Who doesn’t think of whitewashed houses and blue windows to the backdrop of the even bluer ocean when they think of Greece? So did I for the longest time until I actually took my first trip to Greece and visited Thessaloniki and Halkidiki. There was nothing blue and white about either yet I still loved them both. So when I started to plan my Greek return I just kind of knew I wanted to see something more than Instagram shows, which has us believe that all there is are the Cycladic islands with their typical colors. I decided to explore the little island of Alonissos, the monasteries and rock formations of Meteora and Crete, an island that may as well be another country it is so different from Greece.

Fact is, Crete is different and proudly so. Independence is actually a topic for Cretans and as per usual in these situations, it is an iffy one. The people here call themselves Cretans and not Greeks and Crete’s landscape plays part in its otherness. While the ocean is just as clear, the landscape is more rugged, a little bit wilder and the stubborn Cretian goats have no problem to take a nap in the middle of the road.

This is all part of its charm as it turned out. So why should you come to Crete and what is there to do and see? Glad you asked because there are some excellent reasons why you should start to plan a trip to Crete now!

1. Eat

As with any Greek destination, eating is a big part of the culture and many traditions revolve around food. Crete is no difference in this regard and in fact, prides itself to be the European nation with the longest life expectancy due to its diet. This diet includes no recipes but traditions, lots of olive oil – Cretans consume an average of 25l per person a year – local and seasonal ingredients, veggies and wild herbs, and of course, one glass of wine per day which is of course only the prescribed minimum.

What does this mean for you? Let’s just say you won’t lose any weight when on holiday in Crete and you won’t even mind because you will be healthy and happy.

Many companies still make traditional products like the Ntourountous bakery in Chora Sfakion or the Balantinos cheese manufacturer. Local and seasonal products are key and if you are not a fan of olive oil, also referred to as liquid old here, or cheese Crete might not be the place for you. If you are, you have come to paradise though.

Any place that celebrates cheese is my kind of place but after coming to Crete I can just say – move over, France! I recommend a cheese tasting with local mizithra, malaka (which is apparently also a really bad word – can someone translate for me?), and cheese pies as soon as you arrive to get into the grove. Another cheesy highlight is graviera, a cheese made of unpasteurized milk and aged in caves (not graves as I first understood – talk about getting lost in translation!). Feta fans need to ask for ‘white cheese’ as feta is a term just like champagne that can only be used for products from a specific region.

Other things you shouldn’t miss when in Crete? Dakos, the Cretan bruschetta, lamb (which only feeds on herbs in Crete), Paximadi which are rusks and great to take on road trips, and my personal favorite: Xinochontros, a ground wheat with goat’s milk that becomes a risotto-like quality and is unbelievable yum.

2. Wine Tasting

Where there is food there is wine and you cannot go anywhere in Greece and not drink wine. As it is part of the daily Cretan diet it should also be part of your trip to Crete. Especially on a rainy day, I recommend a trip to the beautiful Manousakis Winery.

The winefarm is run by the Alexandra Manousakis and her husband and offers the perfect mix of traditions, great wine, and Instagram-worthy locations (if you are looking for a place to get married, this might just be it). And of course, the staff wear cool “Make wine not war” t-shirts.

You can choose between different tasting flights depending on your taste and (drinking) stamina as well as sample some local delicacies. Try the Romeiko, a varietal native to the area around Chania, and definitely the Nostos Roussanne which quickly became my favorite of the 11(!) wines I got to sample.

3. Diving

Needless to say, this little mermaid needed to go diving in Crete. By lucky coincidence, I ended up in Chora Sfkaion on the south side of the island, a somewhat sleepy little seaside town that holds some real underwater treasures like the Italian Cave. This cave is only accessible underwater through a narrow bottle hole opening you need to dive through. In the cave, salty seawater and freshwater from the mountains meet and you can actually see it as the water actually gets sort of streaky thanks to the extreme thermocline. It also means that the temperature drops around 8 degrees once you dive through.
To be honest, I was not keen at all – caves scare me and during one of my last dives in Raja Ampat, I almost had an underwater panic attack diving through a murky overhang and I consider any water temperature below 28 degrees I extremely cold. However, I was promised it would be all worth it by my instructor Damulis from Notos Mare and so off and under we went.

With the cold comes another phenomenon – the water becomes clear like glass, something I have never seen before. Once in the cave, we dived to the ceiling where we could take our regulators out as there were a few meters of space and air as well as an impressive collection of stalagmites and stalactites. Even I was sad when we had to go back because we were freezing in our 5mm wetsuits and while it was a rather short dive it was definitely one to remember (though not with pictures as my hands were too shaky from cold and excitement to take proper photos).

