2020 Car Rental Crete & Driving In Crete Tips

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Driving In Crete: 2020 Car Rental Crete & Driving In Crete Tips

Crete is one the biggest of the Greek Islands, and there is a lot 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 there are many places with very limited access in the South. However, it’s also fair to say that the southern coast of Crete is the most beautiful area of the island. 

South Crete is home to spectacular beaches that it 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 transfer can prove very onerous for those eager to truly explore, 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 some of the reasons you will 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 simply 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. 

Driving In Crete: Basic Tips

Guide To Where To Stay In Crete, Greece

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. There are just a few unwritten rules you need to keep in mind at all times and use some common sense. Nothing more than you would do when driving anywhere else in the world.

Driving in Crete also follows this logic. There are some pet peeves you should take into account, but nothing as bad as to prevent you from exploring the island in utter freedom. 

The National Road

The northern portion of Crete is more populated and developed area 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 quite easy to move from one city to the other following the only National Road (known as 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 quite 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 before, the most famous and beautiful beaches in Crete, such as Matala or Elafonisi, are located 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, in general, well maintained, wide enough, and safe. For complete peace of mind, though, you should pay attention to the following details.

The Mountain Roads In Winter

Not everybody is aware that snow is quite common in Crete during the cold season. Besides, especially on the west, the weather is often rainy and wet for several days in a week, which can make roads slippery or a bit tricky. 

Be aware that some roads might be completely close 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 a common sight 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 so as not to be caught by surprise. 

Be as patient as you can (they will eventually move), and take advantage of the view for some unique photography opportunities. 

However, not everything is about goats on Crete. Many stray dogs and several cats are wandering in the villages; you just need to be careful. 

Traffic In Big Cities

The most important cities on Crete have heavy traffic all year long, but in summer they can get pretty overcrowded. As a matter of fact, renting a car is really the most popular way to discover Crete as well as 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, that means you’ll find many cars trying to find a parking spot just outside town.

Parking in Crete

As a general rule, the most important 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 it comes to parking in town, always check for payment booths or ask around. When in doubt, find a traffic agent and specifically ask is payment is required. This way, you will avoid any unexpected fines. 

If you don’t know the area or are not sure whether a parking spot is free or not, play it safe and find a private parking lot. Fees are in general convenient, and it will save you the hassle of dealing with a surprising parking ticket.

Driving In Crete: Basic Rules

Guide To Where To Stay In Crete, Greece - Agios Nikolaos

In Crete, you drive on the right side of the road. For those living in countries when this rule does not apply, it is useful 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 the 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 using a GPS device. 

Even knowing beforehand how many kilometers you need to drive to reach a certain destination will keep you alert for that sign when it comes to the moment to change roads.

Although Greek is the official language, and it’s quite hard to understand in road signs for most foreigners, relax, the majority of local signs are also in English, making things fairly 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 driving 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 the 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, on a bend — especially if the road is curving to the right, or in narrow mountain lanes.
  • When the one overtaking is you, flash your front lines to the car ahead to let him know your intentions. 

Obeying The Rules

Guide To Where To Stay In Crete, Greece - Elafonisi Lagoon

Road travel in Crete can be a wonderful experience if you live by the rules, respect norms and regulations, and abide to 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 easily feel more under control and more confident even if you don’t know the roads you’re exploring.

Police controls are common during the touristic season, the same as speed radars and cameras. 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 a bit more during your holiday. Always discuss these terms in advance with your rental company, some of them even include a second driver in their fee.

Car Rental In Crete: Practical Information

Where To Stay In Greece To Avoid The Crowds - ISOLATED VILLAGE IN SOUTH CRETE

You just need to follow a few simple steps so as 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), it’s always advisable to book in advance. This way, you won’t only secure a better fee, but it will be easier for you to pick a car category. 

The more in advance you book your car, 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.

Those traveling in less crowded months shouldn’t trust that they will find available cars easily. The season on the island is quite long, ending almost at the end of October. Since traveling on Crete with a rental car is what most tourists do, always book in advance.

Try to make arrangements to pick and drop your car at the port or the airport. It’s the most comfortable thing to do if you carry a lot of luggage, or travel with the children. 

Some car rental companies also allow you to have a different point of pick up and drop off, take advantage of the service if you’re arriving in one city but departing from another one. Also, check this in advance before signing the rental contract.

Local companies tend to offer better fees and more flexibility when renting a car on the island. For instance, Rental Center Crete is a trusted local company offering convenient terms, including a zero excess insurance policy and a very transparent booking process on their website. Free mileage and an extra driver are also part of the deal.

Although driving a 4WD is not a must on the island, they can be comfortable and safe when driving on the mountain roads or some 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.

For European citizens, the regular European driver’s license (valid, of course), it all you need to drive in Greece.

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 the Greek legislation, you must also present your own 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.

A credit card is another thing you’ll need to rent a car on the island. Also, check this in advance when booking your vehicle.

Remember, driving on Crete is one of the most beautiful experiences you can live on the island. It’s a fantastic way to collect unforgettable memories of your holiday and to visit places that you would be otherwise missing. 

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!

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