Eco-friendly travel guide to Crete advises how to be a responsible tourist. Learn how to explore the attractions in a sustainable way and how to respect the local people and culture. Make your trip green by supporting locally owned hotels, organic restaurants and other businesses. Read more on how to protect the environment by making conscientious choices and how to travel green in Crete, Greece.
- Air quality: 2.5 / 5
- Exploring by foot: 3.5 / 5
- Exploring by bicycle: 3 / 5
- Public transportation: 3 / 5
- Parks: 3 / 5
- Outdoor activities: 4 / 5
- Locals' English level: 2 / 5
- Safety: 3.5 / 5
- Accommodation: US$50 - $250
- Budget per day: US$200 - $500
- 1 Responsible Travel
- 2 Air Quality and Pollution
- 3 Respect the Culture
- 4 Top 10 Places to Visit
- 5 Explore
- 6 Eat
- 7 Drink
- 8 Activities
- 9 Accommodation
- 10 How to Get There
- 11 Moving Around
- 12 Sustainable Shopping
- 13 Recycling
- 14 Work and Study Abroad
- 15 See Also
Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands and the fifth-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. It bounds the southern border of the Aegean Sea. Crete lies approximately 160 kilometers south of the Greek mainland. It has an area of 8,336 square kilometers and a coastline of 1,046 kilometers. Its capital and largest city is Heraklion, located on the north shore of the island. The island has a population of approximately 635,000. The island is mostly mountainous, and its character is defined by a high mountain range crossing from west to east.
The best way to get around Crete is via car. There are public buses that connect visitors to the major cities of Heraklion, Rethymnon, Chania and Agios Nikolaos. There are also a few lines that transport visitors to southern cities, but since all public bus timetables are subject to seasonal needs, the service may be too sporadic for those on vacation. You can rent a car in any major city as well as at Heraklion International Airport (HER) and Chania International Airport (CHQ).
Driving in Crete, however, can be challenging depending on where you are. In the major cities along the northern coast, there are usually road signs in Greek and English. However, when visiting more remote areas, especially in the more rural south, travelers are likely to run into unpaved roads lacking signs. Travel experts strongly recommend driving very cautiously among mountain roads and seeking advice from locals beforehand if possible.
Although the road network leads almost everywhere, there is a lack of modern highways, although this is gradually changing with the completion of the northern coastal spine highway. Besides, a European study has been devised by the European Union to promote a modern highway that will connect the North and the South parts of the island via a tunnel.
Crete has much to offer in sustainable tourism, from one-day visits to ancient sites or olive oil factories, traditional villages and folklore museums, to week-long nature and adventure tours, and “Green Globe” hotels operating on an ecologically-friendly basis complete with organic gardens and bird sanctuaries. Other ways through which one can have a responsible and enjoyable time while traveling in Crete are:
- Even though Crete is the biggest Greek island, you can still get around easily on foot and you'll see a lot more than if you were traveling by car.
- If you want to stay local in Crete, look for family-run apartments, traditional cottages and traditional hotels.
- Spend time in the neighborhoods locals love.
- Lastly, making a small effort like saying hello or thank you in Greek can make all the difference in showing your respect to locals.
Air Quality and Pollution
The lack of quality air is a major issue in Crete. Because tourism is been so popular, and with vehicles being the dominant source of going to places, the air simply continues to become more and more filled with toxic gas. In Crete, pollution has become a serious problem and continues to raise health concerns. Some of the actions that the Greek government can take are to cut down or even eliminate some of the main sources causing it. One solution in particular is the new electric cars coming into the country. It is envisaged that having electric-powered cars will be very beneficial and will do great things for the future. The use of oil will minimize and that will result in less and less contamination in their air.
Respect the Culture
Cretans are a very distinctive clan of Greeks, with their spirited music and dances, remarkable cuisine and traditions. Proud, patriotic and fierce yet famously hospitable, Cretans maintain a rich connection to their culture. They will often identify themselves as Cretans before they say they are Greek, and even within different parts of Crete people maintain strong regional identities. Centuries of battling foreign occupiers have left the locals with a fiercely independent streak, residual mistrust of authority and little respect for the state. Personal freedom, regional pride and democratic rights are sacrosanct and there is a strong aversion to the Big Brother approach of highly regulated Western nations.
Unlike many Western cultures where people avoid eye contact with strangers, Cretans are unashamed about staring and blatantly commenting on the comings and goings of people around them. Few subjects are off-limits, from your private life and why you don't have children to how much money you earn and how much you paid for your house or shoes. And they are likely to tell you of their woes and ailments rather than engage in polite small talk.
Cretan society is still relatively conservative and it is uncommon for Greeks to move out of home until they are married, apart from leaving temporarily to study or work. While this is slowly changing among professionals, lack of economic opportunities and low wages are also keeping young people at home. Parents strive to provide homes for their children when they get married, with many families building apartments for each child above their own homes. Construction is often done in a haphazard fashion depending on cash flow, which accounts for the large number of unfinished houses you encounter throughout the island.
The Cretan people have a well-justified reputation for hospitality and for treating strangers as honored guests. They pride themselves on their filotimo (dignity and sense of honor) and philoxenia (hospitality, welcome, shelter). If you wander into mountain villages you may well be invited into someone’s home for a coffee or even a meal. In a cafe or taverna it is customary for people to treat another group of friends or strangers to a round of drinks (however, be mindful that it is not the usual thing to treat them straight back – in theory, you will do the honors another time).
