Greece › Crete › Tours
by Santorini Dave • Updated: January 18, 2023
The 12 Best Tours in Crete
1. Heraklion Food Walking Tour
Food & walking tours are my favorite way to explore a new city and this is a good one. Heraklion is not as picturesque as Chania but it’s loaded with true Greek character, gritty charm, and great traditional Cretan food. This is the best Heraklion tour.
2. Chania Old Town Highlights with Street Food
Great tour of Chania’s wonderful Old Town and its sights, culture, history, and best places to eat. Highly recommended. This is the best Chania tour.
3. Hiking Tour of Samaria Gorge
Walking the 18 km gorge is the activity highlight of Crete. It’s a little tricky to arrange on your own but with a tour they get you from your hotel to the start of the hike – then pick you up at the other end of the gorge (after a short ferry ride) and return you back to your hotel. There’s a tour guide and a couple of other interesting stops that you wouldn’t do on your own. Free hotel pickup from these towns: Chania, Heraklion, Rethymnon, Agios Nikolaos, Elounda, Hersonissos, Georgioupolis, Sissi, Milatos, Matala, Agia Galini, Malia, and Stalida. (Click “Book Now” and then select your departure town.)
4. Boat Cruise to Balos Lagoon & Gramvousa
The popular Balos Beach Tour is a 7 hour round trip onboard a large boat with indoor and outdoor seating, bathrooms, and a small snack bar serving ice cream, cold drinks, and beer on tap. The ride is roughly an hour in each direction, with 4 hours at Balos Lagoon, and a one hour stop during the return, at Gramvousa Island, where you can choose between a short hike to the hilltop Venetian fort, walking out toward the large shipwreck, or swimming at the gorgeous beach. There are also luxurious private boat tours from Chania and from Kissamos.
5. Wine and Olive Oil Tour (from Chania)
A wonderful 6-hour tour that explores the local farms and wineries of western Crete. Lots of food, olive oil, and wine tastings (but still kid-friendly).
6. Authentic Cooking Class in the White Mountains (from Chania)
Make and enjoy delicious Cretan cuisine at a traditional family home. Learn firsthand about local culture and history while sampling homemade wine and enjoying beautiful views over the foothills of the White Mountains. This small, hands-on group tour is great for kids, with exceptionally welcoming family hosts. Includes free transportation from Chania.
7. Boat Tour to Santorini
Santorini is the most amazing island in Greece. This one-day tour involves a ferry trip (2 hours each way) and about 7 hours on Santorini to explore Fira, Oia, and the fantastic views of the caldera. (This is a worthwhile tour but if you can stay overnight on Santorini you’ll see much more of the island. I typically do not recommend day trips to other islands as they’re a poor use of time, but I make an exception for Santorini as it’s so unique and memorable.)
8. Elafonisi Island Day Trip (from Chania)
Elafonisi is the best beach on Crete (maybe the best beach in Greece). It’s pretty easy to get there on your own with local buses but the tour makes it effortless and you get to stop at some local villages along the way. There’s also an Elafonisi tour that departs from Rethymnon.
9. Cretan Wine Tasting Tour & Gourmet Lunch (from Heraklion)
Great tour with lunch, 15 wine tastings, several olive oil samples, and multiple vineyard tours.
10. Day Tour to Spinalonga, Agios Nikolaos, Elounda, and Plaka (from Heraklion)
A 10-hour tour that takes in the highlights of eastern Crete.
11. The Real Crete (from Rethymnon)
Excellent small-group tour of some of central Crete’s top sights. Good local insight and history.
12. Knossos Archaeological Tour
Good tour if you’re based in Heraklion, Agios Nikolaos, Elounda, Rethymnon, or one of the nearby beach towns. Start with Knossos (one of the best historical sites in Greece and a personal favorite of mine) then tour Heraklion and learn the history of the island. 10 hours long and includes hotel pickup and drop-off. There is also an excellent private tour of Knossos from Heraklion.
Going to Crete for 3 nights. Then on to Santorini. We were thinking to stay in Elounda. Porto Elounda. Then we can take bus into Chania? Should we rent a car for a day? See Elafonsi and Knossos?
Chania is wonderful but is a 3 hour drive (or 4 hours and 2 different buses) from Elounda. Elafonisi is even farther. A much better day trip if you have a rental car is a loop through Knossos, then Crete Wine Country, then the Lasithi Plateau.
