Crete Greece - Attractions & Sightseeing

Crete is the biggest, arguably the most beautiful and certainly one of the most fascinating of all the Greek islands. Small wonder it accounts for a quarter of the entire tourist trade of Greece. It's the birthplace of European civilisation - an island practically sinking beneath the weight of its world-famous historic sites. Even if you're not the slightest bit interested in archaeology or history the ancient treasures of Crete are guaranteed to blow your mind. But if all you crave is a gorgeous sun-drenched beach, a cheap souvlaki dinner and an all-night disco.well, you'll still come away satisfied.

It's the most southerly island in Greece, bordered by the Sea of Crete to the north and the Sea of Libya to the south. You can reach it by ferry but it's a gruelling 14-hour journey from the mainland port of Piraeus. Most package holidaymakers fly into one of the two international airports - at Iraklio, serving the east of the island, and Hania in the north western corner. There's a smaller airport at Rethymno, at the centre of the northern coastline, which has domestic flights to and from Athens, Rhodes and Santorini.

Your holiday here can be whatever you want it to. There are monasteries, unspoilt mountain villages, stunning gorges and magnificent scenery enough to satisfy the hardiest hiker and most avid explorer. Despite the arrival of the package holiday industry in force on the island, there are still lovely isolated spots to tempt the independent traveller. Some budget backpackers brave reprisals from the local police and camp out on the island's more remote beaches. Wealthier visitors wing their way here by private helicopter for some serious self-indulgence at one of the island's many deluxe hotels.

Whatever category you fall into - self-sufficient "Lonely Planet" backpacker or money-to-burn "can't last a minute without my laptop" businessman - the highlight of your holiday will undoubtedly be a visit to the breathtaking Minoan Palace of Knossos. The secrets of the ancient but highly sophisticated Minoan civilisation lay hidden for nearly 3,000 years until a British archaeologist started excavating the palace site in the early 1900s. The treasures uncovered by his team together represent one of the most important archaeological discoveries the world has ever seen. Where else can you see Europe's oldest throne, still in its original place, and the en-suite bathroom of a Minoan queen who had the honour of gracing the world's first ever "flushing" toilet?

The biggest sceptic and hardest heart couldn't fail to be moved by this island where myths, legends, recorded history and fairy tales have merged into one giant Disney-style world of irresistible fact and fiction. Only on Crete is it possible to visit the reputed birthplace and hideout of Zeus, the king of the GODS.

The package holiday industry has well and truly zapped Zeus in terms of being the island's dominant force these days. Modern hotels, apartment blocks and every imaginable tourist facility have sprung up along the northern coastline to the east of the capital Iraklio.

But Crete's ancient history and the extraordinary beauty of the island's diverse landscape have their own special magic which will cast a spell over you despite the increasing ravages of mass-market tourism.

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