Crete is so much bigger than any of the other Greek islands that it really does feel like another country altogether. Its landscapes are rugged, with vast displays of both mountain and jungle terrain and deep gorges plunging into the earth's surface, and the coastal cliffs are dreamy as ever.
1 in 5 tourists to the Greek islands have Crete on their itinerary and the over 3 million visitors that come to Crete each year are drawn by the authentic villages, food and wine, untouched nature, and the rich history and mysticism buried deep in naturally formed caves and rolling hills.
You'll definitely want to visit Crete on your Grecian adventure if you want to connect with nature more and to get a touch of quaint traditionalism away from the party scenes at the white washed beaches that the other famous islands offer.
Where To Stay in Crete
Like we said, Crete is huge. And you could easily spend a lot of time navigating around, hitting all of your must sees, so it's important to stay somewhere centrally located. A good majority of attractions are situated along the north part of the island, so that helps a bit.
We stayed near the town of Agios Nikolaos and were happy to have many restaurants, cafes, super markets, etc in walking distance., yet the residential area still felt very away from the rest of the world (in a good way!)
Malia has more of a nightlife, so if that is what you seek on Crete you could consider a villa in that area, or Heraklio for the convenience of a bigger city and easy airport / port access.
Best Adventures in Crete
Crete is characterized by the tall mountain range going west to east across the island, and as such, hiking and nature walks are one of the best ways to take in the island.
We went on a day long Cretan safari with a local tour company, and it took us up to pick fresh herbs in the mountains, to the traditional village of Kritsa for handmade Cretan goods, and to the Lasithi Plateau where we went into the Dikteon Cave. Legend has it that Zeus was taken there to be born, and subsequently hidden in there from his flesh-eating father. Pretty trippy vibe.
A highlight of this fun day was the delicious lunch we had outside with a local wine and Raki maker, who made sure we were enjoying ourselves as much as him! And as encourage guests to do, we embraced the moment, taking turns shot after shot of Raki, dancing and taking pictures on tables all over the restaurant. It was a total surprise, and everyone had a great time.
If you don't do an organized tour in the mountains, The Samaria Gorge is supposed to be one of the best hiking trails on the island for amazing views and a good challenging hike.
We set sail for a day on an authentic Cretan sailboat with a very authentic Grecian captain, and it was a super fun day! We went out past an old fort and castle which was still very nicely contained and really cool to sail past. We also got to jump off the boat and go swim into cave formations on the rugged coastline.
Enjoy local food and wine
Crete is a world renowned destination for foodies and winos, and we were into the likes of both. Look for these vegetarian (some vegan) choices at most restaurants! Try the local wine and oftentimes be ready to meet the winemaker, who will also make Raki- the Cretan spirit.
Dakos -- basically a Cretan bruschetta. The bread is crumbly and delicious, and it's topped with crushed tomatoes, fresh herbs, olive oil, and goat's cheese. Insert drool emoji here.
Cretan cheeses -- goats and sheep roam freely around the mountains in Crete, and almost every village has its own signature style of cheese. We felt good eating the cheese here as you can see the care and freedom given to the animals, and experiencing local culture through their cuisine is always important to us when traveling.
Vegetables and herbs - Crete has rich tradition in the cultivation of vegetables and herbs. It's so easy to eat fresh here. Most restaurants will have grilled vegetables on the menu. Artichokes grow beautifully on Crete, as do tomatoes, almonds and olives so look for menu items with these ingredients.
Seafood - if you're going to have seafood, Crete is the place to do it.
Marmalades and honey - Crete is known for its deliciously rich marmalades from the bounty of citrus and wild berries growing in the mountains. Enjoy at breakfast, and take some home!
If we had one more day....
We're starting a section on these destination guides called "If we had one more day...." because oftentimes there is one thing we really want to go back for, and you just need to know about it when considering your itinerary! Sooo...
If we had one more day on Crete, we would have totally traveled across the island to the southwest corner and gone to Elafonisi Lagoon for Caribbean clear waters and pink sand!
We hope this guide is helpful for your first visit to Crete! If you have more to add to the conversation, leave a comment and help a fellow traveling yogi out!