The largest of all the Greek islands, Crete is a perfect place for a holiday, no matter your age or preference of adventure. Once home to the great Minoan civilisation, this island provides the modern traveller with a wide range of activities, including water sports, hiking, nightlife, museums, and food experiences. And, now that the high summer season is over, there are plenty of cheap flights from both major airlines and low cost airlines.
For the Historian
Crete has been inhabited by a variety of civilisations for the past 5000 years, and everywhere you turn there is a piece of its extensive history, just check out the interim Archaeological Museum in Heraklion or any of the several folklore museums in towns. Everyone has heard of the palace of Knossos, but there are several other Minoan palaces worthy of exploring, such as Phaistos in Central Crete and Kato Zakros on the east coast, as well as smaller Bronze Age sites like the now-island of Mochlos on the north-eastern coast. You can travel through time to ‘Dark Age’ Dreros, near Neapoli, Archaic Azoria, in the Isthmus of Ierapetra, and Classical Lato, above Agios Nikolaos in East Crete, to walk (and climb) among the remains of ‘refuge’ cities. Beautiful Byzantine churches are all over the island, while the harbours of Ierapetra, Chania, and Rethymno, to name a few, are marked with freestanding Venetian fortresses. For more recent history, you can visit the ex-leper colony and fortress of Spinalonga in the Gulf of Mirabello.
For the Outdoorsmen
Go. To. Samaria National Park. There, take the downward hike of Samaria Gorge, beginning at Omalos, through the 16km to Agia Roumeli and take your time to gaze at the flora, fauna (including the endangered kri-kri goat), and the soaring heights of the gorge walls. Travel to the Lassithi Plateau and explore the several caves in the area, including one of the proposed birthplaces of Zeus, the Dikteon Cave. If you do not mind breath-taking views, hiking to the sites of Kavousi Vronda and Kavousi Kastro in East Crete is the way to see them. If you are really into steep climbs, go a bit south to the Kha Gorge (with an experienced hiker, goat herder, or someone who has been there before) and climb up the scree to Monastiraki Katalimata, and the top of the gorge. Don’t forget to send photographs from the top! If it is aquamarine adventures you crave, grab a kayak, bring your snorkel, and behold Crete’s submerged antiquities and marine life at many of the island’s beaches.
For the Beach Lover
As an island, Crete is not short of beaches to catch rays and swim, just take your pick. The crystal waters make most of the island’s coastline prime locations for relaxation. You can rent a sunbed and/or umbrella at many touristy destinations, or pick up a souvenir towel, water toys, and umbrella and most sea-side shops. Take a dip in the Libyan Sea at the black sandy beach of Myrtos, or venture to the western coast to Falasarna and Elafonissi; all are worth the drive. Chrysi Island, south of Crete, is a tiny island reachable by ferry from the town of Ierapetra in southeast Crete, with colours that have no need for Photoshop. The tiny town of Istro, located on the north-eastern coast of Crete between Agios Nikolaos and Pachia Ammos, is home to Voulisma, or Golden Beach, and is certainly less crowded than the touristy spots of Malia and Hersonissos.
For the Nightlife Lover
All of the major cities on Crete have pubs and clubs to suit a variety of tastes. Many of these are popular with the Greek and ex-pat locals, and some areas cater directly to the touristy traffic in the summer. Malia and Hersonissos are two of the latter, with resorts that try to combine all the above categories. Dancing and karaoke can be found in large towns, like Heraklion, but the real parties are the local festivals. Ask around for regional festivals, like the Chestnut Festival in Elos, in the southwest, make friends with the amiable residents, and prepare to enjoy delicious Cretan cuisine and traditional dancing – with yayas – until the sun comes up.