10 Things to do With Kids in Western Crete
*This post contains affiliate links which means I may receive a commission from purchases made through them. All reviews and recommendations I make, however, are of my own genuine opinion. You can read more in my Disclosure Statement.
Last time while discussing How to Pack for a Trip with Kids, I got mega-nostalgia for our recent vacation to Crete. And you can totally see why, right?? Crete was unlike any place I had ever been: warm Mediterranean water, the smell of olive oil wafting through the air, fresh seafood waiting for you in every restaurant… and well, let’s face it, it’s super accessible from Yerevan. Which is a big plus for me.
The Greek islands are truly unlike any other. There are 227 inhabited islands in the Greek archipelago… 227!! You could spend a week on each one and it would take you almost four and a half years!
It’s easy to become overwhelmed with the options for island paradise. Mykonos, Corfu, Rhodes, Santorini, Naxos, Milos… ayayay… So how do you choose where to spend your time? You should definitely do your research and pick the one that aligns with your family’s agenda. Each has their merits and however you make your decision is up to you and your travel priorities and preferences.
**Please note that this is not a “Best Greek Islands to Visit” post. This was my first trip to Greece and while I am merely a patron and not an expert, I can only share with you my personal experiences.**
My family chose to spend a week in the westernmost part of Crete, Greece’s largest and southernmost island, near the old Venetian port town, Chania (pronounced HAN-yia). Peak tourist season spans from April to August, but the climate is amiable to most people throughout the year. Our plans included a cozy beach cottage (thanks, Airbnb!) in a town to the west of Chania called Tavronitis, and a rental car. Driving around the island is extremely accessible: English is very prevalent and the roads are well marked with signs, even in the most remote places. Its people are warm, creative, clever and always willing to help.
Western Crete is home to some of the most exquisite beaches in the world. From the elegant pink sands of Elafonisi to the tranquil pools at Balos Lagoon, every inch of the Cretan coast is bound to take your breath away. The warm, shallow waters make it not only a laid-back paradise, it’s also the perfect destination to bring the bambinos. Cretans adore children which makes it an even more spectacular place to travel with kids. No matter where you go, shop owners and waiters will slip them candies, treats, and hugs and will never, ever complain about a crying baby (trust me, I’ve tested this.)
So don’t fret about kid-friendly activities on Crete. Here are my favorite things to do to get you started!
1. Elafonisi Beach
Elafonisi Beach is one of those places in the world that you wouldn’t believe to exist until you see it in person. In spite of the large number of people this beach attracts, it retains a feeling of raw nature that has been unspoiled by commerce. Located on the southwest corner of Crete, the layout is not a typical straight shoreline but rather feels like an open park with beaches to the left and right with a large, shallow lagoon in the middle.
It’s most well known for its elegant pink sand, which, fun fact, is actually the result of red coral being broken down over time and washing ashore. When we went, the sand wasn’t quite as pink as some pictures would lead you to believe, but I like to think there is magic in the world and we just went at a not-as-pink time.
This beach is PERFECT for bambinos. The central lagoon is no more than a few inches deep, making it an ideal place for the kids to play… or for you to lounge in the sun while the kids play.
The facilities are excellent. Restrooms, showers, snack stands, water sports, and cabanas are all affordable.
I beg you, do not leave Crete without visiting Elafonisi! Prepare to drive about an hour and a half from Chania through windy mountain roads, but it is WELL worth the trip. There are also tour buses that run every day from Chania if you prefer.
2. Falassarna Beach
Another favorite beach is to the west of Kissamos called Falassarna. Located about an hour drive from Chania, but once you crest the final ridgeline, you’re met with a panorama view of the breathtaking coastline. The scene is simply stunning: tall green mountains meet clear turquoise water with clean white sand filling the gap. To me growing up in Florida, Falassarna seemed much more of a traditional beach with a straight shoreline and small to medium sized waves.
There are ample facilities: restrooms, showers, umbrellas/chairs available for rent, a restaurant with beach-side service, and paragliding if you’re feeling adventurous.
3. Take a cruise on a glass bottom boat
My three-year-old LOVES boats. So, one of the best choices we made on this vacation was to take a boat trip out of the main port of Chania. There are actually quite a lot of options for chartered day cruises, but the decision was kinda last minute (and we were kinda lazy) so we went with the #1 recommended tour on TripAdvisor, Captain Nick’s Glass Bottom Boat. And for sure, we were not disappointed.
The tour was operated by self-professed octopus expert, Captain Nick himself. Our 3-hour excursion began with sailing around the outer islands of Agioi Theodoroi where we were able to spot kri-kri, a goat endemic to the area. Afterwards, we had the opportunity to snorkel along a reef near a secluded beach. Since M is still in water wings and is new to snorkeling, we hung out on the small beach and found rocks – a three-year-old’s favorite activity.
The highlight of this trip by far, however, was when Captain Nick found a baby octopus to show the group. You should have SEEN the smile on my child’s face when he got to pet the octopus and hold it in his hand. SO. MUCH. JOY. My only regret of the ENTIRE vacation was that I did not have a camera at this exact moment.
4. Walk around the harbor to see the lighthouse and Old Town
Chania has an old and very interesting history. It was built on the site of the ancient Kidonia, one of the most important cities of Crete according to Homer. It was occupied by the Venetians beginning in the early 1200’s and sustained much prosperity over the next four centuries. In 1645, the island was surrendered to the Turks and didn’t gain autonomy until 1897. It was reunited with Greece in 1913 and was even occupied by the Germans in the Second World War. (Source: greeka.com) You can even see a sunken German aircraft from this time on Captain Nick’s Glass Bottom Boat tour!
