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 the island’s 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 high-quality city hotels via an elegant Venetian palazzo to traditional inns 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.
Our tours receive an average rating of 5 out of 5 from 505 reviews, according to AITO reviews.
Tour Itinerary April, May and October 2021.
For 2022 please scroll down further.
Day 1: Arrival in Heraklion. Transfer from the airport about 15 minutes away. Welcome drinks and dinner.
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.
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 the great Early Byzantine basilica of Saint Titus and the famous Gortyn Law Code, one of the longest ancient Greek inscriptions ever found and a central source for the study of city-state constitutions. 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. If conditions preclude the boat trip, we visit the ancient port town of Falasarna and the archaeological museum of Kissamos instead.
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 Heraklion 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 stroll through the Venetian heart of the city, once known as Candia, to conclude with a final gourmet dinner.
Day 13: Transfer to Heraklion airport.
Tour Itinerary 2022
Day 1: Arrival in Heraklion. Transfer from the airport about 15 minutes away. Welcome drinks and dinner.
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. Beautifully preserved just as it was excavated, Malia serves as a perfect introduction to Minoan archaeology, a first overview of a typical ‘palace’, of the spaces and architectural features we will come across again and again during our travels. It marks the beginning of our engagement with the Minoans and the many questions they raise. Later, we drive up into the Dykti Mountains to the celebrated Lasithi Plateau, 1,000m above sea level and famous for its white-sailed windmills. After our first village lunch, we take a panoramic walk to one of the region’s sacred caves, a key feature of ancient Crete’s religious customs, before returning to Iraklio.
Day 3: We begin exploring East Crete by visiting the scenic Hellenistic city of Lato, set on a saddle between twin peaks, and boasting wonderful views over the gulf of Mirabello. Here, we learn about what Homer called Crete’s “one hundred cities”, the city-states of the first millennium BC, using the ancient remains to gain an understanding of how people lived in such places and how they were organised. Next, we stop at the Byzantine/ Venetian church of Panayia Kera, famous for its lavish frescoes. After lunch, we continue to the incredibly well-preserved Minoan town of Gournia, where we can walk along 3,500-year-old lanes and observe the differences between private homes and public buildings. Our hotel, further east, is situated in a picturesque mountain hamlet.
Day 4: This day is devoted to the island’s easternmost region, where we visit three archaeological treasures. At Siteia, we tour our first archaeological museum, not very large but offering a superb overview across the material culture of Minoan Crete, culminating in the famous gold-and-ivory Palaikastro ‘Kouros’, a superb piece of Bronze Age sculpture. Then, we stop at the place where it was found: the Minoan town of Palaikastro itself, to learn of its heyday and its violent destruction. After a beachside lunch, we tour the Minoan town and Palace of Kato Zakros, where rich finds have provided much information on Minoan trade. In the afternoon, we return to our hotel.
Day 5: We head west for a key highlight of the tour: Crete’s most famous archaeological site, the great Minoan Palace of Knossos, the oldest, largest, and most elaborate of these sites. We learn of its discovery by Sir Arthur Evans and traverse the different parts of the vast complex, delving deep into the functions and meanings of the ‘Minoan palaces’, as well as the story of Evans’s controversial reconstructions. Later, we enjoy lunch and a wine tasting in the lush Peza region, the heart of Cretan winemaking since the Minoan era. We continue south into the Asterousia Mountains, towering above the rugged southern coast, where we stay in a picturesque mountain village.
Day 6: The day is devoted to the Minoan presence in the Mesara, Crete’s largest plain and agricultural heartland. Our first visit is to the Minoan Palace of Phaistos, arguably the most beautiful of its kind, in a striking setting overlooked by snow-capped Mount Ida, the island’s central peak. Next, we stroll through the ruins of Agia Triada, a small but finely equipped Minoan town that may have been a summer residence for the Bronze Age rulers of southern Crete – and we hear about the rich finds made here, to be admired on Day 13… .In the afternoon, we explore one of the famous ‘Mesara tholos tombs’, the elaborate burial structures that reveal so much about the early development of Minoan culture, before returning to our accommodation and its views across the Libyan Sea.
