Crete (or Creta, in Latin) is the largest Greek island and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, with a total area of 8836 km² and 1066 km of coastline. Among other major Cretan cities (like Chania and Rethymno), Heraklion (also called Iralkio) is the island’s economic and administrative hub, with Heraklion district being a top destination for tourists from around the globe.
Crete is more like a small country than another Greek island. Its remarkable history is evident across the island, from the ruins of the ancient Minoan palace of Knossos (located a few kms outside Heraklion) to Venetian castles; from old mosques and Byzantine monasteries to the cave that is the legendary birthplace of Zeus.
Having been top-rated and voted by numerous travel sites and magazines as one of the best summer destinations and top islands in the world, Crete is renowned for its natural beauty and diverse landscape. Spectacular mountain ranges dotted with caves are sliced by dramatic gorges that spill out to sea. The rugged interior is interspersed with vast plateaus and fertile plains (as many as 170 plant species are endemic to Crete, which means, found nowhere else in the world). The east boasts Europe’s only palm-tree forest beach and the south coast has some of the most stunning beaches and isolated coves.
Cretans are proud and hospitable people who maintain their culture and customs, particularly their strong musical tradition, while Cretan cuisine – renowned for its life-prolonging qualities – adds an interesting culinary dimension. Throughout the island you will come across traditional mountain villages and agricultural settlements unaffected by tourism. The young might drive four-wheel-drives but you will still pass shepherds tending their flocks and come across men in traditional dress.
Crete has the dubious honor of hosting nearly a quarter of Greece’s tourists. While many of them choose to stay at 4 and 5-star hotels and resorts located, mostly, on the north side, the island is big enough for independent travelers to venture off and find quiet beach settlements and traditional villages to explore.