Last updated on November 10, 2023 by Wandering our World
Planning a Mediterranean getaway? Eager to explore a beautiful island, filled with gorgeous beaches, unique cultural experiences, delicious food, and intriguing historic sites? If so, Cyprus and Crete are surely at the top of your list of possible destinations. Not only are they two of the largest islands in the Mediterranean, but they’re also two of the most enjoyable to visit.
Ideally, it’s best to see both of these islands, if you can, as they’re each worth exploring. But you may only have the time or budget to see one of them. So, which one should it be? Well, it’s not an easy choice. Lots of travelers hesitate between the fascinating culture and luxury beach resorts of Cyprus and the deep history and authentic experiences of Crete.
The decision is made even more difficult when you take into account the fact that both islands have so many wonderful things in common. They’re home to a plethora of flora and fauna, for instance, while also boasting diverse beaches and dramatic mountain landscapes, friendly locals, charming towns, and romantic vineyards.
But, for all their things in common. Cyprus and Crete have a long list of differences, too. They differ in size, vibe, history, culture, and cuisine, and each island has its key features and best reasons to visit. Our Crete vs Cyprus guide will dig into all those big differences, helping you decide on the ideal island for your next adventure.
- A Quick Overview Of Crete vs Cyprus
- Which Has The Best Weather?
- Which Is Best For Activities?
- Which Is Best For Beaches?
- Which Is Best For Hiking?
- Which Is Best For Nightlife?
- Which Is Best For Shopping?
- Which Is Best For Food?
- Which Is Best For Families?
- Which Is Best For Couples?
- Which Is Best For Backpackers?
- Which Is Cheapest?
- Where to Stay According to your Budget?
- Crete vs Cyprus: Which Is Better?
A Quick Overview Of Crete vs Cyprus
Crete: A Quick Overview
Crete is the biggest of the Greek islands, as well as being the most populous. It’s home to approximately 625,000 people and extends across approximately 3,260 square miles. In short, it’s a big island, but still not quite as big as Cyprus, with about half of the population. However, due to its shape, it does have a longer coastline – 650 miles compared to Cyprus’ 400 miles.
The history of Crete is long and storied, and this island was, in fact, once the home of one of Europe’s oldest civilizations: the Minoan civilization, which began around 2,700 BC. Various other people passed through and controlled the island over the years, like Romans and Arabs, shaping and influencing it in various ways, all the way up to its modern-day incarnation.
Crete’s geography is almost as diverse as its past. It has a vast mountain range stretching across its center from east to west, with world-class climbing opportunities and gorgeous gorges to hike through. Peninsulas, gulfs, capes, valleys, plains, and lakes also make up this island’s many landscapes, along with a multitude of magical beaches.
Despite technically being a Greek island and retaining many elements of Greek life and culture, Crete almost feels like a separate country. It has many unique traditions and customs that aren’t found elsewhere in Greece, along with its own distinctive culinary style. It’s a one-of-a-kind destination with lots of things to do and truly authentic Mediterranean experiences to enjoy.
Cyprus: A Quick Overview
Cyprus is the third-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. It’s situated much further east than Crete, not far from the coastlines of Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and Israel. More than 1.2 million people called Cyprus home, and the island itself extends across 3,572 square miles of land. So it’s not too much bigger than Crete, but has a significantly larger population.
Like Crete, Cyprus has a long and fascinating past. In fact, historians have found traces of life on this island dating back almost as far as 10,000 BC. It has lots of well-preserved archeological remains and ruins, and was controlled by Greeks, Egyptians, Persians, and other major powers throughout history, before gaining independence in 1960.
Two vast mountain ranges dominate large parts of the island – the Troodos Mountains and the Kyrenia Mountains. There’s also a vast central plan taking up most of the north central part of the island, called the Mesaoria. There are also dense forests in Cyprus, and various native species, like the Cypriot mouse and golden oak tree.
Despite being situated near North Africa and West Asia, Cyprus has a distinctly European feel. It’s a little more luxurious than Crete, with plenty of family-friendly golden sand beaches and impressive coastal resorts. While there’s still plenty to do here, Cyprus arguably appeals most to couples and families who want to simply relax and indulge for a week or two.
Which Has The Best Weather?
One of the best things about the Mediterranean is its wonderful weather. The sun shines particularly warmly and brightly in this part of the world, perfect for summer fun. However, since they’re quite far apart in different parts of the Mediterranean Sea, Cyprus and Crete have slightly different climate conditions.
