approximately 25 euros, plus the entrance fee to the gorge is 6 euros.
It's a long and tiring day, but well worth it.
3) Heraklion Archaeological Museum
The renovated, state-of-the-art Heraklion Archaeological Museum is up and running with all new halls now open (since summer 2014). Exhibits include most of the objects from the old collections as well as finds from the latest archaeological excavations.
The exhibits cover a period of 5,000 years, from neolithic era to Graeco Roman period, while the large collection of Minoan art examples are the best in the world.
The Heraklion (Irakllon) Archaeological Museum is located in the centre of Heraklion City at Xanthoudidou Street.
2018 Museum Opening times & prices:
Entrance: €10 or combined ticket with Knossos €16
Open Tue- Sun: Spring & Autumn 08.00 – 15.00hrs. Summer 08.00 – 20.00hrs
Mondays summer 11.00 – 17.00hrs. Closed some Bank Holidays & Mondays in winter.
4) Chania Old Town & Harbour
Chania is situated in the North West of Crete, 160kms from Heraklion. The main attraction is the beautiful old town of Chania (also spelt Hania) with its Venetian Harbour lined with cafes and restaurants, and winding cobbled alleyways. Steeped in history, Chania stands on the ancient site of Kydonia which flourished during the Roman period, and later became the capital city of the Cretan State (1897 to 1907).
Visit the Archaeological museum on Halidon Street and the Maritime Museum at the far west corner of the harbour front..
Take time to explore the back alleyways, you'll be amazed at the gems you'll discover: beautiful old Venetian buildings with courtyard cafes and cozy restaurants, Cretan handicraft shops, a weaver's shop, boot makers on the Leather Street, and rows of shops selling hand carved Cretan knives at the Maheradika.
Stroll eastwards around the harbour past the multitude of fishing boats, yachts and pleasure boats; here the harbour front is lined with excellent fish tavernas. Continue right around and along the sea wall out to the beautiful renovated lighthouse.
You can also take a trip on a horse drawn carriage to give your feet a rest and explore out and beyond the harbour.
5) Lake Kournas, Argiroupolis, and Ancient Lappa
Situated between Chania and Rethymno, Lake Kounas is the only natural freshwater lake on Crete, it's surrounded by lush vegetation with a backdrop of the white mountains. A number of tavernas line the shore of the lake, and you can swim here or hire pedaloes in the summer months.
A few kilometers from Kournas Lake is the village of Argiroupolis (Argyroupoli). This pretty village is built on the ancient site of Lappa and consists of two parts - the upper and the lower village. Visit the waterfalls and the lush green vegetation at the lower village, then head up to the excavated Necropolis of Roman Lappa, the remains of Roman baths, and the aquaduct in the upper village.
Pick up a local guide map of Ancient Lappa from the Avocado and Herb shop in Argiroupoli village near the church.
6) Lassithi Plateau and The Dikteon Cave
The Lassithi Plateau is a huge fertile plain, covering around 25,000 square kilometers, in the Diktian mountains in the Eastern prefecture of Lassithi. Hundreds of white windmills traditionally were used to irrigate the patchwork of green and yellow fields which make up the fertile plateau, but now most lie as relics to their past.
Lassithi plateau is the highest inhabited plateau in Greece (800m), a visit to this beautiful mountainous area should include stops at the picturesque villages of Krassi with it’s giant plane tree in the village square said to be the oldest tree in Crete, and Mohos where the church of the Panayia has Byzantine icons and frescoes.
The impressive Dikteon Cave (Cave of Psychro), the legendary birthplace of Zeus, is situated at a height of 1025m, west of the village of Psychro, on the side of a mountain above the beautiful plateau of Lassithi. The cave is accessed by a steep path, 20 minutes climb, to the narrow entrance of the cave. Once inside the cave follow a steep descent of 60m to reach an underground pool and various chambers with beautiful stalactites and stalagmites.
