Ultimate guide Crete things to do + Top beaches Crete Elafonisi beaches included – Crete is a magnificent island not only for its beaches and sea, but also for its cities, its history, its food and the hospitality of its inhabitants. Crete is a vast island and you probably won’t be able to see it all in one holiday.
For this reason it may be useful to decide in advance which areas you want to visit so as not to miss the best and have a truly unforgettable holiday.
Crete things to do
What things to do in Crete? This is the question you have probably asked yourself if you have decided to spend your next holiday in Crete or simply if you are still deciding what your next destination will be and you are considering Crete.
You can see marked points of greatest interest to visit on the map shown here.
The map allows you to have only a general idea, but there are no problems because in this post, we are going to see and examine them better.
As mentioned above, you need to know that Crete is quite a large island and therefore you should choose a particular area to visit or some specific places because in a single holiday you will not be able to visit it all. This is especially true if you only have a week or so.
Top 7 what to see in Heraklion?
Heraklion is the largest city in Crete and is certainly interesting from a historical point of view. Most likely, in your holiday in Crete, you will want to include a visit to this city, being very close to one of the most important airports in Crete, therefore easy to reach and close to Knossos, an almost obligatory stop for those coming to Crete.
Here is the list of the best things to see in Heraklion, also known as Heraklion
- Venetian fortress
- Heraklion Archaeological Museum
- Morosini Fountain
- Center with shops
- Historical Museum of Crete
Walls of Heraklion and Knossos
Before the arrival of the archaeologists, the area of the ruins of Knossos was only a cultivated hill. People could then safely dig and take the material. Moreover, the material found was ideal to be reused as a building material: digging they found blocks already cut, ready to be reused. The older houses are made with just the material taken from Knossos.
Part of the Venetian walls of Heraklion are also made with stones taken from Knossos. In fact, the Venetians took a lot of material from Knossos at the beginning of the 16th century when they were building the fortifications.
Knossos is generally one of the most famous archaeological sites and certainly the most famous in Crete. The visit to Knossos is certainly interesting, better if done with a guide for a better understanding of what you see and the history of this city.
Once you have visited with the guide here at the palace of Knossos, the visit to the Heraklion museum will also make much more sense, as you will already know what you are looking at and what is best to focus on.
How to reach Knossos?
Knossos is one of the most important attractions in Heraklion and is therefore easy to reach. In fact, Knossos can be reached both by bus and by car without any particular problems.
The parking for the archaeological area of Knossos is very large and free.
What are the inhabitants of Knossos called?
The Minoan civilization lived in Knossos. We can therefore call the inhabitants of Knossos Minoites.
Is what we see in Knossos original or fake?
s what we see in Knossos original or fake? To answer this question, let’s first understand what we see during our visit to Knossos.
The palace we see today is the palace from 1700 BC. This palace was built on the ruins of the old palace. The only remaining parts of the old palace are the western courtyard, the warehouses and the theater. These parts were refurbished and reused until the end of the Minoan era. The rest of the old palace with its ruins was instead covered with earth after the earthquake of 1700 BC and the new palace was built exactly above.
It must be said that even the palace we see today, the palace of 1700 BC, has been damaged many times by earthquakes, the eruption of the volcano of Santorini in 1500 BC and the invasion in 1450. However, immediately after each destruction, the palace was renovated and re-inhabited.
This is true until 1360 BC, when the last great destruction was due to an earthquake, followed by a fire in the warehouses. In fact, the warehouses contained amphorae that contained oil and wine. The contents of these amphorae were overturned and due to the earthquake, they caught fire by the lamps that illuminated the warehouse. First, the warehouse caught fire and then the whole building. The fire burned all the wooden parts and since the columns were also made of wood, the whole building collapsed.
For this reason, there is nothing original in Knossos above the first horizontal beam. After the earthquake of 1360 BC, the palace was no longer restored, but the city of Knossos remained inhabited until 67 BC, when it was destroyed by the Romans. In fact, the Romans no longer needed a large city in the north and changed the sea routes. Their ships passed along the southern coast. They moved the capital of the island to the south, about 70 km from Knossos, where the ruins of the ancient city still stand today, which are located near Phaistos in southern Crete.
But until Roman times, Knossos was the capital of Crete.
Why do we see well-preserved parts of the palace of Knossos today?
If it is true that the Palace of Knossos collapsed, why do we see well-preserved parts of the palace today? To answer this question, let’s first try to figure out who started excavating the ruins of the palace of Knossos.
The first to excavate at Knossos was Arthur Evans, who carried out restoration, not of a conservative type but rather tried to reconstruct some parts of the palace according to his idea of how it could be. In addition, he uses materials that are not faithful to the originals and unrelated to the original construction of the palace of Knossos.
His method is clearly criticized by modern archaeologists, although tourists are very attracted to these reconstructed parts, and are among the most photographed.
So some parts of the palace that seem well preserved, especially those with red columns, are actually a reconstruction by Evans. Other parts of the building, such as the warehouses, are original.
Why had they chosen this place to build the city of Knossos?
Why had they chosen this place to build the city of Knossos? The city of Knossos was located not on the sea but at a certain distance. This allowed it to be protected in case of direct attacks from the sea.
It was also located a little high so that you could control and observe the land around it. There was a natural fortification formed by all the hills around, plus it is a fertile area and there was water nearby. For all these reasons, this place was chosen for the construction of Knossos.
Are there any frescoes in Knossos?
