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Skip the crowds in Santorini and hop on a ferry to Greece's beautiful, underrated gem instead

hannah posing next to the ocean in create greece
I'm so glad I decided to visit Crete when I went to Greece.Hannah Docter-Loeb
  • Last fall, my friend and I chose to visit Crete, Greece, over more popular destinations.

  • The island, known in mythology as the home of the Minotaur, offered plenty of attractions.

  • After visiting Santorini, I think the laid-back vibes of Crete make it a more underrated spot.

Last fall, a good friend and I decided we wanted to go to Greece. But rather than opt for Santorini or Mykonos, we decided to spend a week in Crete.

All I knew about the island was what I had learned from Greek mythology — it was famously the home of the labyrinth that housed the mighty Minotaur.

But I quickly learned that it has a lot more to offer.

Here's what my trip was like, and why I think it's the most underrated spot in the country.

Early fall seemed to be a great time to visit.

hannah posing for a photo in chania harbor in create greece
We beat all the summer crowds by visiting in October. Hannah Docter-Loeb

We visited in October, which ended up being ideal.

Weather-wise, it was still warm enough to swim, but it wasn't terribly hot.

Although there were other tourists, it also didn't feel super packed. The busy season tends to be in the summer months.

Crete is the largest of the Greek Islands.

view of chania harbor on the ocean in create greece
The views from Chania Harbor were incredible. Hannah Docter-Loeb

Although places like Santorini tend to get a little more hype in the tourism industry, Crete is actually the largest of the Greek Islands.

I also think it's one of the easiest to get to.

It sits in the Aegean Sea and houses two international airports that run nonstop flights from Paris, London, and Berlin. If you're flying in from somewhere else, you'll probably have a layover in Athens, like I did.

There are also ferries from the other Greek Islands. But it's good to know that they don't run as frequently in the offseason.

Renting a car allowed us to see more of the island.

silver crossover rental car with a luggage storage on top in a forested area of crete
We got a car with a pop-up tent so we could camp around Crete. Hannah Docter-Loeb

Public transit was available on the island, but we decided to rent a car so we'd have more freedom.

Only certain parts of the island are accessible by car — there are several mountains, making it hard to cross from east to west. On our week-long trip, we only had time to explore the west side.

We ended up getting a Toyota Rav4 outfitted with a tent on top through Lazy Snail Campers and stayed at the many campsites around Crete.

The rental came with sleeping bags, pillows, cooking supplies, towels, tables, chairs, and even a solar shower, so we didn't need to bring anything but clothes and toiletries.

Samariá Gorge was easily the highlight of the trip.

shot of samaria gorge in crete greece
Hiking through the gorge was absolutely breathtaking. Hannah Docter-Loeb

One of the island's main attractions is the Samariá Gorge, a 13-mile hike between the White Mountains. It was tough, but there was lots of beautiful scenery and interesting historic settlements along the path.

To avoid having to figure out all the logistics, we decided to book a tour for about 50 euros, or $54. A local tour operator picked us up from our campsite very early in the morning and drove us to the entrance of the gorge.

Luckily, we were able to hike at our own pace. The guide was only there to "sweep" the back and make sure no one got lost.

At the end of the hike, we ended up in the secluded beach town of Agia Roumeli. We didn't bring bathing suits but jumped in the ocean to cool off anyway, which felt incredibly cathartic.

After a few hours, a ferry took us back to Chania, where we could catch a bus to our campsite.

Like the more popular spots, Crete is filled with beautiful beaches.

people lounging in the sand at falasarna beach in create greece
I liked Falasarna Beach the best.Hannah Docter-Loeb

One of the most famous beaches in Crete is Elafonissi, which is famous for its pink sand. But when we went, it was very crowded.

Evidently, there have been issues with people stealing sand from the beach, so the hue wasn't as pronounced.

My favorite beach was Falasarna, sometimes spelled Falassarna.

It was busy, but the occupants mostly seemed to be Greek families and not tourists. We spent the day after the gorge hike there so we could have some time to sit and relax.

Many of the campsites were also along the water, making for a more secluded beach experience.

But there was plenty to do in the cities as well.

hanna sitting on a ledge overlooking crete at rethymno
I enjoyed taking in the views in Rethymno.Hannah Docter-Loeb

Crete has several sizable cities sprinkled around the island.

We started and ended in the largest city, Heraklion, which has a cool fortress along its old port.

Before our gorge hike, we spent a day in Chania, exploring the city's old town and Venetian Harbor. We also visited the old-town section of Rethymno.

Paleochora, which was more of a town than a city, had a really beautiful traditional Greek church that I'm glad we saw.

The food was fantastic.

plates of greek food at a restaurant in crete
I didn't really have a bad meal anywhere in Greece. Hannah Docter-Loeb

This goes for all of Greece, but the food is amazing.

We tried many traditional dishes, but I especially loved the moussaka, Greek salad, and spanakopita.

Most restaurants also gave complimentary shots of raki, an anise-flavored spirit, and some sort of dessert.

As fans of Greek mythology, we made sure to visit the Minotaur.

knossos monument in crete greece
Knossos was a fun section of the island to explore. Hannah Docter-Loeb

Knossos is a Minoan palace that's believed to have been the site of the Minotaur's labyrinth from Greek mythology.

Unsurprisingly, it was filled with tourists — it was probably the busiest attraction we visited.

I can't wait to go back to Crete.

hannah and a friend posing for a selfie at a trail head for samaria George in create greece
I'd happily pick Greek over Santorini.Hannah Docter-Loeb

I was so pleasantly surprised by everything that Crete had to offer. And, for the most part, the crowds were pretty calm during our week-long trip.

When I traveled to Santorini right after, I longed to be back on the more laid-back island.

I can't wait to return to Crete and explore the east side of the island.

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