Our Exploring Crete tour is the ideal opportunity to experience this fascinating island to the full. You will visit its most important ancient sites, including the famous prehistoric Minoan palaces, but also veer off the beaten track to explore many of Crete’s hidden gems. Our tour of Crete includes a vast variety of different landscapes and ancient sites, bringing you into direct contact with its coasts, mountains, gorges and fertile plains, as well as its historical villages and towns.
Crete is the largest of the Greek islands and its historical significance is second to none, ranging from Stone Age seafarers and Neolithic farmers to the mysterious and fascinating Bronze Age civilisation of the Minoans. The island’s renowned Classical cities and the rich remains of the Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman cultures, lead us right through to its turbulent 20th century history.
As well as its historical and archaeological riches, the island is a place of extraordinary natural beauty and diversity. Its inhabitants are fiercely proud of their homeland and maintain its many traditions, including the fabled Cretan hospitality. As a result of its varied nature and past, Crete also boasts one of the most refined variations of Greek cuisine.
Our Cretan tour is complemented by excellent meals in carefully selected restaurants and tavernas, as well as wine tastings from regional vineyards. At night, you will be staying in beautiful surroundings, ranging from elegant Venetian palazzos to traditional inns and agriturismos in serene mountain villages.
Your tour guides, have excavated, surveyed, researched and travelled around Crete and are passionate connoisseurs not only of its archaeology, but also of its landscapes, people, traditions and products. Their in-depth knowledge will be your shortcut to a superb experience of one of Europe’s most celebrated destinations.
If you have never visited Crete, this expert-led tour is the perfect way to explore this wonderful and fascinating Greek Island; if you have been before, we are sure you will see it afresh and from a completely different perspective – in the company of two archaeologists who know the island intimately.
Average rating 5 out of 5 from 372 reviews for Exploring Crete: Archaeology, Nature and Food, according to AITO reviews.
Day 1: Arrival in Iraklio (Heraklion). Transfer from airport about 15 minutes away. Welcome drinks and dinner in a traditional taverna.
Day 2: We drive eastwards along the coast to the extensive remains of the Minoan Palace at Malia and its surrounding town, founded over 4,000 years ago – a perfect introduction to Minoan archaeology. We drive up into the Dykti mountains to the celebrated Lasithi Plateau, 1,000m above sea level and famous for its white-sailed windmills. In the afternoon we take a panoramic walk to one of the region’s sacred caves, before returning to Iraklio. Before dinner, we stroll through the Venetian heart of the city, once known as Candia.
Day 3: We begin exploring East Crete by visiting the scenic Hellenistic city of Lato, boasting wonderful views over the gulf of Mirabello. We stop by the Byzantine/ Venetian church of Panayia Kera with its famous frescoes and continue to the incredibly well-preserved Minoan town of Gournia, where we can walk along 3,500-year-old lanes. Our village hotel to the east is situated in a picturesque mountain village.
Day 4: This day is devoted to the island’s easternmost region, where we visit three archaeological highlights: the museum of Siteia with the famous gold-and-ivory Palaikastro Kouros, the Minoan town of Palaikastro itself, and the town and Palace of Zakros, where rich finds have provided much information on Minoan trade. After a beachside lunch, we return to our hotel.
Day 5: We return westwards for a highlight of the tour: we explore Crete’s most famous archaeological site, the great Minoan palace of Knossos, followed by lunch and a wine tasting in the lush Peza region, the heart of Cretan wine-making. We continue south into the Asterousia Mountains, towering above the rugged southern coast.
Day 6: A morning visit to the beautifully located Minoan town of Agia Triada, which may have been a summer residence of the Bronze Age rulers of southern Crete, and to the Minoan palace at Phaistos, the most impressive of its kind, in a panoramic setting overlooking the huge Mesara Plain and the snow-topped peaks of Mt. Ida. In the afternoon, there is time to relax and enjoy great views across the Libyan Sea.
Day 7: We investigate the island’s Roman capital, Gortyn, with an array of excavated buildings and other largely unexcavated ruins scattered among the olive groves. We continue into the western half of Crete, to enjoy lunch and a tasting at a famous winery in the most fertile part of Crete. We end the day at a lovely seafront hotel in the beautiful Venetian city of Chania.
Day 8: Free day, yours to relax or explore the lanes and vistas of Chania. You are free to choose your own options for lunch and dinner.
