Things to Do in Crete
The best place to capture the mystery and magic of Crete’s ancient Minoan civilization is the ruins of Knossos, just outside Heraklion. The secrets of this enigmatic civilization were only unraveled in the 20th century, by the man who would go on to restore the palace ruins, Sir Arthur Evans.
The Palace of Knossos was built at the height of the Minoans’ glory, in around 3400 to 2100 BC, reflecting their wealth and sophistication. Best known for their incredibly naturalistic frescos and exquisite ceramics, the Minoans traded with other contemporary great powers in Egypt and Asia Minor.
The original palace was destroyed by an earthquake in around 1700 BC, and a more sophisticated complex was built over the ruins. Knossos was eventually destroyed by fire in 1400 BC.
Minoan pottery, jewelry, frescos and sarcophagi from Knossos are displayed in Heraklion at its fabulous archaeological museum.
More Things to Do in Crete
Samaria Gorge is legendary amongst hikers, with more than 1,000 walkers hitting the rugged river valley trail daily in summer. Europe’s longest gorge offers a wildflower-bedecked river trail with cliff-top views of Crete’s endangered wild goat, the kri-kri. The walk begins at Xyloskalo, where a steep stone pathway with wooden rails enters the gorge. It finishes 16km (10 miles) later on the coast at Agia Roumeli. Along the way, the stone walls of the gorge close over the trail, at some points reduced to only a couple of feet wide. At their most impressively narrow, the craggy canyon walls are known as the Iron Gates. Water fills the stream in spring, while in summer the riverbed rocks become stepping stones. And at the end of the trail, in Agia Roumeli, the beach offers hikers a chance to revive with a refreshing dip in the sea. Samaria Gorge and its rare wild kri-kri goats are protected by national park on Crete’s southwest coast, between the towns of Agia Roumeli and Sougia.
For centuries the island of Spinalonga has been known for its Venetian fortress, and more recently it was the setting for the 2005 novel 'The Island' by Victoria Hislop.
The now-abandoned island is the perfect place to lose yourself for half a day. You’ll discover how the island was once part of the mainland, and was created by the Venetians to protect the Gulf of Mirabella. You’ll also see where salt was harvested by the Venetians, but the main attraction and dominating landmark is the fort.
The Venetian fortress was built in 1579, and over the years it’s been used as a Turkish bastion and leper colony. Built to watch over the neighboring mainland port of Elounda, the massive fort is surrounded by a circular walk passing ruined churches, homes, fortified structures and turreted walls.
Along the shore there are sheltered pebbled beaches for paddling, but that’s about it when it comes to facilities.
Chrissi Island sits about 9 miles south of the town of Ierapetra on Crete. It is 4.35 miles long and 1.25 miles across at its widest point. The island is a protected area and has been designated as a wildlife refuge. The largest naturally formed Lebanon cedar forest in Europe can be found here. Many of the trees are around 200 years old and 23 feet tall, though some are as old as 300 years old and 33 feet tall.
There is a small bar on one side of the island, a small tavern on the other side, an Orthodox church of St. Nicholas, and a lighthouse. The beaches are covered in bits of shells that give the sand a pinkish golden look. The relatively shallow waters surrounding Chrissi Island make for good snorkeling. Other popular activities include swimming and walking through the cedar forest. Due to its protected status, overnight stays are not allowed.
Crete’s gleaming white sea aquarium opened in the island’s former American Base in December 2005 and is the largest in Greece, showcasing the magical fish and marine ecosystems of the Mediterranean Sea. As well as educating visitors on the mysteries of the deep, the aquarium plays a serious role in researching and conserving sea life and in caring for injured fish and marine life.
More than 2,500 fish from more than 250 indigenous species, ranging from sand tiger sharks to microscopic sea horses, can be seen in 60 tanks filled with 1.7 million liters of seawater, each carefully themed for a local Mediterranean marine environment. The aquarium has walk-through tanks with sharks, loggerhead turtles, comical groupers and velvety rays floating overhead, as well as 100 observation spots where entertaining and informative information is laid out for children as colorful shoals of fish flit in front of their eyes.
Situated at the end of the Heraklion’s inner harbor near the Old Harbor jetty is the Koules Fortress. Koules is the Turkish name for the fortress but the Venetians dubbed it the Rocco al Mare and the Castello del Molo in the 16th Century. It was a defensive mechanism, which stopped the Turks for 22 years and then became a Turkish prison for Cretan rebels. The harbor is now a drop off point for commercial and passenger ferries; the inner harbor is a concrete maze of apartments that now forms modern Heraklion.
The exterior is impressive, decorated with three stone lions of St. Mark (a symbol of Venetian imperialism), as well as embankments and cannonballs that will transport you to another century. Inside, you can find art exhibitions. Music and theatrical events are held on the upper level. Make sure to make your way to top for impressive views of the harbor. A thorough visit should take about an hour.
Acqua Plus Water Park is the most popular water park on the island of Crete, and it is located less than 20 miles from Heraklion. It's situated on a hill which offers spectacular views of the surrounding landscapes. The water park is split into two different sections, one for adults and one for children. The garden section combines local Cretan plants and flowers with more exotic ones. There is a water slide beneath a weeping willow tree, and games are located among the palm trees, bougainvilleas and French marigolds.
Acqua Plus Water Park offers more than 50 slides, games and facilities. Some slides are slow and calm, while others are fast and exciting. Some are body slides and some slides have tubes. The park also has different pools, some specifically for kids, where visitors can swim and enjoy the water. There's even a lazy river where visitors float calmly in a tube as a more relaxing way to experience the park.
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