When you hear of the Greek Islands, your mind likely wanders to the whitewashed, blue-domed houses lining Santorini’s oceanside cliffs, or perhaps the carefree vibes of youthful party animals dancing ’til the sun comes up at stylish Mykonos beach clubs.

But Greece goes beyond its two most famous islands. In fact, the country has over 6,000 islands (only 227 are inhabited), offering numerous options to consider for a blissful Mediterranean, Aegean or Ionian getaway.

Enter Crete, one of Greece’s most underrated and incredible islands. Easily accessible and simply stunning, Crete is actually the largest of the Greek Islands. Its size ensures it offers so much to visitors — stunning sunsets, incredible wine, traditional Greek fare, beautiful beaches, ruins and hiking spots.

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Whether you prefer a pampered vacation with all the luxury amenities or to get off-the-beaten-path and explore, Crete has something for you. Here are all the reasons why it should hold a firm spot on your travel list.

Is Crete worth visiting? 5 Reasons Why You Need To Visit Crete, Greece • Winetraveler

Crete is largely underrated

Everyone wants to go to Santorini. It’s understandable, as the island seems to be the poster child for a Greek vacation. But Santorini is also crowded and extremely expensive. Crete also has beautiful, clifftop villages, luxury honeymoon hotels, family-friendly villas and those dreamy Greek sunsets — at a much more affordable rate. Plus, you may stumble upon an empty beach or local village void of tourists.

It has gorgeous beaches

Considering Crete is the largest Greek island, there’s plenty of coastal space. Your biggest problem will simply be deciding on which beach to go to. The island is so big that it can take several hours to drive from one end to the other, so consider finding beaches in the area you plan to stay in, or even better, deciding to stay where some of the best beaches are. Some Winetraveler beach favorites are located near the Chania area on the west side of the island, like Balos Lagoon and Elafonisi. Agiofarago in the south is reachable only by boat or hike. Vai Palmgrove and its towering palm trees are located on the more rugged east side of the island.

Is Crete worth visiting? 5 Reasons Why You Need To Visit Crete, Greece • Winetraveler

And incredible sunsets

Crete has an expansive west coast full of beautiful beaches, cliffs and hilltops perfect for admiring those world-famous Greek sunsets. You can enjoy the sunset from any west coast beach (the aforementioned Balos and Elafonisi are both popular spots). Or, head to Rethymno, a walled Venetian fortress from the 16th century.

The island is enormous

You won’t have to worry about confusing ferry schedules to get to this island. Crete is so large, it actually has two major airports! You can fly there from many European capital cities or hubs.

It’s important to have an idea of what to do and where to stay before booking your plane ticket. If you fly into Chania (CHQ), you can enjoy the charming village of Chania plus many of the beautiful west coast beaches and sunsets. You can also hike the Samariá Gorge, one of the largest gorges in Europe or visit the Rethymno Fortress. 

If you’d prefer to explore the less touristy, wilder east part of the island, fly into Heraklion (HER), the island’s capital. The further east and south you go, the more quaint fishing villages and tranquil beaches you’ll come across. And, the main city is best for history buffs wanting to explore the Knossos archaeological site dating back to the Bronze Age. 

So much delicious food and wine

The entire north coast of Crete is dotted with Greek wineries. Most of Winetraveler’s favorites are located near Chania, like Manousakis. The family-owned winery uses a number of grapes in their wine production, including Vidiano. This grape is indigenous to the island and typically produces dry white wine. The winery has strong connections to the Cretan community and donates a portion of its proceeds to a school for children with disabilities.

Another family-owned winery, Karavitakis sits in the hills of the Kolimbari area outside of Chania. Besides tasting the wine which is produced from local grape varietals, you can explore the small church that is set among the vineyards and olive groves. 

When it comes to dining out, there are endless options appropriate for any budget located on the island. Choose from local fisherman spots with fresh seafood to fancy, modern restaurants. You can even buy fresh cheeses and honey from local vendors to make your own sunset happy hour snacks.

Plan to sample dakos, a Greek-style bruschetta built upon barley rusks soaked in olive oil topped with tomato, herbs and Cretan cheese. And speaking of Cretan cheese, many villages make their own, so make sure to try some. Lamb is a popular dish, and fresh seafood is always the right choice when dining along the coast.

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Comments ( 2 )

  1. Look at that water! I would love to go to Crete one day. Wine and minotaurs. How is it for day hiking/walking?

  2. It’s wonderful for day hikes! The Samaria Gorge is an incredible spot, and there are many ancient ruins to wander through. Sunset walks are also especially nice. It can be hilly though!


Lori Zaino is a travel expert that's lived in Madrid, Spain for over a decade. A self-taught oenophile and culinary connoisseur, she's just as comfortable backpacking through Latin America's wine country as she is demurely sipping Champagne in French castles.

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