Shopping in Crete: An Insider's Guide

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The largest of the Greek islands, Crete is a fantastic tourist destination that has plenty in store for you. Not only is it known for its ancient ruins, stunning beaches, natural splendour and numerous restaurants, but also its many shopping spots. You would find plenty of items to shop for, especially things that are locally made, that would make for excellent souvenirs. 

Things to Buy in Crete

1. Olive Oil

Olive oil in Crete
Olive oil is undoubtedly one of the most popular souvenirs that you can buy when in Crete. Olive pressing dates back to the Minoan times, and olive oil is a major part of the Cretan diet. It comes from two varieties of olives that are grown on the island, namely tsounato and koroneiki. Not only can you find bottles of extra virgin olive oil, but it is also used to make soaps, moisturisers, pastes, beauty products, furniture conditioner etc. 

2. Cheese

Cheese in Crete
Since cheese is very commonly consumed throughout Greece, it is no surprise that Cretans love their cheese too. While feta cheese is surely quite popular, Crete is best known for Graviera cheese, that is made from sheep and goat milk; it is savoury, pungent and spicy with a slight flavour of pepper and nuts. It is often served with spices and thyme. Anthotyros, which is almost like Italian ricotta and mizithra are also popular cheeses here. 

3. Cretan Knives

Cretan knives
The Cretan knife, usually carried by Cretan mountain shepherds, is a major part of the local culture and would be a unique souvenir. It has a V-shaped design and can either be used as a weapon or in the kitchen. The ones used for cooking usually have ridges for the fingers, while the ones used in battle have a straight handle. The handles are usually made of horn, bone, olive wood etc. and often feature local poems engraved on the blade. It is advisable to buy them directly from the producer. 

4. Carob Products

Carob products
Crete is home to the largest natural carob grove in all of Europe, so carob and its products are easily available all around. Historically used to feed the soldiers or rebels who lived in the mountains, carob or rather its pod, is usually consumed dried or roasted. Moreover, it is also used to make flour, pasta, tea, biscuits, and coffee etc. as a substitute for chocolate.

5. Crafts

Cretan pots
Make sure to take home a few local crafts; Chania, where you would find the Verekinthos Arts and Crafts Village, is quite well-known for its handicrafts. A number of artisans sell items such as hand-made wood or tin toys, clay board games, ceramics, glass and metal jewellery, home decor etc. And if you’re interested, many artisans offer courses on Byzantine paintings and ceramics.  

6. Herbs

Crete herbs and spices
Herbs and spices play a key role in making the local food taste as good as it does. Rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage, paprika, cumin, cinnamon and marjoram are some of the most popular ones that you can buy here. They are used in soups, chicken, stews, vegetables etc. You can even buy dictamo or malotira, used to make Cretan mountain tea. 

7. Wine

Cretan wine
Greece is renowned for its wine and Crete too has been known to produce wine since the Minoan times. About 12 different varieties of grapes are used to make fragrant and flavourful wine here and you must definitely think of taking a bottle or two back home with you. Some of the most popular ones include Vilana and Vidiano which are white wines, Mantilari which is made from a bold grape, and Liatiko and Kotsifali which are red wines. 

8. Thyme Honey

Thyme honey
Crete is quite popular for honey that is made in different parts of the island, especially in the Sfakia region. It is made from orange blossoms, pine trees, and thyme; honey is known to have a deep orange colour, a mild taste, and is thick and fragrant. You can buy jars of honey at different markets around Crete and they would last long if kept in the dark place.

9. Desserts

Crete is an absolute treat if you have a sweet tooth and you can even take some of the local desserts back home, especially if you don’t have a long flight ahead of you. If packed well, desserts such as the zoumero (a Greek chocolate cake), kalitsounia (a small snack stuffed with lemon zest and cinnamon) and patouda (Cretan cookies with a sweet nut-based filling) and baklava can make for superb souvenirs.

10. Ceramics

Crete ceramics
As mentioned above, handmade pottery is part of the local culture and there are numerous places where you can buy ceramics or clay products. Margarites near Rethymno is one of the most popular locations where you can get such items, whether clay-coloured or with intricate designs. Cups, salad bowls, pans, plates, vases, pots, salt and pepper shakers, bowls etc. are great options for souvenirs, as are pitharias which are traditional Minoan vases used to store oil, food etc. You would however need a lot of space in your bag to take home a pitharia!

11. Komboloi

Komboloi or worry beads
Komboloi, or worry beads, are often seen in the hands of locals who play with it while conversing with others or even to relieve stress. It usually has an odd number of beads that are made of fragrant wood such as sandalwood or patchouli, or of glass, natural stone, plastic, amber, acrylic, ivory etc. House of Amber in Crete is best known for selling various kinds of komboloi. 

12. Cretan Boots

Cretan boots
Cretan boots or Stivania are great souvenirs to buy for yourself and for friends and family. Worn mostly in the mountains and in the villages by Cretans, these boots are made of high-quality leather and long lasting. They are also often worn during special occasions as part of the traditional attire worn by dancers. These boots aren’t mass produced and many them custom made so they fit perfectly; you can also have them delivered to your house!

