Crete | Travel Guide
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Update October 4:
Now the traffic light list is gone, if you're fully-vaccinated you won't need a pre-departure test to come back to the UK, just a day 2 PCR test and the UK government's Passenger Locator Form. If you're not fully-vaccinated the old amber list rules apply - pre-departure test then 10 days' self-isolation with tests on days 2 and 8.
Children under 18 won't need to self-isolate but will still need to take the precautionary tests. Those aged 5-10 only need to take the day 2 test and those under 4 are exempt from any testing or self-isolation.
Greece allows UK visitors to arrive with either proof of vaccination, a PCR test or the simpler antigen test.
You'll need a negative PCR no more than 72 hours before arrival, antigen test 48 hours before arrival or proof of full vaccination. You'll also need to do a rapid test when you arrive.
When you're there:
At the moment it's mandatory to wear a mask indoors in public places, and some restrictions apply to internal travel. Restrictions vary regionally and the best place to check the current restrictions is on Greece's government website.
Crete Travel Guide
Welcome to the Holiday Extras Crete travel guide – the best place to find out everything you need to know about this fascinating Greek island before you go. Here's what you can expect:
- Facts about Crete
- How to get there
- Getting around
- Things to do
- Where to stay
- What to eat
Some facts about Crete
Crete is the largest of the Greek islands and the most populous of them too. It was the birthplace of Zeus, home of the mythological Minotaur of the labyrinth, and has a history dating from the time of the ancient Greeks and even earlier.
The warm climate, diverse scenery and thousands of years of history means there's something for every traveller – whether they want to visit the nightclubs of Malia or the ancient Palace of Knossos. That's not to mention the gorgeous beaches, impressive architecture and tempting cuisine.
Because of its mountainous terrain, the climate in Crete can vary from hot and humid in the summer, to mild in winter with a dusting of snow on the mountains. It can get quite wet in winter but the weather quickly improves as spring arrives and is at its best from June to September. During this time you can expect average temperatures in the mid 20Cs and very little, if any, rain.
As part of Greece, the official currency of Crete is the euro. A tip of 10-15% is common for good service. Although some restaurants popular with tourists add a service charge so be sure to check the bill first.
English is widely spoken across the island, especially in areas popular with tourists. But it's always handy to learn some of the language before you go. Here are some Greek phrases to get you started:
- Hello (informal) - Yassou (ya-sou)
- How are you? - Ti kanis? (ti-kanis)
- What's your name? - Pós se léne? (poss-eh-len-eh)
- My name is - Me léne (me len-eh)
- One - Ena
- Two - Dio
- Three - Tria
- Four - Tessera
- Five - Pende
- Please - Parakaló (para-kalo)
- Thank you - Efharistó (ef-ha-risto)
- Table for two - Trapézi gia dýo (tra-pezi jiya dio)
- The bill, please - Ton logariasmó, parakaló (ton-lo-ga-ria-smo, para-kalo)
- Goodbye - Antio (antio)
How to get to Crete
Crete has two international airports – Heraklion in the central north of the island, and Chania in the west.
You can get direct flights to both and it'll take around 4 hours to get there from London. If you're staying in Malia you're better off flying to Heraklion, while the beach resorts of the north west are better served by Chania.
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Getting around Crete
As it's the largest of the Greek islands, knowing how to get around is key to making the most of your stay here.
Crete is pretty big, so hiring a car while you're there is a great option if you want to see as much of the island as possible.
There's a main highway that runs from east to west along the north side of the island and this will probably be the starting point of most of your journeys.
While it may be a bit of a challenge to navigate the minor roads that weave through the island's interior if you're not used to it, you'll be rewarded with spectacular scenery. If you do venture to rural or mountainous areas stay on the lookout for roaming wildstock, fallen rocks and very sharp bends.
Crete doesn't have any railway and the only other form of public transport on the island is bus. Thankfully it has a pretty comprehensive bus network that connects the larger cities to the smaller towns and resorts, as well as the more rural areas further inland.
The buses run fairly regularly and they're reasonably priced too. You can buy your tickets in advance from a ticket office, but if you can't find one or it's closed you can buy them on the bus too. The main thing to remember is that if you're visiting during the high season, it's a good idea to buy your tickets the day before and get to the stop early – especially if it's going to be a long journey.
Buses are a decent alternative to driving - they're usually pretty comfy and air conditioned, and they serve the majority of attractions on the island, including the ruins of Knossos, Samaria Gorge and the island of Spinalonga. More on those next.
