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  • Palace-of-Knossos-Crete - A building at the Palace of Knossos in Crete. The archaeological site dates to the Bronze Age and is considered Europe's oldest city.
  • samaria-gorge-crete-greece - Samaria Gorge on Crete, Greece.
  • waterfront-chania-crete-greece - The waterfront of Chania on the island of Crete in Greece.
  • Chania-Crete-fort-ruins - The remains of a Venetian fort in Chania, Crete, dating from the Venetian occupation of the 13th to 16th centuries.
  • beach-Heraklion-Crete-Greece - Heraklion beach on the island of Crete, Greece.
  • harbor-Chania-Crete-Greece - Chania Harbor viewed from the top of the old Turkish prison on the Greek island of Crete.
  • Loutro-Crete-Greece - Loutro Village on the island of Crete, Greece.
  • monastery-Crete-Greece - Agia Triada Monastery near Chania, on the island of Crete, Greece.
  • old-town-Chania-Crete-Greece.jpg - Old town in Chania on the island of Crete, Greece.
  • lightouse-Rethymno-Crete-Greece - Réthymno Lighthouse, a ferry port on the north coast of Crete.
  • townswoman-Skalini-Crete - We were charmed by this townswoman, who let us take her photo on the front porch of her stucco house in Skalani, a small village in Crete. We were invited into the house of a nearby neighbor who had never before seen an American.
  • pithoi-at-Palace-of-Knossos - Six-foot-tall pithoi, or storage jars, at the Palace of Knossos. The jars, dating from the 18th century B.C., were used to store honey, wine and food.
  • Heraklion-market-Crete - A fresh produce market in Heraklion, the largest city on Crete.
  • Cavo-d'Oro-Rethymnon-Crete-Greece - Cavo d'Oro restaurant in Rethymnon offers a magnificent view of the old Venetian Harbor on the Greek island of Crete.
  • beach-Elafonisi-Crete-Greece - You'll find shades of pink in the beach of Elafonisi on the Greek island of Crete.
  • dome-cathedral-Heraklion-Crete-Greece - A serious-looking savior stares from the dome of the cathedral in Heraklion on the island of Crete.

Crete travel guide: What to do & see

our guide

The vibe

Health advisory: Travelers to Greece should consult the official government site and the Greece Health First site.

More like a separate country than just another Greek island, Crete casts a spell with its untamed landscapes and ancient sites shrouded in legend.

Cruise visitors will discover an island of ancient treasures, ruggedly beautiful mountain and coastal scenery and the lively port of Heraklion with its outdoor markets, sidewalk cafes and fortified walls built by Venetian occupiers many centuries ago. Chania, Crete's second-largest city, is one of the most picturesque ports of the island. It's lined with coffee shops and restaurants frequented not only by tourists but also by locals who on cool summer evenings stroll up and down. On a walk from port along Chalidon Street, visitors can see the city's famous ancient lighthouse among other landmarks. 

While Heraklion and Chania are reason enough to visit, a day trip to wild and rugged Samaria Gorge, the longest gorge in Europe at nearly 10 miles, is well worth considering. The hike through the gorge is an adventure offering dramatic mountain scenery and a photo-op finish at a village set along the turquoise sea. 

Cruise lines that call on Crete

Oceania Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Princess Cruises, Cunard Cruise Line, MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises

Top reasons to go

  • Chania. Highlights of this picturesque port include a lighthouse built during Venetian occupation in the 1500s, one of the oldest standing structures of its kind in the world.
  • Samaria Gorge. This adventurous day trip from Chania yields spectacular terrain and maybe sightings of the island’s endangered wild goat on a five- to seven-hour hike ending in mesmerizing Agia Roumeli.
  • The Minoan Palace of Knossos. Tradition says this was the seat of legendary King Minos, whose ferocious beast, the minotaur, lived in a maze beneath the palace.
  • A wild and enchanting landscape of rocky coves, deep gorges, quaint villages, windmills and orchards.
  • Herkaklion’s Archaeological Museum. One of Greece's top museums, it's a treasure house of relics from what is believed to be Europe’s oldest civilization.
A building at the Palace of Knossos in Crete. The archaeological site dates to the Bronze Age and is considered Europe's oldest city.
JD Lasica / Special to CruiseableA building at the Palace of Knossos in Crete. The archaeological site dates to the Bronze Age and is considered Europe's oldest city.

Top things to do & see 

Knossos Palace

Located about three miles south of Heraklion, the renowned archaeological site Knossos Palace is the 4,000-year-old domain of King Minos and the minotaur, a beast with the head of a bull who is said to have lived in a maze beneath the palace. The heavily restored throne room, grand staircase and other sites are a window onto the ancient Minoan civilization.

Outstanding museum

One of the best museums in all of Greece is the Heraklion Archaeological Museum,  filled with antiquities from what is believed to be Europe's oldest civilization. Artifacts include frescoes and statuary from Knossos Palace as well as jewelry, drinking vessels and the Phaestos Disc, an ancient tablet covered with a mysterious script.  