While visiting the ruins of Knossos, you will see some frescoes. These frescoes are copies and are not originals, as the originals are kept at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum.
In any case, the frescoes of Knossos are beautiful to see as different colors were used and from these frescoes, we can learn about different aspects of the life of the inhabitants of this city.
The colors were extracted from plants, shells, minerals, the walls from which they took the dust, and the bones of burnt black animals and imported the blue from Egypt. They painted the men red and the women white. The women were white, perhaps to make it clear that they didn’t go out often, didn’t work in the fields, and were therefore not tanned.
Gold and wooden items were painted yellow, while silver items were painted blue. Silver items such as vases, bracelets, and anklets.
From the information we have, we can say that the people represented here in the painting are men in fact, they are painted in this reddish color, they hold various objects, some of which are silver as they are blue.
These were priests dressed in their typical priestly robes. The priests depicted in the paintings are always dressed like this: with a short embroidered skirt, with all colorful designs on it. It was probably made of very fine fabric or was very wide because a net with small silver weights at the bottom hung in the final part of the skirt. This was to prevent the skirt from being raised even on windy days.
The rest of the man’s body was naked. In the frescoes, all these men are represented with narrow waists and broad shoulders but in reality, we can say that they were not like that. In fact, observing the skeletons found, they were not even very tall, around one meter and 60 cm. The women were instead others around the meter and 50 cm. There were also taller men but generally, they were shorter and not as slender as we see them on the frescoes.
In the processions, there was a line of men coming from one direction and another procession of men coming from the opposite direction and in the center between the two lines, there was a white woman waiting to receive the offerings contained in the vases.
The rooms we see have been reconstructed and even the columns are not original, but we still see the ancient alabaster base under the columns.
How do we know how tall the rooms were?
If we don’t have columns and how do we know how tall the rooms were?
The rooms were a maximum of 3 meters high as this is the height of the stairs leading to the upper floors.
The bull as a symbol of power
The bull was, for the inhabitants of Knossos, a sacred animal, a symbol of power. According to Evans, the double horns symbolized the king’s double power: religious power and legislative power. The horns were placed on the roofs of the rooms (Evans’s theory) or on his drawings. The horns were a symbol indicating the sacred character of a part of the palace.
The western courtyard and the processions
On your visit to Knossos, one of the first areas you come across is the western courtyard. It must be said that seeing it without an explanation, we cannot understand its function or importance.
The courtyard is crossed by three corridors raised above the rest of the pavement and they intersect each other. The idea is that processions would parade over them during the ceremonies.
You can clearly see these corridors from the model of Knossos that you find at the Heraklion museum.
To know how the processions took place, we must rely on the images depicting these scenes, as we have not yet been able to understand the Minoan script.
For this reason, a sarcophagus kept at the Heraklion museum is very important because it shows us a procession like those that probably took place right here in the western courtyard.
The warehouses kept large amphorae in which products such as wine, olive oil, and honey could be placed.
The size of the Knossos warehouses makes us understand that they could satisfy more than just the needs of the inhabitants of Knossos. In fact, all the products collected in the neighboring lands were probably brought into the palace and from there distributed to the inhabitants or exported to other countries.
This makes us understand that the palace of Knossos was also a commercial center.
The warehouses were rectangular rooms generally covered and closed. Two sets of amphorae were placed near each room’s long walls. In the warehouses where the products were liquid such as wine and oil, there were holes in the ground or small square or rectangular tanks, a maximum of 1 meter and 20 cm deep, with an internal alabaster lining.
These small cisterns had the task of collecting the contents of the amphorae when they broke for any reason: for an accident or an earthquake, for example. In this way, even if all the vessels were destroyed at the same time, at least some of the products were collected in these tanks and not lost. The product could then be filtered and reused.
The religion of the Minoan civilization
The inhabitants of Knossos were monotheists until at least 1500 BC. In fact, the museum contains clay tablets written with the writing used in Crete after 1500 BC that mention 3 gods of Olympus: Dionysus, Poseidon and Zeus.
It is therefore evident that these 3 gods were introduced from Greece around 1500 BC with the arrival of the Mycenaeans from the Peloponnese, who brought with them the worship of their gods. The worship of these gods accompanied the worship of the Minoan goddess who was previously worshiped.
The worship of the mother earth of the Minoites continued until 1100 BC, but this adoration was accompanied by the adoration of the other 3 gods after 1500 BC.
The Minoites organized ceremonies, processions and sacrificed animals for their divinity. Everyone could go to the sanctuary of the palace: inhabitants of the palace, Cretans but also foreigners. In fact, alabaster vases built in Egypt have been found with hieroglyphic inscriptions that also bear the names of the pharaohs.
People brought their offerings to propitiate the goddess’ favor or as thanks. Animal models in ceramic and bronze were found brought perhaps by shepherds who wanted to ask for something for their animals.
Then some ex-votos were found very similar to those that are still carried in churches today. Today, in fact, gold or silver tablets are brought to represent parts of the body for which healing is requested. The Minoites did not have tablets of gold or silver but small ceramic objects in the shape of the part of the body for which healing was sought.
The double ax
The double ax was the most important symbol of the Minoan civilization. More than 2000 double axes of different materials, weights and sizes have been found here in Knossos. The double axes were used for different purposes depending on the size and material.
