10 Top Tourist Attractions in Crete

10 Top Tourist Attractions in Crete

Category : Crete , Europe , Greece

Stunning Crete is the largest of the Greek Islands, and also the fifth largest in the Mediterranean. It boasts gorgeous beaches and mountains and is dotted with quaint villages. During the Bronze Age, this beautiful island was the home to the Minoan civilization, which is considered to be the first advanced European civilization, so there are also many historical attractions in Crete. Besides Minoan ruins, visitors can also still see the remains of Ancient Greece, the Venetian era, and the Ottoman period scattered around this island today.

10. Arkadi Monastery

Arkadi Monastery

 

The Arkadi Monastery was the site of one of the most tragic incidents in Crete’s history. In 1866, the Cretan residents, who were then under Turkish rule, decided to revolt. At one point during the rebellion, more than 940 Greeks, mostly women and children, took sanctuary in the monastery. The Turks lay siege to the monastery for three days and were finally able to break into its gates. At that point, the refugees decided to end their lives rather than be taken prisoner, and blew up barrels of gunpowder, which ended up killing hundreds of Turks and Cretans. The incident sparked sympathy and worldwide attention for the plight of the people of Crete. The monastery, which has been around since about the 12th century, was restored in 1870.

9. Rethymnon Old Town

Rethymnon Old Town

 

The old town of Rethymnon (or Rethimno) is located in the midst of the modern city and features a rather unique blend of Venetian and Crete architecture. Rethymnon was established in 1204, after the Venetians had conquered Crete, so most of the remaining buildings in the old town area are of Venetian creation. The Old Town’s narrow streets and its small Venetian harbor are wonderful for walking, shopping, enjoying dinner at a small tavern and taking in Rethymnon’s remarkable architecture. Travelers will want to check out the nearby Fortezza Castle, which was built in 1590, and sits on a low hill in the middle of Rethymnon.

8. Agios Nikolaos 

Agios Nikolaos

 

Situated on lovely Mirabello Bay in eastern Crete, Agios Nikolaos offers visitors a mix of the modern and the traditional. It is a medium-size port town that is extremely picturesque and has some style and charm, which it exploits to the full. The town’s Lake Voulismeni, which is lined with charming small cafes and boutiques, has been the subject of a number of legends. One myth is that the goddess Athena used to bathe in this almost perfectly circular body of water. Another legend claims that this beautiful lake is bottomless. Agios Nikolaos is one of Crete’s most popular tourist destinations.

7. Elafonisi Beach

Elafonisi Beach

 

While all of Crete’s beaches are beautiful, there is something very special about the beaches that can be found on the island of Elafonisi. Located in South-west Crete, Elafonisi is separated from Crete’s shores by a very shallow lagoon. In fact, it is so shallow that visitors can easily walk the 200 meters (650 feet) to the island. The waters around this island are crystal clear, and its sand ranges from sparkling white to a soft pink hue. This island’s beaches are very popular with locals and visitors, so it can be a bit crowded in some areas. Travelers who want to avoid the crowds can just walk a little farther in, where they’ll find plenty of nice, quiet spots.

6. Spinalonga

Spinalonga

 

Spinalonga is an island fortress on the southwestern entrance to the Gulf of Elounda. It used to be part of the nearby Peninsula Spinalonga, however in 1526, the Venetians cut a canal through it to separate the two. The island was also fortified and, for many years, was the first line of defense for Elounda. From 1903 to 1957, Spinalonga, was used as a leper colony for people from all over Greece who were suffering from the disease. Today, Spinalonga is just a short boat ride away from both Elounda and Agios Nikolaos and is popular with tourists, who come to the island to see the remnants of the abandoned leper colony, the fortress and numerous old structures. However, visits to this island are limited to a few hours, as there are no accommodations on Spinalonga.

5. Heraklion Archaeological Museum

Heraklion Archaeological Museum

 

The Heraklion Archaeological Museum enjoys the reputation of being one of the most important museums in Greece, especially when it comes to its collection of Minoan artifacts and artwork. Visitors to this museum can enjoy seeing fragments of the original frescoes from the Minoan Palace of Knossos. The Heraklion Archaeological Museum also has exhibits dedicated to all of the periods of Crete prehistory and history, up until the late Roman periods. Highlights include statues of the Snake Goddess, the famous Bull-Leaping Fresco and the enigmatic Phaistos Disk. In addition, the artifacts found in this museum were all discovered in Crete.

4. Balos Lagoon

Balos Lagoon

 

One of Crete’s most beautiful beaches, Balos Lagoon is located near the town of Kissamos. Sandwiched between the small island of Imeri Gramvousa and Crete itself, the beach is accessible by boat or car. Visitors are greeted with a stunning vista created by an outcropping of rock that is surrounded by pink sand and blue and turquoise water. This is arguably the most photographed natural attraction in Crete, which causes tourists to visit in massive numbers. The months of July and August are the busiest.

