A Week in the Realm of Greek Gods: Visiting Crete with Kids

Rethymno is centered around the old Venetian harbor and the Fortezza. Photo by Sakis Papadopoulos/Adobe Stock
Rethymno is centered around the old Venetian harbor and the Fortezza. Photo by Sakis Papadopoulos/Adobe Stock

Ever since my daughter was able to read on her own, she has been fascinated with Greek mythology. Fueled by the adventures of Percy Jackson (the mortal demigod and son of Poseidon), she’s wanted nothing more than to see the cradle of the myths she loves so much.

Said by some to be the birthplace of Zeus, king of the Greek gods, Crete is a treasure trove of mythological history, not to mention beautiful island scenery. While you won’t find a sea of whitewashed buildings with blue-domed roofs like in Santorini, Crete is the largest of the Greek Isles and features diverse terrain ranging from sandy beaches to rugged mountains.

Visiting Crete with Kids
Beautiful beaches and scenic vistas are sprinkled around Crete’s coast. Photo by Emanuel Antonov

But the island is more than legends and stunning natural beauty. It also provides a warm, welcoming environment where children can play and learn. Crete captivates the hearts of travelers, making it a must-visit destination within the vast expanse of the Mediterranean. You could spend a few days here while also bopping around other islands in Greece, but it’s worth a full week of exploring. Here’s how to divide your time.

Best Itinerary for Crete with Kids

There are two ways to approach a trip to Crete. Some take to the beaches and book a resort that is the destination in itself. These resorts, many with all-inclusive pricing, provide activities, dining and accommodations that cater to families, just as one would expect to find in, say, the Riviera Maya. They can be a great option when traveling with young kids who may not be as excited about ancient sites and hot days in the cities.

The other approach is to traverse the island to absorb as much as possible. From fortresses and churches dating back to Crete’s time under the rule of the Venetians and the Ottomans, to hiking trails leading to mountainous vistas, this second option is for the adventurous family, like mine. That’s why this guide includes an itinerary that keeps you moving. Even if you elect to enjoy the beach route, take some time to visit some of the island’s sites for a more authentic taste of Crete.

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Visiting Crete with Kids
The colorful streets of Chania are a joy to explore. Photo by Andreas Pajuvirta

Days 1 and 2: Chania

Although many direct flights into Crete land at Heraklion, the capital, begin your week by arriving in Chania on the northwest coast of the island. Offering its own international airport and a popular cruise port, Chania is one of the most picturesque cities in Greece and is a blend of Venetian, Turkish and Greek influences.

After checking into your hotel, head out to the Old Venetian Harbor, lined with pastel-colored buildings. Originally built by the Venetians in the 14th century, the lighthouse, which you’ll head to first, makes for great photos but isn’t open to the public. Although the neighborhood began with Venetian influences, the Ottomans left their mark, which you can see at Yiali Tzami — the Mosque of the Janissaries, the oldest Ottoman building in Crete. Nicknamed the “Mosque of the Sea,” it was the first mosque built in Crete and now serves as a space for art exhibitions.

Visiting Crete with Kids
Chania’s picturesque harbor. Photo by Manos Chainakis

Spend time wandering through Chania’s maze of narrow streets behind the harbor. The alleys are lined with colorful buildings and boutiques selling leather goods, jewelry and local crafts. Or stop by the Municipal Market, a center of activity since 1913 with stalls filled with fresh produce, cheeses, olives, herbs and handicrafts.

The area is also filled with charming cafes for grabbing a bite. Of course, fresh seafood arrives into the harbor town daily, so be it lunch or dinner, pick a seaside restaurant featuring traditional Cretan dishes like chochlioi boubouristi (snails). Or try Tamam Restaurant, housed in a building dating back to 1400 that was once used as a public bathhouse by the Venetians and Turks.

For kids and parents, nothing beats a day at the beach. While there are some great stretches of sand just outside Chania, the city also has beaches to enjoy, like Nea Chora Beach near the city center and Chrissi Akti, with lifeguard stations, calm waters and umbrella and lounger rentals. Be warned that in during the summer, the beaches in the city can get really crowded, and you’ll enjoy more space the farther you get from Chania.

Visiting Crete with Kids
Rethymno is centered around the old Venetian harbor and the Fortezza. Photo by Sakis Papadopoulos/Adobe Stock

Day 3: Aradena and Loutro or Rethymno to Anogeia

Head east in the morning and make your way to Rethymno, just an hour from Chania. Here, you’ll uncover another Venetian harbor housing a well-preserved fortress, the Fortezza. Explore Old Town’s narrow streets, filled with local shops selling kitschy souvenirs, or pop over to the small beach and grab lunch at one of the many cafes along the promenade.

