Crete is a Greek island you are bound to love and return for more. This large island offers nearly everything a traveler can wish for: culture, beach, adventure, delicious food, sun, and heritage. Moreover, it is home to some of the friendliest and most hospitable people on earth. Having said that, a visit to Crete needs a bit of homework. It is a huge island that is filled with exciting places on nearly every corner and this mini Crete travel guide will give you basic trip planning ideas.
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Where is Crete?
The largest of the Greek islands is located 160 kilometers south of mainland Greece and 320 kilometers north of Africa. It is the 5th largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Crete has over a thousand kilometers of coastline, a land area of 8,450 square kilometers, and a population of 636,504.
How to Reach Crete
Crete is accessible by both flight and ferry. The towns of Heraklion, Chania, and Sitia have airports and they serve frequent flights from Athens International Airport. Direct flights from Europe are available to Heraklion and Chania. Direct flights from many cities across Europe are available to Heraklion and Chania from May to October. Crete is connected with the Cyclades islands via ferry. Five ports on Crete’s northern coast (Heraklion, Chania, Sitia, Rethymno, & Agios Nikolaos) connect the island with ports across the Aegean, with additional and more frequent routes in the spring, summer, and early fall. Year-round crossings from Athens to Heraklion and Chania ports are available as well, though the crossing takes around 10 hours and costs a little less than flying.
How to Get Around Crete
Considering the size of the island, the best way to get around Crete is by renting your own vehicle. However, the public bus system is quite efficient and it provides regular services to various parts of the island. Still, many of the southern coastal spots are difficult to reach without many your own vehicle, and many mountain villages have very irregular bus services.
Get your orientation
To plan your Crete travel properly, you need to get oriented with the different parts of the island. It also makes sense to choose an area depending on your travel style and interests. For example:
- Heraklion for History and Culture
- Chania for Best Beaches
- Rethymnon for Traditional Villages
- Lasithi for Relaxing Holidays
Cretan regions in a nutshell
- Heraklion – This is the capital and the main region of Crete, This city has an international airport and a port that receives ferries from mainland Greece as well as cruise ships from all over the world. It also has some very interesting museums and three of the four Minoan ruins can be found here. You can explore the Palaces of Knossos and Malia, on the northern coast, as well as the mysterious Minoan Palace of Phaistos in the South while being based in Heraklion.
- Chania – Located in West Crete Chania is simply beautiful. Although famous for its fantastic beaches, this region has one of the loveliest ancient Greek towns. The old town of Chania is a great place to stay if you love the romantic atmosphere of old Venetian mansions and Turkish facades. Plus there is the famous Agora Market.
- Rethymnon – Located between Heraklion and Chania, Rethymnon is a good base especially if you want to do activities without the hassle of long drives. The old town of Rethymnon is also very picturesque and it has a very impressive skyline that is dotted with high Ottoman minarets, the Venetian Fortress, and remains of fortified castles. Rethymnon is especially good for those who are interested in hikes and visiting mountain villages. Take a short trip towards the south of this region to explore unique mountainous landscapes and traditional villages. There are also quite a few historic monasteries here.
- Lasithi – This is perhaps the most isolated and off-the-beaten region of Crete. Located on the easternmost side of the island, Lasithi has a small town where you can base yourself. It is called Agios Nikolaos. Alternatively, you can also stay at Ierapetra to visit the uninhabited island of Chrissi. To explore the exotic Palm Beach at Vai, you must base yourself at Sitia.
Best of Crete´s towns and villages
Best Time to Visit
Although you can plan your Crete travel anytime during the year, skip the summer months if you hate crowds. The months of July and August are considered the peak season and the temperatures are high. The island gets crowded and accommodations are either sold out or super expensive. Restaurants and attractions also get crowded and parking spots are hard to find. Spring and autumn are shoulder seasons and are according to my opinion the perfect time for visiting Crete. Winter months are cold and rainy. Since it snows in Crete some roads and regions are inaccessible in winter due to rain and heavy snowfall.
Where to Stay during your Crete travel
Crete is huge and that is why it is essential to choose a base based on your travel interests. At 260 km (160 miles) long and 56 km (35 miles) wide, Crete is the largest and most populous island in Greece. When it comes to choosing your accommodation in Crete, you have many options in each region. These accommodations range from luxurious resorts to beautiful homestays and hostels and are suitable for all budgets.
Best Things to do in Crete
Given the huge size of the island, it isn´t easy to zero in on the best activities to do here. However, here are unmistakably the best things to do on your Crete travel.
- Discover Chania’s Old Town – The Venetian atmosphere in the alleys of Chania’s Old Town is a great place to grab a sundowner and take amazing photos. The Venetian quarter is the most elegant part of town, with exclusive boutique hotels, traditional restaurants, and tiny souvenir shops. The old harbor, the Egyptian lighthouse, and the little Mosque right in front of the sea are some of the landmarks of the old town. Don´t forget to visit the Agora Market. A great way to explore the best of each quarter, the municipal market, and taste the local dishes is by joining a walking gastronomic tour or a cooking class in Chania.
- Marvel at the Minoan Past of Crete – This Grecian island was the home of this great ancient civilization and the best place to start your Minoan exploration journey is at the Minoan Palace of Knossos. It is located just a few kilometers away from the center of Heraklion and is easily accessible by public transport.
- Go beach hopping in Crete – Crete has some really beautiful beaches. Its most famous beach is the pink sand Elafonisi beach. Located in the south of Chania, it takes about an hour and a half to reach this isolated area, but the journey is worth it. Adventure lovers can head off to the shallow lagoon of Balos. It takes a difficult off-road drive to reach there.
- Explore the mountains of Rethymnon – Crete is filled with stunning gorges, quaint mountain villages, and secluded monasteries. The best place to explore these is the Rethymnon region. The Valley of Amari right next to Mount Psiloritis is a great place to start. You can also explore some traditional Cretan villages like Anogeia, Axos, or Zoniana.
- Hike Samaria Gorge – A UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and one of the national parks in Greece, Samaria Gorge is a must-visit spot for nature lovers. The main hike is around 16 kilometers and it offers wonderful views of the White Mountains and finishes at the beach town of Agia Roumeli. It is a full-day activity and takes around 5-7 hours to complete. Try to avoid mid-summer as the temperature can reach up to 40°C and there’s no shade. The park is open from May-October and admission is 5 EUR.
Follow the rest of the Greece series
- GRACEFUL AND GRUNGY ATHENS
- ACROPOLIS TRAVEL GUIDE
- TIMELESS HYDRA ISLAND
- SARONIC ISLANDS TOUR
- THE CENTER OF THE EARTH AT DELPHI
- METEORA IMPRESSIONS
- WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT CRETE?
- THE COLOURFUL TOWN OF CHANIA
- AGORA MARKET IN CRETE
- WHAT TO EAT IN GREECE
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE