When Joe and I were first planning our trip to Greece, Crete wasn’t even on the itinerary. We’d been to Crete once before, but it was just a pit stop (1/2 day) on our Greek island cruise, so we hadn’t really been able to truly experience what all Crete has to offer. This past trip, we gave ourselves 3 whole days to see and explore Crete.
As the largest of the Greek islands and fifth largest in the Mediterranean Sea, Crete has a distinctive culture that sets it apart. Greek civilization started here and after four thousand years of invasions, Cretan people have endured and developed a culture that includes hearty diet, welcoming homes, and a love of their rugged landscape.
Check out our youtube video that summarizes our 3 days in just 2 minutes!
Lodging in Crete
Like most Greek islands, Crete has a variety of accommodations to chose from. Since we were close to the beach in Mykonos and Santorini, we decided to stay in Crete’s capital city, Iraklio (also called Heraklion). Iraklio is Greece’s fifth largest city. We chose the GDM Megaron. Not only is it located within walking distance of the ferry harbor, but it is close to major bus stops, historical sites, and the old city center. This by far was the nicest hotel we’ve ever stayed at, but not the most expensive. We got a great rate through Hotels.com! We made the most of our stay which included a fantastic balcony view of the harbor, opulent breakfast, and 5-star service!
Transportation in Crete
Crete is a quick ferry ride from Santorini (our previous stop). Flights back to the USA weren’t super convenient, but we were able to get a connection to Amsterdam, then on to Detroit. Taxis and car services were simple for us to catch from the GDM Megaron, and the public bus system was extremely easy to navigate.
How to Spend 3 Days in Crete, Greece
Eat Cretan Food
Yes, this should be at the top of your itinerary! Cretan food has all of the basics of most Greek/Mediterranean cuisine (read What to Eat & Drink in Greece), but think “earthier”. It reminded me of southern food in the USA where you can feel the history in every bite. Our lodging was within walking distance of a multitude of great restaurants, but we ended up going to the restaurant Peskesi 2 out of our 3 nights. Located in an old, converted cottage, it just oozes farm-to-table. The prices are decent, too!
Take a Day Trip to Spinalonga Island
If you love history like we do, taking a cruise to Spinalonga lsland is a must. Spinalonga has a long and varied history that includes Saracens pirates and Venetian armies. However, the island is most famous for being home to exiled lepers from 1903 to 1957. It is also the setting for the 2005 novel The Island by Victoria Hislop, the story of a family’s ties to the leper colony. Our cruise included a stop at the sweet seafront town of Plaka and a delicious swim/barbecue stop at a secluded beach.
Castello del Molo (Koules) Venetian Fortress
This fortress is the landmark of Crete’s capital city, Iraklio and is within walking distance of the harbor and old city center. The first time we were in Crete, it was closed for renovations, so we were curious to finally see the inside. The admission price is almost nothing (2 euros), and includes videos and exhibitions about the history and renovations of the fortress. Plan on spending about an hour.
Archaeological Museum of Heraklion
The Archaeological Museum of Heraklion is Crete’s most prized attraction. It was renovated in 2014, and now includes two floors of priceless artifacts that cover over 5,000 years of Crete’s history, from the Neolithic Era to the occupation by the Roman Empire. The rooms flow chronologically and include extensive captions in English and Greek. As someone who teaches Minoan history, I was in heaven!!! Plan on spending 1-2 hours here. Combine with a Palace of Knossos tour for 16 euros.
Palace of Knossos
After a visit to the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, walk across the street to the bus stop for the Palace of Knossos. The Archaeological Museum might be Crete’s most prized attraction, but the Palace of Knossos is more famous and popular. The Palace of Knossos was the capital of Crete in Minoan times and is the setting for the myth of the minotaur and labyrinth.
The palace was reconstructed in the early 1900 by British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans with some definite “broad interpretations”. Even though Evans took liberties with historical accuracies, I found the reconstructions fascinating, especially following our tour of the Archaeological Museum. There are limited informational markers, so hiring one of the local tour guides that hang around the entrance would have been beneficial to us. A tour guide will run you around 10 euros if you join a group. Plan on spending 1-2 hours.
Land Rover Safari Tour
This day-long tour was a concession to our aching “end of trip” feet, but it turned out to be one of my favorite activities of the entire trip! We love hiking and being outside. We had been told that a hike along the Samaria Gorge was a must. Well, as much as I wanted to explore the beautiful Cretan landscape, the idea of a 6-hour hike (after 12 days touring) made me cancel those plans.
Our hotel recommended the Land Rover Safari Tour as a fun, less strenuous alternative. We loved it! Now don’t confuse the Land Rover Tours with other self-driving tours. We saw many of these tours and our driver told us that there had been so many accidents along Crete’s winding mountain roads, that many tourism boards were advising against them.
I loved our knowledgable driver filling us in on all the different parts of Crete’s rugged landscape and fertile valleys. The stops were frequent and there were plenty of photo ops. Our tour included lunch and stops at Zeus’s Diction Cave, a goat farm, the scenic Lassithi Plateau, and an eco park where traditional crafts are still practiced.
Have you been or want to go to Crete, Greece? Please share by commenting below! Any questions? Please ask!
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