After lunch, make your way to Anogeia, another hour southeast, taking you deeper into the island and away from the coastline. Anogeia is situated in the mountains of Rethymnon, where families can escape the hordes and hike along the numerous trails leading to great views over the island. When you come down from the hills, drive to Heraklion to check into your next accommodations.

Visiting Crete with Kids
The Fortezza of Rethymno is a former Venetian stronghold. Photo by Igor Ladigin

Days 4 through 6: Heraklion

End your week in Heraklion, the capital and largest city of Crete and home to the main airport. Despite its ancient roots, Heraklion is a lively city lined with shops, cafes and restaurants, as well as a cultural hub with art exhibitions, concerts and theater, so there is plenty to discover.

In the center of the city, the Venetians left behind an ornate fountain adorned with carvings. Built in 1628, Morosini Fountain can be found in Lions Square — apropos, as the fountain features four lions roaring with water. Toss in a coin and make a wish as your family continues exploring.

Around the city, it’s hard to miss the fortifications left behind by the Venetians. Built in the 15th century to defend the city from the Ottoman invasion, old city walls and bastions are scattered around, and families can visit the Koules Fortress, which guards the old harbor. The sea fort, also called the Rocca a Mare, is just €4 and provides great harbor views.

Visiting Crete with Kids
Don’t miss the Palace of Knossos, one of the island’s most important ancient sites. Photo by Egor Myznik

The top spot to visit is the Palace of Knossos, which is just outside the city and believed to be the center of the Minoan civilization, one of the earliest advanced societies in Europe. Although the site has been partially reconstructed and is not authentic, it’s still a fascinating glimpse into the wealth of the bygone society. For kids, the open-air palace isn’t just about looking at old stones. Interactive tours use storytelling, quizzes and puzzles to make the educational aspect more fun.

Back in the city, the Archaeological Museum contains the largest collection of Minoan artifacts for a deeper dive. It is one of Greece’s largest and most important museums and features interactive displays and educational programs for families, including guided tours tailored to children. Ticket prices go up in the summer months, but they won’t be more than €12.

That said, it’s not all about hitting the sights. Give kids what they want with a day by the ocean. Ammoudara Beach, just 10 minutes from the city center, offers gentle waves and sandy shores so you can spend hours relaxing, splashing and sandcastle building. There are beachside cafes offering snacks and refreshments for an easy day of lounging.

Visiting Crete with Kids
The old fishing village of Elounda is now home to a concentration of luxurious accommodations. Photo by Martijn Vonk

Day 7 and Beyond

If you have more time to explore Crete, continue eastward to Elounda, where you can sample the taste of doing nothing on the beaches along Mirabello Bay. Known for its luxury resorts, Elounda is filled with pampering properties that offer world-class spas, gourmet restaurants, golf courses and private beaches, and it is the most relaxing way to end a long sightseeing week. Stay until your fingers prune or work requests the honor of your presence.

Where to Stay

Forum Suites

Adjacent to Chania’s Chrissi Akti beach, Forum Suites is a recently renovated kid-friendly hotel. Its Family Apartments feature a bedroom with twin beds, a separate living room with a sofa bed and dining area, a kitchenette, and balconies with views of the hotel’s pools and gardens. Some apartments also provide a private pool, including one split-level accommodation that allows you to spread out even more. The property also offers a playground and a children’s pool in addition to its standard pool with loungers and umbrellas. It’s great for those with a car, as Forum Suites also offers free parking.

Creta Maris Beach Resort

Thirty minutes east of Heraklion, near Sarantari Beach, try Creta Maris Beach Resort, a 5-star resort that does, in fact, feature the whitewashed buildings of Greece you may have been seeking. This is a popular area for families who want destination hotels, and this expansive resort, with its all-inclusive offerings, is perfect if you’d rather spend more time at the beach than exploring ancient sites. Creta Maris Beach Resort features 16 swimming pools, a water park, a private beach and a kids’ club for keeping kids entertained and meeting new friends. With onsite restaurants and an array of dining, families can book a villa with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, dining and living space, and a private pool and patio area. You’ll also find Family Rooms with separate living and sleeping areas, as well as connecting Family Rooms to create two-bedroom accommodations.

Relevant Links:

Browse all accommodations and activities in Greece on Ciao Bambino

Top Greek islands for families: How to choose the best match

72 hours in Athens, Greece with kids

Acropolis views at St. George Lycabettus Lifestyle Hotel

Editor’s Note: Lissa Poirot has been covering travel for more than a decade, including sites such as TripAdvisor, CruiseCritic, The Points Guy, Family Vacation Critic, Family Traveller and Cruise Hive. Her love of travel has led her to visit more than 43 countries and has her on a mission to see every state in the U.S. (only 4 states to go!). She has taken her kids on travel adventures since they were infants. When she’s not traveling, she’s exploring new attractions and events in New York City or Philadelphia, as she lives between both fabulous cities.

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