We’ve compiled the best of the best in Crete - browse our top choices for the top things to see or do during your stay.

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  • 1. Archaeological Museum

    The former Venetian church of St. Francis, surrounding a lovely garden in the shadow of the Venetian walls, displays artifacts from all over western Crete, and the collection bears witness to the presence of Minoans, ancient Greeks, Romans, Venetians, and Ottomans. The painted Minoan clay coffins and elegant late-Minoan pottery indicate that the region was as wealthy as the center of the island under the Minoans, though no palace has yet been located.

    Chalidon 25, Chania, Crete, 73132, Greece

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €4, Closed Tues., Tues.–Sun. 8–3
  • 2. Firka


    Just across the narrow channel from the lighthouse, where a chain was connected in times of peril to close the harbor, is the old Turkish prison, which now houses the Maritime Museum of Crete. Exhibits, more riveting than might be expected, trace the island's seafaring history from the time of the Minoans, with a reproduction of an Athenian trireme, amphora from Roman shipwrecks, Ottoman weaponry, and other relics. Look for the photos and mementos from the World War II Battle of Crete, when Allied forces moved across the island and, with the help of Cretans, ousted the German occupiers. Much of the fighting centered on Chania, and great swaths of the city were destroyed during the war. Almost worth the price of admission alone is the opportunity to walk along the Firka's ramparts for bracing views of the city, sea, and mountains.

    Chania, Crete, 73100, Greece

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €3
  • 3. Gortyna


    Appearing in Homeric poems, Gortyna was second only to Knossos in importance and flourished in the early centuries of Roman rule. The Gortyn Law Code, an inscription from the 5th century BC, and the earliest known written Greek law, confirms the prosperity of the city, and at its peak as many as 100,000 people may have lived nearby. It was the earliest Christian Cretan city and became the seat of Apostle Titus, the first bishop of Crete. It was later sacked by the Arabs in 824 AD The first major monument visible is the Byzantine Basilica of Agios Titus, probably built on the remains of an older church. A soaring apse and two side chapels have been restored. Adjacent, is the Odeion, levelled by an earthquake and rebuilt by Emperor Trajan. Within the walls of the theatre are the 600 lines of the Law Code, engraved upon a wall tablet. Crossing the road that bisects the site, the main attractions are the Praetorium, the palace of the Roman governor of Crete that dates back to the 2nd century AD, and the Nymphaeum, a public bath originally supplied by an aqueduct and adorned with statues.Climb to the hilltop Acropolis for a view of the site; below you will see the evergreen plane tree that served as Zeus and Europa's mating-bed according to mythology. From this union, the three kings of Crete were produced: Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Sarpedon.

    Agioi Deka, , Crete, 70012, Greece

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €6
  • 4. Heraklion Archaeological Museum


