Updated: Feb 26
So you've disembarked the plane, checked into your accommodation, and cracked open a nice cold beer. You've made it to Crete, life's good. Now, what to do?
Well, aside from its beaches, there are many must-see places in Crete with its exceptional natural sites, cute villages, and relics from its mythical past that are absolutely worth seeing. I fell in love with this island, its people, food and culture and I'm sure you will love it just as much so here's my top 4 must-see places in Crete!
Katholiko Monastery is located 20 kilometres east of Chania, near the northern coast of Cape Akrotiri and is a must-see place in Crete!
Founded in the mid-11th century, it is considered the oldest monastery in Crete. Its founder was John the Stranger or Hermit, who lived in the cave where you can see the rock-cut church dedicated to him. The surrounding caves were home to many hermits. When the coast of Crete was attacked by pirates, the monks were forced to move to a more remote location and so they founded the monastery of Gouverneto which you can visit upon arrival.
The monastery of Katholiko is now in ruins and can be reached by an impressive path, paved by the monks themselves, that links the monastery of Gouverneto to Katholiko (a 20-30 minute walk). In the monastery, you can see the church of St. John and the cave, the ruined monks' cells, and the impressive ancient bridge over the gorge.
If you continue walking for 10 minutes towards the sea, you will reach a beautiful little cove with turquoise waters, near which are the remains of the monastery's old port. Nearby, there is also a large rock in the shape of a boat. According to legend, it was a pirate ship that was petrified after the monastery's hegumen (head of the monastery) uttered its imprecations.
There is free parking at the Governeto Monastery. The entrance fee to the Gouvernento Monastery is 2€ per person (this includes the walk to the ruins and the creek). Be aware, that the parking gate closes at 7 pm so unless you wish to spend a night with the wild goats, make sure you get back on time, it takes a good hour and a half to get down and back!
An evening stroll in Chania
Chania is the capital of the island and is one of those must-see places in Crete. In all honesty, we dreaded our visit to the city because of the crowds waiting for us, which make any visit unpleasant. We, therefore, opted to visit Chania in the evening, the atmosphere is nicer, it's not as hot and the crowds are more manageable. I highly recommend walking to the lighthouse, the view is really pretty and the colours of the sunset make it even more magical!
I'll be brutally honest, tourist towns are not my thing. Of course, the town itself was really beautiful and I don't regret going there but the restaurants and bars are very expensive (compared to the little tavernas you can find all over the island) and you have to be prepared to see a lot of touristy shops, etc. Having said that, the atmosphere was summery, there was music in the streets and a general feeling of happiness which we couldn't complain about!
Useful information :
Parking in Chania can be a tricky task, as the port is specially designed for pedestrians. Here are some free car parks (open Mon-Fri / 24h) :
Kydon Heart City Hotel
Alternatively, you can park in the back streets of the city, which is what we did, the white or unmarked spaces are free. The paying spaces are blue, the yellow spaces are reserved for special vehicles.
Among the most spectacular and must-see natural wonders of southern Crete are the magnificent Kourtaliotiko Gorges, which lead to the beautiful beach of Preveli. This wild and fascinating destination is where you can admire the unique geological formations, the beautiful waterfalls, and the untouched nature of Crete.
The gorges are 80 km from Chania and about 25 km south of Rethymno and I highly recommend renting a car for this type of excursion as the bus routes are long and very limited.
The last stretch of road to the gorges is mountainous and slightly winding but perfectly doable. It is possible to park at the entrance of the descent to the gorges but parking is limited so arrive early.
Access on foot to the gorges is easy as there is a paved path that leads all the way down where you will first see the small picturesque chapel of Saint Nicolas (a 5-minute walk). If you continue to your left, you will arrive at small natural pools with very clear (and cold!) water surrounded by magnificent small waterfalls and cliffs reaching 600m high! Just before the chapel, there is a path down to the right which leads to a small beach. You have to climb a bit to get there but it's really worth it! The water is cold but you can swim up the gorge to find yourself between magical waterfalls and mystical vegetation.
Ismaïl and I were amazed by the beauty of the place and it remains one of the most memorable days of our trip.
An afternoon in Rethymnon
Rethymnon is the third largest city in Crete and in my opinion one of the most beautiful. With a history of over 4500 years and a cultural identity forged through the Minoan, Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine years, this city has many stories to tell and should figure in your must-see places in Crete!
Strolling through the cobbled streets of the pedestrianised old town of Rethymnon will take you on a journey through the centuries. You can take a pleasant walk through the narrow streets lined with shops and tavernas.
The town offers many museums, churches, and other sites to visit but unfortunately, I was ill that day with a very bad sore throat so our visit was cut short (typical me lol).
However, here is a list of things to see in Rethymnon:
The Venetian Fortress
The Museum of Contemporary Art of Crete (entrance fee 3€)
The Venetian Old Port
The Rimondi Fountain
The old Venetian houses with their wooden loggias
The Archaeological Museum of Rethymnon
The Great Gate of Rethymnon or "Guora Gate
Useful information : Parking in Rethymnon is relatively easy, there are numerous free parking places on the outskirts near the port.