As Greece’s largest and most populous Greek island, Crete has something for everyone. Depending on what area you explore, you’ll uncover archaeological sites and museums, peaceful harbors, scenic nature trails, and everything in between. Spring is a particularly pleasant season to visit, as winter weather is replaced by warm breezes and blossoming gardens.
When To Visit Crete And How Long To Stay
Crete is an ideal destination to visit in the spring, especially for nature lovers. It’s a perfect time to dip your toes in the Mediterranean Sea—it will be a little cooler than you’re used to but certainly refreshing—or to get adventurous. With cooler temperatures compared to summer, you’ll find that longer hikes and sightseeing outings are quite doable.
As spring isn’t part of Crete’s high season, you’ll get the added perks of fewer tourists and lower rates. Most travelers won’t flock to Crete until their summer holiday, so you’ll be surrounded mostly by locals. Similarly, airfare and hotels are likely to be more affordable, as there’s less of a demand during the spring months.
You’ll need at least three days to visit the island’s main attractions, but we recommend a longer stay of five to seven days if you want to take it in fully.
Transportation To And Within Crete
Crete has three airports but you’ll more than likely fly into either Iráklio (HER) or Haniá (CHQ). There are usually between 4 or 7 daily flights to Crete from Athens on Aegean or Olympic. Alternatively, you might opt for a ferry from Athens to Crete. It will take you between 7 and 9 hours to reach Crete, so consider this option only if you’ve got the time.
Within Crete, there is a pretty extensive public bus network that takes you all over the island. Prices are regulated by the government, and very reasonable. There are even buses that go to both popular sites like Knossos, Phaestos, Gortys, Moni Arkadiou and Moni Preveli as well as buses that head to the less-touristy inland villages on the south coast.
Crete’s Best Outdoor Activities
Hike The Samaria Gorge
First created by a river running through the White Mountains, Samaria Gorge had been inhabited for many centuries prior to becoming a world biosphere reserve - you'll be able to see remnants of Byzantine churches and Venetian castles along the way. Keep an eye out as well for the rare kri-kri, a Cretan goat species endemic to the area. The hike starts at the Xyloskalo trailhead at an altitude of 1,250m in the midst Lefka Ori (mountains). The total path is 16km and takes 5-7 hours (there are stops along the way to rest and grab a bite).
Stand Up Paddleboard Along The Coast Of Loutraki Bay
Stand-up paddleboard (SUP) the calm waters of Loutraki Bay, discovering small water caves and hidden beaches to stop at along the coastline. SUP In Crete offers morning half day tours for both beginners and intermediates.
Bask In The Black Sands Of Aspes Beach
The majestic black beach of Aspes is located about 58km south of Heraklion, in one of the most remote and inaccessible areas of Asterousia Mountains. It has dark-colored sand, quite unexpected for beaches of the region, and is surrounded by almost vertical high cliffs with beautiful caves. The sea is a vivid turquoise color, making it one of the most beautiful and scenic beaches of Crete. Swimming and fishing here are two amazing experiences.
Surf At Falasarna Beach
Falassarna has been awarded as the best beach of Crete and one of the 10 best beaches in Europe in the past. It actually consists of five consecutive beaches, of white sand and tropical waters. The beach is especially popular with windsurfers for its waves and westerly winds. If you have the time consider hanging around till sunset - which is billed as the best in Crete.
Swim In Balos Lagoon
The famous lagoon of Balos is the most photographed beach in Crete. It's no coincidence that Prince Charles and Princess Diana visited Balos with their private yacht many years ago. The area is famous for its turquoise waters, the wild natural beauty and the beautiful exotic scenery. While known for its pure white sand, in many places it actually takes on a lovely pinkish hue, from millions of crushed shells. Plan to spend a full-day.
Enjoy The Pink Sand Beaches & Beautiful Azure Waters At Elafonissi
Elafonisi is an oblong peninsula, which often "breaks" in two parts by water giving the impression of being a separate island. The island is full of dunes with sand lilies and junipers, with endangered turtles and several rare animals that nest on the Elafonisi beaches. Near the “breaking” point of the peninsula, the water does not exceed 1m, creating a small lagoon, which you can easily cross in order to reach the “island."
