To get to know the real essence of Crete, there are activities you cannot miss, like visiting museums, archaeological sites and temples that reveal the secrets of the island’s past history and traditions. Across the island you will find archaeological sites, museums, cultural centres and, of course, lovely villages and towns whose streets give full account of the centuries-old history of Europe.
What to do and what to see in Crete
- Stavromenos archaeological site: Out of a total of 60 archaeological sites in Crete, this one, close to Panormos beach, stands out as one of the most important ones. In Stavromenos there is a marble tomb from the fifth century AD and numerous well-kept constructions on the hills of Kakavella and Tsikouriana.
- Ruins of Gournia: Gournia sits on the south of Mirabello Bay, in Ierapetra. The site, an ancient settlement dating back to the Bronze Age, is known as Pompeii of Minoan Crete. The panoramic views from the site are simply spectacular, and the findings are a fine sample of Historic Crete.
- Cretaquarium: The aquarium in Crete stands very close to the airport, on the outskirts of Heraklion, the capital of the island. It is one of the largest in Europe and has sharks, small seahorses, corals and interesting displays of the sea life on the coasts of Crete.
- Archaeological Museum of Agios Nikolaos: In the centre of the main city on Mirabello Bay stands this archaeological museum that contains objects and pieces from the Neolithic Era to the end of the Greco-Roman period. Among the gems in the collection are the goddess from Myrtos and a vase with the shape of a goddess from Minoan Crete.
- Palace of Knossos: According to legend, the Minotaur dwelled in this palace, located 4km from Heraklion, the capital of Crete. Built in 2,000 BC, the Palace of Knossos is the largest of all the Minoan palaces on the island. The centrepieces are the throne room, the treasure chamber and the sanctuary.
- Heraklion Archaeological Museum: Crete’s rich archaeological heritage can be admired in this huge museum built in the late 1930s on the site of a Venetian monastery dedicated to Saint Francis that was destroyed by the earthquake of 1856. It contains artefacts and pieces from the Minoan period.
- Gorge of Samaria National Park: The gorge is in the western part of Crete, in a national park located in the region of Chania, and has been shaped by the river Omalos. Being 16km in length, it is considered to be among the longest gorges in Europe. It is so beautiful and well-preserved that it was designated as a World Heritage Site by Unesco. Visitors are welcome only in the summer, as the water rushes powerfully down in winter.
- Venetian harbour of Rethymnon: Rethymnon has one of the largest populations on the north of Crete. It boasts elegant buildings from the sixteenth century that rise alongside ancient stone staircases linking the Old Town’s narrow streets. Its Venetian harbour, peppered with traditional barges, is wrapped up by buildings with white canopies.
- Paleokastro Hill: Located in the heart of Rethymnon, the hill of Paleokastro hosts a Venetian fortress erected in 1574. The fortified structure and its four bastions contrast with the Turkish quarter of Splantza, where there stand the churches of Saint Nicholas and Saint Roch.
- Lions’ Fountain in Heraklion: A must-visit site in Crete and one of the busiest in Heraklion, Lions’ Square features the fountain bearing the same name, wonderfully decorated with maritime scenes. It supplied water to the city for years.