1. Elafonisi beach
Located close to the southwest corner of Crete, Elafonisi is in fact an island taking its name from the Greek words ‘elafi’ and ‘nisi’ meaning ‘deer island’. The beach and island are quite tropical in style with fine white sand and clear turquoise waters. In fine weather you can in fact walk to the island through the shallow water. This beach is a destination in itself for travellers and locals alike.
While visiting Elafonisi you could include visits to the Monastery of Chrysoskalitissa (5km from Elafonisi beach), the nearby ancient city of Polyrinia which is considered to be the oldest city that the Dorians built in Crete (following the Minoan period) as well as the Archaeological Museum of Kissamos housed in a Venetian-Turkish monument.
2. Falassarna beach
Falassarna is an ancient Greek harbor and today serves as an agricultural area (with olive groves and greenhouses cultivating mainly tomatoes) and huge traveller attraction. Located on the northwest coast of Crete its beach highly visited as it offers a large stretch of sandy beach (wide section of sand before the sea) and crystal clear waters. Falassarna beach is also filled with activities such as kite-surfing, surfing and even paragliding from the mountain which faces the sea.
3. Balos lagoon & Gramvousa islet
Take a ferry from Kissamos port (depart daily from May to October) and spend a day sunbathing and swimming at Balos lagoon and the islet of Gramvousa. The tour includes a total 55 minutes spent travelling, while you tour the gulf of Kissamos viewing caves and dramatic landscapes. Arriving at the private islet of Gramvousa you disembark for 2 hours. A 20 minute walk will get you to the height of a Venetian castle from which you enjoy panoramic views and then continue on to swim at the beach.
A 15 minute ferry ride gets you to Balos lagoon - a uniquely beautiful beach with wonderful shells!
4. Samaria Gorge
A nature-lovers dream, the well-known gorge of Samaria, where thousands of visitors come to Crete to hike this gorge is a 16km (mainly downhill) hike. You can do it in one of 2 ways, either on your own by use of the local bus service from Chania central bus station or by booking an organized tour. Either way, this is a whole day event beginning early in the morning and returning between 19h00-20h00.
The Samaria gorge is a National Park of Greece (home to the Cretan goat ‘kri-kri’) and a World’s Biosphere Reserve located in southwest Crete. It was created by a small river running between the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) and Mount Volakias. This 16km long gorge starts at Omalos at an altitude of 1,250m and ends at the shores of the Libyan Sea at the small coastal town of Agia Roumeli. The most significant part of the gorge is the stretch known as the Iron Gates where the sides of the gorge have a width of just 4 meters and soar up to the height of 1100 meters. The only way back once reaching Agia Roumeli is to take a ferry (these run either to Chora Sfakion or Sfakia) where the regional bus or tour bus waits for the hikers and returns them to their starting point.
5. Imbros gorge
Imbros gorge is an 8 km long canyon located near Chora Sfakion in southern Crete, runs parallel to the gorge of Samaria, begins at Imbros village at an altitude of 780 meters and ends at Komitades village. A guide is not needed and it is an easy hike. Once at Komitades village you can take a taxi back to your car (or if you are up to it, hike all the way back).
You can hike this gorge all year round excluding only days with heavy rainfall and snow.
6. Therisso gorge
This is a unique gorge as it is one that you drive through to reach the historic village of Therisso (the birthplace of Eleftherios Venizelos’ mother). The drive is 14 km long and provides for spectacular scenery as the trees form an arch-like cover of the road. Reaching the village of Therisso (located to the south of Chania at the end of Therisso gorge) there are several traditional taverns at which locals and travellers enjoy lunches and dinners.
7. Chania old town
Visit the center of Chania as well as the picturesque Venetian harbor and town - this is considered the most beautiful urban district on Crete.
The main square which is the starting point of the old town is known as ‘Syntrivani’ (Fountain) as there is a fountain there. This is the heart of tourist activities, restaurants, cafes, museums, galleries, historic monuments and is full of life!
