Experience the romance of Crete—Greece's largest island—with this 9-day itinerary. You'll use the coastal city of Chania, with its medieval architecture and postcard-perfect Venetian port as your base of exploration. Check out local markets, visit a traditional village, and enjoy a Cretan feast with after-dinner dancing. Then, hike the Samaria Gorge before wrapping up with relaxation on pink-sand beaches.

Highlights

  • Live like a local in the enchanting port city of Chania
  • Experience the culinary magic of local olive oil and wine in agricultural Vamos
  • Hike the Samaria Gorge, working up a sweat before a dip in the Libyan Sea
  • Wander Knossos, a maze of structures believed to be Europe's oldest city
  • Spot a Mediterranean monk seal from the exquisite Balos and Gramvousa beaches

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Chania Chania
Day 2 Old Town of Chania Tour Chania
Day 3 Vamos Cretan Delicacies Experience Vamos
Day 4 Vamos Garden and Orchard Walk and Dinner Vamos
Day 5 Lunch and Dancing at the Botanical Gardens Chania
Day 6 Trek Samaria Gorge Chania
Day 7 Knossos and Rethymno Day Trip Chania
Day 8 Gramvousa and Balos Beaches Chania
Day 9 Depart Chania  

Detailed overview

Day 1: Arrive in Chania

Chania's old town harbor
Chania's old town harbor

Welcome to Greece! Your journey will take you to Crete, the largest and most populous of the 230 inhabited Greek islands. Upon arrival to Chania, a city (and region) on the northwest coast, you'll be transferred to your hotel as you get ready to explore this stunning island, equipped with tips from your local specialist. 

Chania itself will be the main base of your operations during your trip. It's the second largest city in Crete and one of the most scenic spots on an island with stiff competition for that title. Life in this former Venetian city revolves around its charming 14th-century harbor, narrow streets with winding alleys, and colorful architecture influenced by past Ottoman and Egyptian eras.

Depending on what time you arrive, wander around town or head for one of the western region's spectacular beaches such as Falassarna and Elafonissi. There are also plenty of deserted coves and quiet bays to enjoy total privacy. 

For dinner, wander around Chania's harbor and check out a slew of waterfront restaurants with a sunset view.

Day 2: Old Town of Chania Tour

Watch the city life go by
Watch the city life go by

Today, you'll experience the streets, buildings, high spots, neighborhoods, and monuments that only locals know with a guided tour. Walk the stone paths where the Venetians, the Ottomans, and older generations of Cretans used to live and work, admiring the flower-decorated neighborhoods. You'll learn about Cretan history, the Cretan mythology and traditions, meet the locals, and eat like the locals.

Visit the neighborhoods of Topanas, Splantzia, Kolombo and Kasteli, along with high spots to admire the panoramic view of the harbor, as well as traditional Cretan taverns and magnificent buildings. You'll also see the ruins of the great Minoan city of Kydonia and high walls of former Venetian moats now integrated into the city.

When hunger strikes, visit the Municipal Market of Chania and neighboring Municipal Garden to enjoy a coffee amid the shade of the trees or garden clocktower. Then, top it off with a sunset drink on the rooftop at trendy Pallas.

Day 3: Vamos Cretan Delicacies Experience

Cook with the experts
Sample straight from the trees

Vamos village's lush greenery and natural scenery will set the stage for your discovery of local food production. Here, you can choose between two different tours.

Your first option is a cheese and olive oil experience, complete with the company of the kri-kri goats running wild. Crete is known for its graviera cheese, a slightly sweet, hard sheep cheese. Sample the graviera along with fresh-pressed olive oil. You'll also learn how goat and sheep bells are made for the farm's residents, a craft that is only known to a few people today. 

If you're more of a wine enthusiast than cheesehead, option two is an olive oil and wine tasting experience. You'll begin with an introduction to the olive-oil-making process in a local facility. Then visit a winery, where the experts will give you a tour followed by a tasting accompanied by traditional mezze.

Walk off all those samples with an afternoon stroll around Vamos, surrounded by local history and hospitality, before spending the night in your traditional guesthouse.

Day 4: Vamos Garden and Orchard Walk and Dinner

Flowering thyme
Flowering thyme

Drive through the trees to the village of Paidochori in the midst of the White Mountains. You'll find a gate waiting there to let you into a vast garden, the setting of your walk today. Wander through olive orchards and fruit trees with the land's owner. You'll smell, touch, and taste the fruits while you listen to their cultivator's philosophy on his work and recordings of rare plant species.

