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View of ocean from town wall in crete, mountain in the distance leading to the water, image used for Manisha Dorawala blog about places to visit in crete

Recently, my family and I paid a visit to the beautiful island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea. Crete is the largest of the Greek Islands and also home to the most people. Besides the main island, the region of Crete also includes several smaller islands in the water near Crete. While Crete is one of the Greek Islands and shares much with the mainland, it also has it’s own, unique culture that’s distinct from the rest of Greece. Part of this unique culture can likely be attributed to Crete being the home of the ancient Minoan civilization, which was the earliest recorded European civilization, between 2600 and 1100 BC. Here are some of the top places to see in Crete; it’s definitely an island worth seeing!

Knossos Palace

Knossos Palace is believed to the home of the legendary King Minos, for whom the Minoans were named after. There’s a large interior courtyard at the Palace, which was used for the Minoan pastime of “bull-leaping.” Knossos is the most popular attraction on Crete and you can easily spend half a day touring the ruins of the palace, which once had over 1,200 rooms, and learning about the Minoan people.

Samaria Gorge

Pay a visit to the Samaria Gorge National Park on Crete. This beautiful location is home to an 18-kilometer long gorge. Simply looking down into and along the Gorge provides beautiful views, but if you’re more athletic, you can hike the path down the Gorge, which will take around five hours, depending on your fitness level. The summer is perfect for hiking the Gorge, but come winter, the river bed floods and it’s not nearly as simple to navigate. If you walk the entire length of the Gorge, you’ll end up with a stunning view of the Libyan Sea.

Rethymnon Old Town

This town is a lovely mix of Venetian architecture, Crete culture, and slight Turkish influences. There are lots of shops and restaurants to visit that are run in historic buildings, along with a sandy beach that makes it a wonderful town to get a taste of local history along with some beach time. It’s also located between Chania and Heraklion, so it’s easy to get to many of the island’s main attractions.

Heraklion

This city is the current capital of Crete and the best place to stay if you’re planning on visiting Knossos. You can take a ship from Athens to Heraklion or fly in. The city has a rich culture and beautiful layout, thanks to the Venetians who had control of the island for a few hundred years. Heraklion and the area around it has produced notable artists, such as El Greco.

Chania

This town is the largest in western Crete and was also the capital of the island until 1971. Chania is picturesque, with small alleys and beautifully colored buildings. There’s even an open market to visit, with delicious foods. The town overlooks the Aegean Sea and sits in front of the snow-capped White Mountains.