Are you planning to drive on Crete? I recommend you do, after all, it is the largest island in Greece, and it has a lot to see. My car rental Crete guide is packed with info. Including driving in Crete tips, and has my first choice booking company.
Crete is one the biggest of the Greek Islands, and there is much to do and see everywhere you go. Due to its mountainous geography, the northern coast tends to be more populated and easy to access, while many places have minimal access in the South.
However, it’s also fair to say that the southern coast of Crete is the island’s most beautiful area.
South Crete is home to spectacular beaches that would be a pity to miss just because the bus routes only reach a limited range of coastal villages. Since relying on tour companies or private transfers can prove very onerous for those eager to explore truly, there’s no better solution than renting a car to check some worthy off-the-beaten-path destinations.
Scenic mountain roads, breathtaking cliffs, winding paths, and unique coastal drives are reasons you want to rent a car to explore Crete.
Having a car and living up to your own flexible schedule allows you to stop whenever you please for a stunning picture or to unwind and take in the majestic local landscape.
With your own car, you’ll be able to forget about busy bus stations, strict timetables, and schedules that will take you away from any given beach just when it’s time to enjoy the best sunset ever.
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Driving In Crete: Basic Tips
Despite the common belief that driving in Greece can be chaotic or overwhelming, there’s nothing much to worry about getting yourself behind the wheel in the country. Nothing more than you would do when driving anywhere else in the world. There are just a few unwritten rules you must always keep in mind and use some common sense.
The National Road
The northern portion of Crete is more populated and developed, with the island’s capital, major cities, and important seaside resorts along the North Coast. Therefore, the roads are in much better condition. It’s pretty easy to move from one town to another following the only National Road (A90 or BOAK).
This highway connects the extreme west to the extreme east of the island, taking you from Kissamos to Sitia in about 4-5 hours and passing in front of Chania, Rethymnon, Heraklion, and Agios Nikolaos, Crete’s four main cities, as well as a series of important touristic coastal towns.
The road is entirely new on several different portions, and although it’s mostly a one-lane track, it’s pretty wide and in reasonably good condition. Don’t be surprised if locals use the emergency lane when they are being overtaken; it’s the norm all over Crete and probably a logical consequence of having a one-way road.
Driving In The Mountains
As we mentioned, the most famous and beautiful beaches in Crete, such as Matala or Elafonisi, are in the South. The area is also home to unique and authentic villages, archaeological sites, monasteries, and other points of interest that you will probably want to check when touring the island by car.
In order to visit some (or even all!) of these places, it will be necessary to leave the national road behind and face the adventurous mountain trails of Crete.
Driving the mountain roads is not as extreme as you could expect. Except for a few quite impressive roads, they are generally well-maintained, wide enough, and safe. You should pay attention to the following details for complete peace of mind.
The Mountain Roads In Winter
Not everybody knows that snow is expected in Crete during the cold season. Besides, especially in the west, the weather is often rainy and wet several days a week, making roads slippery or tricky.
Be aware that some roads might be closed entirely due to harsh weather conditions, so some planning ahead will certainly save you wasting time.
Another thing to consider is that rains usually provoke rocks to fall down on the road from the sides of the mountains. You can find that there are nets for protection in some places, but on every mountain road. For this reason, stones (sometimes quite big) can be found on the sides of the streets and often also in the middle, so don’t speed up and always keep alert.
A Word On Animals
Life is still pretty rural in many areas of Crete; this means animals are easy to find on the side of the road, and sometimes in the streets themselves… and with quite an indifferent attitude!
Goats and sheep are common on the local roads; it’s not odd to turn on a bend and find a herd of goats graciously resting in the middle of the road and unwilling to move away. Always pay attention and don’t speed up to not be caught by surprise.
Be as patient as possible (they will eventually move), and take advantage of the view for unique photography opportunities.
However, not everything is about goats on Crete. Many stray dogs and several cats are wandering in the villages; you need to be careful.
Traffic In Big Cities
The most important cities in Crete have heavy traffic all year long, but they can get pretty overcrowded in summer. As a matter of fact, renting a car is really the most popular way to discover Crete and the cheapest, so plenty are the tourists who rent a car and move around during the high season, thus increasing the already busy Cretan roads.