3. Chania Old Venetian Harbor

Chania Old Venetian Harbor

 

This harbor was built between the years 1320 and 1356 by the Venetians and was an important trade center until the early 20th century. The harbor could not accommodate larger ships, so the port was eventually abandoned by big vessels in favor of Souda’s harbor. Today, though, Chania’s old harbor is still used by smaller boats and yachts. The harbor’s crowning jewel is its lighthouse, which was built by the Venetians around 1595 to 1601, and is one of the oldest in the world. Most people come here to enjoy a stroll through the harbor, sip their coffee or have breakfast with a view of the lighthouse or enjoy a meal in one of the many restaurants and ouzo shops.

2. Samaria Gorge

Samaria Gorge

 

Some sites require more effort to enjoy than others, and Samaria Gorge is one of those. Located in the National Park of Samarai in the White Mountains, this stunning gorge is a ten-mile downhill hike that ends at a black-sand beach in Agia Roumelli on the Libyan sea. It passes through forests of ancient cypresses and pines, then cuts between vertical cliffs through the mountains. Depending on a person’s speed and fitness level, this hike can take between four to seven hours. At the end of the trek, most hikers hire a boat to take them to Chora Sfakion.

1. Palace of Knossos

#1 of Tourist Attractions In Crete

 

Located some 5 km (3 miles) south of Heraklion, the Palace of Knossos is the most important and best known Minoan site in Crete. Knossos is also often associated with the legend of the Athenian hero Theseus killing the Minotaur. The great palace was built gradually between 1700 and 1400 BC, with periodic rebuildings after destruction until it was devastated once and for all by fire. Knossos incorporated numerous rooms such as the Throne Room, named for a large chair that is built into the wall, facing several benches. The main function of the palace is still under debate. It could have been used primarily as an administrative or a religious center.


Knossos Palace, Crete

Unravel the Secrets of Knossos Palace in Crete

Knossos, the largest Bronze Age archaeological site found on the island of Crete, was the political and ceremonial center of the Minoan culture and civilization. It consisted of an ancient Palace as well as the city that surrounded it. The area is located south of the modern-day city of Iraklion, which is on the north coast of Crete.

Knossos palace at Crete

Archaeologists believe that Knossos was first inhabited during Neolithic times, starting around 6,000 B.C. However, the First Palace on the site was not built until around 1,900 B.C. on top of the ruins of the previous settlements. Around 1,700 B.C., an earthquake or foreign invaders destroyed this Palace, along with other palaces on Crete. Almost immediately, the Palace was rebuilt on a grander but less massive scale.

Archaeological Site of Knossos Palace on the Crete Island, Greece

In 1894, Sir Arthur Evans discovered the Palace of Knossos. However, it was not until 1900 that he and his team were able to start the excavation of the site. His restoration work has been the source of frantic controversy among archeologists ever since, though it does provide the visitor a sense of what the palace might have looked like.

Aged fresco of three women profiles in Knossos

One of the most interesting discoveries in the Palace of Knossos was the large number of murals that decorated the walls. These paintings portrayed a non-militaristic society, one whose activities included fishing, athletic competitions and rituals such as acrobatics on the back of a charging bull.

Procession Fresco

When walking through the Palace, a visitor has the chance to witness some of the amazing frescoes that adorn the walls in several sections. Most of these frescoes are reconstructions by Piet de Jong, and were often recreated from only a few bits of painted plaster. Many original and reconstructed frescoes are housed in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, with replicas of them adorning the Palace. Many contain paints that are still vivid after 4,000 years. For instance, upon entering the Palace, one can view the stunning Fresco of the Procession. Other frescoes, entitled the Parisianne, Cup Barer and Tripartite Shrine, adorn an area of the Palace called the Piano Nobile, which is a large courtyard.

Dolphins

One of the most popular frescoes, found in the Queen’s Apartments, is the Dolphin Fresco. A replica of this work is found over a doorway in the apartment, while the original is displayed in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. This fresco, with its bright colors, is considered one of the most striking works of Minoan art within the Palace of Knossos.

Throne room

The Palace incorporated numerous rooms. One of the most dramatic was the Throne Room. It consisted of a large chair, built into the wall, facing several benches. In addition, this room included a tank, which archaeologists believe was an aquarium. On the south wall is a fresco depicting mythical beasts called griffins, with a lion’s body and an eagle’s head.

Tourists

 

One of the most interesting aspects of the Palace of Knossos is its place in Greek mythology. Many myths seem to be based on various aspects of the Palace. These include Daedalus building a Palace with no exit, Icarus traveling to the sun with his wax wings and the Theseus fighting and killing the Minotaur in the Labyrinth.

Jars

 

A walk through the Palace of Knossos allows the visitor to view all the unique aspects of this ancient building as it was in the past. In addition, doing so allows them to take a step into Greek mythology, something that they may only have experienced through a book.


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