There are so many opportunities to celebrate summer in Crete it is no wonder this is the most popular period to visit the island. Good music, endless dances and festival culture under the full moon, next to the sea, within vineyards and on the top of the mountains.
We made a list with some of the most important summer festivals and events of the island (according to our subjective opinion), but we advise you to also explore the numerous ‘unlisted’ traditional feasts that take place in the picturesque villages of Crete, as well as the Municipal summer festivals of the island’s main cities featuring a variety of cultural events in Venetian monuments and other historical venues (such as Fortezza in Rethymno, the Venetian walls in Heraklion and Chania).
Keep your ears open for words of mouth information, ask the locals and don’t forget to check out our agenda to find out ‘what’s on now’.
Enjoy a cretan-cultural summer!
Classical Music Festival ‘Casa Dei Mezzo’ (26 June – 2 July, Makrigialos)
Classical music festivals are rare in this country anyway (not to mention on an island) but this is only one of the facts that makes this festival special. How often do you have the chance to listen to high quality classical music under the summer sky, in a beautiful house set within vineyards and a view to the sea and the fishing village of Makrigialos. Soloists, baritones, sopranos, small music groups that come here every year from all over Europe to accompany the ‘other’ native soloists (cicadas and crickets). The experience is magical, even if you are not a fan of classical music. We owe this initiative to Gunnar Strømsholm, inspirer and organizer of this unique summer event, supported by the local community. Those who want to enjoy classical music mixed with the refreshing summer winds in an open air concert are many, so make sure you make reservations early.
Wine Festival (4-14 July, village of Dafnes)
The village of Dafnes is one of the most important wine-making centers of the island, and this alone is a reason to celebrate. Wine Festival is organized here every summer since 1976 with traditional feasts, music and dances. You will also find cheap treats and most importantly: abundant wine for free. Yes, for free! What more do you want?
Invisible City (5-7 July, Heraklion)
For those who are ‘within the city walls’ (literally) in the first weekend of July, an ‘invisible city’ will be revealed before their eyes. A unique festival organized by local citizen groups (such as representatives of the architect association and the archaeological service) that celebrates public spaces and people’s relation to them. This summer the theme is “e-quality” and the organizers will shed light in one more ‘invisible’ historical corner of the city, the district of Lakkos. Art events, exhibitions, installations, tours and other actions will bring a new ‘air’ to breathe through the urban summer heat. Details about the program will be published soon, but for now, save the dates!
Mediterranean Festival of Sitia (6-7 July, Sitia)
A new-but-promising festival is organized for the first time this year in the scenic town of Sitia. With Ross Daly and the ‘Labyrinth Musical Workshop’ at the wheel of the artistic direction, we have no doubt for its quality and success. The program also features well-known local musicians (S. Petrakis, G. Manolakis, K. Thoma ect), musicians from other parts of the world (Egypt, Italy, Spain, Iran, France) and bazaars/exhibitions with local artists and producers. This festival is also a good chance to visit the isolated and beautiful places of eastern Crete and a good starting point for day trips like this one.
Summer eco-meeting ‘En Oiko’ (12-14 July, Heraklion)
A unique three-day meeting is organized for the past few years at Georgiadis Park, right in the center of Heraklion, inviting us to explore alternative lifestyles. ‘En Oiko’ is probably the most popular and most interesting summer event of Heraklion. The park is filled with life: tents and benches with handmade products, open seminars and workshops, screenings and discussions, everything centered on a common theme and vision: ecology, autonomy, self-organization and self-sufficiency, an alternative approach of life. The Summer Eco-meeting invites people to try and buy ecological products and handmade creations directly from their producers and craftsmen. Focusing on eco-handicrafts and eco-farming and using materials that are friendly to humans and the environment, the people that participate in the meeting actively promote the values and pleasures of personal creation and a healthy diet. Those who make up the meeting “En Oiko” are not members of an established association, but individuals who work collectively and share the idea of a self-organized society.
This year the meeting will focus on transmitting practical knowledge, so all participants are invited to give and/or attend thematic workshops on subjects such as how to grow your own vegetables or make your own soap. Thematic ‘villages’ will be created, including one for children and a therapeutic village where you will learn how to take care of your own body. Each day concludes with a musical feast and you will also find good food and wine at the self-organized kitchen.
Pottery Festival in Thrapsano (~17 July, Thrapsano)
The village of Thrapsano has been one of the most important pottery centers of Crete for centuries. Potters from Thrapsano travelled all around the island every year to make the huge vessels and pots that made them famous. This centuries-old pottery tradition continues and is celebrated every summer in its place of origin on a day around the 17th of July (when St. Marina is celebrated) in a three day festival. Apart from the usual music and dances, you will see pottery making on the spot as local artists make their creations on clay. In some occasions you may also test your pottery skills. The feast is set at the yard of the historical school of the village, where you can see the inscriptions and drawings of German Nazis, a leftover of the occupation, as well as the clay creations of the students. A centuries-old tradition, we repeat.
Xanthoudidia Festival (July - September, Avdou)
The always active cultural association of Avdou organizes the ‘xanthoudidia’ Festival every summer and gives you an extra reason to visit this semi-mountainous village, which is lovely and scenic anyway. Traditional feasts and concerts are set on the village squares, tables with traditional treats prepared by village women, theatres and much more. The greatest thing about this festival though is the friendly atmosphere created by the young people of the village and a good time is guaranteed.
Festivalaki (24-25 July, Heraklion)
One of the new city festivals that focuses on Cretan culture of the past and present, organized for the second time this summer at the heart of the Venetian walls (Vitouri Gate). Concerts and dances, art exhibitions, screenings, workshops and much more, all focused on the island of Crete. What is innovative about this festival is that the audience is invited to actively participate in the design and content of the events and the program. At this moment citizens’ photos are collected through an open call to set a photo exhibition under the theme ‘The Man of Crete’ and there is also an open call to artists to exhibit their work. You still have time to apply!
Yakinthia (25-28 July, Anogia)
The ‘Orthodox saint of love’ Agios Yakinthos was the source of inspiration for the annual festival of “Yakinthia”, one of the most popular summer festivals of Crete that attracts visitors and artists from around the island, country and the Mediterranean. The three day festival takes place at the last week of July every year at the same place: the picturesque stone-made amphitheatre up the mountain of Psiloritis, a few kilometers from the village of Anogia, with the wild Cretan landscape and the starry sky as its background. In the same area the small chapel of Agios Yakinthos was built in the shape of a traditional Cretan shepherd’s hut, called mitato: a circular building with a dome made of flat stones whose design was inspired by Late Minoan architecture. The festival has a different theme every year and focuses on the traditions and culture of Crete and other Mediterranean cultures, including tributes to great Greek artists, with the participation of Greek and foreign groups and artists. Your experience will be completed with the raki, cheese, olives and traditional sweets sold in the exhibition area at the entrance. We must note that last year’s organization was inferior compared to other years –maybe due to the crisis- but we hope that this year the festival will regain its fame and glory!
Houdetsi Festival (1-4 August, Houdetsi)
Houdetsi Festival is organized every year by Ross Daly’s ‘Labyrinth Musical Workshop’ and is evolving to one of the best music festivals of the island. For four days the village squares are filled with music from Crete, Middle East and the Mediterranean, traditional feasts, open bazaars with high quality local products and much more. An open air music scene with many stages varying from traditional music to experimental (for example, here you can listen to a medieval instrument that you’ve probably never seen before, combined with the sound of lyra, resulting in a magical effect) improvised feasts and dances, a multinational audience and a multicultural atmosphere. We had a great time last year and we can’t wait for this year’s organization!