4. Islands & Beaches

To be honest, it isn’t one bit deserted but Loutro still makes for a lovely excursion if you are keen for a bit of blue and white afterward. Take a taxi boat from Chora Sfakion to get you there and just arrange a time for your return as this little lagoon is only accessible by sea.

It offers a few hotels, restaurants, pebble beaches and one lone parrot that bites. There is not much to do except to swim, nap and drink frappe and that is exactly its appeal. Especially when you are traveling with kids or want to practice the art of doing nothing for a few hours this might be the place for you.

But you don’t even have to venture that far if you want some beach action – there is beautiful spots all over Crete, just pull your car over when you see a stretch of sand to your liking. Needless to say, make sure to have a bikini with you at all times!

5. Botanical Garden

One of my highlights in Crete was a visit to the Botanical Park & Gardens. Mind you, I have a thing for Botanical Gardens but even if you usually think them boring I urge you to check it out.

The Crete Botanical Park & Gardens was built 2004 after an incredibly devastating fire around the village of Skordalou in the White Mountains. The area was known for its olive trees, the oldest in Europe, and the fire burned down sixty thousand trees some of them over 400 years old. To bring the burnt area back to life some locals decided to build the Botanical Park & Gardens for trekking, education, and recreation.

A special microclimate allows for Mediterranean, tropical and alpine fruits and plants to grow in close proximity an absolutely unique concept.
Whether you want to take a leisurely stroll or do a proper hike the choice is yours but either way, it is worth it as the garden is not only educational but also insanely beautiful.

Do not under any circumstances miss lunch at the restaurant – the food is some of the best in Crete. Farm to table is taken to the next level here as all ingredients are local and seasonal. So local in fact that you won’t be able to order a Coke. Especially for vegetarians, this is a great place as most of the dishes are plant-based and I promise the meat eaters amongst you that you won’t miss a thing.

6. History Lesson

Crete is also the place to be for history nerds/fans. After all, it was here where the famed Minotaur was killed by Theseus with the help of Ariadne who assisted him to find his way out of the labyrinth where the Minotaur lived. The Cave Labyrinth is set to be the place of this mythical story but you cannot access it anymore these days. Luckily there are enough other places for history fiends to get there fix in Crete. One is the Palace of Knossos which is believed to be the former palace of King Minos and the Heraklion Archaeological Museum which is world renowned and houses treasures from many archaeological sites around the island.

7. Chania

Chania is another one of those historic sights and to be honest, I wasn’t keen to go to. I expected the city, the former capital of Crete, and known for its Venetian Harbour to be touristy and overrated. I went somewhat grudgingly on my last day just for a few pictures and ended up being sad that I didn’t go sooner.

Chania has everything a historic city should have: cobblestoned streets, hidden alleys, restaurants shaded by vines, maritime harbor views and many Instagram-worthy corners. Yes, it also has a myriad of shops that sell souvenirs and with its a whole lot of tourist, but its charm makes more than up for it. Definitely come here for an evening stroll or a romantic dinner date.

10 Essential Experiences to have in Chania, Crete


Tips for traveling to Crete

  • Crete has its own airport in Chania but you will most likely need to connect via Athens. I flew with Aegean Airlines from Frankfurt and unfortunately had connections through Thessaloniki and Athens which turned a short distance into an all-day flight. I recommend you pay a little extra and book a flight with only one layover stop.
  • To get around Crete renting a car is the way to go. My car rental company picked me up from the airport and handed me the car keys at the hotel. Crete is quite a big island and great for a road trip. Just beware of the goats and other animals when driving in the mountains – they know no roadsigns!
  • I stayed at the Oscar Suites & Village in Platanias, a popular resort area 11km from Chania. Here you will find bars, restaurants, and shops as well as a nice little stretch of beach right next door.
    The hotel offers various room categories to suit all budgets. If you are traveling for a special occasion I can highly recommend their suites but all rooms are spacious and even come with a little kitchenette. Their restaurant is famous for its pasta and I can confidently say as a self-proclaimed pasta snob that it is the place to eat if you are in the mood for something different than Cretan cheese pie.
    Needless to say that the hotel gets extra points from me for being home to a cat and her five little ones while I was staying there.

Thank you to Discover Greece, Aegean Airlines and Oscar Suites & Village for making this amazing trip possible!

This post was written by Annika Ziehen who was a Travelette until 2019. Originally from Germany, Annika has lived in New York and Cape Town and now travels the world full time. She considers herself a very hungry mermaid and writes about her adventures, scuba diving and food on her blog The Midnight Blue Elephant. You can also find her on Instagram here!