Top 10 Places to Visit
Rimmed by more than 1,000 kilometers of coastline, and with stunning beaches backed by mountains that rise more than 2,400 meters, Crete is unlike any other island in Greece. The main attractions on Crete are the incredible golden sand beaches and turquoise waters of the Mediterranean, but the island is also home to important Minoan archaeological sites, dramatic gorges, lovely cities with Venetian harbors and fortresses, and small coastal towns where you can escape to a leisurely pace of life.:
- The Palace of Knossos: Knossos is the most important archeological site on Crete. A pre-Greek Bronze Age culture and the first maritime power in the Mediterranean, the Minoans were named after the legendary King Minos. Knossos, near the city of Heraklion, is believed to have been the palace of King Minos. The Minoan palace is a monumental residential complex that centers on a vast courtyard, where it seems they staged "Bull-Leaping," an activity that involved running towards a bull, grabbing it by the horns, and somersaulting over it.
- Agios Nikolaos: Rimmed by beautiful beaches and looking across scenic Mirabello Bay, Agios Nikolaos is a charming small city on the north coast of eastern Crete, about 65 kilometers east of Heraklion. Highlights of a visit here include a stroll along Lake Voulismeni, with its many waterfront cafés and restaurants, and the nearby port area, looking out to sea. Not far from Agios Nikolaos are the posh beach hotels and villas of Elounda.
- Chania: Chania is the main town in Western Crete, and was the capital of the island until 1971 when it moved to Heraklion. Overlooking the Aegean Sea and backed by the White Mountains, which are snow-capped in winter, the old town's appearance dates from the centuries spent under Venice (1204-1645). Chania is a lovely place to explore on foot. A warren of alleys with pastel-colored buildings enclosed within the remains of 16th-century defensive walls, the town extends to a pretty fishing harbor.
- Samaria Gorge: Crete is known for its outstanding gorges, but the most impressive is the Samaria Gorge. Contained within the Samaria National Park, it is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The main reason tourists come here is to walk the popular 16-kilometer hike that runs through the gorge. From Xylóskalo, just outside the mountain village of Omalos, the gorge descends 1,250 meters to arrive at the Libyan Sea in Agia Roumeli on Crete's sunny south coast.
- Heraklion: Heraklion is the island's capital and a pleasant surprise for first-time visitors. The Old Town is a maze of lovely pedestrian streets lined with shops and restaurants. Huge trees provide ample shade in the squares, where you can linger over a coffee for hours at an outdoor café. Heraklion is also a base for visiting Knossos and exploring central Crete. Like many of Crete's finest coastal towns, it gained its present layout under the Venetians, who ruled from 1204 to 1669.
- Rethymnon: Midway between Chania and Heraklion, Rethymnon's lovely old town is made up largely of Venetian-era buildings, though there is some evidence of the year spent under Turkish rule (1669-1898) such as the towering minaret. Many historic buildings have been turned into small boutique hotels, shops, and restaurants. The mountains behind Rethymnon are home to rural villages and some excellent agritourism centers.
- Preveli Monastery: Set near the top of a mountain and offering extensive views over the Libyan Sea, the 17th-century Preveli Monastery makes a nice day trip from nearby towns and cities, like Rethymnon or Georgioupoli. Highlights include the courtyards and terraces, the mountain spring, and the small air-conditioned museum with a collection of religious artifacts. A small fee is charged to enter the monastery, and modest dressing is required.
- Plakias: What once started as a humble fishing village has now changed into one of the most relaxed and enjoyable beach towns on the south coast. Unlike many of the northern beach areas, which are highly developed, Plakias retains a small-town feel and has some of the best diners in the surrounding area.
- Frangokastello: Located on the south coast, about a 45-minute drive west of Plakias, Frangokastello is out of the way and off the usual tourist route. This seaside town does not have tourist shops but does have good restaurants, an ancient fort, and some lovely beaches.
- Spinalonga Island: Tiny Spinalonga Island became a leper colony in 1903 and catapulted into pop-cultural consciousness thanks to Victoria Hislop's 2005 bestselling novel The Island and the subsequent Greek TV series spin-off To Nisi. Boats departing from Elounda, Plaka and Agios Nikolaos drop visitors at Dante's Gate, the 20m-long tunnel through which patients arrived.
Crete is a tapestry of splendid beaches, ancient treasures and landscapes, weaving in vibrant cities and dreamy villages, where locals share their traditions, wonderful cuisine and generous spirit. Crete’s natural beauty is equaled only by the richness of its history. The island is the birthplace of the first advanced society on European soil, the Minoans, who ruled some 4000 years ago. At the crossroads of three continents, Crete has been coveted and occupied by consecutive invaders. The Byzantine influence stands in magnificent frescoed chapels, churches and monasteries.
Untouched by mass tourism, villages are the backbone of Cretan culture and identity – especially those tucked in the hills and mountains. The island's spirited people still champion many of their unique customs, and time-honored traditions remain a dynamic part of daily life.
- Acqua Plus Water Park, Hersonissos: With pools, slides, and a host of exotic flowers, Acqua Plus Water Park is an ideal place to cool off from the island sun. The park is split into two connected sections, one for adults with several thrill slides, and a gentler section for children. The park also features several eating options that use a convenient cash-free armband system for payment.
