Ever wanted to holiday like a Greek God? Look no further than Crete, a Grecian gem known as “The Great Island”, for being the largest within Greece – and with a big personality to match. Despite its size, Crete will never overwhelm you. In fact, the tapestry of beaches along with the infectious island charm and dizzying scenery, you’ll never feel more at ease. Crete boasts the longest summers in Greece so the moment you step onto the tarmac, glorious warmth will engulf you like a hug welcoming you home. While Crete won’t overwhelm you, it can be a little tricky to know where to begin. The reformed traditionalism of Agia Pelagia, the laidback charm of Chania and the sophisticated essence of Elounda are all at your fingertips so discover what makes each part of the island special – it’ll be a holiday you won’t forget.
Cretan charm truly comes to life in Agia Pelagia. A small village on the island’s northern coast, expect nothing less than the perfect blend of tranquillity, natural beauty, relaxing beaches and enriching historical culture. Agia Pelagia was once a traditional fishing village and still maintains its laidback aura while also occupying a cosmopolitan edge that tourists love, home to an abundance of restaurants, bars and elegant resorts. Adorers of Greek culture will find history around every corner thanks to the ancient remains including engraved tombs which date back to 2000 BC. If you’re seeking something a little more fast-paced during your holiday to Crete, Agia Pelagia is just 22 kilometres from the vibrant Heraklion capital, an electrically diverse metropolis which lights up after dark with numerous bars and nightclubs in the likes of Hersonissos and Malia. So, if you’re after the best of both worlds, Agia Pelagia ticks every box and so much more.
Must-visit: The Palace of Knossos
Whether you came to eastern Crete to live in the moment or explore the past, a visit to The Palace of Knossos is a sure-fire way to create some holiday memories. One of the most famous archaeological sites in the world, the majestic palace is located on Kephala Hill, just a short distance from the centre of Agia Pelagia. The palace is inundated with fascinating Greek mythology, and most notably the location for one of the most tragic and enchanting myths in history, Theseus and the Minotaur. Once the centre of administration for the entire island of Crete during Minoan times, today The Palace of Knossos stands as an impressive reminder of the period and is an immediately recognisable emblem of Ancient Greek history all over the world.
Best beach: Agia Pelagia Beach
Located on the north-eastern part of the island in the village of the same name, Agia Pelagia Beach is a popular stretch of sand and for good reason. Constant calm waters and a bay that forms a natural quiet harbour make it perfect for families with children who want to splash in the shallows while there are also plenty of options for food, opportunities to partake in watersports, and umbrellas and loungers available to rent.
Stay at: Blue Bay Resort Hotel
In one of the most beautiful bays on Crete, the all-inclusive Blue Bay Resort Hotel is perfect for families and couples seeking relaxation amid breathtaking scenery. Start lazy days with a dip in one of the four pools or stretch out on a sun lounger with a cool drink while admiring the view of the dazzling blue sea. No holiday to Crete is complete without an indulgent visit to the spa but be sure to carve out time to visit the nearby former traditional village of Agia Pelagia with its ancient ruins and tranquil vibe.
For a glimpse of the most beautiful Venetian harbour outside of Italy, look no further than Chania. Utterly picturesque, the harbour is lined with numerous bars and tasty tavernas which are perfect to sample fresh seafood al fresco with views of the sparkling waters. In a nutshell, Chania offers everything you could possibly want and so much more from a holiday to Greece from plentiful nightlife and shopping galore to striking beaches with soft sands and countless excursions to experience the area to the fullest.
Must-visit: Samaria Gorge
We hope you packed your walking shoes! Samaria Gorge is the centre point of the White Mountains National Park, the only national park in Crete and is the perfect way to admire the island’s pinch-me panoramas – as well as put your Fitbit to use and get those steps in. Samaria Gorge is the longest in Europe at a total length of 16 kilometres which takes roughly around six hours to walk if you’re feeling adventurous. It’s well worth the effort though as at the end of the path you’ll be greeted by cool water to swim in, friendly tavernas to re-energise in, and a canopy of trees overlooking the Mediterranean Sea which is the perfect spot for a picturesque picnic.
Best beach: Balos Beach
Despite being about an hour’s drive from the centre of Chania, if you’re seeking a beach that looks as if it’s come straight from a postcard picture, rest assured that Balos Beach is worth every second of the journey. Found between the areas of Gramvousa and Tigani, the sand glows a golden hue with a slight pink shimmer (it’s combined with crushed corals and seashells) and the clear-as-glass shallow waters have a refreshing turquoise tint. The area is protected under Natura 2000 which means there are no watersports but there are plenty of places to buy drinks and snacks to keep you refreshed throughout the day.
Stay at: Mr & Mrs White Crete Resort & Spa
Five stars simply aren’t enough at Mr & Mrs White Crete Resort & Spa. Panoramic views of the Mediterranean are in abundance, not to mention stellar services and top-notch facilities including a heavenly spa, a seawater swimming pool, an open-air fitness centre and a restaurant and lounge bar. Mesmerising sunsets and amazing moonlight reflections can be admired from the resort’s northwest orientation which are more than worth a stay at this elegant Chania property.
The perfect holiday package wrapped up in a bow, Elounda is located on Crete’s eastern coast and is the ideal spot for families and couples seeking a charming, down-to-earth Grecian getaway. Modern and comfortable accommodation options are plentiful, centred around the beating heart of the main square, which is fringed by restaurants shops, bars and traditional tavernas. Watch the world go by during the day and experience the party mood at night but there are also plenty of relaxing pastimes and heavenly beaches for you to choose from. Oh, and don’t forget to snap a picture of the charming fishing boats sailing in and out with the backdrop of Spinalonga island across the bay – just watch the likes come rolling in…
Must-visit: Spinalonga Island
Well, what’s better than taking a picture of it? Visiting, of course! Spinalonga Island is known for being the setting of bestselling novel The Island and it can be easily reached by bout from Elounda. A barren, rocky island, Spinalonga has a fascinating history dating back to the 18th century and was once home to a community of outcasts while now it is a recognised archaeological site and one of the few examples of Venetian fortifications in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Best beach: Elounda Beach
Flying the Blue Flag for its cleanliness and safety, Elounda Beach is a 200-metre stretch of golden sand situated just north of the harbour. Striking views of the island of Spinalonga can be admired from the comfort of your sun lounger and everything you need can be reached within a five-minute walk including cafés, a children’s playground and public toilets. Soft sands and shallow, clear waters are the icing on the cake of this beautiful beach.
Stay at: Elounda Blu by Domes Resorts
Elounda Blu by Domes Resorts is an adults-only holiday paradise with access to a gorgeous beach and shimmering pools. Expect no less than seven bars and restaurants which include a Mediterranean eatery and a rooftop Polynesian restaurant and bar offering 360-degree views of the sparkling Cretan Sea. Rest your head on a pillow made of clouds in your stylish accommodation and continue the relaxation with a trip to the spa and indulge in a wealth of treatments for a pampering session like no other.
Has the beauty of Crete blown you away? No matter where you visit on this beautiful island, stellar hotels, shimmering beaches and spectacular charm will follow, making a holiday to Crete an utterly unforgettable adventure. Discover more areas of the island here and simply watch your getaway fall into place.