Greece › Crete › Best Hotels
Updated: February 7, 2023
By Santorini Dave
Our Favorite Hotels in Crete
• Luxury: Casa Delfino
• Midrange: Olive Green
• Cheap: Mantraki
• Beach: Elounda Beach
• For Couples: Avli
• For Families: Porto Elounda
• Best Pool: Elounda Peninsula
• New Hotel: Royal Senses
• Chania: Casa Delfino
• Rethymnon: Avli
• Heraklion: GDM Megaron
• Elounda: Elounda Beach
• Agios Nikolaos: Minos Beach Art
Crete Hotels – Tips & Recommendations
- Best Places to Stay in Crete: My favorite town in Crete is Chania, a romantic seaside town with loads of charm. Rethymnon is almost as beautiful but not nearly as touristy. Elounda is a string of idyllic luxury beach resorts. Heraklion is a mid-sized city, filled with charm and true local culture. Knossos (just outside Heraklion) is the top historical site on the island. Agios Nikolaos, 60 km to the east of Heraklion, is low-key, relaxing, and less touristy than many of the more popular Crete beach resorts.
- Elafonisi (a 90-minute drive from Chania) is the best beach on Crete and one of my favorite beaches anywhere.
- Suggested Itineraries: 3 to 5 days in Crete: Primarily Chania with a visit to Heraklion and Knossos. One week in Crete: 3 days in Chania (with day trips to nearby beaches and attractions), 3 days in Agios Nikolaos or Elounda, and 1 day in Heraklion (with a visit to Knossos). Two weeks in Crete: Explore the wonderful coastal towns along the south coast and the inland villages of central Crete.
- The best restaurants in Crete are Chrisostomos (Chania), Tamam (Chania), Avli (Rethymnon), Peskesi (Heraklion), Kastella (Heraklion), Karnagio (Agios Nikolaos), Ntounias (Drakona, 22km south of Chania), and Gianni’s Taverna (aka The Tavern of John in Kiparissos, 25km south of Heraklion)
- Best Crete Tours
The 38 Best Hotels in Crete
1. Casa Delfino Hotel & Spa – Chania
Hotel Phone: +30 28210 87400
Beautifully restored, individually decorated 24 room/suite, boutique hotel in a 17th-century Venetian mansion in the Old Town. Rooms have handmade Italian furniture, white marble bathrooms, and mini-bars. Suites add lounge areas, sofas that convert to single beds, jacuzzis in some, and balconies overlooking the courtyard/old town. Upgraded suites can be split-level, have bigger/deluxe jacuzzis, sofa beds, dressing rooms. The Ottoman Suite has an authentic marble hammam while the top-end Presidential Suite has a private panoramic roof terrace with harbor and sea views. Highlights include a spectacular rooftop bar with panoramic views, a luxury spa, complimentary breakfast, and 24-hour room service. Within easy walking distance of the beach & the main harbor.
2. Serenissima Boutique Hotel – Chania
Hotel Phone: +30 28210 86386
Minimalist and lovely 7-suite boutique hotel in the heart of Chania’s Old Town and housed in a 16th-century Venetian manor featuring parquet floors, open stonework/exposed brick walls, high ceilings with wooden beams, and cement sealed bathtubs. Rooms have king-sized, eco mattresses and coffee & tea-making facilities while upgraded suites add lounge areas with sofa beds and private furnished terraces. The top-end split-level suite has a large outdoor terrace with mountain views. An a la carte breakfast is included.
3. Avli Lounge Apartments – Rethymnon
Hotel Phone: +30 28310 58250, +30 28310 26213
Romantic all-suite property set in Venetian-era buildings (Venetian arches, antiques) featuring a total of 10 individually decorated, delightful, character-filled lounge apartments & suites with antique fireplaces and fittings, carved sofas, jacuzzi bathtubs, iron artwork/hand-painted beds, refrigerators, glass wardrobes. Top-end apartments add balconies, while the spirited candy suites (with names like cookie, brownie, jelly) have elements like antique chairs, handmade pillows, canopy beds. The hotel restaurants (fine dining Avli and Cretan meze bar Raki Ba Raki) and new wine bar Enoteca are among the best in Crete – breakfast in the Avli courtyard is included. Cooking classes, wine tastings, and olive oil tastings are available.
4. Elounda Beach Hotel & Villas – Elounda
Hotel Phone: +30 28410 63000
Spectacular waterfront hotel with a lavish, contemporary, staggering accommodation range – sea view rooms with shared pools, sea view/waterfront/island suites, and luxury bungalows with private temperature-controlled swimming/whirlpool pools, to name a few. Basic rooms have balconies with bay views and in-bathroom tv & music, while bungalows have jacuzzi bathtubs & private terraces/gardens, heated floors & remote-controlled mattresses (some). Top-end, super-luxurious yatching villas have outstanding features such as 3 decks, leather-coated ceilings, yatching designer furniture, touchscreen room controls, sunken bathtubs, private pools, and hydro-massage. Royal villas have indoor & outdoor pools, pianos.
5. GDM Megaron Hotel – Heraklion
Hotel Phone: +30 28103 05300
Overlooking the harbor, this sophisticated hotel offers stylish rooms and suites with wooden floors, high ceilings, contemporary furniture, mini-bars, tea/coffee facilities, and balconies with city/sea views. Top-end suites have jacuzzis. Posh facilities include a rooftop pool, fitness center, complimentary breakfast, and a smart Cretan-Mediterranean restaurant with harbor views. The city center, bus station, ferry port, and the Archaeological and Historical Museums are within walking distance.
6. Domus Renier Boutique Hotel – Chania
Hotel Phone: +30 28210 88806
Stunning, individually decorated 9-suite boutique hotel with designer furniture, hydro-massage showers, Nespresso coffee machines, and mini-bars. Six suites boast sweeping sea/harbor/lighthouse views. Junior suites have furnished balconies and outdoor jacuzzis, while high-end suites have lofts, painted ceilings, bathtubs with hydro-massage, and rain showers with chromotherapy. Close to many restaurants and bars. Breakfast is always included and served in the hotel’s private yard; the hotel is attached to the tasty Zepos Mediterranean restaurant, open all day.
7. Elounda Mare Hotel – Elounda
Hotel Phone: +30 28410 68200
Chic resort with a range of accommodations from sea view rooms and suites to bungalows with private pools, royalty villas with private pools, and the top-tier Minoan Palace with a private pool. Rooms and suites have vibrant decor, marble bathrooms with tubs, and private balconies or terraces while the home-style bungalows add antiques and small private gardens. Top-end suites feature exposed stone and woodwork plus panoramic sea views. The resort features many award-winning restaurants and lounges, a holistic spa with wellness packages, a large heated pool overlooking the sea, a kids’ pool, and a private, sandy beach.
8. Nana Princess – Hersonissos
Hotel Phone: +30 28970 26900
5-star, boutique, beachfront resort featuring an all-suite and villa concept, each with a king-sized bed, sea view, separate shower and bathtub, and a private pool (heated on request). The resort boasts three outdoor pools, an indoor pool, full-service salon, fitness center, and expansive spa with therapies based on guests’ zodiac signs. Three restaurants and three bars serve a broad choice of cuisines served in the hotel, poolside, or on the private beach. Located just a 5-minute walk from their sister property Nana Water Park (guests get free access) and just a 5-minute drive to Hersonissos Beach and the nightlife strip.
9. Porto Elounda Golf & Spa Resort – Elounda
Hotel Phone: +30 28410 68000
Family-friendly, sprawling resort with excellent restaurants, a full-service spa, gardens, a private beach, an enormous kids club, and a 9-hole golf course. Offering yachts to charter, scuba diving, soccer camp, water sports, tennis, shopping, and even a chapel, this is the ultimate one-stop resort in Crete. The resort features sea view rooms, suites, and villas with mini-bars & marble bathrooms. Sea view rooms have furnished private balconies while the next category adds sitting areas and furnished terraces with direct access to shared pools. Top-end rooms have sea and golf course views and terraces with private saltwater pools. Suites add living spaces, while villas have living rooms with bars, dining areas, and private gardens with saltwater pools.
10. Elounda Peninsula All Suites Hotel – Elounda
Hotel Phone: +30 28410 68250
All-suite hotel overlooking the bay. Suites and residences have a yacht-like ambiance featuring marble bathrooms with separate showers and tubs, private balconies, and spectacular sea views. Upgraded suites add furnished terraces with private, saltwater plunge pools (heated on request). Also has beachfront suites, villas with lovely furnished gardens, and presidential waterfront villas with kitchenettes. Basic seaside residences have unobstructed sea views, surround sound, whirlpool tubs, sauna, massage rooms, and private indoor pools while upgraded residences add kitchens and more. On site restaurants serve a wide range of cuisines, including Italian, pan-Asian, and of course Greek. Family-friendly amenities include a kids pool, playground, kids club, swim lessons, and nanny service at their sister property, Porto Elounda.
11. Minos Beach Art Hotel – Agios Nikolaos
Hotel Phone: +30 28410 22345
Tranquil beachfront hotel featuring villas with private pools, whirlpools & home cinemas, rooms, suites, and waterfront/seafront bungalows with furnished balconies, mini-bars, and beautiful sea views. Top-end bungalows have private pools and jacuzzis, and top-end villas have dressing rooms, jacuzzi bathtubs, and fully equipped kitchenettes. The wonderful town of Agios Nikolaos is within walking distance.
12. Rimondi Boutique Hotel – Rethymnon
Hotel Phone: +30 28310 51001
Elegant, boutique hotel with just 34 rooms and suites spread over two buildings (the Estate and the Palazzo, which dates to the Venetian occupation) in the heart of Rethymnon’s Old Town. Each building has its own pool in a romantic courtyard garden; other amenities include a traditional hammam and wellness spa. Guests may take refreshments at the Palazzo Pool Bar, serving drinks and light bites from morning until well into the night, or at the all-day Estate Restaurant, with a rich menu of Cretan and Mediterranean plates. Breakfast is always included in the rates with a buffet for Palazzo guests and an a la carte menu for Estate guests. Rooms and suites may offer pool, city, or sea views, many with terraces or balconies. Master Suites feature indoor jacuzzi baths, while Spa Suites boast outdoor jacuzzis. Wonderfully located just steps from the 17th-century landmark Rimondi Fountain, 17th-century Neratze Mosque, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Crete, and the picturesque Venetian harbor.
13. Amirandes Grecotel Exclusive Resort – Gouves
Hotel Phone: +30 28970 41103
Surrounding a big lagoon, this outstanding resort has a staggering array of rooms, suites, specialty suites, bungalows, villas, and ‘ultimate accommodation’. Depending on the category, rooms may have enclosed glass balconies, terraces with dining areas, private pools, and mirrored walls. Family suites have children’s bedrooms, and bungalows have bathtubs with sea views. Top-end specialty suites feature ‘star’ pools with star lights & smooth currents (for exercising), private beach gazebos, wine coolers, and gym areas. Top-end villas add jacuzzi bathtubs with aromatherapy & color therapy and beds with direct pool access. The top-end ‘Ultimate’ property adds unique private pleasure/entertainment ‘caves’ with stone walls & floors, home cinemas, fully equipped kitchens, staff quarters, round jacuzzi bathtubs, private saunas, in-bathroom massage beds, billiards, and elliptical trainers. Amirandes is close to Heraklion’s airport and to the Knossos Archaeological site to score mega points for convenience.
14. Elounda Gulf Villas & Suites – Elounda
Hotel Phone: +30 28102 27721
Set on a hillside, this boutique complex has lovely suites, pool villas, spa pool villas, and beachfront villas with panoramic bay views. (The two, three, and four-bedroom villas are marvelous for families.) Suites have floor-to-ceiling windows and bathrooms with hand-painted ceilings. Upgrades get you private saltwater infinity pools and private massage rooms. Pool villas have fully-equipped kitchens and laundry facilities, while the top-end pool villas add infinity heated pools with jacuzzi tubs, private saunas, and pool terraces. The resort centers on a large, heated main pool with a jacuzzi and kids’ pool, plus a luxury spa and fitness center. Two Cretan restaurants and a bar are on-site, while a private, serviced beach club with light fare and drinks is just a short, complimentary shuttle ride away. For families, the resort offers a kids club with cultural activities and babysitting services.
15. Legacy Gastro Suites – Heraklion
Hotel Phone: +30 28102 21200
Twelve-suite, five-star, food-focused hotel just steps from the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Bembo Fountain, and Lions Square. Suites are all art-themed around painting, literature, and poetry and include both indoor and outdoor dining areas, pantries stocked with local foods and products, wine bars, and mini-bars with cold cuts and cheeses – with pairing suggestions, of course. The cuisine is astounding at its signature Papi Osteria, run by lauded chef Ettore Botrini. A la carte breakfast is served daily to each suite or terrace at any time of the morning.
16. Veneto Boutique Hotel – Rethymnon
Hotel Phone: +30 28310 56634
Exquisite boutique hotel set in a restored 15th-century Dominican monastery amid the narrow alleys of the historical center, with 13 medieval-like, luxury suites with beds tucked under stone arches, wooden and terracotta flooring, beamed ceilings, walk-in showers, and sofa beds. Upgraded suites add private verandas and handmade orthopedic mattresses. Has a fantastic wine cellar and Cretan-fusion restaurant set in a stunning 600-year-old courtyard. Wine tastings and cooking classes are on offer.
17. St. Nicolas Bay Resort Hotel & Villas – Agios Nikolaos
Hotel Phone: +30 28410 90200
Mediterranean-style, contemporary, bay resort with a huge variety of rooms, suites, and villas with pools, mini-bars, lounge corners, and balconies with stunning bay views. Upgraded suites feature private terraces with heated pools and jacuzzi-style bathtub; villas add kitchenettes.
18. Domes of Elounda – Elounda
Hotel Phone: +30 23108 10624
Family-friendly, all-suite and villa, luxury resort on a private, sandy beach – the only natural (not manmade) beach in the area. Child-centric amenities include spacious suites and villas with up to 4 bedrooms, movie nights, family yoga, a teen club, and a Montessori-inspired kids’ club with activities that include gardening, stargazing, trekking, and more. The hotel features an adults-only pool, a family pool (heated in the cooler months) with two smaller attached pools, a spa with its own pool, an outdoor gym, and live music. Four restaurants and four bars keep guests full and entertained with a range of traditional and contemporary culinary offerings, local wines, signature and classic cocktails, and more. All suites and villas include spacious balconies or terraces with private outdoor jacuzzis or pools (heated in the villas). Excellent location in Elounda just 1km south of Plaka Marina and the ferry to Spinalonga and 1.5km to the public, pebbly Plaka Beach, lined with casual tavernas and sunbeds.
19. Cayo Exclusive Resort & Spa – Elounda
Hotel Phone: +30 28410 44700
Nestled on a hillside above Plaka Beach and facing mysterious Spinalonga Island, Cayo Exclusive is an elegant, boutique resort with two sparkling outdoor pools, one indoor heated pool, and a spa with therapies inspired by Cretan and Greek traditions. Three restaurants and two bars in the main building serve casual and gourmet plates, local wines, and cocktails. The resort’s beach club on pebbly Plaka offers light fare and beverages throughout the day, accessible via the resort’s free shuttle. Rooms and villas range from 35 to 200 square meters and all include mini-bars, Nespresso coffee, and private terraces with outdoor pools, heated on request.
20. Domes Zeen – Chania
Hotel Phone: +30 23108 10624
Set on a private beach just 2 km from Chania’s Venetian harbor and Old Town, Domes Zeen offers spacious rooms, suites, and villas with garden or sea views, walk-in showers, and private terraces, many with sharing pools or private pools. Ideal for families, the resort offers a baby club for ages 4+ months, a kids club for ages 4 to 12 with a yard, garden and pool, babysitting services, kids’ menus in the restaurants, and grand villas for up to 8 guests. Its gorgeous beachfront pool is lined with sunbeds and umbrellas, with more set up on the private, serviced beach. The culinary program features a wine-themed, fine-dining Mediterranean restaurant and a casual, seaside taverna serving fresh, organic Cretan dishes; the pool is served throughout the day by a bar offering light fare and refreshing drinks. The wellness center features a second pool and outdoor gym. Perks include 24-hour room service, complimentary breakfast, and a range of tasting activities: wine, cheese, olive oil, and sea salts.
21. Kapsaliana Village – Kapsalianá
Hotel Phone: +30 28310 83400
Once an autonomous settlement centered around an olive mill in the largest olive grove in Crete, Kapsaliana Village has been lovingly resurrected as a sustainable, boutique hotel. Operational from 1763 until 1955, the mill’s houses have been converted into 22 rooms and suites, designed with respect to the original architecture. Traditionally inspired rooms and suites may feature stone walls, wood beam ceilings, and archways; some have balconies or patios. The Family Suite has a walled yard, while the Aquarius Suite features an outdoor jacuzzi, and the 2-bedroom Borealis Suite has a private pool. Grounds include a sea view pool, a massage/yoga room, a creative Cretan restaurant, charming cocktail bar, history museum, vineyard, and culinary garden. A swathe of bespoke activities are on offer, including cooking classes, olive oil tasting, soap making, and guided mountain hikes. Situated in the mountains about 5 km from the 16th-century Monastery of Arkadi and 15 km from the old Venetian harbor of Rethymnon.
22. Veneziano Boutique Hotel – Heraklion
Hotel Phone: +30 28103 44758
Beautifully restored boutique hotel in a historic landmark Venetian and Ottoman building. Four double rooms and two 2-story family apartments surround a gorgeous interior courtyard with daily breakfast and afternoon wine. Gracious and attentive service. Minutes from Lion’s Square, the Basilica of St. Mark, and museums.
23. Royal Blue Resort – Panormos
Hotel Phone: +30 28340 55000
Family-owned, family-friendly, luxury resort on a private, sandy beach with a seafront saltwater pool, a freshwater pool, and a thalassotherapy spa. The culinary program emphasizes fresh, local produce, products, and seafood with three a la carte restaurants, a Cretan buffet, a wine cellar, and three cocktail lounges. Rooms, suites, and villas range from 30 to 135 square meters with one king-sized or 2 twin-sized beds, bathrooms with dual vanities, many with sofabeds, superior rooms with sharing pools, and suites and villas with private pools. Extras include a game room, boutique shops, tennis courts, live music, and Cretan nights with dancing. Well-situated in the middle of the north coast, near the pebbly beaches of Spilies and Geropotamos and the sandy beach and village of Panormos, about 18 km from the town of Rethymnon.
24. Domes Noruz – Chania
Hotel Phone: +30 23108 10624
Perfect for romantic getaways, Domes Noruz is a luxury, adults-only, beach resort with two pools (the heated quiet pool and unheated vibrant pool with a bar), a therapeutic spa, and an outdoor gym with yoga and pilates classes. Rooms, lofts, and suites all come with with private terraces with outdoor jacuzzis, plunge pools, or private pools. The all-day restaurant Topos serves Cretan-Mediterranean dishes using local, organic produce paired with thoughtfully selected wines, while Raw offers fresh sushi and champagne in the evenings. Beautifully located on Glaros Beach, about 3.5 km from the sights, shopping, and dining of central Chania.
25. Royal Senses Resort & Spa – Panormos
Hotel Phone: +30 28340 55002
Gorgeous, family-friendly, luxury resort with two saltwater pools, a freshwater kids’ pool, kids’ club, a small water park, and an herbal spa with treatments based on ancient Minoan and Cretan rituals. Rooms, suites, and villas all have king-sized beds and walk-in showers, most with private terraces and about half features shared or private pools. Dining is high-quality and plentiful here with four restaurants serving a variety of local delicacies in fine and casual settings, plus four tasteful bars offering local spirits, wine, and classic cocktails. Guests of Royal Senses also have access to the beach and tennis courts of their sister property, Royal Blue, across the street. Great location almost right in the middle of Crete’s north coast, near popular Spilies, Geropotamos, and Panormos Beaches and about 18 km from Rethymnon.
26. Elounda Bay Palace – Elounda
Hotel Phone: +30 28410 67000
Set on the bay edge in 20 acres of verdant gardens with private beaches, this hotel offers a huge range of impeccable rooms, bungalows, villas, and suites, many having shared pools or private heated pools and private balconies with bay, mountain, or garden views. Upgraded suites get you bathtubs, private patios, and kitchenettes. Top-end silver club properties have bathrooms with skylights, jacuzzi bathtubs, private heated whirlpools, while exclusive club properties have fully equipped kitchens, dressing rooms, and private gardens. The resort features five restaurants and bars, an outdoor saltwater pool, and an indoor freshwater pool. Family-friendly perks include a kids’ pool, kids’ club, and teen activity programs.
27. Blue Palace Resort & Spa – Elounda
Hotel Phone: +30 28410 65500
Luxe resort with rooms, suites, and villas, some with private heated pools, some with private infinity pools, all with complimentary breakfast and excellent sea views. Upgrades get you Nespresso Coffee machines, spacious patios/verandas, deep-soaking jacuzzi bathtubs. Villas have terraces with sunbeds, butler services (upon request), saunas, and jetted outdoor and indoor pools. The top-end villa has a wood-burning oven (chef services) and barbecue facilities around the pool.
28. Grecotel Creta Palace – Rethymnon
Hotel Phone: +30 28310 55181
Massive family-friendly beachfront resort with a great range of elegant, bright guestrooms, suites, bungalows, 2-story maisonettes & traditional villas, with stone/wooden floors, handcrafted furniture, balconies/terraces, mini-bars (on request), refrigerators, and garden/sea views. Maisonettes and family bungalows have colorful kid’s bedrooms, while suites feature hand-carved furniture, sofa beds, and gardens with private pools. The top-end beachfront villas have private plunge pools, jacuzzi bathtubs, and large terraces with pergolas. The resort boasts a fantastic sky bar and restaurant.
29. Abaton Island Resort & Spa – Hersonissos
Hotel Phone: +30 28970 26410
Luxury, beachfront resort offering indoor and outdoor pools, a high-tech spa and fitness center, and butler service. Abaton features a wide selection of rooms, suites, and villas, all with private verandas or patios, most with sea views, some with sharing pools, and a few with both outdoor jacuzzis (always heated) and private pools (heated on request). Six top-notch bars and restaurants thread through the property, including Cretan fare, a steakhouse, a fresh seafood restaurant, and a Buddha Bar outpost, serving Asian fusion, original cocktails, and world-class DJ sets to the pool and beach. Great location less than a 5-minute drive to Hersonissos’ famed nightlife and beach.
30. Olive Green Hotel – Heraklion
Hotel Phone: +30 28103 02900
Modern, eco-friendly hotel with minimalistic rooms featuring vivid digital art, mini-bars, laptop-sized safes, and city/park views. Most rooms have balconies, while OG Club Elite rooms sport large furnished terraces. A complimentary breakfast buffet is included in the rate, or guests may upgrade to an a la carte breakfast at 626 All Day Lounge, serving international and Cretan fare until 11:00 pm. Short walk away from the ferry port, museums, central market, and city center.
31. Casa Vitae – Rethymnon
Hotel Phone: + 30 28310 35058
Picture-perfect, renovated old Venetian house converted into three Venetian-style luxury villas. Each one or two-bedroom villa boasts its own private pool plus a fully-equipped kitchen, separate living area, two bathrooms, jacuzzi bathtubs, and a private terrace. The old town center is a few minutes’ walk away.
32. Ostria Resort & Spa – Ierapetra
Hotel Phone: +30 28420 25711, +30 28420 25714
Casual, luxury, beachfront resort on the quiet, southeastern shore of the island. Facilities include six outdoor pools (including one for adults-only and one kids’ pool), an extensive wellness center with an indoor, heated pool, and two sports centers – one on land (soccer, archery, and tennis) and one on the sea (jet skiing, kayaking, scuba diving, and more). Seven restaurants and four bars serve a range of Cretan, Mediterranean, and seafood favorites, along with an extensive wine selection and classic cocktails. Wine and olive oil tastings are on offer, along with a half-day grill class. Rooms and suites offer a balcony or patio, one queen or two twin beds (many with sofabeds), and several with private pools. Peaceful location about 1.5 miles from Koutsounari Long Beach and 6 km from central Ierapetra village.
33. Caramel Grecotel – Adelianos Kampos
Hotel Phone: +30 28310 71803
Gorgeous boutique resort having a wide range of super bright, fresh-looking suites, bungalows/maisonettes, villas with antique & contemporary designer furniture, handmade tiled floors, large furnished balconies (some), Nespresso coffee machines, refrigerators, and sea/garden views. Family suites have a kid’s bedroom; top-end bungalows feature spa bathrooms, fully-furnished verandas, and open-air jacuzzis (some). ‘Unique’ category properties have features like private outdoor jacuzzis, private pools, and outdoor fireplaces, while ‘ultimate’ category properties have top floor private jacuzzis (some), direct beach access, and wine coolers. The hotel has a beautiful confetti (color-changing) pool. Very quiet and best suited for visitors seeking solitude.
34. Lato Boutique Hotel – Heraklion
Hotel Phone: +30 28102 28103
Set right above the old harbor overlooking Koules Fortress, this boutique hotel has modern rooms and suites with mini-bars and city or sea views. Upgraded rooms have balconies or verandas with panoramic sea and fortress views. All suites add sitting areas, and some add jacuzzi bathtubs. On the rooftop, guests will find the exceptional Herb’s Garden restaurant in the summer months with sweeping views over the city and harbor. During the winter months, Brilliant restaurant offers its deliciously distinctive Cretan menu. Ideal location a short walk away from the ferry port, bus station, city center, and museums.
35. Mrs. Chryssana Beach Hotel – Kolymvari
Hotel Phone: +30 28240 22812
Relaxed, adults-only, boutique hotel on a natural beach protected as a nesting site for sea turtles. All rooms include walk-in showers and private balconies or terraces, some with sea views. Fronting the hotel is a dazzling pool surrounded by sunbeds and umbrellas with food and drink service throughout the day. A buffet breakfast is always included, with a lobby bar and dinner at Amvrosia Restaurant available in the evenings. Located on Kolymvari Beach, lined with casual tavernas and just a 20-minute drive from the sights and nightlife of Chania.
36. Pavo Art Hotel – Heraklion
Hotel Phone: +30 69867 18545
Stylish, affordable, boutique hotel just outside the Venetian Walls of Heraklion, about 800 meters from the Natural History Museum, 1 km from the beach, and 1 km from the sights and shopping of the Old Town. All studios and suites include a kitchenette, seating area (some with sofa beds), walk-in shower, and a patio or balcony. The largest room is a 2-bedroom suite for up to 6 guests with a king, queen, and sofa bed.
37. Palazzo Duca – Chania
Hotel Phone: +30 28210 70460
Charming and traditional 8-room hotel, steps from the Old Harbor. Rooms are spacious and well-appointed, with traditional Venitian architectural details like stone walls and beamed ceilings artfully preserved. Modern conveniences as well, like Cocomat mattresses, elevator, air conditioning, and good wi-fi. All rooms have kitchenettes, most have balconies with partial water views, and the top floor suite has a patio with an outdoor jacuzzi. Excellent complimentary breakfast.
38. Aquila Atlantis Hotel – Heraklion
Hotel Phone: +30 28102 29103
Large, cosmopolitan hotel with spacious, modern rooms and suites with mini-bars and coffee/tea facilities with city or unobstructed harbor views. Upgraded rooms add balconies, while suites add deep spa tubs and living spaces. Has two pools, a spa, restaurant, and lounge bar. The city center, bus station, and ferry port are within walking distance.
Staying in Chania
Chania is a great city with a wonderful Old Town. It has tavernas strung around the crescent-shaped waterfront and hotels and shops on the streets and alleys back from the water’s edge. A good beach is within walking distance from town, and even better ones are a short bus ride away. Chania is a good base if you want to do the Samaria Gorge or make a day trip to the beaches of western Crete (like Balos or Elafonisi). That said, it’s easy to spend 2 or 3 days here and not get much farther than the great traditional restaurants found around the town center. All of the hotels listed below are in the wonderful Chania Old Town and are surrounded by shops, restaurants, bars, and cafes.