- Dinosauria Park, Gournes: Dinosauria Park is a dinosaur park located near the town of Gournes in Crete, Greece, 15 kilometers east of Heraklion. The park features some fossil replicas and several animatronic dinosaur models. Dinosaur models are displayed along an approximately 500 meters long walk, each accompanied by an information board.
- Lefka Ori National Park (Samaria): The National Reserve of Lefka Ori (Samaria) constitutes one of the oldest National Reserves in Greece and was declared a Park in 1962. Its core is the gorge of Samaria, although it also includes the Mount Desert of Lefka Ori and Sfakia shoreline. The main purpose of its protection was to keep the local environment intact, as it hosts many endemic species of fauna and flora. Since 1981m it has been listed in the Global Reserve Network of Biosphere.
- Natural Park of Psiloritis: Psiloritis Natural Park consists of the Ida Range, the highest mountain in Crete, and the northern coastal zone of central Crete. Within the territory of the Geopark added in 2001 in the list of UNESCO geoparks, the whole nappe pile of Crete, and the majority of the rock types of the island are presented in excellent outcrops and sections. Big faults with excellent and imposing fault surfaces, fossil sites, caves, impressive gorges and plateaus hosting many endemic species of the island, unique fold associations and geomorphologic structures are feeding for thousands of years the culture of local people.
- Sitia Nature Park: Sitia Global Geopark, added in 2015 in UNESCO Geoparks, is located on the easternmost edge of Crete. It has abundant mammal fossils of the Pleistocene epoch (dating back from 2.6 million years to 11.700 years ago). The Geopark seat is located in Zakros, where an information center operates and a guesthouse is located in village Karidi that can accommodate 20 persons.
- Balos Beach: Balos is a fantastic location on the northwestern side of Crete, in the region of Chania. This amazing place is like the Caribbean side of Crete. With exotic waters, soft white sand and a huge island with a Venetian Castle on top, the beach of Balos amaze all visitors at first sight. It can be reached by car through a track road from Kissamos or by excursion boat from Chania Town and Kissamos.
- Elafonissi Beach: Located on the southwestern side of Crete, Elafonissi is a fantastic beach with exotic crystal waters. This place is a heaven on earth, with soft white and pink sand and with cedar trees reaching the coastline. Elafonissi means the island of the deer and is a magical place that should not be missed during your trip to Crete. Part of the beach is organized with sunbeds and umbrellas.
- Vai Beach: Falassarna is a large sandy beach on the western side of Crete, within a close drive from Kissamos town. This fantastic place is ideal for families with kids due to organized facilities and soft sand. It is also nice for windsurfing and in fact, there is a windsurfing station there in the summer months. Above the beach, there is the archaeological site of Ancient Falassarna.
- Preveli Beach: On the southern side of the prefecture of Rethymno is a place of great natural beauty, Preveli. This beach is actually where a river flows into the sea, passing through many palm trees and forming a lake close to the sea. There are water sports in this lake to explore the river, while the sandy and unorganized beach of Preveli is a wonderful place to swim.
- Matala Beach, Heraklion: Matala was famous in the 1960s and 1970s as a hippie place. Many hippies would come and spend many days or even months in the caves above the beach of Matala. Today the hippies are long gone and the nice seaside village attracts many families for the long, sandy and organized beach. Matala is a convenient place to stay during your holidays in Crete and a nice base for excursions in the region.
- Wander Freedom Park: At this 19th-century prison-turned-park, there are memorials, fountains, green space, food courts and more in this large urban park. Wander the grounds, bring a picnic, or just sit and people watch. Freedom Park also plays host to a variety of performances and festivals.
- Phaistos Minoan Palace: A key landmark of Crete and vestige of the Minoan civilization is the Minoan Palace at Phaistos, set on a hill overlooking a plain. Less famous and crowded than the ruins of Knossos, the palace displays simple architecture and boasts a central courtyard, as well as what is thought to have once been royal apartments. It’s also where the famous Phaistos Disc was uncovered in 1908, an artifact whose mysterious purpose has yet to be defined.
- Koules Fortress: The imposing fortress of Koules, also named Rocca al Mare, is a Venetian structure standing in the old port of Heraklion. Built in the early 13th century, the fortress is one of the most recognized monuments in the city and the symbol of Heraklion. Today, the fortress is open to the public and often hosts exhibitions and cultural events.
- Agios Minas Cathedral: The imposing Cathedral of Saint Minas, in Heraklion, is one of the largest in Greece. Built in the 1860s to pay respect to the city’s patron saint, Agios Minas (Saint Minas), the cathedral’s construction was completed in 1895, while Crete was still under Turkish rule.
- Chrissokalitissa Monastery: Located near the village of Elafonissi, the Monastery of Chrissoskalitissa, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is a 17th-century Orthodox Christian monastery built on a rock. Legend states that it received the name Chrissoskalitissa because one of the many steps leading up to the monastery was gold.
- Heraklion Archaeological Museum: As one of the top museums in Europe, the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, located in the center of Heraklion city, sits on the site of a Venetian Franciscan monastery destroyed by an earthquake in 1856. Featuring an impressive collection of archaeological finds from all over Crete, the museum hosts a variety of treasures of Minoan civilization, found scattered all over the island.
