Crete is one of the most unique and diverse islands in Greece, both in culture and landscape; with its beautiful beaches, magnificent mountainous terrain and constant historical reminders scattered across the island. According to Greek mythology, Crete is said to be the birth place of Zeus, king of the gods. The Cretans pride themselves on the preservation of the “Cretan way of life” with food, tradition, culture and clothes reflecting the uniqueness of Crete.
Crete is situated at the most southern point of Greece and located in the south part of the Aegean Sea. At approximately 8,336 sq km Crete is also the largest island in Greece. The island of Crete is home to approximately 650,000, the majority of these people reside in Heraklion which is the capital city of Crete.
Crete is dissected into four prefectures, Chania, Heraklion, Rethymno and Lasithi. Each of these prefectures offers tourists a largely unique experience, with great variations between all four of the areas.
In 2009 Crete was the host for almost 2 million tourists and each year Crete accommodates for roughly one quarter of the tourists that visit Greece each year. Due to Crete’s climate and terrain there is an abundance of olive trees, orange trees, honey and wine which have become a central part of Cretan diet, cooking, agriculture and export.
Crete’s history has been long and turbulent at times; Crete has been inhabited since the Neolithic period, however, the majority of focus has been on Crete’s history since the Minoan civilisation. Much of the archaeological artefacts and findings for Crete are from the Minoan period, including the palace of Phaistos and the now archaeological site of Knossos. Throughout its history Crete has also come under rule by the Venetians and the Ottoman Turks. Eventually after much resistance by Crete this island fell under German rule during the Second World War.
Throughout its long and tumultuous history Crete has always been proud of its unique culture, which Cretans have tried to uphold as much as possible. Cretan culture is somewhat different to other parts of Greece which is evident in Cretan food, music, language, fashion and dance.
Many people may ask when the best time to travel to Crete may be. This largely depends on what kind of a holiday would be ideal for you. Crete offers variations both in climate, landscape, sightseeing and activities. On average Crete has 300 days of sun a year. Generally Cretan weather is characterised by moderate rainy winters with snow on the mountains during November and May and hot, dry summers with temperatures in the mid 30s; the intense heat in the peak of summer can sometimes make outdoor sightseeing almost unbearable. The weather and temperature does vary according to different parts of the island. For example, the south side of the island experiences more sunny days than the rest of Crete.
July and August are the hottest months, with September gradually becoming cooler and less windy. Outside of the summer months the weather in Crete can be varied, temperamental and unpredictable. The rainy season tends to start late October till March.
Crete is an island that is accessible via plane and boat. Due to the millions of tourists that flock to Crete each year there is a relatively good tourist infrastructure on the island, including the public transport system. Busses are the central mode of public transport on the island and are largely run by Minoan bus company KTEL. Busses catering to the northern side of the island are frequent, usually punctual and affordable. There are still busses travelling to the south of the island, however, these are far less frequent.
Crete is a very large island to explore, with some challenging dirt roads and terrain. Taxis are a very efficient and reliable way to see Crete; they are also relatively cheap in Crete compared to other areas in Europe. It is important to ensure that taxi meters are used at all times. There are price guides at major taxi stands indicating approximate fares for travelling to different parts of the island.
The last mode of public transport used to explore Crete is boats. There are many boat companies operating in Crete and it is often useful to compare what one company is offering in their package to another. In addition, there are usually a selection of ports in Crete that will have boats travelling to the popular tourist destinations around the island. Sometimes the prices from each port vary dramatically so take this into consideration when booking your tickets.
Areas to visit
To summarise the key suburbs or areas to visit in Crete can be difficult because their honestly are so many spectacular attractions on the island, which are spread from one point to the next. Chania and Heraklion are beautiful suburbs, with a lot to offer, due to their popularity for travellers there is a well established tourist infrastructure.
Public transport in both these cities is well established with both busses and boats leaving regularly from the ports in Chania and Heraklion. Heraklion is the largest city in Crete followed by Chania; both cities offer shopping, restaurants, hotels, cafes and excellent access to public transport. Both cities are home to many of the amazing tourist attractions such as the breathtaking Samaria gorge in Chania and the archaeological site of Knossos in Heraklion.
If you are looking for the party scene then Malia or Hersonnisos are probably the places that you should visit, however, there are places to party and great nightlife across the whole island.