Best Hotels in Chania
Staying in Rethymnon
Rethymnon is similar in some ways to Chania but on a smaller scale with less touristy development. The village is steeped in rich history dating to the Minoan era with monuments of great empires strung through its Old Town and harbor, including an imposing Venetian fortress and domed Ottoman mosques. Rethymnon Beach sits east of the marina, a pleasant walk from the Old Town. A short drive farther east leads to even more soft, sandy beach resorts at Spilies and Bali. In summer it has direct ferries to Santorini (twice a week) making it a convenient stop if you’re going to the Cyclades.
Best Hotels in Rethymnon
Staying in Heraklion
Heraklion is not picturesque like Chania or Rethymnon (some areas are a little rough and ugly) but it has a working-class charm and Greek flavor that many of the tourist towns lack. The city is home to the best museum in Crete and the must-see historical sight of Knossos is just outside the city. If you’re catching an early morning ferry to Santorini you’ll probably spend a night here whether you want to or not.
Best Hotels in Heraklion
GDM Megaron Hotel • Legacy Gastro Suites • Veneziano Boutique Hotel • Olive Green Hotel • Lato Boutique Hotel • Pavo Art Hotel • Aquila Atlantis Hotel
Staying in Agios Nikolaos and Elounda
Agios Nikolaos is my 2nd favorite town in Crete and a good base for exploring eastern Crete. It’s a beautiful town with a pedestrian-friendly waterfront. Good beaches are nearby, and the popular small town of Elounda is a short bus ride away and has many of the best luxury resorts in Crete. This is a great area to spend a few days relaxing and unwinding as it’s much less busy than Chania, Rethymnon, or Heraklion.
Best Hotels in Agios Nikolaos and Elounda
Elounda Beach Hotel • Elounda Mare Hotel • Porto Elounda Golf & Spa Resort • Elounda Peninsula All Suites Hotel • Minos Beach Art Hotel • Elounda Gulf Villas & Suites • St. Nicolas Bay Resort Hotel & Villas • Domes of Elounda • Cayo Exclusive Resort & Spa • Elounda Bay Palace • Blue Palace Resort & Spa
Loving your website! I was wondering how long you would recommend to stay in Crete? My husband & I and our 2 kids (15 &13) will be in Greece for a month in June/July. We are wanting to visit Santorini, Crete, Paros & Naxos and also Athens and I am trying to get an idea of how much time we will want to spend at each island.
Thanks so much for all your information!
Of course, numbers can vary by interests but I’d suggest this itinerary.
Crete: 11 days
Santorini: 5 days
Paros: 5 days
Naxos: 6 days
Athens: 3 days
Thank you for all the information you have taken the time to put together for us all to enjoy!!!!!
We are going to Greece end of September and beginning of October. We will be spending 4 nights in Santorini, 4 in Mykonos and 4 in Crete. There is so much to read about all the places and trying ti decide where to stay is hard so I thought I’d reach out to you.
In Santorini, we are trying to decide what town to stay in, we do not want to have to rent a car, would prefer to walk most of the time. We don’t love crowds and tons of touristy things, but want to see the musts. We like to see local culture and experience as much of it as possible vs just touristy things. That being said we also don’t want to stay so far away from the hub as to not enjoy the restaurants and shops nor be unsafe as it will be 2 female travelers.
What town would you most recommend?
Also is 4 nights per place enough? If we should eliminate one in order to spend more time in another which would you recommend to eliminate? We enjoy hiking, being outside, walking thru towns, seeing architecture. Not much for clubs/bars but love to eat the local food.
Considering your interests I would recommend 3 or 4 days in Naxos which has some great inland villages, good local food, and wonderful hikes. Crete is also great though its size makes it hard to explore in just 4 days. Mykonos is primarily nightlife and beaches so either skip completely or trim to 1 or 2 nights. As for Santorini, renting a car will definitely help you get off the beaten track and see some of the quieter more interesting spots. And if you have a rental car all towns (along the caldera) work equally well for exploring the island.
I’m staying in Chania for a week in July. Do you recommend renting a car? Or is it easy to see the sights of Crete without a car?
The bus system in Crete is great and can get you almost anywhere. But will you have more freedom (and see more) with a rental car? For sure. You’ll get a lot more out of your time with a car rental.
What is the best (and preferably romantic) restaurant in Elounda?
Lotus Eaters is the best restaurant in Elounda and right on the waterfront.
Super helpful site. Planning a honeymoon for next August. Thinking likely Monday August 12th –> Saturday August 24th). We’re looking at Santorini for 5 nights (Above Blue Suites are appealing but haven’t booked just yet) and then we’re torn between Paros or Crete. Ideally we’d like somewhere that is within walking distance or on a good beach, within walking distance to towns to get good authentic local cuisine, and maybe has a pool at the hotel / resort. Don’t need a bunch of nightlife, just the opportunity to enjoy beautiful weather, good beaches, and great food/drinks.
What do you recommend and when do you envision all the hotel options becoming available to book as it looks like the majority right now are not booking out that far.
Paros and Crete are both wonderful but for what you’re looking for I’d recommend Naxos – either Naxos Town or one of the beach towns down the coast.
Thank you for providing such valuable information to us travellers looking to explore Greece – much appreciated.
Regarding Chania airport. any tips to keep in mind. Sadly, the reviews online of CHQ are fairly horrible and I am trying to separate fact from fiction. Specifically, we will be leaving Chania on August 22nd and our flight is at 6:25AM. How early do you recommend arriving to the airport? What should we expect? What’s the airport like?
Thank You Kindly
Actually, Chania’s ‘Ioannis Daskalogiannis’ International Airport is a pretty OK kind of airport. The fifth largest in Greece, it is certainly better than a couple of its busier competitors (Heraklion and Rhodes come to mind) though far less well-equipped (or busy) than the other two big ones – Athens and Thessaloniki.
It’s an easy run to the airport, though for a 6.25am flight you’d be wanting to pre-order a cab the day before (or arrange through your hotel). The trip costs around €25 and allow for 20-30 minutes. The local bus is a more modest €2.50, but the first departure from Chania is too late – at 6:50am.
The modern terminal has a large open ground level check-in area and checking-in for the main – budget and charter flights – does start early, so allow at least 80 minutes before departures time to check in. In late August – even at that time of the morning – you can expect a fair bit of activity. From check-in you take an escalator upstairs to pre-departure level. There are some shops and a place for a coffee and a croissant for a quick breakfast, then you pass through security to the departures lounge where there are more shops and café/restaurant options. It’s all pretty compact.
The airport is pretty well a reflection of ‘airport standard’ for Greek airports (which can be pretty shaky in some places such as Rhodes and Heraklion), but on a score of 1-10 for Greek airports it rates 7.5. There’s nothing to be concerned about. It all actually works pretty well. The ‘fairly horrible’ reviews you have read may reflect untenable comparisons with northern European airports, but as long as you compare apples with apples, Chania – for Greece – is just fine.
Note that Olympic/Aegean have their own less-peopled part of the checking area while the Ryanairs and other budget/charter airlines occupy the opposite side of the hall and there are usually longer queues here. Ryanair also usually requires you to bring your own pre-printed boarding pass, otherwise they will charge you.
Bottom line: don’t be concerned, get there as early as you can, check in before any crowds may materialise, and head straight to the airside departure lounge and enjoy a bit of breakfast as you watch the action build up around you.
Thank you for helping all of us!! God bless you for answering the same questions! So I’m traveling with my elderly parents and my 9 year old son. My husband and I are in our forties. Interested in the beaches of Western Crete but not the Gorge since it will exhaust my fellow travelers, maybe day trip to Knossos. Wanted to do day trip to Santorini but seems way too hard from Chania. So I was wondering if you think staying at the Samaria hotel (wanted pool in city) for a few nights and then going to Platania area (Amalthia or Minoa Palace (4 nights), would work? We won’t have a rental car. We enjoy eating out so no villas for us. Thoughts? We will be in Crete total of 7 nights. Thanks!
The Samaria Hotel in Central Chania is a well-regarded 4-star hotel right in the centre of the town. If having a pool is a requirement, then you probably can’t go far wrong. It’s just that most people heading for Chania prefer to stay in the Old Town and not in a business hotel right next to the bus station. The Old Chania Town is a much more relaxing place – and possibly less challenging (traffic, noise) for your elderly parents and has a good array of very comfortable boutique hotels usually built in old mansion and old manor houses. Restaurants and traffic-free places to stroll are on your doorstep and importantly it has a comfortable vibe. But, you probably won’t find the pool you are after.
Platanias is the beach annexe to Chania and you will find hotels with pools-a-plenty here – as well as a long sandy beach. The Amalthia Beach Resort is fine (and has a big pool) and so is the Minoa Palace except that is not on the beach side of the main through highway (there is a walkway over the road to the beach) so either choice is fine. You may want to re-consider the choice of the Samaria Hotel, though and go for the Old Town experience which is a totally different world to the fast, busy beach and pool scene of Platanias.
Seven nights is not a lot of time: two nights in the Old Town and five nights in Platanias would be a good balance. You wouldn’t need a car for this proposed mixed stay – a cab would be the best bet, though five people might be a squeeze. Eating options are definitely better in the Old Town and your hotel choice in Platanias will normally include breakfast and one meal (half-board) so that leaves you with say, lunch to sample the restaurant picking in Platanias which run the gamut from touristy (picture menu joints) to the occasional decent ‘Cretan’ eatery (ask the hotel staff for tips).
I love your site! We are planning a trip to Greece and I was wondering what location you recommend since we are only in Crete 2 nights? We will be flying in from Athens and leaving for Santorini via ferry.
If you can get a flight from Athens to Chania then stay in Chania for your two nights. If you can only fly to Heraklion (from where most ferries depart from to Santorini) then you might be best to stay in Heraklion (especially if Knossos and the Archaeological Museum are of interest to you). Closer/more convenient options for Heraklion are Agios Nikolaos or Elounda. But Chania is the most charming town in Crete – if you can make it work then stay there.
Hello and thank you for your wonderful site. I am planning a trip to Greece in late July-early August (no choice in dates) with my husband and two children (6 and 8). The plan is to fly in to Athens and go straight to Crete and spend 4 days there, then take a ferry to Naxos and spend 3 days there, and then travel to Athens for 3 days to see the city and visit relatives. Crete is confusing me and we can’t figure out where stay. From what I can tell, we need to leave for Naxos via Heraklion, but we don’t want our base to be too touristy… we want good food, an authentic town-feel with tavernas, and to be well-located for a few fun excursions with the kids. For example, I’d love a trip to a kid-friendly cave or maybe something else adventurous while still feeling unique to Greece. Ruins would be nice, but I fear my kids would be bored in two minutes so I wouldn’t want a long drive just for that. Beaches are not a high priority as we we’re expecting to get that in Naxos. We were thinking Agios Nikolaus but I worry it might be a bit lacking in the fun excursions with kids department? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
Yes, Crete can seem a very large island – and it is large. Four days are also not a lot of time for a large island and from what you write, you are looking at a place that will above all keep your kids occupied and happy. First up, late July and early August is high season in Greece and that means booking your accommodation and travel well beforehand. Your first thought of Agios Nikolaos is a fine idea. It’s a very pleasant little town and offers many of the amenities you list above. While there is no easy cave handy there is a ‘pirate island’ you can visit … well, it’s actually a former leper colony island called Spinalonga and it’s a great excursion for kids.
While Agios Nikolaos is a fairly sizeable town and is undoubtedly popular with tourists, the smaller village of Elounda (8.5 kms north) might be a better base and it’s right opposite Spinalonga. It’s got a bit of everything – apart from the Spinalonga excursion. There are other boat trips, exploring the larger and connected (to the mainland) island of Kolokytha with its deserted beaches. Then there are the village’s tavernas, shops and ice cream parlours. In fact, it probably ticks all your boxes. No real need to drive anywhere and if you feel like splurging then you can opt for one of the all-in luxury hotels that have lots of activities for kids. These hotels are located, in the main between Agios Nikolaos and Elounda and most have private beaches as well as swimming pools. Have a look on here to see some of the best options. Otherwise you can find well priced smaller hotels, or self-catering appartments.
Additional treats for the kids that will involve a bit of a drive with a hire car include Acqua Plus Water Park or Labyrinth Park about an hour’s drive in the direction of Heraklion. Both parks are within 500 metres of each other. Finally, one more thing in favour of this corner of Crete is its relative proximity to Heraklion Port and your onward connection to Naxos. You can easily get to Heraklion in time for your morning catamaran – a 2 hours’ drive or 2.5 hour bus ride.
I am booking a last minute trip to Crete for six days for me and my family. My daughter sprained her ankle so we are putting off our original plans to visit Santorini in favor of Crete so that she can hobble from the room to the sea. Per your suggestion, we plan to stay at the Minos Beach Art Hotel.
I would love to see Chania but since my daughter can’t really walk around, I am thinking of renting a car and taking a day-excursion over there and back. I have two questions, (1) is that crazy i.e. a lot of driving for one day of Chania and (2) do you have any recommendations for excursions near Agios Nikolios that do not involve a lot of walking?
We are living in Europe for now so we might have another chance to get down there in which case I would try to combine Santorini and Chania.
The Minos Beach Art Hotel is a good choice, but even though it’s right on the beach you daughter will necessarily have to do some walking/hobbling to get to and from your room/studio and the beach/pool. Chania is a great town but is a long way from Agios Nikolaos (202 kms) – that is a 404 km round-trip in one day … You are better off staying in Chania for a night or two to do it any justice.
Old Chania (the nicest bit) is not amenable to get around in by car, so you still have the mobility issue for your daughter. The streets are narrow, cobbled and uneven and can be a challenge for people whose ankles are not sprained … While a 400km round trip is doable in a day it would not be so enjoyable. The road section between Agios Nikolas and Heraklion has quite a bit of road works happening and driving it (especially in the late evening on the way home) would not be fun.
An easier run might be to Ierapetra (36 kms south of Agios Nikolaos) where you can park close to the waterfront and do a bit of walking up and down the main promenade while taking lunch in one of a number of seafood tavernas along Stratigou Samouil which also sports a little beach. If you prefer a smaller place, try Myrtos – a further 16kms west of Ieraptera which is smaller still, will allow close vehicle access and walking can be limited to the beachfront wooden walkway. If you have a car and prefer a shorter drive from Agios Nikolaos a great little spot for lunch or dinner is Plaka (15 kms) north of Agios Nikolaos. You can park your car within 20 metres of a waterside dining table at the Delphini restaurant and look out over the blue waters to the island of Spinalonga.
First off, your blog has been a tremendous help in planning our upcoming trip to Greece in Sept of this year. Thank you for all the wonderful accommodation and restaurant suggestions! We are trying to finalizing our itinerary specifically for our time in Crete and would appreciate your insight. We are flying from Alberta, Canada and have 10 days in total in Greece, with the last 2 days already booked in Santorini. Here are the options I am trying to decide between for Crete:
Option 1: 8 days in Chania
Option 2: 6 days in Chania; 2 days in Rethymno
Option 3: 6 days in Chania; 2 days in Agios Nikolaos
Option 4: 5 days in Chania; 1 day in Rethymno; 2 days in Agios Nikolaos
It will be out very first time to Greece. We are a young couple who enjoys eating out, food/wine tours, beaches, hiking, nightlife, and strolling in town centers. We will be renting a car upon arrival in Chania and returning it in Heraklion before catching the ferry to Santorini.
Thank you in advance for all your help!
I’d do option 4. Chania deserves the most time but one day in Rethymno is certainly worth it (and breaks up the trip to A.N.). Agios Nikolaos is great and you’ll love 2 days there.
My fiancee and I are visiting Crete at the end of the month and we are open to where to go on Crete.
I have looked on your blog about the island but confused on where we should stay for 3 nights.
Adam S Kaminitz
Chania is the most charming and interesting town in Crete.
For a super luxury hotel would you choose the Elounda Beach or the Blue Palace? Or is there somewhere else?
Both hotels are right up there in the 5-star category and located in one of the prettiest corners of Crete. They are similar in many ways, but have some distinct differences. The ‘Beach’ is an older more established hotel – one of the original luxury hotels in Elounda. It wears its age well and the team has a fine machine running reflecting its many years of customer service. It is a large hotel with luxuries at different levels to suit all tastes and budgets. It has one major advantage over the Blue Palace and that is that is contiguous to the beach (two sandy beach coves in fact) and feels more ‘at one’ with the sea.
The Blue Palace, while enjoying a sizeable private pebble beach, is cut off in effect from its beach by the highway and access to the beach is by a rather clever internal funicular. That may be a deciding factor when choosing. It has a lot of rooms with private pools and the fittings and fixtures are all pretty modern, but it might be viewed by some as a little more sterile in comparison with the Beach.
On the upper, the Blue Palace is newer and a bit jazzier and has some unquestionably excellent facilities. It is on the north side of Elounda – in the new hotel colony, if you like, while the Beach is on the more traditional south side of Elounda. Both are similar distances from Elounda central and both enjoy great views: in the case of the Beach the Bay of Mirabello and in the case of the Palace the island of Spinalonga opposite. It might be safe to suggest that older clients prefer the Beach and younger clients the Palace. So, a bit of a toss-up.
For utter exclusivity and privacy you may want to have a look at the Elounda Peninsula All Suite Hotel a little further south. Less of a hotel than an exclusive resort made up entirely of suites it attracts the well-heeled and those seeking discretion such as rock and tennis stars, politicians and maybe the odd Russian oligarch or president. Another luxury option, though in a less obvious location may be the Caramel Grecotel near Rethymnon. This place warrants a look-in and if you can get a beachside villa with your own patio, lawn and pergola you’ll be doing well. Good luck!
Love your blog! We are going to Crete for 7 days in June and I wonder if you know of any beaches that offer service on the beach? We were at St. Paul’s Bay in Rhodes last year and got very used to the great taverna there offering sun lounger service and we’re hoping we can find something similar? We’ll be staying in Chania for 4 nights and Elounda for 3 nights. Are you able to use private beach hotels at a charge perhaps?
Thanks in advance for any advice you can offer.
Pretty well all established Greek beach environments offer bars, restaurants and sun loungers unless you really go out of the way. Rule of thumb: if it is a half decent beach, there will be some service from a tin hut selling cold beers and sandwiches to a full-on mini-resort with wooden walkways, permanent cantinas, Wi-Fi, water sports and car parking. Crete is no different, however some clarification is required here for Chania and Elounda.
Chania – that is Old Chania – is not a beach resort. The beach serving Chania runs for about 13km west of Chania starting from about the 5km mark. It is generally known by two names: Agia Marina and Platanias. It is one long public beach served by private hotels, tavernas, cantinas, and beach bars. You can go anywhere on the beach as the beach itself is not private. Here you will find many opportunities to locate your favourite beach club or taverna with loungers.
Elounda is a bit more tricky. South of Elounda are the best little beaches, but they have all been virtually captured by smart, luxury hotels and have become in effect private beaches – whilst they are legally still public. To get to these ‘public’ beaches you have to go through private hotel property and as a general rule of thumb they will not let you through unless you are a guest. Guards manage the entrances to the hotels (though how they remember who is a guest and who is not is still a mystery).
You could approach these beaches in theory by walking along the coast, but you would still be trespassing in many places. Realistically forget about them. Elounda village itself is not really a beach place, but the island across the causeway is and you can easily get there on foot or scooter. Some hotels have reserved ‘beach clubs’ that may let you in for a fee: one that comes to mind is the Blue Palace north of Elounda village
Notwithstanding the exclusivity factor, there are actually lots of little beach places scattered in between the hotels and if you have transport you can drive and find your own piece of beach heaven. Bottom line is that beaches, cantinas and loungers are generally de rigueur in Greece wherever there are sufficient people around and Chania and Elounda fall into that category.
Your site rocks! I will be visiting Crete from July 11 – 24th with my husband and two girls aged 8 and 10, I realise this is in the middle of busy season!. I’d like to split up our stay into two different regions for two different experiences, and I’ve been waffling but think I’ve landed on Chania and Elounda. Elounda is pretty straightforward to book a resort with pool / beach that will be a hit with the kids, but I’m struggling with whether or not to stay in central Chania or try to find a villa or vacation house outside of Chania. I like the idea of having a pool and yard for the kids, but also want to make sure we can easily experience Greek culture and town, so the idea of having that within walking distance is appealing. Many of the villas I see on homeaway or vrbo that have what I’m looking for (pool, yard, ocean views) are inland and ~5km from Chania town. My question for you is, are there nice villages you can recommend that are still close enough to make Chania town a frequent visit, were I could find a villa within walking distance of the villa, or am I better off to forego pool/yard and base in Central Chania. We have never been to Greece before and are really looking forward to this beautiful island!
People stay in Chania (Old Town) for the experience of being in an atmospheric old port with myriads of alleyways, old buildings, cosy lodgings and plenty of restaurants. That said, it is not a beach town – though there are beaches, if you know where to go – and for 8 and 10-year-old girls the attraction may wear off after a day or three.
Looking for a self-catering villa is a great idea, especially if you can find one in a village. You can wander at will, cater for yourself (though it’s more fun eating out) and the girls will get a taste of village life. Getting to and from Chania might be an issue unless you hire a car as village bus services are often little-existent.
What you might consider is focussing your search for a self-contained villa/studio/appartment in the busy holiday strip of Agia Marina and Platanias (9.4kms-10.9kms) to the west of Chania. Traditional Cretan village this may not be – though Upper (Ano) Platanias still retains something of a traditional feel – but it will probably be more exciting for your daughters. There are cafés, restaurants, shops, the beach and even a water park about 12km inland from Platanias. It is a trade-off, agreed, but you will get the best of both worlds.
Bear in mind that Crete is big and if you want to see more you really will need a car to get around and wander at will. July 11 to July 24th segues from shoulder to full season, so pre-bookings are a mus. Here is a link to some upper market villas to rent in Crete and Airbnb is also worth a look.
I agree with how insanely helpful your website is, you are an angel for setting up this guide — it really helps first time travellers like myself to get ideas, useful information and tips in planning for accomodations and transit.
I’m visiting Europe for the first time in September and will be mostly spending it in Greece. I have 11 nights and 10 full days to spend in Greece. Right now, what I have in my itinerary is 3 nights in Athens, 6 nights in Chania and 2 nights in Santorini. I wanted to spend these days with relaxation (less transfers), as well as getting the most Greek experience I can.
– I dont really want to spend 6 full days in Chania and wanted to see more of Crete. Which towns do you recommend to be included in a 6 night stay in Crete?
– I really really wanted to see Santorini and experiemce the Catamaran cruise, but I feel like 2 nights is way too short. Is there any tours from Crete to Santorini that includes a Catamaran cruise?
I’m flying out from Vancouver, Canada to Paris and connecting to Greece from there. Im still figuring how to get to Rome from Greece the cheapest way possible.
If you have any better recommendations for route itinerary please, please let me know and help me out. Thank you so much and all the best.
First off, try to fly in and out of different Greek cities. Preferably with Athens and Crete at the beginning and end of you trip (doesn’t matter which one is first) and Santorini in the middle. Chania is my favorite town in Crete and deserving of at least 3 nights. Heraklion is good for visiting Knossos and the excellent Archaeological Museum. Agios Nikolaos and Elounda are great for a quieter and slower pace. There are many flights from Paris, Rome, and other Italian cities to and from Heraklion and Athens so you should be able to find something that works. I would spend 3 nights on Santorini and 2 nights (1 full day) in Athens. There are no Crete/catamaran tours to Santorini.
Firstly, your site is amazing and so great to browse. I am planning a holiday with my boyfriend for mid-May and am keen to combine relaxing on the beach by a town and exploring somewhere new in Crete. I have been to Elounda twice, so am interested in perhaps trying Chania instead. We were thinking of spending 10 days in total, and perhaps 5 in Chania and a few in Kapsaliana. What do you think? Should we look to visit somewhere else too? We would aim to rent a car so we can see more.
I would also love to take a boat day trip while in Chania. Are there any you would recommend?
Chania is a great base for a stay in Crete so basing yourself there for part of your ten days is a great idea. Kapsaliana is a small hill community 17kms from Rethymno, but it is not clear from your message why you are attracted to stay there. With a car you can of course get to and from the village and there are couple of places to stay. No problem in staying in a small Cretan village, but it’s not by the sea and it is not known for any particular traveller interest, other than being a genuine Cretan village.
You might be better off splitting your time between Chania and Rethymno and get the best of all worlds: the beach, old towns, country villages, wineries and bio-farms, yet having the comfort of a pleasant urban environment where you sleep. With your car you can of course visit many place in Western Crete – the stunning beach of Elafonisi, the south coast beach villages of Paleochora, Plakias and if you really want a pretty Cretan village to stay in, you might want to consider the pretty village of Milia and in particular its delightful mountain retreat and cooking and food based activities.
Most travellers to this part of Crete will take one of the five day cruises offered by Cretan Daily Cruises with the Gramvousa Peninsula being perhaps the most popular. If you are keen to be by the beach then Chania’s beach strip runs westwards from the Old Town and encompasses Platanias and Agia Marina. It’s a busy buzzing arena but it is commercialized and a bit touristy. Similar deal for the Rethymnon strip running eastwards from the Old Town. In short you will find plenty to do in your ten days in Western Crete and if you are up to it (it should be open in May) the Samaria Gorge Walk is a great experience.
I completely agree with everyone else – your website and insights couldn’t be more helpful! I’m planning my honeymoon for the last 2 weeks in September. We were originally going to spend 10 days in Greece and 5 in Italy, but are pretty convinced after doing our research – that there’s too much to cover in Greece to warrant going to anywhere else!
So, we know that we want to do the Cyclades and Crete. So far, here are the top 4 areas I want to visit: Santorini, Milos, Western Crete from Chania, and Eastern Crete from ether Elounda or Agios Nikolaos. A few questions for you:
1. Do you think it’s worth staying in both the west and east of Crete, or should we just pick one area?
2. Or – should we skip Milos and spend more time in Crete (perhaps 4 in Santorini, 4 in west Crete, 4 in east Crete, 2 in Athens)?
3. We’re HUGE beach goers which is why the islands are so appealing to us. When we stay in Chania, we’re imagining that we’d drive to all of the surrounding beaches like Elafonisi, Stavros, and Falasarna. Is it realistic to drive to a different beach every day or is that way too much travel?
4. Have you heard of the new Domes Noruz hotel in Chania? If so, is it a bit off the beaten path?
5. We really like the Remezzo Villas in Santorini but are wondering if it would be difficult to get transportation to and from Fira at night?
6. Lastly, if we could find a great sailing company, we’d consider a few days on the water in place of more time in Crete. Do you have any charter recommendations for a private sail for a few days?
Please let me know if I’m missing anything.
Thanks SO much!
Yes, 15 days split over two countries might make your experience a little thin, so a wise decision to stick to Greece. You can do Italy another time.
OK, let’s take your questions one by one. Yes, it is worth splitting your time between western and eastern Crete. The areas are not dissimilar, but offer different experiences. Eastern Crete – especially around Elounda and Agios Nikolaos remind you more of the traditional Greek islands and feels more intimate. Western Crete around Chania is more open while the (Old) towns of Rethymnon and Chania are oh-so-pretty and the beaches are either strung out next to the towns or you drive to go and find them.
Milos would be hard to combine with Crete. There is but one weekly (slow) boat connection and no flights between the islands. You could connect with a stop in Santorini, but generally Milos is not well connected to the central Cyclades islands having a more accessible link northwards via Sifnos, Serifos and Kythnos. Perhaps leave it.
It is realistic to drive to beaches from Chania – though Chania does have a pretty nice beach of its own (if you know where to go – more of that in a moment). Its main beach runs westwards through Platanias and Agia Marina, but it is hotel and restaurant territory and the beach while clean and sandy, is rather ordinary. Elafonisi (73 kms) is on everyone’s beach list and it is an easy enough drive. Falasarna (52 kms), while not as exotic is a relatively easy drive too. Stavros (15.5 kms) on the Peninsula is the closest and is pretty nice and cosy.
The Domes Noruz opened last year and is fine as far as upper-market hotels go. Its location is not the best, however. The area is fine but far from idyllic. Its beach is OK, but borders a much better one (and this is Chania’s hidden beach secret) just a shade to the east called Notis Beach (Iguana Beach is in between). The hotel is not off the beaten path and is in fact quite close to Chania central (5.5 kms).
