Greece has always been a popular holidays destination. Not only because of the beautiful weather and marvelous landscapes, but also because of the relaxing climate . A week in Crete seems to be the ideal place to spend a Greek holiday . I will advise you how to spend time flying a week in nice and practical way. I also heard that Crete is more beautiful than Kos and has more to explore than Rhodes. What is more it took about 3 hours to get there from most parts of Europe.
Crete and Greek weather
Luckily for you in Crete summer lasts the longest in whole Greece (from May to mid-October) and is characterized by a very favorable microclimate thanks to the combination of Mediterranean climate with continental and African. In fact it means mild and rainy winters and hot and dry summers. From the end of April to the end of October rain practically do not exist. Crete is very mountainous, so weather in the North Island can vary significantly from that in the South. The North is usually colder, just as in the West. So if we are looking for hot weather we should visit eastern region of Crete, as indeed I have done. Maybe this will be some surprise for you but in Crete during the winter there is snow. Some mountain peaks are snow-covered until June.
In the months January – February is rainy and windy. In March and April it begins to be more sunny days as in spring. The best time for holidays is from May to June (hot and sunny) and from September to October (sunny). In July and August it is quite windy and very hot, and between November and December weather is capricious and you rather need to take warmer clothes.
More about weather you will find here.
Crete and practical informations
Needed documents: visa-free entry and residence for up to 90 days for EU citizizens with ID or passport. For those outside EU see here. Take the driver’s license with proof of registration (travel by car) and the health insurance card EUROPEAN HEALTH INSURANCE in case of need to use the national health service (only EU citizens).
Currency: Euro. It is best to take with you or take money from an ATM network Euronet (other charge a high commission)
Shopping: you can export to EU 800 cigarettes, 110 litres of beer, 10 liters of spirits, 20 litres of wine with higher alcohol content, 90 litres normal wine, gifts-unrestricted. Check here for outside EU.
Examples of prices in Crete: olive oil soap 1-2 €, beer 2-3 €, juice squeezed from oranges 3-4 €, feta cheese from 12 €/kg, water 0, 5 l 0.6-1 €
Voltage : 220V AC (50Hz). Appliances from North America require a transformer and British ones an adaptor
Water: apparently you can drink from the tap. It has a salty taste so I recommend mineral water from the store.
Time: Eastern European Time (EET)
Traffic on the street: right-hand traffic and Greek driving style. Greeks rarely use turn signals. There is a lot of radar and signs with change of the speed. Circle and signs are not always obvious. Be careful.
What to eat: olives, feta cheese, tzatziki sauce (yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, and herbs), moussaka (baked eggplant and potatoes with bechamel sauce), gemista (stuffed rice tomatoes and peppers), pasticio (pasta tubes stuffed with meat and bechamel sauce), outzoukakia (meat balls in tomato sauce), souvlaki (pork kebabs), snails, anise vodka ouzo, Greek metaxa brandy, orange juice.
Crete: first day
Evening arrival at Heraklion airport and accommodation for example in Kato Gouves. I think it isn’t a bad starting point to explore especially the eastern part of the island. After check in go for a walk by the sea to admire sunset.
Second day: Heraklion (Iraklion) and Knossos
To Heraklion you can get by bus for 2-3€ e.g. From Goueves it’s about 20 minutes. It’s worth taking a walk along huge defence wall by the harbour and then have a short stroll in the centre. The town itself will not sweep you off your feet but it will give you an interesting foretaste of Cretan culture and the nature of local little towns.
We can see a Venetian loggia– the town hall seat and Morosini fountain with marble lions, two eastern churches: Agios Markos and Agios Titos. Some people also visit the grave of Nikos Kazantzakis – the author of “Zorba the Greek”.
Later it’s worth taking a bus (it leaves every 20 minutes, ticket price is 1,70 €) and going to Palace of Knossos (adult 15 €, daily 08:00-18:00), which is only 6 km away. Here is a very important tip for those preferring to sightsee in “combo”- you can buy a joint ticket for Palace of Knossos and Archaeological Museum with exhibits of Cretan culture in Iraklion. The Palace is among the most important attractions in Crete. I think it’s worth visiting if you’d like to see the palace of Minos with its construction reminding a maze, which allegedly was the home of Minotaur. But if you don’t feel like spending money, then I believe you can simply skip it. As an alternative, you can try to enter the palace from behind. You’ll see it from above and if you get a little lucky you can visit it for free going against the flow.
I’m writing about this because not everyone can afford an expensive ticket, ant the attraction itself is not worth its price. Then you’ll have a chance to see the remains of stone and pottery workshops, throne room or original paintings (frescos) on the walls, ceramic figures, plates or gigantic clay barrows called pitos which, in ancient times, served the same purpose as jars do nowadays. A beautiful view on the town spreads form the courtyard. After you do your sightseeing you must definitely drop in for fresh orange juice. It’s exceptionally sweet and refreshing. The tavern is located right next to a ticket office. If you get a bit lucky, you’ll be able to pick your own oranges.
Third day: Skotino cave and beach Vai
For the begining, you can make a small walk to Gouves, where is the Mickey Mouse hill, and then go to the cave of Agia Paraskevi in Skotino (entry free). The whole thing should take us about 1-1.5 h. Along the way, you can visit the local Cretan villages where time has stopped.
Then head directly towards the Vai beach with palm trees (there are here supposedly about 500) and cliffs. From the rocks there is a beautiful panorama. However, a few kilometers to the West is Moni Toplou ( the monastery of the 17th century, full of Orthodox paintings and icons). To Vai you can go by express road, but I recommend the route along the coast. The views are breath-taking and the rout itself is full of views.
