Do a panoramic sweep of your surroundings in Crete, and, more often than not, you’ll find am arcing coast on one side and a green, hilly landscape on the other. The beaches are the main hubs of activity for most resorts, as they’re usually treated to beach bars and tavernas, rows of sunbeds and umbrellas and water sports whirring out on the waves. And with warm temperatures throughout the year, there’s never a bad time to enjoy the great outdoors on cheap holidays to Crete.
Many of the resorts offer diving centres for budding snorkellers, as well as windsurfing and paragliding equipment, banana boats and pedalos available to rent onshore. Resorts like Hersonissos and Chania even have their own waterparks, so even if you’re planning to do Crete All Inclusive there are still a few things to do that might lure you away from your hotel.
The mountain ranges towering across Crete are havens for outdoorsy types. They’re often reachable via short car trips into the hills, as well as off-roading excursions. Carved with gorges and walking trails, the mountains are a top spot for hikes whose incredible views stretch for miles.
Sites of mythical proportions
Having been around for a few thousand years, Crete has racked up a serious amount of history. It’s also the backdrop of many Greek myths, as it’s rumoured to be the birthplace of Zeus. Over the years, Crete has swapped ruling hands a number of times, which means its architecture is a comprehensive timeline of the island’s evolution.
Crete was once the centre of the ancient Minoan civilisation, thought to be brought down by a volcanic eruption. Nowadays, the Minoan buildings are in ruins, but you can still wander through the crumbling streets in archaeological sites like the Palace of Knossos, where the Minotaur was said to have lived, or the palace in Malia.
The Ottoman and Venetian empires left their marks on Crete in the form of towering mosques, Venetian harbours and lighthouses. Bigger resorts like Rethymnon and Chania are famed for their vibrant harbours, as well as centuries-old fortresses keeping a close watch on the towns from above.
The island is treated to the same Mediterranean flavours as traditional Greek cuisine, but with its own Cretan twist. Crete is known for its use of fresh vegetables, seafood and slow-cooked meats that make for memorable meals. To top it off, you’ll almost always see complimentary dessert and a shot glass of raki – the local liquor – materialise at your table once you’ve finished your mains.
If you’re along the coast, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find a range of restaurants gathered by the waterfront, though more traditional, family-run spots are usually tucked up into town or the hillsides. You’ll primarily find Greek eats in most resorts, though larger towns see hundreds and hundreds of dining options, including international bites.
Wild Malia nights
For the most part, Cretan holidays take things slow by the beach with quiet cocktails at local bars, or Greek nights featuring plate smashing and live music are a staple at traditional tavernas. But with every rule, there are a few exceptions – in this case, they’re party spots known as Malia and Hersonissos.
Known for its thriving nightlife scene, Malia attracts young party types. Beach Road is the resort’s centre of attention, lined with clubs, bars and pubs, not to mention takeaway spots for cheeky, late-night eats.
The town’s main strip is the scene of all-night dance binges and cocktails underneath neon lights – you’ll even find a club that’s open 24 hours. Hersonissos offers much of the same, plus the Star Beach Club, a boisterous coastal spot that throws some pretty wild beach parties.
Market stalls and high end shopping
Retail opportunities come in all shapes and sizes in Crete. The smaller resorts have quirky souvenir shops and supermarkets while the larger ones often feature high end brands and local markets. Crete is known for its homemade olive oil and honey, both of which can be picked up from shops across the island.
Hersonissos is the island’s high-end hotspot, with a number of well-known brands gathering along the waterfront. Chania, on the other hand, is home to the Mercato Agora di Chania, a massive market whose stalls sell everything from jewellery and souvenirs to fresh produce.