Remezzo is great. It’s about a 5 minute walk to the Imerovigli bus stop and from there there are regular buses to both Fira and Oia. Fira is a 25 minute downhill walk from Remezzo. Buses will stop running around midnight (ish) in September and after that it’s just taxis (you’ll find one if you’re patient).
No great sailing company comes to immediate mind, but there are plenty around so both searching and planning before hand or finding something after you arrive would work.
Thank you for all of this wonderful information Dave! My son ( who is studying in the Netherlands) and I are visiting Greece in May. We will have 7-9 days and will spend most of out time on Crete and a few days in Santorini. It seems the direct flights from Santorini to Amsterdam leave on Mondays and Fridays. We want to return to Amsterdam on Sat or Sun. We could go via Athens but would prefer not to. Is it possible that the airlines could add days in May? Thank you. Sue Dickie
It’s possible they add flights but at this point unlikely. If you want to travel on a different day but don’t want to go all the way to Athens then look at Mykonos to Amsterdam flights.
Hey Santorini Dave!
I love your SantoriniDave.com website! It has been so informative! I have used it to help plan our Santorini wedding and other islands that we are visiting!
We are staying 4 nights in Crete, planning on traveling along the top. But I’m starting to wonder about my itinerary, just wanting to know if it is able to be achieved and what really to do in Heraklion. Would you mind looking at it and giving suggestions?
~Saturday in Athens
Arrive in Athens.
Take flight to Chania.
Walk around Old Town/Harbour.
~Sunday in Crete
~Monday in Crete
Drive Chania to Rethymnon.
Monastery on way into Rethymnon.
Old Town, Fortress, Lighthouse
~Tuesday in Crete
Drive Rethymnon to Heraklion.
***This is where I don’t really know what to do or where to stay. Was thinking winery, heard there was a place to watch them make olive oil. Of course, go and see Knossos. Maybe spend an extra night in Chania or Rethymnon and skip Heraklion? Or hire someone to do a tour?
Would love some help! Thanks!
You arrive in Athens and plan to fly to Chania the same day. Have you looked at the connections? Are you sure you can do it on the same day? If you arrive late for example, you might miss out on a flight connection. Assuming that you will arrive on time, then a relaxed evening in Chania is fine.
The Samaria Gorge trip is an all-dayer and you need to be off to Omalos (the start of the track) early – say around 7am in order to catch the KTEL bus. The walk will see you arrive in Agia Roumeli by lunchtime and you will catch a coastal ferry back to Chora Sfakion where another bus will carry you back to Chania. You don’t want to be doing this in mid-Summer. It’s a strenuous walk and you need good footwear, water and snack supplies and be reasonably fit.
Chania to Rethymnon is only a two hour 64.5 km drive (you are hiring a car?) (Note that you can’t easily use a car for the Samaria Gorge trip as you enter and exit the Gorge at two different places). The monastery you mention is presumably the Arkadi monastery which is a 20km return side trip off the main highway after Rethymnon on the way to Heraklion. So it’s an easy add-on diversion with a return to Rethymnon, or you can leave it for the following day and will still leave you plenty of time to get to Heraklion
To stay or not to stay in Rethymnon? It’s a pretty little town – a scaled down version of Chania – and the Old Town is delightful. It’s worth the effort to stay and explore.
Heraklion is the big sister. Bustling and all action and has the Archaeological Museum and Knossos of course. It has come along a long way from its earlier earthy days and the town centre is very gentrified these days. If you do stay, consider the Green Olive Hotel – a lovely new place that is worth a look.
As for watching olive oil being made, bear in mind they only make olive oil after the olive harvest which starts in October so there will not be a lot to see if your visiting outside of then. However, a visit to the Agreco Farm between Rethymnon and Heraklion is highly recommended. Here you will see all kinds of plants growing and view unusual animals such as the Cretan Kri-Ki wild mountain goat. Best bet is to go in the early evening, tour the farm – see the olive oil press – and then have raki (Cretan grape spirit) sampling and follow that by dinner at the farm. Easier done if you base yourselves in Rethymnon for the night. You could combine the Arkadi monastery with the Agreco Farm as they are both on the same side of Rethymnon.
You don’t mention where you exit Crete (it is presumably Heraklion) so just check that you can drop off your hire car in a different city. Other than that, a compact and doable plan.
Hi Dave. I agree, great website!! My husband and I will be in Crete for our first time for 7 nights and Santorini for 2 nights in mid April. We are flying into Chania and taking ferry out of Heraklion to Santorini. We really like staying places that have fabulous views and a lot of charm. I love private pools but given the temperature at this time, we figured a hot tub may be a better choice. I’ll have a car in Crete in have no issue driving a little ways. We were planning on spending 5 nights in Chania (2 nights downtown, 3 nights at beach (Domes Noruz), 1 in Stalida (Skajado Holiday Apartments), and 1 in Heraklion (Kronos Hotel) before the ferry, but after reading your site, I think we need to add Agios/ Elounda area. Unfortunately, the Domes and several other hotels you mention are already booked on our dates- but those were right up our alley. If you have any other suggestions or a villa or something in that area, that would be great. In Chania, we had been looking at the Domes Noruz for 2-3 nights and spending our 1st two nights somewhere in the main city with a view of the harbor. In Santorini we have booked at Iliovasilema Suites. We love views, beaches, history and wineries, so if you have any advise on the places I’ve mentioned, other places to stay or things to do, we’d so appreciate it.
Thanks so much!!! Karen & Charles
The only downside to your plans – that you seem to have pinpointed – is that you are conducting your trip in mid-April and this year both Western Christian Easter and Eastern Christian Easter coincide on the same long weekend (14-17 April) and this is an important factor to take into account. Easter in Greece is one of the biggest feast times and busiest travel times of the year when Greeks flock to their ancestral homes to spend the feast with their families. Accommodation can be in high demand as can demand on transport in and around Greece. Mid-April is not always going to be hot – warm maybe, but not always guaranteed. The Greece tourism season traditionally gets a kickstart after Easter, so there are a number of factors at play that may affect your time.
First up make sure you have your bookings locked in, if there are likely to coincide with Easter weekend. Same too with transport. Note that in the week leading up to Easter restaurant pickings for meat and poultry may be thin on the ground as Greeks traditionally fast from meat – and if not for the full period of Lent, then at least during Holy Week before Easter. If you are staying in all-in places – and it sounds like you are – and they provide meals then you will in all probability be covered.
OK, turning to the wonderful Agios Nikolaos and Elounda area, there are indeed a batch of classy all-in hotels that should be operating by Easter and there are some new ones that will be listed for the first time on this site in the near feature. Among them is the rather good Elounda Bay Palace and the Elounda Bay Mare. Both are sibling hotels to larger (and more expensive) sister hotels nearby. Both fall into the luxury category, but with assiduous booking and timing you can get some good deals. They are family oriented hotels and have a very nice ambiance. Both offer a lot of internal travel guidance – wineries, history tours and both have private beaches which are lot better than the ones in Chania, Heraklion (!) and Stalida. Stalida it should be pointed out the focus of a highly commercialised tourist strip where you’ll meet many tourists on packaged holidays.
For your two nights in the Old Town of Chania consider a new boutique hotel on the scene that might be just up your street and that is the Domus Renier Boutique Hotel. It smallish – just nine rooms – and the management is looking hard to please its new clientele. The also newish Domes Nowruz Hotel in Chania is a pretty hotel in a not all that pretty neighbourhood and the beach is, well a bit thin and scrappy. Around the corner from the hotel are two better beaches – Iguana and Notis should you want a better scene. It is not comparable to the decidedly nicer Elounda scene. One more tip this time for Heraklion – the Olive Green Hotel only opened last August and is a real breath of fresh (and ecologically green) air.
So, food for thought. Easter, unpredictable weather and an unusual domestic tourism bubble that can throw plans out. Good luck.
Your blog and replies are very informative, especially for a first timer.
I am planning to travel to Crete for 3 days end of January with my family. We are looking for something resort-like, but also with some nightlife and places to explore during the day. Another important factor is a good beach nearby. Any suggestions?
Is January a good season to travel here?
What will be the weather be like during that time, would it be too cold and rainy?
Will the island and the tourist sites be open or some areas closed down?
How about beaches, will it to too cold to swim?
Thank you very much in advance.
It will not be beach weather so no need to worry about being close to the beach. You can still get some wonderful clear days that are great for sightseeing. Chania is a great town for ambience, trendy restaurants, and touristy shopping. Heraklion is better for historical sightseeing. Both will be quieter than summer but they have large local populations so are never dead.
Your blog and replies are very imformative, it’s a blessing for any traveller!
I am planning a trip for a few days to Greece, in the first week of November (29th October – 6th November). I travel with my husband and a one year old. Our preliminary research/ ideas are to be in Athens for 3-4 days, and spend a couple of days each in Crete (Elounda) and in Santorini. Would really appreciate your suggestions on whether these destinations are a good pick for a first time visit to Greece, and do they make sense given the time of the year?
It seems the connectivity from Crete will be limited to flights to Athens, so it makes a bit of a back and forth; but we could start with Crete (of course after landing into Athens), come back to Athens and spend the 3-4 days and finish off with Santorini.
1. Is it correct that all ferries from Crete to Santorini are unavailable at the end of October? The helicopter option is not for us, so if this is the case then we would have to fly back to Athens, correct?
2. Is Crete worth a visit in late October, given the beaches won’t make much sense, and that some archealogical sites are also likely to be shut?
3. Would you suggest to look for other islands instead of Crete and Santorini? Our primary objectives from the trip would be (in no particular order) – visit historical sites, relax with the kid, savour local food, view coastlines (and some of the pictures we see of Santorini and Crete are a big pull).
A big thank you in advance, and look forward to some tips and guidance.
Cheers – KM
1. Yes, the last ferry between Crete and Santorini runs on October 27.
2. As long as you won’t miss the beaches (though it’s still a possibility) then late October / early November is a great time. Still warmish weather with lots of sun and great for hanging out, eating great local food (the lousy touristy restaurants have closed, the good local ones stay open), and sightseeing. I don’t think any of the archaeological sites will be closed – certainly none of the major ones.
3. For your interests, Santorini and Crete are two of the best, but once again you won’t be ferrying from one to the other so this might change your plans.
Your website is just brilliant!
We are planning a week in Crete at the end of August. I visited Crete many years ago and fell in love with Chania. So I am returning with my husband and two teenage daughters (16 and 14). We are overwhelmed by the choice. Ideally we would like either a villa or hotel with a pool and within walking distance of a beach. We would prefer not to hire a car as it is just a week. We plan to just relax on some days but also visit Chania. What would you suggest? We have seen many villas outside Chania and unsure whether to go for this without a car, or whether a hotel would be better.
Any thoughts hugely appreciated
Gut feeling is that you would be better off taking a hotel, given that you want to spend only a week and the key elements of your trip seem to be relaxation and enjoying Chania. You may remember the long beach resort strip running west from Chania for about 14kms. It has developed a lot since your last visit. There are some fine, four and five star hotels in among the many tourist facilities.
A villa is good … if you have a car, like to self cater, have a bit more time, and don’t want to be in among the action. If you self-cater, remember you have to shop for many items (which some people enjoy and others find a hassle) and one of the main attractions of Chania is the many great restaurants – villas are better for people who want to eat in and skip the local dining seen.
The tourist strip in question really starts in earnest at Agia Marina about 9.5 kms west of Chania Old Town and is connected contiguously to Platanias. If you are going to search for a hotel, start here. You are not too far from your beloved Chania, you are near a decent walk-to beach scene and the choices for most other tourist facilities are greater here. There is a regular bus service into Chania, so you won’t need a car.
The end of August is a good time as you will be just out of the peak season.
Hi Dave – love your site, used it for a trip to Tulum last year. I’m booking a last minute (17th Sept) ‘babymoon’ holiday before I have a baby in Crete and a bit overwhelmed with choices (which are getting booked up fast!) We would like a modern hotel, with a pool and beach access preferably not too many kids near a town with things to do/restaurants etc. I normally hate going to a resort with multiple restaurants but need to compromise as want to relax and can’t be too adventurous at 5 months pregnant. I love the boutique hotels in Santorini/Mykonos (e.g Grace) but struggling to find something similar in Crete – do you have any recommendations? Also, is Santorini near enough to take a trip there for a few days?
My main concern is the ferry ride from Santorini to Crete. Most of the time it’s fine but you can get some very rough rides as this is more open sea than when you stay within the Cyclades. For an easy ferry ride, a great hotel on the beach, and good restaurants at the hotel and just out the door I would recommend Ios Palace Hotel on Ios. It’s a very short (usually calm) ferry ride from Santorini to Ios. And the hotel is beautiful. Crete has many charms but since it sounds like you just want beach and pool time then Ios is a better, easier choice.
I literally have been dreaming of going to Crete for 4 years now. I even have magazine pictures cut out and hanging in my bathroom so I can remind myself every day that my dream will come true. That dream is here, the time is mid September for 20 days. What I didn’t expect was to completely buckle under the pressure of that reality. I’m racked with indecision strictly because it all means so much to me. Seeing your site tonight filled me with hope as I was reading through your suggestions to others. What I have always dreamed of is staying in an old villa. It’s just me traveling alone, but an old villa, maybe by the sea, is what I’ve always envisioned. I do have a friend who lives in Chania that I will be visiting often so thought I should be near her for our gatherings. I have considered, and am open to, staying in Chania, but it didn’t seem to have the villa feel I was after…more apartment type. That’s ok too as long as it has that old fashioned feel…not too modern. I will be renting a car and plan to travel the island as much as I can with an effort toward seeing the real Crete. But trying to figure out my home base has been overwhelming. My price range is moderate, not luxury, and my over all goal is to find an old charm, authentic feel for where I’m staying. Any advise you can give me on that is SO appreciated! Thanks in advance for your time.
There are plenty of villas in Crete for rent – over 3000 options if crete.booking.com is accurate. However your indecision has also left open some unanswered questions that need to be resolved.
What is a “moderate” price range? Villas by their very nature generally mean upper-market, so you may be ruling out from the start the option of a villa holiday before you have determined your budget. So set a fixed 20 day accommodation budget – in concrete figures – and work from there.
It’s a good idea to have a car. Some villas can be way outside urban conurbations and a basic pre-requisite is that you have some transport, otherwise you may not even be able to shop for basics. Bear in mind that Crete is a sizeable island and even a Heraklion to Chania run can take up a fair amount of your time. If you travel south-north, allow more time for winding roads and mountain passes.
How many rooms do you want? Some villas have five bedrooms, others a more modest one. Decide on your size.
Location. You suggest Chania – as your friend lives there – so decide from the outset where you will search …. Then get to work. Other preferred amenities will determine your final choice: do you require wi-fi, a garden, a patio, a hill view – you suggest by the sea – or do you perhaps plan to bicycle somewhere every now and then? Many questions and easily filtered to your particular taste on a site like Booking.com.
Chania is a great town – even a suite in an old world boutique hotel in the Old Town might really be what you are looking for at the end of the day. Everything will be within walking distance, you will get to see your friend regularly and you will be a hop, skip and a jump from an atmospheric harbour and the Aegean Sea beyond the harbour walls.
With your questions answered, begin your search until you find what you want at a price that meets your budget. It is too hard to give a specific answer for a particular villa as the choices available are too wide and you need to fine-tune your requirements and capabilities first.
A couple of wild cards for you here – that may assist, if you find your budget doesn’t match the prices of villas that you want. Consider AirBnB and punch in what you might be looking for. You can get some surprisingly good deals on there (and even the villa owners sometimes list their holdings). Another less publicised search site option is Trusted House Sitters where you might just find a villa (or cosy stone house) for free … You pay a subscription to access the listings, but you can set your search parameters and you will get a notification whenever a property becomes available that meets your needs. You can alternatively just browse the listings for free.
You are AMAZING and I value every bit of your reply. Turns out, I decided on Vamo Traditonal Village for my “rural villa” feel at my moderate price range. They also have great tours that peaked all of my interests. I also just booked the Aquila Atlantis hotel in Heraklion per your recommendation in another article for my 1 day there. And you are absolutely right that the more I dug into what I was looking for, Old Town Chania could have suited me just fine for my entire trip I think. It seems very old world with all the amenities at reach and much to side trip to. I plan on doing exactly that while I stay with my friend before I head to stay in Vamos.
Thanks for being my go-to guy for my dream trip.
LOVE your site!
We have booked Thalassa Apartments for a one week stay in early October (after reading one of your repsonses) and want to rent a car for the duration of our stay. We will be arriving at Heraklion port and leaving from Chania airport. We prefer full to full fuel policy and full insurance coverage including glass, tires, theft, fire etc.
Do all companies require a deposit? Is it better to go with a company that does not require a deposit?
It has been suggested that we go with a local company as opposed to a big international chain. Some suggestions include ANNA CARS and JUST CAR RENTAL.
Also, Balos Beach…Is there any way to go there by boat that isn’t a “tour” package, just simply a transfer. We don’t want to risk the drive in a rental.
Comments or suggestions would be appreciated.
Excellent choice to go along with Thalassa Apartment in Nopigeia. You will have a fine, chill-out time in a comfortable place to stay. October is getting quieter, so you will have a lot of Crete to yourselves and the weather should be very pleasant still. Car hire is an interesting topic in Greece and it can vary enormously in vehicle quality and company service. There are a number of ways to hire a car in Greece and you need to carefully consider all options.
On paper the cheapest way of doing it is book through one of the aggregator companies that commonly headquarter in Ireland of all places. You can stumble upon these companies through Gooogle searches with a search string such as “car hire in Greece”. These companies data trawl all the car hit companies’ offers and present them on one page, filtered to your liking, where you can see the ostensible discounted offers. You can get good deals if you are lucky, but the end result may not be what you expected. You may book one good-looking vehicle and get a lemon. You may think you have booked though one company – say Caldera – and you end up with a dodgy outfit – like Europcar. Be very wary about the false economy of booking through an aggregator. In October (i.e. shoulder season) at least the buyer has the ultimate power.
If you do try an aggregator booking, then look for offers from reputable companies only: Hertz, Budget and Avis for example. They won’t be the cheapest offers, but they are more reliable. Having done that, go to the local Greek web page for your chosen company (there will normally be an ‘in English’ option) and do the search again for similar parameters, then compare the results. If they are much the same, then you are better off dealing directly with the company in Greece rather than the aggregator in Ireland.
Thirdly, booking when you turn up at Heraklion airport is a reasonable option. You will find local car company booths such as the ones you mention above after arrivals and you have more flexibility to bargain and – more importantly – to actually see the car before you put your money down. This is surprisingly important in order to avoid the ‘lemon’ factor mentioned above. You will have the opportunity to talk face to face with a human being about your hire deal before you pay any money. That is very re-assuring. The local companies very often offer excellent cars at bargain basement prices, but ultimately you get to say yay, or nay. The only disadvantage here – and it must be said with most car hire companies in Greece – is that you will pay a stiff premium to drop it off at another location. Do ask that hard question about location return before signing any agreement.
Now, agreement terms on fuel can vary. Some are half-full delivery, half-full return. Others may have full-full. Europcar had half-half on a recent agreement and provided a vehicle with a totally empty tank. Europcar commonly try to sting you extra for the missing half tank when you return the vehicle. Avoid this company. Fully comprehensive insurance is usually additional to the base agreement, so again talk it through – and this is where your face-to-face local booking may be better. Bookings online commonly require a deposit, or even full payment up-front (check the fine print before you hit SEND). Face to face bookings usually require a credit card record, but you will only be charged when you return the car.
With the above in mind, if you pick up your car in Heraklion, you will be expected to return it to Heraklion, or you pay a premium. If you can manage to fly in and out of Chania, you will be better served.
Balos Beach is technically accessible by road (8km), but it is a dirt road and you may not want to take your shiny rented Fiat Punto along its dust and rocks. The company may not be too happy as well. It will cost, but it is worth taking a day cruise and forgetting the bruises along a rough track. Have a look at this site for the lowdown. There is no company, as far as it is known, that will simply ‘transfer’ you there. If you did opt to drive, you’d have to tote your own food, drink and beach shade and chairs, whereas with a cruise all the comforts are provided and you will enjoy it in the company of others. Driving is a false economy.
Your article is the best for Greece on the internet that I’ve found. Congrats, and thanks for the wealth of information. I’ve printed up the entire column with comments (83 pages) and will have my wife and 2 kids read it on the long flight over to Greece.
I had already booked most of the trip, but think I need to change some things based on what you’ve written. So far, we have:
1) Fly Dulles to Thessaloniki via Istanbul on Turkish Air (using miles. I had a choice between landing at Athens and Thessalonki, and figured Thessaloniki might offer more charm?)
2) Stay two nights at the Hyatt Thessalonki on points
3) Fly Ryanair from Thessaloniki to Chania, but stay three nights at the Radisson Blu Milatos (free on points)
4) Take ferry to Santorini, stay three nights at Pleiades Eco House, which seemed to be a charming little inn I found on booking.com
5) Fly home from Santorini
We are looking for peace and quiet but local color and charm, and generally prefer higher end accommodations. I’ve also tried to find places to stay that will accommodate 2 adults and 2 kids in one room, while finding the most number of places where we can make some use of the miles and points I’ve earned through work travel.
My main question is this: You speak very highly of Chania, and it sounds like the type of place we should stay in. Do you know the Radisson Blu resort? The ratings are not super high, but given that’s its free, should we stay there or pay for a more charming place in Chania? What about restaurants and attractions around the Radisson?
Any other comments you might have about the rest of the plan?
Again, thanks so much for everything you offer.
It’s hard to turn down free, so it makes sense to stay at the Radisson Blu – but as far as being able to enjoy the charms of Crete, this is not the place to do it. If you want a few days to enjoy the sun, pool, and small beach at the Radisson, that’s understandable. Chania is a wonderful town and should really be the focus of your visit since you only have a few days. Pleiades looks nice but be aware it does not have caldera views and is located a good distance from the main caldera towns (and the beaches) – though there is a bus stop with regular buses within walking distance.
Planning a week’s trip to Crete next August. We like to book early to get cheaper hotel and flight costs. We really like our beaches and boutique hotels, also quite like visiting places of natural beauty and meandering around pretty towns. We’re young(ish!) so like a bit of nightlife too (just a nice cocktail bar or similar). Where would you recommend staying in that case? A pool is a must! We would definitely hire a car to drive around the island too. Any thoughts would be much appreciated particularly in choosing the right resort to stay in?
August will be high season and Crete will be in full swing. High season means that in general, costs for accommodation are higher, but if you are looking at making an early package booking, then you may well find a good deal depending where you are booking from. I find the best rates (and value) are usually found by finding airfare through Kayak.com and hotels through Booking.com, but you can be the better judge on that score.
You mention the word ‘resort’ and that suggests you are looking at one of the four main resort centres on Crete, so presumably a bit of a description on each of these might help you in your decision. The ‘resort strips’ are centred mostly along the North coast and number four in all, if you ignore some smaller pockets along the way By the sound of it, you are after a mainstream resort with come action, so let’s limit ourselves to those four options.
Resort Strip 1: Platanias (Chania)
Starting in the far West this strip runs from west of Chania for about 14km and is characterised by a mixture of hotels and apartment accommodation all interspersed with restaurants, bars, rental outlets and general services. It’s popular with Scandinavians in particular and is a moderate to more active scene. It provides for good access to places of beauty e.g. Elafonisi Beach, Balos beach, Samaria Gorge (thought this may be too hot in August) and a long beach scene stretching throughout all the strip. It abuts Crete’s arguably prettiest town – Chania – where you will also find boutique hotels to stay (see this page) would you prefer not to stay on the strip. You’ll find your pool in the larger resort hotels of the Platanias strip and not in the Old Town of Chania (where the boutique hotels are). It has a good mix of the kind of facilities you seem to be looking for. Score for you: 4.5 stars out of 5.
Resort Strip 2: Rethymnon Riviera (Rethymnon)
The ‘Riviera’ title is not so much officially used in tourism circles, but it accurately describes the similar scene of this strip running 13km east of the next coastal town along, Rethymnon. Similar in many ways to the Platanias scene, this stretch of beach, hotels and tourist services is a little different in that it feels a little more open (less crowded), yet carries a similar blend of hotels, apartments to rent, restaurant and the usual tourist services. Perhaps not as popular as Platanias, as it fall between to the two entry airports of Chania and Heraklion. Places of interest worth visiting on trips are the south central beach destinations of Plakias, Prevail, Matala and Frangokastello, plus visits to genuine inland mountain villages such as Anogeia and perhaps a day excursion to a great little beach enclave called Bali, east of Rethymnon. Score for you: 3.5 stars out of 5.
Resort Strip 3: Chersonisos-Malia Party Central (Heraklion)
Because of its generally easy access from Heraklion’s International airport, a palpable and pulsing party scene for foreigners (mainly northern European) has developed over the years along this stretch of coastline. Boutique hotels, restaurants and night clubs are notable for their absence and, in their place, raucous bars, fast food joints and westernised burgers ’n’ beer style restaurants have supplanted anything Cretan. Absolutely cracking if that’s your scene, but decidedly down-market, if you are looking for the things you describe. Still it’s close to the sites of Heraklion’s splendid Archaeological Museum and of course, Knossos and Heraklion has a few top-notch eateries if you do your research and you can always take off over the hills and explore the wine villages in the hinterland. Score for you: 2 stars out of 5.
Resort Strip 4: the Agios Nikolaos-Elounda twin resorts.
Less a strip, but rather two distinct centres separated by a bit of space in between Agios Nikolaos caters for a more conservative crowd and attracts people who want not so much a tourist commune, but more a town/beach community experience, while Elounda is quite upper market with a fair selection of 5-star hotels and boutique bars and diners. It is more for folk who prefer a resort experience without sharing the relaxation with everyone else (you can stay in your resort and not move). Both towns are pleasant, breezy and not subject to major mass tourism, the area feels quite different (it’s prettier!) to the coastal north and there are plenty of places to spend a cozy day driving in your car: the Lassithi Plateau, Ierapetera, the beaches of Vai and Kato Zakros and maybe a day trip to the off-shore island of Gaïdouronisi where you can pretend you have been marooned on your own island for a day. Score for you: 4.5 stars out of 5.
Hi Dave, cool and helpful site.
I have already booked two nights in Elounda September 21-22. waking up in Santorini on the 21st and finding that its more difficult than I had hoped to travel to Crete that day. Flights all return to Athens and looks like the ferry leaves at 5pm. Putting us at our hotel in Elounda very late. Are there earlier options of travel to Crete from Santorini that i’m just not finding? Hate to miss most of the day at a very nice hotel. Suppose I could change the reservation if need be.
Unfortunately the only ferries to Crete run later in the day. They start in Crete in the morning, visit Santorini, do a circle of the Cyclades then back to Santorini and Crete in the late afternoon.
Hi Dave. I have researched the heck out of Crete and am stuck. My 2 teenage daughters and I will be there Aug 7-12. We want to be in a cool village, on a nice, sandy beach and not too many hours away from our planned activities: canyoning in Tsoutsouris and Rock climbing in Agiofarago and maybe river trekking in Kourtaliotis. I’m thinking to spend 2 nts in Rethymnon (Faros Beach) then 3 nts in Plakias (was the plan… but the commute to either activity is like 2.5 hours! Is Matala or Kalamaki (Bella Mare) comparable to Plakias (Atlantis, Horizon Beach, Ippokambus), or is there a better alternative. (We plan to spend Aug 12-14 in Santorini at Smaragdi in Perivolos, then 14-16 in Athens at Hermes, then back home to NY). Above lodging is tentatively booked. I’d appreciate your opinion/suggestions =) Thank you!
Have you checked that all these activities are actually happening in mid-August? River trekking in particular is an activity that ideally requires some water and by mid-August most of Crete’s river systems have dried up. Similarly, canyoning and rock climbing are strenuous activities that you wish to undertake at the height of Crete’s most torrid climatic season. Just double check with your operators that they are actually running these activities in mid-Summer.