The medium-sized ones were used for animal sacrifices, and the larger ones supported by stone and wooden bases served as an ornament inside the palace or stood in front of the sanctuaries. Smaller gold ones were hung around the neck, perhaps as a sacred symbol of the Minoan religion as crosses are used today. In fact, some still retain a ring on one side from which they passed a chain or a cord to form a pendant to wear around the neck.
The double ax symbol was also engraved on the walls of the rooms.
What is the Knossos labyrinth actually?
We have just seen how widespread and important the double ax symbol was in Knossos. This symbol is also connected to the very term labyrinth. How?
We know that the ancient name of the double ax was lábrys. It is said that the Greek word labyrinthos or labyrinth in Italian derives from this ancient word. Labyrinth is a word made up of two others: lábrys, which is the name of the double ax and inthos which means place or locality. Labyrinthos then meant the place of the lábrys, the house of the double ax.
Probably this was the name given to the palace of Knossos by the Mycenaeans or by the Greeks who saw this palace full of double axes and called it labyrinth.
Perhaps later, this term was used by others who wanted to describe buildings similar to the palace of Knossos. In fact, the palace was large and complicated, all complicated constructions were called that. Gradually the word lost its ancient meaning and took on another meaning, first in Greek and then in other languages.
For archaeologists, the labyrinth was the great building of the palace of Knossos.
The labyrinth of Knossos according to mythology
According to mythology, the labyrinth was instead a construction made by an architect from Athens: Daedalus. Minos had ordered Daedalus to build a prison for the minotaur: the queen’s son and a white bull that Poseidon had sent as a gift to Minos.
After the scandal that broke out in Knossos for the birth of the monster, Minos ordered Daedalus to build the labyrinth. Inside the labyrinth, the monster was imprisoned: the minotaur.
Daedalus and his son Icarus were not allowed to leave the island of Crete not to reveal the labyrinth’s secret. They then escaped with wax wings built by Daedalus but while they were flying over the islands of the Aegean sea, Daedalus Icarus’s son got too close to the sun. His wings melted, he fell into the sea and died.
Since then, a part of the Aegean sea bears his name: Icarion sea, with the island of Icaria formed exactly in the place where Icarus lost his life.
This is the story of the labyrinth. According to mythology, the labyrinth is the place where the minotaur ate 7 boys and 7 girls from Athens every year. The place where Theseus, the prince of Athens, entered using Ariadne’s thread, killed the minotaur, and then found his way out using the thread.
All these myths were invented many years after the end of the Minoan era, probably by people who wanted to describe something they had heard and passed down from their ancestors to explain what happened in antiquity.
What is the origin of the myth of the arrival of Theseus?
What is the origin of the myth of the arrival of Theseus? Archaeologists say that the myth of the arrival of Theseus, a Greek and the killing of the monster may be an indication of an invasion by the Greeks. There is the theory that in 1450 BC the Mycenaeans, or the Greeks, destroyed the palace.
Where does the myth of the Minotaur originate from?
Where does the myth of the Minotaur originate from? The myth of the monster, of the minotaur who lived in Crete and ate 7 boys and 7 girls from Athens every year, was probably invented to describe bullfighting.
Bullfighting was a Minoan game in which a wild and untrained bull participated. They hunted the bull in the plains where they lived and took them to the place where these games were played. The games were also attended by athletes who could be both men and women, as we can also see in the fresco: some figures are white while one is red.
We recall as already mentioned above that in the frescoes the women were colored white, the men instead of this reddish color.
The athletes depicted in the games are all dressed alike, with a uniform consisting of short shorts.
At the start of the games, the athlete had to take the bull by the horns as the bull ran toward him, then he had to jump over his back, and eventually, he had to jump back and stay standing. As you can see, they were very difficult games.
The games aimed not to kill the bull but to do stunts over its back. The bull was a sacred animal, and they sacrificed it on other occasions but not during games.
Bull athletes died much more often. This is especially true for athletes who came from afar, as they were very young, did not have the opportunity to train and did not have a lot of experience in this type of game. For this reason, they were very often injured and killed by the bull’s horns.
Probably the invention of the myth of the Minotaur, or a myth that spoke of a monster who lived in Knossos and who ate 7 boys and 7 girls from Athens every year, was just a way that the Athenians had found to describe these Cretan games that they seemed cruel to them.
The minoites and sport
The Cretans were lovers of games and sports as we can see from the frescoes depicting muscular men. In addition to the acrobatics on the bulls on the frescoes, there are running competitions where not only red Minoite men participate but also black and, therefore African men who probably came up here to participate in the races. There were also wrestling and boxing competitions.
The fresco of the Prince of Lilies also probably represents an athlete. Evans thought he was a prince but he probably wasn’t. In fact, he is dressed like an athlete, he has a very muscular body, and his right hand is in a fist. Perhaps he was an athlete in a fight scene, not a prince as Evans called him.
The fresco of The Prince of the Lilies
The man represented in this fresco is an exception to the rule as he is a man but does not have a red color like on the other frescoes. In fact, the color used is pink, an orange-pink.
At the turn of the century, Evans said that the younger members of the royal family were painted pink and for this, he called him prince. In particular, the name Prince of the Lilies was given to him for his crown, decorated with lilies and peacock feathers, and the necklace with red lilies.
The original fresco is kept in the museum. Looking closely at the fresco, we can see that some parts are not original and have been added and reconstructed by archaeologists.
An important detail to note is that we only have a small part of the left arm so the movement has been completely reconstructed. Evans thought it was a prince pulling an animal, so the arm was placed in a position that depicted this scene, so in the reconstruction, the arm is outstretched.