    Standing in a class of its own, this museum guards practically all of the Minoan treasures uncovered in the legendary excavations of the Palace of Knossos and other monuments of Minoan civilization. These amazing artifacts, many 3,000 years old, were brought to light in 20th-century excavations by famed British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans and are shown off in handsome modern galleries. It's best to visit the museum first thing in the morning, before the tour buses arrive, or in late afternoon, once they pull away. Top treasures include the famous seal stones, many inscribed with Linear B script, discovered and deciphered by Evans around the turn of the 20th century. The most stunning and mysterious seal stone is the so-called Phaistos Disk, found at Phaistos Palace in the south, its purpose unknown. (Linear B script is now recognized as an early form of Greek, but the earlier Linear A script that appears on clay tablets and that of the Phaistos Disk have yet to be deciphered.)Perhaps the most arresting exhibits, though, are the sophisticated frescoes, restored fragments of which were found in Knossos. They depict broad-shouldered, slim-waisted youths, their large eyes fixed with an enigmatic expression on the Prince of the Lilies; ritual processions and scenes from the bullring, with young men and women somersaulting over the back of a charging bull; and groups of court ladies, whose flounced skirts led a French archaeologist to exclaim in surprise, "Des Parisiennes!," a name still applied to this striking fresco.Even before great palaces with frescoes were being built around 1900 BC, the prehistoric Cretans excelled at metalworking and carving stone vases, and they were also skilled at producing pottery, such as the eggshell-thin Kamares ware decorated in delicate abstract designs. Other specialties were miniature work such as the superbly crafted jewelry and the colored seal stones that are carved with lively scenes of people and animals. Though naturalism and an air of informality distinguish much Minoan art from that of contemporary Bronze Age cultures elsewhere in the eastern Mediterranean, you can also see a number of heavy rococo set pieces, such as the fruit stand with a toothed rim and the punch bowl with appliquéd flowers.The Minoans' talents at modeling in stone, ivory, and a kind of glass paste known as faience peaked in the later palace period (1700–1450 BC). A famous rhyton, a vase for pouring libations, carved from dark serpentine in the shape of a bull's head, has eyes made of red jasper and clear rock crystal with horns of gilded wood. An ivory acrobat—perhaps a bull-leaper—and two bare-breasted faience goddesses in flounced skirts holding wriggling snakes were among a group of treasures hidden beneath the floor of a storeroom at Knossos. Bull-leaping, whether a religious rite or a favorite sport, inspired some of the most memorable images in Minoan art. Note, also, the three vases, probably originally covered in gold leaf, from Ayia Triada that are carved with scenes of Minoan life thought to be rendered by artists from Knossos: boxing contests, a harvest-home ceremony, and a Minoan official taking delivery of a consignment of hides. The most stunning rhyton of all, from Zakro, is made of rock crystal.

    Xanthoudidou and Hatzidaki, Heraklion, Crete, 71202, Greece

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €10; combined ticket for museum and Palace of Knossos €16
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  • 5. Historical Museum of Crete


    An imposing mansion houses a varied collection of Early Christian and Byzantine sculptures, Venetian and Ottoman stonework, artifacts of war, and rustic folklife items. The museum provides a wonderful introduction to Cretan culture, and is the only place in Crete to display the work of famed native son El Greco (Domenikos Theotocopoulos), who left the island—then part of the Venetian Republic—for Italy and then Spain around 1567; his Baptism of Christ and View of Mount Sinai and the Monastery of St. Catherine hang amid frescoes, icons, and other Byzantine pieces. Upon entering, look out for the Lion of St. Mark sculpture, with an inscription that says in Latin "I protect the kingdom of Crete." Left of the entrance is a room stuffed with memorabilia from Crete's bloody revolutionary past: weapons, portraits of mustachioed warrior chieftains, and the flag of the short-lived independent Cretan state set up in 1898. The 19th-century banner in front of the staircase sums up the spirit of Cretan rebellion against the Turks: eleftheria o thanatos ("Freedom or Death"). A small section is dedicated to World War II and the German invasion of 1941. Upstairs, look in on a room arranged as the study of Crete's most famous writer, Nikos Kazantzakis (1883–1957), the author of Zorba the Greek and an epic poem, The Odyssey, a Modern Sequel; he was born in Heraklion and is buried here, just inside the section of the walls known as the Martinengo. The top floor contains a stunning collection of Cretan textiles, including the brilliant scarlet weavings typical of the island's traditional handwork, and another room arranged as a domestic interior of the early 1900s.

    Sofokli Venizelou 27, Heraklion, Crete, 71202, Greece

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €5, Closed Sun.
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  • 6. Palace of Knossos