Specifically, Cyprus’s climate is warm and sunny pretty much all-year long. Temperatures can get very high during the summer, and rain is rare, with long, sunny days and ideal conditions for sunbathing and swimming. It gets cooler in winter, but the cooler season never lasts too long, typically running from December to February.
In Crete, temperatures are still comfortable and pleasant for large parts of the year, but never quite reach the same heights as Cyprus. Crete’s summer is a little shorter and its winter is a little longer than in Cyprus. So, if you’re visiting in summer, there’s not much difference, but if you’re planning a winter getaway, Cyprus will be a little more comfortable and cozy.
Which Is Best For Activities?
As vast islands with thousands of years of history and lots of interesting towns and cities to explore, Crete and Cyprus both offer a broad range of activities and attractions. But you may find that one island’s activities are a little more to your taste than the other. So, let’s dig into the best things to do on each one.
Crete: The Activities
Crete has a broad and impressive array of activities, and a log list of landmarks to visit. Many tourists will want to start off in one of the big Cretan cities, like Heraklion or Chania. Heraklion serves as the island’s capital, boasting its own historic fortress and striking Venetian port, while Chania is an excellent cultural hub, with multiple museums to check out.
The city of Rethymno is also worth visiting, too. It’s got a 16th century hilltop citadel, providing a fascinating deep dive into the past, along with a great arts and crafts scene. Or, if small, charming villages are more your style, you can check out the likes of Sfakia, with its romantic pebble beaches, or Anogia, well-known for its caves and amazing views.
Love history? If so, you’ll adore Crete many ancient archaeological sites. Knossos, for example, is believed to be one of the oldest cities on the European continent, while Phaistos houses an old Minoan palace, built back in the Bronze Age. Both of these super sites are open for public exploration, or you can book a guided tour to learn all about them from a local expert.
Perhaps you prefer wildlife and outdoor activities? Once again, Crete has you covered. Since mountains make up such a large part of this island, it’s a haven for hikers, with tough mountain treks and more family-friendly gorge paths to enjoy. Samaria Gorge National Park is easily one of the best places for outdoor adventurers, and you may even spot some native “Kri-kri” goats.
Cyprus: The Activities
Visitors to Cyprus may like to begin in the island country’s capital of Nicosia. One of the oldest cities in the entire Mediterranean, this place dates back to almost 1,400 BC, and you can feel the echoes of the past all around in landmarks like Kyrenia Gate and the Selimiye Camii mosque. Many museums are dotted across Nicosia, perfect for learning about Cypriot history.
Speaking of history, Cyprus also boasts an array of ancient landmarks and archaeological sites to see. The ancient town of Kourion is one of the best, with its very own Greco-Roman amphitheater. Or, if mythology is more your sort of thing, you won’t want to miss out on seeing Aphrodite’s Rock, a sea stack where the Ancient Greek goddess was said to have been born.
The big city of Paphos is another must-see, offering an amazing blend of old and new, with a jaw-dropping series of ancient ruins, like the legendary Tomb of the Kings, as well as a more modern, touristic side, with lots of bars and fun nightlife spots. And there’s no shortage of charming, romantic small towns and villages on Cyprus, like Omodos and Pissouri.
And, just like Crete, Cyprus can also appeal to those who love to explore nature. The Troodos Mountains are a terrific hiking destination, with plenty of trails to keep you busy. Those in search of a true challenge might even like to climb up the towering Mount Olympus, the island’s tallest peak.
Overall, both of these islands have more than enough activities to entertain any traveler. Whether you’re passionate about history, museums, beaches, or nature, you’ll find lots to love on either island, though Crete arguably has just a little more diversity in its attractions and landmarks compared to Cyprus.
Which Is Best For Beaches?
Beaches are a big part of the experience on Crete and Cyprus, and both islands have plenty to offer for those in search of sand and sea. Crete, for example, has the longer coastline of the two islands and a wonderfully diverse range of beaches to see, starting off with the fabulous pink sands of Elafonissi.
Balos is another must-see coastal gem on Crete, often compared to Caribbean beaches due to its powdery sands and gentle lagoon waters. Tymbaki Beach is also worth checking out, offering tons of space for visitors to find their own little slice of paradise. Rodakino is another huge beach with jaw-dropping views.
Variety is definitely one of the best aspects of Cretan beaches. You’ll find world-class water sports at Falassama, for example, romantic scenery at Preveli, and fascinating rock formations dotted along the shore at Matala. In short, no matter what kind of beach you’re looking for, you should be able to find it on Crete.
Cyprus may not have quite as much diversity, but it certainly excels in terms of luxury and comfort. Many of the best beaches along this island’s lengthy coastline are exceptionally well-maintained, with Blue Flag status and lots of local amenities, like Coral Bay, lined with umbrellas and sun loungers, just a short drive from Paphos.
