Crete’s much more than its sand and sun. To begin with, Europe’s oldest civilization was born here, at this southernmost, sun-kissed corner of the continent. As it happens, Crete’s history did start as it meant to go, for it never ceased to be fascinating ever since: Often turbulent, repeatedly prolific, leaving behind a compelling cultural legacy and an intricate web of myths and surviving traditions. Indeed in the case of Greece’s largest island ancient secrets and age-old customs coexist with a striking, virgin, ever-changing nature: Lending itself to all sorts of adventures; allowing for not even a moment’s boredom. And the best of all? the Cretans themselves: The island’s passionate, hospitable inhabitants who are eager to open their homes and hearts to well-meaning strangers; and to share their food, drink, music, and way of life.
Offering different pleasures in every season, Crete is a unique year-round destination. Should you opt to come in the winter, you’ll discover its famous treasures -and its remarkable hidden gems- far from the crowds, with still mild weather and more agreeable prices.
Here are some ideas about places to visit in Crete in the winter to get to know this great island in its original form, without its summer tourist facade!
Top places to visit in Crete in the winter
The quaint northern port of Chania is one of the best places to visit in Crete in the winter too. With mass tourism hordes gone and beach bars and clubs closed, for the time being, Crete’s former capital remains very much alive and kicking. But thankfully sans the (often appalling) summer traffic.
Unlike other touristic places in the country, Chania boasts 57,000 inhabitants– permanent residents and University students- living, breathing, working and playing throughout the year, so it does not shut for the season.
Start the day with coffee and breakfast on the waterfront, overlooking the trademark Egyptian Lighthouse. Get lost in the maze-like alleyways, explore rambling and restored Venetian mansions, Byzantine churches, and Ottoman buildings, coexisting harmoniously next to each other. Visit the Maritime Museum housed in the Firka Fortress; and the Archeological Museum of Chania in a beautiful ancient church-turned-mosque-turned-museum, featuring an extensive collection of historical objects dating all the way back to the Neolithic era. Shop till you drop, for souvenirs, leather goods, designer clothes or high street fashion in the various shops and boutiques -and must try Cretan gruyere in the cross-shaped municipal market of Chania. Now is your chance to take this insta-hit selfie in the old town’s photogenic spots without having to beat other Instagrammers. Then head for replenishment in one of the many worthy restaurants and tavernas!
You won’t come nearer to what life in Crete is really all about than at it’s picturesque mountainous villages. Bountifully expressing the spirit of the renowned Cretan hospitality in the local kafenio or taverna, through food, drink, music and animated conversation, settlements like Therisso or Ano Agia Marina in Chania, just a couple of kilometers away from the homonymous popular seaside resort and Oscar Suites & Village, are among the most authentic places to visit in Crete.
One of the most renowned places to visit in Crete is the famous Samaria gorge: With good reason as it is one of the most impressive in the world and the longest one in Europe. Though it cannot be hiked in winter, good news for nature lovers and sports enthusiasts is that Cretan trails and mountain roads do not end with Samaria. In fact, the island boasts amazing hiking roads for all tastes, and all levels of difficulty and many of them can be enjoyed in the winter.
All year round trekking routes include the trail from Loutro to Chora Sfakia, and from Agia Roumeli to Agios Pavlos. And if you want to up the ante, try the Aschifou-Imbros-Kallikratis road or the one covering Chora Sfakia-Frangokastello, on the southern coast.
The White Mountains & Psiloritis
Long associated with the triptych of sea, sand, and sun, Crete’s principally considered as beach bums/ aquatic sports paradise. Truth is though that it lends itself to other sorts of entertaining adventures that have nothing to do with the water. Skiing for example. One of the most impressive places to visit in Crete in the winter (or summer), the year-round, snow-capped, aptly named, White Mountains and Psiloritis are Europe’s arguably most surprising skiing destinations. Until recently, unbeknown to most -unthought of even- alpinism, ski mountaineering, and snow kite in Crete, thanks to the efforts of a handful of trailblazing locals are nowadays becoming more and more popular among Cretans and visitors.
This is a prime chance to uncover an unspoiled Crete, enjoy a special quality of snow untainted from the traffic of your typical ski resort and gaze at the glistening sea below as you go about it. What’s more, there is some excellent aprés ski, involving copious amounts of local delicacies, raki, and socialization with the like-minded in quaint mountain shelters.
At the Oscar Suites & Village, a family-style, family-run hotel complex of studios, apartments, and suite in Agia Marina-Platanias, just 9km from Chania, we do love Crete- the place we are lucky enough to call home. With a view of showcasing its year-round delights to the world, we have put together this list of things to do in the offseason. It is nevertheless far from exhaustive. Stay tuned for more!