Follow the fragrant breezes to the garden of healing and aromatic herbs, where purple thyme, oregano, sage, and more await. Learn how to recognize Cretan herbs in the wild and how they can be used both in ancient healing techniques and modern cooking, all while enjoying a cup of tea and the mountain views.

Take one more walk up to the geological formations on the top of the hill and take in the surrounding scenery. As the sun goes down, you'll  sample a home-cooked meal starring the garden ingredients alongside local cheese and wines.

Day 5: Lunch and Dancing at the Botanical Gardens

Chania's Venetian waterfront architecture
Chania's Venetian waterfront architecture

Return to Chania this morning, where you'll be whisked off to the Botanical Park and Gardens for a celebratory feast. Start off with a tour around the park, taking in the lush foliage as you learn about local produce and the unique blend of Mediterranean, Alpine, and tropical climates found in Crete. Once you've worked up an appetite, sit down to enjoy a Cretan lunch created with produce fresh from the garden. Your meal will be accompanied by traditional music and dancing, complete with costumes.

Once you've gone back to the city, head for the waterfront districts of Halepa and Tabakaria. Wander among converted tanneries and factories in these off-the-beaten-track parts of town, just past the end of the main ocean promenade. You'll see the historic Venizelos House, palace, and Agia Magdalini Church, and seaside Tabakaria is now one of the most aristocratic neighborhoods in town. Dine at Thalassino Ageri, one of the top seafood tavernas in town, to enjoy your meal with a view straight from the sea and toast to a trip well spent.

Day 6: Trek Samaria Gorge

Under the towering rock faces
Under the towering rock faces

After breakfast, you'll be picked up at your hotel nice and early to explore one of Crete's natural wonders. Set amidst the scenery of the White Mountains is the popular hike to Samaria Gorge. The trek takes approximately five hours to cover the gorge's approximately 11 miles (18 km), most of which are downhill and during which you'll spot flora and fauna of all kinds. As your trail nears its end, you'll descend a gentle slope down to the peaceful beach at Agia Roumeli on the turquoise Libyan Sea where you can take a dip and wash off the trail dust. 

There will be time to linger on the sand and relax before you wrap up the outing with a boat trip to Chora Sfakion, where a coach will be waiting to return you to Chania.

Day 7: Knossos and Rethymno Day Trip

Palace at Knossos
Palace at Knossos

After breakfast at your hotel, you'll venture out to the city of Heraklion and archaeological site at Knossos, roughly two hours' drive away. Start by visiting Heraklion's Archaeological Museum, home to one of the largest collections of Minoan artifacts in the world. This is an excellent crash course for the next stop, located just outside of town: the 3,500-year-old Minoan palace of Knossos, a sprawling maze of royal chambers, grand staircases, storerooms, and workshops. This evocative Bronze Age site is believed to be Europe's oldest city, and you'll learn all about its history and mythology with your guide.

You'll then return to the western part of Crete, visiting the aristocratic seaside town of Rethymno—the island’s intellectual and cultural capital. Wander around the town's lively Venetian harbor, check out the town's 19th-century lighthouse, or take a sunset stroll along the sandy Rethymno beach, before heading back to Chania for the night.

Day 8: Gramvousa and Balos Beaches

Ready for a swim?
Ready for a swim?

Spend your day on the pink sands of some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. You'll be transported to Balos and Gramvousa beaches, where crystal-clear turquoise waters are home to stellar swimming, sunshine, and protected animal and plant species. If you're lucky, you may even spot a Mediterranean seal. 

In Gramvousa, you can also choose to hike up to a former Venetian castle or a shipwreck along the beach. Nearby Balos is a shallow, more protected lagoon, home to placid waters.

After you've sunned and swum to your heart's content, return to Chania for your final night on the town. Visit the graves of the Eleftherios Venizelos family, one of Greece's most notable political figures, for spectacular panoramic views.

Day 9: Depart Chania

Trot off into the sunset
Trot off into the sunset

It's time to say farewell to Crete with one final breakfast in Chania. Take a sunrise stroll along the harbor or perhaps indulge in one more scoop of graviera cheese before you're transferred to the airport for your departure.

Map

Map of Crete 101 - 9 Days
Map of Crete 101 - 9 Days