A labyrinth of massive columns and beautiful frescoes, the Palace of Knossos is a testament to the sophistication of the Minoan civilization that disappeared sometime in the 14th century. According to legend, it was home to the mythical Minotaur of King Minos. The site was restored extensively by the famous archaeologist Arthur Evans in the early 1900s. Since then, it has become the biggest tourist draw on Crete.
For centuries the island of Spinalonga has been known for its Venetian fortress, and more recently it was the setting for the 2005 novel ‘The Island’ by Victoria Hislop. The now-abandoned island is the perfect place to lose yourself for half a day. You’ll discover how the island was once part of the mainland, and was created by the Venetians to protect the Gulf of Mirabella. You’ll also see where salt was harvested by the Venetians, but the main attraction and dominating landmark is the fort.
Chrissi Island sits about 9 miles south of the town of Ierapetra on Crete. It is 4.35 miles long and 1.25 miles across at its widest point. The island is a protected area and has been designated as a wildlife refuge. The largest naturally formed Lebanon cedar forest in Europe can be found here. Many of the trees are around 200 years old and 23 feet tall, though some are as old as 300 years old and 33 feet tall. There is a small bar on one side of the island, a small tavern on the other side, an Orthodox church of St. Nicholas, and a lighthouse. The beaches are covered in bits of shells that give the sand a pinkish golden look. The relatively shallow waters, make for good snorkeling.
Balos Beach and Lagoon
Cocooned between the wild Gramvousa Peninsula and the idyllic Cape Tigani, Balos Beach is a pocket of paradise – a startling blue lagoon, framed by jagged sea cliffs and pristine white and pink sand beaches. The best way to visit Balos Beach is by boat, affording stunning views across the lagoon and the Mediterranean Sea, but it’s also reachable on foot, around a 20-minute walk from the car park. Boat tours to Balos often include visits to nearby sights, like Imeri Gramvousa fortress or Gramvousa island.
Located in the southwest corner of Crete, Elafonisi Beach sparkles with pink-tinted sand and crystal-clear Mediterranean waters. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can wade across Elafonisi’s shallow lagoon to a small, uninhabited island, home only to a historic lighthouse, a chapel and more than 100 native plant species. Recent travelers hail Elafonisi as one of the most beautiful beaches in Crete, if not in all of Greece.
Sitting on the crescent of Mirabello Bay, Ag. Nikolaos is a buzzy and contemporary seaside resort nestled around Lake Voulismeni, which links to the town’s massive harbour via a narrow channel lined with seafood restaurants under brightly colored awnings. The town has a couple of appealing museums but the real joy of a visit is the chance to scour its goldsmiths for hand-crafted jewelry at decent prices, enjoy the open-air market on Wednesday and stroll around the vibrant marina.
With its shimmering azure waters framed by the rocky peaks of the surrounding White Mountains, Kournas Lake is the island’s only freshwater lake and the centerpiece of one of Crete’s most picturesque landscapes. A tranquil retreat for both locals and visitors, Kournas Lake is at its best in the summer months, when the receding water levels reveal vast white sand beaches and popular pastimes include swimming, sailing, canoeing and hiking around the lakeside. Kournas Lake is also a Natura 2000 preservation area and renowned for its bird and marine life, with a huge variety of species including water snakes, herons, cormorants and the rare Diamondback Terrapin.
Located approximately 9 miles east of Heraklion, the Cretaquarium is home to 2,000 sea animals and 200 different Mediterranean species. If you’re an animal lover, traveling with kids or just looking to kill some time, the Cretaquarium should be on your list.