Thanks so much for your helpful website! We took a trip to Santorini two years ago and followed a lot of your recommendations. We are taking a trip to Crete this year for a week in September. We’ll be spending half the time in Chania. While there, we’ll take a day trip to Elafonisi and go on an organized trip to the Gorge. We want to spend the last leg of the trip (3 nights and three days) chilling on the beach at a hotel. We like luxurious hotels, but we worry with some of these big resorts, we won’t really feel like we are in Greece. Can you recommend a hotel that is right on a white sandy beach, but we’ll still feel like we aren’t in some big resort with all tourists? We are flying back from Chania, but we’ll have a rental car so the hotel can be anywhere within reason on the island.
That’s a sizeable order as most of the luxurious hotels have grabbed the best beach locales in Crete already and by virtue of being within the gated walls of a luxury hotel you are almost guaranteed to have sealed yourself off from Greece anyway. However, there is hope. Some luxury hotels are not located close to other luxury hotels and are sometime in authentic locales.
The Caramel Hotel is a place for subtle luxury with its own decent beach. It’s located in a largely agricultural area east of Rethymno and unlike most gated hotels the front door to this place opens out right onto an ordinary Greek street where you can hop on a bus to Rethymno. Private beach by the way doesn’t apply in Greece – according to law – all beaches are public areas.
In Chania itself is the newish Domes Noruz which sits on a beach, but is itself right in the middle of a neighbourhood in the suburb of Agioi Apostoli. Not only does it have its own beachfront, but within a hundred metres is a splendid little horseshoe shaped cove and beach that ordinary folk from Chania come to swim and picnic at. This might be the kind of place you are looking for.
Farther to the West from Chania in Kolymvari – a pretty little Cretan village is the Cavo Spada – another upper-end hotel in a remote-ish locale with Crete just outside the hotel gates. The beach and accommodation is pretty wonderful.
My wife and I are going to be in Crete for the first 3 weeks in October. Do you have any suggestions for a good car hire company. We are flying into Chania and leave from Heraklion. We are staying a week in Chania area and then heading east. Any suggestions on what to see and where to go? Thanks. Rob
The best way to rent and reserve a rental car in Crete is on Rentalcars.com (pickup at Chania airport and drop off in Heraklion).
Having a car gives you a decided advantage and touring independently is the best way to see Crete. First up Chania itself. It is the most popular destination in Crete: Agios Nikolaos probably comes a close second. Chania is all about the atmosphere and ambiance of its Old Town. Assuming you will be based there, you will have plenty of time to appreciate it during your week. Chania Old Town is all about relaxing, dining, imbibing and just people watching in a primarily pedestrianised and timeworn walled port. You can take glass-bottomed boat excursions explore the labyrinthine back streets with their gift shops, tavernas and houses of the lucky locals who live there. It’s just refreshingly pleasant and it’s a magnet for visitors. You might just bump into your old friend from High School here. When dining, choose carefully and generally keep away from the main harbour touts and picture menus. The best eats are in the back streets and at the eastern side of the harbour. You can swim in Chania – within walking distance – but your car will serve you better here.
If you are looking for exotic beaches then the boat tour to the edge of the Gramvousa peninsula (Ballos Beach) is a good day trip. Boats run out of Kissamos. Easier to get to (no tour needed) is the stunning Carribbean-esque Elafonisi Beach on the far south western tip of Crete. Falasarna beach is also great. It’s not as popular but it’s no slouch. With your car, you may care to take a less beachy run to the pretty village of Palaiochora and enjoy the hinterland of Western Crete. With an early morning start you can cut more or less diagonally across Crete through the villages of Nea Roumata, Rodovani and Strati – to name but a few of the many – that dot a pretty winding route across the mountains. You will need that early start to make it comfortably in time for lunch. Palaiochora has some good places for eating and a couple of beaches: one sandy and one pebbly. Divert instead to Sougia (see Google maps) if you prefer a quieter seaside destination.
The one highlight that a car won’t help you with is walking the Samaria Gorge. The car will take you to the starting point at Omalos, but the bus from Chora Sfakion will only take you to Chania and you’ll have to take another bus to Omalos to retrieve the car. Best use a bus to Omalos in the first instance. The car will conveniently take you around the sizeable peninsula to the north east of Chania where you might want to make your way to the little-known beach of Seïtan-Limani on the east side then head for lunch and afternoon swim at the little village of Stavros in the North.
