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Travel Guide Europe Greece Crete

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Introduction

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Saxophonist

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Crete is more than just an island of Greece. It's more of a country with its own music, culture, dance and dialect. It is the largest island of the country and the fifth largest in the Mediterranean Sea, at 8,336 square kilometres. Apart from a few rocks south of the island, Crete is also the southernmost island of Greece and the weather can be warm even during winter. Its landscape and culture are very diverse. Add to that an unmistakable party culture in parts of the island, like Chersonisos, and it is clear why this is a favourite destination for so many people.

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Geography

Crete is the largest island in Greece and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. It is located in the southern part of the Aegean Sea separating the Aegean from the Libyan Sea. Crete is mountainous, and its character is defined by a high mountain range crossing from west to east, formed by three different groups of mountains. These mountains lavished Crete with valleys, such as Amari valley, fertile plateaus, such as Lasithi plateau, Omalos and Nidha; caves, such as Gourgouthakas, Diktaion, and Idaion (the birthplace of the ancient Greek god Zeus); and a number of gorges.

The island has a number of gorges, such as the Samariá Gorge, Imbros Gorge, Kourtaliotiko Gorge, Ha Gorge, Platania gorge, the Gorge of the Dead (at Kato Zakros, Sitia) and Richtis Gorge and (Richtis) waterfall at Exo Mouliana in Sitia.

The rivers of Crete include the Ieropotamos River, the Koiliaris, the Anapodiaris, the Almiros, the Giofyros, and Megas Potamos. There are only two freshwater lakes: Lake Kournas and Lake Agia, which are both in Chania regional unit. Lake Voulismeni at the coast, at Aghios Nikolaos, was formerly a freshwater lake but is now connected to the sea, in Lasithi. Lakes that were created by dams also exist in Crete. There are three: the lake of Aposelemis dam, the lake of Potamos dam, and the lake of Mpramiana dam.

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Cities

  • Heraklion - located in Heraklion Prefecture and is the largest city and capital of the island, with the Minoan Palace of Knossos archeological site, the island's main international airport and cruise/ferry port, an important archeological museum, and a harbor boasting structures from the Venetian period (1205-1669).
  • Chania - the island's second largest city and capital of Chania Prefecture, with a largely intact Old Town, another airport and cruise/ferry port, numerous structures from the Venetian and Ottoman (1689-1898) period, a number of museums, and the important NATO naval base of Souda Bay.
  • Rethymno - capital of Rethymnon Prefecture, with cruise/ferry port, a well-preserved Old Town (at the foot of a massive Venetian fortress), which is a maze of lanes and alleys primarily reserved for pedestrians.

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Sights and Activities

  • Ruins of the Minoan palace of Knossos.
  • Venetian fortresses of Rethymo.
  • Amari Valley.
  • Monasteries (Arkadi, Triada, Preveli) with interesting histories
  • Lasithi Plateau
  • Palekastro area in Eastern Crete
  • The White Mountains, Crete's largest mountain range, with more than 100 gorges, and peaks of over 2,500 metres.
  • Paleochora
  • Bali village close to Sises
  • The Roman archaeological site of Gortys
  • Samaria Gorge.
  • Frangokastello - A haunted castle by the sea.
  • Elafonisi - turquoise waters surrounding a stunning islet reached by a sandy peninsula.
  • Old mosques and Byzantine monasteries.
  • The cave that is the legendary birthplace of Zeus.
  • The Venetian port of Chania, with also Turkish architecture.

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Weather

Crete has a pleasant Mediterranean climate. Summers from May to September are warm, sunny and very dry. Temperatures are mostly around 30 °C though can be well over 40 °C during some days. Nights are well above 20 °C. Winters last from December to February when it's around 15 °C during the day and around 10 degrees at night. Mountainous areas are both cooler and wetter, though rain is scarce throughout the year, with a total of around 500mm a year. The winter months are the wettest though regional variations exist.

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Getting There

By Plane

Heraklion International Airport (HER) has many flights. Thomas Cook Airlines and Thomson Airways mainly serve the British market, while Hamburg International Airlines, TuiFly, Air Berlin and Condor serve the German market. Easyjet has flights to/from Berlin, London and Manchester. Eurocypria has many flights as well including to Polish cities like Poznan, Krakow and Warsaw.
Other destinations include Helsinki, Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Tel Aviv, Malta, Paris, Prague, Brussels, Tallinn, Geneva, Amsterdam, Belgrade, Budapest, Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Yekaterinburg and many Greek Islands and of course Athens and Thessaloniki.

By Boat

Crete has ports at Heraklion, Souda (for Chania), Rethymno, Agios Nikolaos, Sitia and Kissamos.
Ferry services go to/from Athens (Piraeus) to Heraklion, Rethymno and Chania and from Thessaloniki and the Cyclades to Heraklion.

