Planning your next trip depends, among other things, on the level of change of scenery you're looking for.
As September was passing by, slowly leaving me with the perspective of gloomy Parisian fall weather, I was desperately wanting to extend the nice and warm European summer. My scenery was giving me grey skies, and I wanted blue ocean views.
Don't get me wrong, I love Paris. But the greyness is real. And I wasn't ready to give up on Summer yet. Treating yourself with a little sunny getaway is always a good idea, isn't it?
It was time to search for the right destination. I craved a chilled beach atmosphere, tasty cuisine, and cultural discovery. Southern Europe sounded like a good plan! It is ideal at this time of year for travelers who want to benefit from sunny yet slightly fresher weather in less-crowded iconic destinations.
If you're on the lookout for an affordable, exotic, and picturesque destination, you will eventually think about Greece (unless you're Greek yourself. Obviously.) That is precisely what I was looking for: different cultures, people, and languages. A complete change of scenery.
Greece is a marvelous country to travel to. It has so much to offer in terms of culture, food, landscapes, historical sites, and museums. It is, not surprisingly, one of the most visited countries in Europe.
While Santorini and Mykonos usually rank among the top destinations for breathtaking views and bustling nightlife, another island remains slightly underrated despite everything it offers: Crete. It is, however, the biggest Greek island and will for sure satisfy all kinds of travelers whether they are seeking wild landscapes, rich history, heavenly beaches, or lively towns.
Crete is very wide and is actually the most significant Greek island. Here is a 6-day itinerary that is an overview of this beautiful destination. If you would like to explore this whole land and enjoy every part of it, we recommend planning a 12-day trip at the very least. Our itinerary suggestion will focus here on the island's northern part through the discovery of three main cities of Crete.
This Greek journey begins in the capital of Crete, Heraklion.
Located on the North Coast, at the centre of Crete, Heraklion is the island's capital. Heraklion is one big, dense city. An impressive amount of buildings coexist on the coast with the beauty of the sea and the majestic mountains surrounding the city. If you are a nature enthusiast, you may not want to linger for several days in this location. Stopping at Heraklion is yet the opportunity to dive first into the Cretan culture and visit some not-to-be-missed locations.
Initiate your discovery of the city by wandering around the old harbour. Fishermen's boats and local seafood restaurants will immediately immerse you in the Mediterranean culture. Stroll around the port up to the impressive Venetian fortress surrounding the old town. Also called "Koules Fortress," this monument from the 16th century represents the city's multicultural heritage through Byzantine, Arab, and Venetian influences. You can visit and climb on top of the fortress to admire the panoramic view of the city and the mountains.
After exploring the coast, get lost in the lively heart of the city. Make sure to stop by the magnificent churches along the way (the Greek Orthodox Church of Agios Titos and Cathedral of Agios Minos, to name only two).
The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is an absolute must-see when visiting Heraklion. It actually holds the reputation of one of the most remarkable museums in Greece. The museum contains the most important and complete collection of artifacts of the Minoan civilization. You will undoubtedly be amazed by the abundance of artifacts displayed here in one location, covering 5,500 years of history, from the Neolithic period to Roman times. You will get absorbed and transported in this time travel through these relics of ancient civilizations.
When the evening comes, venture into the labyrinth of the cobbled streets full of restaurants, shops, and bars. Find yourself a nice tavern (local restaurant) to indulge in some delicious Greek food. If you're lucky, you will even be offered a glass of raki (typical Cretan aniseed alcohol) at the end of dinner!
If you want to continue this journey through history, you will not want to miss this significant archaeological site on the Cretan island: Knossos. The Knossos Palace (also known as Minoan Palace of Knossos) is located about 5km from Heraklion and is one of the most popular destinations in Crete. Prepare to be captivated by the legends of mythology about King Minos, the Minotaur, and Ariane's thread.
Warning: the site of Knossos was destroyed and abandoned for thousands of years before it was excavated at the end of the 19th century. The site was partly reconstructed under the supervision of archaeologist Arthur Evans. The liberty and imagination he used to rebuild some elements of the site have been criticized over the years. Some could be disappointed by the lack of authenticity of the site.
However, the stories around the excavations and reconstruction are also part of Knossos' history! We highly recommend visiting the site with a qualified guide to make the most of your visit to this legendary location.
Prepare for new horizons as you initiate your road to Rethymno. Rethymno is the third city of Crete and one of the most beautiful ones. It is located 80km West of the capital. The blend of architectural styles and the colourful streets of the old town will immediately delight you. Enjoy a stroll around the Venetian harbour, filled with typical seafood restaurants.
After walking along the port, wander around the cobblestone streets of the old city centre. Over your stroll, make sure to walk past a few emblematic locations of the city: the Venetian loggia, the Rimondi fountain, the Church of Four Martyrs, and the Neratze Mosque.
At the end of the day, make your way to the city's citadel: the Fortezza. This Venetian castle from the 16th century is an impressive fortress overlooking the whole town of Rethymno. Enjoy the visit to this historical site at sunset to benefit from the most magical light and colours. Take a moment to admire the infinity of the sea and the ephemerality of the sun setting behind the mountains.
Located about 25km from Rethymno, the Monastery of Arkadi is one major Cretan monument and a place of historical interest. It is a symbol of the struggle of the Cretans for liberation during Turkish occupation. The fascinating history of this unique location will undoubtedly absorb you and constitute another memorable experience of your Cretan journey.
Rethymno is also miles and miles of white sand beaches. Why not take half a day off to enjoy some relaxing time by the sea? You surely deserve it! The nearest and most accessible choice is to lay your beach towel on Rethymno Beach. It is a wide sand beach of 12km. Plenty of space to find your perfect spot and indulge in a regenerating sunbath moment! Episkopi Beach is another wide beach located 15km away from Rethymno. Less buildings, more nature! Enjoy the crystal-clear water while contemplating a breathtaking view on the Cretan mountains.
It's time to hit the road again and continue your exploration of the island. Let's go further to the West and make a stop at another highlight of your trip to Crete: Chania.
Chania is the second city of Crete after Heraklion. It is also considered one of the most beautiful places to see on this Greek island. Without a doubt, you will immediately understand its reputation after taking just a few steps in the charming alleys of the old town. It is not possible (or is it?) to avoid falling in love with the unique atmosphere that reigns in the historic centre of Chania. At every corner, you will come across typical restaurants, confidential hotels, flowery patios, and cute souvenir shops.
The Venetian harbour is the most famous image you'll see of Chania. And it is for a reason. The vibrant colours of the buildings surrounding the port are a marvel for the eye! The place is full of restaurants, cafés, shops, and photogenic spots! You don't want to leave this place before capturing this enchanting city view!
From the port, walk up to the Egyptian lighthouse overlooking the old city and appreciate the iconic view before you! It is even more breathtaking at sunset…
Ready for a last and unforgettable memory to make of this Cretan trip? Take your car and hit the road. Destination? Paradise! Located around 65km from Chania, the Balos Lagoon will have you speechless. This beach is famous for its dreamy, soft white sand and turquoise water. The breathtaking landscape and shallow water make it the perfect spot for a pleasant and relaxing swim.
After indulging in this heavenly getaway, treat yourself with a last dinner on the old harbour of Chania. Let the flavours of Greek cuisine enchant you, and appreciate the lively nightlife of magical Chania.