- Archaeological Museum of Chania: Housed in a former Venetian Franciscan monastery, the Archaeological Museum of Chania houses a wide collection of Neolithic and Minoan artifacts as well as treasures of the late Roman periods. The collection grew with donated items from Konstantinos and Marika Mitsotakis’s collection, and the exhibits, which are in chronological order, feature Minoan pottery, stone carving, seals, jewelry and other items.
- Nautical Museum of Crete: Created in 1973, the Nautical Museum of Chania, housed at the entrance of the Firka Fortress in the old harbor of Chania, is home to an extensive collection of models of modern and ancient ships, nautical instruments, war relics and memorabilia, historical photographs and paintings, all classified in chronological order.
- Natural History Museum of Crete: Located on Dermatas’ Bay in Heraklion, the Natural History Museum of Crete highlights the unique, natural environment of Crete and the Mediterranean area. The museum features different areas where visitors can discover the giant Deinotherium – the largest prehistoric animal that ever lived on the island – the Enceladus, an earthquake simulator and the Erevnotopos Discovery Centre, a section designed for children.
Cretan food, which is distinct from Greek food in general, is some of the best to be found in the Mediterranean. This rustic but rich cuisine combines seasonal ingredients and balanced flavors that reflect the bounty of Crete’s sun-blessed fertile land. Across the island, regional variations create a diverse gourmet trail. Like other southern Europeans, Cretans dine late and many restaurants don't open their doors for dinner until 7 pm. Reservations are only needed for the most popular restaurants and can usually be made a day in advance.
One of the delights of traveling through Crete is coming across a family-run taverna where traditional local dishes are made from ancient recipes using farm-fresh, homegrown produce; where the wild aromatic greens were picked in the mountains earlier that day; and where the oil and cheese are homemade, the tender lamb is from a local shepherd and the fish was caught by the owner.
Traditional Local Restaurants
- Elia: The owners of Elia, located in the southern village of Sellia, cook only with products of the region and virgin olive oil. The couple manages to render traditional Cretan dishes into artistic creations of high quality and magical flavor. The menu is extensive including Greek souvlaki skewer, pork in lemon, aubergines, hummus, and marinated tuna with ginger.
- Dounias: Located in a village on the foot of the unspoiled White Mountains of Chania, at 600 meters altitude, the traditional taverna Dounias is a center of gastronomy and slow food. The famous Cretan diet, long-known for its healthy properties, is followed to the letter by the owner Stelios Trilirakis, who uses only locally produced raw materials and cooks in wood stoves.
- Ferryman Taverna: The unassuming tavern at the little harbor of Elounda took its name from the famous 70s TV-series Who Pays the Ferryman, and hasn’t changed much since it first opened in 1974. An intimate, family-owned restaurant on the waterfront of Elounda bay, it offers spectacular views of the uninhabited island of Spinalongha, the former leper colony from 1903 to 1957, which is now a tourist attraction.
- Alekos: In the central square of Armenoi village in the prefecture of Rethymnon, restaurant Alekos took its name from the father of owner and chef Sifis. It doesn’t offer a menu and customers go to the kitchen to see the traditional Cretan cuisine on offer instead. As in every Cretan tavern, the sumptuous dinner ends with local deserts and raki on the house. The restaurant received the prestigious Greek award of Excellence ‘Xrysoi Skoufoi' in 2010 and 2014.
- Taverna Dionyssos: In the little mountain village of Myrthios, at the southern edge of Crete, Taverna Dionysos welcomes its customers with superb hospitality by the big family of locals who run the restaurant, a few drinks and samples of the goods to come from the menu. Tables are arranged on a big terrace overlooking olive trees and the Libyan sea below.
Vegetarian and Vegan
Many restaurants and traditional Greek tavernas, particularly in the popular beach resorts of Crete have very similar menus with vegetarian sections listed upon them. Most menus have pictures to depict the available dish, making it very easy to choose food for vegetarians in Crete.
- Let’s Vegan: Let's vegan is a juice bar & restaurant in Rethimno offering all-day organic plant-based snacks, pies, street food, mezze, Cretan food, desserts and ice cream. A full menu is available from 5 pm onwards.
- The Chickpea: The Chickpea is a café in Heraklion using locally sourced or fairly traded seasonal organic produce. There are many vegan choices on the menu. They also serve organic coffee and beer.
- Lemonokipos: Lemonokipos is a restaurant in Rethimno using only locally sourced produce. The menu combines rustic Cretan and Greek flavors with more refined plates and includes vegan options.
- To Stachi: To Stachi in Chania offers a variety of local traditional vegetarian dishes and a menu that changes with the seasonal Cretan ingredients. They have outdoor seating with a view of the water and a small bookstore. The restaurant is family-friendly and accessible for wheelchairs.
- ThirdEye: ThirdEye is a small family business in Palaiochora offering creative vegetarian & vegan cuisine since 1990. They use locally sourced produce.
- Souvlaki: Souvlaki is the most popular kind of street food you can get in Greece. The dish is made of small portions of meat, usually pork or chicken. The meat is grilled on a vertical rotisserie and cut at the moment to be served inside a pita. (Pita bread is a traditional Middle Eastern soft and flexible flatbread).