However, nothing indicates that the arm was in a different position.
In fact, modern archaeologists think that he is not a prince but an athlete: he is dressed like an athlete, has a very muscular body and his right hand is in a fist.
So maybe he was an athlete in a fight scene and the other arm was also in a wrestling position. Therefore an athlete and not a prince as Evans called him.
However, this relief painting is still known today as the Prince of the Lilies and is the most famous painting among those found. To be able to do this type of painting, the artist first had to apply stucco on the wall giving the desired shape and then, while the stucco was still wet, he had to apply it very quickly, perhaps with a sponge, all the colors that were absorbed by the stucco.
This technique allowed the colors to last over time and are still preserved.
The throne room
The throne room is one of the most visited areas of the palace of Knossos. In the throne room, there is the stone turret adjacent to a wall and benches all around where people could sit to talk to the king. On the wall, a painting was found showing palm leaves and griffons, mythical animals imagined by Minoites with the head of an eagle, the body of a lion and a snake as a tail. This composition of the griffon perhaps indicated the 3 powers worshiped in Crete: the powers of the air or of the sky with the eagle, of the earth with the lion and the underground powers with the snake.
According to Evans, the throne room was probably used when the king acted as a priest because this room is connected to the sanctuaries. Probably inside the throne room, the king received other priests and together they purified themselves, before leaving for the ceremonies in the sanctuaries or in the central courtyard.
The benches and floor are original in the throne room, but almost the whole room has been reconstructed. The throne room can be visited, but in periods of particular crowding the queue can be very long, almost exhausting if we want to add the heat in summer. Therefore, it is better to consider visiting it when it is not too hot and the crowd is less.
In fact, the Throne Room is particularly popular with visitors because here they can see an entire room of the palace of Knossos and in addition with a very important function. Too bad, however, that the original find did not look at all as we can see today because almost everything has been rebuilt. We can see below a photo of the excavations before the reconstruction.
The eastern wing
The Minoites had built a part of the building four floors high. To need less support, however, they had dug into the hill and formed terraces. There are therefore 2 floors underground. The palace of Knossos is the first building in Europe that had more than one floor.
It is precisely here that there were the largest and best-decorated rooms, perhaps the royal apartments and the king’s room, or another throne room that was used however when the king had his role as administrator, he exercised political power.
A very important thing found here in these rooms is the fresco of the taurocatapsia, or leap of the bull, preserved in the Heraklion museum.
Also in this wing, there is another somewhat smaller room with a feminine decoration that Evans called the Queen’s Room, where the fresco of the dolphins was found. This makes us understand that they traveled a lot and loved the sea.
Bathtubs and Sarcophagi
Next to this queen’s room, a bathroom was found where still today, there is the ceramic tub that was connected to the canalization system. In fact, the tub has a hole at the bottom from which the dirty water from the bathroom could come out.
It is a small bathtub for our standards. Tubs of the same type were used as sarcophagi. We know that they were sarcophagi and not tubs because they were found in cemeteries and contained skeletons.
The two tubs that were found at Knossos are definitely tubs because all 2 are connected to the drain system and were found in the royal apartments. The same shape was then used for a sarcophagus and a tub. Both had a hole at the bottom to let out the bath water or the liquids of the dead person.
Here it is in the model theater of Knossos. The steps facing us were steps large enough to sit on. The others that we see as more numerous are very low and it was impossible to sit down. Therefore it is thought that the less important people could attend but remain standing here.
The Ports of Knossos
2 ports of Knossos have been found. One is located 6 km away from Knossos where there is now the new port of Heraklion towards the airport, in the eastern part. The second port was in Amnissos 11 km from Knossos, immediately after the airport where there is the beach of Amnissos.
Here Evans discovered the port facilities, the port commander’s house or the villa del liglio as he called it for the frescoes that decorated it. Minoan ships loaded with products from other countries and perhaps even foreign ships arrived at the port.
The northern entrance
According to Evans, the northern entrance was closely linked to the presence of ports north of Knossos and to the arrival of people and goods.
The people who came and went through the northern entrance were sometimes also foreign people who brought imported products. For this reason he called the rectangular space at the northern entrance “the customs”, the same space that today we call the room of the 8 pillars, for the 8 square pillars that supported its roof.
According to Evans, there was a need for control of all these products that came in from the northern entrance and that came from the sea. From here then began a long corridor where you climbed 4 steps and at the end you arrived in front of the throne room.
On either side of this corridor there were 2 verandas. One of these 2 verandas was rebuilt by Evans in the place where he had found the bases of 3 columns which he rebuilt and painted red in the ruins.
He also found the ancient parts of the large painting “the hunt for the bull” depicting a red bull with yellow horns facing north, towards the sea. In front of him is an olive tree and there is a red net with blue dots that is falling over his back to catch him.
This too is a relief painting like that of the prince of lilies. This fresco is very beautiful as it is rich in details, especially regarding the bull’s head which is very expressive.
In front of this veranda, there was another one of which today we have only the base. These two verandas were like two balconies from which you could have a beautiful view of the sea. They were 2 views from which the guards could control the entrance.
However, this theory is not accepted by archaeologists of the British school for whom the Minoites were peaceful, the palace was open and there was no control. This theory is based on the fact that no weapons or bastions have ever been found at Knossos. According to them, these were just balconies to have a nice view and enjoy the panorama.
