You’re headed to the historical and lush paradise of Greece with the family, sounds like a good idea to me!
If heading with the family and considering which island to go to, the task can feel overwhelming with so many things to do in each spot. Between Samos or Crete, which is the better choice?
Samos or Crete: Which is better for families? Both Samos and Crete are stunning locations with great activities as well as low crime rates so either is a safe choice for families traveling abroad. I would say Crete have slightly more activities as it’s the largest island in Greece and the 5th largest in all of the Mediterranean, while Samos will be smaller but have the interesting cultural twist of being closer to Turkey.
Greece is a magical place with archeological finds, crystal clear waters, and so much culture to soak up in the sun.
It can be hard to get the plans narrowed down, but it is quintessential to having a fluid trip that goes smoothly once you arrive.
I visited both places – Read on to get My comprehensive guide of both Samos and Crete so you can make the best decision based on what your family would love the most!
Is Samos or Crete Best for Families?
If you can’t decide, just hit both Samos and Crete! And Athens and Mykonos and Santorini! Then you won’t feel like you’ve missed anything and get the entire Grecian experience.
Also Read: Reviewe Of Samos And Its Beaches
But let’s say for argument’s sake that that’s not an option, and you don’t want to be island hopping the entire time.
With a large family, it can feel like wrangling up the bulls to get everyone doing exactly what you ask of them when you ask it.
Island hopping may be a stretch depending on your bunch, so let’s determine which island is the best fit for what you’re aiming to get out of your vacation.
Part of the reason I feel Crete may be the better choice is due to its size. Being the largest island in all of Greece means a higher population (600K in 2017 versus 32K in Samos). This also means a higher density of restaurants, activities, tour guides, history, and more.
This is not to say Samos is not rich in history as well. With its proximity to Turkey, there is an entirely different set of reasons to visit Samos, and I absolutely recommend it.
I only want to forewarn that it will certainly be a calmer and quieter time of relaxing on the beach and soaking up the Grecian-Turkish influence compared to a more bustling time in Crete.
Only you know your family and where their preferences will lie.
So, my advice would be to filter all of this information through to what you know about their ideal vacation and don’t just take my word for. What I like and what they like may be worlds apart.
Let’s dive into the activities in Samos first and then compare Crete secondly.
What Makes Samos a Great Option
Samos will be your go-to spot for beach revelry and relaxation. It would probably be my personal choice for going alone or with a romantic partner. But with kids involved, I say Crete simply because there’s more to do.
Samos is a mere 1.6KM from Turkey so you could literally swim over if you like!
This green and lush island includes so much nature to explore, wonderful walks, secret beaches, forest hikes, and ancient sites.
The best way to get around Samos will be by car or bicycle, but it is rather hilly.
Don’t count Samos out before learning all it has to offer though. It could be precisely what you’ve been looking to get out of your time in Greece.
Some of the top activities to do and see in Samos include:
- Hike the Paths of Samos – these are all over the island and can lead you to a stretch of the sea, breathtaking views of the mountains on the shores of Turkey, ancient ruins, the Monastery of Spiliani and more. That is all actually in a single walking path so just imagine what else you can see on the other varieties!
- Experience the Heraion of Samos – This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site along the Pythagoreion which are the ancient ruins running through Samos. Rooted back to the 6th century BC, the Heraion of Samos is a stunning temple used in Byzantine times for worship. A place to marvel at their architecture and feel dumbfounded at how they created such a complex temple with 115 columns that still stand today.
- Walk Through the Tunnel of Eupalinos – These tunnels can be found at the slop of Mount Kastro and Pythagoreio. During the same 6th century BC construction period, these aqueducts are staggering in their height. It was built as an aqueduct to convey water through Mount Kastro to Ancient Pythagoreion, so the city could survive in times of siege. Come early to explore as it can get hot later in the day.
- Lounge at the Beach – there is no shortage of beaches in Samos. You can spend your entire trip just hopping from oasis to oasis on this private isle. Some of my favorites are Kokkari (which is probably the most popular one as it is so beautiful. Google pictures if you want to be 100% sold!), others to visit include Tsomadou, Mykali, and Heraion, Balos, and Livadaki Beaches.