7) Anogia village & Zoniana Cave
The large mountain village of Anogia (Anogeia), population 3,000, stands at an altitude of 750m on the side of Mount Psiloritis in the central Cretan prefecture of Rethymno.
The village of Anogia was razed to the ground by the Germans during World War II, when all the men in the village who hadn’t managed to flee were killed in retaliation for local resistance fighters keeping the kidnapped German General Von Kreipe here before they smuggled him to Africa.
The village is also renowned as the birthplace of Nikos Xilouris, one of the most famous Cretan musicians of all time. He died in 1980 at the age of 43 and became a Cretan legend. The village of Anogia hosts the Yakintha Festival in July each year which is dedicated to music, theatre, and art. The village has a large cottage industry of lace making and handicrafts.
Don’t miss the nearby Cave of Zoniana (Sfentoni Cave) which is considered one of the best caves in Crete with it's amazing stalagmites and stalagtites. Zoniana is located a few kilometers before Anogia and is open to the public with hourly guided tours in the summer months.
8) Agios Nikolaos
Agios Nikolaos is situated in Eastern Crete, 70kms east of Heraklion and is the Capital of the Lassithi prefect. The town is built around a picturesque lake which is connected to the sea by a short canal. Relax at one of the lakeside tavernas or cafes and admire the setting while watchching the fisherman at work in their colourful boats.
The town has a cosmopolitan atmosphere and the modern marina hosts up to 255 boats and yachts at one time. Shopping in the town is a delight – small handicraft shops and souvenir shops jostle with the modern jewellery and designer shops. Cafes, snack bars, tavernas and restaurants abound on every street corner.
The town even boasts its own beach right next to the centre – Kitroplatia beach. This sandy beach is lined with cafes and tavernas. There are also many other beaches nearby along the Mirabello Bay.
9) Elounda & Spinalonga Island
Lying just 10 km from Agios Nikolaos is the Elounda Gulf. The Gulf is renowned for its prestigious luxury hotels and it is here that the rich and famous, from royalty to celebrities, holiday in style in private luxurious villas and suites, yet the small fishing port of Elounda still retains much of it ‘s old charm; the small harbour is lined with cafes and tavernas and there's a small sandy beach.
Spinalonga Island (also known as Kalidon) is a small island situated just off the coast of Elounda and Plaka in the Mirabello Bay. During 1200 AD the Venetians built huge fortifications on this island rock to guard the entrance to the sheltered bay and the fortifications still dominate the north face of the island.
From 1903 until as recently as 1957, the island of Spinalonga, was a leper colony and lepers from all over Greece were shipped to the island. The suffering of the lepers who inhabited Spinalonga was immortalised in Victoria Hislop’s bestselling book ‘The Island’.
Today the island of Spinalonga in uninhabited but can be visited by a short boat trip from Elounda (30 minutes), Plaka (15 minutes) or Agios Nikolaos (1 hour). Following the footpath around the island takes you through small deserted street of Spinalonga's ruins; old stone dwellings, the battlement fortifications and cemetery.
The small picturesque seaside village of Loutro is situated in South West Crete, on the coast between the villages of Hora Sfakion and Agia Roumeli. Loutro can be reached only by boat or on foot, there are no roads to or from the village, and this is one of its main charms.
As you arrive by boat this pretty blue and white village nestles into the small bay which contains it. Spending a day in Loutro is like stepping back in time, there's nothing more pressing to do than swim, sip an iced cold coffee or enjoy a lazy lunch at one of the tavernas. The major activity in Loutro is watching the ferry boats arrive, offload the tourists and village goods, and then depart again.
The village is located in a small pebble bay and consists of a number of rooms to let, small hotels & pensions, cafes, tavernas, a few shops and one cigarette kiosk. Ferry boats run 4 to 5 times a day from Hora Sfakion to Loutro during the summer season and the journey time is 20 minutes.
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