Heraklion Archaeological Museum
During the visit to Knossos, the guide will refer several times to the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion as the original frescoes and other important artifacts found in Knossos are kept here in the museum.
For this reason it is useful to visit the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion after the visit to Knossos: in this way your visit will be more complete and you can further deepen your knowledge of the Minoan civilization.
At the Knossos ticket office, they sell the combined ticket for the excavations of Knossos and the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.
The Morosini Fountain was built in 1629 during the Venetian period under the care of the commander Francesco Morosini. This fountain that once served the inhabitants of Heraklion as a supply point for drinking water is now a meeting place.
It is in fact located in the center of Heraklion in Venizelou square, where we see the fountain in the center and all around shops bars and restaurants.
Heraklion center with shops
In Heraklion there are some streets where you can go shopping such as Dedalou street and the nearby streets.
Where can I find covered parking in Heraklion that is also convenient for visiting the city center and the Venetian fortress? A good parking that you can use in Heraklion is Central Parking.
Address: Koroneou 26, Iraklio 712 02, Greece
Central Parking has slightly higher prices than other car parks but is more modern and is also covered.
You stop with the car at the entrance, and the valet parks your car and brings it back to you on the way back. As in most car parks, you have to leave your car keys here too.
How are the beaches in Heraklion?
How are the beaches in Heraklion or Heraklion? Heraklion is a purely urbanized city and is not extremely well known for its beaches, although not far from Heraklion, you will find large beachfront hotel complexes. In the following video, you see the coast east of Heraklion.
You can still find some beautiful beaches not far from Heraklion, such as Agia Pelagia. You can find out more by consulting the section dedicated to beaches in this post.
Heraklion or Chania?
Heraklion and Chania are the two main cities of Crete as well as the two cities with airports. When planning your holiday in Crete, one of the first questions you can ask yourself is whether it is better to land in Heraklion or Chania. Also later you may wonder if it is worth visiting both cities or if one is better than the other.
As for the arrival airport, I can tell you that your choice depends a lot on the area of Crete you want to visit. If you want to concentrate your vacation in the Heraklion area, going to Agia Pelagia and visiting San Nicolò, then the Heraklion airport is the right choice. Heraklion airport is also convenient if you want to go to Matala.
If, on the other hand, you prefer to visit Chania itself, Balos, and Elafonisi, the Chania airport is certainly in a more convenient position for this itinerary.
And if our dilemma concerns which city is better to visit: Heraklion or Chania? To answer this question, you have to bear in mind that Heraklion is the largest city in Crete and, as such is the busiest. Chania, on the other hand, looks better, being a smaller and a little quieter city.
Just to give you an idea, I can tell you that someone from Crete advised us not to go to visit Heraklion because there is only so much traffic and nothing to see. I disagree because it is true that Heraklion is a metropolitan city, but if you love history, you will probably particularly appreciate the visit to the Palace of Knossos, the museum, and the Venetian fortress. If we had completely excluded Heraklion from our visit, we would have lost an important part of the history of Crete.
Then I agree, however, that it is better not to use too many days of our vacation for the visit to Heraklion.
Compared to Heraklion, the city of Chania is more pleasant for a stroll. Walking through the center’s streets is nice, discovering some very characteristic corners. Equally beautiful and relaxing both day and evening is having lunch or dinner in one of the restaurants in the old port.
In conclusion, where do we go? Are we going to Heraklion or Chania? We go to Heraklion if we are interested in visiting archaeological sites, but to Chania if we want a more pleasant town.
Top 7 things to do in Chania
Chania, despite being the second largest city of Crete, is a very pleasant city and when you stroll through the streets of the center, you don’t have the idea of being in a metropolis but rather in a characteristic place.
What are the best things to do in Chania and to visit?
- Ancient Venetian port
- Firkas Fortress (free)
- Streets in the center of Chania
- Walk to the Venetian Lighthouse
- Sunset on a sailing boat
- Minoan’s World the 9D Experience
- Maritime Museum of Crete
Ancient Venetian Harbor
The Venetian port, as well as being beautiful to see, is a place for walks and meeting places. Also, there are good bars and restaurants.
Most of the restaurants that you find all around the Antico Porto Veneziano have both a dining room inside and tables outside. Very pleasant to sit outside and enjoy the view.
There is a square that is a balcony on the Ancient Venetian Port.
This is a great vantage point of the harbor but I cannot recommend it as it is a place left to decay and does not seem completely safe.
Probably from the port, you will see someone in this raised square and you will wonder how to reach it. I leave you his position just for the sake of completeness.
The Firkas Fortress is located near the Venetian Port and overlooks the sea.
To access the fortress, just head towards the Maritime Museum and right next to the entrance of this museum, you will find the gate that allows you to enter the courtyard of the fortress. Access to the fortress is free.
Here are the opening times of the fortress.
The Venetian fortifications
The improvement of artillery technology and the expansion of the Ottoman Empire led Venice, in the mid-sixteenth century, to construct fortifications for the safety of the new parts and the port near the city of Chania. The final decision was taken in February 1538, when the Veronese engineer Michele Sanmichieli was ordered to go to Crete with clear instructions for the construction of the new fortifications.
Their oldest known project dates back to 1572 and probably represents the original proposal of Sanmichieli, to whom both the design and construction are due. The alternation of bastions and system of rectilinear parts (bastion front) followed, and according to the plans, the fortifications had an almost rectangular shape, with four basic, solid, heart-shaped bastions at the corners, while the knights (knights) and also low places (low squares) were built for their further reinforcement.
