Crete Pictures Guide, Greece

Crete, Ammoudi beach, Greece

Crete, Ammoudi beach. Photo by Olaf Tausch.

Why visit Crete?

Crete is the largest Greek island at 260 km long by 60 kms wide (162 x 37 miles) and arguably the most interesting, though nearby Santorini is also in the running. So holidays in Crete are not necessarily just about sand, sea and sunshine, there’s a fascinating, deeply ingrained culture and long, dramatic history attached to the island. But if the visit also involves beach time then Crete is a winner there too as it has the longest beach season of all the Greek islands, due to its extreme south Mediterranean latitude.

The remains of the once magnificent Palace of Knossos, North Entrance, Crete, Greece

The remains of the once magnificent Palace of Knossos, North Entrance. Photo by Lapplaender.

Crete’s famous ancient site is the Palace of Knossos and core of the super-sophisticated Bronze Age civilization of the Minoans – who may have been the advanced seafaring people of the Atlantis legend (see Santorini).
Conveniently near Crete’s large city of Heraklion, Knossos has been partially reconstructed as it may have been several thousands of years ago.

Crete (also spelt Krete) has been ruled by many and varied civilisations, including the sophisticated Minoans (2, 700-1, 420 BC) who were terminally devastated by the eruption and tidal wave of nearby Thira (Santorini), the even more sophisticated Romans who Veni, Vidi, Vici in 69 BC, the Byzantine Empire took control in 300 AD, the Venetians in 1212, the Ottomans in 1669 and finally the Germans briefly in 1941. And those are just a few of the occupying powers!

The island of Crete is positively humming with a colourful stories, and then consider the mythology – Crete was the birthplace of the number one Greek god Zeus, home to the Sirens, Muses, Icarus and the Minotaur, visited by Athena, Hercules and Theseus.

Some Crete Attractions

Arkadia monastery, Crete, Greece

Arkadia monastery in Venetian baroque style, also known as Moni Arkadiou. Photo by Gerard Janot.

Samaria Gorge, Crete, Greece

Samaria Gorge. Photo by Lapplaender.

Got the culture out of the way? How about a little walk? From the Samaria Gorge to the Lasithi plateau hikers will enjoy the spectacular surroundings while culture-vultures are spending hours in Heraklion’s museums and the Minoan ruins of Knossos.

Sitia port, Crete, Greece

Sitia Port in Lasithi province. Photo by Sekundenschlaf.

Crete Beaches

Matala beach, Crete, Greece

Matala Beach

Most travellers, however, are primarily in Crete for the beaches – with a touch of culture, perhaps to keep their intellects functioning while they bake in the sun and pickle their brains in Ouzo.
Elounda and Matala are typical of many of these superb beaches – soft sand, clear water and rather too many neighbours.
Crete’s best beaches are generally thought to be on the island’s west coast, Falasarna and Elafonisi.

Elounda Beach, Crete, Greece

Elounda beach. Photo by Deror avi.

*Sweetwater, *Falasarna, *Elafonisi

At 160 miles long, Crete is Greece’s largest island and offers a huge variety of holidays – mountain and gorge hiking (esp. Samaria and Zakros Gorges, windmill scattered Lasithi Plateau) exploration of little old Greek villages (fast disappearing), roaming the ruins of the Minoan civilisation (esp. Knossos), or slumping on hot beaches with a cold drink.

Iraklion, Crete’s capital, has little reason to visit save for its transport links, the superb Minoan Palace of Knossos (5km away) and the Archaeological Museum.
The island is lined with hundreds of beaches, from popular tourist destinations in the east, such as Elounda and Sitia, to the less well-known in the west:
Rethymno (NW), the attractive third largest town in Crete has a palm-fringed promenade running along a wide curved sand and shingle beach several kilometres long. The water is clean though you may need to walk a bit east to escape crowds. There is excellent choice of services.

Sweetwater (SW) is a casual beach with few visitors, some of them nude. It has a dramatic, swooping rocky backdrop and blue, blue sea. Sweetwater bubbles out from the stones at the back of the beach. A small beach taverna looks after consumables. Accessible only by boat or an hour’s spectacular coast walk from Loutro – and that’s the place to stay.

Far west Crete has a couple of superb beaches if you can get there.
Falasarna (NW) is big, with fine sand and rocks to add a little character. Tavernas and domatia (rooms to stay in) are nearby.
Elafonisi (SW) is a big, sandy, turquoise lagoon, with a pretty little island scattered with dunes and coves a few metres wading distance away. Facilities are few and unfortunately a new blacktop road means package tours and their attendant stalls have started to despoil this erstwhile beach paradise.

Balos lagoon, Crete, Greece

The Balos lagoon on the Gramvoussa peninsula. Photo by Olaf Tausch.

Vai beach, Crete, Greece

The famous Cretan palms and beach of Vai, east Crete. Photo by Marc Ryckaert.

Crete  good

Agios Nikolaos town, Crete, Greece

Agios Nikolaos town, aka Ayios or Aghios. Photo by C. Messier.

A calm and cultured town with a couple of museums, the usual ancient church and several beaches within a short drive or cycle ride.

Crete  not so good

Malia, Crete island, Greece.Taxiarchos228

Malia resort town. Photo by Taxiarchos228.

The island’s worst tourist resort and arguably Greece’s primary destination for binge-drinking is Malia, on the north-east coast, which leads Europe in ultra-violence, often perpetrated by Brit-on-Brit. Cheap – yes, pleasant old town – yes, pulsating with people you normally cross the street to avoid – yes.

When to go to Crete

The very best months in Crete are mid-May and June for less crowds, better ambience, lower accommodation prices and nice weather without extreme heat.
Summertime brings masses of visitors and considerable heat with occasionally blasts from the meltemi wind which cools things off but blows beach-goers and their kit all over the place. However, anytime from May to the end of October is possible as the southern location extends the tourist season.