It might also be a good idea to allow for a night in Heraklion and spend that pre-departure day visiting the Knossos Archaeological site then soak up the vibrant nightlife and streetside dining in the Cretan capital. Its recently revamped city centre really buzzes at all hours of the day.
I will be staying in Chania early September and would like to make a trip from Chania to Spinalonga. Do you know if any of the tour companies in Chania do this trip?
From Heraklion, yes. But from Chania, I’m not sure. If it’s available should be easy to book after you arrive.
Hi Dave, my girlfriend and I are travelling to Greece for 2 weeks ( 15 nights ), August 13th. We are a young couple from Canada trying to have a combination of relaxation but also to party. First we are landing in Athens and sleep for a night so we can catch an early flight the next morning to Crete. We are spending 4 nights in Chania; we are planning to hit the beach (Elafonissi, Balos etc …) and go around the old city of Chania. Then we are going to Santorini for 3 nights and then other 4 nights to the island of Ios. And finally we are staying 2 nights in Athens towards the end of the trip. I feel like my island hopping around the Greek islands is good enough however I was wondering if I should purchase the ferry tickets before going to Greece or to buy them on the spot before taking the boat. Thank you Dave, I used your guide most of the time to plan this vacation and I can’t wait to go!
Tarek El Tayeh
The ferry I would be most concerned about would be Crete to Santorini. I would guess a 95% chance you’ll be fine if you wait and buy the first day you land in Crete, but there is always that small risk that they will be sold out (there are only 2 ferries per day and you’ll be traveling at the very peak of summer travel). Personally, I would buy in advance at Hellenic Seaways and pick up at the Heraklion port about 30 to 45 minutes in advance of departure. For the other ferries there are more options (even if one happened to be sold out) so very very unlikely that they would be fully booked. But still, buy the first chance you get (you can buy in Crete even though the other routes are between different ports).
Hey there! My husband and I will be traveling to Crete next month for our 1 year anniversary (which we are calling our honeymoon as we never went on a honeymoon). We would love to see Santorini and are debating a 1 day trip vs a 2 day trip. Have you used and been on a tour with the company you suggested? The reviews I’ve read about the ferries are all over the place in regards to rating so I’m hesitant to make a decision on one. For instance, Hellenic Seaways vs SeaJets.
I would not do a one day trip to Santorini (too much travel for only a short amount of time) but with an overnight stay, yes, it’s definitely worth it. Both ferries on this route are good but go with Hellenic.
My husband and I are taking a trip to Greece in September and will be visiting Crete for 3 full days. We are staying in Chania at Domes Noruz. I have planned for one day to take a trip to Elafonisi. I am torn with what to do on our second day. I would love to see the Samaria Gorge but neither my husband or I are big hikers and hiking for 7 hours seems a bit daunting. I could do something more like 2 or 3 hours tops. Are there options for shorter hikes at the Gorge and if so are they even worth it if we are not hiking the whole thing? Another option I was considering is Knossos Palace, is that worth the trip from Chania? What would be your recommendation for what to do with our last two days there? I was thinking for our last day we could enjoy our hotel and beach and maybe in the late afternoon do a tour of Chania or just go explore the town and have a nice dinner there. Something a little more relaxing since we are taking the first flight out the next day to Athens. I am a bit torn with what to do on our second day there… Thank you for your help!
People of all ages, sizes and stamina successfully undertake the Samaria Gorge each year. While you didn’t say how old you are, the fact that you state that you are big hikers should not rule out you doing the Samaria Gorge. First up, it shouldn’t take you 7 hours. It is 16kms in length and even at a brisk stroll of say 5kms per hour, then that’s a 3 hour and 20-minute hike. Allow between 4 to 5 hours to be sure – and that is taking into account breaks and photo stops.
The hike is in general a downhill walk, so there is actually very little climbing. If you start before 8am – as most people do – then you will be strolling into Agia Roumeli by lunchtime for a welcome lunch on the beach and the afternoon coastal ferry will take you to Chora Sfakion from where you will take a (waiting) bus back to Chania. It really is a well-oiled and easy operation. They key to doing the hike without strife is preparation and planning. No, it’s not worth doing a shorter hike in the Gorge because if you walk say 3kms down into the Gorge you will have to climb that 3kms back out of it again. It’s better to keep on going.