Description and history of the Firkas Fortress
The Firkas fortress (Rivellino del Porto or San Salvatore). Firka Fortress, as it is known today, was built under the aforementioned program.
It has a trapezoidal shape and continues the rectilinear part (curtain) of the San Salvatore bastion with a southerly and inward direction of the western basin of the port, while its northwestern part includes the oldest Genoese tower.
Its construction began around the decade 1580 and was completed in the early 17th century. It is founded on rocks and protected by a thick inclined wall; loopholes were built in its circular path.
The fortress includes buildings used as barracks and weapons depots, while also serving as the base of the city’s military commander. The construction of the barracks in the western wing was carried out at a later stage. It is a building with two floors and vaulted rooms and is annexed to the monastery of San Salvatore. On the jamb of the first floor, decorated with the Lion of Venice (emblem of the Serenissima Republic of Venice), there is an inscription that mentions the Governor General of Kydonia Alvise Bragadin and the date 1620.
The internal space of the fortress is formed on three levels. A vaulted cistern was built on the first level of the entrance. The second, lower level was connected to the great vaults on the north side, where the low protected loopholes were located. The third, higher level was formed by the terrace of the vaults and the highest slits were placed on it.
Following the Ottoman occupation, the fortress, which still retains its Turkish name “Firkas” (= barracks), was used as a military command base, barracks, and later as a prison. At the small corner watchtower, the flag of the Union of Crete with Greece was symbolically hung on 1 December 1913.
It was used as a prison during the German occupation and the civil war. From the decade of the 1950s onwards, the fortress ceased to have military use. It served as an area for cultural activities and housed the warehouses and conservation laboratories of the Ministry of Culture. In the early 1970s, the building at the entrance became the seat of the Maritime Museum of Crete.
Top 7 Beaches Crete
Crete is a fascinating and wonderful island in many respects, but certainly, its wonderful beaches occupy a special place in its visitors’ hearts.
Here in Crete, we find different and unique beaches. Let’s go and list some of them.
- Elafonisi beach
- Balos Lagoon
- Mazida Ammos beach
- Paralia Mononaftis
- Falasarna beach
- Seitan Limania
- Triopetra beach
Elafonisi Beach is probably the most beautiful beach in Crete. Elafonisi beach is famous for its very clear water, for its pink sand and for the low level of the sea that allows you to walk in the water without any problem.
- 00:00 Elafonisi Beach drone view
- 00:24 Walk to the island of Elafonisi
- 01:15 Elafonisi Island beach
- 01:36 Pink sand and clear water
- 02:39 Very shallow sea and drawings in the sand
- 02:45 Little fish in the sea that pinch your legs
- 03:32 Beautiful beach and sea
- 04:18 Elafonisi Island beach drone view
- 04:52 Recommended videos
This beach is one of the most characteristic and well-known beaches of Crete. You can get to this beach by boat or car, along a long unpaved, bumpy road that allows you to get to a parking lot that is still about twenty minutes from the beach.
The beauty and uniqueness of Balos beach are worth a visit at least. A tip though: if you can go in periods that are not too hot and crowded, you will surely enjoy a much better experience. This is true for all beaches but even more so for Balos beach given the way you have to reach it.
Rental of sun loungers and umbrellas
In Balos, it is possible to rent deck chairs and umbrellas. Even though Balos is a very popular beach, it is not possible to reserve sun beds and umbrellas. How does it work then? As is customary in Crete, if you find a free place, you simply have to occupy it and the attendant then comes to ask you for payment.
For example, in periods of particular crowdings, such as around mid-August, there is a paying agent for each area of umbrellas. On other less frequented beaches, the attendant arrives in the late morning but here, when there is a particular influx of tourists, they are practically always present.
Will I have trouble finding a free umbrella?
Clearly, the answer depends on the period in which you go to Balos. But thinking about the peak seasons, I can tell you that if you arrive early in the morning or around 9 am by car you shouldn’t have any problems finding a free umbrella. If, on the other hand, you arrive by boat from the port of Kissamos, you may have more problems, as the beach may already be quite crowded and the mass arrival of hundreds of people does not facilitate the arduous task of finding a free umbrella.
Fortunately, on the beach of Balos, there are many people arriving but also many people who go, depending on the departure time of your boat. So with a little patience, it is always possible to find a place.
If you come by boat from Kissamos, the alternative is to rent an umbrella on the boat that takes you or to use your staff. Anyway, my opinion is that it is not an optimal solution on days when there is wind.
Rental prices for sunbeds and umbrellas
The prices for renting sun loungers and umbrellas are not indicated on Balos beach. However, in August 2022, the prices were as follows:
- 20 euros for 1 umbrella and 2 sunbeds in the first row
- 15 euros for 1 umbrella and 2 sunbeds from the second row onwards.
Are there any bars in Balos?
Yes, there is a small beach bar on Balos. Here is the picture.
However, I recommend that you bring your lunch if possible. In Kissamos supermarkets, they sell the same packaged sandwiches you find on the boat to go to Balos or here at the beach bar.
Balos how to get there?