- Go to the Potami Waterfalls – This is a more physical activity for the fam because you’ll be hiking there. The area leading to the waterfall is just as stunning in it’s own right. With the entire hike being around 5KM, you’ll want to set aside a few hours and follow the stream as your guide back home. Bring your cameras for this one friends! And a foldable tripod to capture the whole family together in front of the falls.
Pythagoreio Archaeological Museum – this is the spot for the real history lovers! Here you’ll find treasures from a Neolithic settlement atop the Kastro Mountain and the Geometric necropolis of Samos (900 BC to 700 BC).
RECOMMENDATION: One piece sure to hold your attention is the marble statue of Aiakes (540 BC), who was the father of the Tyrant Polycrates, the dictator that Pythagoras disagreed with. You can see Roman Galleries as well as Byzantine with a life-sized reproduction of a Trajan on horseback.
- See the Cave of Pythagoras – on the trailhead of the Mount Kerkis, this is the location of a cave where Pythagoras, the ancient philosopher hid from Polycrates in the 6th century BC, as legend tells. You will see the small white Panagia Sarantaskaliotissa chapel at the entrance to indicate the start of the two caves. A truly breathtaking experience if you’re in Samos, and a must-do.
- Go to a Vineyard – obviously, the kids will need to be left at Samos daycare or bring them along which is really the most European thing to do! There are breathtaking vineyards to tour in Samos that are fascinatingly influenced by the ancient soil. Unlike wine you’ve probably ever tasted before, snack on the olive groves as you walk towards the Aegean Sea. There are thousands of vineyards predominately in the Muscat grape variety and have won international awards.
- Samos Wine Museum – on the same note as the last for you wine-lovers, the museum in Samos dedicated to Wine is in Vathi. Here you will learn the island’s history with wine which dates back to ancient Greek physicians Hippocrates and Galenus. You’ll even learn how the Catholic Church commissioned local winemakers to produce wine for communion.
- Hike Mount Kerkis – this hiking trail is the peak of an extinct volcano and the second highest landform in the Aegean. With caves and gorges, you’ll see the chapels and monasteries such as Megali Panagia, and Moni Evangelistrias Marathokambos. Round trip may be a half a day adventure, but it’s so worth it if you’re an active family that lives for high focal point views.
- Eat! – You’re in Greece. Relish in the Mediterranean food and enjoy fresh olives from the tree, honey, and figs, and don’t forget the hummus and warm pita bread!
As you can see, Samos has a lot to offer and is more than just an itty-bitty island off the coast of Greece and Turkey. I think there is so much for a family to do here but let’s put that to the test by diving into what Crete has to offer!
What Makes Crete a Great Option
Nikos Kazantzakis, one of Crete’s most famous and celebrated authors, wrote about Crete, “The mystery of Crete runs deep.
Whoever sets foot on this island senses a mysterious force coursing warmly and beneficently through their veins, sensing their soul beginning to grow.”
As the largest and most populated island in Greece, this is where you’ll find a variety of cuisine, shopping, hotel accommodation, and nightlife.
You can enjoy the similar views of Samos; it simply won’t be as quiet. With children that need more stimulation, this seems like a great option for fun!
Some of the best activities here will be beach lounging, mountain climbing, horseback riding, and all the historical and archeological sites that are scattered across the island.
The must-do stops while you’re exploring Crete include:
- Knossos Minoan Palace – Discovered in 1878, Knosses was once a ceremonial and political hub of Minoan civilization and culture. This palace has over 1,200 rooms and is an absolute must-see. The palace was actually destroyed by an earthquake originally, but the one you’re touring was rebuilt around 2000 BC. This second draft was even larger, and grander than the first and you can experience what all the fuss was over in the Santorini eruption.
- Psychro Cave – nearby to the Knossos Minoan Palace, this is also known as the Diktean Cave. If it weren’t for its mythological importance, the cave wouldn’t be much different from the other thousands of caves on the island. But the Psychro Cave is much more. Legend states that it was the place where the goddess Rhea gave birth to Zeus.