Some of the more popular places there are the light house (which has been revamped and now you are able to enjoy a long walk to it), the Naval Museum, the Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Museum, the Archaeological museum, the Turkish mosque (which now functions as an arts exhibit hall), the Municipal Art Gallery of Chania, the Jewish Synagogue and Halidon Street (the most famous street of the old town which leads down to the harbor front).
The old town has a heart-warming atmosphere with many narrow alleys, pedestrian street, charming old buildings most of which have been wonderfully restored. The city center of Chania is alive with the hustle and bustle of daily life activity and offers every type of facility, store and convenience you may require.
8. Akrotiri peninsula (Agia Triada Monastery, Gouverneto Monastery and Eleftherios Venizelos Tombs)
Explore the Akrotiri peninsula (this is where the airport of Chania is located). Just north of the airport, visit the Monastery of Agia Triada (open from sunrise to sunset) as well as Gouverneto Monastery (one of the oldest monasteries on Crete). From here you could even take a short hike to visit a chapel as well as see a cave.
On route to these monasteries, or perhaps on your return, you can also stop at the Eleftherios Venizelos Tombs – a historical site with wonderful views to the Venetian harbor of Chania - as well as at the Souda Bay War Cemetery.
9. Knossos Archaeological site
Knossos and the Minoan Palace originally built around 2000 BC and later destroyed by an earthquake and rebuilt in a more complex form, is the most significant archaeological site on Crete. It lies 5 kilometers southeast of Heraklion and measures approximately 20 000 square meters – one of the world’s greatest sightseeing experiences!
This Bronze Age archaeological site served as the ceremonial and political center of the Minoan civilization and culture as well as its central storage location and administrative core. This palatial center has several storeys, its walls decorated with frescoes and built primarily of ashlar blocks.
Originally excavated by Minos Kalokairinos in 1878 bringing to light part of the storage magazines in the west wing, it was next successfully excavated by renowned Sir Arthur Evans from 1900 to 1930. Sir Arthur Evans excavated the Palace, the surrounding areas and even planted the pine trees that are currently seen. More importantly he painstakingly restored some sections of the Palace.
One of the most noteworthy visuals is the ‘Prince of Lilies’ (also known as the ‘Priest-King Relief” – a relief believed to be a priest king, wearing a crown with peacock feathers and a necklace with lilies on it, leading an unseen animal to sacrifice.
Today, while excavation continues it has been cleverly designed so as to allow visitors to ‘walk through’ it, giving them access to it. The Knossos archaeological site is open daily in the summer months from 08h00 to 19h30. Always call ahead to check as their closing time varies (close at 15h00 in the low season and winter). Tel: +30 2810 231940.
10. Faestos Archaeological site
The Minoan Palace of Faestos lies 60 kilometers south of Heraklion in the fertile Messara plain and is considered the second most significant Minoan archaeological site. As with the Palace of Knossos, Faestos too was built, destroyed by fire/earthquake and then rebuilt. Originally built around 2000 BC, it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1700 BC and then quickly rebuilt.
Surrounded by large and luxurious mansions and along with other settlements covered and area of 18000 square meters, it dominated and controlled the Messara valley, served as the religious center as well as the economical center of the area; goods were not only for consumption but primarily for trade and thus secured in large storerooms. This Palace complex is considered by some to be a finer example of Minoan architecture than Knossos.
First excavations began in 1900 and were undertaken by Italian Federico Halbherr and Luigi Pernier and were later continued by Doro Levi. All archaeologists involved have only conserved and not restored this site. Some finds include an example of hieroglyphic inscription (discovered in 1903), a Linear A tablet and pottery which date back to the Neo-Palatial period.
The Minoan Palace of Faestos is open daily in the summer months from 08h00 to 18h00. Again, it is recommended to call ahead and check the closing time (as they may close at 15h00 in the low season and winter). Tel: +30 28920 42315.