It’s difficult to sum up the beauty of Crete in one line, but we’ll try to, anyway. This Mediterranean paradise is the perfect blend of old meets new, with its picture-perfect beaches, ancient sites, and landscapes home to both bustling cities and dream-like, white-washed villages. Fly just over 30 minutes’ north east, though, and you’ll touch down on its sun-soaked rival, Rhodes. Vacays here entail culture-filled journeys through the old town, snorkelling in crystal-clear waters, and sampling the buzzing nightlife scene. Watch our video to find out why if you liked Crete, you’ll love Rhodes…
Best-preserved medieval town in Europe
Crete’s stunning beauty is matched only by its enchanting history. Take the Palace of Knossos, in Heraklion, which is famous for being the largest Bronze Age archaeological site in Crete. According to Greek mythology, it once housed a massive underground maze which was built to contain the fearsome Minotaur, a half-man, half-bull creature.
Over in Rhodes, we can’t promise any mythical creatures, but you will get the chance to explore its ancient old town, which is the best-preserved medieval settlement in Europe. Days spent here will have you exploring top-notch sights, like the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights. Back in the day – we’re talking the 14th century, FYI – Rhodes Old Town was a playground for off-duty knights. The palace marks the spot where knights used to gather from all over the world, to schmooze, eat, and drink, so it’s a sight not to be missed. Elsewhere, the cobbled quarters and squares are lined by modern shops and traditional tavernas, where plates of souvlaki and moussaka aren’t hard to come by. You’ve also got Rhodes Town Beach, which is renowned for its wealth of seafront eateries, serving up freshly-caught salmon. And when your grub has gone down, you can jump feet first from a giant SOS-style diving board into the sea.
Thousands of fluttering wings
Crete is a real-life haven for nature buffs. The island’s scenery is mostly dominated by bright-green cliffs and forests, so it’s the perfect place to go exploring. The Samaria Gorge is one of the most popular attractions here – the deep crease snakes its way through the island for a whopping 16 kilometers, giving you plenty of room to stretch out your legs. This impressive park is a World Biosphere Reserve, which means it’s protected, and is home to a rare species of goat and hundreds of different types of plants.
Set on the west coast of Rhodes, you’ll find the Eden-like Petaloudes. This 600-acre valley is made up of Instagram-worthy streams and tiny wooden bridges for you to explore at your own pace – it’s ideal for when you want to swap the beach for a dose of nature. It’s also known as ‘Butterfly Valley’, thanks to the thousands of the brightly-coloured butterflies that all call it home. The star of the show here is the Tiger moth, which is recognisable by its striking blood-orange wings – don’t be surprised if one (or ten) mistake you for a flower as they flutter around the plants.
Culture-filled old town
Heraklion is the fifth largest city in Greece – and arguably the most underrated in Crete, too. Holidays here cover every angle, whether you’re looking for world-class historical sights, a buzzing nightlife scene, or luxurious beaches. Herkalion’s calling card has got to be its wealth of age-old sights, though. You can spend the day exploring places like the Minoan Palace of Knossos, the Instagram-worthy fortress of Koules, and the Archaeological Museum – its popularity is second only to the National Archaeology Museum in Athens, FYI. Elsewhere, you’ll wander past Venetian-style mansions and Turkish fountains – not to mention dozens of trendy restaurants, cafés and bars.
Much like Crete, Rhodes is jam-packed with culture. There are so many places to explore here that you’ll be spoiled for choice. Rhodes Old Town is the place to be if you’re looking to polish up your Greek history. The old town is a maze of narrow alleyways that lead up to cobbled squares and ancient fortresses, so it’s a paradise for culture-vultures. The Acropolis is a must-see site while you’re here, too. It towers over the top of a rolling green hill, overlooking countless theatres, temples and stadiums, and the beautiful, bright-blue sea. And unlike many other medieval cities, thousands of people still live and work in the town, so it’s just as lively today as it was in the 14th century.
Elsewhere in Rhodes Town, golden-sand Elli Beach has a lot to shout about. It’s great for watersports – you can do everything from jet-skiing to kite-surfing and scuba diving, to name a few. And once the sun has set that’s when things start to really heat up. The town’s bars and nightclubs pump out house music until the early hours, so wherever you end up, you can guarantee it’ll be an action-packed night out.
Incredible views for miles
Crete is the largest island in Greece, and its versatile landscape is really spectacular. It’s a mixture of fine-sand beaches, caves, and white-tipped mountain villages. One of the most-visited attractions on the island is Lake Kournas. It’s the only fresh-water lake in Crete, and is distinguished by its jaw-dropping, electric-blue waters – major Instagram territory. Here, you can wander around the guided pathway in less than an hour, taking in gorgeous views of the hillsides that sidle up to the water’s edge.
Rhodes comes with plenty of gorgeous sights, too. Why not take a day trip to Kolymbia Cove? You’ll find this horse shoe-shaped bay anchored in the middle of Rhodes Town and Lindos, so it’s really peaceful thanks to its out-of-the-way feel. Here, you can spend the day taking boat trips to hidden stretches of sand where you’ll feel like the only islander there.
Lindos is also a big-hit when it comes to day trips in Rhodes. You’ll get to cruise from Rhodes Town all along the eastern coast, touching down on dry land at the white-washed villages. Here, you can travel on the back of a donkey up to the dramatic-looking hilltop where the Acropolis takes centre stage. While you’re there, you can shop for keepsakes at the market stalls in the maze-like villages. And when you’re feeling a bit parched, there are plenty of rooftop bars and restaurants where you can quench your thirst on fruity cocktails and tuck into tasty Greek food. Once your tummy has settled, you can go snorkelling in the crystal-clear waters at Tsambika Beach before heading back to Rhodes Town for the evening.
Now you know everything about Rhodes, it’s time to book. Browse our First Choice holidays.
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