- Kalamaki: A Kalamaki is a stick (basically a skewer), with delicious chunks of meat that has been grilled. Kalamakia (the plural of kalamaki) can also be served on a plate and is especially delicious accompanied by lemon juice and yogurt. Some places serve both souvlaki and kalamaki. In many places, they come with a side dish of French fries.
Greeks drink a lot of alcohol, and the Cretans even more. They drink for fun, but you won’t see extremely drunk Greeks often; they don’t tend to get up to the same antics that foreign tourists get up to. There is a lot of wine grown and drunk in Crete. Whilst it’s not going to win any international awards, it is perfectly pleasant to drink. If you order the house wine, you’re guaranteed a cheap, pleasant drink. Greeks are starting to drink more beer than they used to. It usually comes in 500ml bottles in most bars and restaurants. Most places stock two or three brands, mostly Mythos, Amstel and Heineken. German beers and canned Guinness is starting to come on the scene.
Raki is the national drink of Crete (and Naxos), as opposed to the mainland, where ouzo is drunk. It's a spirit created from the distilled leftovers of wine production. It's also a bloody cheap drink, at the average price of 50 cents. You can buy Coca Cola and Pepsi anywhere, plus the other local alternatives, which are cheaper and tastier for many. "Gerani" is great lemonade. You can get it in many supermarkets on Crete but not often in bars or coffee shops.
Fresh juice is not cheap which is surprising when you think how many oranges there are (especially in the winter) but very tasty. You can also buy fruit juice in tetra packs, again, not that cheap.
Cretans have been amiing wine since ancient times. Years ago, Cretan wine was mainly home-made and rarely bottled. Traditionally, when speaking about home-made wine, there is no such thing as red or white wine: the wine is a golden brown color with fairly high alcohol content (13 - 14%) and more akin to port or sherry. Whether you like it or not is very much a matter of taste and of course a matter of where you drink it. This wine is pretty cheap which doesn't mean bad.
Thanks to a new state-of-the-art desalination plant outside of Heraklion, locals and tourists can drink water directly from the taps. Tap water is safe to drink but will vary in mineral content thus taste, could be very salty, depending on where you are, It's a large island. Therefore it is easiest to drink bottled water by default. Generally, the public drinking water in Crete is safe to drink, although it can be slightly brackish in some locales near the sea. For that reason, many people prefer bottled water available at restaurants, hotels, cafes, food stores, and kiosks.
The days when Cretan restaurants automatically served glasses of cold freshwater are gone; you can ask for the tap or house water -- be sure to do so before the waiter opens bottled water. If you do order bottled water, you will have to choose between natural or carbonated, and domestic or imported.
- The Taverna
- Rovythi, Heraklion
- Avocado, Heraklion
- Green Kukunari, Pitsidia
- Falafelaki, Gortyna - Matala
Beer is not a Cretan drink but has become popular with the locals as well. You can get beer everywhere. The main Greek (or manufactured in Greece under license) brands are Amstel, Heineken, Alfa and Mythos. These beers are made by the following breweries among others:
- Solo Breweries, Heraklion
- Lafkas Brewery, Lafkas
- Crop Brewery, Heraklion
- Cretan Brewery, Xavia
- Notos Brewery, Heraklion
- Lyra Bia, Kissamos
- The Bronze, Heraklion
Crete is a heaven for nature lovers and those combining adventure and fun on their vacation. The island offers a variety of activities and opportunities for exploring nature and promises a unique and unforgettable experience for those who decide to explore it. With its magnificent nature and constant landscape alternation, Crete of four seasons never gets boring. The first visit to Crete is usually followed by a second, as visitors are enchanted by the beauty of the island.
Guests can choose among many activities, depending on their interests. Especially for nature lovers, this place is a real paradise. Hiking, canyoning, climbing, scuba diving, horse riding, caving, trekking, skiing, mountain climbing, parasailing, windsurfing, and kitesurfing are some of the activities that Crete offers. All those are combined with a great variety of lodging options; from small family hotels or agritourism cottages to luxurious all-inclusive hotels. Agritourism units and specialized tourist agencies offer seminars for gathering herbs, snails, mushrooms and truffles in the countryside. Similarly, they organize tours for acquainting visitors with traditional rural occupations, such as the cultivation of olive or vine, production of honey and more.
While some travelers might prefer to plan a holiday in meticulous detail, others would rather go with the flow and decide what to do on the spot.
Yoga and Retreats
Crete is the ultimate yoga destination when you're looking for a combination of yoga, sun, sea, and relaxation. Find the best Crete has to offer by moving around, with a new adventure, atmosphere, and accommodation every time. Yoga retreats on the island of Crete are great choices:
- Breath of life Yoga Center, Heraklion
- Ashtanga Yoga, Chania
- Om Shanti Yoga and Healing
- Yoga First Studio, Chania
- Chania Hatha Yoga Center, Chania
- Tertsa Yoga & Retreats,Tertsa
- Aerial Yoga on the Beach, Rethymno
The cost of accommodation in Crete is generally far lower than in northern European countries. It is quite easy to find accommodation on the spot, except in the summer months (especially the first half of August) where you might encounter difficulties in some places. At that time it is best to reserve in advance if you can. Reserving in advance will also avoid having to search around for an appropriate place immediately after arriving somewhere.
