Destination Guide

Visit Crete for beaches, sunshine and ancient ruins

We recently wrote a blog post about why islands represent the ultimate holiday getaway, but we only described four of them – which barely covers what’s on offer. So we’ve decided to go into some individual islands in more detail.

Southernmost of all the Greek islands, Crete ticks every box a holiday maker would want from their trip abroad. Fantastic weather, ideal location in the Mediterranean, golden beaches, and a beautiful, varied landscape all combine perfectly with the island’s deep and vast history.

Great off-season

Crete is certainly very popular with tourists, who flock here in the summer. But the island benefits from a mild temperature throughout the year, perfect for enjoying its diverse natural beauty. Here you’ll find a varied landscape with mountains and caves to explore, and relaxing idyllic beaches. The Samaria Gorge is the largest gorge in Europe, and is surrounded by acres of national park, perfect to hike through. The island can even accommodate the need for a tropical paradise - on the beach at Vai, which is lined by a palm tree forest.

Ancient palace ruins

Crete’s Minoan empire predates many of the great classical empires, dating back to 5000BC. The Minoan ruins laid largely undiscovered until the mighty palace at Knossos was unearthed in the early 1900s, by British archaeologist Arthur Evans. Just 5km from Heraklion, the Palace is arguably the most important site in Crete and it’s worth booking a guide to take you around the ruins to make the most of your visit. There are also the ruins of Phaistos, Malia, Kato Sakros, and the town site of Gournia, which all help to build a picture of life for the Minoans.

There are also many other examples and influences of the periods that followed the Minoans. Once part of both the Byzantine and Roman Empires, Crete is covered in archeologically important sites from this period of history, as well as influence from the Venetians through to more modern history, with evidence of the battles of World War II. You can also delve into the mythical world, by visiting Ideon Cave thought to be the birthplace of Zeus.

Best time to visit: May-August offers the best weather, with temperatures averaging around 27°C and lots of warm Mediterranean sun. Try visiting during September and October to enjoy the good weather without the summer crowds.

Getting there: Crete is served by two international airports, Heraklion and Chania. Direct flights from the UK are available with EasyJet, Thomas Cook Airlines, Monarch and Ryanair, with travel time from London Gatwick approximately 4 hours. There are also connecting flights available from Athens. You can hire a car in Heraklion, Agios Nikolaos, or Chania.

Eating out: It’s best to sample the island’s unique cuisine in the numerous family-run tavernas that lie off the beaten track, like the Plantanos Taverna in Vrahassi, or for seafood head for Elounda for a freshly caught meal beside the harbour. For a firm local favourite, there is also Obelix Restaurant in Agios Nikolaos.

Destination Guide Photos

Image Credits: Under Licence from Shutterstock:
Mirabello gulf at Crete island in Greece, near Aghios Nikolaos city, Image ID: 112963078, Copyright: Panos Karas
In the famous Samaria Gorge at Crete Island in Greece, Image ID: 137716409, Copyright: Tanjala Gica
Knossos palace at Crete, Greece Knossos Palace, is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete and the ceremonial and political centre of the Minoan civilization and culture, Image ID: 89467162, Copyright: Yiannis Papadimitriou
On Crete, Image ID: 133493675, Copyright: steba