Nissi Beach is another Cypriot treasure, with super smooth white sand and crystal-clear waters. It’s also right beside the island’s party hub of Ayia Napa, perfect for nightlife fans to relax in the day before hitting the bars and clubs once the sun goes down. Mackenzie Beach is another great place to have fun, with lots of bars and restaurants a stone’s throw from the sand.
Cyprus also has lots of family-friendly beaches. There’s Fig Tree Bay, for example, with shallow waters for the whole family to splash around in, and Finikoudes, which is a great place to people watch. If you explore further, you can also find some more rugged coastal spots in Cyprus, like Kourion Beach and Lara Bay.
Overall, neither island is really better than the other in this category, as it all depends on what kind of seaside experiences you’re seeking. For luxury, comfort, and amenities, Cyprus wins. For diversity and a great mix of romantic, vast, family-friendly, and secluded beaches, Crete is the place to be.
Which Is Best For Hiking?
If you’re a fan of hiking, Crete is easily one of the best places to visit in all of Europe. It’s got dozens of picturesque hiking trails to explore to suit all ages and abilities. If you’re looking to test yourself, for example, consider a climb up Mount Ida. Or, for something simpler, visit Samaria Gorge, one of Europe’s longest canyons, or any of the island’s many coastal paths.
Cyprus, too, has plenty of hiking paths. There are more than 50 designated trails across the island, especially among the two main mountain ranges. You can enjoy some truly challenging treks along ridges and mountain peaks, as well as some scenic coastal trails. There’s also a huge 140+ mile route that runs right across the island.
Overall, Crete is arguably a little better for hikers, thanks to its more diverse scenery and dramatic gorges, as well as its wider range of routes to suit all abilities. But seasoned hikers can still have a terrific time exploring Cyprus’ mountain paths.
Which Is Best For Nightlife?
Love to stay out late at local bars and clubs, rather than retreating to your hotel? If so, Cyprus is sure to make you smile. It’s got one of the best nightlife scenes of any Mediterranean island, with the lively hub of Ayia Napa almost good enough to rival the likes of Mykonos and Ibiza. From cozy beach bars to fast-paced thumping dance clubs, you’ll find it all here.
Crete’s nightlife isn’t bad, either. The dynamic, energetic strip of Malia is the best place to party, with a long line of clubs, bars, and great places to eat. It’s also conveniently situated near the island’s capital of Heraklion. However, other areas of this island are much quieter, without too many places to party after dark.
Overall, Cyprus definitely has the bigger and better nightlife scene, with some awesome clubs and places to hang out until the early hours.
Which Is Best For Shopping?
Shopping is another fun way to spend time on either Crete or Cyprus. If you pick the former, you’ll find a great selection of traditional craft stores. The island is famed for its leather goods, so there are lots of stores selling leather pouches, purses, and handbags. Crete’s big cities, like Chania and Heraklion, also have dozens of interesting ateliers and fancy boutiques.
Over on Cyprus, the shopping scene is a little more modern and upmarket. Limassol has a massive mall with all the big international boutiques, for example, while Nicosia has lots of antique stores and craft shops, so there’s a nice mix of the old and the new, as well as the traditional and the fancy.
Overall, it all depends on what you’re looking for. Cyprus is terrific if you intend to spend hours in a mall or head home with some fancy European attire and accessories, while Crete is ideal for more traditional and specialty stores.
Which Is Best For Food?
Food is another highlight of visiting Mediterranean islands like Crete and Cyprus, and both islands have their own traditional fare and distinctive culinary styles.
Crete, for example, has its own style of cooking, quite different to many of the other Greek islands. Most dishes here make use of locally-grown and reared ingredients, like island cheeses, herbs, and meats. Many dishes are rich and flavorful, like the chaniotika boureki casserole, a baked dish of potatoes, cheese, herbs, and zucchini.
Cypriot cuisine is also quite unique and distinctive, with particularly good seafood and tasty meze snacks. This island is also famed for its halloumi cheese and makes some fine wines. However, it can’t quite compete with Crete, which is known across Europe as one of the most delicious destinations in the entire continent.
Which Is Best For Families?
If you’re heading away as a family, you’re sure to have a terrific time on the island of Crete. Kids of all ages will be astounded by the island’s archaeological sites and ancient ruins, and there are also so many super beaches scattered along the coast. Crete’s cities, too, offer a myriad of family attractions, from museums to aquariums and water parks.
