Best time to visit Crete


It’s rare for temps to dip below double figures, although the high peaks do get snow in Nov-May. The best time to go to Crete for hiking is spring and autumn, with temps in the high teens, wildflowers exploding in spring and water tepid in autumn for a dip after a day on the hills. Winter is still, regrettably, slow on Crete, Samaria Gorge only open to hikers 1st May-mid October and archeological sites with limited opening hours. We think it’s a great time to go, if you stay with someone who knows the best places to walk, which tavernas will be open and will be over the moon to greet you.

Things to do in Crete


Things to do in Crete…

Pack your walking pole, sturdy boots and a hydration pack, because if you are a keen hiker there are superb walking trails. The gorges of the White Mountains, such as Samaria and Imbros are spectacular but there are over 50 such beauties, so seek out local advice for some of the prettiest perambulations you could hope for.
The food is fantastically traditional in Crete, yet the wine is fast catching up with worldwide vintners’ values. It seems as if every mountain village has its own cheese; the local Kaltsounia pies, for example, are packed with myzithra soft whey cheese. Horta, a spinach-type grass growing all over the island, is another ingredient used in this and other meals, with okra and artichoke being popular too. For carnivores, there is serious lamb to be had, and with over 30 wineries, there is no shortage of fine accompaniments.
Water is a big feature on Cretan vacations. You can go adventurous and opt for canyoning, coasteering, kayaking, mellow out on a sailing trip around the island or just pack your swimsuit in your backpack and enjoy one of over a 100 Blue Flag beaches.
History buffs will be buzzing on Crete, with ancient sites just about everywhere. As well as the famous ruins at Knossos and Aptera, check out the 14th century coastal fort at Frangocastello, the former Turkish fort and then leper colony on Spinalonga Island, and the Venetian architecture in Chania. There are also myriad monasteries and secret caves. Just ask a local for the best ones.

Things not to do in Crete…

Do the all inclusive resort thing. There is so much fine local tourism in Crete and you really do want to immerse yourself in the mountains and wildlife if possible, not the concrete jungles. In The Odyssey, Homer wrote, “Out in the dark blue sea there lies an island called Crete, a rich and lovely land, washed by the waves on every side, densely peopled and boasting 90 cities”. We want it to stay rich and lovely, but just not enter another era of 90 concrete cities.
Underestimate the heat and mountain terrain when hiking. The gorges may go downhill, but they are rocky and can be sharp underfoot, so have good boots, a walking pole and two pairs of socks to protect feet from sharp stones. You can go for a long time without water stops, so come prepared and always tell someone where you are going.
Buy lots of bottled water. Tap water is fine in most places so bring your own bottles and keep filling them up.
Fall for empty beach images of some of the tourist favourites such as Balos and Elafonisi. They are packed with coaches in summer, especially from cruise ships and resorts. And don’t start us on cruise ship tourism. It is a feature of Crete and if you want to avoid the crowds disembarking, check out cruise ships dates in advance. Or just go in spring and autumn, when you will have pure and utter beach bliss.

Crete travel advice


John and Yasmin Flawith, co-founders of our leading supplier Panokosmos give us their top Crete travel advice:

Eating & drinking

“People have a very limited view about Cretan wine and if they used to come years ago they may have dreadful memories of the Retsina or Domestica. But the wine making on the island is really good now. There are over 30 wineries, and they have new, top class techniques. There are two that we love in particular in the White Mountains. One is the Dourakis Winery which is en route to the Askifou in the south, and which we can see from our balcony, and there is one outside Chania, the Manousakis Winery en route to the Omalos Plateau which has brilliant wines. Do try the goats milk – thick and creamy, and it doesn’t smell of goats! And leave space in your luggage for bringing back some Cretan olive oil and a bottle of wine, because they are quite special and it’s not that easily available in northern Europe. And the prices are still so reasonable.”

Itinerary tips

“Imbros Gorge is our favourite gorge. Everyone wants to go to Samaria which is also wonderful, but there are a lot of coachloads going there in summer. And also it is a huge trip, taking about 14 hours in total. Imbros you can do nicely in an afternoon, leaving your car in the south at the coast and getting a taxi up to the starting point. Another one that we love is Kallikratis Gorge. That is a bit longer, maybe three to four hours walk, and it is really wild, but comes out on the plains of the south coast at Frangokastello, which is a beautiful little settlement where there is a lagoon with very quiet, warm water. It’s a really relaxing spot.”

“Don’t expect the archeological sites to be well signed, described or set out (a few exceptions at the biggest sites like Knossos). Most will be at the end of a dusty track and many are overgrown. You’ll need to do a bit of your own research, but the resulting discoveries will be worth it.”

Everyday tips

“We always advise our guests to get up early. The sun rises here around 6-6.30 in summer, and if you get up just before the sun rises you will see the first rays hit the top of the mountain. There are these beautiful peachy coloured peaks, followed by a lovely sunrise, with the light just falling down over the mountains. It’s a glorious sight to see and really worth getting up to do it.”

Advice for drivers

“Do be bold – sometimes you have to adventure up winding roads with lots of hairpins (to get to Panokosmos for one!), but you’ll be rewarded with views, sites and discoveries. Don’t expect the junctions to be well signed (particularly off the main roads; there will be signposts, but they may only be visible in one direction. You need to scout around a bit to find them!”

Shopping tips

Catherine Mack, author of Responsible Travel’s guides, offers her own Crete travel advice: “Go shopping in Chania market. I bought a wide brimmed leather sun hat that has come on every trip with me ever since. Don’t miss Taverna Lemonia, located on top of a hill in Xilioumoudou. It is one of the few places left that still has a traditional stone mill that is pulled by donkeys to crush the olives. The owner also makes his own traditional violins and other stringed instruments. Just a treat of a place – Also, go in May. The flowers are amazing and the beaches were still empty.”

And a few tips from our vacation reviews

“Getting to know the back roads and understanding the road signs is interesting, but you soon get the hang of them – we loved that.” – Caroline Schwaller

“Worth while doing a little research if you want to go walking or sight seeing before you arrive - John and Yasmin have plenty of advice and suggestions if you need an extra bit of help. What we found extremely helpful was John and Yasmin helping us with the car hire booking – they know a local firm that was excellent, the car was waiting for us as soon as we stepped outside the airport building.” – Flis Hughes, staying in a rural Crete villa

“Our stay happened to coincide with an annual local jazz festival. The evening brought together jazz fans from around the White Mountain foothills, and assembled a trio of talent musicians known on national and international stages.” – Zachary Cole
Photo credits: [Temp chart: mary_mac_82] [Helpdesk: lupu robert ciprian] [Food & drink: Signe Karin] [Everyday tips: Dietmar Hollaus] [Shopping tips: J B]
Written by Catherine Mack
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