2 weeks in Crete
Given Crete’s size, we decided to stay there for almost two weeks, in order to travel around and see a little more. Our ferry arrived at the port of Heraklion, a city that looks less than inspiring but actually has a lot to offer.
We stayed at Rea Hotel, not too far from the old centre, and had breakfast the next morning at Outopia, which specializes in chocolatey goodness and beer (it becomes a bar in the afternoons and evenings). We ordered way too much – waffles with double chocolate (Roser) and chocolate with strawberry (for me), hot chocolate, and a special kind of Cretan tea with honey – and proceeded to gorge ourselves. The hot drinks came with a tier of biscuits that we hadn’t expected, so we bundled the extras up in napkins and headed to the ancient Palace of Knossos.
Knossos (just a short ride from Heraklion’s main bus station) is a must-see if you go to Crete. As you enter the area, you will be accosted by guides offering tours in Greek, English, German, Spanish, French, and Italian. We ignored them but took a map and wandered around the site, occasionally eavesdropping on some of the tours (honestly, I am not sure they are worth paying for as there is a decent amount of information available there for free and you can also go to Heraklion’s archaeological museum to find out more).
Hania was our next stop after Heraklion. We went by bus and checked into our room, which was on the main street in the old town and led right down to the port.
Hania is a beautiful city and we spent our first evening and morning there wandering around before having a delicious lunch at Portes, where we discovered that (unfortunately for us!) free raki at the end of the meal is a tradition in Crete!
After lunch, we took the bus to Hora Sfakion, a port in the Sfakia region where you can catch a boat to Gavdos, a small island off the southern coast of Crete. It is a (very) small but lively town, and a good base if you want to see some of the smaller villages along the coast.
We did the Imbros Gorge walk, which is well worth it and a good alternative to taking the coach bus to Samaria Gorge if you don’t have time for both. The bus takes you there, but you have to take one of the overpriced ‘taxis’ (read: rundown old trucks) back. We were feeling cheap and decided to walk. As a result, we got caught in a thunderstorm until we were rescued by some friendly Bavarian tourists heading to Hora Sfakion. We were staying a room above the port, and the balcony was perfect for watching the thunderstorm as it continued that evening.
Upon our return to Chania, we headed to the city beach and had tasty gyros at Oasis. The next day, we took a bus and a ferry to Gramvoussos peninsula and island, where there is an old castle with great views, and Balos, a beautiful shallow beach in northwest Crete. It was a bit too cold to enjoy properly that day, but worth the trip. Next time, we will have to check out Elafonissi, known for its clear water and faintly pink sand.
Before leaving Hania, we had lunch at Tamam, a restaurant in the old town, not too far from the port. As usual, we asked for too much (delicious) food: fava (a yellow split pea dip that can also be eaten on its own), tomato and zucchini croquettes, Cretan sausage, and lamb with herbs. (Portions are often very generous in all Greek restaurants and tavernas, even when you just ask for starters or appetizers – which these were – and it took us about a month of travelling before we were ordering the right amount of food.)
Our next stop was Rethymno, a coastal town with a Venetian fortress (one of many we saw on this trip!) in between Hania and Heraklion. The old town and harbour areas are pretty, but we thought it lacked Hania’s charm. We stayed a little way out of town in a newly remodeled hotel called Hotel Olympia, and spent most of the two days we had there enjoying the beach and working. We also headed to Fraoules for coffee before leaving.
Once we were back in Heraklion, we ate (and had the best free dessert ever – crepes and a kind of Greek cake with ice cream) at Kastella, a restaurant not too far from the city centre that looks out over the water. The next day we were off to Agios Nikolaos, to the east.
Agios Nikolaos is a town with a pretty ‘lake’ (really the sea, but in a more enclosed space) with restaurants and bars around it. We went to Dodoni two or three times for the friendly service, great cocktails, and homemade ice cream. During the day, we spent some time at the small but nice beach near the port, and also checked out Elounda, another town not too far from Agios Nikolaos where celebrities and people with a higher budget than we had tend to stay. There are regular boat tours to Spinalonga, a former leper colony, although we didn’t go while we were there.
Finally, it was time to head back to Heraklion before we caught the plane to Rhodes. This time, we checked out a couple of museums in the city – the Archaeological Museum, which is fantastic (and a great place to visit after seeing Knossos), and the Historical Museum of Crete, which gave us an interesting overview of the city’s history and also had interesting exhibitions about Nikos Kazantzakis and World War II in Crete. We recommend seeing both places if you have time! In between museums, we had lunch at Loukoulos.
Heraklion has a great selection of coffee shops and bars, and the next morning we went to Think Tank for cappuccinos. We also had a late lunch in the rooftop restaurant Herb’s Garden, easily the fanciest place we have eaten on our trip. Without wine, lunch was about 20 euros more than the maximum we typically spend on meals, reminding us why we don’t usually eat at gourmet restaurants. However, it is a lovely place to go for a treat – the food was amazing, and the views were spectacular.
Crete is a big island, and there are many things we didn’t have time to see while we were there. But we got a good taste of the area and were excited to head to Rhodes and begin our tour of the Dodecanese islands.