As the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, Crete’s size ensures it encompasses every type of holiday within its coastlines. As a thin, long strip of golden and green land, travelling from east to west will reveal dazzling nightclubs, arid ancient palaces, exciting family activities and peaceful sunlit coves. Some resorts even manage to merge an enchanting combination of all of these attractions.
For example, the Strip in Malia rightly deserves its reputation as the party central of the island, where hundreds of bars and clubs will have you dancing till sunrise. And yet, you could just as easily take a sedate daytime trip to see the ancient Minoan palaces in the resort, and at Knossos close by.
But in competition with these stone fortresses, perhaps Crete should really be best known as an island of incredible beauty. You’ll see this attribute on almost every corner of Crete, from the incredibly narrow chasms of Samaria Gorge near Rethymnon to the vibrantly lit caverns of the Dikteon Cave near Stalis.
You certainly won’t be stuck for activities for the whole family either. Star Beach in Hersonnisos is one of the best examples of a complete entertainment complex, as it incorporates a Blue Flag Beach, a waterpark and lively bars to ensure holidaymakers of all ages are happy.
In contrast, if it truly is calm that you crave on holidays in Crete, the atmosphere in Aghios Nikolaos will delight you. Its centre has held on to a traditionally Greek way of life, where authentic whitewashed tavernas and old chapels sit side by side. It’s a sight made all the more appealing by a shimmering canal that links the Voulismeni Lake with the surrounding Mediterranean.
An island of intense and intricate history, Crete combines archaeological attractions with natural wonders and fun family activities. As the southernmost Greek island, it also has reliably warm weather from April to October, and some gorgeous golden beaches for making the most of this long sunny season too!
The historical attraction that really grabs all the attention is the Palace of Knossos. Located near the Crete capital Heraklion, a short 30-minute drive from Hersonissos and Gouves, the palace was at the heart of the ancient Minoan civilisation. Incredibly, the impressive structure dates back to 1700BC, making it almost 4000 years old. Lovingly restored during Victorian times, the palace’s columns and frescoes dazzle with vibrant reds, blues and greens. The sprawling site once had 1,300 rooms, adding to its mythical status as the mazelike place of the original labyrinth. The throne room is one of the most fascinating of the entire palace, as its stone throne carved out of the wall still stands, surrounded by frescoed golden griffins on either side.
However, Knossos is not the only amazing Minoan site in Crete. If you fancy a break from all the partying in Malia, you’ll find that the Malia Ruins make for a fascinating daytime activity. Watching the sun light up the arid orange brickwork, engulfed by pine-lined mountains on all sides, you’ll see why the Minoans found this site so special.
In fact, when you witness the natural beauty of the island, you’ll find it easy to understand why so many civilisations chose to settle here, from the Minoans to the Romans and the Venetians. Balos Lagoon is a case in point. Just over an hour from Rethymnon, this achingly beautiful peninsula has a light dusting of pinky white sand sitting between the Cretan coastline and a richly forested islet. Lying on the western side of the island, Rethymnon is also close to another incredible cove, named Preveli Beach. The deep rocky valley has a radiant marine green river that sits to the side of its white sand, making it one of the most photographed beaches in Crete.
One of the most popular attractions for families is the Aquaworld Aquarium based in Hersonnisos. It’s much loved because the cheap entry price represents great value, considering you’ll see local Cretan sea life such as endangered loggerhead turtles, octopuses and lobsters. The aquarium has an interesting section for dry-land animals too, featuring tortoises, iguanas and pythons.
Another top family activity is to hop aboard the Happy Train. Suitably named, this cute little land train is an attraction in itself for children, but it’ll also conveniently take you on a sightseeing journey from Stalis to Malia. And once you arrive in Malia, be sure to check out its go-karting track, named Kartland Malia. Featuring a twisting, turning circuit, the fastest karts can reach speeds of 30mph to make races even more exciting!
Perhaps you’d prefer to take a break rather than taking on full-throttle activities? The idyllic Lake Voulismeni in the upmarket resort of Aghios Nikolaos is one such spot for rest and relaxation. White houses and a small marina sit over the edge of the glassily calm lake, and legend has it that the goddess Athena once bathed here. Just 1km from the resort, a stay at Minos Beach Art Hotel with our Indulgent Escapes range will complete a picture perfect scene for holidays in Crete.
Crete is the largest of the Greek Islands, located just south of the main cluster. The island is served by Heraklion Airport in the northwestern part of the capital.