CATEGORY:Attactions | Chania | Crete | Travel

3 +1 lesser-known historical attractions in Crete

March 30, 2023

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Crete is Greece’s largest and arguably most popular island for a number of diverse reasons. Sea-sun-sand and fun aside, modern-day travellers come here for the food, the wine, the culture and – of course – the historical attractions. From ancient palaces to imposing antique monasteries, there is much to take in. If you’re looking to skip the lines however it’s best to have a go at Crete’s lesser-known historical attractions.


History and myths are intertwined in the case of Crete, where a wealth of aeons-old attractions beckon modern-day travellers from all over the world. The most famous of Crete’s landmarks, like the great Minoan Palaces or the iconic old town of Chania, get the lion’s share of visitors every year. It is certainly fascinating to delve deep into ancient mysteries or to witness the past unravel in every corner of what’s in effect an open-air museum of architecture – but it is even better to be able to roam about without the crowds. To do so, you should either come in the off-season or go for the lesser-known historical attractions in Crete. They are not exactly hidden gems that only connoisseurs are privy to. But they sure make a great divergence from the long queues associated with their fabled counterparts – and can be just as captivating.


Sounds exciting? Make sure to incorporate some beyond-the-beaten-path sightseeing on your holiday itinerary with a visit to these handpicked, lesser-known historical attractions in Crete.


Lesser-known historical sites in Crete

The abandoned village of Aradaina

Crete is a hiker’s paradise. And though most brave Samaria – the so-called Europe’s Grand Canyon – the gorge of Aradaina, in the prefecture of Chania is another fantastic option. With steep cliffs, mesmerizing Libyan sea views and endemic flora and fauna, including some rare species like the bearded vulture and the Kri-Kri, Aradena makes for a particularly scenic hike. But there is also another great reason to visit. At the trail’s starting or ending point (depending on whether you are descending or ascending the gorge), the homonymous village, which was founded by the Phoenicians, had been prospering since ancient times. Yet it was abruptly deserted in the late 1940s thanks to a feud over a goat’s bell. The dispute led to a bloody vendetta which eventually killed seven people. Those who had survived, left, to put an end to the bloodshed. With its elaborate (albeit by now roofless) stone houses with arches, staircases, overgrown yards and ruined wood ovens, Aradena today stands as an open-air museum of traditional Cretan architecture. Take a stroll through the eerie ghost town for a haunting glimpse of times gone by.



Gournia is a small Minoan settlement in East Crete, whose ruins paint a vivid picture of life in a Late Bronze Age (1500 B.C.) town. With some 50 well-preserved houses, a system of cobbled streets, a central court, a Minoan palace and a cemetery, Gournia is a fun site to visit, especially if you have kids. The roads between the houses are more clearly demarcated in relation to other ancient ruins in Crete, and you’ll feel more like exploring – Indiana Jones style – rather than following a structured tour.


At a 30-minute drive away from bustling Knossos, you’ll find the ruins of Tylissos – and you’ll surprisingly have them all to yourselves. Tylissos hails from the 16th century BC, and as archaeological evidence suggests, it was a very important town in Minoan times. Granted there is no palace, but the mansions discovered here are quite spectacular, with an architecture that rivals that of other Minoan palatial complexes. Findings that were brought to light in the area are also quite remarkable – with some of the most important being three large cauldrons unique in the whole of Aegean; a large group of miniature frescoes that resemble those found in Knossos; and a bronze figurine that’s the biggest and stylistically finest of its kind.


Palaiochora Venetian Ruins – Castelo Selino

Crete was conquered by the Venetians in 1209, who stayed for four and a half centuries, leaving their indelible marks all over the island. These were turbulent times, and to protect their conquest from prospective invaders, Venetians placed marked importance on fortifications. When the Turks eventually took over, they too recognised the value of these forts which they continued to use. That’s why some of Crete’s great Venician fortresses, like the Firka Fortress in Chania, are still kept in great condition. But, there’s also an abundance of largely unpreserved ancient castles which are hauntingly beautiful. Located at the end of the small peninsula of Palaiochora, Castelo Selino is one of the oldest examples – and comes with an evocative atmosphere and staggering sea views. Drive some 70 km south from Chania, to visit the paradisiacal beaches of Palaiochora (back in the 70’s these were the hippies’ HQs) and Castelo Selino, for an experience that goes beyond the ordinary.


Ancient Harbour of Falassarna

Falassarna, 60 km from the town of Chania, is one of the most beautiful and popular beaches on Crete. It is also the site of a famous ancient harbour that’s been inhabited since early Minoan times. With a direct maritime link to Alexandria in Egypt, Falassarna prospered – yet peaceful trading was not the only occupation for its inhabitants; who, as was the custom of the times, also engaged with piracy. Falassarna was first destroyed by the Romans in 69 BC, but the final blow came with the catastrophic earthquake of 365 AD which raised the west coast of Crete by 6.5 metres. Falassarna found itself on land in a few seconds – the once-flourishing port became obsolete while what remained of the city was flooded by a tsunami, and buried for some 1600 years. The area was explored in the late 19th century by British travellers, who discovered the harbour and the ruins of the ancient city. Rescue excavations began in 1966 and uncovered many graves, the findings of which are now displayed in the Museums of Kisamos and Chania. Research excavations commenced in 1986. The long-lost harbour was brought to light, with discoveries including towers, baths, temples, cisterns, public buildings and even a wine factory, corroborating the historians’ accounts of the city.


Did you like this post? Stay tuned to our blog for more insights, tips and advice on what to see, shop, pack and do in Chania and the island of Crete!

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