Crete, the largest of the Greek islands and birthplace of Zeus, has so much to offer to visitors by day and night. Cretan cuisine is regarded as one of the heathiest in the world and what better than smelling the fresh herbs on sale in the market and later sitting down to enjoy a traditional meal, flavored with the same herbs? Raki is a popular drink in Crete and is perfect to enjoy at sunset. Lookout for Raki flavored with cinnamon or honey as they are good!
If you want to relax and listen to local music you will find bars playing bouzouki music everywhere. Alternately, if you wander away from the main streets and look for the smaller bars, you might just find one with an old man sitting happily playing his Lyra and singing traditional Cretan songs he learned from his grandfather.
1. Share a traditional Mezé (Mezédhes)
A mezé comprises of many small servings of seasonal dishes to share and is the perfect way to enjoy a selection of Greek dishes at a leisurely pace. The Mezé traditionally begins with several dips and some crusty village bread accompanied by a large salad. A selection of fish and vegetable dishes will then be served, before a selection of delicious casserole specialties such as Afelia and Stifado. Grilled meat cooked over charcoal arrives soon afterward, accompanied by wedges of fresh lemon and the final course is a selection of chilled seasonal fruit! The most traditional Mezés are those served in small village tavernas. In some of the harbors, it is possible to enjoy a fish mezé which is an excellent way to try all the local fish.
2. Enjoy an evening stroll
There are some lovely places to enjoy a walk along the waterfront as the sun begins to sink. One of these is Agios Nikolaos with its colorful fishing boats which are overlooked by a string of little tavernas for a relaxing meal. A popular walk in Chania is to the lighthouse. The Old Town in Rethymnon is delightful as its buildings date from the 11th century and some of them are Italian and Turkish in style – a reflection of the island’s colorful history.
3. See the most stunning sunset
The beach of Falassarna near Chania is the perfect place to take a cool bottle of Cretan wine and two glasses, to sit and enjoy watching the most stunning sunset. In Crete there is no long period of dusk and once the sun sets there is total darkness in a really short time, so make sure you are armed with a torch!
4. Sleep like a shepherd
The Samaria Gorge stretches 18 kilometers and is the longest gorge in Europe. During the summer months, it is possible to walk the gorge with a guide. To beat the summer heat, the companies arrange for you to stay in a shepherds’ hut and to eat a simple breakfast of sheep’s yogurt and rusks before starting the 5-7 hour walk down the gorge. Xyloskala is the highest point and is reminiscent of the Alps and is quite chilly first thing in the morning! At Sideresportes further down, the gorge narrows to less than four meters with cliffs more than 30 meters high. The walk is long, hot and tiring but is a real ‘must-do’.
5. Have a go at Greek dancing
Many of the hotels and tavernas organize ‘Greek Nights’ with the chance to try delicious Cretan dishes and wine before being entertained by local musicians and dancers. Everyone is encouraged to join in the dancing, but don’t worry, you will not be the only one with two left feet!
6. Dance the night away
The nightspots in Crete are amongst the best in Greece and certainly, Malia is well known for its liveliness! Apart from various clubs, there are also boat parties and both go on well into the early hours! Stalis and Elounda are two other popular hotspots which also have good night clubs – just don’t plan an early start the following morning!
7. Enjoy world-class musicians in Makrigialos
If you are lucky enough to be in Crete during the third week of June, you will have the opportunity of enjoying some superb chamber music concerts in the intimate surroundings of Casa Dei Mezzo in the hills above Makrigialos. This annual event brings the famous world-class and up and coming musicians together for three days of marvelous classical music.
8. Explore life under the waves with no wet feet
The Cretaquarium is situated at Gournes near Heraklion and is one of the largest aquariums in Europe. It is open during the summer months until 9.00 pm. There are 60 different display tanks of various sizes holding a total of 1.7 million liters of water. Many of the tanks have been very carefully designed to recreate seascapes of areas around the island. There is an amazing variety of sea life to enjoy including large sharks to tiny and delicate sea horses.
9. Fun at the Heraklion Festival
The capital’s festival lasts for six weeks from July until mid-September and a wealth of entertainment is organized in a variety of venues including the open-air theatre and the platia (square) in the Old Town. The program is varied with some activities especially for children and others including musical, theatrical and dance events. A free program leaflet is available from the Tourist Information Centre in the town.
10. ….and at a Paniyiri
The calendar in Crete includes many church festivals to celebrate the different Saints and on these days, everyone who shares that Saint’s name will celebrate their Name Day. The church that is named after that particular Saint holds a Paniyiri and these celebrations can be quite modest or large – with the largest being the day of Our Lady (the Paniyiri) on 15th August. Everyone can join in the fun which includes church services and market stalls selling all types of interesting things including pottery and lace. There is food to buy too including souvlaki (pork kebabs) and loukoumades (mini balls of dough that are deep-fried and soaked in honey) and there is music and dancing long into the night!