Most of the accommodation on Crete consists of hotels of every conceivable size. On the North coast they tend to be larger but in the less developed resorts as well as in the interior they are often very small (a few rooms) and quite simple and are more "rooms for rent" than hotels in the real sense of the word. Nowadays though, even simple rooms will have an attached bathroom, will almost invariably be clean and more and more offer air-conditioning. They also have the advantage of getting you a little closer to the real Crete and its people.
You can also find more and more studios and apartments with cooking facilities. These are great if you stay a little longer, have children or don't want to have to eat in restaurants all the time.
Blessed with astonishing beauty, Crete is a favorite destination for those looking for sunny skies and history-rich vacations, but there is more to Crete than that. With a booming ecotourism industry, it has various options for those on the lookout for an eco-friendly adventure:
- Achlada - Mourtzanakis Residence: Roughly 30 minutes from Heraklion, Crete, lies the hamlet of Achlada, where family-run Mourtzanakis Eco-resort is located. Perched between the mountains and sea (the closest beach is a 10-minute drive), the estate is a complex of studio apartments and villas with a wide range of activities on offer, such as organized hiking, olive picking, workshops on local herbs and plants or even cooking seminars.
- Olive Green Hotel - If you are more of an urban traveler, opt for Olive Green, an eco-friendly hotel in the center of Heraklion. Designed to fit its surroundings, this hotel boasts cutting-edge technology that allows guests to control the air conditioning and heating. Recycling is also a big part of the hotel’s philosophy, which strives to achieve sustainability by using solar energy and green technology.
- Royal Marmin Bay Boutique & Art Hotel - Royal Marmin Bay Boutique & Art Hotel is the first energy-efficient, ecologically green hotel in Greece. Following strict guidelines on ecology, ensures that guests stay in a safe, non-toxic environment where sustainability meets luxury.
Hostels and Guest Houses
If you are on a tight budget, the island has a handful of hostels that are reasonably priced and fun places to stay. There are also some good budget hotels and apartments throughout Crete that may be a good option.
- Youth Hostel Plakias Youth Hostel Plakias is a favorite hostel in Crete. It is located on the south coast of the island in the town of Plakias. The town is a beautiful place to visit with not only stunning beaches, but also beautiful rivers and gorges nearby. It is easy to fall in love with the natural beauty and scenery in this area. This hostel has six and eight-bed dorm rooms that are perfect for socializing and making new friends.
- Rethymno Youth Hostel Rethymno Youth Hostel is centrally located on the island of Crete. It's close to the bus station, where you can catch buses to many places around the island, and it's also close to the ferry port where you can catch boats to Piraeus. It makes an excellent base for exploring the island and it's easy to enjoy day trips to places like Samaria Gorge, Lake Kournas, Preveli Beach, Knossos, Festos, Falasarna, Ballos Beach, and Elafonisi.
- Chania Hostel Chania Hostel is conveniently located about 50 meters from the sea. It's on El. Venizelou Road and is about a ten-minute walk from the city center. There are regular buses that travel to and from the airport and stop just ten meters from the hostel's door. You'll also find many coffee shops, restaurants, and shops nearby. The hostel is found in an old 1800's building that has a lot of character and charm. It's the perfect place to stay while you're in Crete.
- Dionyssos Guesthouse Located in the village of Magoulas, on the Lasithi plateau, Dionyssos Guesthouse is a family-run hotel perfect for those preferring peace and quiet. The guesthouse offers spectacular views of the plateau, and the on-site taverna cooks dishes made with ingredients straight from the garden. The guesthouse is also conveniently located near several hiking trails and the Cave of Zeus.
It is quite easy to rent a house or a flat on Crete. The legal hassle (contracts) is kept to a minimum or ignored. Prices vary a lot depending on location and standards as well as the length of rental.
- Hotel Anna Apartments - Just a short walk from the beach in Kokkini Hani, Hotel Anna Apartments is a low-key property with a collection of rooms and apartments. The clean and bright rooms have a mini-fridge and kettle, while the apartments also feature a kitchenette and a small dining area. However, there is also a wide selection of restaurants and bars within walking distance.
- Lefka Apartments - Lefka apartments offer charming self-catering accommodation in Chania, Crete. They are extremely well situated for easy access to the beautiful city of Chania and to its famous old Venetian harbor, to the lovely beaches to the west and south of the Chania area.
- Aloe Apartments & Studios: - An ideal hotel for either holiday or business trip with modern and spacious rooms, excellent service, high-quality service, comfort and elegance. Guests will taste Greek hospitality in a warm and friendly atmosphere, enjoying the pool with a suitable area for sunbathing for those who want to stay away from the crowded coast.
Couch-surfing is a relatively new concept in Crete. Although Nigerians, like many Africans, are hospitable, the notion of having a stranger put up in their house seems a bit hard for most of them. While some are finding it easy, like university students, most people have a problem getting a place to couch-surf.
Camping is officially only allowed in campsites. In practice, camping is tolerated in a lot of places but use discretion and sensitivity. There are occasional crackdowns on unauthorized campers once in a while but you are unlikely to get into trouble for breaking the law if you accept to move elsewhere. There are only a few official campsites. Most are very simple, with lots of nature and little comfort. There will be a tavern and a bar nearby, occasionally a swimming-pool. Most camping sites are situated very close to the sea.
