Less than 100 miles from the mainland, Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands by some margin. It would be unfair to think of the island as Greece in miniature, though. Instead, think of a family holiday in Crete as visiting a country in its own right, with its own customs and traditions, being large enough to offer a hugely diverse array of landscapes and experiences, but small enough for families not to have to travel too far to get to them.
The best time to visit Crete with kids, we’d argue, is during the shoulder season months – ideal half-term territory. Famed for spring flowers that carpet the fields and lower mountain slopes attract tourists and pollinators alike, it’s also equally compelling as a family travel option in October, to catch late summer sun.
Characterful, offering contrasting landscapes of mountains (in spring, still snow-capped), spectacular gorges, pine and holm oak forests, quaint villages, and, of course, a multitude of beaches for activities or just relaxing, it’s no wonder Crete is a perennial favourite with UK family travellers with children of any age. It’s certainly one of ours!
Here, we’ve rounded up just a few suggestions of what you and your family can see and do there during our ten-day sample Crete family holiday itinerary. Crete with kids? You’ll love it!
Our favourite activities on Crete family holidays
1. Explore private beaches and hidden inlets by kayak
As an island, Crete is a fantastic place to explore by sea kayak. Depending on the age of your kids, you can share or have your own kayak as you spend a few hours exploring hidden inlets around Skafion before stopping for a picnic lunch on a private beach (swimming obviously allowed, too!). A shorter afternoon will see the day end with some well-earned R&R by the beach or hotel pool.
2. Go hiking in Samaria Gorge
Given Crete’s mountainous interior, the island also lends itself well to walking and hiking, particularly with older children. Even on hot days, you’ll enjoy the cooler air as you hike downhill through this spectacular gorge which cuts a swathe from the centre to the south of the island. It’s about a 4 – 5 hours, 10-mile walk, and we recommend doing it early in the morning so that by the time you reach the coast at Loutro you can reward your efforts with a long leisurely lunch at a taverna before being taken back by sea taxi (Loutro is inaccessible by car). If you’ve younger children, we can recommend some more suitable, shorter walks, on our Crete with kids itineraries.
3. Explore Chania by horse and cart
Younger children absolutely love sitting next to the driver as he lets them take the reins (with guidance) on a horse-and-cart trip around the ancient Venetian harbour of Chania. It’s also a little-legs-saving way to experience more of the town, seeing streets you otherwise might not necessarily visit and learning a bit of local history whilst doing so. It’s the simple things…
4. Learn to surf on a Crete family holiday
It may come as a surprise to hear that Crete has several surfing spots depending on the weather and competence. Whilst it’s certainly not comparable to the breaks of Nazare in Portugal, Bali, or Hawaii (parents can breathe a sigh of relief here), there are several options as to where you can learn to surf here, with long, sandy beaches (such as Golden Beach, near Chania) and relatively shallow water for younger children, whilst older ones can learn to ride the breaks slightly further out. More adventurous or experienced surfers can go to Falasarna on the west coast, too.
5. Watch your kids learn to cook traditional Cretan food
Is this Crete family holiday the stuff of dreams?! Having your children learn to cook traditional Cretan food by a Yiayia (Greek Grandmothers who are a huge influence on the family here). Our children absolutely adored taking part in learning how to cook meatballs and cheese pastries sweetened with honey (just two examples) at an agri-tourism restaurant in the hills. After a short walk around the surrounding villages to work up an appetite, you’ll then go to the gardens selecting what is needed, and then be taught how to cook a range of easy dishes. The best bit – eating it afterward!
6. Bag a bargain in Chania’s markets
Show us a child who doesn’t love a bargain or, at the very least, a collection of tat?! T-shirts, hair accessories, bling jewellery, and more, your kids and even you can spend a really fun afternoon or evening picking up souvenirs or ‘self-gifting’ in Chania’s markets! The shops all spill out onto the pavements, as do the cafés for some much-needed mid-or-post shopping refreshments.
7. Eat alfresco at a seaside taverna
Be under no illusions: food in Crete is SENSATIONAL. Think juicy seafood, calamari, prawns, whole-baked fish… We also think Crete is a joy for carnivores as one of our children was served the best steak we’ve seen out of Argentina, of course, there’s lamb and mutton, too. In October, there’s fruit such as pomegranate in abundance, as well as locally made sweet wine to wash lunch down with, whilst evenings are still balmy under heated outdoor canopies by the sea.
8. Hike or go cycling (downhill!) through traditional villages
As we have already mentioned, this is a mountainous island, so it’s necessary to pick your routes well if holidaying in Crete with kids. An activity pretty much every family member, whatever age, can enjoy, we take you up to the mountains leaving you and your family to saunter at your own speed downhill through forests, along stone-walled lanes via traditional villages, stopping for refreshments at tavernas and meeting the locals. We recommend cycling in Easter, May half term and October – it’s simply too hot during the summer months.
9. Visit the ancient Minoan Palace in Knossos
Bring ancient Greek legends such as the Minotaur back to life with a visit to the beautiful ancient Knossos Palace, about twenty minutes south of Heraklion.
As the most important Bronze–Age archaeological find on the island, at one time, the palace was at the ceremonial and political centre of the Minoan civilisation and is considered Europe’s oldest city.
Today, you can choose to wander around it by yourself (an audio guide is also available) or take a guided tour where you’ll learn more about the ancient palace and its legendary characters, such as Daedalus and Icarus, or Theseus and Ariadne. Pre-book in plenty of time and you’ll skip the queues. Ensure you bring sun hats, sunscreen, and plenty of drinking water.
10. Go snorkelling and swimming
The waters around the island make for excellent snorkelling and swimming on Crete family holidays. Crystalline (i.e. very salty) means that you are naturally buoyed, whilst visibility is up to around 30 metres, meaning you’ll easily spot fish and sea creatures just pootling about. Sougia Beach, 70 kilometres from Chania is a great family spot, not too crowded but with clean waters and a pebbly beach, as is the more developed Plakias beach with hotels and restaurants behind it. For a wilder experience, visit Elofonissi beach, famed for its pink sands in the shallow lagoon. The swimming at Balos Lagoon is a boon for families due to its shallow depth and soft silky sands but be warned – it can get incredibly busy.
More about Crete family holidays
Want to know more about family holidays in Crete or Greece? Explore our Greece section where you can find example itineraries to Crete and beyond: Crete Adventure for families, our 12-day Athens & Cyclades Islands adventure, and our 11-day Peloponnese Adventure
We tailor-make all our holidays and will work with you to create your own unique family itinerary. Call us on 01728 752 751 or get in touch using our enquiry form for help arranging your trip.
Liddy Pleasants, MD Stubborn Mule Travel