Have you ever traveled somewhere based solely on the fact that it was the cheapest ticket? Well, we did, and it turned out to be one of the best unplanned trips we have ever taken! After traveling through Croatia and Montenegro, we booked our trip to the island of Crete Greece with only 3 days notice. We had just under two weeks before our flight to Singapore, and it was just enough time to take in most of the points of interest, food, and beaches! We hope our Crete travel guide can give you an idea of the best things to do, and even what to avoid the next time you’re visiting Crete!
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Island of Crete Travel Guide
Location: Crete Greece
Official Language: Greek
How Long to Visit: 10+ Days
Best Time to Visit: May & September for Swing Season – June/July/August for High Season
Honest First Impression: We hate arriving anywhere at night because it throws off our first impression. We were tired from a long day of travel, checked into a not-so-great hotel, and felt the furthest away from an island as possible. Yet after a gyro and getting out of the large city of Heraklion, we quickly fell in love with the real Crete!
Island of Crete Greece Travel Guide
Arrive By… Flight
Unless you’re planning on taking a very, very long ferry the best way of visiting Crete is by flight. There are two major airports on the island Heraklion and Chania International. Best to look into flights and see which airport is cheaper.
We flew in and out of Heraklion which is located on the central north coast of the island, making it the perfect hub to explore. When flying out consider booking a flight with Aegean. We didn’t realize it beforehand, but they have a partnership with the airport where all travelers on their airline can cut to the front or the security line. This includes enjoying snacks and beverages in their lounge before departure.
Stay… In A Beach Town
When circling the island of Crete there are dozens and dozens of beach towns, ranging from the bustling tourist town of Chania, to the party spot of Malia, and the relaxing village of Kato Zakros. One of the many things that make visiting Crete Greece special is that there’s literally a different town for every type of person. Here are the beaches we recommend for every type of traveler in our Crete travel guide.
- Vis – For Palm Trees & Sunshine
- Elafonisi – For Pink Sand & Natural Parks
- Myrtos – For Small Town Feel & Beach Bars
- Malia – For Night Life & Party
- Sitia – For Local Feel & Island Exploring
- Matala – For Hippie Caves & Good Vibes
- Bali – For A Small Beach Cove & Sun
- Agios Nikolaos – For Developed Seaside Town & Day Trips
- Kato Zakros – For Seclusion & Hiking
Eat… Cretan Greek Food
Cretan food is essentially Greek food with its own special flavors and twists. Besides exploring the island our highlight was by far all the delicious foods we ate visiting Crete. Fresh salads, seafood, lamb, and Cretan wine are only some things to look forward to! We loved the food so much we had to dedicate an entire post to it!
→ Best Food in Crete Greece: Our 19 Favorite Things to Eat & Drink
You won’t have to go out of your way to try this Cretan specialty. Most travelers know about Greece’s famous Ouzo drink, but Raki is a whole different ball game. Not to be confused with Turkish Raki, this after dinner elixir is sure pack a punch.
If there’s one thing we should warn you about in our Crete travel guide is that it’s strong… Very strong. We had to take it back as a shot, but we were beyond surprised when we saw locals slowly sipping it. To each their own!
Get Around Crete Greece… By Car
Before visiting Crete Greece we didn’t truly grasp how large and undeveloped much of the island is. After just a few short days, we traded in our bus tickets for a rental car. This is the only way to truly see the whole island! So unless you’re planning to just visit one or two towns in the north, book a car before you arrive! We were on Crete for 10 days and felt that it was just enough time to quickly see the island.
→ 6 Reasons to Rent a Car on the Island of Crete
Relax… On The Beach
The beaches of Crete are beyond diverse. From small pebbles to soft white sand and sparklingly pink sand beaches, Crete has it all. The best way to spend a lazy day is with a chair and sun umbrella on one of Crete’s many beaches!
Hike… The Samaria Gorge
Samariá Gorge in Samaria National Park is the largest and most well-known canyon on Crete Island. It literally cuts through the southwestern part of the island making it impossible for travelers to completely circle Crete. Hikes can range from a few hours to days, and offer some of the most beautiful scenery on the island.
→ Book a full day Samaria Gorge trekking excursion from Chania or Rethymno
Shop… For Crete Greece Lavender
Lavender fields come second on the island only to all the olive trees! There are villas and hotels set next to lavender fields but if you don’t stay in one, make sure to at least pick up some Cretan lavender before leaving! They make a fragrant memory or great gift for friends.
Find Nature… At the Palm Tree Forest
Vai Beach is home to the largest palm tree forest in Crete. We made the trip to the far east side of the island and it turned out to be one of our favorite days visiting Crete! Swim in the clear water, check out the viewpoint, and get lost between the palm trees. Honestly, Vai Beach will make you feel like you’ve left Greece and have been transported to a Caribbean paradise.
