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