    This most amazing of archaeological sites once lay hidden beneath a huge mound hemmed in by low hills. Heinrich Schliemann, father of archaeology and discoverer of Troy, knew it was here, but Turkish obstruction prevented him from exploring his last discovery. Cretan independence from the Ottoman Turks made it possible for Sir Arthur Evans, a British archaeologist, to start excavations in 1899. A forgotten and sublime civilization thus came again to light with the uncovering of the great Palace of Knossos.The magnificent Minoans flourished on Crete from around 2700 to 1450 BC, and their palaces and cities at Knossos, Phaistos, and Gournia were centers of political power and luxury—they traded in tin, saffron, gold, and spices as far afield as Spain—when the rest of Europe was a place of primitive barbarity. They loved art, farmed bees, and worshipped many goddesses. But what caused their demise? Some say political upheaval, but others point to an eruption on Thira (Santorini), about 100 km (62 miles) north in the Aegean, that caused tsunamis and earthquakes and supposedly brought about the end of this sophisticated civilization.The Palace of Knossos site was occupied from Neolithic times, and the population spread to the surrounding land. Around 1900 BC, the hilltop was leveled and the first palace constructed; around 1700 BC, after an earthquake destroyed the original structure, the later palace was built, surrounded by houses and other buildings. Around 1450 BC, another widespread disaster occurred, perhaps an invasion: palaces and country villas were razed by fire and abandoned, but Knossos remained inhabited even though the palace suffered some damage. But around 1380 BC the palace and its outlying buildings were destroyed by fire, and around 1100 BC the site was abandoned. Still later, Knossos became a Greek city-state.You enter the palace from the west, passing a bust of Sir Arthur Evans, who excavated at Knossos on and off for more than 20 years. A path leads you around to the monumental south gateway. The west wing encases lines of long, narrow storerooms where the true wealth of Knossos was kept in tall clay jars: oil, wine, grains, and honey. The central court is about 164 feet by 82 feet long. The cool, dark throne-room complex has a griffin fresco and a tall, wavy-back gypsum throne, the oldest in Europe. The most spectacular piece of palace architecture is the grand staircase, on the east side of the court, leading to the domestic apartments. Four flights of shallow gypsum stairs survive, lighted by a deep light well. Here you get a sense of how noble Minoans lived; rooms were divided by sets of double doors, giving privacy and warmth when closed, coolness and communication when open. The queen's megaron (apartment or hall) is decorated with a colorful dolphin fresco and furnished with stone benches. Beside it is a bathroom, complete with a clay tub, and next door a toilet, with a drainage system that permitted flushing into a channel flowing into the Kairatos stream far below. The east side of the palace also contained workshops. Beside the staircase leading down to the east bastion is a stone water channel made up of parabolic curves and settling basins: a Minoan storm drain. Northwest of the east bastion is the north entrance, guarded by a relief fresco of a charging bull. Beyond is the theatrical area, shaded by pines and overlooking a shallow flight of steps, which lead down to the royal road. This, perhaps, was the ceremonial entrance to the palace.For a complete education in Minoan architecture and civilization, consider touring Knossos and, of course, the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion (where many of the treasures from the palace are on view), then traveling south to the Palace of Phaistos, another great Minoan site that has not been reconstructed. After a long day at the archaeological sites you may feel like you've earned a drink. Follow the signposts to one of the numerous vineyards that surround the pretty village of Archanes, 9 km (5½ miles) south of Knossos, and enjoy tasting some of the world's oldest wines.

    Knossos, Crete, 71409, Greece

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €15; combined ticket with Archaeological Museum in Heraklion €16, Daily 8–5
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  • 7. Palace of Phaistos


    The Palace of Phaistos was built around 1900 BC and rebuilt after a disastrous earthquake around 1650 BC. It was burned and abandoned in the wave of destruction that swept across the island around 1450 BC, though Greeks continued to inhabit the city until the 2nd century BC, when it was eclipsed by Roman Gortyna. You enter the site by descending a flight of steps leading into the west court, then climb a grand staircase. From here you pass through the Propylon porch into a light well and descend a narrow staircase into the central court. Much of the southern and eastern sections of the palace have eroded away. But there are large pithoi still in place in the old storerooms. On the north side of the court the recesses of an elaborate doorway bear a rare trace: red paint in a diamond pattern on a white ground. A passage from the doorway leads to the north court and the northern domestic apartments, now roofed and fenced off. The Phaistos Disk was found in 1903 in a chest made of mud brick at the northeast edge of the site and is now on display at the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion. East of the central court are the palace workshops, with a metalworking furnace fenced off. South of the workshops lie the southern domestic apartments, including a clay bath. From there, you have a memorable view across the Messara Plain.