How to get to Balos? You can get to Balos either by car or by boat. The two most used ways to get to Balos are:
- by boat service departing from the port of Kissamos
- by car or jeep along the dirt road and continuing on foot along the path that leads to the beach
However, there are other ways to get to Balos:
- By renting a boat
- In JetSky
- Through organized tours
By car or jeep and dirt road
You can get to Balos by car in fact, just outside Kissamos, there is the entrance to the dirt road that takes you to the Balos car park. If you are thinking of choosing this option to go to Balos, I would first like to explain how to get there, how the route is, and I would like to give you some useful tips.
Can I take the dirt road to Balos by car?
Every day there are a lot of cars driving the dirt road to Balos. The dirt road to Balos is not very dangerous if you pay particular attention to the points where there is the overhang, as it is wide enough to pass with two cars without problems.
My advice, however, is to prefer the jeep to the car. This is because it is true that cars can drive on it and as already mentioned there are many cars of all kinds that pass along this road (I also saw a Porsche but I don’t know how it went ..) but the road is bumpy and they have to travel at a very low speed.
Especially if you have a small car unsuitable for certain routes, you can rent the jeep in Kissamos even just for the day you go to Balos. This way, you will not have problems with insurance and you’re safer.
In fact, you can find rental cars in Kissamos that rent jeeps for Balos; it is normal for them that you go to Balos, and they give you full insurance. Other car rentals may discourage you and tell you to prefer the boat to the car to go to Balos.
Is the dirt road to Balos free?
You have to pay 1 euro per person. Towards the beginning of your journey on the dirt road that leads you to Balos you will find the sign where it is written in English and Greek what I report below:
“Welcome to the Gamvousa-Balos peninsula, a protected natural area. We inform you that by decision of the Municipality of Kissomos which has been approved by the Region of Crete, a toll of 1 euro per person is required for the purpose of safeguarding and maintaining the place as well as for the disposal of waste from the area. “
How long does it take to travel the dirt road to Balos?
Getting from the port of Kissamos to the car park for Balos takes about 30 minutes by jeep but if you have a car, you have to go slower and it can also take about 40 or 45 minutes.
On the way, you may slow down or have to stop to let goats pass, the real masters of the place!
Parking at Balos Beach
Once you have arrived at the end of the dirt road, you’ll see the car park gate for Balos beach. The parking is large and if you don’t arrive too late, let’s say in the first half of the morning, you should find the place without difficulty.
Parking is not free but the cost is not high as it is around 2 euros for the whole day.
What happens if you can’t find a place in the car park? If the parking is complete, the alternative is to leave the car along the road. In fact, on our return from the beach, when were leaving, there was a long line of parked cars. If you park the car very far away, it is certainly inconvenient, as you have to add the road to the car to the long distance you already have to go on foot.
Balos hiking path to the beach
Did I get to Balos beach once I parked the car? It would be nice but it isn’t! Unfortunately, once you parked your car, you are not yet arrived at Balos beach. The car park is located in a higher position than the beach of Balos, and to reach the beach, you must first walk a path in the middle of almost nowhere in the company of practically only goats and then go down a long flight of steps.
The descent along the steps is wonderful because, first of all, the effort is reduced to a minimum downhill, and then because this path allows you to see the most beautiful view of Balos beach. The unique beauty of Balos beach is, in fact, given by its characteristic of being placed between the lagoon and the sea and of joining the promontory you see in front of you to the mainland.
To fully enjoy and appreciate Balos beach, you must therefore admire this panorama. If you walk the path early in the morning, you will be able to see the almost deserted beach and admire it in all its splendor. Along the way, you will also have the opportunity to take some great photos. Not too many though, otherwise now that you get to the beach, you will find all the best sunbeds and umbrellas occupied!
Given the road ahead, I highly recommend you wear sneakers. The descent in this way is simpler and safer, without thinking about the ascent.
It takes about 30 minutes to get from the car park to the beach where there are umbrellas.
As we have seen so far, everything is fine when you go down but the problem is to go back up! It will take you between 30 and 45 minutes to get back up if you don’t stop and rest for too long. In fact, this path requires excellent resistance if done all in one breath.
It is almost impossible to do it all in succession in the summer during the hottest hours of the day. In fact, precisely for this reason, you will find small covered corners and therefore with a little shade made on purpose to rest during the ascent. I recommend you bring some water with you to quench your thirst along the way.
Also at the end of the path, where there is the car park, there is a canopy with benches where you can sit and rest for a while. At the end of the day, almost all of them sit under this canopy, a little tired but satisfied to have arrived.
If you have young children, you must take into consideration that you will probably have to carry them in your arms or on your shoulder for most of an already tiring journey.
Precisely a cause of this problem of the somewhat tiring ascent, many people choose to return to the Balos beach late in the evening. In the summer from Kissamos, you can see the cars returning from Balos even when it’s already dark. Returning late from Balos beach, you can avoid going up the path in the heat, which already gives you a great advantage.
Of course, the choice of time to return from Balos also depends a lot on the period in which you go, if warmer or milder, on your travel program, and on your resistance in the ascent. However, if you take into account the above, you can spend a beautiful day at Balos beach and this will certainly be a day to remember for various reasons.
Balos boat trip from Kissamos
A popular option to reach Balos beach is to embark from Kissamos port on one of the boats that go to Balos.
How to reach the port of Kissamos?
You can reach the port of Kissamos in various ways:
- by bus
- by taxi
- by car
Balos is a very famous beach, so there are several organized tours that depart in the morning from the main towns of Crete and take you to the port of Kissamos and then you can go to Balos. Furthermore, a taxi service is also available at the port of Kissamos.
