Greece is the place where family dreams come true, thanks to its combination of gorgeous landscapes, a rich culture, fascinating history and delicious (and healthy!) food that kids will love. But with so many islands to choose from, it can be challenging to decide where to go first. Our advice: Make your base on Crete, which is not only the largest island in Greece but also the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Here’s everything you need to know about planning a family vacation to this breathtaking island.
Where: Located in the southern part of the Aegean Sea, Crete separates the Aegean from the Mediterranean Sea and over the years its strategic location turned the island into a cultural crossroads. Minoans, Mycenaeans, Ottoman Turks, Venetians and even Arabs have shaped the island’s identity.
Why: There are so many reasons to fall in love with Crete. It is home to Europe’s earliest civilization, some of the most hospitable people you’ll ever meet and a long summer season. On Crete, you can admire the remnants of history, lounge on glorious beaches, gaze upon impressive mountainscapes and explore remote hinterlands, including fertile valleys and steep gorges. It’s a small universe teeming with beauties and treasures that you’ll need a lifetime to uncover.
Must Visit: The largest and most densely populated region on Crete is Heráklion (Iráklion), where the Archaeological Museum exhibits significant finds from the Minoan Civilization and is considered to be one of the most important museums of its kind in the world. To teach your kids more about the Minoan civilization, head to fascinating sites like Knossos, Malia, Phaestos and Zakros. Natural highlights on Crete include the Diktean Cave (an archeological site on the Lassithi Plateau where Titaness Rhea hid her son, Zeus) and Samaria Gorge (a national park that offers protection to over 450 species of plants and animals). Also worth exploring are the old towns of Chania and Rethymno, which share a fascinating combination of Venetian and Ottoman architecture. Stroll the charming narrow alleys, stop in a traditional taverna and take in the magical patina of the past. And don’t miss the islets of Spinalonga, an arid and barren place at the mouth of the natural port of Elounda, and Chrysi, where you’ll find amazing white sandy beaches.
Where to Stay: Take your pick. Crete has every kind of place to stay imaginable. There are family-oriented resorts that operate as self-contained communities and offer boat trips, cultural tours and beaches that are ideal for children who want to play and paddle all day long. There are also countless guesthouses and three-star hotels either on or within a short walk from the seafront or in mountain villages. Another exciting activity for kids is to take part in a traditional olive harvest. Special accommodations have opened up across the island that allow families to help with the harvest and experience the region’s traditional way of life.
Join the Locals: Kids will love experiencing the local culture. Check out the countryside festivals (paniyiria), wine festivals, Renaissance festivals and religious celebrations held in the cities and in rural churches.
Cool for Kids: In Heraklion, you’ll find the Cretaquarium, a local aquarium where kids can admire approximately 2,500 Mediterranean and tropical organisms in one of Europe’s largest sealife centers. Another family-friendly highlight is located just outside the capital city of Chania. At the Aqua Creta Limnoupolis water park, kids can take part in interactive games and ride down giant waterslides. Disneyland doesn’t have anything on this.