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Why go: If you have to choose one island to visit in Greece, it's easy to make a case for Crete. Its diverse landscape features everything from anicent ruins to gorgeous beaches, and you can spend a day doing anything from shopping in Agios Nikolaos to hiking the Samaria Gorge.
Tips on What To Do in Crete
Ancient ruins, stunning beaches, boutique-covered boulevards, experts agree that Crete has it all and more. However, not everything is located in the same place and it's hard to see the entire island in one trip. You'll make the most of your time on Crete by planning ahead and basing yourself in an area where the attractions that most interest you are located.
One of Crete's most famous archaeological sites is the ancient Palace of Knossos, which sits just two and a half miles southeast of Heraklion. Originally constructed around 2000 BC, the Palace of Knossos that stands today is actually a reproduction built by Sir Arthur Evans who excavated the site in the 1930s. The palace that stands today offers insight into the life of the Minoans who built it. However, some say that you will not be able to fully appreciate the Palace of Knossos without first visiting the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, which houses many of the artifacts discovered during the palace's excavation. Other ruins located near Heraklion include Arhanes and Gortys.
Heraklion is not the only city that takes pride in Cretan history. Chania and Rethymnon also boast spectacular archaeological museums. If you're spending some time in Chania, you might also want to check out the Maritime Museum, located at the Venetian Inner Harbor, and its next door neighbor, the Cretan House Folklore Museum.
Crete is popular among active travelers due to the many hiking spots, the most famous being the Samaria Gorge in Chania Prefecture. An 11-mile pass through the White Mountains in Samaria National Park is the longest gorge in all of Europe and was sculpted by more than 14 million years of rainwater. Other popular hiking locations include the trail to Monastery of Agios Ioannis near Plakias in Rethymnon Prefecture and Vai Beach in Lasithi Prefecture.
If hiking isn't really your thing, enjoy Crete's natural beauty in a more relaxing setting at the beach. The crowded beaches lining the coast of Agios Nikolaos in Lasithi Prefecture have been rated some of the cleanest in Europe. However, if you prefer seclusion, head to the southern coast. Beaches in both Paleochora in Chania Prefecture and Plakias in Rethymnon Prefecture are known for their soft sand and quiet atmosphere. For a one-of-a-kind nature experience, several travelers recommend the Balos Lagoon in Kissamos. From the pinkish-hued sand to the translucent water, more than one traveler describes the area as "paradise."
There are plenty of ways to spend your money on Crete. You can head east to the upscale fashion boutiques lining the shopping boulevards of Agios Nikolaos, or find something something uniquely Cretan in Rethymnon, Chania or Heraklion. In these prefectures, local craftsmen sell jewelry and leather goods from street stands and small boutiques.
Your best bet for nightlife is to base yourself in the larger cities of Heraklion and Chania. At night, the central plazas, as well as the smaller side streets, fill with traditional music and the smell of Cretan food pouring out of nearby tavernas. However, if it's a crazy party that you seek, travel writers recommend heading about 15 miles south of the city of Heraklion to Hersonissos where 20-somethings enjoy too much alcohol and not enough sleep. Just keep in mind that, no matter how you plan to spend your evening, Greeks generally don't begin a night out until 11 p.m. at the earliest.