Step away from Crete's amazing array of beaches on your holidays to Greece and you'll find a huge assortment of outdoor activities, from water parks to ancient palaces, sky high gorges and scuba adventures. A lot of people pass through the area in search of Crete party holidays, but this slice of the Mediterranean takes advantage of such great warm weather that you can enjoy warm seas and outdoor activities nearly all year round as well.
Crete was once the centre of ancient Minoan civilisation way, way back in 2700 BC – the oldest recorded civilisation in Europe. Today it still contains numerous traces of its storied past. All across the island are relics of the long ago cities, whose buildings were thought to be reduced to ruins after devastating natural disasters.
You can wander through ancient sites like the Palace of Knossos – the largest archaeological site in Crete – or examine the palace and earthenware remains in Malia. Many sites offer comprehensive markings of what buildings might have been there long ago, though guided tours aren't very common.
Greek mythology comes to life on the island of Crete, as it's where many of the culture's fables are set. You can see the cave in which Rhea was rumoured to have stashed baby Zeus just before his father prepared to eat him, or the bay beside Aghios Nikolaos that Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom and War, was reported to have bathed at.
Just outside Chania is Ancient Aptera, where the sirens and muses fought, while the Palace of Knossos is where the Minotaur dwelled. Fact or fiction, the sites themselves come in epic proportions.
With Crete's gorgeous Mediterranean weather, it's no wonder it's home to a range of water parks and theme parks. Chania features the Limnoupolis Waterpark, a 65-acre fun zone filled with slides like the black hole and freefall, as well as a lazy river and plenty of sun terraces to lounge along. All across the island, you'll also find a number of smaller slides and splash parks at hotels.
Hersonissos, on the other hand, is home to a staggering three parks. The Star Beach Waterpark is just off the beach, while the Acqua Plus Waterpark is another top spot to enjoy fun in the sun. And then there's the Labyrinth Theme Park, equipped with a mini golf course and a labyrinth hiding its very own Minotaur.
Crete's animal centres invites you to get up close and personal with some of the four-legged and aquatic locals. The Aquaworld Aquarium & Reptile Rescue Centre in Hersonissos houses tortoises, snakes and a boa constrictor that's over four metres long. And guests aren't invited to just look at the animals, but hold them too.
Also on the island is the Cretaquarium in Gournes, whose tanks are filled with more than 300 species of underwater creatures like sea turtles, sharks, octopuses and sting rays.
Outdoor enthusiasts will swoon over Crete's landscape as the island is speckled with mountain ranges and long gorges that make for incredible hikes. The most famous gorge is the Samaria Gorge – the longest in Europe at 18 kilometres.
It's easiest to get to the top of the gorge via car and then descend towards the waterfront, which is what most tours will do. From there, you'll hike past sheer, 350-metre tall rock walls that are only a few feet apart at a point known as the 'Iron Gates'.
You won't have to limit your interaction with underwater creatures to just behind the glass. In Crete, you're invited to dive in and explore the sea yourself. Most coastal towns across Crete will have diving centres or hotels with excursions that'll take you out to sea on private boats and suit you up in scuba or snorkelling gear. You can even rent snorkelling gear on your own, often just from the beach, and wade out into the waves for a peek beneath the water's surface.