Day 7: In the morning, we return to the Mesara Plain, to investigate the island’s Roman and Early Byzantine capital, Gortyn – an enormous archaeological site. Our visit begins with the famous Gortyn Law Code, one of the longest ancient Greek inscriptions ever found and a central source for the study of city-state constitutions. Then, we set out on an easy stroll through old olive groves concealing parts of the ancient city, some excavated and some still unexplored. We return to our mountain village for a free afternoon, time to enjoy the scenery or maybe to wander off in the bucolic surroundings.
Day 8: We start the day with a short tour of the excellent and award-winning folklore museum at Voroi, offering us a panoramic insight into the rural lifestyles of Crete in recent centuries, and the many beautiful objects created by local craftsmen, from weaving and basketry to pottery and traditional architecture. We continue into the western half of Crete, stopping by the Late Minoan/Mycenaean cemetery of Armenoi, its dozens of rock-cut graves scattered in an oak forest. After lunch and a tasting at a famous winery in the most fertile part of West Crete, we end the day at a lovely seafront hotel in the beautiful Venetian city of Chania.
Day 9: 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 10: A stunningly scenic drive along the edge of the White Mountains takes in leafy valleys, bare mountainsides, and panoramic views of two seas, before arriving at 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. The site, which has only seen minimal excavation so far, exemplifies an ancient Cretan harbour town in its ‘raw’ state, inviting us to explore and wonder. Our return drive to Chania takes us through the region of Selino, famed for its enormous density of elaborately painted Byzantine chapels, and we visit an example in the village of Anisaraki. If weather conditions preclude the boat trip, we follow an alternative itinerary, visiting the important ancient port town of Falasarna and the archaeological museum of Kissamos.
Day 11: A morning drive takes us to the Akrotiri peninsula, where we visit the serenely beautiful Venetian-era monastery of Agia Triada with its small museum of icons, its traditional olive press and its organic oils and wines. 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 another stunningly panoramic setting, with its Greek theatre, Roman cisterns and Ottoman stronghold. Following a delightful village lunch, we end the day in the grand Venetian city of Rethymno, where we stay in a 16th century palazzo. In the evening, advised by your tour experts, you can choose your own dinner among the many options available in the picturesque Old Town.
Day 12: After a morning tour of the Fortezza, the well-preserved Venetian fortress that dominates Rethymno, we set out inland to Eleftherna, one of Crete’s oldest and most important ancient cities, set in the beautiful Amari valley and still undergoing excavation. Its recently opened archaeological museum is eye-opening, revealing the broad trading contacts and considerable wealth that existed here in the Early Iron Age, just as city-states began to develop. After a village lunch, we return to Rethymno, exploring some of the Venetian city’s key features on a pre-dinner stroll.
Day 13: We return to Heraklion to visit the Archaeological Museum, housing one of the world’s most important exhibits of prehistoric art and artefacts, a magnificent showcase of Minoan culture. Our extensive tour takes in many wonders: the stunning achievements of Minoan pottery, delicate carving in ivory, carved stone vases, elaborate jewellery of gold and precious stones, the famous and evocative fresco paintings from Knossos and much more, including finds from the sites we have visited in the course of our tour. After a relaxing afternoon, we stroll through the Venetian heart of the city, once known as Candia, and conclude with a final magnificent dinner.
Day 14: Transfer to Heraklion airport.
I would like to book, what else do I need to know?
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:We consider adequate travel insurance to be essential. You should ensure that you take out a suitable policy, to make sure that your trip is properly covered.
For UK Nationals, travel to the EU will change from 1 January 2021. Please check the current situation regarding visa requirements before you travel. You can find more information online here.
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.
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.