Things to do in Crete
Crete has everything from ancient ruins to blissful beaches to stunning natural scenery. Here are some of the best ways to fill your days during your time here.
Palace of Knossos
Knossos is the capital of the Bronze Age Minoan civilisation that blossomed in Crete around 5,000 years ago. The Minoans, named after King Minos from Greek mythology, were the first advanced civilization in Europe and even predated the ancient Egyptians.
The remains of their palace at Knossos include royal apartments, courtyards and baths, some of which were – rather controversially – restored by British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans in the early 1900s. You'll also see beautiful replicas of the original frescoes that adorned the ancient walls.
Heraklion is like a historical cross section of all the cultures that have called Crete home. With remnants of the Minoans and thousands of years later the Romans, as well as the Venetian fortifications from the 13th century.
While it's not renowned for its beauty, Heraklion is worth a visit for the history alone, but there's plenty more to it. Visit the Heraklion Archaeological Museum for its vast collection of Minoan art, or the Cretaquarium to learn about Mediterranean sea life.
There's also a picturesque harbour defended by a Venetian fortress – a great place for views over the city.
Located within a national park and against the backdrop of the rugged peaks of the White Mountains, Samaria Gorge is 150m at its widest, but just 3m at its narrowest – and at 16km long it's the longest gorge in Europe.
It's a popular spot for hiking, with a well-marked route leading all the way into the gorge where you'll pass an abandoned village, old churches and dusty ruins. You might even meet some curious kri-kri, a wild goat only found on Crete, along the way.
This hike typically takes around 6-8 hours so make sure you're fully prepared if you decide to take it on. If that sounds a bit too strenuous, there are tours and buses available to the surrounding towns and villages – so you can see all the scenery without the effort.
Crete boasts some of the best beaches in all of Greece, and one of the most beautiful of these is Elafonisi. The sand here has a pink tinge because it's partly made up of shells and coral. But what makes Elafonisi truly spectacular is the tiny island just a short distance off the coast, surrounded by crystal clear water.
You can wade to it through the shallow water, then head off and find a secluded spot to roll out your towel. The water is very shallow so it's ideal for kids to play in too.
Despite its idyllic setting just off the coast, this pretty isle is known to some locals as the island of the living dead because of its history as a leper colony. Throughout the first half of the 20th century leprosy patients were sent here so they wouldn't spread the disease to the healthy.
Despite the odds, the colony eventually became a thriving community, but the population dwindled as advances in medicine meant the inhabitants could be cured. The island is completely uninhabited now, but you can still explore the ghost town where the lepers lived, and the Venetian fortifications from the 1500s.
Where to stay in Crete
Where you stay tends to decide what kind of holiday you'll have, whether you came to party, unwind or explore. Luckily Crete has plenty of options and even more resorts.
Malia is the party capital of the island as well as its most popular resort – especially with tourists from the UK. With its lengthy strip framed by bars, restaurants, tavernas and nightclubs, Malia is the place to go if you want the best nightlife. The beach and old town are pretty nice too.
Thanks to its popularity there's no shortage of hotels and apartments, whether you want to be by the sea or in the heart of the resort.
Chania is in the west of the island and couldn't be further, literally and otherwise, from the party town of Malia. Known for its stunning beaches and rugged coastline, the city itself serves as an ideal base to explore the island, with easy connections to Heraklion and beyond.
Plus the surrounding region is dotted with laid-back beach resorts, offering everything from all-inclusive luxury to self-catered apartments and everything in between.
Rethymno lies on the northern coast of the island, a little west of Heraklion. It's a popular destination for tourists but without the nightlife of Malia – ideal if you're after a more quiet stay by the beach.
The town itself boasts a pretty harbour and lighthouse, along with its gorgeous Venetian old town – one of the best preserved on the island. You can find a mix of hotels here, including some within the old town for a more authentic stay. Of course, there are plenty of resorts closer to the beach as well.
What to eat in Crete
The best food on Crete takes advantage of the island's produce, which includes olives, oregano and locally caught seafood.
Simple can be best, like oregano roasted chicken with lemon, or go more adventurous with octopus boiled in vinegar or cuttlefish with wine.
For real crowd-pleasers you should try the fried cheese pies, or kalitsounia, which come in sweet and savoury varieties and are divine with a drizzle of honey.
You should also give the local tipple a go. Raki, a type of brandy made from grape pomace, is abundant in tavernas and coffee houses and pairs nicely with olives, mezes and dakos – the Cretan take on a Greek salad.
Looking for more inspiration, information or a handy travel guide? You'll find more on our travel hub.
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