A Relaxing 5-Day Venture to the Island of Crete

Advisor - Rabia Malik
Curated By

Rabia Malik

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  • Greece

  • Adventure Travel

  • Beaches

  • International Travel

  • Nature Escapes

  • Wellness Travel

  • Archaeological Sites

  • Local Culture

  • Outdoors

blue clear water with tan rocks and blue sky in Crete
Curator’s statement

The largest Greek Island, Crete, is a diverse mix of stunning beaches, vibrant cities, historical sites and ancestral culture. Renting a car is an easy way to explore off-the-beaten-path and to see more of the incredible landscapes and villages. Embrace one of Greece’s most underrated islands on a five-day stay at this cycloptic destination and maybe even awaken an aesop or two!

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Where to stay

Dom Boutique Hotel

A modern stay in central Heraklion, with private balconies in most rooms and an airy restaurant serving Cretan favorites.

Casa Delfino Hotel and Spa

This hidden spot has views of Chania’s cobblestone harbor, rich interiors and a must-visit roof terrace.

The Theodore Boutique Hotel

Your beachfront home-away-from-home with just nine lovingly-crafted rooms.

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Day 1: Visiting the Old City of Heraklion

blue water and skies with white and tan ancient rounded buildings and a green leafy tree Crete old city Heraklion

Fly or ferry into the bustling city of Heraklion, on Crete's northeastern side. Spend some time exploring the old city and the labyrinth of cobbled streets, popping into the curious shops and souvenir stores at your leisure. 

For a snack, grab a table at the Phyllo Sophie's for a tasty Greek treat: bougatsa. Bougatsa is a Greek custard pie in phyllo pastry that can be either sweet or savory. Sprinkle some cinnamon on top of your sweet pie and settle into people-watching in the square.

Visit the Heraklion Archeological Museum in the late afternoon, when most of the crowds have dispersed for the day, and learn more about Ancient Greek civilizations, including preparing yourself for your visit to the Palace of Knossos tomorrow. 

Toward the end of the day, enjoy a farm-to-table dinner at Peskesi to sample some Cretan delicacies in a rustic space.

Day 2: A Day in Knossos and Rethymno

Stone white lighthouse with blue water and sky and a small blue boat and seaside towns and mountains in the background

Start your day early after breakfast at your hotel and either take a bus or rent a car to visit the ruins of the ancient Palace of Knossos. Here, you'll see the cradle of the Minoan civilization, where King Minos built a labyrinth to hold the legendary minotaur under the palace. You can book a guide in advance or find one outside the palace entrance, or wander the ruins at leisure. The site isn't too large, but you can spend a good few hours here. Be sure to bring water and a hat, as there's no shade or public fountains in the site. 

Afterward, head back to Heraklion to pick up your rental car or drive straight to Rethymno about one hour west of Knossos. You'll drive along the coast for most of the ride, enjoying the breathtaking views of the Cretan sea. There's not a whole lot to see otherwise, but you can also stop off and grab lunch somewhere along the route, or save yourself for a meal in the charming town of Rethymno.

Upon arrival, park in the old town and wander through the cobbled streets for a late lunch. There are tons of tavernas and restaurants offering regional dishes, as well as dishes influenced by Turkish and Italian cuisines. For a traditional taverna experience, try Taverna Stavros. They have an extensive menu with local dishes and other Greek favorites. The Cretan Greek salad and moussaka are delicious.

Go see the Venetian Fortezza Castle ruins (from afar, if you're tired) and watch boats at the Venetian Old Harbor. Pick up some Creten delicacies in some of the stores such as honey, olive oil and beeswax skincare. You won't find better prices in all of Crete!

Finally, make your way to Hasika Restaurant. Here you can enjoy traditional Greek cuisine with a modern twist. Plates are light enough that you can top them off with some street gelato for dessert.

A note from Rabia

At the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, be sure to buy a combined ticket for the museum and entrance to the Palace of Knossos for the next day. You'll be able to quickly skip the lines (which get long very early in the day) and get into the palace ruins with fewer people.

Day 3: Beachtime at Agia Marina

blue water with white waves and a sailboat tan sand with footprints

After seeing two cities (and one ancient one), it's time for some relaxation on the beach. The town of Agia Marina is a suburb of Chania, where the Theodore Boutique Hotel is situated right on the beach. Enjoy the delicious chef's breakfast overlooking the sea and then make your way to a beach chair for the rest of the morning. Order drinks and snacks when you feel like it, and take a dip in the turquoise waters when you're ready to venture out from under your umbrella.

Take a quick walk to get gyros nearby or order from the hotel's menu for lunch. You can even book a massage in your room – the hotel team has a great masseuse who charges a nominal amount for a luxurious massage.

For dinner, drive out about 10 minutes to Taverna Leventi. Nestled in the countryside, you can order Greek dishes and seafood overlooking the lush gardens.

Day 4: Inside the Old Town of Chania

Three brown seaside cliffs in Crete with blue water

Looking to delve even further into Crete? Make your way down to the old town of Chania. Wander through the San Salvador fortress, look out to the Chania lighthouse across the water, and make your way into the lively Old Port dotted with colorful buildings. The shopping in Chania is fantastic, so be sure to set aside some time to pop into the boutiques and outfit in Greek fashion. 

Stop off for lunch at Laganon Fresh Pasta. If you're craving a bit of a change from Greek food, go to The Well of the Turk, a place which looks like a Greek taverna influenced by Turkish elements. Afterward, make your way to the Old Chania Market, a historic, covered venue with numerous stalls selling crafts and souvenirs, pastries, cheese, olives, meat and more. A proper moveable feast!

If you're craving some adventure and views, drive to Seitan Limania in Akrotiri (about half an hour from Old Town Chania). Once you drive down an incredibly steep and twisty road, you'll be greeted with an amazing view of Seitan Limania's rocky cove, along with some friendly goats looking for a snack. You can hike down to the rocky beach and swim or just admire the views from the top. 

If you'd prefer to stay in Chania Old Town, spend the rest of your afternoon leisurely exploring the bustling town and sampling Greek snacks like loukoumades (like mini donut balls covered in honey or chocolate) or gelato and find a restaurant along the water in the harbor to watch the sunset.

Day 5: Pink Sand Beaches at Elafonisi

Pink sunset over blue water and yellow sun reflecting

Head south to the famous Pink Sand beach, Elafonissi, and you won’t regret it! It's a bit of a winding drive, but you'll pass through numerous little towns and villages where you can stop for a drink or bite to eat and marvel at the change in scenery. The middle of Crete is very mountainous, with great hikes and gorges to explore, if you're feeling adventurous. You could even detour to Samaria Gorge to hike and see some incredible natural vistas.

Rent chairs or spread out your towels at Elafonissi and marvel at how the sand actually is bright pink in the sunlight thanks to the crushed pink shells of foraminifera creatures. The water is shallow and warm and is perfect for a quick dip every so often. The beach does get a bit busy on nice days, so try to come early or on off days for a truly secluded experience.

A note from Rabia

If you like olive oil, you can stop off at Biolea Astrikas Estate while heading to Elafonissi Beach. You’ll be able to tour an olive oil manufacturing press and see the oldest known olive tree (at least 2,000 years old!) in Vouves.

Advisor - Rabia Malik

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Rabia Malik

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