Fourth day: Elounda, Spinalonga and Agios Nikolaos
From Gouves it’s quite near to Agios Nikolaos where the sea joins a freshwater lake Wulismeni. You ca get here by bus but i recommend to rent a car. Due to its picturesque location is the perfect place for a romantic walk or dinner in the port. From there you can take a trip by boat (adult 18-20€) to Spinalonga island to see fortress of lepers. It’s much cheaper, however, to take a ferry from Elounda (adult 10€ , child 5€) to which you can get driving along a beautiful coast, and nearby there is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful wild beaches in Crete. You can’t get there directly and the descent is steep but it’s really worth it. I’ll write about it later. The entrance to the fortress, which I recommend definitely because of the well preserved walls and scenic views is 8 € (for students and children free of charge).
Fifth day: water park Anopolis or beaches in Malia and cretan night
For the more tired I recommend going for a beach in Kato Gouves, or a trip to the water park Anopolis where you will find attractions for both children and adults (adult 27 €, reduced 15 €). About 15% cheaper when you buy online. The Park is located about 16 km from Heraklion. Here the info how to get there.
As an alternative you can go by bus to beaches in Malia– allegedly regarded as the most beautiful in eastern Crete, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s an overrated attraction again. However, it all depends on what we have in mind when we mean a beautiful beach. In my view, the most beautiful beaches are wild ones with azure water and white sand, and not the ones next to hotels. This is why a misunderstanding may have been caused. Objectively speaking, however, if we are looking for clean and sandy beaches and we don’t mind crowds, then we’ll definitely like Malia. There is one beach after the other stretched along the coast. Each of them is directly connected with its hotel, so quite a large area is taken up by hotel deckchairs.
In order to find peace, nice views and rocks you need to take a longer walk- about 30-minute-long to Potamos beach. According to a waiter from a local restaurant, it’s the most beautiful beach in the area. And it definitely was the one. Remember to take comfortable shoes for walking besides your beach slippers because before you’ll reach the first beach, you have to take a two-kilometre walk from a bus stop. You have to get off before the centre and walk on foot down the whole promenade and then on the right.
At the end of day a must-see should be going to a Cretan evening in one of the taverns. Where is best to go ask in your hotel, because performances schedules is not fix. The most common entry to the tavern is free of charge. You can also go a for a trip with a local travel agency for about 20 € with consumption included.
Sixth day: Hersonissos and Sissi or Balos Bay
For those who do not like laying on the beach I would recommend a trip for shopping to Hersonissos (shopper’s paradise), and from there buy cruise wih traditional boat to coast of Sissi for about 25 euros. I know it’s so commercial, but it was a great relax for me, especially that I went by myself. For the price we have small snacks, fruits, sandwiches and drinks. It’s a perfect idea as long as we do not suffer the seasickness .
After 2 hours cruise in the picturesque coast with the possibility to swim in the caves you will reach charming village of Sissi, where you will have 1 hour for visiting and lunch (I recommend a restaurant Paradosiako). Sissi surprised me in a positive way as well with its beautiful cliffs and azure water in which I spotted some fish.
After back if only you have the strength you can visit the Aquarium in Gouves(normal 6-9 €).
Instead of the cruise to Sissi for the more ambitious, I recommend a one day trip to the Balos Bay and the island of Gramvouss. Why is it worth it? In Balos Bay is waiting for you paradise relaxing on white sand in the company of a turquoise lagoon with crystal clear water. It is here you can feel like in the Caribbean and try snorkeling or scuba diving. Fish can be admired even at the beginning of May. You can get there by car (Note: about 7 km, but the road is quite narrow and requires good skills) or by boat from the port of Kissamos.
Seventh day and last moments of relax
The last day we should spent on bathing and shopping. Above all, remember to purchase olive oil (on the island of Crete is the best in all of Greece). The price of 0,7 l bottles range from 4.5 to 12 €. When you are choosing not follow the price or brand. Alternatively, you can visit the Aquarium in Gouves, if you have not done this before.
Driving in Crete in Greek style
To explore the island, I definitely recommend renting a car which is cheap. One day is 20-25 EUR for a small car. Renting a car itself is very easy- it’s enough to show your driver’s licence, fill out the form, pay and off you go. Allegedly, insurance is included in the price but lucky for us we didn’t have to find out. It gets worse later. Firstly, Greek cars have no mandatory inspection certificates and for sure air conditioning hasn’t been cleaned since the year of production. So a driver must not only have strong nerves and patience for gear box that jams all the time but also strength to turn a wheel which power steering exists only in writing. Meanwhile, driving on Greek roads isn’t easy at all- first of all, Greeks developed their own unique style with one general rule- no rules at all. They are also fond of using a left indicator while braking which results in every second car having a burnt light. It can be explained by the fact that speed limit signs are very frequent and most often they come with a speed trap. Roads are winding, especially those along the coast, so you can forget about dizzying speed. Crete is also very hilly. So we should always make some allowances for the time of our journey which Google Maps sets. We should also include mistakes on roundabouts where a sign doesn’t necessarily show the right direction.
Santorini if we have more time
What I dreamt of personally was a trip to Santorini created on a volcano- the price which can be negotiated for a one-day trip is 105 EUR, which is not cheap but it is there where we can see the architecture of the white houses straight from “Mamma Mia”. Crete, on the other hand, is dominated by sand colour buildings and it’s not one of the prettiest. My friend checked it that more worth it for 2 days because there is only less than 5 h sightseeing. In price EUR 180 we have included hotel with breakfast. So I recommend visiting this place definitely. Previously, only check the weather forecast, because Santorini weather conditions differ from those of Crete and sometimes it is windy.