When on a holiday in Crete, one is guaranteed to be in for a treat. Other than gorgeous beaches, ancient palaces, historical sites, and friendly locals, Crete is home to several fun events you should experience at least once in your life. Many people from around the world travel to participate in these events, proving just how popular and significant they are.
If you’re planning to visit Crete, knowing the top events being held in the island is essential. Doing so will help you plan your trip accordingly, ensuring a smooth vacation. Fortunately, we have listed here the top events in Crete that you shouldn’t miss out on.
Festivals and Events in Crete
From religious events that honour the patron saints of Crete to historical and traditional festivals that showcase the beautiful Cretan culture, Crete is home to various festivals guaranteed to give you a good time. Plus, the summer events in large cities such as Heraklion, Chania, and Rethymnon aren’t to be missed too. Whatever your preference may be, you’ll find a festival in Crete that will suit your taste.
Religious Events in Crete
Easter in Crete
Easter is one of the most important religious festivals in Crete, and it is usually celebrated in April by both Orthodox and Catholics. During the Holy Week, a number of rites are performed, and on Saturday, the Resurrection is celebrated paired with beautiful fireworks. During Easter Sunday and Monday, everyone feasts on roasted lamb and local drinks. Many towns in Crete have their own way of celebrating Easter, so make sure to check out the schedule of events in advance.
The social club of Mothiana-Skiafotou also commemorates Easter by inviting all inhabitants to the Table of Love, where everyone enjoys a large feast with red eggs, Easter dishes, and, of course, roasted lamb while listening to Cretan music in Glossa, Kolymbari.
Don’t miss out on the Agios Nikolaos area during Easter Sunday night and assemble around the lake with residents carrying candles to observe the burning of Judas. The same custom is followed in Rethymno, where traditional red eggs, kalitsounia, Easter tsoureki, and a wide variety of traditional meals are served. In Toplou Monastery, the Resurrection of Christ is also celebrated with great devotion. The orange festival in Skines, Chania, takes place on the second and third days of Easter, featuring traditional dances and singing.
Read more about Easter in Crete here.
The Feast of Agios Georgios
Saint George (Agios Georgios) is among Crete’s most revered saints. Agios Georgios is venerated as a saint by the Anglican, Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, and Armenian churches. Saint George’s Day is commemorated in Crete on April 23rd, and many areas of the island hold large events and fairs in his honour, with the goal of assuring the Saint’s blessings.
In Greece, Saint George is revered as the guardian of the army and soldiers. The most recognised among all the folk tales about Saint George that have come down through the decades is the one in which the Saint kills the dragon in order to save a princess.
The Feast of St John the Baptist
On June 24, the day of Saint John the Baptist, known as Ioannis Prodromos in Greek, is celebrated all over Crete with special care. The feast day of St. John the Baptist is one of the most popular events in Western Crete, with many feasts and fairs being held in his honour. People can come together and enjoy traditional Cretan music and dance, as well as local food and drink.
The Feast for Saint Titus
On August 25th, Heraklion Town hosts a great feast honouring Saint Titus. Saint Titus was Crete’s first bishop and is considered as the island’s protector. People often hold religious ceremonies in front of his tomb, and offer traditional food and sweets as a sign of their gratitude.
The Feast of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary
Every year on August 15, Crete celebrates the Feast of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, one of Orthodox Christianity’s most holy days, in a variety of ways.
This popular public holiday is also known as “Summer Easter”, and people commemorate it by attending religious services, hosting a party, and even organising sailboat races.
Every region of Crete has a narrative about the Virgin Mary (known in Greek as “the Panagia”)and every city on the island celebrates Her on August 15th.
Agios Nikolaos Nameday
The patron saint of the town, Agios Nikolaos, who is also known as the protector of mariners, is honoured with a large ceremony on December 6th. Prepare to be enchanted by the spectacular ambiance created by the small boats that float down the shore, all lit up. You’ll be amazed with the firework show that ends the festivities.
Cultural Events in Crete
All through the summer, the island hosts a number of religious and cultural festivities. From May through September, experience a variety of performances, folklore music, dances, exhibits, plays, and fairs at the Chania Summer Festival. The event takes place at the Old Harbour as well as the old and modern city of Chania. Here are a few of the summer festivals dedicated to local products:
- The Potato Festival – Tzermiado on the Lasithi plateau
- The Pottery Festival – Thrapsano, Heraklion
- The Wine Festival – Dafni, Heraklion
- The Citrus Fruits Festival – Garazo, Mylopotamos
- Cheeses Festival – Zoniana
Summer festivals are also popular in Heraklion, with a variety of theatrical, music, dancing, and visual arts events and exhibitions held at the Nikos Kazantzakis and Manos Hatzidakis theatres. Other notable summer events include wine festivals held at the end of July in Rethymno’s National City Park and in Kastelli village at the beginning of August, which welcome guests to sample the best local produce while enjoying wine, folk songs, and Cretan dances.
The Battle of Crete
One of the most important events in Chania is the remembrance of the Battle of Crete during WWII, which includes sports competitions, ceremonial activities, and folk dancing. This celebration occurs in May near Maleme, near Chania, where the first fight took place. Many of the events are organised by veterans and their families to ensure that the younger generations do not forget this day.