Venetian Walls

The 16th-century Venetian Walls surrounding Heraklion were built by the Venetian occupiers of the island as protection against pirates from the Barbary Coast. The tomb of Nikos Kazantzakis, author of Zorba the Greek, lies at the southern juncture of the walls.

Eleftherias Square

The central hub of Heraklion, Eleftherias Square, is paved with marble and dotted with fountains. It  leads onto Daidalou, a pedestrian thoroughfare lined with shops and tavernas.

Historical Museum of Crete

Brilliantly colored textiles, ancient Christian and Byzantine sculptures and several paintings by El Greco, who was born on Crete, are highlights of the Historical Museum of Crete, housed in an imposing mansion. It’s a great way to get an overview of the unique culture and history of the island. 


Convenient Heraklion beaches include the popular (and often crowded) Amoudara Beach, which is near hotels, restaurants and other services. Choices also include Paleokastro, a secluded beach close to important Minoan ruins, and Agia Pelagia, a favorite among scuba divers.

Heraklion beach on the island of Crete, Greece.
Robert Young / Creative Commons BYHeraklion beach on the island of Crete, Greece.


Hand-woven and embroidered textiles, silver and gold jewelry, local olive oil, honey and dried mountain herbs (especially oregano) are among the good buys to be had. A specialty of Crete are reproductions of the Phaestos Disc, an ancient tablet in the Archaeological Museum, often depicted on jewelry.

Family-friendly options

The 50-acre Acqua Plus Water Park, next to the Crete Golf Club, will delight children with its slides, pools and arcades. 

YOLO (You only live once!)

Samaria Gorge, a national park, is a popular day trip from Chania and an extraordinary adventure. The gorge, which starts at an altitude of over 4,000 feet and ends at the sea, is about 492 feet at its widest point and less than 10 at its narrowest. Be sure to wear good quality walking shoes or hiking boots on the five- to seven-hour hike; tourists trying to cross the gorge in flip-flops end up walking barefoot and in pain. Keep an eye out for the endangered Cretan wild goat, and have your camera at the ready: the sea at Agia Roumeli, the village at the end of the gorge, is a dazzling turquoise.

Don't miss

Take a drive or guided tour to the upland plains known as the Lassithi Plateau, about 2,800 feet above sea level and lined with windmills, almond orchards and small villages where you can browse for local weavings and embroidery.

Best bets for dining

  • Thick and creamy yogurt drizzled with Cretan honey is among the local delights to savor. Cretan olive oil, a bit heavier and richer than other varieties, is another specialty. Crete is  known for its wines, particularly a crisp white called Boutari Kritikos. Raki, a stong liquor made from fermented grape skins, is another local drink to try. Meals typically begin with an assortment of mezedes, small plates of appetizers, followed by grilled fish or lamb.
  • Located on the Heraklion waterfront, Ippokambos is a popular spot for seafood accompanied by salads of fresh Cretan produce and local wine. For traditional Cretan fare, including meat dishes seasoned with wild mountain herbs, try Erganos just outside the city walls. Spit-roasted meats are a specialty of Pantheon, a casual eatery located in the bustling market area of Heraklion.
A fresh produce market in Heraklion, the largest city on Crete.
JD Lasica / Special to CruiseableA fresh produce market in Heraklion, the largest city on Crete.

Best time to go

High season: July to August

Shoulder season: May to June, September to October

Low season: November to April

Summer brings hot, dry weather and by far the most crowds. Spring, especially May, is when wildflowers bloom across the island. Fall brings golden light and balmy weather, with the sea still warm enough for swimming. Winter, especially January and February, can be rainy.

Fun facts

  • Hippocrates prescribed the air of Crete for the healing of many illnesses.
  • Crete was not united with the rest of Greece until 1913.
  • Knossos is second only to the Acropolis as the most visited archaeological site in Greece.

When you arrive

Docking information

Cruise ships dock in Heraklion Harbor, a short walk or taxi ride from the main tourist sites in the city.

Getting around

Heraklion and its attractions are easily explored on foot. Taxis are plentiful, but make sure to agree with the driver on the fare beforehand, as sometimes surcharges are added. If you choose to explore the island on your own, a rental car is the best bet.

Need to know

Documents: U.S. and Canadian citizens need a valid passport.

Language: Greek, but English is widely spoken.

Currency: The euro.

Safety: Heraklion is considered a safe city overall. As always, be aware of your surroundings and lock up your valuables. Especially in large tourist areas, keep your wallets and purses close and beware of pickpockets.

Your take

Have you been to Crete? What was the highlight? Have any tips? I'd love to know!

Help improve this article! See anything wrong? What did we overlook? Be a co-creator!

miles to go!

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Maria Lenhart
I am a veteran travel writer who has enjoyed reporting on destinations far and near for many publications. My favorite way to travel is on board a ship, no matter where it's going. 


“Heraklion is not without its charms. A walk down Dedalou and the other pedestrian-only streets provides plenty of amusements, and the city has more than its share of outdoor cafes where you can sit and watch life unfold.”


“The quintessential public eating house of Greece is the taverna. This is what amounts to an extension of the Greek home table, offered forth to the community.”

Lonely Planet

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