5 Must-See Tourist Attractions In Crete

Crete is one of my favorite tourist destinations in the world. It has everything: stunning views, magnificent beaches, and vivid and haunting historical sites. This is Greece, after all, where every island contains a balance between the wonders of the ancients and today’s phenomenal landscape.

If you're looking at Crete vacation rentals, you might be wondering what there is to do in Crete. More specifically, you're wondering which of the many items you absolutely have to tick off on your trip.

To help you decide, here are the 5 must-see tourist attractions in Crete, and the reasons they can’t be missed.

Palace of Knossos

When you think of what remains of ancient civilisations, you picture ruins that tell vivid stories, archaeological discoveries of artifacts that have somehow survived the ravages of time, magnificent tombs, and more. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with most ruins. Often, you have to settle for doing most of the imagining yourself. After all, the passing of millennia is not kind to old buildings.

The Palace of Knossos is different. While only a small part of the original building still remains, it is enough to satisfy even the least imaginative of us. Arches and murals remain, giving a clear indication of what once was. You can put a rather vivid picture together of how the ancient Minoan royalty lived. If you love history, the Palace of Knossos is a dream come true. If you don’t, you will love it when you leave here.

Samaria Gorge

Moving from human history to geological wonder, the Samaria Gorge is one of those sites that surprise even the most well-traveled amongst us. The hiking trail through this massive gorge is 18 kilometers (11.1 miles), going down 1,250 meters. It takes 4 to 6 hours to walk, so don’t go expecting a quick stroll. It is rocky, so if you have bad knees, give this one a skip.

Some of us hate exercising while on vacation, and I totally relate. However, if there are no physical limitations preventing you from doing this, you won’t regret it. It is only open to hikers from May to October, however, so if this is on your bucket list, you'll need to plan accordingly.

Heraklion Archaeological Museum

Back in the realm of human history, Heraklion Archaeological Museum is considered one of the most important museums in Europe, and rightly so. It is magnificent and vast, giving a detailed understanding of ancient Minoan civilisation. While the Minoans may not seem such a significant part of human history, you'll understand their place by the time you leave this museum.

This goes hand in hand with a visit to the Palace of Knossos. It’s like finding a balance between the theory and the practical (although the museum itself is not stuck in the realm of theory or masses of information).

Ancient history is not merely interesting. It also gives us a clear idea of where our civilisation came from and the progress we have made along the way. It allows us to see how in some ways history continues to repeat itself, and how in other ways we have learnt from our mistakes. For those who struggle to appreciate history, the Heraklion Museum, along with the Palace of Knossos, will quickly change that.

Chania and Rethymnon

I include these two in the same bracket not because they are interchangeable, but because they're both old towns with a major Venetian influence. Chania is the main town in Western Crete. It is considered by many lovers the perfect place to cultivate budding romance. Pastel colored buildings down small warrens are best explored on foot. The town itself is quaint and surreal. The White Mountains provide a perfect backdrop that contrasts the natural with the manmade.

Rethymnon old town is a mixture between Venetian and Turkish influences. Many old historical buildings are now stores and restaurants, meaning that even the modern is firmly based in tradition. You can take a break from exploring the old town to visit the long, narrow beach for some swimming and sunbathing.


One of Greece’s many paradises on Earth, Elafonissi is truly phenomenal, even for those who have been to too many beaches to count. The shallow crystal clear water, along with sand that is tinged pink by crushed shells, make it eye-candy to drink in. Photos taken there will serve as a fixture on your Instagram feed for the foreseeable future.

Of course, Elafonissi is not the only beach worth visiting in Crete. The famous Palm Beaches are on many people’s lists. Just keep in mind that getting to those beaches can be a bit of a mission and some find them to be rather disappointing. Elafonissi, on the other hand, will disappoint no one.

Spinalonga (Leper Island)

Spinalonga is also known as Leper Island, but don’t let the name put you off. It was once a leper colony, but now hosts a haunting ghost town in the most picturesque location. There is a reason it keeps popping up in novels and films. You'll need to take a ferry trip from Aylos Nikolaus to get there, and getting to Aylos Nikolaus will take a bit of time, but it’s well worth it.

Be aware that Spinalonga is now officially known as Kalydon, which can cause a bit of confusion.

There are many more places in Crete (and throughout Greece) to visit, meaning you'll need to keep coming back. However, start with the above six, and you're guaranteed to have a marvellous time.

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