Carnival is a large festival that is celebrated all over the world, but Rethymnon takes it to the next level. This festival occurs every year in February or March and includes a parade of people in costumes, floats, and live music. It’s a fun event for the whole family, and it’s a great way to experience the local culture.
The Renaissance Festival
Rethymno’s Renaissance festival lasts up to two weeks and takes place in July, with theatrical and dance events, music concerts, art galleries, visual arts, and other events taking place at the Erofili theater in the Fortress, as well as the Neratzes Mosque. It’s ideal for those who love the arts, and it’s a fun way to learn about the history of the city.
An established festival that’s held for three days in July in the village of Anogia on the foothills of Psiloritis. With feasts and festivals, the occasion commemorates the Saint of Love or Agios Hyakinthos. Every year, a new theme is created for this event, all of which are based on Cretan history, music, and legacy.
Chania Rock Festival
During the first half of August, a distinct type of event occurs in Chania’s old city, gathering rock music fans from all across Greece. The Chania Rock Festival brings together a diverse range of Greek and international performers, up-and-coming artists, and rock bands to give the summer a solid send-off with great music.
Other Festivals Held in Crete
The Kazani – Raki Distilling
Between the months of October and December, the traditional drink of Crete is widely celebrated. The process of turning grape-must into raki, known as raki distillation, has become a religious ceremony for the natives. The Raki Distilling Festival is held in the Kazania region, around the stills, and is followed by a feast featuring traditional products, Cretan delicacies, local wine, and, of course, fresh raki.
In the months of July and August, the town of Agios Nikolaos hosts the Lato Cultural Festival. It’s a fantastic fair with local concerts, foreign musicians, traditional mantinades contests, dance performances, art exhibits, and theatre productions. You’re in for a treat if you visit during this time!
The Cretan Diet Festival
During the first week of July, the Cretan Diet festival takes place in Rethymno, showcasing all locally produced items while honouring Cretan cuisine and the famed Mediterranean diet. Food lovers can enjoy traditional dishes, cooking demonstrations, and even a “Cretan diet” seminar.
Many villages in Crete host wine festivals every summer. The wine festival in Anogia is particularly popular since the area is well-known for its excellent wines. The festival features folk music and dancing, as well as wine tastings. From grape-based spirits to red and white wines, there’s something for everyone at this event.
Houdetsi Music Festival
Every year in the month of August, the Houdetsi festival takes place in the village of Houdetsi, which is about 23 kilometres from Heraklion. It is a one-of-a-kind festival that combines music from all over the world with Cretan culture. Music lovers will enjoy the diverse range of genres represented at this event, including classical, rock, jazz, and more. There are also workshops where you can learn about traditional Cretan instruments.
Top Fun Festivals in Heraklion
Matala Beach Festival
This incredible beach and summer festival, which has been held in Crete since 2011, transforms the hippie village into a massive flower-power revival feast that pays homage to the 60s and 70s and the iconic past of Matala. The region’s culture, and its caves, as well as literature, creative writing, street art, painting, music, and more are all celebrated during this festival. The joyful celebration takes place over the weekend, with music, crafts, and art filling the streets.
A popular event commemorating Kakavia, a traditional fish soup enjoyed all throughout Crete, hosted on the southern shore of Heraklion. This is a great chance to try kakavia, which is very popular on the island.
This Heraklion celebration includes plenty of this delectable cuisine, as well as dancing and music performed by local bands. In case you were curious, the village’s name translates to “Three Churches” and relates to the three churches in the settlement: Agios Georgios, Metamorfosi Sotira, and Panagia.
Thrapsano Pottery Festival
Visit the Thrapsano Pottery School, a historic pottery village where you can take in the sights of Heraklion. The party normally lasts two days (usually in the middle of July). The festival aims to recognize local potters who have been carrying on the ancestral pottery legacy in Crete since the Minoan era! The festival concludes each night with food, drinks, and a variety of musical performances.
The festival takes place in Kastamonitsa, a village some 40 kilometres from the capital, near Kasteli village. This one-of-a-kind celebration honours eftazymo bread, a local specialty and the region’s most traditional bread.The local ovens prepare thousands of loaves in the days preceding up to the festival, which are shared and eaten by the guests during the festivities.
International Sculpture Symposium
The International Sculpture Symposium is a month-long festival that features a massive outdoor sculpture exhibition of human forms carved of Cretan limestone that appear to erupt from the earth.
The festival, which takes place every two years in Venerato, attracts sculptors from all over Europe to take part in this unique event, which is free and available to the public to visit, observe, and enjoy.
Heraklion Summer Art Festival
Combining art and music, the Heraklion Summer Art Festival is a great way to experience the fun culture of Crete. During this event, both traditional and modern songs are played throughout the region. Live bands, offering acoustic chill nights can be spotted in many taverns. People from all over Crete gather to experience this summer festival. Beaches are lit up, the locals are more welcoming and taverns even offer free drinks. No matter what type of traveller you are, spending time in Heraklion during the summer art festival is truly a magical experience.
Festival of Analipsi
Another event you shouldn’t miss when visiting Crete is the festival of Analipsi. The feast is celebrated all throughout the region and many gather at the beach to give various offerings to the Gods. It is a 7 days event that takes place in June. People from all over Crete travel to experience this event first hand. You can expect to find all kinds of Cretan dishes here, too. From the famous souvlaki to the tasty mezedes, you will never run out of food options in Analipsi.