Cretan Music

Cretan music is part of the island’s soul and visitors will hear live music wherever they go, with several distinctive Cretan musical instruments and songs.

Greek musical instruments in a shop windowGreek Musical Instruments for Sale

'Tell me with a laugh, tell me with a cry,
Tell me you do not love me: What care I?'

Even the great Cretan novelist Nikos Kazantzakis wrote song lyrics, so deeply embedded is music in the Cretan soul. This extract is from the most common type of Cretan song, the mantinada. These are rhyming couplets containing 15 syllables, often expressing extremes of joy and sadness. The form goes back to the 5th century BC but shows later western and especially eastern influences. During Venetian rule in Crete, many musicians came to the island from Constantinople and beyond.

Types of Cretan Music

Other types of music include rizitika, or rebel music, most often played at weddings, baptisms and other feasts, and erotokriti, which are folk songs derived from the 10,000-line epic of the same name written by Vitsentzos Kornáros.

Greek musical instruments in a museumGreek Musical Instruments

Types of Cretan Musical Instruments

The main instrument is the lyra, a three-stringed instrument traditionally made of mulberry wood and played on the knee like an upright violin. Backed by the laouto (lute) and tambouras (bouzouki) it is the true sound of Crete.

Hearing Cretan Musical Instruments

When we stayed at the Dalabelos Estate we were lucky enough to hear the owner playing some of his collection of Cretan musical instruments. Read our review of the hotel here, and see our two videos on YouTube.

Cretan Musical Masters

The music shops of Irakleio are a good source of authentic Cretan music. Names to look out for include Nikos Xilouris (one of the greatest players of them all), and his brother Antonis, known as Psarantonis.

Thanassis Skordalos is another contender for the title of 'the greatest', and you’ll also find shops making and selling traditional musical instruments, if you want to try playing one for yourself.

Libyan Music on Crete

Don't miss our YouTube video of when we met a Libyan musician and recorded him playing Libyan music, with many similarities to Cretan music.

Where to Stay on Crete


Other Crete pages

  • Best Things to Do on Crete

    The best things to do on Crete and top things to see include the Samaria Gorge, the Minoan Palaces at Knossos and Phaistos, the towns of Chania and Rethymnon.

  • Crete

    Crete (Kriti) is the largest Greek island and its main attractions include the Minoan Palace of Knossos, the Samarian Gorge, Chania and Rethymnon.

  • Best Crete Hotels

    The best Crete hotels include 5-star luxury hotels, historic and romantic Venetian palaces, and several hotels in Hania and Iraklion.

  • Our Hire Car in Crete

    The travel tale Our Hire Car in Crete describes what it’s like when you go driving in Greece and get off the beaten track, resulting in kindnesses.

  • Crete Festivals and Events

    Crete festivals and events include Carnival Easter, Whitsun, Christmas, many other religious feast days and public holidays.

  • Knossos

    Visiting Knossos near Iraklion is one of the best things to do on Crete, and this page has a history of the site with visitor information.

  • Sir Arthur Evans, archaeologist at Knossos on Crete

    Sir Arthur Evans is the archaeologist famous for the excavations he made at the royal palace of Knossos on Crete.

  • Diktean Cave, the Birthplace of Zeus near Psychro on Crete

    The Diktean or Diktaean Cave, also known as the Psychro Cave, near the village of Psychro in eastern Crete, is said to be the birthplace of Zeus.

  • Arkadi Monastery

    Visiting the Arkadi Monastery near Rethymnon is one of the best things to do on Crete.

  • Battle of Crete

    The Battle of Crete during World War 2 inspired several books and took place with an airborne invasion over Maleme on the north coast of the island.

  • Samaria Gorge

    The Samaria Gorge is one the longest gorges in Europe and doing the hike is one of the best and most popular things to do on Crete.

  • Maleme and the German War Cemetery on Crete

    Maleme near Chania is where the people who died during the battle of Crete are buried, in the German War Cemetery with the Commonwealth War Cemetery nearby.

  • Malia and its Minoan Palace on Crete

    Malia on the north coast of Crete is renowned for its nightlife and beaches but also has the Minoan Palace of Malia, one of Crete's many archaeological sites.

  • Phaistos Minoan Palace on Crete

    Greece Travel Secrets page on Phaistos or Faistos, the site of one of the finest Minoan palaces on Crete and is where the mysterious Phaistos Disc was found.

  • Agios Nikolaos

    Agios Nikolaos is a pretty and popular town on the north coast of Crete and this page on Greece Travel Secrets covers its history, museums and beaches.

  • Chania, in Western Crete

    Chania is the main city in Western Crete with a lovely setting and a beautiful harbour as well as several museums.

  • Rethymnon in Western Crete

    Rethymnon is the third-largest city in Crete and has a Venetian fortress, Archaeological Museum, Old Town area and Venetian harbour,

  • Ancient Gournia Minoan Site in Eastern Crete

    Ancient Gournia is a Minoan archaeological site between Agios Nikolaos and Sitia in Eastern Crete where the visitor can see evidence of a maze of back streets.

  • Gortina ancient archaeological site in southern Crete

    Ancient Gortina is an archaeological site in southern Crete famous for the church of Ayios Titos and for the Law Code inscribed here, the first in Europe.

  • Elounda and Spinalonga, setting for The Island by Victoria Hislop

    Elounda on Crete's north coast is a popular holiday town with a pretty harbour, from where you can take day trips by boat to see the island of Spinalonga.

  • Hiking the Samaria Gorge

    Hiking the Samaria Gorge on Crete, one of the best things to do on Crete, by Greece Travel Secrets.

  • How to Make Petimezi

    How to make Petimezi, the sweet Cretan syrup made from wine must, is explained to Greece Travel Secrets.

  • Hiking in Southwest Crete

    Greece Travel Secrets goes hiking in southwest Crete with Ramblers Walking Holidays based in Paleohora and hiking the E4 footpath and to Anidri and Azogires.

  • Touring the Lyrarakis Winery on Crete

    Greece Travel Secrets tours the Lyrarakis Winery on Crete and learns about Crete grape varieties such as plyto, dafni, vidiano, vilana, mandilari and kotsifali.

  • Making Rakomelo on Crete

    Greece Travel Secrets visits Crete and learns about making rakomelo from Jorgos Kourmoulis in Agouseliana.

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