Today, the entrance to the harbor is marked by an old stone lighthouse to which you can reach by walking along the outer seawall. The inner harbor is lined with cafes and restaurants, where you can enjoy seafood fresh off the boat.
While you’re here, take a walk up the hill to the enchanting Old Town. The cobblestone streets twist and turn into quiet alleys filled with adorable shops and charming cafes. Savor it.
5. Dip your life in olive oil
Olive oil is the nectar of life. As anyone with a Mediterranean heritage will tell you, it is the cure for everything. My Italian mother always preached to me that olive oil will fix any problem you have, from stretch marks to dry hair to chapped lips. It’s also claimed to help you lose weight, fight the effects of aging, prevent disease, and even give you a better sex life. Um, yes, please. And lucky for you, Western Crete is FULL of locally grown and produced olive oil. It’s so prevalent, you could spend days visiting farms, factories, shops, and spas dedicated to olive oil and it’s wonderful properties. So go ahead and soak in (and stock up on) that delicious elixir.
6. Discover local artisans
You will never find a shortage of souvenir shops while traveling, but to me, there is a distinct difference between trinkets and crafts. I love to seek out the small artisan shops, and bonus points if the artist is the one actually running the shop. While this is a fun activity for me, it’s really only as fun as my kids’ attention spans are long.
Here are some of the hidden gems I found while exploring Western Crete:
Woodworker Manolis Tsouris in Topolia. This incredible artist makes amazing creations out of olive wood. His shop is on the road between Chania and Elafonisi and could easily be passed by. We did the first time we saw it and made a point to come back the next day. Tsouris runs the shop and makes a personal connection with each person who visits him. My son now remembers him as “the man who gave me too much candy”. So, there’s that.
Kostas Apostolakis Ceramics in Maleme. I love ceramics and try to pick up a piece most places we travel. Kostas Apostolakis is as authentic as is gets and certainly did not disappoint. The shop is large with seemingly thousands of pieces lining the walls. Each is beautifully crafted and painted in bright glazes, whole collections in one scheme or another, some adorned with olives and pomegranates. Kostas, ceramics-master himself, runs the shop and greets every guest with a warm smile. I’m lucky I was limited on carry-on space and only walked out with two bowls…
Next time, Kostas, next time.
Fisika in Tavronitis – Remember olive oil is life? Nowhere is that truer than at Fisika. Based on great-grandmother’s personal recipe, all-natural soaps and beauty products are handmade right in the store. The shop is open and bright, inviting you in with the sweet smell of olive oil and natural infusions. In addition to doing most of my Christmas shopping here (surprise, family!), I picked up a set of their cinnamon-clove soap prayer beads, which are wonderfully aromatic. Físika even ships worldwide (for when I run out in a few months!) Check out their full website here!
7. EAT EAT EAT!
One of my favorite parts of traveling (and, let’s be real, of life) is eating. I feel like you create a much deeper connection to a place when you eat local, and Crete is no exception. Seriously, what better way to get to know a culture than by eating its food! Cretan food is delightfully fresh. From seafood to vegetables, and the enormous slab of feta on your salad… Food Tourism at its finest.
One thing I was particularly excited about going to Greece for was the yogurt!!! And sadly, it puts everything in US grocery stores to shame. Thick and creamy, served with honey and sometimes nuts or fruit, it becomes a decadent treat. (you gotta believe me guys, my life is super exciting.)
And just when you think eating doesn’t get any better, you are presented with raki, a local digestif, and fruit or pound cake. The culture actually assumes that you want dessert with every meal. And they’re not wrong.
8. Drink a Greek frappe
I would like to extend “food tourism” to “coffee tourism”. The Frappe is a Cretan take on iced coffee: begin with Nespresso instant powder, whip with a hand frother, and add milk or water to your heart’s content. What you get is a tall, creamy, foamy, iced coffee perfect to be sipped in the sun (and always through a straw). It’s a sweet, summery treat that’s perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up. If you’re interested in trying one at home, pick up this handheld frother and follow this recipe!
9. Wine by the jug
Do I need to say much more than that? Ok, so maybe this isn’t a “thing to do with your kid” but as an adult, you are (semi-)equally on vacation. Savor it. Trust me – just order the jug wine.
10. Have a true cultural experience
For a truly authentic Cretan experience, visit Katarina at Haridimos Apartments, a small hotel with big local flavor. You will see her nearly every night cooking in the large, open-air seaside restaurant, cooking traditional Greek meals. She is so delightful and is the author of two cookbooks! Stop by on Thursday nights for traditional music and dancing. It will certainly be a highlight of your trip!
11. Balos Lagoon
I intentionally left this off my “list of ten best things to do with kids” because while truly spectacular, it is difficult to access for those of us toting small children who decide when and where they want to stop walking. Expect a 20-minute hike downhill once you park your car. I kinda regret not seeing while we were right there, but I know that in-the-moment me would have been cursing myself for not thinking it through. If you have the energy, or your kids are up for a little adventure, I hope you choose to visit Balos. I would be completely remiss however if I didn’t give it an honorable mention here though.
Let’s connect! Drop me a comment on my Contact page and don’t forget to share the post on Facebook!!