Crete’s Top Things To Do
The Palace Of Knossos
Knossos Palace (also known as a Minoan Palace) is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete and has been called Europe's oldest city. The first settlement dates to about 7000 BC., and the first palace to 1900 BC - this capital city of Minoan Crete was thought to be abandoned around 1100 BC. Sung of by Homer in his Odyssey: “Among their cities is the great city of Cnosus, where Minos reigned when nine years old, he that held converse with great Zeus.”
Heraklion Archaeological Museum
History-buffs will have a field day at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, and for good reason. Located in the center of Heraklion city and ranked among Europe’s top museums, you’ll find a vast collection of archaeological find from around the island and spanning 5500 years starting from Neolithic to Roman times, as well as treasures from Minoan civilization.
The Dikteon Cave is one of the most important & famous cult places of Minoan Crete. Located high in the slopes of Mount Ida, it's believed to be birthplace of the Greek god Zeus, where the titan Rhea hid him as an infant to protect him from his father Cronus who intended to swallow him like others of his progeny. The cave is located in the village of Psychro on the Lasithi Plateau, a beautiful expanse of green fields interspersed with almond trees and orchards, as well as the last few standing iconic 17th century windmills with white canvas sails, put up by the Venetians for irrigation purposes.
This impressive Venetian church (1587) has a striking Renaissance facade topped by an ornate triple-belled tower. Grounds include a small museum and the old wine cellar where the gunpowder used to cause the explosion was stored. Due to the battle that took place there, the Monastery is an UNESCO European Monument for Freedom.
Etz Hayyim Synagogue
Within the Kondylaki district, Chania's Jewish quarter, is an old restored synagogue that has survived from the Middle Ages. Today it's the only surviving remnant of Romaniote Jewish community in Crete through various occupations, ending with WW2.
This fortress once housed the naval guard of the Venetians in Crete, and today hosts the Maritime Museum, a huge collection of nautical finds which illustrate the rich history of Chania. The fortress still has several underground tunnels, which were used for imprisoning the rebelling locals. It's also the site where in 1913, the Prime Minister of Greece, Eleftherios Venizelos, and the King if Greece, Constantine, raised the Greek flag after 800 years of slavery, sealing the Union of the autonomous Cretan State with Greece.
Can’t Miss Experiences
Explore Topanas, The Christian Aristocrats' Quarter
The name Topanas is derived from the Turkish “topane”, meaning arsenal, because this was where the ammunition warehouse was during the Turkish period. The narrow streets of the Topanas district still boast beautiful Venetian mansions in which Christian aristocrats lived during Turkish rule, often with the obligatory modifications carried out during the Ottoman period.
Experience Cretan Culinary Traditions First-Hand At The Olive Oil Farm
Journey to this farm in Agios Nikolaos to experience Cretan traditions first-hand: olive oil pressing, wine pressing & raki distilling. They also offer guided tours, ceramic workshops, cooking lessons, traditional cheese making, & a sun-dried tomato station! Check the website to see what activities are available depending on the time of year.
Ferry To Villages In Southwest Crete
After hiking Samaria, which ends at Agia Roumeli, there's the option to ferry to either Sougia or Chora Sfakion where you'll be able to get a bus or car back to Chania town (or wherever you may be staying). Check timetables for exact ferry times - the last one usually departs at 5:30 pm.
Explore The Old Venetian Port
Start exploring from the Old Venetian Harbor in Rethymnon with its mix of Cretan, Venetian and Ottoman elements, then walk along the pier that will lead you to the lighthouse. The beautiful old port lighthouse was built by the Venetians and rebuilt by the Egyptians in the early 19th century, taking the shape of a minaret. From this vantage point, you can enjoy a magnificent panoramic view of the harbor and old town against a backdrop of the White Mountains. The port is a great day trip as you can explore the harbor in the morning and then stay for evening drinks in the summertime at the many lively bars that line the waterfront.