Be at the starting point – as mentioned – before 8am (a bus from Chania will get you there on time). Most definitely wear proper hiking boots as the terrain is rocky and rough in parts. Take water, snacks, sunscreen and a hat and don’t undertake the hike in mid-Summer. The main stress on the legs is from the constant stepping down, so you want good shock-absorbent footwear, and your front thighs will probably take most of the strain. A walking pole such as a Lekki would be a good investment and that would give you the ‘third leg’ to assist with the transfer of weight.
You would never be alone as hundreds undertake the walk daily, though on the whole you tend to walk in isolation from the others as everyone thins out after a kilometre or two. Stay put for five minutes and someone will bump into you. Guards at the entrance gate vet all walkers and will not let people through if they look as though they will not make the hike: aged, unsuitable footwear or non-protective clothing. There may be some stream wading depending on the pre-existing weather.
The good thing about the Samaria gorge is that every step is taken care of: from getting there to getting back. With other shorter gorge walks – such as the Kourtaliotiko Gorge – you will need to arrange drop-off and pick up accordingly. The Gorge of the Dead linking Pano and Kato Zakros in far eastern Crete is a pleasant and easy hike and a bus will take you from one end of the gorge to the other.
And yes, Knossos is worth the effort to get to but do get a guide (can be hired at the entrance) as it makes the sight much more interesting. A day relaxing in Chania sounds wonderful.
Thank you for all the effort on this blog. It has helped a ton.
My wife and I are staying in Elounda at the end of May and are looking to charter a guided boat for a day cruise.
Do you have any suggestions for which company to contact?
3-5 hrs, visit beaches, Spinalonga, etc…
Trips to Spinalonga are big business in Elounda and the choice of tours can be bewildering. Nearly everyone with a boat offers some kind of tour which may include swimming stops or additional cruising. Costs can range from €40 to €80 depending on whether food and drink is included and on whether tickets to visit the island are included.
In general, there is quite a bit of tourist exploitation going on so really shop around for the deal that suits you. If you just want to see the island (and unless you are a history fan and want to see how lepers lived) then walking around the stone buildings of the island in the heat of the day might not be quite up your street.
Things to look out for: cost – what do you actually get for your euro? How long will the trip take? Does it include swimming? (You may not want that if you don’t want to swim or watch others swim). Does the tour include the price of entry to the island? You mention ‘chartering a boat’ – you’ll have to decide whether you’re ok with a small group, big group, or want a private boat to you and your wife. Have a look for starters at eloundaboat.gr and compare offerings at keytours.gr
You don’t have to pre-book before you arrive. Boats have little kiosks next to them on the harbour and you can shop and compare at will (visit in the evening when owners are back from their day trips and will answer your questions). The end of May will be quieter than high season so you may score better deals.
Love your site! We will be staying in Heraklion area at the end of June. While there we would like to watch a concert or a play. What’s the best way to learn about what performances are happening and where to purchase tix?
Concerts and events are commonly advertised by posters on walls and basically anywhere you can stick a poster in Greece. Trouble is they are usually in Greek though you can usually tell who the concert is by and when.
Online booking options include:
Concert tickets are generally very cheap compared to home. If the concert or play is at an outdoor venue in an amphitheatre, make sure you bring something soft to sit on. They often sell Styrofoam pads outside such venues: buy two to be sure as the cement seats in stadiums are very uncomfortable after an hour or so.
There are often free concerts given by top-line musical artists, so don’t miss out on those if you can: they are every bit as good as the paid ones. Summer is a good time for concerts so you should find plenty to entertain you in Heraklion this Summer.
My family and I are going to be in Crete, staying in Chania and would like to tour the Samaria Gorge on either May 26th or 27th — the tour you suggested isn’t available those dates to leave from Chania. Do you have any other suggestions for who to tour Samaria Gorge with for about the same price? Do we need to do the tour to get to the Gorge or can we take a bus ?
You can do it on your own with buses but it’s much easier to do as part of a tour. I would wait until you arrive and you might be able to find a smaller local company that does small tours (perhaps through your hotel).
This website is EVERYTHING. Thank you so much already for all the help!