Check the Greek Travel Pages for an impression about companies, schedules and prices, as the choice is very wide. Or check the Greek Ferries website or another one about Ferries between islands in Greece.

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Getting Around

By Car

Hiring a car is very easy. You need a valid driving licence written in the Roman alphabet. If it is in another alphabet (like Cyrillic or Chinese), you will need an International Driving Licence. The driving age in Greece is 18 for passenger cars and 16 for mopeds. Car hire companies may have different limits, so check first. When you pick up your vehicle, make sure to list all eligible drivers.

By Bus

Public transportation is fairly frequent and timetables quite trustworthy. Bus drivers usually divert from their marked routes to enter little villages if asked to do so. Bus services along the north coast and towards the south coast are excellent, reliable, frequent and cheap.

Most of these bus services are run by Kino Tamio Eispraxeon Leoforion, KTEL, which are groups of families which individually run their own bus companies. This, in turn, creates a much more homely environment for Cretans and tourists and these families provide excellent service and show off their great deal of pride.

Cretan bus stations are very simple for the most part, except for in Heraklion which has two major bus stations: one for local buses in town and one for long-distance KTEL buses.

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Eat

Crete is famous for its tasty and healthy cuisine. The Cretan Diet, which is also called the "Mediterranean Diet," has been attributed with great health benefits and nutritional value. Studies have attributed this diet to the health and longevity of the people, as well as the lack of cancers and heart disease. This healthy diet had relied heavily on fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, and pulses in season and fish. Meat was usually served only once a week or on special occasions like weddings and festivals. Now, Cretans eat meat fairly regularly as well as processed foods and sweet confections. Today, cancer and heart disease are not uncommon, although the people remain relatively healthy and long-lived.

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Drink

If you are in Crete during the dry summer, you will want to drink plenty of water; however, if you are an oenophile, don't neglect wine. The Cretan earth produces some of best wines from local grape varieties (mantilari, kotsifali, etc), and the famous tsikoudia or raki (a non aniseed spirit, written ρακή, and pronounced rhakee).

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Sleep

There are hundreds of various types of lodging possibilities on the island; a few representative properties are listed. Credit cards are generally accepted at most mainstream properties. Discounts may be offered for cash. Some private homes/villas may have a PayPal or similar method of payment. Very small hotels and "rent rooms" may accept only cash. Almost all properties can assist with sightseeing, tours, and rental cars.

View our map of accommodation in Crete

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Keep Connected

Internet

Internet access is widely available throughout the country. Almost all hotels provide internet access, either free or paid. Local coffee shops usually offer free Wi-Fi access, as many other public places do. Feel free to ask for the password, if the network is locked. Internet cafes however tend to be expensive, about €1.5-2 per hour.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

The cheapest way to call someone abroad is to use a pre-paid calling card and call from a land line anywhere (also from your hotel room). Pre-paid calling cards are sold in many shops and kiosks. The calling card is not much more than a phone number and a pin code, which you dial prior to dialling the usual phone number. If you want to call internationally, ask for an international calling card. For one euro you can call for about 45 minutes, so buy a card in the cheapest value (which is about €3). Calling someone for half an hour is cheaper than sending one email from an internet café. Cards expire usually 90 days after first use. You can also use this pre-paid calling card at public phone boxes, which are widely available.

Mobile phones are prevalent in Greek's communication, and if you need to talk with your co-travellers it is advised that you buy a local prepaid plan instead of using roaming, as it is far cheaper. There are at least three mobile carriers, Cosmote, Wind and Vodafone all of which require by law presenting some form of identification in order to activate your prepaid plan. Choose whichever has better reception in your area, keeping in mind that GSM 900, GSM 1800 and UMTS 2100 bands are supported. Data usage is cheap, costing about €3 per 100 MB. Ask the mobile carrier for more information.

Post

Hellenic Post is the Greek postal service. On their website you find more information about options to send letters, postcards and parcels and there is a search function regarding post offices and post boxes. It also has information on services like paying bills, transferring money, financial products etc. Greek post codes are five digits long and are usually written as follows; 123 45. The first three digits are used to identify the city, municipality or prefecture, for example the digits between 100 and 180 relate to the city of Athens. The last two digits identify a street or part of a street. Most post offices are open Monday to Friday from 07:30-14:00, although the larger ones usually have longer opening hours. For sending packages, you can also use international courier services like DHL, UPS or TNT.

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Accommodation in Crete

We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Crete searchable right here on Travellerspoint. You can use our map to quickly compare budget, mid-range or top of the range accommodation in Crete and areas nearby.

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This is version 17. Last edited at 3:32 on Aug 2, 17 by sleepBot. 40 articles link to this page.

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