    Phaistos, Crete, 70200, Greece

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €8
  • 8. Samaria Gorge


    South of Chania a deep, verdant crevice extends 16 km (10 miles) from near the village of Xyloskalo to the Libyan Sea. The landscape of forest, sheer rock faces, and running streams, inhabited by the elusive and endangered kri-kri (wild goat) is magnificent. The Samaria, protected as a national park, is the most traveled of the dozens of gorges that cut through Crete's mountains and emerge at the sea, but the walk through the canyon, in places only a few feet wide and almost 2,000 feet deep, is thrilling nonetheless. Reckon on five to six hours of downhill walking with a welcome reward of a swim at the end. Buses depart the central bus station in Chania at 7:30 and 8:30 am for Xyloskalo. Boats leave in the afternoon (5:30) from Ayia Roumeli, the mouth of the gorge, where it's an hour-long scenic sail to Hora Sfakion, from where buses return to Chania. Travel agents also arrange day trips to the gorge. Also from Chania, a couple of extremely scenic routes head south across the craggy White Mountains to the isolated Libyan Sea villages of Paleochora, the main resort of the southwest coast, and Souyia, a pleasant collection of whitewashed houses facing a long beach. Much of this section of the coast, including the village of Loutro, is accessible only by boat or by a seaside path.

    Samaria, Crete, 73005, Greece

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €5 entrance to National Park, Closed Oct. 15–May 1
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  • 9. Archaeological Museum

    Here's even more evidence of just how long Crete has cradled civilizations: a collection of bone tools from a Neolithic site at Gerani (west of Rethymnon); Minoan pottery; and an unfinished statue of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, from the Roman occupation (look for the ancient chisel marks). The museum is temporarily housed in the restored Venetian Chuch of St. Francisco while renovations are undertaken at the original site in the shadow of the Fortessa.

    Agios Fragiskos, Rethymnon, Crete, 74100, Greece

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €2, Nov.–Mar. Tues.–Sun. 9–3; Apr.–Oct. Tues.–Sun. 9–4, Closed Tues.
  • 10. Arkadi Monastery

    A place of pilgrimage for many Cretans, Moni Arkadi is also one of the most stunning pieces of Renaissance architecture on the island. The ornate facade, decorated with Corinthian columns and an elegant belfry above, was built in the 16th century of a local, honey-color stone. In 1866 the monastery came under siege during a major rebellion against the Turks, and Abbot Gabriel and several hundred rebels, together with their wives and children, refused to surrender. When the Turkish forces broke through the gate, the defenders set the gunpowder store afire, killing themselves together with hundreds of Turks. The monastery was again a center of resistance when the Nazis occupied Crete during World War II.

    Arkadi, Crete, 74060, Greece

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €3, June–Aug., daily 9–8; Sept.–Oct. and Apr.–May, daily 9–7; Nov., daily 9–5; Dec.–Mar., daily 9–4
  • 11. Avlaki Beach


    To the north of Ayios Nikalaos in the Gulf of Malia are a string of beaches clustered around the town of Sisi. A pretty little inlet with a handful of tavernas, it is a classic Greek summer resort with little else to do but swim and eat. Avlaki and Boufos beaches, separated by a cliff, are the pick of the bunch. Amenities: food and drink. Best For: swimming; snorkeling.

    Malia, Crete, Greece
  • 12. Ayia Aikaterina

    Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    Nestled in the shadow of the Ayios Minas cathedral is one of Crete's most attractive small churches, named for St. Katherine and built in 1555. The church now houses a museum of icons by Cretan artists, who often traveled to Venice to study with Italian Renaissance painters. Look for six icons by Michael Damaskinos, who worked in both Byzantine and Renaissance styles during the 16th century. Crete's most famous artist, Domenikos Theotocopoulos, better known as El Greco, studied at the monastery school attached to the church in the mid-16th century.

    Kyrillou Loukareos, Heraklion, Crete, 71202, Greece
  • 13. Ayia Triada

    Another Minoan settlement that was destroyed at the same time as Phaistos by Mycenean attackers is only a few miles away on the other side of the same hill. Ayia Triada was once thought to have been a summer palace for the rulers of Phaistos but is now believed to have consisted of a group of villas for nobility and a warehouse complex. Rooms in the villas were once paneled with gypsum slabs and decorated with frescoes: the two now hanging in the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion show a woman in a garden and a cat hunting a pheasant. Several other lovely pieces, including finely crafted vases, come from Ayia Triada and are now also on display in Heraklion, along with more Linear A tablets than at any other Minoan site. Though the complex was at one time just above the seashore, the view now looks across the extensive Messara Plain to the Lybian Sea in the distance.