While my trip isn’t very long, because it could very well be my only trip to Greece, I saw you recommended crunching in both Crete & Santorini. We fly into Athens on Mon, June 26, to Santorini on Tues June 27, to Crete June 30 and back to Athens July 3 before flying back to the US on July 4. I don’t very much like rushing around but I’m a huge fan of a nice beach. With only 2 full days in Crete, is it realistic to think I’ll be able to get to Elofanisi? Just seems forever away from the ferry in Heraklion. And if I can get there, am I better off staying in Rethimnon as was recommended to me or staying in Chania?
Ps: planning on staying at Herodian Hotel in Athens unless Ava Suites is better? Also, having difficulty finding a nice, affordable and available hotel so far in Santorini–seems only Aria Lito Mansion–is that ok?
It will basically use one full day getting to and from Elafonisi. Is it worth it? Only you can say. It’s a wonderful beach and one of my all time favorites. I’d check the weather just to be sure you’re not going on a windy day but otherwise (if you really love beaches) go for it. Ava Suites is a little nicer than Herodian (but both are great). Ava is also a little closer to the metro station for the port and subway. Aria Lito is a good value hotel with a central location but no caldera views.
Hi Dave! My husband and I are traveling to Crete in a few weeks, and spending 5 nights in Chania. We wanted to explore Elafonisi beach and Balos beach. For Balos: would it be best to take a boat (big cruise boat, or something more private like Captain Yiorgi’s boat trip) or do the drive? For Elafonisi: any tips for the drive or where to stop along the way? We are in our early 30’s.
Balos Beach (Gramvousa Peninsula) can be done by car, but the result is probably not worth the effort you will put into it and your hire car company may not be happy to learn you have taken their car over that rough road (starting from Afrata) you will have to traverse to get there. This is one occasion where the organised tour is worth the money see Cretan Daily Cruises (from Kissamos) for details on how to do it in a group setting.
The drive to Elafonisi is straightforward and is worth combining with a stop at the Eco resort of Milia. You could make an early start on Elafonisi and have a swim and sunbathe before driving back and stopping off at Milia for a mid-afternoon lunch here.
If you have not driven in Greece/Crete before there are no real surprises. The only issue – from the Greek driver’s point of view – is that tourists tend to drive perceptibly slower (more cautiously) than locals and this can cause irritation (to the locals). The end result is often tailgating (by local drivers) and impatient overtaking on their part. Either drive at ‘local speed’ or, if you are the cautious sort and you get caught by a tail-gating local, let them pass. The road is winding, but pleasant and from Chania it should take you no more than 1 hour and 30 minutes to Elafonisi. Hire cars are usually stick shift types, so if you only know how to drive an automatic you might be limited and want to book a car in advance.
I am travelling to Crete on 11th – 21st April we really wanted to see Samaria gorge but it doesn’t look like it will be open. For the first part of our trip we will be based in Kissamos which we thought would be ideal for the gorge trip. After that we will be staying further west (Hersonissos and then lastly Rethymno) so it may be harder to get to from there.
Do you know when the Samaria Gorge is likely to open this year? I have read that it is dependant on how the weather was during winter months.
(great website really helpful!)
The Gorge traditionally opens on 1st of May, but this date is not set in stone. It’s not usually before the 1st but can be up to 10 days after the 1st. It depends on a number of factors: damage that may have been caused to the trail during Winter, the amount of water in the stream, or the anticipated amount of water that might come, if there is still snow in the White Mountains (Lefka Ori). So, from 11-21st April it is unlikely that you will get to do the walk.
Kissamos is not the best base for doing the walk BTW. Unless you are on an organised tour, you will have to take two buses: from Kissamos to Chania and from Chania to Omalos at the start of the trial. You really need to be at the trailhead no later than 9am and that means an early start from Chania.
Rethymno is further from Omalos than Kissamos, so really only an organised tour is going to do it for you, same with Hersonisos. Either way unless you are very lucky, your walk down the Samaria Gorge is going to have to be postponed to another year. Good video here to see what you’re missing.
Great site with excellent information.
My family will be spending some time in Santorini in July. Before we all meet there, my son and I would like to do some cycling on another island for about 3 days – not touring, just out-and-back each day from the same location. We’re experienced cyclists and can manage 75-80 km round trips without a problem. We would need to rent good road bikes.