Day 9: A stunning drive along the edge of the White Mountains to Souyia on the south coast. We take a short boat ride to rarely visited Lissos, one of the loveliest ancient cities in Crete, set in a cove only reachable by boat or on foot.
Day 10: A morning drive to the Akrotiri peninsula to visit the monastery of Agia Triada and its small museum of icons. We drive by the magnificent Bay of Souda, site of the island’s British and Commonwealth war cemetery, to the vast Classical and Roman city of Aptera in its panoramic setting, followed by a village lunch. We end the day in the grand Venetian city of Rethymno, where we stay in a 16th century palazzo.
Day 11: In the morning, we visit Eleftherna, one of the oldest and most important ancient cities, set in the beautiful Amari valley and still undergoing excavation. Later, we explore the highlights of Rethymno: its Venetian castle, Ottoman mosques and fascinating architectural details.
Day 12: We return to Iraklio to visit the Archaeological Museum, one of the world’s most important exhibits of prehistoric art and artefacts, a magnificent showcase of the Minoan culture. After a relaxing afternoon, we conclude with a final gourmet dinner.
Day 13: Transfer to Heraklion airport about 15 minutes away.
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Arrival and Departure Information
Arrival Airport – Crete (Heraklion)
Departure Airport – Crete (Heraklion)
Check in time at our hotel in Heraklion is after 13:00 so we recommend choosing a flight that arrives mid to late afternoon. Check out time is 11:00. We will arrange local transfers from Heraklion airport and to Heraklion airport on the first and last day of the tour.
Booking Flights The cheapest way to book flights is directly with the airline online.
If you prefer to book with a travel agent, we are happy to recommend specialists in a number of countries around the world, please contact our office for more details.
Travel Insurance Travel insurance is a requirement of our booking conditions and we recommend you investigate the options thoroughly to make sure that your trip is properly covered. Please be advised some insurers may require you to take out a policy within 15-20 days of booking your holiday to receive all of their insurance benefits.
Visas Citizens of European Union or Schengen Treaty member states need no visa for Greece, those from the United States, Canada and Australia do not need to apply for a visa to visit Greece for trips of less than 90 days duration.
Athens, Crete and the Greek islands If you are planning to stay in Athens before or after your tour we have included below links to more information and things to see and do. If you intend to add time on Crete or any other Greek island, we are happy to offer information and advice.
Further Details about our Exploring Crete tour Our Exploring Crete tour aims to be a truly comprehensive and in-depth introduction to the archaeology, history, culture and landscapes of this great and beautiful island, taking in the most famous of the Minoan sites, as well as locations further off the beaten track and derived from all periods of Crete’s long history. One of your guides, Heinrich Hall, has been conducting research and exploration across the length and breadth of Crete for nearly two decades, making many local contacts along the way. He is eager to lead you on a wonderful experience of all aspects of a place he truly loves.
There can be no doubt that the sites on the itinerary are unusually fascinating and that the various landscapes travelled are especially beautiful, but you need to be aware that the trip is an intensive and occasionally physically demanding one. In contrast to our gulet cruises which tend to visit one ancient city per day, and are designed with rest and relaxation as well as history in mind, our Exploring Crete tour visits at least two archaeological or historical sites on most days. Since the island is a large one and we aim to show all aspects of its natural diversity, some days include relatively long driving times, usually through stunning landscapes. We use a comfortable coach with ample space for all of our group and try, as far as possible, to make sure to arrive at our evening destinations with time to spare for refreshment and relaxation. A free day around the middle of the tour is given over fully to relaxation or exploration at our guests’ individual discretion.
With the exception of the final night, we spend two or more nights at each of the hotels/accommodations on the itinerary. Except at Iraklio, where we use a large and modern city hotel, this itinerary features smaller and family-run boutique hotels, two of them agritouristic projects involving the renovation of remote traditional villages, one a 16th century Venetian town house, and one a fine late 19th century urban seaside villa. Each of them has its own distinctive style, character and atmosphere. They are complemented by meals at a carefully chosen and very personal selection of restaurants reflecting the entire breadth of Cretan culinary tradition, as well as by three wine tastings at some of the islands’ best wineries.
The sites themselves often have rough and uneven terrain with loose stones underfoot, so guests must be fit and well to take part in this tour.
Our Exploring Crete tour is a unique archaeological, cultural and gastronomic experience, in a small group and with highly experienced specialised guides. You will complete it feeling a real connection with and understanding of one of the Mediterranean’s most fabled islands.