All three locations you mention are fairly scattered from each other starting with the Kourtaliotis Gorge at the western end, middling with Agiofarango and ending up with Tsoutsouros. On that score Plakias does not appear to be your best base, nor certainly does Rethymnon as the commutes would certainly chew into your time available. Matala makes for an obviously better base in order to cut down on travel time. You did not mention how you plan to travel between your activity bases, but on the south coast car is king particularly when you probably have to get off the main highway to get to your activity bases. So you are going to need some rented wheels.
Matala is busier than Plakias, which is a laid-back smaller community. Neither are cool, particularly in mid-August which is high season, but they are both by the sea. Matala is ‘cooler’ in the sense that it is a former hippy hang-out and still attracts the happy hippy-again punters as well as a whole crowd of folk who like its busy, commercialised, though still trendy bar, beach and eat scene. Matala’s beach is protected by a captivating bay backed by troglodyte cliff caves (where the hippies used to live and hang out) and is pretty neat.
You could stay at Kalamaki (8 km further north) if you don’t really want to hang out with latter-day Jack Kerouacs and you would still be better placed for your canyoning, climbing and trekking. Of the choice of other places to stay the only other places that comes to mind is the rather scrawny beach settlement of Lendas which has a scattering of accommodation options and a couple of tavernas near a not-so-inspiring beach and it won’t be cool. Further north again from Kalmaki there is the possibility of Agia Galini, but this is a rather claustrophobic little community that probably doesn’t really give you want you want from the point of view of beach and a sense of coolness.
Matala is probably what will suit you best – on the proviso that you hire yourself a car – you can do that in Matala. Getting to and fro by bus along the coast is not going to be a goer. To keep cool you will either have to drink lots of cold beer, or secure accommodation with a strong air-conditioner, as those south coast communities don’t quite get the soothing winds that the north coast does. If you have not booked accommodation, think about it soon as we are talking high season here and Greece – despite its economic woes – is currently pulling in the punters from all over the world.
Your hotels in Santorini and Athens are both good choices, though I will say that magic of staying in Santorini is to be near the caldera and Smaragdi is a good 20/30 minute drive from the views. I’d recommend taking a look at staying in Fira, Firostefani, Imerovigli, or Oia. Hermes has a great location in the Plaka.
I am completely overwhelmed at picking a place to stay (or even an island). We are trying to go to Greece the second week of September. We have two boys (6 and 10) and really just want a relaxing vacation on a fabulous beach. We are looking at Crete right now. The plan is to spend two days on Santorini and two in Athens leaving us with about 5 days for another island. Any suggestions on the best island for us and where to stay? Thank you so much!
Crete is great but if you’re simply looking for beach and relaxation that I would stay at Ios Palace Hotel on Ios. Ios fits perfectly between visits to Athens and Santorini.
Thanks so much for your great and detailed info! My boyfriend and I are looking to visit Crete for a week around mid-September. We plan to hire a car and rent a holiday cottage. We aren’t looking for big nightlife, just decent restaurants and great beaches. Initially I was drawn to the Plakias area but I’m worried it’s a bit far from the action as we are still keen to visit Chania and the beach at Elafonissi. Is there any alternative area you can recommend that offers us what we want whilst still remaining closer to the hub?
The Platanias area is not all that far from Chania. It starts at around 4kms east of Chania and ends around the 14th kilometre. With your own car you are well-positioned to be near the beach, have access to decent places to eat and you can be in Chania in no time. Crete in September is still buzzing, while the big crowds have mostly left and the sea is nicely warmed up. All in all, choosing to stay in Platanias is really your best bet, taking into account your requirements and desires. As for Elafonisi it is an easy 1.5 hours’ drive from Chania and makes for a great day excursion.
Closer to the hub and decent restaurants? Well this thought begs the obvious. Why not stay in Chania Old Town and have the best of both worlds? The boutique hotels in the Old Town are very pleasant and there’s nothing quite like sitting on your own private balcony at night with an ouzo on ice and watching the lights come on in the harbour before you amble on down and take in one of many fine restaurants yourselves. The ones on the eastern side of the harbour tend to be less touristy and better quality and value – but good restaurants abound.
Bottom line: Platanias is just fine and Chania Old Town is potentially even better. You could compromise and look for a “holiday cottage” or apartment to rent anywhere to the immediate west of Chania Old Town – say in the Makrys Toichos (Long Wall) district where you’ll find Elma’s Dream that gives you perhaps the balance you are after: close to town, near a beach (Chrysi Akti) and within striking distance of good food. With only a week at your disposal, this might just be the right balance and location for your Cretan vacation.
I would really Ike to hear your ideas on the following: my wife and I would like to visit Crete in mid October. We visited Santorini and Athens last summer and are now interested in Touring Crette and learning more about the Minoan civilization. Our interests are great food, archaeological ruins, authentic cities, some nature. We are able to walk/hike and can rent a car if suggested and like to stay in really nice places, we like to avoid the real touristy areas. Getting a taste of the real Crete would be great.
We will need to fly into Herklion but could possibly fly out of Chania. We would like to spend at least 8 days but could make it as much as 14 days. What would be your suggestion for an itinerary, mode of travel places to stay, etc.
Thanks very much.
October is still a nice time to visit – not so many people, the sea is still warm and prices are lower: but Crete is heading towards the end of the season and a growing number of hotels – particularly those that cater to the tourist trade solely – are beginning to shut up shop. So before you commit yourselves do check around where you plan to be staying.
If you fly into Heraklion and base yourselves there for 2-3 days you will get to satisfy your taste for things Minoan: the magnificent site of Knossos is nearby as is the rather excellent Archaeological Museum where the history of Crete in artefacts is on display from pre-history to Roman times. Allow yourself half a day for each to really absorb the immensity of what Minoan culture was all about.
To really appreciate Crete and to get to all the ’non-touristy’ places you will need a car. Driving is easy and car rental rates in October will be very negotiable. Non-touristy is a bit of a misnomer as there are few places in Crete where the traveller has not yet penetrated, but in general those places are on the south coast.
As a starting plan, your itinerary could comprise an elongated driving tour that starts and ends in Heraklion. Note that it is usually more convenient (and cheaper) to drop off your car at the same spot, so picking it up at Heraklion airport and dropping it off there at the end of your stay is a sound strategy. You would then go clockwise touching base with the following potential overnight stops as follows: Heraklion – Rethymnon – Chania – Palaiochora – Plakias – Matala – Myrtos – Kato Zakros – Agios Nikolaos.
From Heraklion you could detour to Crete’s most Cretan village – Anogia in the hinterland of the prefecture of Rethymnon – a traditional place that still gets its fair share of curious visitors. In Anogeia men still strut around in black breeches and wear frilled neck scarfs and where macho utility vehicles are matched with goats and sheep and the strong spirit ‘raki’ that is consumed in Cretan proportions at every occasion. Make an overnight stop in the pretty port town of Rethymno.
Chania is a good base to walk the Samaria Gorge. Don’t use the car for this trip as you will have to leave it at the beginning of the trail and then backtrack to retrieve it. Chania is magical and dining at night by the waterside of its picturesque port is surreal.
The western segment of Crete offer the agro-touristic village of Milia the superb beach at Elafonisi and the southern seaside town of Palaiochora, where a night’s stop is suggested. Traveller-accustomed, but not too touristy, Palaiochora a a friendly laid-back spot where you can swim and dine in comfort and pleasure. You can’t road travel the coast between Palaiochora and the next suggested stop at Plakias – coastal ferry boats make the connection – so you will have to loop north and then south via Rethymnon to this pretty and laid back coastal town. Perhaps catch your breath here for a lazy day or two.
From Plakias the southern route winds its way among some of the more appealing parts of Crete where the tourists rarely reach. You’ll need a map and/or GPS to navigate your way via Matala (with its beach and hippy-era troglodyte caves) across the underbelly of Crete to another suggested night’s stop at soothing Myrtos – an understated village that shares its embracing ambiance with a smile.
With the time on your hands as perhaps your only impediment, you could venture eastwards and drive on past the remote beach settlement of Xerokambos and overnight at the secluded and laid-back Kato Zakros. If time is getting short, shortcut the route and head for Agios Nikolaos where a night or two’s stop is recommended. It is touristy, but nice touristy. From here you are within easy reach of Heraklion airport where you will complete the master loop of Crete.
From an archaeological point of view you will be aware that Crete is not as well-endowed with Classical archaeological sites as mainland Greece. The main sites are Knossos, Aptera, Phaestos, Lissos, Gortyna etc – so you will blend them in to your tour and visit according to your interests. All the little town and villages you will pass through will be ‘lived-in’ to a larger rather than smaller degree and will give you a sense of the Crete behind-the tourist façade of the northern tourist-populated resort strips. You will eat well if you avoid obvious commercial eating places – and that means anywhere outside of those resort strips. Kalo taxidi!
We have just booked a very last minute trip to Greece [next week!] with 5 nights at the Blue Palace in Elounda. The tail is wagging the dog here and I’ve only just found your extremely helpful website. We want to relax by a pool but also make sure we get to Knossos and some characterful towns and beautiful beaches. Much of your information is about the west of the island. You speak highly of Agios Nicolas – could you fill in a few gaps re some great beaches and good tavernas on the eastern side please? I am only now reading about the Chania area but unfortunately I don’t think we will make it there this time. We will have a car but don’t want to spend long days driving. Thank you!
The Eastern segment of Crete centred on Agios Nikolaos and Elounda has always been a popular spot and tends to draw its own set of newcomers and longer-term fans. Your choice of the Blue Palace Resort and Spa hotel is perfectly good both in terms of location and facilities. It’s very close to Elounda and right opposite the popular boat excursion destination – the island of Spinalonga – and offers up pretty much any discerning guest could possible ever want for a relaxed holiday. But yes, you will also want to get around and you can do that pretty well and comfortably without spending long days driving to get to your destination.
Knossos is a bit of a haul and that is about an hour’s main highway drive west so that is quite manageable, but do allow a good half day (with an early start) to fit it all in as there is a lot to see and absorb in this remarkable – if a little contrived – archaeological painting of Minoan Crete. Other than the beaches in the Elounda Bay area (and they are very nice), make a note to visit Vai Beach (top right hand corner of Crete) with its unusual date palm trees, the magical pebble beach and hideaway resort of Kato Zakros, the dreamy, distant beach community of Xerokambos on the southeastern under belly of Crete plus the continuation of low-key holiday resorts further west along this coat to Ierapetra: just drive and stop where your fancy takes you. The excursion to the offshore island of Chrysi from Ierapetra is a well-known highlight of day trips in these parts where you will find the ultimate laid-back beaches on Crete.
As for tavernas to eat at, well there are plenty as you can well imagine here are three that come to mind and that you may care to put on your ‘to eat at’ list. Pelagos Restaurant in Agios Nikolaos is up there among the good ones. Hard to miss in its pastel and blue coloring and wooden fishing skiff parked outside, it serves up a good mix of meat, salads and seafood. Have a like on the Facebook page. Down on the one street settlement at Kato Zakros, choose one of the four waterfront restaurants (the Akrogiali is good) with tables overlooking the pebbled beach and do the laziest lunch imaginable. Turn off your devices – mobile signals never were popular down here anyway – and listen to cicadas in tamarisk trees instead as you pour a glass a chilled white wine topped up with a splash of soda. Magic. In Ierapetra perhaps do an after island excursion dinner at Napoleon where you might like a risotto flavoured with squid ink (!) or even snails – a particular Cretan delicacy. There are plenty of other Cretan dishes on offer too.
By and large, if you are based in the East, you can be pretty self-contained and leave the West to another time. Don’t even try to combine the two especially if your time is short, or if you know that you will come back to Crete. If time and curiosity allows, slot in a visit to the Lassithi plateau with its pretty white-sailed windmills of which there used to be thousands. Take a leisurely drive round – in any direction – and select a random village stop for a low-key rural lunch.
Enjoy your comfy hotel, chill by the pool and luxuriate there, but don’t forget the Crete outside your resort that beckons.
Hi Santorini Dave
Please help – I am going out of mind here trying to plan a holiday to Crete for myself, my husband, and 9 year old – so trying to accommodate all tastes and needs. We have been to Crete several times and love Crete because of the beautiful sandy beaches – we can spend days and months on the beach and in the sea! This time however i would like to include a little bit more into our holiday than just staying in a 5 * star hotel ( which sadly we cannot afford to do). We are thinking to spend a week in the Aquila Rithmyna and then to head west and stay somewhere between Chania – we have stayed in Porto Platanias before but want to avoid this time – and Balos Bay. However I would like to be somewhere from where we can get the bus/ cheap taxi into Chania for a day or go in to eat etc, as you recommend some fine restaurants but also perhaps somewhere where we could easily get to Balos and even Gramvousa. Any recommendations for areas and small but perfectly formed hotels/apartments on the beach – which would meet our needs? I fancy something very greek – simple but clean with a pool and on the beach or otherwise something very modern, trendy, sophisticated and clean but small with pool and beach. Have been looking at places such as Ammos (can’t accomodate our dates), Molos Bay (perhaps too far), Silver beach (not sure at all). Our dates are August 10th onwards for 10/11 nights. Thanks Hanna
Your thinking suggests that you want an alternative ‘Cretan’ place near enough to Chania, yet not too touristy. Three options come to mind. Kissamos is the overlooked town of western Crete – dwarfed by its more illustrious sisters to the east of Chania and Rethymnon. It’s a perfect base for Balos and Gramvousa and Elafonisi to the southwest and it’s only 38km to Chania. It’s got it’s own low-key beach and nightlife, it’s still pretty Cretan (Greek) and has a selection of comfy, cosy hotels that you can browse online.
A specific recommendation might be to look at a little beach and restaurant strip on the way to Kissamos at Nopigia (6km before Kissamos). It’s a pretty chill-out kind of place and you can shop for veggies and vittles like locals at the nearby village of Drapanias and Nopigia offers up a mixed sand and pebble beach that is very clean. Have a look at Thalassa Appartments for a place to stay. They were modern and hip and Internet-wired long before anyone had an iPad and are a cosy oasis near to everything you seem to hankering for. There’s no pool, but why would you want a pool when you have real sea 50 metres from your door?
Moving to the other (eastern) side of Chania, yet within striking distance of the Old Town the chunky headland marking the southern bulwark to Souda Bay is home to a low-key community of villages with accommodation and restaurant options. Kalyves is a place you might consider and on a par with the hotel you mention in your query is the Kiani Beach Resort. It’s a family-oriented, self-contained complex with plenty to keep you all occupied and there are many sport-based activities to keep you and your husband and 9-year old happy.
You might care to look south and consider the sunny seaside village of Palaiochora. It’s a breezy, friendly little town with a pair of satisfying Cretan beaches that you may have in mind. It’s not next to Chania, but Palaiochora has more than enough to make up for Chania’s glitz and it will be less costly dining while you won’t notice the difference in quality.
In summary, you seem to have set your mind on Western Crete and that’s fine. You don’t want 5-star so there’s plenty of 4 and 3 star and even more interesting – self-catering that will leave you more to splurge on good food and wine. The date range you stipulate is high season so book something solid now. Greece may be going through a crisis, but the premium holiday spots are not and Crete is always popular.
My fiancé and I are traveling to The Santorini and Crete for our honeymoon in the beginning of October and your blog has been very helpful! We plan on spending a week in Crete. We know we’re going to spend 4 nights in Chania, and are thinking about spending 3 nights in Archanes for relaxing and being close to some of the wineries/vineyards (We’ll be renting a car).
Do you have any recommendations or knowledge to share on Archanes?
Thanks for your time!
Archanes is an unusual, though not unwise choice of a place to stay. It’s a sizeable community of just over 4,500 people just over 20 minutes driving from Heraklion. The town as been subject to a lot of urban renovation over the recent years and is considered as one of Greece’s best-kept towns. Its main commercial activity revolves around grape and olive pressing and it generally sees drive-through tourists on their way south rather than stay-put travellers who come to enjoy life in an unassuming, yet bustling village in rural Crete.
It consist of two sections Kato – or lower – Archanes and Ano – or upper – Archanes. Upper Archanes is the main hub. While the area was important in Minoan antiquity the archaeological remains are somewhat scattered and are nowhere near as flashy or popular as nearby Knossos. Accommodation is rather limited, but is of good quality: there are some stone cottages to rent known as the Kalimera Houses and comprise a trio of stone cottages in the centre of town called Avra, Drosostalida, and Zefyros and have all the self-catering facilities you could want. Then there are the ten houses and studios of Eliathos Residence Houses that you may consider. They are just outside the village on the hill overlooking olive groves and grape plantations and are great for relaxing and taking in the views. There is also a pool.
Your ‘entertainment’ would consist of either sitting in your stone cottages with a bottle of local wine and a book, ambling the neat, narrow, paved streets or pottering around the countryside looking for the odd winery. Within the Archanes district there are at least 7 wineries. The nearest one is the Sinadinakis Winery in Ano Archanes, then over in the nearby village of Kounavi there are the wineries of Kreta Olympias Mediterra Winery (change the language button at the top of the page) and Stylianou Wines. Opening hours and winery details are all listed on their pages. For more information on the good wines of Crete, have a look at this page.
You may care to seek out the musical studio of expat Irishman and internationally acclaimed ‘world musician’ Ross Daly who lives over in Houdetsi (10 kms). When he is not travelling with partner musician Kelly Thoma and his ensemble, he runs his Labyrinth Musical Workshop during the summer from June to September and it’s worthwhile making a run over there in your hire car to catch one of the sessions.
For fine dining seek out Kritamon in Ano Archanes. It is named after the seashore wild plant called ‘kritamos’ and means rock samphire (the restaurant call it ‘sea fennel’). On the menu is an enticing selection of Cretan delicacies including the crunchy and scrumptious ‘dakos’ salad, the mezes called ‘apaki’ – smoked pork not easily found in Crete, the kritamos salad made from the rock samphire plant and rooster with aniseed and cinnamon. Do ask for a small carafe of ‘rakí’ also known as ‘tsikoudhiá’ a fiery clear liquid spirit that will set your taste buds alive.
I’ve read many of the posts here, thank you for all the good info! Now… if I could ask for your advice.
We are parents and 2 young kids (3,6yo) and traveling Crete for approx 10 nights end of June to beginning of July, then on to Rome. We were thinking of staying 5 days Chania/Kissamos, 2 days mountain cottage, 2 days Ag Nik or Elounda, and then one day closer to CHQ airport.
Question 1 – Do you think that is too much traveling? Is a Cretan beach a Cretan beach, apart from some spectacular exceptions that can be done in day trips?
Q2 – For some mountain time, Milia vs Anogia vs Zaros? I checked out Eleonas, Enagron, and Delina Mountain Resort. Based on what I read here, maybe you would select Enagron or Milia Mountain? Curious.
Q3 – We arrive in Chania at 9pm local time, so we planned on staying 2 nights in Chania, then move on to Kissamos, etc., but then that puts at Chania area again prior to departure (flight is 9:30am). Should I be thinking of reversing order and heading east first then coming back to Kissamos area? If yes, where do you think I should stack that extra night – open to suggestions.
So much to see! 10 days is becoming hardly enough. Thanks!
Your time frame sounds comfortable and you have allocated your stays fairly sensibly. So full marks on that piece of organisation. Crete is large, though not too large for travelling to become a burden so no, that is not too much travelling. Your longest leg sounds like it could be the run from Chania to your mountain retreat (if you choose to go to the furthest mountain village resort at Eleonas). That is 145km via the mountain route and would take you around 2.5 hours – assuming you are hiring your own car.
There are some exceptional beaches in Crete that can generally be covered in a day’s excursion – within the region that you are staying. So from Chania you would want to visit Elafonisi, Falasarna, Balos (via a boat trip) and Palaiochora. From Rethymno (which you do not mention) there are the mid-central beaches of the south coast – Frangokastello, Plakias, Preveli and with a bit of a push Matala and the far eastern sector of Elounda/Agios Nikolaos has its own beach scene, plus Vai, Kato Zakros and the quieter coastal strip from Ierapetra to Xerokambos. General rule of thumb southern beaches are prettier and more atmospheric than northern beaches which are dominated by designated ‘holiday resort strips’.
All four mountain resorts are worth staying at. Milia is close to Chania so you may not want to linger here. Enagron is more of a custom-built mountain village while Delina started out as a restaurant/entertainment centre and has now morphed into an all-in resort. Both are close to the interesting village of Anogeia – perhaps Crete’s most Cretan village – where if should you happen upon a wedding, do not be alarmed at the sound of celebratory gunfire echoing through the streets and mountains that surround the area. Eleonas is the most remote of the four and the largest, yet is only 55km from Heraklion’s airport so you could kill two birds with one stone and spend your mountain village time here plus that extra night you planned to spend near Heraklion.
You are better off not back tracking so your route will work smoother if you go Chania/Kissamos -> Agios Nikolaos/Elounda -> Eleonas. Then your longest leg would be Chania to Agios Nikolaos which is 200km.
In summary, avoid backtracking if you can and move sequentially from locale to locale. You didn’t mention how you plan to get around, but a car would seem to be the best option (the only practical option if you plan to go to a mountain resort). If you have not already booked flights, look at entering and exiting via different airports. You will be travelling in the shoulder season so accommodation costs will be lower (or at least negotiable) and there’ll be less activity on the roads. Good luck – by all accounts it’s going to be a hot summer in Crete this year.
Hi. We are coming to Crete in July. Two adults and four teenagers. Are splitting up our visit over Chania and Agios Nikolaios. We are planning on staying at the Kiani Beach Resort in Kalyves – what do you think about that hotel and area? Is it a good base to explore chains and its surrounding area? In Agios we plan to stay in Daios Cove. Do you have a view on that? Many thanks for your help
Kalyves is a rather mundane, but genuine Cretan seaside village set at the southern entrance to Souda Bay and pretty close to Chania Airport – the logical entry point. As a base and as an area it is fine, though Kalyves itself is a one street village with a smallish beach scene base at the eastern end and caters primarily to local tourism. It’s a far cry from the hype and glamour of beach strips near Chania and Rethymnon. The chunk of peninsula-like like land to the east makes for pleasant touring both it its hinterland and along the rocky coastline with a sprinkling of unassuming agricultural villages. It is safe to say that bulk tourism doesn’t intrude much into this space.
The Kiani Beach Resort that you are staying at is located at the western end of the village, a little isolated from the main village itself (4km). It’s a family-oriented, self-contained complex with plenty to keep you all occupied and there are many sport-based activities to keep the teenagers happy. Kiani – or more correctly Kyani – is the Greek for ‘azure’ and is a nudge to the eponymous and more illustrious Côte d’Azure. While the location is pleasant enough, the beach is not up to the French version, but there are two big pools in the hotel to make up.
Over in Agios Nikolaos the Daios Luxury Resort and Villas is a notch upwards, both in hotel amenities and locale. Agios Nikolaos, unlike Kalyves, is a buzzing tourism-oriented community, but unlike Kiani it sits on its own cove lending an air of exclusivity to its appeal. That appeal is also tilted to honeymooner and ‘spiritual’ visitors into yoga and self-actualization, though there are water activities such as scuba diving and yachting. Haute cuisine plays an important role in the hotel’s offerings and yoga and Pilates offer “a holistic experience its prestigious guests” according to the hotel. The hotel complex is 8.5km south of Agios Nikolaos so you have a bit of travelling to do to get into the day and night life of the pretty little port of ‘Ag Nik’ as the visitors often call it for short.
Both Kalyves and Agios Nikolaos are good bases for touring. In the case of Kalyves you have the Gramvousa peninsula and Balos beach experience to hand (out of Kissamos), it’s not too far to the exotic beach of Elafonisi and it is also a good base to tour the Samaria Gorge – an adventure to tame even the most active of teenagers. Agios Nikolaos is good for tours to the villages and windmills of the Lassithi plateau, the popular beach of Vai and for a special treat, dip down to Kato Zakros at the far eastern tip of Crete and savor the serenity with a languid swim and post-swim lunch under cicada-wired tamarisk trees. For more serenity and even more beach and sand take a boat trip to the off-shore island of Chrysi (from Ierapetra) and pretend Robinson Crusoe is your neighbour. Lunch can be taken at the ramshackle little dock.
You have made sensible choices all around and combined good variations in tempo and style to make for a balanced July holiday. Enjoy it.
Your blog is awesome!! So many good tips! Want to get your advice as we are heading to Crete on short notice!
I’m traveling with my family (4 adults) and we are looking to stay 5 days on the island.
We love staying on the beach and are looking for good local food!
Where do you suggest we base ourselves?
Which beach do you think is best ?
As you have suggested in your other posts, you recommend getting a car? Can you suggest the best place to organise this? Any insurance issues to look out for?
Thank you for your help!!
Well, your set of requirements suggests a few options here. First up it would appear that you plan to hire a car since you ask about “insurance issues” – presumably automobile insurance? (Medical insurance is a given). The basic and important rule of thumb is to have an international driving permit (IDP) or at least make sure from your local automobile association whether Greece requires one from your country. You may not be asked to show it when booking the car, but if you are stopped by the police, they will most likely ask for it and if you have an accident and do not have an IDP, your insurance may be invalid. Other than that, don’t skimp on vehicle insurance options. Accidents do happen in Crete and you don’t want to come out of it penniless. Yes, a car is a good idea for Crete, though some readers on here don’t drive and can manage quite adequately on a five-day stay in one location. As for organising a car, you can commonly get the best deals upon arrival at the airport, or even at your accommodation base. Don’t rush that one. Deals are usually better with local companies (as opposed to the internationals), but do read the fine print and be sure of what you are insured for.
In your case you are probably better basing yourselves in either Western Crete (perhaps in the vicinity of Chania) or in Eastern Crete, which revolves around the port of Agios Nikolaos. Good beaches exist in both areas, but the best beaches are ultimately on the south coast. If you base yourselves in Western Crete the two tourist/traveller bases are the strips west of Chania and east of Rethymnon (a little further to the east of Chania). Both are popular bases for short stay visitors. North coast beaches in both locations are fine: sandy, shallow introductions to the water and clean. More picturesque beaches on the south coast are found at Elafonisi, Frangokastello, Plakias and Preveli. You might want to throw in Falasarna for good measure. You will need a car to get to them. Both Chania and Rethymnon are positioned to provide easy access (by car) to these beaches.
Good food can be hit and miss along any tourist strip so you need to do some research. In general you will find the best places in the main towns of Chania and Rethymnon, but you can find some equally excellent eateries away from the towns. This applies equally to West and East Crete.
As for the Agios Nikolaos centre, it has a different feel: many prefer it. You will find good beaches here – more so a little further north at Elounda – but with a car you can travel to other beaches. Two worth bookmarking are Vai beach and the secluded (almost coy) pebble beach at Kato Zakros – both easily accessible by car from Agios Nikolaos. Kato Zakros has some fine dining at the last taverna on the sea front. Ask for Nikos Perakis. If you want a Robinson Crusoe experience on a desert island overlooking an endlessly blue sea that separates you and Africa – and you are based over this side of Crete – then drive on down to Ierapetra and take the boat tour to the sunny and sandy island of Chrysi off the southern coast. It’s languid, lazy, and almost lost at sea and you can eat simply and amply at the little taverna by the boat landing.
Five days are not many, but with some planning you can have a divine time. You are presumably leaving soon so it is still quiet and you will have the pick of accommodation deals and car-hire offers.
My girlfriend and I are thinking of visiting Crete in the beginning of July this year. We are planning on staying there for around 5 days. Neither of us have been to Crete and have no idea where to go and what to do. Neither of us can drive so that makes things a little inconvenient. We are traveling on somewhat of a mid-budget, but we are looking for an area to stay in where there are lots of things are close by and easy to get to. Looking more towards going to nice beaches, fun hikes, and cool towns to visit and explore.
Not driving is not an issue – particularly as you have only five days. This probably limits you to one of the four main, self-contained tourism strips along the north coast. Let’s rule out the South, which could be a better option if you drove a car. Starting from West to East you have an approximately 17km strip running west of the town of Chania. It’s known commonly as ‘Platanias’ though it is made up of a number of communities with differing names. It hosts travellers, tourists, passers-by and generally people who want a stay-put holiday. You can find budget accommodation (rooms or studios) as well as five star comfort. Restaurants and tavernas and bars to every taste and style and a buzzing traveller/tourist community enjoying decent sandy beaches. Chania is a very cool town and you can hike the Samaria Gorge on a day excursion.
