If you have already been to Crete in summer, you have certainly paid a visit to its beautiful beaches. You’ve stepped on the pink sand of Elafonisi or swam in the magnificent Balos lagoon. You’ve felt the hot sun on your skin and had that tasty grilled octopus by the sea. You’ve walked through the crowded alleys of the old cities and made a toast with local tsikoudia.
However, there’s more to Crete than beaches, it’s an island with a thousand faces. There is a summer face to it, crowded and busy, and a more peaceful one season, made of tranquil spots in the mountains, surrounded by a virgin nature and ancient secrets mixed with warmer temperatures. And the best of all: the hospitality of the locals. A winter holiday on Crete can be a great way to discover its hidden gems. Crete is really special in winter, the weather is mild, there are no crowds and prices are convenient.
Daily flights between Athens and Crete allow reaching the island in less than an hour. Aegean Airlines offers two-way tickets from Athens starting at 78€ to Chania and 83€ to Heraklion. Return flights Athens-Heraklion with Skyexpress are 110€ while the same route flying with Ellinair starts from 76€.
Travel by ferry is easy and there are daily connections. ANEK Lines takes you both to Chania or Heraklion from 38€ (9 hours one way), while Minoan sails you to Heraklion for 46€ one way. Estimate about 100-120 € more if you want to take your car with you, or give local car rental a try. You can check rental daily fees here.
Accommodation in winter is convenient, you can book romantic rooms and get discounts for spa treatments or be easily upgraded. For instance, right in the middle of January, staying in the Old Town of Chania will cost you from 47€ per night in Porto del Colombo. If you want to indulge in amazing Lighthouse views, try the rooms at the Domus Renier, starting at 117€ per night. For those traveling on a budget, Narkissos, always downtown, offers basic accommodation as from 25€ per night.
Rethymno is another popular location to stay in Crete, Avli Lounge Apartments, in the Old Town offers rooms as from 90€ per night. Casa Vitae allows you to sleep in a 16th century stone house for 61€ while for a cheaper option, Preveli Apartments has rooms as from 30€ per night.
A few days in Heraklion are mandatory to its wonderful museums and archeological sites. The ecological Olive Green Hotel has rooms starting at 63€ per night, Galaxy Hotel Iraklio adds to the list with rooms starting at 74€. For those with a lower budget, Kastro Hotel has good accommodation as from 42€ per night.
Places to See in Winter
The Fortezza and the Venetian Port of Rethymno
The Venetian Fortress dates back to the 16th century and dominates the town from Paleokastro a low hill which most probably was the acropolis of the ancient town. Inside the Fortezza, it’s possible to visit the Mosque of Sultan Ibrahim, as well as the gunpowder magazines and the churches of Saint Theodore and Saint Catherine. The small Lighthouse of Rethymno is a picturesque view of the city that you can enjoy while sipping a coffee in one of the many seaside bars.
The Old Town of Chania
The lovely old town of Chania has hundred of hidden gems to visit. Tiny alleys and impressive palazzi from different eras make it a wonderful place for walks. Stop at a corner by the seaside for a handful of hot chestnuts and keep walking along the Venetian harbor. The old town allows for visits to the Jewish and Muslim neighborhoods, the municipal market, and the authentic Cretan taverns. Read more about things to do in Chania
Empty Archaeological Treasures
The Archaeological Palace of Knossos is one of those places that, no matter how interesting it is, will become ordeal when visited surrounded by high season crowds and summer temperatures. The magnificent palace of King Minos is ideally combined with a visit to the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, home to most of the findings of the palace.
No urban landscape will ever compare to the authentic atmosphere it’s possible to breathe in the Cretan mountains. Villages such as Margarites or Asteri in Rethymno, or Archanes just off Heraklion welcome visitors all year round to offer the best examples of local hospitality.
Therisso in Chania as well as Lakki, on the way to Omalos, are two more of the many villages to visit on the island. Settlements like no other that keep the local spirit alive in the local kafenio, in the folklore, the music, the gastronomy and unique handcrafts.
Hikes in Nature
Samaria gorge cannot be hiked in winter, but trails and mountain roads are not over with Samaria. Crete has amazing hiking roads for all tastes, and all difficulties and many of them are can be enjoyed in the winter. If you plan on hiking at night make sure to bring infrared vision.
Routes available all year round include the trail from Loutro to Chora Sfakia, or from Agia Roumeli to Agios Pavlos. A bit more difficult is the road Aschifou-Imbros-Kallikratis and the one covering Chora Sfakia-Frangokastello, on the southern coast. Here’s an updated list of hiking trails on Crete.
Local cuisine is made of simple dishes where taste wins over appearance. Local greens can become surprisingly delicious with top quality Cretan olive oil. A healthy diet made of stewed lamb, grilled fish, fried potatoes, baked pies, pork, snails, cheese, pasta... the list is endless. Add some of the best wine being produced in Greece and a couple of shots of the local spirit, tsikoudia or raki.
The Cretan experience gets more interesting and fun with songs and the sound of the Cretan lira, local dances and a friendly table. All ingredients that call for unforgettable moments and authentic joy… even in winter!