Not to be outdone, Cyprus also offers fantastic family fun. There’s a massive water park near Paphos, as well as the Luna Park theme park in Ayia Napa, a zoo in Limassol, and even a camel park. Plus, with more family-friendly beaches and grand resorts with long lists of amenities, Cyprus always has ways to keep the little ones entertained.
Overall, the best option for your family depends on what you like the most. Crete is better for explorers and adventurers, with great hiking and diverse beaches, while Cyprus has more typical family attractions and safer beaches.
Which Is Best For Couples?
For couples, Crete is another excellent destination to consider. It’s such a beautiful place, with jaw-dropping scenery all around, culturally rich cities, and lots of charming villages to stroll around, hand in hand with your partner. The cozy guesthouses here are also ideal for couples seeking romance and relaxation in a peaceful, charming setting.
Then, there’s Cyprus, which also has plenty of appeal for couples of all ages. There are some truly romantic spots to see, from Aphrodite’s Rock to the sea caves of Peyia and the lovely Blue Lagoon. Nightlife is also very lively here for couples who like to party, and the resorts and hotels tend to be more luxurious and indulgent.
Overall, Crete is arguably the more romantic of the two islands, but Cyprus still has lots to offer with its fancy accommodation and natural landmarks.
Which Is Best For Backpackers?
Backpackers might also love a trip to Crete. It’s the cheaper of the two islands in general, with lots of low-cost guesthouses and welcoming B&Bs to stay at. Local transport services are quite impressive, making it easy to hop around from city to city and town to town. Plus, the outdoor recreation on this island is first class, and it feels more authentic and less touristic than Cyprus.
Cyprus is still a possibility for backpackers, but the higher prices and more touristic feel may put-off certain travelers. Nevertheless, public transport is highly efficient, and there are plenty of places worth seeing all over this island, from its large cities and museums to its ancient archaeological landmarks.
Of the two, Crete is a little more appealing for most backpackers, but Cyprus is still worth considering.
Which Is Cheaper?
Cost is always a big factor to consider when picking between two destinations, and when it comes to Cyprus and Crete, there’s a clear winner in the affordability department.
Crete is definitely the cheaper of the two islands, with lower prices for accommodation, food, and attractions, too. You can therefore plan a full trip to Crete for much less than you’d spend on an equivalent vacation in Cyprus, and anyone with a small or limited budget will definitely find that their money goes further in Crete.
Where to Stay According to your Budget
Budget: Galaxy Iraklio Hotel beckons with its stunning seaside location. Overlooking the azure waters of the Mediterranean, it offers breathtaking panoramic views. The hotel’s contemporary design, upscale amenities, and exquisite dining options create a luxurious haven for travelers seeking both relaxation and exploration on this picturesque Greek island.
Luxury: Creta Blue Boutique Hotel transforms its pool bar into a romantic, open-air restaurant, inviting guests to relish locally sourced, homemade recipes against a panoramic backdrop. An infinity pool bathes in Mediterranean warmth while in-room massages offer further relaxation. Staff curate experiences to explore Cretan treasures like the Knossos archaeological site.
Budget: MAP Boutique Hotel, a haven in Nicosia, blends opulence with charm. Discover luxury in its fitness center, a serene terrace, and a celebrated restaurant. Some rooms feature balconies, offering glimpses of beauty. With a diverse breakfast, impeccable services, and elegant design, it’s an exquisite gem in the heart of Nicosia.
Luxury: Merit Royal Premium Hotel Casino & SPA is a luxurious oasis nestled on the shores of the Mediterranean. With its pristine private beach, opulent spa, and a world-class casino, it offers a haven of relaxation and entertainment. The hotel’s elegant design and stunning coastal views create a captivating and memorable experience.
Crete vs Cyprus: Which Is Better?
So, which island should you pick? Well, the battle between Crete and Cyprus is a tough one to call. Both of these Mediterranean destinations have a lot to offer, from their beaches and natural spaces to their rich histories, unique cultures, and delicious food. Fortunately, no matter which one you pick, you’re sure to have a terrific time.
However, we have to pick a winner, and for the majority of travelers, Crete is the slightly better choice. It’s cheaper, more authentic, and has several other unique advantages, like its unbeatable cuisine and extraordinary hiking opportunities. Whether you want a family getaway, a romantic escapade, or a backpacking adventure, Crete’s the place to be.
At the same time, Cyprus is still worth keeping in mind as a possible destination. It’s a beautiful, glamorous island with amazing resorts, unparalleled history, and lots to see and do. You certainly won’t be disappointed with a trip to this island if you’re searching for gorgeous beaches and classic R&R.