Here is all the Crete travel advice that you need. We’ve got a list of things to do in Crete and the top Crete, Greece sites.
The largest but less famous of the Greek Islands is Crete. Ideal for visiting along with Santorini or Mykonos. Crete’s size offers plenty to do, no matter how long you plan to stay on the island of Crete. From ancient history and incredible Old Harbors to the most epic Cretan beaches with breathtaking sunsets or the cute cobblestone streets and corridors to get lost in.
On Crete, you will find enchanting villages tucked between mountains, gorgeous wineries, and delicious Greek cuisine. Four days is the perfect amount of time, while others stay weeks and still have more to explore.
For a little more adventure, spend the day hiking and end the day relaxing at one of the many Cretan beaches. This Greek gem is absolutely worth the visit.
Skip Ahead To My Advice Here!
What Type Of Crete Vacation Do I Want To Have
You can have various types of vacations when visiting anywhere, and Crete is no exception. Vacation and traveling can mean totally different things for some people. Some choose to stay at a cosmopolitan-style beach resort others choose quaint Greek villages.
If you can do both, definitely go for it; you won’t regret it and will thank me later. Renting a car in Crete is also such a great option. You can experience it all at your leisure, and driving around is a breeze. Enjoy the beautiful coast and go through the fantastic mountainous countryside to the next gorgeous destination on this enchanting Greek island.
What Part Of Crete To Stay In
If you only have a few days, stay in Chania’s Old Venetian Harbor. From there, you can go on any day tours as it is centrally located to most of Crete’s highlights. It can be a little touristy, but it is never so overcrowded that it is uncomfortable, and prices are lower than other Greek islands.
Lined along the Harbor and right on the water are so many restaurants to choose from. Along with being the best area to have a glass of wine, people watch and catch the sunset. The Mediterranean Sunsets are nothing short of magic, either. Another option is to stay in the more petite but still gorgeous Harbor of Rethymno, which still boasts beauty and fun but on a smaller scale.
Sometimes this can be the most daunting part of any vacation, the planning. There are several must-do excursions in Crete in no particular order; you’ll find a list of these to add to your holiday. Depending on if you decide to rent a car or not, I would plan any tours you are interested in ahead of time or with your hotel concierge upon arrival. If you have a car, no plans are the best plans. Go at your own pace and make as many stops along the way at some of the many beautiful beaches or cute villages you might find.
Arrival Day is always the most intense day. You just got off a plane, the excitement has been surging through you the whole time, and a glass of wine is waiting for you somewhere; meanwhile, you want to unpack and freshen up. It can be a lot, so having no plans and easing into the next few days is perfect for arrival day. Once you’re settled in, cruise the Harbor for a place to eat and get ready to take on your first official day in Crete tomorrow.
The next few days can be done as day trips to some of Crete’s highlights, such as Elafonissi Beach, the Samira Gorge, and Balos Beach, to name a few. There are so many other beaches and corridors of Crete to explore if you need something else to fit your fancy.
Also known as The Pink Beach, Elafonissi is something out of this world, and it is the most expansive beach in Crete. Its pink sand is uncommon not just because it’s pink sand but because it actually has sand, unlike many other beaches in Greece. Elafonissi is also an island that is connected by a lagoon and shore.
The water is also so shallow you can walk across the different sides. Start your day as early as possible. The sun beds and umbrellas fill up by mid-morning. However, because of the size, you can keep walking and find privacy somewhere, but there may not be shade. This can be a problem during the high-heat summer months. There is also a wind tunnel at the beach, so prepare for wind-blown beach hair. If you start early, you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the city in the evening and catch another epic sunset in the Old Harbor.
How To Get To Elafonissi Beach
There are a few different ways to get to Elafonisi. The first option is to join a tour that usually makes a couple of stops while driving along the Topolia Gorge. There is typically a stop at Agia Sofia Cave which some call the Cave of the Gods. Agia Sofia has a unique tiny monastery built into the side of a cave and is pretty cool to check out. Most tours will also stop at a Taverna on the way back to refuel with food and drinks.
Tours are generally an all-day activity, but stopping at other destinations you usually would miss is nice. The second option is if you decide to rent a car. This allows you to go at your own pace and makes for such a good adventure driving around as a local. It gives you a totally different perspective and can be a lot of fun. Plus you’re not arriving as all the other tour companies. The Final option is public transportation. Although it is easy to use public transit in Crete and can be inexpensive, it is a much longer day at just the beach. Buses leave very early and return at 4 pm or 5 pm, which is a long time to stay in the Med sun and salt water, especially if you didn’t snag an umbrella.
The longest Gorge in all of Europe at 16 km/10 miles and dropping 5,000 feet, this incredible natural wonder is not only a National Park but is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Even being part of the world’s biosphere reserve. The 16km/10ml hike lasts approximately 5-6 hours. But don’t be intimidated by its lengthy trek; it is downhill for the most part, and this excursion is that of a lifetime. It sounds intimidating with the early morning wake-up call, the two-hour drive, not to mention the 10 miles on foot ahead of you. However, there is nothing quite like it, and if adventure and hiking are your thing, make sure you add the Samaria Gorge to your to-do list.