13. Cosmetics and Beauty Products

Cretan skincare
Greece is renowned for natural beauty and skincare products that are made using local ingredients like fruits, olive oil, yoghurt, honey, oils etc. You would find many shops selling serums, oils, fragrances, moisturisers, cleansers, eye creams, balms etc. along with different kinds of makeup products made out of clean ingredients. 

14. Cretan Lyra

Cretan Lyra
A great souvenir for a music lover, the Cretan Lyra is a Greek musical instrument that is shaped like a pear, has three strings and is played using a bow. This instrument is a key component of traditional Cretan music and is said to be a descendent of the Byzantine Lyra. You would find different variations of this instrument, namely the Lyraki (a smaller version of it that resembles the one from the Byzantine era), Lyra koine (looks like the Lyraki and the traditional violin) and Vrontolyra (has a strong sound).

15. Jewellery

Cretan jewellery
Buying jewellery for yourself and your loved ones while in Crete would be an excellent idea. Greece is synonymous with silver jewellery that you can easily find in Crete. Bracelets, cuffs, earrings, necklaces, pendants, hair ornaments, pins, rings etc. are made not only in silver but also in gold, semi-precious stones, pearls, shells, gemstones, glass, wood, resins and other materials.  

16. Wool Products

Cretan woollen blankets
Artisans from Crete’s villages make wonderful woollen items that you simply must take back with you! Dating back to the Venetian occupation of the island, this tradition of hand-weaving is especially popular in the mountains where women are known for making pretty woollen products like traditional shepherd bags or bouria, table cloths and runners, covers for the bed, sofa or tables, clothes and more. These are usually in bright colours like red, green and blue. Anogia and the Old Port of Chania are two of the best places to find them.

17. Tsikoudia

Tsikoudia is a local spirit that is commonly consumed in Crete during meals. Also called raki, it is had before or after dinner and is usually served to guests. It usually pairs well with spoon sweets, fresh fruit or a savoury aperitif. Rakomelo, a variant of tsikoudia, is also a good choice. 

18. Leather Goods

Cretan leather goods
When shopping in Crete, make sure to look for leather goods. The locals picked up the art of manufacturing leather goods from the Arabs and are renowned for making durable and high-quality products such as belts, bags, jackets, wallets, purses, pouches, sandals and much more. 

19. Sariki  

The Sariki is an embroidered Cretan scarf that is wrapped around the head, with the edges left hanging, or even on the shoulders. The term Sariki comes from the Latin word “kerasikon” which signifies the overlay of the head-worn donned by Caesar to show off his power. It is of great importance to the locals as it is a symbol of the Turkish yoke here. You would find it in white and black, with the former worn during happy occasions and the latter to show mourning. 

20. Embroidered Fabrics

Crete  embroidered fabrics
Embroidered fabrics are popular handcraft that you can buy in Crete; the women living in the mountains and villages have long been making embroidered carpets, towels, tablecloths etc using hand-made lace. You can visit areas like Lasithi, Kritsa or Gavalochori to get these intricately embroidered items and watch the women at work.  

Where to Shop in Crete

When it comes to places to shop at in Crete, there are quite a few across the island. There are local markets, boutiques, souvenir shops, global high-street and designer stores and others that you can visit. 

Shopping Spots Across Heraklion

Shopping in Heraklion
  • Dikeosinis Street, 1866 Street, Dedalou Street, Kalokairinou Street: They are known for their gift shops, boutiques and markets that sell local jewellery, toys, clothes, sportswear, books etc. 
  • International brands: H&M, Marks & Spencer, Zara, Lacoste, Dior, Hugo Boss, Armani etc. are some of the international brands located here.
  • Mayaba Store: It is also a must-visit for those looking to buy handcrafts, pottery, hand paintings, jewellery and other products made by local artisans. 

Shopping Spots Across Chania

Shopping in Chania
  • Katerina Garofalaki: This is the perfect store to visit if you are looking for high quality jewellery made of gold, silver and semi precious stones. The
  • Verekinthos Arts and Crafts Village: It is another great choice if you wish to buy local handicrafts. 
  • Agora Marketplace: It is known for selling various kinds of fresh produce, canned items, fresh honey as well as inexpensive clothes and accessories. 
  • Saviodakis, Kritikos Fournos, Gramboussa Restaurant, Bougatsa Chania: These are some of Chania’s most well-known bakeries and cafes where you can buy delicious baked goods.  

Shopping in Rethymno

Shopping in Rethymno
  • Rethymno has numerous shops selling locally made beauty and skincare products.
  • Siganos: Head over to Siganos for Cretan, Greek and international wine as well as other alcoholic beverages like whiskey, gin, scotch etc.
Edible items, local wine, crafts, clothing items, jewellery and so much more are sold everywhere around Crete and are perfect as memorabilia. Make sure to keep aside plenty of time to keep your shopping done when on your trip since there are a multitude of places that you can visit, be it boutiques, small shops, galleries or high-end stores.

This post was published by Arushi Bhowmick

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