As a general rule, most tourists choose to stay close to big towns when vacationing in Crete simply because there’s more accommodation available so that traffic can become an issue.
Other than that, it’s also worth considering that many city centers turn into pedestrian areas after a particular hour during the day, which means you’ll find many cars trying to find a parking spot just outside town.
Parking in Crete
As a general rule, the most critical landmarks you will visit on Crete have a designated parking spot or at least some free parking area where you can leave your car.
In some of the most popular places, it can be customary to pay a small fee to leave your car as well.
When parking in town, always check for payment booths or ask around. When in doubt, find a traffic agent and specifically ask if payment is required. This way, you will avoid any unexpected fines.
If you don’t know the area or are unsure whether a parking spot is free, play it safe and find a private parking lot. Fees are generally fair, and it will save you the hassle of dealing with a surprising parking ticket.
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Driving In Crete: Basic Rules
In Crete, you drive on the right side of the road. For those living in countries where this rule does not apply, it is helpful to remember that cars have the right of way when coming from the right.
Road signs are not the shining star on Cretan roads. They tend to be covered by abundant local vegetation. Besides, they are usually placed way too close to the Highway exit, often resulting in the frustration of missing that exit. Yet, this can be solved with some extra attention or by using a GPS device.
Knowing beforehand how many kilometers you need to drive to reach a particular destination will keep you alert for that sign when it comes to changing roads.
Although Greek is the official language, and it’s pretty hard to understand in road signs for most foreigners, relax; the majority of local signs are also in English, making things somewhat easier for tourists on the road.
Overtaking On The Road In Crete
Cretans have a unique way of driving. They can be painfully slow when you’re driving behind them or be in a total rush when they’re going behind you. Just relax and follow these rules for safe overtaking (or to be overtaken) in Crete:
- Gently and swiftly move to the emergency lane if you see that the car behind you intends to overtake you. It’s common practice all over the island. Don’t be surprised.
- However, no matter how much of a hurry you notice the other driver might have, never allow other drivers to overtake you on a bridge or on a bend — especially if the road is curving to the right or in narrow mountain lanes.
- When you are overtaking, flash your front lines to the car ahead to let him know your intentions.
Obeying The Rules
Road travel in Crete can be a wonderful experience if you live by the rules, respect norms and regulations, and abide by speed limits. Remember not to drive and drink or use drugs, as the logic will indicate for driving in any other place in the world.
Always stay alert but not on the edge. Remember that if you relax, you’ll quickly feel more under control and more confident, even if you don’t know the roads you’re exploring.
Police controls, like speed radars and cameras, are standard during the tourist season. Just pay attention to the signs and always respect the speed limits and every other road sign you encounter.
And remember: drinking and driving are illegal; it’s always wise to consider adding an extra driver to your rental contract if you want to drink so someone else can take the wheel safely. Always discuss these terms in advance with your rental company; some of them even include a second driver in their fee, while others have additional fees.
Car Rental In Crete: Practical Information
You need to follow a few simple steps to be able to rent a car. Car rental in Crete is quite simple, and they’re only a few things to consider.
If you’re traveling during the most touristic months (July and August), booking in advance is always advisable. This way, you won’t only secure a better fee, but it will also be easier to pick a car category.
The more you book your car in advance, the more available models there will be for you to pick.
If you’re traveling on a tight budget, this is a golden rule: compact (and therefore cheaper) cars tend to be booked first, so if you wait until the last minute, you might only be able to find the most expensive models available.
Since traveling on Crete with a rental car is what most tourists do, always book in advance. Those traveling in less crowded months shouldn’t trust that they will find available vehicles easily. The season on the island is quite long, ending almost at the end of October.
Try to arrange to pick up and drop your hire car at the port or the Heraklion Airport or the Chania Airport. It’s the most comfortable thing to do if you carry a lot of luggage or travel with the children.
Some rental car companies also allow you to have a different pick-up and drop-off point; take advantage of the service if you’re arriving in one city but departing from another. Also, check this in advance before signing the rental contract.