How To Get To Samaria Gorge
If you have a car, you can quickly head out whenever, enjoy the scenic view, and still have time to add a little something extra to the entire experience on the way back. However, after the long day ahead, it might be nice to have a driver waiting for you at the end of the trek and book this as a tour experience instead.
The end of the hike leads you to the village of Agia Roumeli at the shore of the Libyan sea, which is a bonus in itself. The village is a place accessible only by foot or boat. Tours usually allow 2-3 hours of free time here. It’s the perfect opportunity to stop at a Taverna for a bite to eat and a celebratory glass of wine for making it to the finish line.
Much like Elafonisi Beach, Balos is nothing short of spectacular and remains relatively unspoiled. The scenery at Balos has you asking yourself if this is real life. Its soft white sand, shallow waters, and majestic blue colors make it a fun day for the entire family. However, choosing which beach suits you can be challenging if your time in Crete is limited since each beach is epic in its own way.
Another reason I highly recommend renting a car in Crete is for just that. To jump from beach to beach and go anywhere at your leisure. However, if renting a car isn’t your cup of tea, there is a tour you can take to visit Balos. Yes, another tour! The upside of tours is a lot of the planning is already done. You don’t have to think about anything; you show up, and for this specific activity, there are plenty of pros in taking a tour here. The downside of a beach tour is, again, it is a very long time to be in the sometimes blistering heat at the beach waiting for your pickup to return.
How To Get To Balos Beach
Getting to Balos can be a little stressful, but still totally doable. Driving a rental car can get nerve-wracking for the last ten km/6 miles because there is no paved road. After that, you will need to hike to the actual beach, which takes around 20-30 minutes. This is why Balos is the one place I recommend a tour over having a car unless your rental insurance covers off-roading (most do not).
Most tours to Balos last anywhere from 10-12 hours; however, you don’t have to worry about off-roading or hiking to the beach. Instead, you take a boat there! For part of the tour, you have free time to spend on the island of Gramvousa before going to your final destination, Balos Beach, to spend another couple of hours. Lastly, you can get to Balos by public bus to the port of Kissamos. From there, a ferry takes you to Balos. The ferry also stops at Gramvousa island and then arrives at Balos.
This island is an underrated treat. It is an uninhabited island with more beautiful turquoise water and a unique and lonely shipwreck to explore. If you don’t plan to go to Balos, you can still take the ferry to see Gramvousa Island, where you will find a quaint and beautiful Greek Orthodox Church. You can also take a small hike to admire the island’s Venetian Castle.
Knossos Palace & Ruins + Heraklion Archaeological Museum
You will, at some point, make your way over to eastern Crete and reach Heraklion. It is one of the main ports of transportation. When you do, Knossos is definitely something to consider seeing. Encompassed by a palace is the city of Knossos, which had a population of 100,000 in the 18th century BC. The ruins of the Minoan time that remain are fascinating. The palaces and cities surrounding them blur the lines between facts and Greek mythology.
Tickets for the ruins can be combined with the Archaeological Museum. Plan on a fascinating day filled with history and learning about the oldest civilization in Europe. Going to the Museum first and then the Ruins is recommended to get a better idea of what exactly you’re looking at. Hiring a guide or taking a self-guided audio tour is also recommended. Of course, you could always wonder about yourself; however, you won’t know what you’re looking at or its significance.
How To Get To Knossos Palace & Ruins
Located roughly 20 minutes from Heraklion, it is a short bus ride to Knossos Ruins & the Museum. The transportation in Crete is so easy to use that taking a bus here is a good idea. It gives you another adventure to go home with, being on a bus in Crete. Another option is visiting on a pre-booked tour and being picked up at your hotel or a central meeting location. Of course, you can always make time to do this excursion on your way in or out of town if you have a rental car.
Day Trip to Rethymno
Rethymno is between Heraklion and Chania and is arguably one of Crete’s most beautiful destinations. Like Chania, there is an Old Venetian Harbor, too, but much smaller than its sister harbor. Even though it is smaller than Chania, great restaurants and cafes are lined along the Harbor, beaches, Churches, and cobblestone alleys that can be likened to a maze. Start with a one-of-a-kind view as you walk along the walls of the Old Venetian Fortezza or fortress. Next, refill your water bottle at the Rimondi Fountain, a still-functioning Venetian drinking fountain from the 16th century. Finish the day by taking a stroll down the Old Town streets and stopping for local food and handicrafts to take home with you.
Suppose you are staying longer than a day in Rethymno. In that case, the Arkadi Monastery is a breathtaking piece of history located only about 20 minutes from the Old Town.
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When Is The Best Time To Go To Crete
Anywhere in the Mediterranean is always a great place to visit year-round; Greece is no exception. In particular, Crete is marvelous, starting mid-May through June as the shoulder season begins. Temperatures start to rise, the weather is ideal for fun beach days, and the crowds aren’t as heavy yet, either.
The entire summer is a typical time to visit the Greek Islands. The warm weather and water temps are more than ideal throughout October, making Crete known as one of Greece’s warmer islands. However, if Summer doesn’t suit you, there is still much to do and see during the low season. Churches, museums, monasteries, and road trips to other quaint towns are lovely times, no matter the season.