It looks like Crete would be the best combination of easy access from Athens/to Santorini, provide interesting routes (to beaches and archeological sites, for example), a quality bike shop (Olympic Bike) and developed, paved roads.
I’ve also looked at Naxos. It may also work, but maybe doesn’t maximize all those things listed above.
Crete certainly offers some extensive cycling opportunities because of its the size, but 40kms out and 40kms back won’t get you very far in Crete. For example, 40kms would get you to the next town of Kissamos. Also the best cycling territory is the north coastline which is thread by the very busy Cretan Northern Axis road and it is not that cyclist friendly. The middle of the island is dominated by mountains so crossing north to south will involve climbing and the south coast doesn’t have an obvious main highway but would be more picturesque than the north. Again, long distance dominate so bicycle touring would be the way to go, rather than out and back tours. Have a look at Hellas Bike Greece to see what’s on offer. You might find some clues.
The only other island that jumps off the page for cycling and where it is big, well organised and easy is Kos. Hundreds of people hire bicycle here and do day tours. The island is generally flat, small and accessible and there are plenty of bikes on offer. Check out Kos Bike Activities. In practice there is no reason why you can’t cycle on any island and you will always find a place to hire a bike. Most other islands have hills and if you do hills, you will be fine.
Hi Dave, I will be staying in Athens the month of March. I want to take in everything there and in the surrounding areas on the mainland. What are some of the best tours for out of the city? My interests are wineries, cooking, cultural events, and historical places, meeting people, etc.
Take a look at Best Things to Do in Athens.
We are in Crete for 4 nights after island hopping in the Greek islands. Our hotel is Galaxy Heraklion. Is that the right choice and could we do a couple of tours from there? Would love a boat day trip as one of the tour days.
Nice hotel with a decent location as long as you don’t mind a 10/12 walk to the city center. The highlights of Heraklion are the Archaeological Museum (12 minutes from the Galaxy) and Knossos (bus stop is a short walk from the hotel).
Dave, first of all thank you so much for such a wonderful resource. This has been really helpful with planning our first trip to Greece. Wanted to get your input on a couple things. We are a couple in our early 30s going to Greece for our honeymoon. We arrive in Athens at 9:20am Saturday May 20 and fly out of Athens at 1pm on Monday May 29th, giving us 9 days and nights. We plan to fly to santorini from Athens on an early afternoon flight on the Saturday we arrive. We have a cave villa booked in Oia for 4 nights and wanted to spend the remaining 4-5 nights on another island. We love hiking, good food and beautiful beaches so Crete looks very appealing however I know spending at least a week there is generally recommended. Do you think it sounds feasible/not too crazy to take the evening ferry from santorini to Heraklion then take a bus to Chania and spend 4-5 nights there then fly from Chania to Athens for our return flight home. We realize we would not be able to see all of Crete but are mainly interested in hiking the Samaria Gorge, exploring Chania and visiting Elafossini Beach, possibly Balos Lagoon. Would you recommend that we cut Santorini to just 3 nights to spend more time on Crete? Also, do you know if the public bus is operating to the beaches in late May? How are the crowds there at that time of year? We know we are probably missing out on Athens so would consider exploring there on the Sunday before we fly back if time allows. Any suggestions or feedback on our itinerary is greatly appreciated! Mandy Miller
Yes, it’s definitely doable – you won’t have a lot of time but I think still plenty to have a great visit. Buses will be running to Elafonisi in late May and crowds will not be bad – some people for sure, but nothing crazy. I’d stick with 4 nights (3 full days) on Santorini – so much to do and see.
We will be staying in Santorini for one week and would like to make a day trip from Santorini to Crete. How would we go about arranging this? Is there a tour we can book for the ferries? We are considering staying a night on Crete – would you recommend that? We’ve heard great things about the Chania walking tour and visiting Knossos so would like to do those 2 things at least.
Due to the schedule of the ferries a day trip is not possible from Santorini to Crete. Ferries leave Crete (for Santorini) in the early morning and leave Santorini (for Crete) in the early evening. So a one day trip is impossible and even staying over one night doesn’t do much as you’d only have the night hours on Crete. To see anything in Crete you would need to stay two nights. A better choice for a short trip from Santorini is Ios, Paros, or Naxos.