My personal 5 ‘must see’ places in Crete

Crete has so much to offer for all tastes and so much choice can be confusing to a newcomer.

Here is my personal list of what I consider the five ‘must see’ places of Crete and why I chose them. They are not listed in a specific order.

The palace of Knossos

Often disparaged as an archaeological Disneyland for mass-tourism I still believe that the Minoan Palace of Knossos must be seen in order to get a sense of what the first European civilization might have been like. The heavily reconstructed palace makes it easier for the lay person to visualize than the more “archaeologically correct” palaces of Phaestos or Zakros.
To avoid the crowds go in winter when it is virtually empty. During the tourist season try it in late afternoon when most tour groups will have left and the light is best.

If you can, combine it with a visit of the Heraklion Archaeological Museum but if you must only choose one of the two, go to Knossos and check this amazing online book of the museum instead.

The gorge of Samaria

Crete is justly famous for its many gorges and if you are going to see only one of them (and are fit enough to walk for a few hours on rocky terrain) it’s got to be the gorge of Samaria which is the grandest of them all. True it can be crowded at times but that can be avoided (just see how to in the link above).
Getting back on the ferryboat from Agia Roumeli will also give you an impression of the wild South coast of western Crete, in itself another ‘must see’ place.

The northern tip of the peninsula of Gramvoussa and the bay of Balos

The northern tip of the peninsula of Gramvoussa and the bay of Balos

Balos Bay

The views of Balos Bay as you walk down to it have become iconic and it’s generally even better when you see it for real (provided the sun is shining). Just for that first glimpse I would recommend that you drive to it where you will have the chance to see it from above rather than take a boat to it. Your options are described at Balos beach and Gramvoussa – a visitor’s guide.
The beach is not as nice (or as big) as Elafonisi beach but the views are far superior.

Chania

Many regular visitors to Greece rate Chania as the most beautiful city in Greece. Need I say more?

Pachnes

Walking to the highest summit of the White Mountains is not something that many people do, not so much because it is a difficult walk (it’s not, at least not once the snow has melted and if take the short route) but it’s really out of the way.  Still, if you want to see the High Desert of the White Mountains, one of the more unusual places on the planet, it’s definitely worth the effort and you’ll be well away from any crowds.

What are your 5 favourites? I’d be very interested to see what you think (in the Comments section)

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5 Responses to My personal 5 ‘must see’ places in Crete

  1. -Antti says:

    My 5 favourites:
    – E4 coastal trek in the south coast from Elafonisi (or from Palaechora) to Hora Sfakia (Sougia-Agia Irini part with a boat). It takes few days to walk it, but the scenery and the small villages in the evenings are full of serenity. And you can walk it without tent or etc, as you can lodge in the villages.
    – Agia Irini gorge. It’s way easier and shorter than Samaria gorge, but also lot quieter, not the crowds of Samaria.. And you can walk it with kids easily in 2-4 hours.
    – Spili lion fountains at evening. The lighting is amazing, and probably there’s not too many tourists around.
    – Restaurant Ntounias (?) in the small village of Dragona, quite soon after the Theriso gorge. Something different after tourist-restaurants in the resorts.
    – Public park in Chania, where there are KriKri-goats, peacocks etc.. It’s nice to cool down in the shadows after walks in the hot city.

    • Yorgos says:

      Fully agree with you Jean, although I would put more emphasis on Gramvoussa in your description of Balos Bay, but then one will need to go there by boat for that! And Pachnes, although a bit out of the way, I will certainly put it high on a list of musts in Western Crete, as you have done.

  2. Gerd says:

    My favourite summit is Zaranokefala. You can reach it from Agios Ioannis (Sf) by a 1-day-walk and the view is far more impressive than from Pachnes, which requires a 2-days-walk from Anopoli (if not taking a SUV, but that’s as impressive as taking a cable car)

    • Jean says:

      I’d agree with you except that Zaranokefala is definitely not for your average visitor to Crete, more for serious walkers and that’s an entirely different subject.

  3. Ron Macdonald says:

    Hi Jean

    My favourites are:

    1. The E4 walk, especially the coastal sections from Hora Sfakia to Elafonisi (doing the Agia Roumelli- Sougia by boat as it’s difficult/dangerous in 1/2 sections for the average walker).

    2. The Samaria Gorge but the less glamourous ones such as Irini and Imbros are also worth walking.

    3. I might be accused of cheating but I would include all of the important archeological sites of Knossos, Phaestos and Zakros. However, I also think you really should complement these with a visit to the marvellous newly renovated archeological museum in Heraklion.

    4. Balos beach but like Elafonisi it is begin to suffer the impacts of mass tourism.

    5. The Amari valley and surrounding areas such as Spili(OK I’m cheating as Spili is some distance away but its floristically so rich!)

    If I had a sixth choice then the Lassithi plateau!

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