Further East you will find Rethymnon with a slightly toned down traveller/tourist strip running to the East of Rethymnon. Similar deal here as in Platanias with an elongated beachside strip with all the traveller facilities you would expect of a well-developed resort locale. Watersports galore, beach loungers and umbrellas and excursion to places further afield should you so choose.
Packaged tourism sees its zenith – or nadir? – east of the capital of Heraklion and centered around the village of Malia. Thin, scrawny beaches, raucous beer and pie joints, mainly young folk from northern Europe and where you’ll be lucky to meet a Greek unless they own a shop that milks this over-developed tourism scene. Not really recommended.
Finally and a shade more to the East you come across the twin enclaves of Agios Nikolaos and Elounda. Very pretty, quite different to the other three resorts and attracting a mixed clientele of five star visitors and casual travellers. Of the two Elounda has more of a village feel and a better beach scene. Pretty Agios Nikolaos is a picturesque little port with its own part-packaged and part independent hotel and dining scene.
From among the four, Platanias and Agios Nikolaos/Elounda are the most attractive. Both areas are easily reachable by an excellent local bus system and offer enough peripheral activities – boat trips, excursion, hiking etc. to fill your days. Early July is before peak season and the sea will have warmed to a pleasant temperature. You can fly direct to Chania, but you’ll need to bus it to Agios Nikolaos from Heraklion.
We have booked 5 nights in Rethymno for the period 20-25 May. We will be with a rent-a car and would like to see the most beautiful and typical towns / villages of Crete, but at the same time to explore some of it’s best beaches. I realize that the 5 days are far from being enough and the fact that we have to go back to Rethymno every night is burdensome, but our itinerary is fixed, so we have to deal with it. Could you please advice if this was you, which would be the 2 or 3 places you would visit and the 2 or 3 beaches to explore, without spending all your time on the road.
Thank you and best regards,
Rethymnon is as good a place to be located as any so you have made a sound booking choice here and there is plenty to see and do within easy reach of your base. Rethymnon is a very amenable town so you may want to spend at least one day slowly savoring its backstreets while opting for a lazy lunch and candle-lit dinner around its attractive little fishing harbor, so don’t rush out every day.
When you are ready to roll here are some ideas. Towns/places: Chania is a must and it is only an hour’s easy drive away. What you might do is drive to Elafonisi Beach (stunning) on the southwest tip of Crete (2 hours drive) and spend the day there. Then drive back to Chania’s Old Town for dinner on the Venetian harbor. Then head on back to Rethymno to unwind.
For another beach day head south to Preveli Beach (another stunner) and when you have had your fill of sun, sand and the Libyan Sea drive 15 minutes westwards for a lazy late afternoon lunch at the cozy seaside village of Plakias. Go treat yourself at Taverna Scirocco on the west side of the village.
That’s three of your five days accounted for. More beaches? Drive east this time for 40 minutes and spend a day in and among the pretty coves and inviting beaches of Bali. The best beach and cove is at the northern end. Try flying a parachute while being towed by a speedboat. Exhilarating!
Finally – and here is the kicker – if you want the real Crete, where only travellers venture, head to the hills south and east of Rethymnon to Crete’s most famous Cretan village Anogeia where proud men still wear black shirts, traditional pantaloons and frilled kerchiefs. If you happen upon a wedding you will hear a fusillade of gunshot as men shoot their Kalashnikovs into the air in celebration. Crete’s most famous musicians come from here one of whom you may meet in person if you head out of town to dine at Delina and run by Vasilis Skoulas one of the country’s top lyra (Cretan lyre) players. Each year in Summer the Yakinthia Festival takes place here. Although you will be there very shortly and will miss this year’s festival you may find the background information interesting.
Thanks for the info, excellent site.
We are travelling from Athens to Kastellorizo in July this year and have 8-13 July where we would like to visit another island. We aren’t too keen on Rhodes, Symi etc., because we visit Kastellorizo often so have been to these before.
We are a couple travelling with two young children (2.5 years and 7 months). We are happy to drive but obviously can’t do log distances and don’t want to move around heaps.
We are thinking Crete. I have been to Chania before and loved it but was thinking of doing something different this time. It would be great if we could stay somewhere walking distance to a beach and also great local tavernas. I like the sound of Agios Nicholas but was a bit scared when you said it was touristy. Also our son is train mad and we liked the sound of the “happy train” to the Plakas.
We aren’t really interested in the archaeology or history and much prefer to just meet people, visit beaches, walk around, visit wineries etc.
Thanks for your help!
You are slightly disadvantaged by the fact that to go anywhere from Kastellorizo, you have to go back to Rhodes (which you don’t want to re-visit anyway). You could jump on one of the Catamarans of Dodekanisos Seaways and head north to explore the upper Dodecanese islands, but it seems though that you have set your heart on Crete.
Getting to Crete from Rhodes can be boring or interesting. The boring way is flying and currently Sky Express seems to be the only company offering direct flights from Rhodes to Crete (Heraklion). Be aware that baggage limits with this company may restrict what you can carry – or you will pay for luggage that other carriers would normally carry for free. Otherwise you have to fly via Athens.
Getting to Crete from Rhodes by sea is much more fun, but requires a bit of commitment and flexibility. There will be two ferry services a week in July: one at 03:00 on a Sunday morning and the other at 18:30 on a Tuesday. Aegeon Pelagos Lines (essentially under the umbrella of the better known ANEK lines) does a ‘milk run’ to Siteia and then onto Heraklion – and ultimately back to Piraeus. The fun bit is that it is a great mini cruise – you call in at Halki, Karpathos and Kasos along the way, but the timing is awkward. You should disembark at Siteia which is only 70kms to Agios Nikolaos. The 03:00 Sunday boat arrives in Siteia at 13:50, while the 18:30 Tuesday boat arrives in Siteia at 05:20. You will ideally need a cabin for your comfort.
Agios Nikolaos is touristy, but it is nice touristy. Don’t be scared. The “happy train” is in fact a train-like vehicle with wheels that does fun excursions around Elounda and Agios Nikolaos. While steam and smoke may give way to the sound of a combustion engine, your young kids will love it. Folksy Agios Nikolaos is a good antidote to Rhodes, though you may care to also consider Elounda a little to the North where there is that relaxed mixture of beaches, walks and people like yourselves and a great selection of some really plush hotels.
With the short time available, it looks like a mini-cruise from Rhodes to Crete coupled with a lazy few days by the seaside in eastern Crete is a good recipe for a different kind of island holiday.
Hey Dave! I consult your blog regularly for my trips to the Greek Islands (and in between these trips, for nostalgic purposes). You are amazing. This year I’m going to Crete for two weeks in August, and this time with my family. We will be three couples (my brother and his fiance, myself and my partner, my mom and dad). There will be no kids on this trip. We’d like to park ourselves in Chania, though there’s some talk of going to Agios Nikolaos for a week as well. Would you recommend an apartment/maisonette/bungalow over hotels rooms? Would you have any recommendations if that’s the case? I’d appreciate any input you have here as I’ve been wading through booking.com aimlessly.
Thank you for sharing your travelling experiences with all of us!
August in Crete is peak season, so you had better get your bookings arranged soon. You didn’t mention what time in August you will be holidaying as this can be crucial. The weeks before and after the 15th of August are the absolute peak so it is vital to get something locked in soon.
Hotels v Apartments? A hotel is the easy option: everything is laid on and the only thing you have to worry about is where to eat lunch and dinner. If it is an all-in hotel, even that option may be lifted from your shoulders. You’ll probably have wi-fi, breakfast included, a pool to lounge by, a cozy bar to socialise at, a laundry service, and someone will make your bed every day. It will also cost accordingly.
In your own apartment you’ll have to make your own breakfast (so that means some shopping for milk, coffee/tea, bread, cereal, and other breakfast items), you’ll be able to cook your own meals for lunch and/or dinner (again some planning and some supermarket visiting required). You may or may not have wi-fi; you may or – most likely – will not have a pool at your disposal and you will enjoy your duty-free or shop-bought sunset drinks on the balcony in your own company, or perhaps even in the company of your fellow renters. You will have to wash your own socks.
An apartment appeals to people who want a longer stay, who don’t mind catering for themselves, who prefer the non-institutionalised atmosphere of an apartment, and who prefer extra space to socialise with family and friends. An apartment usually works out cheaper than a hotel for the same time frame is a better option for stays of a week or more. An apartment is more like home.
A hotel is good for a holiday where you really want others to pamper to your needs and you ideally want to leave the kitchen sink, pots, pans and laundry behind. You pay more in general for a hotel on a nightly basis than an apartment, but you don’t have to shop and fret about housekeeping. If you are hitting a dead end in your search through the usual sites such as Booking.com or TripAdvisor it’s often better to talk to a local agent who deals with a wide range of services and get them to look for what your want. Once such agency is Triton Tours that has many years experience in matching travellers with customised places to stay. They are based in Rhodes, but have excellent connections all over Greece – including Crete. Air BnB is another option to someone looking under their own steam.
Chania v Agios Nikolaos? Both are great centres for a week’s stay each and it is a splendid idea to mix and match as you suggest. Each place has its own character and ambiance and they balance each other beautifully. So yes, do consider. Talk it over among yourselves, work out what kind of travellers you all are, and get looking and booking!
First, great article very detailed and clear.
I am travelling to Crete from 19-26 July, and I was wondering if you could guide me a little.
It looks like Crete is a very big island, we are 2 couples and we are lost to where we should settle.
We’d like to stay in one region, live there, and get to know it. We would like to have a summer/beach vacation and we were looking for a region with Hotels that have walking distance from the town (for a night walk, taverns, and pubs) and walking distance from the beach so we would start our day.
We found Rethymnon to be convenient. But after reading your article I got excited again for Chania.
What do you advise?
You have been reading most appropriately and wisely and yes, Chania does excite. Crete is a very big island (almost a country in itself) and it’s around 360 kms from one end to the other: think how far you could go in your one country with that kilometerage to spare.
To set the scene, there are essentially three major tourist centres on the north coast where you could base yourself and they are all geographically separate. Chania in the West probably comes out tops, with Agios Nikolaos in the East coming second and Rethymnon in the mid-West coming a close third. Added to the mix is the more hotel and resort oriented centre of Elounda which caters for a more upper-market scene and while it is utterly pretty, it is a little distanced from street Crete. I am omitting the still obvious, but distinctly packaged-travel scene of Hersonisos-Malia east of Heraklion, which frankly should be gently left to the side and not mentioned again.
Chania’s lively beach strip runs 14km westwards from Chania and is known generically as Platanias. It sounds like it may have what you are after: a mixture of hotels, cafés, bars, beaches and shops and on the date you plan to be there it will be pretty buzzing. It’s probably not within walking distance of Chania, but the local buses are very good and cheap and Chania is stunning.
Rethymnon is a little like Chania, but the other way around with the beach strip running eastwards for a similar distance. Rethymnon is a little more muted and not quite so pretty or picturesque, or lively. Your beach vacation could equally well work in either place – it really depends on what you find by way of accommodation, and what you preferences are in regards to holiday ‘buzz’. Take into account that you will be arriving just as the high season kicks off (officially on July 20) so costs will be at their peak and demand on services will be robust.
Agios Nikolaos (and the aforementioned Elounda) are set in some very pretty coastal scenery, but have a different feel. Elounda has the top-end hotels and delivers a pleasant little beachside community of its own away from the posh resorts, while Agios Nikolaos has its own set of repeat fans who just like its picturesque cuteness. The beach scene is also within better walking distance of the main town than in either Chania or Rethymno.
Finally and as additional food for thought cast your eyes southwards to the two smaller centres of Paleochora and Plakias. Both are sizeable villages that have hotels, beaches, cafés, bars and restaurants and are just that little bit more Cretan. You could comfortably settle in and get to know either of those two places perhaps better than the larger centres on the north coast.
I will be in Crete from May 18-25 and am more of a backpacker-style traveler. I wanted to get a car in Heraklion, drive to Reythmon, and then spend a bit of time doing Western Crete. I’m a hiker, and was having problems figuring out how to do Samaria Gorge…drive there, do the hike, but then how should I get back to my car? So then I thought, Oh, Ill do Aradhena Gorge instead by taking a taxi to the beginning of the hike, complete the hike and spend a day or so in Loutro before heading back over to Hora Skafia. The logistics seemed easier with this second gorge hike than Samaria. Should I ditch the car? What to do?
My personal list of things to do include, Balos beach, Elofonissi, a gorge hike (preferably Samaria) but maybe both??, ferry hopping near Loutro, Lisithi plateau, and Zeus cave. Chania town… am I missing something? I know the Palace of Knossos is important, but I’m not much of a history person… I’d rather make a couple of farmer friends who could show me the process of making olive oil…for whatever reason this is so appealing to me! Looking for an authentic crete experience, with some hiking and nice beaches… can you help a girl out?
I am arriving via ferry from santorini on the 18th, around 19″30 and have to leave from Chania at 13:45pm on May 25th.
You can very easily do the Samaria Gorge without a car: in fact a solo walker with a car is a disadvantage. The easiest way is to travel from Chania by bus to the trail head village of Omalos. Chania is closer than Rethymon, or Heraklion so it makes sense and this bus option is taken by most independent walkers. Take the early KTEL bus out of Chania. There is one at 07:45, it takes one hour and the ticket costs €7.50. Travel Agency excursions do operate independently of the public bus service, but they cost more and at the end of the day they don’t do the hike for you or make it any easier.
The trail through the Samaria Gorge starts a little beyond the village at Xyloskalo where you pay for park entry and do the (downhill) hike to Agia Roumeli, arriving in time for lunch. The hike is of moderate difficulty and requires good footwear and you should carry adequate water and snacks. In May there will be a fair bit of water in the creek (drinkable) and down towards the bottom end of the Gorge you may have to do some paddling to get through the narrower sections.
If you have brought some gear with you, you can stay overnight in Agia Roumeli (there are places to stay, restaurants, and a decent beach), or you can catch one of the afternoon coastal ferries to Chora Sfakion where KTEL buses meet the ferries to take the passengers back to Chania. It’s an easy, efficient excursion and you don’t need a car.
Your list of things to do looks predictable and is quite doable. Balos Beach (via excursion boat from Kissamos), Elafonisi (for this you will need a car), after the Samaria Gorge walk you can ferry hop along the southern coast of Crete from Sougia to Chora Sfakion. If you base yourself in Chania you’ll get to enjoy one of Crete’s most enchanting cities. All these are in Western Crete. Knossos is in Central Crete and even if you are not a history person, it’s worth visiting. However the Lassithi Plateau and Zeus’ cave are over in Eastern Crete and will require a change to your plans. Also the plateau with its famous white-sailed windmills is very picturesque is best visited by car, bicycle or even on foot. If you make Heraklion your base you could more easily cover the Lassithi Plateau from there rather than making the long drive from Chania for the day.
Have you missed anything? Where is the olive cultivator and olive oil maker? Well, olives will not be in production in May so rule out the hands-on agriculture lesson, BUT you may want to drop in to the Milia Mountain Retreat where you will learn to cook Cretan food – and discover what makes Crete tick. You could rent a small cottage here and perhaps make it your base for a day or two in Western Crete. It’s not far from Elafonisi (27 kms) for your beach experience – and keep in mind that most beach waters will be still chilly in May, while the shallower waters of Elafonisi will be a better choice. Have a look also at the Eleonas Agrotourism Resort southwest of Heraklion. This might be a good base for your Knossos and Lassithi excursions and you will get more of the agrotourism experience that you seem to want. Plenty more to do and see in Crete but these pointers should get you started.
Hi I was wondering if you could help me. Me and my partner are travelling to Crete 3rd September for 10 nights and then going over to Santorini for 3 nights. We are wondering which is the best area to stay in? We don’t want to split the holiday and move hotels in Crete would prefer to stay in the one place. We are young aged 26, are looking for a active holiday like things such as watersports, boat trips, nice walks, lovely beaches. We don’t want to get bored. We would like to be able to go out and have a nice meal and drinks. Not like a party area. Where would be the best area to stay in? Thanks
You’ve chosen a good time to visit Crete. The peak season is just over, but the sea is still warm and there is still plenty going on. You mention that you’re young and don’t want to get bored so that suggests people and some action. Four places come to mind that meet the criteria of water sports, boat trips, and beaches and they’re all on the north coast – where most of the livelier action happens
First of the ranks is Agios Nikolaos, a pretty little seaside town in eastern Crete that has about the right balance of fun, sand, and good food. It’s a bit touristy (it’s not popular for nothing), but it bears the tourism well. You could well base yourself here for 10 nights and be content all the way. The beach scene is at the northern end of Agios Nikolaos, but you can base yourselves anywhere and take yourselves to beaches of choice on scooters – as many visitors do.
Secondly and nearby is the rather more refined resort of Elounda, 11km north of Agios Nikolaos and almost a contiguous beach scene. Elounda is famous for its luxury hotels and private hotel beaches, but there’s plenty on offer for everyone. It’s a little less frenetic on the ground, but offers a wide variety of activities that will never leave you bored. A trip to the island of Spinalonga is usually on everyone’s bucket trip list, while on your scooter you can explore the just-connected islet peninsula of Kalydon where you can find your own quiet beach corner and swim in peace.
Moving westwards and avoiding the tempting Malia resort scene before Heraklion (this is Northern Europe party central) you could consider Platanias as a base. Platanias is the generic name of a costal strip running 14 km west of Chania. It’s got pretty well everything you want: sports, activities, scooter hire, decent eatings and the ‘buzz’ – plenty of people looking for a good time. Chania is nearby and that’s a great night-time hangout scene. Platanias is a place where you don’t need to move far to get a bit of everything.
Lastly and a little down the action ladder is the beach strip of Rethymnon, running east of this smaller version of Chania. A bit less ‘closed in’, more muted in scene, but plenty of beach, taverna, and water activity to please. The scenery at these last two is less gripping and inviting than at Agios Nikolaos and Elounda (it’s much more open and exposed), but all four places offer what you are looking for.
We will be in Crete for 11 days in June with three school-age kids and are looking to tune our itinerary. I’m pretty settled on Eleonas since it seems to hit all the high notes: in short range of some great archeological sites (Knossos, Archeological Museum, Malia, Phaistos), good food, hospitality and service, and authentic. We’d love to pair it with somewhere closer to the beach. I’m torn between the following two places:
(1) NW Crete: go to Elafonisi and Balos beaches. Looks like catch a boat from Kissamos for Balos beach and drive to Elafonisi. If so, should we stay at Milia Traditional Settlement (but it doesn’t have a pool) or somewhere in Kissamos or Kolymvari? Which are the best accomodations in the area? We’d like to keep it at no more than 200Eish per night.
(2) Kato Zakros with trips to Vai beach and Xerocampos and environs. Looks like Terra Minoika in Kato Zakros is the best bet in the area?
I also considered Paliochora and Makriyialos (but the latter is described as having too many polytunnels and drab buildings, though).
Any direction would be much appreciated!
Good choice in Eleonas Agrotourism Resort and since last month – as you have probably made a mental note of – they have a pool. The area is very pleasant and will serve as a good base for your archaeological expeditions. On the assumption that Eleonas is a given, let’s look at your other two options.
We’ll call them the Western and Eastern Crete options. Both have pluses and both have downsides … Let’s go West first. The assumption here is that you want to base yourself in an agrotourism resort and make trips to the beaches and sights, right? Now, Milia Resort doesn’t have a pool but is that a negative? You can do all your swimming on your trips to Balos and Elafonisi (and Falassarna and Paleochora) and you can relax in the environment of a pool-less eco village in between. Not so bad.
Yes, drive to Elafonisi (you’ll need a car ideally) and take a boat cruise around the Gramvousa peninsula to beautiful and remote Balos beach. If you don’t stay at Milia then Kissamos Bay is worth considering. Kissamos is a neat little town itself. Almost forgotten by the busloads and sitting comfortably in the middle of its own large bay. A little outside of Kissamos at Nopigia (10 minutes in the car) is a small settlement with a few tavernas, a pebbly beach, a rural community, and some apartments that fall within your budget. Have a look at Thalassa Apartments for starters and see if that suits. You can have a 4-bed apartment for €80 a night, be self-contained, have fast wi-fi, and have a beach on your doorstep. You are not far from Chania for some restaurants and nightlife, and you may just feel that you have a piece of Crete just for yourselves.
Moving East to the other side of Crete, you’ve hit the nail on the head with Kato Zakros. Not many people hone in on this option because it’s a little off the radar. It’s a quiet place where until a few years back the mobile signal didn’t dip down over the hill and Internet was a fantasy. There’s little more to do in Kato Zakros than totally slow down, relax, read a book, do yoga, eat, sleep and swim – and maybe hike the “Deadman’s Gorge”. Three equally good tavernas vie for clientele and the most popular place to stay is the taverna/rooms outfit at the far end, the Akrogiali. Terra Minoika is good but is up on the hill and a fair walk to the beach. You’d be a fair ways from the activity that comprises the 100m strip at the end of the main road. With a car (necessary) you will get to go to Vai Beach and following what used to be a roughish road, head south towards Xerokambos where there is some pleasant sandy beach swimming.
The down side – if it can be called that – of both areas is their remoteness. We are looking at the opposite ends of Crete and they are a good distance from the busier towns. Chania is nonetheless close enough to Kissamos/Milia in the West and Siteia is not that far (with a car) to the East coast beach villages. That’s really about it. You mention Makrygialos. It’s still emerging as a ‘resort’. People in Zakros don’t think much beyond their own territory and neither would you if you stayed there. Paleochora is a nicer option, but again if you are based in Kissamos/Milia, you might only go there as a day trip, though it would make a better place to stay than Makrygialos over in the east.
Finally, you didn’t say when in June, but do note that it is still shoulder season which means that prices are generally lower, there are fewer people, it’s not too hot (all positives), but the water will not yet have reached its optimum bathing temperature, so it might be cool in places.
Excellent, impartial, and informative website.
We are intending to travel to Crete around the 6/7th of October for 10/12 days. Our only reservation is the weather! I know it won’t be suffocating during the day but will it be warm enough to sit on the beach? Also will it feel as though
“Will the last person to leave please turn off the lights”!!
Weather should be warm and still good for swimming. Heat waves are not uncommon so it could even be hot/very hot. The south coast is usually warmer than the north coast once the weather does start to turn. The beach towns along the north will be getting quiet (though still not dead) while the main towns (Heraklion, Chania, and Rethymnon) will have plenty of life, as they do year-round.
I’m so glad I found your website: you have an amazing in-depth knowledge of the area. Could I pick your brains?
We are a family for 4 (traveling with 2 teenagers: 18 & 15). We’d like to see Crete and Santorini. We have specific dates of travel and can only spend one week: either June 14th to the 21st OR 15th to the 22nd. Due to certain logistics, we are most likely flying to Crete from London, but would like a return flight to the North of England, preferably Leeds Bradford. Do you know of the best airlines to do this without it being too expensive?
We were thinking of staying on Crete and then taking a day-trip on a boat to Santorini or even spending a night on Santorini. Which option would you recommend?
Here’s where it gets tricky – we’d rather not stay at a busy cruise ship port or in a super touristy area with large hotel/resorts that are full of 18-30 partiers. But we don’t want to be too secluded either as there needs to be things of interest going on for our teens (that don’t involve just bars and discos). But we’d also rather not spend too much time in transit on the islands getting to and from the ideal destinations! Which makes the planning quite a conundrum.
High on the list for our main stay on Crete are:
• having a decent sandy beach within walking distance
• access to local eateries/tavernas within walking distance or accessible by bus or taxi
• prefer not to have to rent a car
• local culture and cuisine
• would like to visit some ancient Greek ruins/architecture
• prefer a or a smaller-sized hotel /B&B and we are open to self-catering (renting an apartment/traditional villa)
• a pool would be nice, but not needed if a good beach is close by
We’d really appreciate any advice you can give. Thanks in advance for your help.
Anne-Marie & Mike Snow
For flights, the best prices can be found on Kayak.com. The only direct flights from Heraklion to LBA are with JET2 – though there are direct flights with Thomas Cook and Aegean to Manchester. From Chania the only direct flight to LBA is with Ryan Air.
For Santorini, staying a night is much preferred to a day trip. There is little choice for ferries between the 2 islands. So basically you go Crete to Santorini in the morning and Santorini to Crete in the early evening. If you stay the night you get a nice little stay on the island. If you do it as a day trip you’ve got a half day at most (and less if your morning ferry is delayed).
On Crete, to car or not to car? It’s possible not to, but you will exclude yourselves from doing some things like visiting the ruins of Knossos independently, though you can take a guided tour. The best beaches are on the south coast and the most spectacular beach (Elafonisi) is out on a ledge at the south west tip of Crete so you’d ideally need a car to get to them. Local culture and cuisine tends to get swamped by imported culture and fish ’n’ chips at longish ‘tourist enclaves’ typically along the north coast, so if you want that authentic touch, you’re going to have to use a car or head south by bus.
Notwithstanding, three places emerge from the list of many that may fit most of your bill and they are all scattered along the south coast. Sounds like you want to be in a people environment i.e. a village or small town by the beach. Palaiochora on the south west side of Crete is one of my favorites. It is connected by direct buses from Heraklion so getting there without a car is easy. It has two amiable beaches on either side of the village’s peninsula-like layout. Plenty of low-key restaurants and taverns and not too many tourists to dilute the culture or cuisine.
Next up Plakias further east is like Palaiochora and has a garland of beaches draped around the village; low-key, frequented by travellers and self-contained enough to warrant an extended stay without the need for your own wheels. Further east still and just short of the bustling town of Ierapetra is Myrtos, a small seaside village that like the other two places has just enough of itself to keep you there for some days without the need to move. All three destinations cater for travellers; all three can be reached easily by bus and are not populated by multi-story hotels. Use Flipkey (recommended) or AirBnb to find apartments or guest houses as there are plenty of options as well as smallish hotels.
Your archaeology hit is best accommodated for on a day trip to Heraklion when you can visit bit the Archaeological Museum and the Minoan site of Knossos. There’s not a lot more unless you’ve done your homework and want to visit some obscurer sites like Aptera, Phaestos, Malia, or Zakros.
That really covers it. Three village/towns that sit down below the radar, but that are pretty and comfy in their own right. They have beaches, decent food and lodgings and are all eminently walkable. Even your restless teens will have things to see and do in each of these places. Good luck!
Thanks so much for the info on the flights and the insight in to the hidden gems on Crete’s South coast. After getting your great feedback, a couple of other questions arise:
Thanks for the advice on spending the night in Santorini. I’ve been watching your really informative videos on You Tube, which gives me a really good insight into the layout of Santorini. We’d want to see Fira and Oia. Does it make most sense to spend the night in Fira and take a bus trip to Oia? If so, is it possible to rent a hotel room for just one night in Fira at that time of year without it being too expensive? To keep costs down, what do you think about doing a backpackers hostel or budget hotel for one night? Any recommendations?
You’ve swayed us on the car rental since it seems the best option to do all we want to do (we didn’t have a big objection to renting a car – we just thought it would keep costs down to do without). Given that we would rent a car, would that change any of your recommendations for our stay?
We will definitely look into the 3 lovely villages on the South that you recommended. In the meantime, after looking at your site, we’ve also developed an interest in Chania old town. We love the Turkish and Venetian influences on the architecture. Also we would be closer to the ferry service to Santorini. But is it too much of a tourist hub for us? We don’t mind a multi-cultural place, but don’t want be “swamped by imported culture and fish ’n’ chips” as you aptly put it!)
And finally what can we do to leave our positive feedback and recommend your site – do you have a Facebook page too?
Anne-Marie & Mike Snow
On Santorini, Fira would be a better base (than Oia) for a one night visit. It’s much closer to the port so no sense going all the way to Oia for your hotel, back to the Fira/Imerovigli area to explore, back to Oia for sleep, then back through Fira on your way to the port. Stay in Fira, walk up to Imerovigli, catch a bus to Oia (or walk the whole way along the caldera) then back to your hotel in Fira by bus. The San Giorgio is a great budget hotel in Fira, about a 5 minute walk from the bus station.
