I had never really considered travelling to Crete in the past, as I hadn’t heard too much about it. I had a week spare once arriving in Europe, before I had to move into my apartment in Florence. I used Sky Scanner to see what the cheapest destinations were from Florence on those dates, and Crete popped up as one of the options.
After a bit of research – I thought why haven’t I heard of this place before! And before I knew it, I had booked flights to spend 4 days in this Paradise.
Day 1: Visit Heraklion, Koules Fortress and Knossos Palace
Heraklion (Crete’s capital) is a large, bustling, crowded city. But behind this facade, you can find Heraklion has true character, and that it’s actually home to one of the best Archeological sites and museums in the world!
Start your day by waking up early – grab a freddo cappuccino to-go (only the best iced coffee in Greece!) and head down to the old port to watch the sunrise. Here you’ll find the Koules Venetian Fortress, which dates back to the early 1500s.
Grab some bougatsa (delicious creamy pastries) for breakfast from Phyllosophies and head towards the Archeological Museum of Heraklion. Open from 8am-8pm most days.
Make sure you purchase the combined ticket for entry to the Museum and Knossos Palace, as you’ll save €9. The Museum is filled with many of the finds from Knossos, Archanes, Phaestos, Zakros and many other archeological sites in Crete.
Eat out at Izmir Kebap for lunch – They are known for cheap and delicious local Greek foods. I got my gyros takeaway and sat and people watched at Agios Minas (Cathedral).
Walk to Bus Station A and take one of the frequent buses to Knossos. Bus tickets are around €5 return and the bus drops you right outside the entrance to the Palace.
Knossos has been named Europe’s oldest city! It is the centre of first advanced civilisation in Europe. The Minoan Civilisation left behind massive building structures, tools, and stunning artwork. A lot of which can be found in the Heraklion Archeological Museum today.
The palace was built on the Kephala hill and had easy access to the sea and the Cretan interior. This civilization is thought to have played a significant role in the development of Western Europe.
Knossos Palace is also known for its part in Greek Mythology. If you are a fan of Greek Mythology then I’m sure you have heard of King Minos and the Minotaur. The Minotaur was the son of Pasiphae, wife of King Minos of Crete. Queen Pasiphae had slept with a bull sent to her by Zeus, and gave birth to Minotaur (a creature half man – half bull). King Minos was embarrassed, but did not want to kill the Minotaur, so he hid the monster in a Labyrinth at the Minoan Palace of Knossos.
According to the myth, Minos was imprisoning his enemies in the Labyrinth so that the Minotaur could eat them. The labyrinth was supposedly such a complicated construction that no one could ever find the way out alive.
Day 2: Take a boat excursion to Spinalonga Island
Spinalonga Island was carved out of the coast by the Venetians in the 1500s, where they built a fortress. Over hundreds of years, the purpose of this fortress has changed many times. Because of its position the island, in it’s earliest years, the fortress was used to protect the entranceway of the port of Ancient Olous (a now sunken ancient city).
At a later date, the Island was used as a leper colony. It is noted for being one of the last active leper colonies in Europe (1903 to 1957).
Today it is uninhabited and has become a very popular tourist destination.
There are many different tours that offer this excursion. I booked mine at a tourist information centre close to the old port of Heraklion. In the morning you are picked up by bus and taken to the port of Elounda – where you jump on a boat to be taken to the island.
Upon arrival, you’ll need to purchase your entrance ticket to the fortress (this is not included in any of the excursion prices).
Your guide will take you around the island, explaining it’s history. Then you will have some free time to explore as you wish.
Around 12:30pm, everyone meets back on the boat. You are taken to tranquil Kolokitha Beach. Here you are free to either lay on the beach, jump off the boat, go for a swim. Kolokitha beach is spectacular with it’s crystal clear waters.
Whilst you are enjoying some rest and relaxation – a delicious barbecue is being cooked for all the excursion guests. We were presented with pork chops, greek salad, a slice of bread, an orange, and the choice of juice or wine.
After a few hours at Kolokitha Beach, it is time to head back to the port, jump on the bus, and return back to Heraklion. The average arrival time is around 6-6:30pm.
Day 3: Hike the Samaria Gorge
If there’s one thing I could tell you to do when visiting Crete, it would be to hike the Samaria Gorge! It is formed by a river running through the White Mountains to the Libyan Sea. Located in Crete’s National Park, you are surrounded by epic scenery the whole way down. And to top it off – you can tell people you’ve hiked one of the longest gorge’s in Europe!
My suggestion would be to come on an organised tour. Now this may sound daunting – but even though you are brought to the entrance of the gorge as a group, this does not mean that your hike will be crowded by people. Actually a large majority of the time I found myself alone or just with a few others nearby.
Most tours run from Chania – However I was staying in Heraklion and struggled at first to find tours that started from here, or if they did – that didn’t cost over €100! I was determined to find a reasonable priced tour and luckily did (€45).
It was an early start (but sooo worth it!!). The tour company picks you up early from a nearby spot to where you are staying. You spend a few hours on the bus, where you can take in the beautiful scenery from the drive, or catch up on some extra z’s before your big hike. Be sure to pack lunch/plenty of snacks, sunscreen, a hat, water (there are plenty of spots to refill your bottle throughout the track), a camera (because you’ll want to capture everything on camera!), and a second pair of socks (incase you get your shoes wet).
The bus drops you off at the entrance to the National Park, and from here you start making your way down the gorge. You will be given some tickets upon arrival to the Park, do not loose these as they are needed for different entry points throughout the hike.
At the end of the hike – Reward yourself with a nice cold beer from one of the restaurants on the coast. Here you will wait until the organised time by your tour guide, and take a ferry back to the bus, to take you home.
Day 4: Spend the day exploring Chania
Chania is very different to the Cretan capital Heraklion – it’s famous for it’s 16th-century Venetian lighthouse, narrow streets, the old port and it’s seaside taverns.
To get to Chania from Heraklion, you need to take a bus from Heraklion New Bus Station (yes, that is it’s name). You can only purchase a one-way ticket, so when heading back to Heraklion, you can buy the ticket at the Chania Bus Station. Tickets are €15 each way. The buses run every hour, on the half hour: 7:30am/8:30am/9:30am/10:30am and so on. It is a 3 hour bus ride so I’d suggest to take an early bus if you want to spend a full day there.
Upon arrival, start your day at the Nautical Museum of Crete. Here you will learn a lot about the history of Crete!
Walk back along the ancient stones, to the main part of the Harbour. Grab a drink and some lunch at one of their quaint seaside restaurants – The best spots to people watch!
Find Angelou Street and get lost wandering around one of the most picturesque parts of Chania, The Venetian Neighbourhood. Then walk along the wall from the Guardhouse to the Lighthouse. Here you will find breath-taking views of the colourful harbour from afar.
By now you will have probably worked up an appetite! Head to Mesogiako for dinner – A great place to try some Mediterranean specialties! Open from 6/6:30pm most days, be sure to make a reservation.
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