Many camping sites will also allow you to sleep there without a tent. On the north coast, from west to east: there are three campsites near Kastelli, one near Chania, two east of Rethymnon, one near Heraklion, two near Chersonisos, one in Malia, one east of Agios Nikolaos. On the south coast from east to west: two in Ierapetra, one in Matala, one in Komo, one in Agia Galini, one in Plakias, one in Paleochora.
How to Get There
Being an island, there are limited ways of getting to Crete. Nowadays most visitors seem to come to Crete directly by plane, especially by charter. There are however several other options. There is a regular ferryboat service from the port of Piraeus to Heraklion and Chania. Ships depart every evening around 8.00 or 8.30 (times vary a little depending on the season) and arrive very early morning (generally between 5.00 or 6.00 am). The ships are quite modern, cheaper than flying and can be quite romantic (if they are not too crowded). Avoid weekends and especially the beginning and end of holidays.
The island has three significant airports, Nikos Kazantzakis at Heraklion, the Daskalogiannis airport at Chania and a smaller one in Sitia. The first two serve international routes, acting as the main gateways to the island for travelers. There is a long-standing plan to replace Heraklion airport with a completely new airport at Kastelli, where there is presently an air force base. Almost all scheduled international flights transit through Athens where you must take a scheduled domestic flight to Chania or Heraklion. These are quite frequent (around 6 to 8 times a day to Chania and more to Heraklion). Charter flights from Europe are quite numerous from around April until the end of October. There are a lot more flights to Heraklion than to Chania, making them often cheaper (and not as heavily booked) as flights to Chania.
Crete is an island, meaning that it is not possible to come in by bus.
Crete is an island, meaning that it is not possible to come in by train.
Hitchhiking is not a common way of getting to Crete as the only way of getting to the island is through sea and air.
As mentioned earlier, there is a regular ferryboat service from the port of Piraeus to Heraklion and Chania. The main company is Anek lines a company created in the 60s by Cretans who wanted better and safer service to and from the mainland of Greece. It runs daily between Piraeus, Chania and Heraklion (and less frequently to Rethymnon). Another company, Minoan Lines sails every day to Heraklion. Rethymnon Lines run ferries to Rethymnon in the summer.
The best way to get around Crete is via car. There are public buses that connect visitors to the major cities of Heraklion, Rethymnon, Chania and Agios Nikolaos. There are also a few lines that transport visitors to southern cities, but since all public bus timetables are subject to seasonal needs, the service may be too sporadic for those on vacation. You can rent a car in any major city as well as at Heraklion International Airport (HER) and Chania International Airport (CHQ). If you plan to do a lot of exploring, keep in mind that the island is larger than it may appear; you can avoid spending excessive amounts of time behind the wheel by planning your itinerary in advance.
Driving in Crete, however, can be challenging depending on where you are. In the major cities along the northern coast, there are usually road signs in Greek and English. However, when visiting more remote areas, especially in the more rural south, travelers are likely to run into unpaved roads lacking signs. Travel experts strongly recommend driving very cautiously among mountain roads and seeking advice from locals beforehand if possible.
Most people walking in Crete for the first time remark on how rough the ground is. The paths are also not as clearly marked and defined as in many other countries and most people find the walking quite a bit tougher than they expected. This has nothing to do with distances or steepness but is related to the type of terrain. Exploring Crete’s walking and hiking trails is one of the most rewarding ways of seeing the island’s outstanding natural beauty. With thousands of kilometers of tracks, walking options are available to suit all levels of fitness and experience.
Crete has many cycling opportunities for the summer and winter holidays. The unspoiled and relatively unknown terrain of Crete offers amazing cycling routes. Cycling tours are available for all levels of difficulty, ranging from beginners to biathlon pros who train regularly on the island. Beginners can enjoy easy tours on prepared roads. The “green level” is for hobby cyclists with a sound cycling technique. The “blue level” is aimed at good cyclists who train regularly. And the “black level” requires a high skill level and physical fitness.
As compared to other European countries, the uptake of electric cars in Greece and Crete has been below par. Greece is ranked second from the bottom only above Poland in terms of preparedness. In an attempt to remedy this, the government has announced extensive subsidies to foster electric mobility in the country. The goal is for every third vehicle to be electric by 2030 as the country introduces purchase premiums as well as furthering charging infrastructure.
Buses are the only form of public transport in Crete, but in most regions, a fairly extensive network makes it relatively easy to travel between major towns and villages. Travel is safe and buses are quite comfortable. Fares are government regulated and quite reasonable by European standards. The main bus company, KTEL (Minoan Lines) is based in Iraklion with further main bus stations in Agios Nikolaos, Rethymno and Chania. These buses run frequently along the north of the island through all of the main resorts from approximately 6 am through until 11 pm.
During the year, the timetables often change, so if you are planning a trip in advance you need to check the timetables for these changes. From mid-October to the end of March there are significantly fewer bus connections than between April and October. During the summer months, the timetables get an extra boost, with more lines and connections at higher frequencies. These extra lines are specifically serving tourists.
Tram, Train and Subway
There is no railway on Crete. Almost all public transport is from the state-run KTEL bus company.
Plastic water bottles are one of the biggest causes of waste during the summer months when visitors tend to buy them and then dump them after drinking the water. If you find it hard to carry a water container or buy a glass bottle, keep in mind that tap water is safe to drink almost all over Crete so we recommend re-using any bottles you buy. The same advice goes for coffee cups. Nowadays, most coffee shops sell reusable cups, and you even get a discount upon ordering your coffee if you hand your cup instead of using the plastic ones. In addition, most areas have recycling bins, so please use them.
