Banish any thoughts of lurking by your resort pool for a fortnight. There’s a got a lot to get through and our run down of things to do in Crete is just the start. Our inspo for exploring the island takes you to gardens borne from the ashes, a sunken war plane, a devastatingly gorgeous gorge and a haunted castle. Archaeology plays its part well in pepping up this beach-riddled idyll of a sun-soaked island. There’s so much here that you’ll never really need to ask the question, what is there to do in Crete.
Go ghost hunting at Frangokastello Castle
As 14th century ruins go, Frangokastello Castle is quite impressive. And, at any time of year, a wander around the ramparts rewards you with mountain views and a peer back in time. In May, you might feel a little shiver, a goosebump or two – or even a full on sighting of the Drosoulites. These are the wispy mysteries that haunt the castle walls. At least, that’s what the locals say. The apparition’s timing is impeccable. Wafting up to the castle walls every May 17th, the ghoulish mists appear to give a nod to the Battle of Frangokastello’s anniversary. Have the poor souls been trapped in purgatory since 1828? Or is this a ploy to lure more visitors the castle? It almost doesn’t matter too much. Enjoy the walls, creep around looking for ghosts and reveal in the historic architecture.
Covering the best things to do in Crete, and then telling you to leave the island isn’t a portent of boredom. It’s just that right on Crete’s shoreline there’s a whole host of island adventures to be had. Spinalonga Island has a long history – before becoming Europe’s last leper colony. Forts, Venetian architecture and contemplative moments of island solitude await. Elafonisi Island comes with pink sand – that’s just made for your instafeed, along with loggerhead turtles and a clutch of rare plants to tiptoe carefully through. And, finally, Chrissi Island is just a heavenly getaway to relax on. Something for everyone – and plenty more islands to find and discover for yourself. The very best island hopping, after all, comes without spoilers.
Discover Crete’s very own ‘phoenix from the flames’
When life burns down your 400 year old olive grove, make a botanical park. Not the catchiest proverb, but it’s the mantra that led Petros Marinakis to create the Botanical Park and Gardens of Crete in 2003. Today, the gardens are blooming with shrubs, trees, flowers and plants bearing fruit, pollen, spices and seeds from across the world. Skip through and reveal in the technicolour splendour, linger among the heady scents or see how many wild birds, animals and butterflies you can spot that have joined Petros in the garden.
Indulge your archaeological side
What you find on Crete, stays on Crete. Which means there’s a whole lot of archaeological wonder to peer at, amble through and immerse yourself in. The 9,000 year old Palace of Knossos is unfairly overshadowed by Greece’s Acropolis. Give it a look when you’re in Knosos. Legend has it, the labyrinthe-style home was once home to a Minotaur that loved to snack on young women. Now, it’s home to tour guides and experts waiting to share the history of the ruins with you. If you like your artefacts catalogued and well curated, Heraklion’s Archaeological Museum covers Cretan history from prehistoric times through to Roman history and beyond.
Live your best beach-based life
Beaches have to rank highly on your what to do in Crete musings. They are far more than just resort-perched strips of sand with a loo block and a scattering of sun loungers. You can play among Europe’s largest natural palm forest at Vai, snap a shot of yourself on Bolo – the hero of Crete’s tourism brochures and get rugged and, potentially, naked at Kommos. Just three of the best beaches in Crete and there’s far more where they came from. Skip Crete’s sands at your peril. They are simply stunning.
Dive down to a Messerschmitt wreck
Scuba diving in Crete is pretty stellar, and that’s before you find out about the Messerschmitt stricken on the sea bed. Yes, the island’s caves, reefs, wrecks and islands are scuba and snorkel playgrounds, but the plane is the one-off you’ll want to tick off your diving list. Fair warning though, she’s 24 metres down, so you will need your PADI cert and a little help from Diver’s Club Crete on this one. Upside down on the sand, the plane is mostly intact. Peer inside the cockpit, examine the machine gun or give a wave to the morays and groupers that now call the plane home.
While away an hour or two on a tasting terrace
Crete’s wine tour industry is awash with chances to hop on a minibus and taste a grape varietal or two. But Googling your way to a vineyard to suit your tastes may be a tad more pleasing. Book a table on the terraces at Manousakis Winery for organic wines – and tasty eats, among the olive trees. Or, discover how Pnevmatikakis Winery is pairing Crete’s viniculture with modern wine making techniques at their museum and factory. Don’t be alarmed by the tech, Crete’s wine making dates back as early as 1500 BC, so they’ve had plenty of time to perfect their palate pleasers.
Investigate Crete’s myths and caves
Caves. Traditionally creepy spots that almost always come with a myth or two. On Crete, the caves are bat-filled wonders that have plenty of tall tales to tell. Dikteon Cave is just one of the 3,000 caves you can shine your head-torch into on the island. And it’s THE one to visit. Allegedly the birthplace of Zeus, this isn’t your standard stalactite strewn cavern. For a spot that pings a little quieter on the tourism radar, try to track down the Labyrinthos Caves. Researchers have mused over the maze of passageways under Gortyn quarry and tentatively linked them to the labyrinth at Knossos. Keep your eyes peeled for minotaurs if you find the caves…
Hike through the National Park
Crete’s only got one national park. Bless. All the more reason to visit it then. Strap on some very sturdy footwear for a 6-8 hour schlep through Samaria Gorge. Cragginess is obviously on the menu, but the wild goats soften the edges. As do the cloud-topped peaks, tree canopy and the downhill trot to the welcoming shores of Agia Roumeli. Don’t focus too much energy on the blissful delights at the end of your hike. Yes, the coast’s gorgeous, but keep your eyes peeled for Crete’s endemic plant and animal species along the way.
Grab lunch in a Venetian harbour
Is there anything more idyllic than tucking into a light, but suitably Cretan, lunch over looking the ocean? Well, possibly. Add in the Venetian harbours the island has tucked into its coastline and the holiday vibes shoot through the roof. Rethymnon and Chania both have harbours to lust over. But, we’re particularly fond of Achinos’ cocktail terrace in Rethymnon, easily one of the best restaurants in Crete. As both towns have beguilingly crumbling old towns to mooch around – along with stellar sea views, it’s hard not to book a table and end up spending an entire afternoon gazing longingly out to sea and wondering whether or not to sell up and move here.