Knossos was undeniably the capital of Minoan Crete. It is grander, more complex, and more flamboyant than any of the other palaces known to us, and it is located about twenty minutes south of the modern port town of Iraklio.
Knossos was inhabited for several thousand years, beginning with a neolithic settlement sometime in the seventh millennium BC, and was abandoned after its destruction in 1375 BC which marked the end of Minoan civilization. The first palace on the low hill beside the Krairatos river was built around 1900 BC on the ruins of previous settlements. It was destroyed for the first time along with the other Protopalatial palaces around Crete at 1700 BC, probably by a large earthquake or foreign invaders. It was immediately rebuilt to an even more elaborate complex and until its abandonment was damaged several times during earthquakes, invasions, and in 1450 BC by the colossal volcanic eruption of Thera, and the invasion of Mycenaeans who used it as their capital as they ruled the island of Crete until 1375 BC.
Arthur Evans, the British Archaeologist who excavated the site in 1900 AD restored large parts of the palace in a way that it is possible today to appreciate the grandeur and complexity of a structure that evolved over several millennia and grew to occupy about 20,000 square meters. Walking through its complex multi-storied buildings one can comprehend why the palace of Knossos was associated with the mythological labyrinth.
The palace found at Malia is the third largest palace of Minoan Crete after Knossos and Phaistos. It occupies 7500 square meters at the edge of a fertile valley near Hersonissos in Northern Crete. The palace's proximity to the sea was obviously important in the development of the site into a cultural hub for its ancient inhabitants. It was first built around 1900 BC, a time of feverish development for the entire island population. It subsequently followed the same cycle as the other palaces of the time, and it was destroyed by unknown reasons around 1650 before it was immediately rebuilt.
Found above the village of Psichro on the Lassithi Plateau, these are a famous tourist attraction in Crete.
According to local myth, the god Zeus was brought here by his mother to escape his father Cronos.
The climb to the caves is quite hard work and decent shoes are recommended (there are donkeys to help for 10 Euros, but I'd have felt guilty, as the donkeys looked pretty miserable anyway), but the views from the cave entrance were great, and the caves themselves were a welcome shelter from the hot sun (although to be honest actual cave formation weren't much to write home about)... there are a couple of bars/tavernas around the car-park to refresh you after your climb back down again.
The Lassithi Plateau is Crete's most fertile plateau, at 800 m above sea level, surrounded by the Dikti mountain range, and is famous for its traditional windmills which were used until 1970's to pump water for irrigation.
The region was really beautiful, with a number of small pretty villages which we didn't stop at, but continued onto the famous Dikti Caves
There is no shortage of car hire companies in Malia. The roads are full of mopeds and quad-bikes, which looked like fun but we chose to hire a Jeep so we could go further afield in (relative!) comfort. Jeep was fun to drive, but in hindsight a car may have been easier to drive round the mountainous curving roads. Forget the Western side of Crete if you're based in Malia or Agios as it's further than it looks on the map, although roads were generally better than I expected.
Try to go to the beautiful palm beach of Vai on the north-eastern tip of Crete...and best food I had was in a taverna in Palaikastro town square on the way to Vai.