- Chania’s Covered Market: Here you will find a great selection of fresh fish – something which isn’t that easy to find in Crete, especially at a good price. You will also be able to select some very good herbs with which to season your meats as well as fine olive oil. The market is best visited in the early morning to avoid the crowds, especially during the summer. It is open Monday to Saturday from 8.00 to 13.30 or 14.00 and Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evening from 17.00 to 00.00.
A stroll through one of Chania’s weekly street markets will offer the opportunity to purchase a great variety of fresh fruit and vegetables. As well as some excellent value fresh local produce and meats, you will also encounter live chickens and rabbits along the way and even the odd clothes stall! The most popular of the street markets are on a Saturday in Chania in Odos Minoos, near the eastern fortification wall.
- Saturday Gypsy Market: The Saturday gypsy market is situated near the port and the bus station for Chania – Rethymno (main station). It begins with the usual pirate market, where you can buy fake Rolex watches or Chanel knockoffs, and expands into a real market for real Cretans, which means that food is cheap and abundant. Buy some Dictamus tea – cures colds, stomachache and is good for many other conditions.
- Hania: Hania’s Market supplies all the local products that you might want – produce like chestnuts, bread, bananas, honey and “eptazyma” toasts. Try some of the famous Cretan grappa “raki” or “tsipouro.” You can also buy leather items, hand-made ceramic souvenirs, various fabric and jewelry.
- Rethymnon street markets: Early on a Saturday, head for Porta Guora, the old Venetian gateway on the southern edge of Rethymnon's historic center, to encounter one of Crete's liveliest market areas in full swing. You can buy just about anything in the stores along Odos Ethnikis Antistasis. Copies of antique ivory or amber "worry beads" make good presents or souvenirs, and you'll find ceramics and antique icons too. Open-air stalls spill out across Plateia Martyron, a few steps from Porta Guora.
Second Hand Stores
There are two pretty good second-hand shops in Chania. Both have a good selection of English and other foreign books which cost a fraction of the price of new ones. If you are lucky you might also find some old stuff (not antique!) such as early 60's kitchen equipment that nearly belongs in design museums.
The growth of the global fashion industry has also meant growth in the global consumption of clothing. As a result, there is an increasing interest in sustainable and ethical approaches to garment design, production and business. Eco-conscious shoppers in Crete now have plenty of top-quality options when searching for the perfect accessories, jewelry, clothing, and home decor items. As with vegan-vegetarian restaurants and stores selling Greek and global natural, organic cosmetic products, more and more stores catering to the ethically-minded are sprouting up around the Island.
More than 40 percent of the waste placed in blue dumpsters designated for recyclable materials is estimated to end up in the island’s landfills. Crete’s recycling rate is 17 percent, below the European Union average of 39 percent.
Greeks have traditionally been a bit late when it comes to an ecological conscience. So it’s not exactly a surprise to find the country among the least recycling states in the European Union. Data shows that last year Greeks recycled only 18% of their waste. The country has also the worst EU record on garbage composting. Crete produces vast amounts of rubbish, especially during the tourist season. Large quantities of paper, cans and bottles could be recycled instead of being used once and thrown away. A lot of rubbish is burned in Crete, adding to the warming of the atmosphere and the Greenhouse Effect.
Work and Study Abroad
International students wishing to study for an undergraduate degree in Greece should start by choosing a course and an institution. Applications are then made in July of each year through the Ministry of Education. Applications and admissions procedures differ for candidates of Greek descent; for EU and non-EU students where neither they nor their parents are of Greek nationality or citizenship. The language of instruction for undergraduate courses is Greek. International candidates who have not graduated from a Greek or Cypriot high school (Lykeio) must have a certificate of proficiency in the Greek language before enrolling in the selected School or Department.
Examinations for the Greek language certificate are held twice a year around May and September in Athens, at the Modern Greek Language Centre of the University of Athens, and also in June and October in Thessaloniki, at the School of Modern Greek Language of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Alternatively, the candidate should hold a 3rd level or higher-level certificate issued by the Greek Language Centre.
The University of Crete is the only major university on the island. With the support of the European Commission through the Erasmus+ Programme, the University of Crete has over 300 Erasmus exchange places for students from partner universities across Europe. Before applying to the University of Crete as an Erasmus student, you need to be nominated by your home university. Other universities in Crete include the Technical University of Crete and the Hellenic Mediterranean University in Heraklion:
Just like in Greece, au pairs in Crete are expected to provide between 35 and 40 hours a week of childcare and light housekeeping. EU/EEA members (plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland nationals) can work and live in Greece without a permit. They are only required to register with the authorities in Greece. Greece has the lowest approval rate of any resident permit. You need to first obtain a visa to enter Greece then apply for a permit within 30 days of your arrival if you intend to work there longer than 90 days. The process from start to finish could take up to a year.
There are many opportunities to get involved in volunteering in Crete. If you speak Greek, you will likely be able to become involved in many informal ways in volunteer projects. If you do not speak Greek you may consider a formal program that will allow you to serve, learn and explore Crete all at the same time. As a volunteer, you will usually be responsible for arranging and paying for your travel to the pickup or commencement point of a volunteer program.