The car is a good idea on Crete because of the size of the island – it’s more like a small country in it’s own right in the same vein as Cyprus – so it is good to be able to get around independently. If you are happy driving a left-hand drive car and are happy using manual gears, you should have no problems. Rental rates can be terribly good if you shop online, or even wing it and look for a a car upon arrival (recommended). So, no changes to the recommendations of the three southern coastal villages, they are excellent destinations in their own right. A car will allow you to get there under your own steam, of course, as well as allow you to make excursions.
Now Chania is definitely worth a look-in. It’s an easy excursion from Paleochora (71km or 44 miles) but longer (obviously) from Plakias or Myrtos. (It probably doesn’t warrant a day excursion from Myrtos). Chania is a different experience from a southern coast village, so maybe with your car you can combine both and – to save time – see if you can fly in from the UK directly to Chania. In Chania you may not need a car as the public transport (to the beaches) is good and you can hire public bikes for free. So perhaps only hire a car to get to Paleochora from Chania – or don’t use a car at all.
While you might find the odd ‘chippy’ on the beach stretch running west from Chania, the town itself is pretty cosmopolitan and international and the Old Town is timeless. It is equally a town that is lived in by genuine Cretans so is not swamped by northern Europeans who often number more than locals in some destination enclaves along the north coast. So is it touristy? Well yes – but nice touristy. Perhaps better described as internationally chic. Chania is enjoyed by many people and all for similar reasons. Pairing, say, Paleochora with Chania will give you a taste of two worlds and a rounder feel for Crete.
As for getting to Santorini after Chania you are going to have to go to Heraklion (142 kms or 88 miles) so it may be better to hire your car (if you decide to have one) from the port of Heraklion initially so that you can drop it off there and jump on a ferry or catamaran to Santorini. Some rental car companies will allow you to leave it right at the port, literally steps from the ferry.
Thank you so much for all of the recommendations/advice. I had 2 specific questions as we will be in Crete for a short while. We have about 1.5 solid days in Crete, we figure Heraklion is probably the best place to stay due to the short visit. I am currently trying to decide between the executive suites at the Lato Boutique vs GDM Megaron. Any thoughts about which we should go with and why?
Also, recommendations for the must see places and must eat restaurants in the region (considering we will be there such a short while)?
Thank you so much for your thoughts,
A little tight on the time but you are right about Heraklion. It is the hub of Crete and closest to the main transport connections so basing yourselves here for your short stay makes sense.
The top floor executive suite of the Lato Boutique Hotel consists of a main room and a private annexe and is really cosy. It has good views over the whole harbour area. The rooftop restaurant is quite spectacular. Yes, the Lato hotel is worth its monicker as one of the best hotels in Crete.
The GDM Megaron is also excellent and has a rooftop pool – which you may enjoy as there are no notable beaches in Heraklion (not that you will have the time). It is also very central and exceptionally well appointed .. but more expensive. Either is a good choice, but your budget will decide the winner. Of the two, the Lato is probably the preferred choice because for the level of service provided, it is good value for money.
There are really only two ‘must-see’ sights in the region: the Minoan citadel of Knossos (very close to Heraklion town) and its Archaeological Museum in Heraklion. A visit to both will take up two half days.
Eating? Lots of choices, but close to both hotels are two top places to consider. Favoured by the local Heraklians is the Ippokambos (Seahorse) Ouzeri at Sofokli Venizelou 3, where fish mezedhes (like Spanish tapas) and main fish dishes figure prominently. Grab a seat on the waterfront terrace if you can. For a touch of class and upper market tasting consider “Peskesi” for a taste of genuine Cretan cuisine – allegedly the world’s healthiest diet. Hope that helps.
Hello, I’ve been enjoying your page and have a few questions I’m hoping you can help me with. We are flying from California, arriving in Athens on 5/29/16 at approximately 10:30am. Our plan is to leave immediately (in process of scheduling an afternoon flight) to Crete. Staying there for four nights…coming back to Athens on the 2nd to board a cruise ship on the 3rd. I like your two favorite places, but am not sure what’s the best way for us to see some of the island while at the same time relax a bit and enjoy one of your recommended hotels. What are your thoughts? I was initially thinking we’d fly into Heraklion, spend the first night there and visit Knossos…then on to one of the two cities…but I’d like to hear you opinion. Thank you.
Linda and Bruce
Four nights in Crete? Better than none I guess :-) and a good choice for a starter before your cruise. How best to utilise those nights and days seems to be your key question. First up Crete is more of a mini country than an island. It’s 160 miles in length – that’s like the distance between downtown LA and Tulare, CA, on highway 99 and there’s a lot packed into that – especially mountains – so you’re not going to get to see a lot in three full days (four nights) without working on a plan. Your idea of flying in to Heraklion is sound, given that you want to see Knossos. Heraklion is the main airport (and port) so your best transport links are going to be in and out of Crete’s main city.
Staying in Heraklion is probably not such a bad idea too, given your short time on the ground and you don’t really want to spend time moving to/from other potential destinations by bus since this is mainly a quick fix trip. Choose a cosy hotel that meets your needs. The Lato Hotel in Heraklion has a spacious penthouse suite on the top floor with cool views to match. Now how to get around? On your time frame – rent a car. Can you drive manual? – as most rental cars are manual (book in advance if you absolutely need an automatic). Check out before you rent. Best option by far to get to see a bit more than just Heraklion and Knossos.
A return day trip to Chania is a good idea and you can take in Rethymnon on the way. It’s an easy 2 hour direct drive from Heraklion to Chania – allow 3 hours or more if you wish to take in Rethymnon for a mid-morning coffee and cake break in this pretty little port town. Do lunch at Chania’s picturesque old port and on the way back drop into the enticing bays of Bali (not the Indonesian island) almost hidden off the main highway 33 miles to the west of Heraklion for a swim and an ouzo or raki (local Cretan spirit) on ice while watching the day turn golden over the azure blue waters. That’s one day taken care of.
Allow a good half day for Knossos – it’s close to Heraklion (a 15 minute drive) because there is a lot to see and absorb (there are tour guides for hire at the entrance and I highly recommend getting one as they make the visit very informative and memorable). When done perhaps point the car south to the hills for lunch and pick a village at random for a hearty non-touristy Cretan meal. Destinations that come to mind are Archanes, Arkalochori, or Houdetsi where you might just cross raki glasses with Irish musician legend Ross Daly (he recently played Carnegie Hall in NYC) who lives here and runs a musical studio for people interested in learning about traditional world music. There go two days.
For the third day you might just want to go see and swim where Joni Mitchell and her hippy friends hung out in the 60s and it’s on most people’s bucket lists. Pack your bucket and spade, sun hat and sunscreen and drive south-west across the island to Matala (42 miles or 1.5 hours driving) and make a leisurely day of it. Matala is famous for its troglodyte-like caves backing its beach where Kerouac-driven wanderers with guitars and tie dye shirts hung out (and let loose) back in the days of flower power. Yeah, it’s as touristy as hell today, but has a great buzz and will give you something to talk about over cocktails on your upcoming cruise.
We’re hoping to visit Crete for one week in early May with our five year old daughter. Not sure whether to go with a hotel or rental. Previously, in France, Italy and the UK we’ve done self-catering…but perhaps breakfast in the hotel and little cafes and tavernas is the way to do it… Been looking at Chania and Heraklion ( we have to do a bit of ancient history)…but really don’t have a clue where to start. Don’t want to be driving lots, that’s for sure… Bit of swimming, gentle exploring…open to suggestions… I understand that our visit will coincide with the celebrations for Easter.
There are a few implied questions here so let’s pick through them and come up with some sparkling ideas for your Crete trip. Let’s start with the dates: the 1st of May does, in fact, coincides with Easter Sunday and the first of May celebrations which are also big in Greece. Easter week (or ‘megali evdomdha’) runs from 25 April to May 1 and is marked by a series of generally evening religious services at church culminating in the resurrection service on the Saturday when at midnight the priest of the church appears with a single lighted candle and passes the flame on to the multitudes waiting outside the church – thus symbolising Christ’s resurrection.
That week is generally a pretty solemn time when even the normally raucous TV turns it down for a few days. It also means that it is not a great ‘holiday’ time for visitors, with less than usual restaurant options (no one eats meat, among other foodstuffs) and little or no outside entertainment. That is all forgotten of course on Easter Sunday when mayhem breaks loose and people roast lambs on the spit and eat and drink as if there were no tomorrow.
This also has a few ramifications for the traveller – other than the general sense of solemnity just referred to. It is a times when Greeks travel – often long distances – to their ancestral homes to celebrate Easter with family and friends. That means that hotel accommodation (particularly in the days just prior to and just after Easter) can be in high demand. It means also that getting on a boat, plane, bus or train may be pushy, or you may not find a seat. In short, while there is an undeniable attractiveness to being in Greece at Easter, it can come at a price.
Hotel or rental, you ask? Both have their advantages and drawbacks – as you are no doubt well aware from your travels to France, Italy, and the UK. Renting an apartment gives you much more flexibility – to cook, to sleep all day if you so desire, to spread out with a little more room. Hotels, however, lay it all on for you, but you pay more in the end for that privilege and unless you go premium, your space is usually perceptibly less. Toss a coin.
Chania and Heraklion are common destination choices – the latter mainly for its proximity to the two key archaeological sites: the Heraklion Museum and the Minoan site of Knossos. Both are worthy visits. Heraklion is a brash, lived-in town wearing less of the traditional prettiness of its sisters town to the east and the west, but most worthy of a short spell and it is a good place to start your trip as it sees more incoming ferries and international planes than elsewhere on Crete.
Move on now to Chania and take a regular bus from the bus station (opposite the ferry harbour in Heraklion). They run hourly. Chania, too is lived in and busy, but it has its Old Town and that is very pretty and charming. Many folk love to stay in a stone boutique hotel here overlooking the harbour and it’s a good idea – especially if you select a hotel that gives you that bit of extra room. Just after Easter is a good time for room deals. Most of the Easter tourists will have departed and the foreigners will not have really started arriving yet so you can find some fine accommodation deals.
As for swimming, well – doable but the water will still be on the cold side, as the Aegean Sea doesn’t really reach room temperature until around August. There’s a family beach within walking distance of the Old Town of Chania that you could try. If you’re looking for a better stretch of san then you have to do a bit of exploring. A car is not a bad idea, by the way. You will get to see a lot more and driving is easy. You could drive down to Elafonisi (74km) where the azure, entrancing, and shallower waters should be warmer and better for wallowing on a balmy day. In fact most excursions from Chania would not take you more than this distance at the furthest point.
Chania has a network of free bicycles that you may care to use while you are there and local travel agents offer a variety of bus trips or walking tours, prime among them is the Samaria Gorge walk which conveniently opens up to visitors in the first week of May.
In summary: it’s probably the case that you are better served by taking a hotel – as you are likely to be staying put in just two centres – Heraklion and Chania. Just choose comfortably and think personal space. The hotels listed on here give you some good starters. Be aware of the Easter effect in Greece and book your sleeps in advance. The weather may be warm and balmy (not guaranteed), but the sea may still be cool. While you can probably find tours to take, driving is easy and will give you flexibility to explore. Enjoy your planning and most of all, delight in Crete!
Like the others, I’m impressed and grateful for this site and all your detailed responses. If you don’t mind offering feedback on my wife and my trip (April 29 – May 12) I’d be forever grateful. Tips, pointers, suggestions all helpful. Our current plan is:
*April 29 to May 5 in Crete with the first 4 nights using Chania as a “base” for exploring the western part of the island, then one night in Rethymnon and one night in Heraklion (to catch the ferry to Santorini the next day). I know we’ll be there for Easter — we’re hoping to see how the locals celebrate and participate in some lamb. We’ll have a car during our stay in Crete.
*May 5 -7 in Santorini. First trip to Greece so we need to check the box.
*May 7 – 10 not yet planned but I’m leaning toward Paros.
*May 10 -12 in Athens and then flying to Istanbul for a 2 night layover on our way home.
We like to get away from the family-oriented resorts and enjoy good food, good drink and lots of outdoor activity, whether on the beach, underwater, or in the mountains. Appreciate your tips!
Well, you’ve certainly picked a fine time to travel in Crete. Easter is always a magical time on Greece and what with Easter combining with the First of May celebrations, your trip should be a lively one and the weather should be getting nice. First up, be aware that all accommodation is likely to be in short supply for those few days of Easter and the whole country is on the move the days before and the days after as they return to their ancestral towns and villages to celebrate what is Greece’s biggest religious feast. So, be based somewhere before it all kicks off and then sit back and enjoy.
Assuming you have booked a hotel in Chania, you’ll then need to pick a church, if you want to really participate on cultural terms. The main church of any town of village is a sensible choice – in Chania try the Orthodox Cathedral of Trimartiri on Chalidon St not far from the old harbour. While religious celebrations and services take place all during the preceding week, the two celebrations to aim for are the “Epitafios” and the “Anastasi”. The former is an evening church service followed by a procession of the bier of Christ around the streets of Chania which church-goers follow bearing lighted candles. It is a very moving procession as it seems like the whole town is involved. The next one is the Resurrection of Christ on Easter Eve when a late-night church ceremony culminates in the giving of the “light” by the priest to the assembled throngs at midnight.
Everyone then goes home to crack eggs and eat traditional offal soup called mayiritsa. You should be able to eat some at a restaurant after the church service. If you like offal, it is good. If not, then it is simply awful! Watch out for the firecrackers exploding all around you – or in some cases (and illegally) dynamite and kalashnikovs!
Easter Sunday is for the roasting of the lamb on the spit and for families to get together and celebrate life. This is where it might get hard to participate as it is very much a family-oriented celebration. You might need to ask around Chania if any restaurant is doing lamb on the spit for out-of-towners like yourselves where you can enjoy the environment and general mayhem with other travellers. You might just get lucky and be invited by a local so keep your ears open and make chat with people around you. Here’s a little info about Easter in Greece for some more background.
If you are based in Chania Old Town you will certainly be respectably distant from the resort scene which unfolds further west for some 14km or so. That said, it is unlikely that the resort scene will have much movement yet as the tourist season really only kicks off a little later, so it might actually be quite quiet out there. As for beaching it, that is going to depend entirely on the prevailing weather conditions. While it is in theory possible to swim in Crete year round, the reality is that the water has not started warming up by the beginning of May and you may find beach sitting a lukewarm experience. The same goes for scuba diving, or any water-based activity.
The mountains are a different proposition and you should consider walking the Samaria Gorge which opens in early May (earlier there is too much water in the gorge for it to be passable on foot). There are are plenty of organised outdoor activities to be enjoyed, but here is a a novel idea for you. Chania has recently installed a network of essentially free city bicycles that are at your disposal. You pay €1.00 for the privilege. Borrow some bikes and explore Chania during the quieter period of Easter week.
As for food, you will be well served in Crete, but like everywhere else you need to shop around. Chania Old Town has some memorable dining places and most will open officially for the summer season at Easter (many will be open all year). With a car you will be better served to get out and about to the villages that have their own ‘locals’ taverna scene and will no doubt be thriving during the post-Easter period. There are a few ‘eco’ restaurants around that will need some searching for, but one that jumps off the page is the Milia Mountain Retreat that is definitely worth a visit. One food tip worth noting: during Easter week ready-cooked meat dishes may not be easy to find (unless you order grills) as no-one will be eating meat or dairy products. You might be better served by going with the flow and eat what others are eating. After Easter Sunday you can go for it!
In short, your trip will be punctuated by the solemnity and frenzy of Easter. Stay put and join the flow and festivity. After Easter, Crete will awaken and you will sense life in the air. If the weather is warm and sunny (which is likely), it will seem twice as joyous. That’s when you may want to do your car exploring. Kaló Páscha (Happy Easter)!
This is an awesome site. Thanks!
We are planning a 1 week trip to Crete in early June. We will have 2 kids, 5 and 10 years old. I am very confused about the location of the various hotels and the wide range in prices for even the 5 star hotels so was hoping you could help a bit.
Specifically, some of the pics from the hotels don’t give the impression of an amazing beach, which I know is not true. So could you please recommend a few 5 star hotels with an amazing beach. We were looking in the range of up to $700/night if we had to. Looking for a hotel with stunning views and a great beach. Also, could we explore the island while staying in the same hotel? And finally could we make a day trip to Santorini?
Crete has some amazing beaches and some even more amazing hotels (though never quite to the level of luxury on Santorini), so I can understand your quandary in looking for the right combination. Yes, the listings above are all very tempting and are good places to stay. So, here is a few that you might like to limit your research to and I am sure that you will find the one you want to suit your own particular needs.
The location of each hotel is implied by the names or, if you click deeper, you can see on the maps where they are located. As a general rule of thumb the ‘town hotels’ (located within the town itself – Chania, Rethymnon, Heraklion, and Agios Nikolaos) do not come with amazing beaches. They are excellent hotels for their own reasons and good beaches are usually within a short drive but you generally are not staying “on” a pristine beach.
Each main town does have its beach strip: Chania’s strip runs from Chania westwards for about 12km and that strip is full of hotels – from good to luxury – and all ultimately sharing a similar, sandy, open beach environment. Rethymnon’s strip runs from the town to the east and and is similar in feel to the Chania strip. Heraklion’s resort strip runs from the airport east to Mallia and is very much the domain of packaged tourism. It might not suit your wishes.
Agios Nikolaos abuts the more up-market resort area/town of Elounda – favoured by Greece’s monied – and it is here that you are likely to find your best option for amazing beach and 5 star luxury hotel. I’ll pick out a trio of hotels that you may care to study.
First of the rank is the Elounda Beach Hotel on Elounda’s main street. The photos will do it more justice than any words I can write. The beach is discreet and small (unlike most of the north coast beaches) and the hotel facilities are world class. The Elounda Peninsula All Suites Hotel has an even smaller (essentially private) beach while some suites have private pools. Tempted? For a third choice, check out the Blue Palace (Luxury Collection Resort). I would happily live here for a week or more and maybe never go home. Your budget seems robust and all these hotels come well below your upper limit. For example a one night deal at the last of these hotels in a superior room in June is listing at US$346.00/€310 for two person. Work the links to find your best option.
In answer to your question about whether you can explore the island while staying at the same hotel. Yes, of course you can: but you may not want to, if you are staying in such sequestered and good-looking luxury as you will find in Elounda. Hire a car, of course, and rather than make long excursion runs back west (towards Heraklion and beyond) saunter around the east side of the island making sure you take in Vai Beach, Kato Zakros, Ierapetra, and Myrtos. Do also visit the former leper colony of Spinalonga – the islet off the coast of Elounda – it’s fascinating and an easy day excursion.
To sum up, I am suggesting that you focus on Elounda/Agios Nikolaos because the area has been favoured by discerning, urban Greeks for good reason and the hotels have been built with exacting standards in mind. With a little patience and perseverance you’ll find that perfect beach and touch of luxury you are looking for. Happy holidays!
Thanks for all the information on this page and your Santorini hotels page. Much better and to-the-point than Tripadvisor, Lonely Planet, etc.
We’ll be in Crete (staying in Rethymnon) and Santorini (staying in Oia) for 3 days apiece in early May. I have 2 questions for you:
In Crete, my girlfriend and I would like to do a day trip to the Samaria Gorge. Do you have any suggestions for a good guide/tour to use? I understand that we’ll likely have to meet them in Chania at the start, which won’t be a problem since we have a rental car. We’d prefer one that would provide transportation/logistics to and from Chania, but that we could walk at our own pace and just meet up with the group at the end of the gorge or ferry.
In Santorini, we’d like to do some sort of boating half or full day trip, either on a sailboat or catamaran. Do you have any suggestions for a good company to contact?
Thanks for all your help in planning our trip.
It’s not a bad idea to go with a group tour down the 19km Samaria Gorge, but it’s not all that difficult to do it yourself. Given that you plan to amble at your own pace down the gorge and meet up with the group at the end, the group support will end up being little more than providing customised pick-up and transport from/to the starting point and possibly a group lunch at Agia Roumeli at the end of the gorge. OK, let’s look at what happens with a group tour first then I’ll explain how to do it solo.
Here are a few examples of companies offering tours: Samaria Gorge tours – this outfit seems to have it all down to a tee and it will cost you around €66.00 or US$73.50 per person. This includes hotel pick-up and drop off and the ferry ride from Agia Roumeli to Chora Sfakion. The walk itself you do alone and un-aided so your fee is not going to buy you any extra service when it comes to the grunt – other than the possible advantage of being with people you just met on the bus.
There’s also Diana’s Tours from Chania. Now there’s quite a bit more detail here: again pick-up from near your hotel (if you are in Chania or within distance), transport to Omalos – you do the walk once more un-aided – cater for yourself at Agia Roumeli and get ferried back to Chania via the port of Sougia. All this for €51.00 per person if you add up all the fees. Note the opening dates of the gorge – May 1 to 21 October.
I mentioned earlier that you can do all this yourself and it won’t cost you quite as much. Your fixed expenses will be the bus fares from Chania (the best starting point) (€7.50) to Omalos; the park entry fee (€5.00) the ferry ticket to Sougia (you will probably need to overnight here), or Chora Sfakion (€18.00), and the bus back to Chania (€8.20). All up a budget of €38.70 for transport and park entry only.
The disadvantage to DIY is that you need to get that early bus from Chania bus station (preferably book your ticket beforehand). See KTEL or bus-service-crete.com to work out the times. You can in theory book your one-way or return ticket online via the former site, but I have never tried it. And that’s about it, because at the end of the day you are going to have to walk the gorge yourself and be self-sufficient along the way (drinks, snacks, first aid, etc.).
The walk is robust, but it is downhill on the whole and you will rarely be alone anywhere. Sit down for five minutes and someone will inevitably pass you. Do take snacks and water and heed the solid advice about wearing good footwear: the path is very rocky in parts. The site of the village of Agia Roumeli at the end of the gorge is like that of an oasis in the desert. Rest up here, have lunch, swim, and head back to Chania – satisfied. Hope the advice helps.
All of the companies that do caldera tours are good. Different tours are better depending on where you are staying, so ask your hotel. No need to book in advance, check the weather after you arrive as you don’t want a windy day. Get one that includes the sunset as it’s great to watch it from the boat as it sits just off Santorini below Oia.
Hi Dave, thanks so much for everything and for all this valuable information. My fiance and I will be travelling to Santorini on August 3rd and then heading to Crete on the 6th. We are looking to visit Elafonisi but we’re also quite private people that enjoy a pool or jacuzzi in our room. Our hotel choices are the private, luxurious, quiet, and great service type and we’re foodies! Can I ask which hotel you would recommend in Crete? If we’re looking to explore Crete and go to Elafonisi, which town would be best?
For starters there are some great hotels listed above so take a slow look. Crete has unquestionably some fine accommodation – I don’t recall seeing a pool in my room anywhere, but I don’t doubt it exists somewhere as there are an enormous amount of options. First up though, where to stay? Chania is my first suggestion as it is the nicest town in Western Crete and within day-tripping distance of Elafonisi (74km). Chania is also blessed with some of the best food experiences on Crete.
So in a nutshell, look for a select boutique hotel in the heart of Chania’s Old Town. A couple come to my mind and one is the Casa Delfino andy the other is the Amphora, but there are others that match your requirements so don’t stop there. The Old Town is a patchwork of narrow twisting streets with shops, restaurants and lodgings – big and small – all woven into a compact, alluring mesh. You could spend a week there and not want to move way from it. One tip: while the central harbour touts the best-looking eateries, resist the lure (and the touting) and head for the back streets. Also look to the eastern side of the harbour along Akti Tombazi and past the quite obvious former mosque (Yiali Tzami) and there’s another strip of eateries more favoured by the Cretans. Ask locals (and at your hotel) as tastes and fashions change annually.
Another tip to travellers like yourself on their way to Elafonisi is to detour to the village of Milia and visit the Eco Retreat and its fabulous restaurant. If you’re foodies, you will appreciate the experience. One final thing: early August is high season so whatever you do, start booking now. Good luck and happy travels!
We are spending a week in Crete at the tail end of our 3 week Greek adventure. Tentatively arriving Oct 5, with plans to spend our time in Western Crete. We plan to rent a car. Not sure if we should stay in one spot for our entire stay or divide our time between 2 or 3 spots. We spent a day in Chania during a previous cruise stop, so would prefer not to stay in the city, but to the west, possibly near a beach. Is Kissamos too far west? Not looking for nightlife, but enjoy small restaurants and shops and village atmosphere within walking distance. Also would like to hike Samaria Gorge and visit southwestern, western beaches.
Thanks in advance for you thoughts and suggestions,
Kim Smith (Canada)
Sounds like an ideal way to end your Greek adventure, and what a fine choice too! The Minoan island of Crete. Now October is towards the end of the tourist season, but you will find that things are generally still happening throughout Crete. Smaller places may have decided to shut up shop for the season but there is still a nice vibe in most of the tourist town. The weather should generally be fine and less torrid than in mid-Summer.
Western Crete always seems to get the thumbs-up from visitors and you have obviously made your choice based on personal preferences. Hiring a car is a good idea as the distances around Crete can be substantial (especially for an island). If I were in your shoes I’d be base myself in one spot – or possibly two as you have a week to play around with – and not to have to fuss about packing and unpacking every second day. You’ve scored a goal when you suggest Kissamos (known sometimes as Kastelli) because it rarely features in ‘tourist’ choices, yet it is a fine, down-to earth little town. Kissamos is only 37.5km west of Chania and just over 40km from the most popular destinations on the south coast such as Elafonisi and Paleochora so you can easily make day trips. You can also take a ferry back to the mainland from Kissamos if you want to.
If you’re looking for a cosy and comfortable base to stay you might consider Nopigia Beach, just 6km along the shoreline east of Kissamos. It’s quiet, has a few tavernas, offers a clean pebbled beach and is a great chill spot. Thalassa Appartments there offer a very pleasant retreat away from the bustle of more populated centers and there is a village atmosphere within walking distance where you can shop for milk, bread, and cheese etc. Paleochora is livelier and – it is probably true to say – has a different, cosier feel to the more open north coast of Crete.
Kissamos, though, is as good a locale for basing yourself as Chania for the Samaria Gorge. If there are just the two of you, you might have to do some strategic planning to complete the circuit. For example you might drive into Chania, leave the car near the bus station, bus to Omalos (the start of the Gorge), walk the gorge and take the ferry back to Chora Sfakion and then the bus back to your starting point in Chania. Otherwise you have the problem of retrieving your car from Omalos. Southwestern beaches are great and don’t forget to visit the often overlooked enormous sand beach at Falasarna and there is, of course, everyone’s favourite lagoon-like beach at Elafonisi.
In summary: Consider basing yourself in Kissamos and possibly mix it with Paleochora on the south coast and get yourselves around by car (it’s not really practical to use buses for all you have planned). There are plenty of small villages to stop off at (tip: look for the village of Milia on the way south from Kissamos) and there are plenty of small and quality restaurants to select from. A week is a good block of time to enjoy Crete. Use it with pleasure!
Hello! Thank you for sharing all the valuable information about Crete!
My boyfriend and I are planning a 1 week trip to Crete at the end of July. We are flying to Heraklion. We are still unsure if we want or need to rent a car. After reading your post, I think we should visit eastern Crete. We are a young couple but we prefer relaxing and quiet places. The very touristy and crowded places are not our favourite type.
Do you recommend us to rent a car to explore eastern Crete? Or is the transport good? How many hours does it take to get there? Also, if we stay (let’s say) 5 days in the eastern part, then want to check out some of the other popular places. Maybe near Heraklion since our flight back is from there. Which places do you recommend? Where are interesting sightseeing places?
And one more thing: are the eastern beaches sandy and warm? Which are the best?
Thanks in advance!
July is a peak holiday period in Crete so be prepared for a bit of elbow shoving with all the other travellers who will descend upon Greece’s largest island. Your idea of exploring Eastern Crete is a sound one because – apart from Agios Nikolaos – most visitors tend to gravitate towards the North, West and South of the island. To car or not to car? I’d have to say yes, hire a car to do your short visit any justice. Shop online beforehand if you must, but you will find some very competitive deals upon arrival. Bus transport is good, nonetheless, but is designed for getting locals to and from their affairs between key points and not ferrying travellers around on sight-seeing jaunts. Also, if you hire a car from the airport, it is so much easier to drive yourself back there at the end of your stay and just hand your car over prior to check-in.
