The Minoan palace at Knossos, covering an area of 215,278 square feet (20,000 sq metres), is one of the world's greatest sightseeing experiences. It consists of four wings, arranged around a rectangular central court. The palace originally had many stories, was built of ashlar blocks and had walls decorated with splendid frescoes. British archaeologist, Arthur Evans, who excavated most of the labyrinthine Knossos site, has painstakingly restored some sections of the palace. The remains now visible are actually not those of the original palace, which was built around 2,000 BC and destroyed by an earthquake about 1,700 BC. A subsequent more complex palace was then constructed. The palace was first unearthed in 1878 by a Cretan merchant and antiquarian, but was not systematically excavated until 1900. The Knossos site is about three miles (5km) south of Heraklion.
At 66 kilometers south of Heraklion, the beach of Matala, on the southern coast of Crete, was the site of summer celebrations in honor of the Goddess of fertility from the Minoans and yet the ancient port of Phaistos. According to mythology, when Zeus kidnapped Europe from Asia, he brought the first Matala. Much later, namely the 70's, the beach with the tourquoise waters of the Libyan Sea and the impressive caves that resemble houses, became a gathering place and escape from daily routine, thousands of young children from Greece and abroad (Flower Children). Today Matala beach is one of the most famous beaches in Greece
The island of Spinalonga (official name Kalidon) is located in the eastern part of Crete, near the town of Elounda. Harking back to the Venetian occupation, the name Spinalonga is Italian, meaning "long thorn". In 1579, the Venetians built a fortress on Spinalonga over the ruins of an acropolis. They kept control of the island until the Ottoman Empire took possession of it in 1715. The island is notable for being one of the last active leper colonies in Europe, being used in this manner from 1903 until 1957.
Agios Nikolaos is 65 kilometres east of Heraklion. Agios Nikolaos, or just Agios as the locals call it, dominates the beautiful Merabello Bay, on the northeast coast of Lassithi Prefecture in East Crete. Agios Nikolaos has a population of 10,000. Though small, it is the second largest town in Lassithi Prefecture, the easternmost prefecture of Crete. Agios Nikolaos was one of the first towns in Crete to feel the effects of tourist development, and the famous lake of Agios Nikolaos, around which the town centre is built, continues to impress visitors. Agios Nikolaos is set on the largest natural bay in Crete, Mirabello or Merabello Bay, named for the beautiful view (mira bella) of the sea from the town. The history of Agios Nikolaos is marked by its harbor in the Ammoudi area, which is still the commercial port of the town. This site was chosen for a major harbor in East Crete, because the islets of Agioi Pantes before it offered better defenses against possible attackers and good shelter from the northwesterlies, which can blow quite strongly. In the Venetian period, the harbor of Agios Nikolaos had a capacity of 25 galleys, a fairly significant number for the time, and served the needs of East Crete. Today, you can travel from here to Piraeus and various islands.
Moni Preveli is one of the most important Monasteries in Crete because of its historical significance and because of the historical relics that are kept in its museum. The monks that lived there had active participation in all the liberation battles of Crete. At 1940 the German soldiers captured the monks and looted the monastery steeling one of most important item, the Timios Stavros (Holy Cross), that was returned years later. The monastery museum has significant exhibitions such as more than 100 Icons some dating back to the early 17th century, holy cups, vestments and Holy Gospels.
Northwest of Kissamos is the beautifully wild and remote Gramvousa, whose main attraction is the stunning lagoon like sandy beach of Balos on Cape Tigani on the west side of the peninsulas narrow tip. The idyllic beach with turquoise waters is overlooked by the two islets of Agria and Imeri. The rough but drivable dirt road (best in a four wheel drive) to Balos begins at the end of the main street of Kalyviani village and follows the eastern slope of Mt Geroskinos. From there the view is spectacular.
Elafonisi is located 76km west of Chania and 5km south of Chrysoskalitisa Monastery, in the southwesternmost point of Crete. Elafonisi is an oblong, which often "breaks" in two parts by water giving the impression of being a separate island. Elafonisi is a Natura 2000 protected area. The island is full of dunes with sand lilies and jupiners (like-cedars trees). The endangered turtles careta careta and several rare animals nest on the island and it is strictly forbidden to remove any plants, animals and sand from the area.Exotic beaches with white sand and turquoise waters, reminding of the Caribbean, are formed on either sides of the peninsula. The sand is pinkish in many places, taking its color from thousands of broken shells. Near the breaking point of the peninsula, the water does not exceed 1m, creating a small lagoon, ideal for children. You can easily cross the lagoon in order to reach the island, having your staff with you, because the water is very shallow there
Chania is unreservedly Crete’s most evocative city. At the Venetian port, the light house is the most familiar picture when someone refers to this city. This is one of the oldest light houses of the world that is still preserved. Restored Venetian townhouses have been converted into restaurants, cafes, boutique hotels and attractive shops. Small alleyways filled with visitors retain the exoticism of a city caught between the East and the West. Chania’s war torn history has left it with only a few monuments, but the city wears its scars proudly.
Rethymno is the island’s third largest town and one of the most picturesque with charming Venetian harbor that is crammed with fish taverns and cafes. The old Venetian city is a maze of narrow streets draped in floral canopies, graceful wood balconied houses and ornate Venetian monuments, with minarets adding a touch of the Orient. Rethymno’s 16th Century Fortezza is on the site of the city’s ancient acropolis. Within its massive walls a great number of buildings once stood, of which only a church and a mosque survive intact. This city has a beautiful character all its own.
Vai, or more specifically the palm forest of Vai, is one of the most popular sights in Crete and one of the most beautiful and special places in the whole Mediterranean. Vai draws thousands of visitors each year. They come not only for its wonderful palm forest, but also for the large sandy beach spread out at its foot. In the 1980s Vai was decreed a protected area and cleaned up. Today it is considered one of the most beautiful parts of Crete and the beach has been awarded a Blue Flag by the European Union.