- Hike Mount Ida (Psiloritis) – This is the highest mountain in Crete. If you’re a climber, this is where you’ll be drawn to. It will be difficult, but you’ll be rewarded with some of the best views in all of Greece or the Mediterranean.
- Be Fancy in Elounda – This cosmopolitan part of Crete is where you’ll be if you want 5-star service. This is the row of the poshest resorts in town with private beaches, pools, and piers. This is the top area for luxury on your holiday. If you want the finer things of Crete, start here.
- Get Lost in Terapetra – A true treat to stumble upon! I was in a magical land that barely felt real as I was lost in these narrow alleyways of the old town of Terpetra. There’s also a famous fortress here called ‘Fortress of Kales,’ which is very significant in Crete, to the tourists and locals alike.
- Agios Nikolaos – Near the Mirabello Bay of eastern Crete, this small part of town is the definition of picturesque! The quaint charm is enough to make you pack your bags and move the family overseas immediately. You’ll see small cafes and boutiques, and experience all of the legends which you can feel oozing from the town’s history. One myth is that the Goddess Athena used to bathe in the almost perfectly circular body of water in town. Another myth is that the lake is bottomless. Go diving and find out for yourself!
See Arkadi Monastery – this is a site of tragedy if you’re looking for something more moving for the family to experience. In 1866, the Cretan residents, who were under Turkish rule at the time, decided to revolt. Nearly 1,000 Greeks hid in this monastery and the Turks attacks for three days until finally breaking through the gates.
The Grecians ended up blowing themselves up with barrels of gunpowder as they’d rather die than be taken siege by the Turks again. This sparked sympathy from around the world for the plight of Crete and has been a significant historical spot since the 12th century.
- Dip in Balos Lagoon – This is a stunning beach that has earned the reputation of being one of the most beautiful beaches in all of the Mediterranean. Accessible by boat or car, this beach is surrounded by turquoise water and pink sand. Arguably the most photo-worthy spot in Crete, it can be very busy in the summer months for all those insta-moments and influencers taking over the scene. Aim for late Spring or early Summer to have the place to yourself!
Explore Rethymno Old Town – One of my favorite things to do in all of Crete, this is the third largest city on the island of Crete and perhaps the most well-preserved of all the old towns on the island. A 14th-century dreamland, this cobblestone gem which sits on the seaside used to be in the hands of Venice and has the architectural influence like renaissance mansions, arches, and catholic cathedrals.
If one building can sum up Rethymno’s tumultuous history it’s the Neratze Mosque. Now it’s a mosque which stages regular music concerts! Plan your visit around a concert date and make this town one of your most special stops. The food and shopping options in Old Town are seemingly endless, but the maze-like streets can be perplexingFood on Crete is out of this world.
- Samaria Gorge National Park – this is an exhilarating trail which is 18KM for the professional hikers (around 11 miles) in total. You will see the best landscape and scenery that the island has to offer. Look out for the unique Grecian species in the forest and stay motivated by the rewarding view at the end of your trail which overlooks the Libyan Sea.
- Again – Eat! – No matter where you are in Greece, you should be eating your face off. Cretan food is unique and delicious, so pack elastic waistbands and add a food-tour to get the most out of your time. Some of the best will include the salads with fresh produce, unlike anything you’ve tasted elsewhere, cheeses which come normal or deep fried, and the warmest doughiest breads your heart can stand.
Also: Read my personal experience in Crete by clicking here.
As someone who has explored the magic of Greece, I can tell you firsthand that there is no wrong decision on where you should go.
My final opinion and tips for your family would be:
If you hate crowds, opt for Samos. It will be a more lowkey experience with fewer lines.
If you want the hustle and bustle, shopping, nightlife, and more to do – opt for Crete.
By reading my experience on Crete you will notice that I am not a fan of Crete, but I can also tell that it could be a great destination for other families.
But If you can’t decide, see them both! You’ve already traveled on a long flight to get to the country, so why not see all that it has to offer? Keep your bags close for pickpockets, and besides that, the crime rate is incredibly low in Greece.
Regardless of where you wander, be sure to savor the moment and enjoy yourself!