So, where to go? You say you are young folk who like relaxing and being quiet. OK, then skip the rather over-subscribed to ‘tourist strip’ east of Heraklion and perhaps make your first port of call at Sisi (43km from Heraklion) a smallish village with a sprinkling of hotels, restaurants, and traveller facilities. It might make a good first night’s stop after your arrival from the airport at Heraklion. Pass by touristy (but still charming) Agios Nikolaos and Elounda if you prefer the quieter destinations and maybe make nightfall in the eastern town of Siteia. It’s more Cretan, less-favoured by the masses, and boasts a modest maritime beach scene along its lengthy foreshore. You will find restaurants and bars more geared more to locals and as a result you can expect better quality eating at lower prices.
Eastern Crete really comes into its own where you reach the far eastern coast. Vai Beach (24kms from Siteia) is palm-tree backed and oh-so-lazy, warm, and sandy. The date palms are said to be the result of Roman soldiers leaving date pips behind on their voyages to and from Africa and Rome. However if you really want that get-away-from-civilisation experience and prefer that no-one can even call you (mobile phone signals are spotty at best) then sneak into Kato Zakros (43.5km east from Siteia). The approach road winds down a bare escarpment with the empty sea stretching eastwards until it meets Cyprus and then Kato Zakros appears out of nowhere. It’s little more than a stretch of restaurants saddling a pebbled beach that slips imperceptibly into azure waters, and a scattering of scarce lodgements where clocks don’t seem to move. If that wasn’t enough, it is at the end of a gorge – dramatically named the Gorge of the Dead – so–called because niches in the gorge walls were used in antiquity to rest the dead. The gorge is also a great walk up to or from the main village of Zakros, located up on the plateau. If you want peace and quiet: you’ll find it here.
Finish the tour by delving even further south to Xerokambos (swim here in warm, gorgeous isolation) and then along the slowly awakening tourist coast as far as the lively town of Ierapetra. If you do decide to put down sticks for the night in this region, go a little further and sleep in cosy Myrtos – a compact traveller-friendly town with a beach, a promenade speckled with welcoming tavernas, and narrow streets that just feel nice. From Myrtos it is a 75.5km run across the heartland of the island back to Heraklion, or 111km if you backtrack via Ierapetra and Agios Nikolaos. The former route will take you through the village of Houdetsi and home of Irish-born ‘world musician’ Ross Daly who runs a thriving music workshop for visitors from all over the world. For your last day near Heraklion do go visit the Knossos archaeological site (one of the best historical attractions in Greece) for a glimpse of Crete’s Minoan past – a civilisation destroyed by perhaps Europe’s largest ever tsunami. The Archaeological Museum in Heraklion is an obvious choice too.
There you have it. Some ideas for an Eastern Crete driving, eating, swimming, and maybe experiencing a musical Odyssey. Happy trails!
This site is AWESOME!!
My sister and I are both in our early 40’s, from NYC and we plan to travel to Greece in mid June for 10 days/9 nights. We are doing Athens (3 nights), Santorini (3 nights) and maybe Crete. We are planning to do a roundtrip flight from NYC to Athens and take planes/ferries to our other stops. I am wondering is Crete the best option if I only have 3 nights to be there? If not, do you think Istanbul is a better choice? We love history, luxury hotels, good food, beach and a little nightlife.
Istanbul is incredible but with your limited time it might not be the best choice. There are no direct flights or ferries from Santorini so you’d have to go Athens to Santorini to Athens to Istanbul to Athens (and then home). I think better to choose either Crete, Naxos, Paros, or Mykonos for the 3rd stop and seeing as your into luxury hotels, beaches, and nightlife I’d recommend Mykonos (all the islands have great food so no worries there). Fly from Athens to Santorini then ferry to Mykonos then fly or ferry back to Athens.
Thanks for a really informative site. I’m after your expertise to plan the final details of our holiday this September with my husband and grown up daughter.
We arrive in Chania on 20th September and this is our proposed agenda:
4 nights in Chania (provisionally booked Hotel Amphora) with plan to walk the Samaria gorge and visit Elafonsi along with spending time in Chania.
Saturday 24th September – Ferry to Santorini and 4 nights already booked and paid for in Sunny Villas as availability was running out. I’m waiting to see if a ferry goes from Rethimnon on this day. If not we will have to travel to Heraklion for the morning ferry. If this is the case should we reduce our stay in Chania by one night and stay in Heraklion to avoid a very early morning bus ride (or will there be time enough to catch the ferry)?
Wednesday 28th September – Ferry to Naxos and 3 nights provisionally booked at Kalergis Studios.
Saturday 1st October – Return to Crete for the last 3 nights of our holiday before flying out from Chania around 13:00hrs on 4th October. This is the dilemma I’m in. Where to stay for the last 3 nights? We enjoy hiking as well as city locations but thought it would be nice to have a few days relaxing on a beach but with some other points of interest nearby. Quite liked the sound of Agios Nikolaos and as the ferry from Naxos arrives in to Heraklion it will be quite easy to get there by bus BUT it is a long way back to Chania airport from there.
What do you suggest? Perhaps 2 nights in Agios Nikolaos and then staying somewhere nearer to Chania for the last night – and if so where? Or is there another nice beach resort which also has a bit of atmosphere which is west of Heraklion where we could stay for 3 nights and then make it by bus in good time back to Chania for our flight.
Thanks in advance for your help.
OK, sounds like you have got your plans in order, but they would benefit from a bit of tidying up and clarifying. First comment about getting to Santorini. There have been summer ferries to Santorini from Rethymnon twice per week in recent years, but nothing is showing for summer at the moment. Rethymnon is essentially the #3 port in Crete before Siteia (#4) and after Chania (#2) and Heraklion (#1) and doesn’t have the best ferry links. However, getting to Heraklion from Chania can be done as long as you catch the first bus (we’ve done it) that leaves at 05:15. Τhe trip takes 2 hours 45 minutes and you get to Heraklion port with at least an hour to spare before the ferry departure and the bus station is a short walk (5 minutes) from the ferry berth.
Yes, it is a dilemma, because Chania is located on the west side of Crete and Agios Nikolaos is on the east side! In fact the two towns are just over 200km apart. You could drive it in one go, but it will take you 2.5 to 3 hours to drive from Agios Nikolaos to Chania airport which means you’d have to leave at least by 08:30 – assuming you are driving. By bus it would be very difficult with a changeover in Heraklion. The Agios Nikolaos area is very pretty, I might add and worth considering for your last few days. Elounda (just north of Agios Nikolaos) is a kind of upper-market resort area, but essentially caters for everyone and would make a good base. But, yes if you are bussing about then you would need to get yourselves closer to Chania airport to be comfortable about not missing your connection. In that case I would book yourself into the Amphora once more, have a relaxed last-night dinner in Chania Old Town (so many great restaurants) and an equally unhurried breakfast before making an easy exit to the airport in time for your flight.
Should you choose to spend your last three days in the western segment of Crete (as opposed to the eastern segment over Agios Nikolaos way), then you may want to be next to the beach and reasonably close to the airport. In that case your obvious choice is going to be a comfortable resort hotel of your choosing along the Platanias resort strip. Now this is a touristy neighbourhood, but by September/October it should be in the quieter, end-of-season throes of packaged tourism and it will probably be very pleasant and the sea will still be warm. This popular strip runs through the contiguous communities of Kato Stalos (27.5km to the airport), Agia Marina, Platanias, Gerani, Pyrgos Psilonerou and Maleme (37km to the airport). The strip is busier at the eastern (Chania) end and peters out gently to a much quieter ambience at Maleme. You would be advised to book a cab for this last connection to the airport as it might be messy with local buses and luggage. The cab would go via the main highway and take about 40 minutes to do the run.
All in all it seems that you have a neat itinerary and you are travelling at a pleasant time of the year. As they say in Greek kalo taxidhi, or bon voyage!
HI Dave – many thanks for your suggestions. Just another question though about our final 3 days on Crete. The ferry from Naxos only arrives at 18:40hrs in to Heraklion so if we were to travel west by bus, are there any beach resorts towards Rethymno you would recommend? Thanks again, Ann Keegan
Simple answer yes, there are and my favorite is Balí 53km west of Heraklion where you can easily get to by bus from Heraklion’s port. Balí is kind of isolated, but in a nice way. It is a ‘resort village’ consisting of four little bays each one a little different to the other so you can swap each day, if you like. The best one is the last one at the northern end of the village where the water is shallow and warm and it just feels ‘cosy’. If you want to feel as if the beach is just yours, shared with a few friends, then this is the place. It’s only 2km from one end of Bali’s beaches to the other so it’s all quite walkable. Buses from Heraklion to Rethymnon depart for Bali/Rethmnon hourly and there should be a bus at quarter to the hour all the way up to quarter to eleven pm after you arrive from Naxos.
It’s a good 100km from Bali to Chania airport and in theory there’s a lot more coastline to choose from and there certainly is a busy and thriving tourist and hotel strip running east from Rethymnon for about 10-15km. It’s generally a long, contiguous strip of hotels, pensions, bars, and restaurants and the beach is generally thin and peppered with platoons of beach umbrellas. It’s also very geared to package-tourism which detracts from the atmosphere. Overall the broadly spread Almyros Bay lacks the character of Bali and other popular beach towns. Far more appealing is to stay in the Rethymnon Old Town and make excursions to the beach rather than stay at the beach.
If neither of the preceding options grabs you and you’d prefer to be a shade closer to Chania airport, I’d suggest you look at staying at the resort village of Almyrida which has the kind of atmosphere that you’ll find at Bali and it is much closer to Chania airport (33km). You can see the planes arriving and departing across the bay. Almyrida has a kind of ‘bay’ atmosphere and is more intimate and definitely more picturesque in comparison to the ‘Rethymno Riviera’. You’d probably have to get off the Chania bus at Kalyves and look for a cab for the remaining 5.4km. It’s an enchanting atmosphere in the Almyrida villages and the coastline of this mini peninsula overlooking Souda Bay, so give it some thought.
Planning a 3 week trip to Greece, end of Sept – 3 days on mainland to start (Meteora and Delphi), 3 nights Naxos, 4 nights Santorini, a week in Crete, then 2 nights in Athens at the end. Would like to rent a car on the mainland and while in Crete, local company or international? Car insurance concerns? Other helpful hints?
We are Canadians – do we need an international licence?
Any information would be appreciated.
Driving in Greece. Always such fun and never as bad as people describe it! Renting a car is surprisingly easy and can be cheap, if you do the homework. Assuming you will pick up your car in Athens, try to pick up and drop off at the airport. There is much more parking and manoeuvring space than in and around the downtown Athens rental offices. Also make sure you pick up and drop off at the same spot otherwise you will be hit for a fat penalty rate – especially if you attempt to drop off in a different city. The best way to get a deal is to look online for one of any number of search engine sites and pick and choose exactly what you want. I can suggest to start with Argus – but there are many. Technically, you will need an international driving license, but this is often not enforced – especially on the islands when it’s rarely asked for. They are easy to get and can be obtained in Canada (I assume) through your Provincial Motoring Association. They are valid for one year and must be used in conjunction with your Canadian license so take both with you. Read the scripts about insurance options and if you can and for your peace of mind take out a damage refund insurance as an extra. By picking up and dropping off at Athens airport you also avoid having to drive downtown where if you don’t know the layout you can can get helplessly lost in knots as many streets are one-way only. The airport is linked directly to the Attiki Odos Freeway which you can easily follow in order to have an easy egress out of Athens and on to the Delphi/Meteora roads.
Crete is a slightly different option where you may be better off looking for a deal upon arrival. Someone told me the other day that he rented from a local company at Chania Airport and got an excellent deal. Either way many of the resort strips have small rental companies each competing fiercely with the other for the tourist Euro. One company you might want to look up is Economy Car Rental. As a general rule cars rented on islands are considerably cheaper than on the mainland (unless you book via the net beforehand). Cars rented on one island are almost never allowed to be taken to a different island. Naxos is a big island and to do it any justice you will need a car. On Santorini there is much to see that does not require a car but with 4 days you may want to get one for a day to see some of the other sights (though the bus is fine if you have the patience).
Other helpful hints? Well most rental cars are manual, so if you are not comfortable with shift-stick vehicles you’ll have to look assiduously for an automatic (or book in advance). Most will have aircon these days, though it’s possible to rent soft-top jeeps with natural aircon and September won’t be too hot. Maybe not a good idea for the mainland or Crete – given the distances involved – but good on Naxos and Santorini. One last tip, since you are going to Meteora via Delphi, you can avoid the toll fees on the main north-south highway by taking the overland and over mountains route as much as possible. Just study your maps to work out the routes. The roads are fine, if a bit winding at times. Happy trails!
Hi Santorini Dave.
I’m traveling to Crete with my family in July. We plan to spend two nights in Heraklion so we can hit the archeological museum and Knossos. I’m trying to figure out if we should stay in the city or on the outskirts. We are a family of four with two boys ages 8 and 10. I thought staying in the city would be the most efficient but I am getting mixed input on how nice Heraklion is. I’m Greek American and have traveled pretty extensively in Greece (mostly northern Greece where my family is from) but it’s our first time in Crete.
After our two days in Heraklion, we’re heading west towards Chania and staying on the beach in Kato Stalos and use that as our base for sightseeing.
Thanks for any input!
Heraklion is a busy city with its soft side and its gruff side – like any city in the world. I personally wouldn’t hesitate for one minute to stay in the city centre. You’re not going to be be beach-hopping from Heraklion anyway – that’s a separate topic in itself – so enjoy Herraklion for what it is: a lively, lived–in, civil conurbation – Cretan style. If you’re looking for local culture and food – “the real Greece” – this is actually a pretty good place to find it.
The area around the port is pleasant and tidy. By that I mean the two streets lining the Old Port – Nearchou and Sofokli Venizelou – where there are lively tavernas galore and atmosphere to match. (One of my favourite memories is sitting on the pavement at the end of 25th Avgoustou at a rickety wooden table eating freshly grilled sardines from a streetside brazier and washed down with a carafe of local wine.) Why would you spend time in a hotel in an anonymous suburb or outskirt when you can enjoy the real Cretan deal on your doorstep? Lato Hotel is as good as it gets for a base and is right bang in the middle of the Heraklion scene.
If you’re originally from Northern Greece, think of the difference between staying out in the suburbs of Thessaloniki as opposed to staying within walking distance of the White Tower. Heraklion is like that. Not made to be pretty for tourists, but has evolved to be a lived and worked-in town – like Thessaloniki. A city with soul. You are close to transport – the bus station and ferry terminal are next to each other and the town centre is no more than 6km rom Nikos Kazantzakis Airport.
Sure, move on to Chania or further afield after a couple of days, but don’t miss out on the chance to live in Crete’s spiritual heart for a while. You’ll not regret it!
Thanks so much for your feedback. You confirmed that we indeed do want to stay inside the city. My family and I live in Brooklyn, NY so we find comfort in staying in the heart of a city, especially in Greece where you’re surrounded by history.
Aside from the Archeological Museum and Knossos, is there anything else we should see while on that side for two days? After that, we’ll spend 6 days Kalo Stalo near Chania and there we will see: Chania; Rethymno; Balos; Elafonisi Beach; is there anyplace else we should check out? I’m with my two sons who are 8 and 10. I know there are water parks but that’s not of interest to us as parents and our kids can get that here in NY. And any restaurants or stops along the way that are worthwhile? We don’t like touristy spots and find comfort in family run places full of heart. I also speak Greek. This has been a trip I’ve been wanting to take for a long time, mainly to explore the history and culinary delights.
Thank you again. I’m so happy I stumbled upon your side.
Yes, there are other things to do that you may not have thought of. There were other readers the other day asking much the same thing and I suggested among other things a boat cruise, a Gorge walk, a visit to an eco-farm with great food. Maybe seek out one or two other beaches in addition to the ever so splendid Elafonisi, explore the fine towns of Rethymno and Chania and, if he is still there, go see the man who makes handmade Cretan knives and the man and his German-born wife who make the last remaining handmade woven carpets in Crete. Archaeology wise, no not really. There are the odd isolated sites like Aptera near Chania founded by mainland Mycenaeans and still largely unexcavated; remains of an an ancient Minoan port at Falassarna; a Minoan necropolis at Armeni and a Hellenistic to Byzantine settlement at Lissos one hour’s walk west of Sougia. Chania has quite a lot of archaeological interests if you dig deeper into the topic.
First up Kato Stalos … Yea, OK-ish. Slap bang in the middle of that long tourist schlepp that runs west of Chania. You could do better. The beaches all along here are narrowish, crowded with umbrellas and backed by cement – either hotels or apartments and you’re going to share your sand with a lot of folk. But it’s an OK base for Chania and as you have got kids that are 8 and 10 there’ll be some entertainment for them at your hotel and on the beach. Hire a car though and spend some of your time away from Kato Stalos.
The gorge walk I mentioned is the superb Samaria Gorge and is doable by taking an early bus from Chania to the village of Omalos and setting out from the park gate at Xyloskalo. The good news is that it is downhill all the way and there is the sea and several tavernas with cold beer at the end of it. The other news is that it is longish (14km) and the going can get rough underfoot – so full-on solid footware and plenty of water and snacks. It is a great adventure for little kids and big kids (like you) alike. To get home you jump on a coastal ferry to Chora Sfakion and then take a connecting bus back to Chania. It’s a full day trip.
For an excellent lunch stop on your way to Elafonisi detour to Milia village and its mountain retreat resort for a real Cretan meal. National Geographic calls it “A top ecolodge for family, active adventures and local culture”. Milia is a short detour off the highway to Elafonisi about 51km from Kato Stalos. In Chania Old Town there are some equally fine restaurants. As a rule of thumb avoid the touts and the ones with ‘live music’. One tried and tested place and conveniently located next door to Michalis the traditional weaver and owner of “Roka Carpets” on Zambeliou is the Enetiko. Simple, inexpensive and sensible. Further back along Zembeliou is the Tamam Restaurant which gets good reviews – and I can vouch for it too. The knife maker (if he is still around) has a shop called “O Armenis” and is at Sifaka 14. I bought a couple of handmade knives from him and still have them. You may have to ask around to find him.
I mentioned a sea cruise, well you can do this from the little port of Kissamos (37.5km west of Kato Stalos) with Cretan Daily Cruises. It’s a great day excursion up and over the long finger of the remote and mysterious Gramvousa peninsula, the westernmost tip of northern Crete. Finally the sometimes overlooked Rethymno is a smaller version of Chania – call it cosier – and is a good starting point for beaches on the southern coast such as Matala, Preveli, Plakias, and Frangokastello. In general the southern coast is much more attractive in terms of beaches as they tend to be isolated, cove-like and for me represent Crete better than the often exposed, touristed northern strips. So, there you go more food for thought – and I haven’t even touched the eastern side of Crete. So go enjoy and ask away if you have more queries.
I’m so happy I found your website, it’s got fantastic information! Thank you for sharing all these wonderful insights and information with everyone.
We are planning a 4 night, 5-day visit to Crete in early June (first time for us). We are a family of two adults and two kids aged 9 and 11. We love to be on the beach and hike and my daughter is also very interested in history and ancient artifacts. We have the option to get a package deal that includes airfare and 4 night hotel (all inclusive). I’m debating whether or not it’s better to just book flights only (so we can move around as needed and taste different taverns and restaurants) or book the hotel as well in advance and use it as a base for daily excursions. I would really like to visit Elafonisi Beach one day. Can I ask for your thoughts on the following:
1. Where is the best place or area to be or visit with kids in the ages I noted above (other than spending time on the beach)?
2. Is it feasible to make a day trip from the Fodele area (West of Herkalion) to Elafonisi Beach and back in one day? It seems it’s about a 3 hour car drive. In Fodele there seems to be a hotel with a water park (Fodele Beach Resort) that may be fun for the kids (but the beach doesn’t look as nice).
3. I noticed there is a ferry from Herkalion to Santorini. Does it make sense to do a day trip there and back (same day)?
4. Is it easy to rent a car and move around the island with it?
Thank you in advance for your thoughts, much appreciated.
Good choice – Crete that is – a great island. Pity you only have 5 days, but there’s plenty to pack in during that time.
1. Kids are generally adaptable to any environment and you know best what they like best. I would imagine that staying in a larger centre would be a more exciting than in a resort hotel in the middle of nowhere. Fodele is a bit like that: a bay and beach punctuating the main northern coast road in the middle of not much else. If you want somewhere close to Heraklion then I’d move on a further 24.5km west from Fodele and consider Bali instead. It’s not dissimilar to Fedele, but there are four smaller coves and while Bali is a bit out in the Styx too, it is a bit prettier and there’s lots of real water activities (not artificial ones such as the water park). For archaeological experiences the Iraklio museum and the site of Knossos near Heraklion are ‘must dos’ if your daughter wants to get an insight into Minoan Crete. Other archaeological sites are scattered around the island and represent all ages of Crete’s development. She would need to make a hit list and then see if they can fit your already fairly tight schedule.
2. Yes, you can, but it’s a fair haul from Fodele (around 183km each way). Do you really want a close to 400km round-trip as a day excursion? I think you might care to re-consider where your base may be. A good compromise is Rethymno – 80km west of Heraklion. You not only have a small, pretty seaside town to explore, you can easily make day trip excursions to great beaches – including Elafonisi which is now only 131km away. My tip: head to the south for beaches that I suspect may be real fun for the kids. I can think of the ‘ghost’ beach at Frangokastello (the mist-like Drosoulites soldiers who appear each year in May); then there is Matala with its troglodyte caves overlooking the beach; and there is also the great little village of Plakias which is an easy 35km drive directly south. Preveli Beach, 10km east of Plakias is a great excursion too. Take a picnic, scramble down to the beach which lies between a river with palm tree shores and the expanse of the blue Libyan sea and enjoy.
3. There is a daily fast catamaran ferry to Santorini. Comfortable and efficient and doable on a long sea day trip: but I wouldn’t do it. You leave Heraklio at either 08:40 or 09:00 and arrive in Santorini at 10:25 or 10:45 respectively. The return legs are at 17:00 or 17:25 so that leaves you just 7 hours to ‘do’ Santorini. Is it worth it? Yes, if you want to do it and you only have 5 days at your disposal. Then you have the cost: €62 per person each way for the cheapest seat. That’s a €496.00 ticket hit before you even spend money on Santorini.
4. Renting a car is easy to arrange on Crete. Most roads are good (the main highway is the east-west route from Agios Nikolaos to Chania) and well signed. No need to book in advance unless you’re visiting in the heart of high season.
Dave, you’re a wealth of knowledge!
I have so many questions… where to begin?!
I will be traveling with my husband and 1 ½ year old son, it is our first time in Greece and would like to do 2 islands. My ideal vacation would include staying directly on a beautiful beach (in my opinion, clear, calm, sandy) or in very close proximity to, and also be within walking distance of shops, restaurants, etc. So, Naxos is a definite, likely Xenia hotel, as recommended. My dilemma is what to pair with it. Although the obvious choice would seem to be Paros, I’m finding it impossible to find that perfect location to stay. Same with Antiparos. I’m finding the beaches in close proximity to town (both Parikias and Naoussa) are mediocre and most often, not really walkable from town to beach? Am I missing something? Some background info: We’ll be traveling early June and ideally would spend 80-100 Euro/night. So, after an extensive search of other islands, I keep landing on Crete. Seems odd to pair with Naxos maybe, but I’d love to see Elafonisi beach (among others). So, bottom line. Here’s some questions:
1. Have I overlooked something on Paros or Antiparos (perfect village to stay in – all walkable, with beautiful beach, restaurants, shops etc.)?
2. Another island all together that you would recommend?
3. Or is pairing Naxos with Crete a good idea?
4. If yes, any recommendations for villages or specific hotels to stay that are on a beach (or walking distance) and also within a village/town/city, and in this case, closer to the Chania side of the island, so I can access Elafonisi easier (shorter drive).
5. Lastly, whether you suggest pairing Naxos with Paros, Antiparos, Crete or other. Could you also recommend how you would organize it. I was thinking, from Athens, either, fly to Crete, ferry to Naxos, fly back to Athens or fly to Naxos, ferry to Crete, fly back to Athens. Or Ferry or fly Athens to Paros, ferry to Naxos, fly to Athens or reverse.
So many options! So little time! Any and all advice is greatly appreciated!
Thanks Dave, I look forward to hearing from you.
A lot of questions indeed, but that’s why the website is here – to answer questions. Thanks for the background: that really helps get a picture as choosing just two islands is a tallish order. However you seem to have done your homework and you obviously want to get it right.
1. Yes, quite probably and I am going to suggest Piso Livadi on the east coast of Paros. Piso Livadi is a small fishing village and has quite a few things going for it. It has its own twin set of beaches for one and you can stay in a place literally within a stone’s throw of the beach. It is within a reasonable distance of a few decent beaches clustered around the north-eastern segment of the island at Santa Maria, Alyki, Kolymbithres, and Monastiri. There is in fact a pretty splendid beach opposite Paroikia at Krios, so don’t write off the northern beaches just yet. In Piso Livadi consider staying at Anchorage Rooms. Piso Livadi is the caique port for the never-to-be-missed swim and picnic cruise to the Koufonisia Islands. Antiparos is OK … but only one beach from memory that is close to the main settlement at that is at Psaralyki and once you’ve stayed at the main port for a day or two, you’ll be itching for more and that you’ll find on the main island.
2. Another island? Scores of them! But let’s stay focussed. Put aside Naxos for now and I’ll come back to it. I will throw in a couple of islands that are easily reachable from Paros and you do the math. Patmos: small compact, classy, superb beaches and an intangible ‘spirit of place’. Hellenic Seaways connects Paros with Patmos. I am going to throw in a wild card here and also suggest Amorgos – to the south east of both Paros and Naxos. Blue Star Ferries connect Amorgos with both Naxos and Paros. Very popular with the French; dreamy, other worldly and subtly fashionable. The island made a big hit with views of the French movie Le Grand Bleu.
3. Naxos and Crete is a good idea, but not my favoured combination. Naxos is linked to Iraklio in Crete via a more expensive catamaran. I’ll talk about Naxos here – and it is a good paring with Paros because it is easy and cheaper to get to/from. Naxos Town is wonderful but for a great beach stay at Mikri Vigla on the west coast at the southern end of the main beach strip. Twin beaches – depending on the winds – and popular for windsurfing when the wind is up. Tavernas on the beach, soft sand, shallow water – RELAX! Naxos also makes much better sense to pair with Paros because of the pure logistics of getting there and away. Crete is a totally different entity and while the Iraklio to Mykonos run via Santorini, Ios, and Paros is popular, it does take in a lot of water space in between.
4. Let me talk about Crete. Yes, Chania is a good base, but it is not a beach town as such. So if you stay in the beautiful old town, you really only have a couple of beaches within walking distance – one on either side of the Old Town within a couple of kilometres each. I am going to throw in another wild card here and suggest an unexpected place to consider. Over to the west of Chania at around the 32km mark is a quieter beach stretch called Nopigia. Thalassa Appartments are very well appointed, have good Internet access and self-catering facilities and are only a 40 minute drive back to Chania – where you would have trouble parking your hire car anyway. From Nopigia you are also closer to the fine beach lagoon at Elafonisi that you mentioned. You are also based conveniently for some dreamy swimming and picnic cruises that depart from Kolymvari (10km).
5. Finally, how to do it all. OK, here is the Naxos/Paros pairing option. Fly to Athens and take a connecting flight on to Paros. The airport is 20km via the shortest route to Piso Livadi. Take a ferry from Paros to Naxos – perhaps hire a car in Naxos town – and drive to Mikri Vigla (11km). Fly back to Athens from Naxos. You can of course go to/from the two islands from Piraeus Port by ferry or faster catamaran.
Pairing Paros with Crete you have a daily fast catamaran with Hellenic Seaways and pairing Naxos with Crete you have the futuristic looking Seajets Consortium vessel. Regular ferries do connect the ports, but you’ll need to do some research according to your dates. A good place to do that is gtp.gr. Assuming you now know how to get back to Athens/Piraeus from Naxos and Paros, getting back from Chania is equally easy: by plane or by ferry.