Local rental companies offer better fees and more flexibility when renting a rental vehicle on the island. For instance, Rental Center Crete is a trusted local company offering agreeable terms, including a zero-excess full insurance policy and a transparent booking process on their website. Free mileage and an extra driver are also part of the deal. I know they have excellent customer service as I have used them myself.
Other cheap rental deals will not have car insurance, though one can be included for an extra charge.
Although driving a 4WD is not a must on this beautiful island, they can be comfortable and safe on mountain roads or dirt tracks. However, even with a small compact car, you can reach any place on the island if you’re a careful and thoughtful driver.
Documents You Need To Rent A Car In Crete
Prepare every necessary document you need some time before the departure. Allow extra time if you also need to renew any document.
The regular European driver’s license (valid, of course) is all you need to drive in Greece for European citizens.
Instead, if you come from a country outside the EU, make sure you have an international driver’s license. Don’t forget to check this with your rental company before booking.
According to Greek legislation, you must also present your country license when renting a car or in the event of police control. Please also pack your local license with your documents.
It’s also necessary to always carry an official identity document; whether it’s your European identity card or a Passport, don’t leave that one behind.
You’ll need a credit card to rent a car on the island of Crete, not a debit card. The credit card will be charged a fee to cover damages, so be sure to have funds available.
Remember, driving on Crete is one of the most beautiful experiences you can have on the island. It’s a fantastic way to collect unforgettable holiday memories and visit places you would otherwise miss.
These are my tried and trusted car hire tips to cover yourself…
Step 1: Begin with a Warm Welcome!
Hey there! So, you’re about to pick up your rental car? Exciting times ahead! First, greet the rental folks at customer support with a friendly smile – it sets a positive tone for your journey.
Step 2: Dive into the Documentation
Now, it’s paperwork time. Whether it’s done in person or they’ve just handed you a form, ensure all pre-existing dents, scratches, or issues are well-documented. If something’s missed, point it out and make sure they jot that down, too!
Step 3: Become a Car Detective 🕵️♂️
Grab your detective hat because we’re about to scrutinize every inch of that car. Here’s a handy checklist for you:
- Exterior Check: Hunt for dents and scratches – don’t let any spot go unnoticed!
- Roof and Under the Bumper: Especially sneaky spots that often get neglected! Ensure no damage is hiding there.
- Mirror Backs: Check behind those mirrors; damage here often goes unnoticed but can catch you out later
- Interiors: Look for any stains, rips, or issues in the interior of the car
- Tires: Ensure they’re in a roadworthy condition
- Fenders: Give a quick check above the wheels to make sure all is good there
Step 4: Snap Away 📸
Your phone isn’t just for selfies – it’s a tool! Photograph every angle of the car (yes, even the boring bits like the roof and undercarriage). This photographic evidence is your best friend if you have disputes when you return the car.
Step 5: Peek into the Trunk
Let’s not forget about the spare tire. Ensure it’s there and in good nick. You never know when you might need it!
Step 6: A Look at the Dashboard
Ensure the gas level and mileage match what’s recorded on your paperwork. If not, back to the agent you go!
Step 7: Off You Go!
Now that you’ve got everything checked and recorded, it’s time to hit the road. Remember to store all your documents and evidence safely!
Step 8: The Return
And as every journey ends, ensure to return the car with the gas at the agreed level and be present for the return inspection if possible.
Pro tip: When you return the car, why not do a quick photo session just like when you started? This way, you have a clear record of the car’s condition upon return, avoiding any potential discrepancies later on.
Bonus Tip: Drive Safe, Always!
Navigating through your holiday destination, remember to drive safely and adhere to local road rules. Explore, create beautiful memories, and enjoy every moment on your holiday roads! 🚗🗺️
Remember, this guide isn’t just practical; it’s your ticket to a stress-free car rental experience, ensuring your focus stays where it should be: on your thrilling adventures ahead. Happy driving!
Just follow some common-sense rules, respect the local laws, and conform to the island’s road etiquette; you won’t regret a minute of it!