    Ayia Triada, Tympaki, Phaistos, Crete, 70200, Greece

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €4, Daily 9–4
  • 14. Ayia Triada

    Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    Lands at the northeast corner of the Akrotiri Peninsula, which extends into the sea from the east side of Chania, are the holdings of several monasteries, including Ayia Triada (Holy Trinity) or Tzagarolon, as it is also known. The olive groves that surround and finance the monastery yield excellent oils, and the shop is stocked with some of the island's finest. Ayia Triada is a delightful place, where you can visit the flower-filled cloisters and the ornately decorated chapel, which dates from the monastery's founding in 1611. Today, just a handful of monks remain.

    Agias Triadas of Tzagarolon, Akrotiri, Chania, Crete, 73100, Greece
  • 15. Ayios Markos

    Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    This 13th-century church is named for Venice's patron saint, but, with its modern portico and narrow interior, it bears little resemblance to its grand namesake in Venice. Concerts and recitals are often staged in the afternoons.

    Platia Eleftheriou Venizelou, Heraklion, Crete, 71202, Greece

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Closed Sun.
  • 16. Ayios Minas

    Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    This huge, lofty cathedral, dating from 1895, can hold up to 8,000 worshippers, but is most lively on November 11, when Heraklion celebrates the feast of Minas, a 4th-century Roman soldier-turned-Christian. Legend has it that on Easter Sunday 1826 a ghostly Minas reappeared on horseback and dispersed a Turkish mob ready to slay the city's Orthodox faithful. Curiously, few of Heraklion's inhabitants are named after Minas, which is unusual for a city's patron saint. The reason is that many years ago babies born out of wedlock were left on the steps of the church, and were named Minas by the clergy who took these children in and cared for them. Thus, the name Minas came to be associated with illegitimacy.

    Kyrillou Loukareos, Heraklion, Crete, 71201, Greece
  • 17. Ayios Titos

    Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    A chapel to the left of the entrance contains St. Tito's skull, set in a silver-and-gilt reliquary. Titus is credited with converting the islanders to Christianity in the 1st century AD on the instructions of St. Paul. Ayios Titos was founded in the 10th century, rebuilt as a mosque under Turkish rule in the 19th century, and rededicated as a church in the 1920s, when the minaret was removed.

    Set back from Avgoustou 25, Heraklion, Crete, 71202, Greece
  • 18. Balos

    You already know this beach from every postcard stand in Greece. Seemingly transported from the South Seas, an islet sits dramatically amid a shallow lagoon of bright blue-and-turquoise water framed by white sand. Approach by car along the 8-km (5-mile) very rough dirt road (€1 toll) and you will be rewarded by that picture-perfect panorama. Nevertheless, a half-hour descent on foot to the beach itself, and longer return, is the price to pay. Easier on the legs is to take the boat from Kissamos, which includes a stop at the deserted island Venetian fortress of Gramvousa. Like Vai, it can get very busy here; if you are coming by car, aim to arrive in the morning before the boats, or late in the afternoon once the crowds have left. Amenities: food and drink; parking (free); toilets. Best for: snorkeling; swimming; walking.

    Crete, Greece
  • 19. Boutari Winery


    Established by one of the oldest wine-making families in Greece, this state-of-the-art winery marries tradition with innovation, producing more than 100,000 bottles a year. There is a modern tasting room with great views over the vines to the hills beyond, for sampling some of the estate's award-winning offerings. You can buy the wines you have tasted, along with other local delicacies.

    Skalani, Heraklion, Crete, 70100, Greece

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €5
  • 20. Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Collection of Chania


    You'll get some insight into the Venetian occupation and the Christian centuries that preceded it at this small museum housed in the charming 15th-century church of San Salvadore alongside the city walls just behind the Firka. Mosaics, icons, coins, and other artifacts bring to life Cretan civilization as it was after the Roman Empire colonized the island and Christianity took root as early as the 1st century.

    Theotokopoulou 78–82, Chania, Crete, 73131, Greece

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €2, Closed Mon

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