So the choice is yours. I feel that if you go to Naxos/Paros first, you will want more of the similar, Cycladic style and that transferring to Crete may come a a jolt – as it is a large island that could easily be its own country and it doesn’t ‘feel’ the same as the Cyclades. If you were to start in Crete and transit to Paros or Naxos, the experience will be gentler and more pleasing. Either way they are all good and infra-structurally well supported destinations and do link predictably. So with the advice above you should have a better idea of what to be looking for and how to do it. Happy holidays!
WE are arriving in Crete by ferry on 5/22/16…looking for a recommendation for our first night or 2 near Heraklion (want to visit the wine country) and then on to Chania. We are going to rent a car so we can explore hiking and beaches using Chania as our base for the next 5-6 nights. Recommendations on where to stay in Chania and day trips that are in that area of Crete?
Also we have 3 nights in Santorini and would love to know what is your favorite place to stay and things to do on Santorini. Any advice would be much appreciated.
OK, could have done with a bit more background here, for example what do you refer to when you say “wine country” as wine is made all over Crete! Still, wherever you stay in or near Heraklion you will never be far from grapes and wine. Unless you have a preference for not staying in a busy town, then Heraklion is just fine and you have so many more options for eating, drinking, and sleeping. Good hotels in Heraklion include the Atlantis, The Megaron, and the Lato Hotel – all are a short quick walk to the ferry port. If you want something a little special that’s not in Heraklion but ‘wine country way’ take a look at the Eleonas Agrotourism Resort. You might find something here that pushes your own buttons including wine and food products not to mention walking and cycling.
Chania is another world. It’s a splendid base especially if you choose to stay in the Old Town. Three places that I recommend are the Casa Delfino, Palazzo di Pietro, and the Amphora Hotel. If you are going to stay in Chania, then it is almost a must to stay in style in the Old Town. Nothing beats the experience of feeling as if you still live in the Middle Ages. If you have a rental car, park at the northern tip of the Old Town on Talo Square as you can’t drive in the Old Town.
Good excursions involve either a selection of beaches, an agrotourism restaurant, an inspiring boat excursion or a long walk down a magnificent gorge. Beaches to reach out to include those at Elafonisi (74km), Falassarna (50km), Paleochora (71.5km), or Frangokastello (81km) all possible day trips with a rental car. On the way to Elafonisi drop off at the eco village resort of Milia and taste lunch like you will never find in Chania Town. Boat excursions to the Gramvousa Peninsula (and an islet) are run by Gramvousa Balos Cruises and are serious fun.
Most walkers of the Samaria Gorge base themselves in Chania and take the early bus to the starting point at Xyloskalo just after the village of Omalos (38km). Not good for the hired car though, as the walk ends at Agia Roumeli from where you take a ferry to Chora Sfakion. From there it’s another circuitous 107km back to pick up your car. So, just bus it. Lesser known excursions out of Chania include the fairly obvious head-shaped peninsula north east of the city. There’s a neat little beachside spot at Stavros at the northern end – great for a quiet Sunday lunch run and swim. Hope that gives you some ideas.
For Santorini read Best Hotels on Santorini and Best Things To Do on Santorini.
We’re in Heraklion for about 24 hours before catching the boat to Santorini. Would love to get to a good beach. What’s the best beach near Heraklion and how do we get there?
Heraklion (Iraklio in local spelling) is not blessed with much of a beach scene per se, so you are going to have to do some legwork, or more practically bus-work to profit from your time. Iraklio’s ‘beach’ scene really only starts at Limenas Hersonisou (27kms) and it’s not all that good news. The whole coastline hereon, while it sports beaches, is essentially one elongated resort strip that barely does the Greek island of Crete any justice. In all honesty, I would avoid it. It only really begins to make any sense once you reach Sisi (44km).
If you really want to do yourself a favour, jump on a green KTEL bus and head 53km west to Bali Beach. A bit of a hike, but you did say you have 24 hours and wanted the best beach for Iraklio, so here it is. It’s a strong of 4 wonderful coves separated by small headlands. The last one is probably the best (though opinions vary). There are a few tavernas.
Any Rethymo or Chania-bound bus will drop you off on the main road outside Bali whence it is a 30-40 minute walk to the end beach – unless you get tempted by one of the first three first. Buses generally run hourly and the bus station is conveniently located next to the Santorini ferry terminal. That’s really about the extent of your choices out of Iraklio. Be daring. Do it!
What are the best beaches on Crete? Not looking for deserted beaches but ones near towns or at least good tavernas.
Crete has some great beaches and these are some of the best (based on cleanliness, facilities, natural beauty, and pure subjectivity).
Bali Beach. No, not in Indonesia. This delightful string of coves lies 57km west of Iraklio and has a bit of something for everyone. There are four coves all separated by small headlands. The cosiest cove and many peoples’ favourite is the last cove. It’s smallish, very protected, clean and supported by a couple of waterside tavernas. Paragliding available for the daring.
Elafonisi is an extended shallow lagoon with impossibly warm, blue waters. It takes a bit of effort to get out to this side of the island, on the far south-western rump of Crete 74km south west of Chania, but definitely worth it. There’s accommodation up on the hill should you decide to stay here and, of course, places to eat and drink too.
Going to the other extreme of Crete is Kato Zakros 171km from Iraklio and on the far eastern coast where you’ll find a chilled out and totally relaxed pebble beach lined by some of the most soothing tavernas you can imagine. Just slip off your wooden chair and you’re in the water. Definitely a place for folk to go when they’re in the know.
About 35km north of Kato Zakros is a sandy shallow strand backed by date palms called Vaï Beach. The date palms are said to have been started by Roman soldier on furlough from North Africa. Either way it all adds to a rather tropical-feeling experience and the beach is far enough out of sight of the masses to avoid tourist jams.
Every hippy from the 60s and 70s will have been to Matala Beach on the south central coast 68km south west of Iraklio. Real hippies will even have lived in the caves that back the foreshore. Joni Mitchell is rumoured to have lived there a spell. OK, it is touristy, but it is special and worth the trip out there even if it’s for nostalgia sake. Plenty of places to eat, drink, and sleep should you decide to stay a while.
Frangokastello Beach 55km south west of Rethymno is a beach with a history – and a ghostly history at that. The splendid sandy beach abuts a castle (hence Frangokastello) in which rumour has it ghostly soldiers appear towards the end of May each year and walk out of the castle into the sea.The beach as all the facilities you would expect and is definitely worth an excursion.
Preveli Beach 34km south of Rethymno takes a bit of getting to, but it is to die for! It’s a narrowish spit of sand and fine pebbles nestled between a cool stream feeding low palm trees before it spills into the Libyan Sea. There’s plenty of shade, but not many facilities, so bring your own picnic. You’ll have a bit a climb downwards to get to it. Plenty of people do, because it is popular.
If you have just walked the Samaria Gorge, the sight of the sea, tavernas and the sand and pebble beach at the end of the gorge trail at Agia Roumeli (accessible only by ferry from Chora Sfakion) is a sight for sore feet. The pebbles can get hot, so take good sandals and rent an umbrella, but swimming after 14 gruelling kilometres of walking is close to heavenly.
The spit of land supporting the Village of Paleochora on Crete’s southern coast, 71km south west of Chania is a destination resort in itself and boast two beaches – on on each side of the spit. The western beach is sandy and much wider. The one on the eastern side, pebbly and narrower but more intimate. Take your pick or choose depending on the prevailing winds.
Finally, a ‘secret beach’ that you would never know about unless someone told you. On the south coast, 35km south of Rethymno is the village of Plakias – very pleasant in its own right as a place to chill for a few days and boasting a pretty decent beach of its own, but just under 4km to the east is Ammoudi Beach, sporting shade, sand, and water and not much else. Bring your own beer and gear. Great swimming around the headland to the larger Damnoni Beach with a couple of beach tavernas.
Love your informative website!! Thanks! My husband and I plan to visit Greece in early June and would like to do three nights in Crete. However, with the way our airfare is we essentially only have two full days in Crete. Afterwards we will be headed to Santorini.
Do you recommend even visiting Crete with our short time frame? If so, which town should we stay in? Or do you suggest we visit another Greek island such as Naxos? We aren’t “beachy” people and much rather enjoy exploring and sight seeing.
Thanks so much!
It’s tricky to make 2 days worthwhile for Crete. Chania is the most interesting town on Crete and it’s 2 to 2.5 hours by bus from Heraklion. So you have that added journey time. Agios Giorgios is closer and has a friendly fun vibe – but not as enchanting as Chania. It’s not perfect but I think you can still have a good visit with only 2 full days.
My fiancee and I are going to be visiting the Greek Islands in September, following a wedding of my fiancee’s cousin in London. We are going to treat it as our own honeymoon. Unfortunately, we only have 6 days and 5 nights total. We booked 2 nights in Oia, Santorini, at Ikies Traditional Houses and were going to do three nights elsewhere, preferably at or close to the beach. We would also want to be able to do some hiking if at all possible. Crete seemed to fit the beach and hiking bill, but we were worried that 3 nights in Crete wouldn’t be enough.
My question is are there any romantic spots in Crete, akin to Oia, that we would maybe do instead of Santorini, giving us a full five nights to spend in Crete? Or, in the alternative, is 4 days/3 nights enough to do a proper beach and hiking stay in Crete following 2 days/2 nights in Santorini? Thanks, love the site.
Is 4 days/3 nights enough for Crete? It’s not perfect but yes, you can certainly get some stuff done and see some great sites. Chania is the most charming and interesting town on Crete. Unfortunately it’s a 2 hour drive from Heraklion where the ferry to Santorini departs from. So that will burn some time. Crete has some great hiking and some of it is a day trip from Chania. Santorini also has some good trails though I’d call it more walking than hiking.
What at wonderful website and your feedback is fantastic!
We are looking at spending 6-7 days 27 August to 3 September in Crete for my father’s 60th looking for something for everyone to enjoy. This was planned very last minute and I see accommodation is now limited but I still want to try my best to find something for everyone to enjoy in our group.
– Older couple, interested in beach bit not to lie on the beach day in day out, architecture, good food, hiking, cycling and quality accommodation.
– My husband and myself with two kids under 3.
– Good food, husband is Greek and needs a good beach and would not mind lying on the beach all day ?, walking distance to the beach for kids.
– My sister has never been to Greece and is looking for that beach with a beach bar and the ‘vibe’.
I think Chania seems to best suited to everyone’s needs. I find the town’s boutique hotels beautiful but with kids we need space and easy access to a nice beach. Are there any beach resorts in Chania on the beach that you could recommend, but not too far from the town (walking distance) so we can venture off for good food and ambience.
On a completely different note what is your take on Kafelonia?
Chania is a great destination. It has the mood, the atmosphere, the restaurants, the shops – some in old buildings without a roof – and a truly positive vibe pervades the whole town. A ‘beach town’ it is not however. The beach scene in Chania stretches for about 15kms west of the town as far as Maleme (19kms) after that it peters out into fields and cane stands. The beaches all along this stretch are pretty much the same: straight, sandy, shallow-watered, and peppered with resort hotels. The hotels mostly all have their own pools, if you really don’t want to dip your toes in the sea itself and they are all pretty self-contained. It is a popular holiday stretch and better than the over-hyped strip East of Iraklio to Malia.
The only issue is that nowhere on this (Platanias) strip is within walking distance of Chania. The only place that has a beach scene of sorts and is within walking distance of the Old Town is a more Greek beach scene just west of Chania from about Opsi yacht harbour (corner Skiner and Papanikoli Streets) to where Selinou St turns inland just before the paragliding area – a stretch of just under 1 kilometre. The Selinou end is probably the better choice. On the eastern side and still within walking distance of the Old Town the pickings are thinner, though the little beach at the end of Spartis and Thrakis does pull quite a few locals.
So it comes down to making a difficult choice. My preference will always be the boutique hotels of Chania Town over the more sterile but undeniably comfortable resort hotels west of the town. The restaurant choices in the Old Town are far better and you can hire bicycles, scooters or cars and arrange excursions much easier when staying in town. If you do choose a resort strip hotel, look for the facilities that you want and take note of the distance from town. They are all much the same: good quality, but resort hotels, nonetheless. If you move out beyond three kilometres you are going to rely on transport anyway so it matters little where you stay. The side closer to Chania is more densely built and by Malame it is getting quite spaced out.
As for Kefallonia. Post another question with a bit more details about what you want to know.
Have you been up to Eleonas? Would you recommend staying up there?
I presume you mean the Eleonas Agrotourism Resort in the Rouvas Forest reserve south of Iraklio. Crete does very well in the specialist agrotourism market and this kind of holiday will suit anyone with those interests. But it’s not for everyone. There’s no beach nearby, though Agia Galini and Matala (even better) are 45 minutes to the southwest. The eco-resort is in a particularly beautiful mountain area of Crete and highlights include making cheese, eating rustic food, mountain biking, hiking, and just generally relaxing in the beautiful surroundings. Accommodation is excellent: I don’t know your age or budget, but I would be looking at either the Stone Cottage (great for sleeping) or the Studio Mezzanine. Eleonas is a great choice for a rural vacation.
We are a family of three generations and we are looking for a place to stay in Crete for one week in August. We have found a nice hotel in Koutsounari. What is your opinion about this place?
Have a nice day!
Koutsounari would not be in my list of favorite places on Crete but it is stil a sensible choice. It’s a part of Crete that gets the travellers rather than the tourists – not too developed, yet with enough facilities to make a vacation stay pleasant enough. The area, like a lot of southern Crete, is a little stark, rocky, and exposed. It’s handy (about 15 minutes) to the larger town of Ierapetra (good for more places to eat and some better shopping) and well positioned for excursions farther east where you can explore the wonderful Kato Zakros.
Koutsounari is about a couple of hours drive from Heraklion’s airport and seaport and about half that distance to the port and airport of Siteia. It’s under an hour to drive to the pretty town of Agios Nikolaos. Lassithi prefecture gets far less package travel than the tourist strip that runs from Agios Nikolaos to Chania along the north coast.
The beach at Koutsounari is long with pebbles and coarse sand, is very clean (it has a EU Blue Flag award), and never gets really crowded. It is exposed (not a lot of shade), but beach cafes cluster round the Western end and there are lots of the usual beach chair and umbrella outfits.
For hotels, I’d recommend the Koutsounari Traditional Cottages up in the main village of Koutsounari. They are cosy, solid, lots of stone, and simple furnishings. If you want the resort experience there is really only one major choice and that is the more up-market Almyra Hotel and Village – a “nice” self-contained resort with all the expected facilities. Note: the first two weeks of August is prime vacation time in Greece so you need to book soon.
In Greece you generally want to avoid restaurants with picture menus and (to the extent it’s possible) restaurants that cater primarily to beach-goers. With that in mind a couple of places in Koutsounari are worth looking out for. Psaropoula, on the beach has been around for 30 plus years and is still going strong. Psaropoula means little fishing boat, so yes Psaropoula does fish. Bear in mind fish in Greece is sold by weight and kind, and the best costs a lot of money. Pelagos – also on the beach – is a bit more modern chic and while it caters to tourists, it does the job well. You can stop by for a drink or play a board game and the beach chairs and umbrellas are free for guests. Taverna Rodos in the village is earthy, family run, occasionally idiosyncratic, and more Cretan. Huge mousakas, lentil soups (fakés), and Cretan dákos (rusks piled with tomatoes, cheese, and oil) feature as well as earthy house wine.
The best excursion by far is the boat trip to the off-shore island of Gaïdouronisi (donkey island) or a.k.a. Chrysi (Golden). Apart from the salt and see breeze on the way out there the Robinson Crusoe sense of isolation is palpable. There’s not much beyond this island until you hit Libya. There are a couple of ramshackle looking restaurants for lunch that are good. Kato Zakros – referred to above – is the easternmost point of Crete. It is little more than a pebbly beach, with a few places to stay and three tavernas. Watching the moon come up over the eastern sea is magical. Myrtos 20 minutes beyond Ierapetra is also worth a visit.
This part of the coast of Crete was among the last to start developing and still has a sense of incompleteness. It’s quiet – no doubt – it has all the good elements for a beachside getaway, but still lacks a little something compared to my favorite spots on Crete.
Thank you for all the information you gave us. We will use it and we will follow all the notes you wrote down so carefully.
Many many thanks!
My mother and I were looking for a holiday to Crete (mum is late 50s and I’m mid 30). We just want somewhere where we can relax for a week. I have whittled down to 3 hotels but was wondering about local areas. I know very little about Crete so looking forward to discovering. The hotels that suit our budget are in Rethymnon, on Skaleta beach or in Heronissos, near Silva Beach. Both resorts are described as relaxing. But wanted to see if we will be slap dab in the middle of clubs and “younger” nightlife (not our scene). Do you have any advice or recommend any other areas that are suitable?
Crete is a big island and there are places to suit every style, taste and pocket. Rethymon is the quietest and, by that, more amenable of the big four: Agios Nikolaos, Iraklio, Rethymno and Chania. Hersonissos is a wide swathe of (packaged) tourist territory running east from Iraklio to Mallia. If you wish to relax, I would definitely steer well clear of this whole section. Rethymon is still touristy, but the old town of Rethymon is still pleasant and fun to explore.
If you really want to relax consider these towns: Plakias on the south coast, almost directly south of Rethymno. It gets a bit of traveller movement, but is a very pleasant and laid-back seaside village and is worth using as a base. Myrtos on the south coast and a few kilometres west of Ierapetra is also a cosy and relaxing little village though a little more concentrated. On the far west of the south coast is Paleochora – similar to Plakias in size and atmosphere. None of them suffer from “younger” nightlife noise pollution, but all places have their “scene”. It is Crete after all. Basic rule of thumb: the north coast is more touristy. The south coast is by far the most relaxing option.
Another tip for a totally relaxing spot is Thalassa Appartments west of Chania and just shy of Kissamos. It doesn’t get more laid back than this. A few scattered tavernas, a pebble beach with hardly a tourist in sight, yet close enough to the cool (almost trendy) and beautiful town of Chania. even little appreciated Kissamos is worth a visit. Finally, if you really want to get away from it all, and to go sit in a cosy pebble cove at dusk, at a taverna with a table under a tamarisk tree and watch the moon rise up from the water, then check out Kato Zakros in the far east. It doesn’t get more relaxed than here. Hope that helps.
Thanks for your wonderful advice. I will be travelling with my four children ages 13-17 to Greece for 3 weeks this summer. I fly into Athens plan to spend 3 nights, 2 nights Meteora, 3 nights Chania (Crete), 3 nights Angios Nikolaos (Crete), 3 nights Santorini, 5 nights Paros, and then 2 more nights in Athens before flying out. My questions are:
1. How best to travel to Meteora (by train?) I would prefer not to have to rent a car. Is it possible to leave Meteora in the morning and fly to Chania (Crete) on the same day or do you have to overnight in Athens. Do you need a car once in Meteora and overall is it worth the effort to go?
2. In terms of transportation on a budget and with 5 of us, would you recommend: train back and forth to Meteora, fly to Chania, ferry to Santorini, Paros and back to Athens? How would you recommend booking all of this? Prefer public transportation as much as possible.
Thank you so much!!
The Meteora is magical. Do it. You can take an early morning InterCity train from Athens directly to Kalambaka – the town that serves the village of Kastraki which lies within the Meteora complex. It’s now much easier to do than in the past. No, you will not be able to get to Chania by plane the same day. I would suggest you stay at least one night in Kastraki – more atmospheric than bustling Kalambaka – but two will do it justice. After all you will need a comfortable day to get around the scattered monasteries of Meteora and when you stay the night in the area you get a jump on the day trippers from Athens in the morning. Don’t rush the experience. It’s not a holy place without good reason.
As for the practicalities; If you stay in Kastraki (as opposed to Kalambaka) you can in theory manage without a car as long as you don’t mind walking. Locals tours are convenient and require less walking, but if you don’t mind hiring a car for a day, the experience will be that much more personal as you can wander at will. Is it worth the effort? Absolutely, but don’t rush it. Give Meteora a full day with a night in and a night out at either end.
Getting to Chania from Meteora involves backtracking to Athens and then flying or sailing onwards. You could be inventive and take the InterCity train from Kalambaka to Thessaloniki (which is closer) and fly from there to Chania. Look for cheap tickets from Thessaloniki to Chania with Ryanair if you don’t have luggage issues. Otherwise Aegean fly to Chania from both Athens and Thessaloniki.
From Agios Nikolaos you will have to backtrack to Heraklion to catch a fast catamaran to Santorini. They run daily in summer (always leaving in the morning). From Santorini to Paros you have the option of the conventional ferry with Hellenic Seaways or Blue Star, or with a fast catamaran with Sea Jets. From Paros to Athens you have the choice of conventional (but still speedy) ferry, the fast catamaran, or the the plane.
Tip: take the conventional ferries wherever possible (to save money) and be sure to be back in Athens the day before you fly out. You can never guarantee that schedules will run 100% to time or planning. If you are planning to travel in July or August, book key routes in advance – especially planes. Finally, for times and schedules check http://www.gtp.gr for ferries and http://www.trainose.gr for trains.
Hi Dave! Like the world has declared, your website and info is awesome!
I’m a planning a solo trip for the very first time and my choice of destination is Greece for 7 nights as I’ve never been before. I am looking for a scenic tranquil beach relaxing vacation. Having read up on Greece I am thinking of Crete Chania or Santorini.
I want to feel free and safe to get up and explore on my own and potential to meet and socialise with great people.
What’s your view on this?
Look forward to your advice.
Both Crete and Santorini are wonderful islands that would make for an awesome trip. Crete lends itself more to the intrepid and adventurous traveler. There are more hikes and hidden villages and deserted beaches. If one wanted, they could rent a car on Crete and head out for a series of one day adventures that were far off the tourist track. Santorini is far smaller (you can see the whole island from the highest point) and has more short outings (a winery tour, a 3 hour walk along the caldera, a 90 minute walk around the lanes of Oia, Fira, or Pyrgos). Both islands have wonderful food and great people. Crete is, on average, a slightly cheaper destination. Santorini has far better (and more luxurious) hotels.
Hi Dave, we are a couple who will be heading to Crete in August for 2 weeks holiday. We will be arriving from Heraklion airport and renting a car for 14 days. I would like to know how many days should we stay in each town? We thought of starting from the east to west. My plans are Agios Nikolaos (beach accommodation) – Heraklion (old town accommodation?) – Rethymno (beach accommodation?) – Chania (beach accommodation?). Do you have a suggestion on better routes? We want to have a mix of cultural and beach holiday. Thank you! EB
Those are all great towns. And if that’s what you do you’ll get a good mix of beaches, history, great food, and good shopping. I would do something like 4 nights in Agios Nikolaos, 3 nights in Heraklion, 2 nights in Rethymno, and 5 nights in Chania. There is lots to see away from these towns, however. Day trips will get you to some of them. Another idea is to take the boat along the south coast towns from one to the next. It’s hard to visit more than a few of these towns by car as the roads in Crete are a highway along the north coast and a series of north-south roads that hang down off of it. The boat is a fun way to explore this part of the island.
Thanks, Dave for the great suggestion! The boat trip idea is brilliant!
We will be on our honeymoon and can’t wait to explore! We will be visiting Greece from June 5th through June 19th. We are staying 7 nights in Santorini (Atrina) and then on to Crete for 7 nights. My parents offered their timeshare through RCI and the two choices we have available are Village Heights Golf Resort and Grand Leoniki. We will rent a car and will be basically out exploring all day. We are using this place as a crash pad. My question to you is which location would you choice? which location can offer the most activities/beaches/bars/night clubs etc for those two hotels I mentioned above?
The Grand Leoniki is a better choice if you want to be close to the beach. There are restaurants and bars within walking distance (most of them average at best). Village Heights is better if you want to explore more non-beach attractions. It’s close to Knossos, Wine Country (list of Crete wineries here), Agios Nikolaos, and the Lassithi Plateau which has a handful of magical villages.
Hi Dave, On your previous recommendation after 2 weeks with our friends in Santorini, Naxos and Paros just my family of three will book Crete. Could you clarify the following:
1. I believe there might be a sea cat or fast ferry from Paros to get to Crete. Is this the best fastest way to get there? Where in Crete do the ferries arrive ? I can’t see time tables this far out as I am aiming for 8th July for 6 nights.
2. Assume to get back to Athens for a flight out on afternoon of the 15th July would you suggest we go back to Athens for 1 night before flying out? (Otherwise would book 7 nights.)
3. I love the hotels you have recommended in Chania and Elounda – the latter seem expensive…. if we have 6 nights would you recommend doing 3 nights in each
4. Dpendant upon where ferries come into in Crete should we do Chania first or last.
5. Want to see Elafonisi beach.
6. Where do you fly out from to Athens?
If your main wish list is markets, swimming, great food, and some culture would Chania be our best place?
There will be a Champion Jet ferry that leaves Paros at 2:55pm and get to Heraklion in Crete at 6:55pm. There will likely be a Hellenic ferry as well that runs at a similar time (they all leave Crete in the morning, circle the Cyclades, and then return to Crete in the late afternoon). I would return to Athens a day early – lots to see and fun to spend a night in the Plaka. Splitting time between Chania and Elounda is a good idea. Visit Chania last and then fly from there to Athens (about 6 direct flights a day from Chania to Athens on Ryan Air and Aegean).
We are a family with 2 kids, 9 and 4 years old. We are planning to visit Crete for 12 days in July. We are thinking to split our dates to Chania and somewhere else, either to Agios Nikolaos or Ierapetra. In Ierapetra we find a very nice hotel for kids, with pools, facilities. What do you think? Please feel free to suggest.
Both are nice places. Agios Nikolaos a bit more touristy and idyllic. Very friendly. Ierapetra more Greek and a real working town. Beaches are grey sand, town can have a hot dusty feel in peek summer.
Hi. We are going to Chania end of April. Which are your 3 favorite hotels in Chania? Is it really noisy along the harbourfront?
The best hotels in central Chania (where I recommend to stay): Casa Delfino (wonderful location just off the harbor front), Casa Leone Boutique Hotel (similar location to Delfino), and Palazzo di Pietro (back a few streets from the water front). All 3 are located in the pedestrian-only zone of the Old Town and thus very easy to get around. Restaurants and shops just out the door. Harbor front is “active” but it’s not a party zone by any means. Night clubs and bars are a 5 minute walk to the east along the waterfront so these places have some distance from the pumping music.
My husband and I would love to plan a trip to Greece next year. My husband was born there, but has not been back. He speaks the language, which is great for me. Would love to go to Santorini, definitely! But would love to do another island. Yes, we love the beach, but we love the local food, little cafes, music. After some research, we thought Crete would be the additional island to visit. We love to walk. I don’t think we really want to rent a car. So where would be the best place to stay that has a little of everything. And yet not to far from a ferry to take us to Santorini, as I would like Crete to be the first stop of our vacation. And for at least 3-4 nights. I will not be using a travel agency, as I like to book everything on my own. Would you agree or disagree?
Though it requires a 2 hour bus trip from Heraklion, Chania is the most interesting and enchanting town on Crete. A wonderful Old Town with great restaurants, shopping, and nearby beaches.
And yes, definitely book hotels on your own and avoid travel agencies which only promote hotels that they have pre-arranged packages with.
I’m going to Crete for 4 nights.
I’m staying in Elounda peninsula I was wondering what are places or towns nearby we can visit?
And are taxis available or should we rent a car?
What about restaurants? Are there any good restaurants?
I heard Crete has some beautiful beaches can you recommend some?
I would love to visit a beach similar to shipwreck beach in Zante.
The best beaches around Elounda are near Plaka (to the north), Havania Beach (to the south), and Kolokitha Beach (on the island to the east, a little hard to get to but worth the effort). The town beach at Elounda is also good as are a few beaches close to Agios Nikolaos. The best restaurant in the area is To Karnagio (it serves wonderful local food) in Agios Nikolaos. There is a bus that runs between Agios Nikolaos and Elounda but to explore the area and get to the best beaches a rental car is recommended. They’re easy to rent in Elounda – no need to prebook.