However, the best option to get to Kissamos port is the car. In fact, you can arrive by car at the port of Kissamos right near the ticket office and boarding areas. The parking is very large and free.
Boat tickets can be purchased directly at the port or in advance online. You can buy tickets online, for example, on the Cretan Daily Cruises website, or from booking apps such as “Get Your Guide”.
How are the boats for Balos?
The boats to Balos are very large, almost ships. On the boats, among other things, there is usually an umbrella rental service and a real self-service. If the boat you get on in the morning does not have self-service, they usually make you change boats between one stop and the other around lunchtime so that you can take advantage of the self-service. Lunch is clearly not included in the cost of the ticket.
How long before departure do I have to arrive?
If you already have a ticket, you can arrive 30 minutes before departure but it is advisable to arrive 45 minutes earlier. This way, you can find a good shade seat on the boat.
If you do not have a ticket, it is better if you arrive 45 or 50 minutes before departure so that you can take your tickets calmly and get on the boat.
Is there only one boat departure time?
No, there is more than one boat departure time.
Do the boats go directly to Balos?
The tour with the boats departing from Kissamos does not only include Balos. Depending on the departure time of your boat, you could go first to Gramvousa island and then to Balos or vice versa.
For example, our boat left at 10.15 am from Kissamos port and we didn’t go directly to Balos but we went first to Gramvousa island. Around 1 pm, the boat with the self-service on board came to pick us up and we were able to have lunch on the way between the island of Gramvousa and the beach of Balos.
The boat that left Kissamos at 11 am went first to Balos and then to the island of Gramvousa at around 2 pm.
On Balos beach between 1.30 pm and 2 pm, there is therefore a bit of overcrowding due to those who arrive with one boat and those who have yet to leave with the other. However, this coming and going of passengers allows those arriving with the second boat to find, with a little patience, some free umbrellas, left by those who have to leave.
How long is the stay on Balos beach?
The stay on Balos beach is about a couple of hours. It is true that on the program, the scheduled time on Balos beach is more but you must keep in mind any delays, the time of disembarkation, and the fact that you must leave your position on the beach a little earlier than the departure time. departure so that you have no problems.
By renting a boat
To get to Balos, you can also rent a boat and head directly to the beach. In this case, however, the boat must remain beyond the safety line. In any case, the bottom of the beach is very shallow and you can reach the beach on foot.
Very interesting is the JetSky Safari proposed by “Falassarna Activities” ( https://falassarnaactivities.gr/#safari ). This Safari departing from Falassarna beach allows you to reach Balos beach as a group on board a jet ski.
The stay at Balos beach is very limited but I think this tour is interesting for those who want to go on a jet ski ride and see Balos beach at the same time.
There are various private services that take you to Balos beach. For example, always at Falassarna beach, you can find a private transport service that takes you to Balos beach and allows you to stay on the beach for a few hours (https://falassarnaactivities.gr/#safari).
To get to the beach, you still have to get into the water and walk in the water to the shore.
Mononaftis beach is a pearl among the beaches of Agia Pelagia. Agia Pelagia is often chosen for its location not too far from Heraklion, for the comforts it offers and for the rather transparent sea waters.
Mononaftis beach, in particular, is a small world where activities and people repeat themselves from day to day in a pleasant routine: after some time, you get familiar and feel almost at home.
One of the best features of Mononaftis beach, in addition to the clear water, is what lies beneath the surface of the sea: here it is very nice and fun to snorkel. In fact, here in the waters of Mononaftis, you will find different varieties of fish.
The only small negative note of this beach is that the descent into the water is a bit difficult due to the pebble beach and the dangerously slippery rocks in the water.
However, this problem is easily overcome by using opposite water shoes and a bit of experience. In fact, there are some points where it is easier to enter the sea: once these “special corridors” have been discovered, everything is simpler.
If you haven’t brought your shoes to use in the water with you from home, it’s not a problem: on the beach, you will find some shops where you can buy what you need.
Mononaftis beach is a small world but easily accessible as you can arrive by car directly near the beach. In addition, the beach of Mononaftis is surrounded by different types of resorts.
Precisely in this regard, we insert the following video where you can see the Mononaftis beach from the Sea Side Resort at various times of the day. In front of us, besides the beach, we have another resort, the Peninsula Resort & Spa.
Here at Mononaftis beach, there are several paid services that you can use. First of all, we mention the rental of deck chairs and umbrellas. The rental cost in 2022 is 7 euros for two sunbeds and one umbrella in the first row and 10 for the following rows.
The higher cost of the rows starting from the second and going backward is justified by the newer and more comfortable deckchairs compared to those of the first row. As is customary here in Crete, you just need to position yourself on the chosen deckchairs and around 11 am, the attendant comes to request payment. It is possible to pay with cash, credit card, or smartphone.
Voulisma beach is a very popular beach in the San Nicolò areas. The beach is not close to the city center but is served by buses: we have a bus stop right in front of the beach.
Falassarna Beach is a huge sandy beach located on the west side of Crete. Falassarna beach is a beach that offers various comforts and services: for example, here there are several types of sunbeds and umbrellas to choose from, suitable for every taste and need.
Interesting tours also depart from Falassarna beach, such as the group jet ski tour that allows you to get to Balos.
The west of Falassarna beach location allows you to enjoy beautiful sunsets.
If you decide to go to Falassarna, pay attention to the wind direction as the beach is not sheltered and you may find the sea particularly rough.
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