Spend Time In the Quaint Fishing Village Of Loutro
A quaint, peaceful fishing village that's inaccessible by road - set in the midst of steep, harsh, rock mountainsides, decorated with the clinking of goat bells and a warm sea.
Sample Cretan Wine At Zacharioudakis Winery
The Zacharioudaki vineyard in the village of Plouti covers 50 acres and boasts of modern facilities with a unique design. Grapes are cultivated organically and to the highest standards of quality. Both the vineyards and also the winery are open to visitors all year long. They have a panoramic view towards mount Psiloritis, the Messara plain, the Libyan Sea and the Asterousia mountains. In the wine-tasting hall you can try their wines along with samples of the Cretan cuisine.
Κανάλι - Kanali Restaurant
A picturesque shack perched on the edge of a rather isolated bay off the coast of Elounda, Kanali incorporates fresh seafood, beautiful views, and classic Greek hospitality. Make sure the grilled octopus is on your table.
To Xani, a family-run spot located in a beautiful street near the old synagogue in Chania town, is known as much for its live Greek music as it is for the food. Try the rabbit stifado or lamb kleftiko, and don't miss the shrimp saganaki!
At Koutouloufari in Hersonissos, in this beautiful traditional village, the Alchemist awaits you. This small family-run restaurant with a casual yet buzzy vibe serves delicious cocktails & authentic Greek food. Traditional dishes such as shrimp saganaki, grilled octopus, beef stifado and moussaka are not going to disappoint and the complementary raki + dessert after the meal are a must.
Beautifully situated at Parigoria hilltop, 2km outside of Chania town, Theodosi at the Alexis Hotel features outdoor patio seating overlooking the city and the sea. Tuck into a diverse menu of refined dishes paired with cocktails or a crisp glass of Cretan wine at this popular spot. We recommend the pork ribs marinated in thyme honey.
7 Thalasses, which means ‘seven seas’ in Greek, specializes in traditional Mediterranean cuisine with an emphasis on seafood & especially fish. Relax at one of their charming outdoor tables and feast on the fresh grilled catch of the day. Also recommended: the shrimp saganaki & calamari with pesto.
Tamam is housed in an old cold-pool room in a building that was originally used as a Turkish hammam. The cuisine is referred to as 'politiki kouzina', which draws its roots from the Greeks of Asia Minor. Highlights include chiounkiar begendi (slow cooked lamb casserole with tomato sauce, spices and mashed eggplant), oven cooked goat roll with potatoes and 'staka' (Cretan goat's milk butter), and Iranian pilaf with dried fruits and raisins. Grab one of the outdoor tables lining the picturesque alleyway in the summertime.
Palm Beach Club
Palm Beach Club has been one of Crete's nightlife hotspots since opening in 2012. This open air day to night beach club just a few feet away from the beautiful beach of Hersonissos, features 2 pools, 3 bars, and a dance floor with dj booth to party till the early hours.
Fagotto Jazz Bar
This laid-back Chania late-night bar is one of the oldest and most well known jazz bars in the city. Enjoy a few cocktails while listening to jazz, swing and blues in this 15th century Venetian building.
In an elegant, airy indoor-outdoor space, Nama welcomes you for all day drinks with a view right onto the old harbor & lighthouse. Try a glass of Cretan wine recommended by the sommelier, or have a aperitif cocktail while enjoying the sunset alongside a snack of Mediterranean tapas.
Young locals start a summer evening by bar-hopping among the cafés around the Old Harbor. After midnight, the scene moves to Platanias, a 15-minute cab ride west of the city, where up to a dozen open-air clubs on the beach stay open all night.
Island Of Desire
A large open-air club in Heraklion city that plays predominantly electro house, keeping the smartly-dressed crowds moving till dawn.
Opus Wine Bar
Set in stone in the narrow streets of the city center, this sleek wine bar has an impressive wine list with many local varietals, and finger food to complement your selection. Order a glass and relax in the loungey atmosphere.
This article is part of our series on Greece as a 365 day destination