→ Vai Beach in Crete: An Adventure to Greece’s Massive Palm Tree Forest
Take in History… At Knossos Palace on Crete Greece
Although the old city was abandoned in around 1100 BC, the architecture of Knossos remains standing. Amazingly, the palace of Knossos shows evidence that people inhabited Ancient Crete Greece up to 9,000 years ago!
Knossos is only a short drive from Heraklion, and some historians even have said that it’s Europe’s oldest city. So if you take in one piece of history after reading this Crete travel guide, this Minoan palace should be it.
→ Is Knossos Palace Worth Visiting on Crete? What to Know First
Take a Photo… At the Hippie Caves of Matala
If you haven’t heard about the hippie caves of Matala get ready to be shocked! These mountainside caves hover over the gorgeous Matala Beach, and in the 1960’s were taken over by hippies until the government kicked them out. Matala is one of the most touristic places on the island, but it still makes for a fun visit and awesome photo!
→ Getting Lost in the Hippie Caves of Matala
Live Like a Local… And Overdose on Olive Oil
Olive Oil comes with everything in Crete. From a dipping sauce for bread to drizzled over your salad, it’s used in some way with every meal. It’s a known fact that the average Cretan consumes over 20 times the average for Olive Oil annually, so be prepared to drown in it!
→ Book a Delicious Miracle of Wine and Olive Oil Day Tour from Chania
Be Careful Of… The Small Roads on Crete Greece
For being an island Crete has extremely well-maintained roads. Well… most of the time. When you start to travel “off the typical path” the roads can change quickly.
Steep drops, unpaved stretches, and crazy fast local drivers are just some of the things you’ll have to look out for with this Crete travel mode. If you are planning on renting a car, make sure you’re comfortable driving in a foreign country!
→ 20 Wild & Fun Facts About Crete Greece
Get Lost… In Southern Crete Greece
In our opinion, southern Crete is Greece’s largest island in its best and most pure form! Unfortunately, if you stick to the north (as many do) there is a whole side to the island you’ll be missing out on. Driving through endless olive fields and having entire beaches to ourselves were highlights of our time exploring this part of Crete!
Don’t Miss Out On… The Crete Greece Pink Sand Beaches
Crete doesn’t just have one, but TWO pink sand beaches! Considering that pink sand beaches are extremely rare, to have two on one island is unheard of! Each of these beaches (Elafonisi and Balos) are on secluded corners of the island and require a full day to visit. We made the trip to Elafonisi and were blown away by the colors! So make it a priority to hit at least one pink sand beach while in Crete.
→ Pink Sand at Elafonisi: Fun Tips for Visiting the Famous Crete Beach
→ Book an Elafonissi Pink Sand Beach Small Group Tour from Rethymno!
Be a Tourist…. In Chania Crete Greece
This seaside town in northern Crete attracts more tourists than anywhere else on the island. Beautiful bright buildings line the ocean, and wooden boats fill the crowded harbor. Spend at least a day getting lost in the back streets of Chania, and taking in Crete’s most famous city.
Day Trip… To Spinalonga Island
The strange history of this former leper colony has developed into one of the top day trips in Crete Greece. Hop on a tour from the popular town of Agios Nikolaos, and take a guided step back in time to a different world. After learning about Spinalonga Island you can swim at the small pebble beach and enjoy the water.
→ Book your Boat Cruise from Agios Nikolaos to Spinalonga island
Don’t Spend Much Time in… Heraklion Crete Greece
If you love big cities then you might enjoy Heraklion, but it wasn’t for us. This port city is massive and wasn’t the “welcome to the islands” feel we were looking for. To be honest, Heraklion feels like any massive city in Greece. With a short amount of time visiting Crete and so much to see, we wished that we skipped Heraklion.
Step Out of Your Comfort Zone… And Explore More
One of the worst mistakes you can make when visiting Crete is not exploring for yourself. Yes, there are the top beach towns on the island and plenty of famous caves and coves. However, the best part of visiting Crete is going off the beaten path!
So go to the well-known hippie caves of Matala and explore the pink sand beaches, but also travel to the lesser-known places! Take a random road to a beach you weren’t thinking about checking out, stop in a small mountain town for coffee, or pull over and hike to a random lookout of the olive fields!
→ 10 Days Circling Crete Island: Fun Itinerary with Best Route & Hotels
Continue On… To Another Greek Island
You’re already here… Why not start island hopping? From Crete Greece you can get a quick jumper flight to another Greek island, or easily take a ferry. With the Crete island being so far south the ferry does take several hours, but it’s all part of the fun! You can visit the famous Santorini or a more relaxing island like Naxos. Whatever you decide, we’re sure you’ll have a blast anywhere else in Greece.
- The Ultimate Greek Cyclades Island Hopping Itinerary
- Moon Beach Milos: How to Visit the Famous Sarakiniko Beach in Greece
- 10 Things We Loved About Naousa Greece
- Mykonos Old Town Guide: 10 Amazing Things to do with Beaches
- One Week Rhodes Itinerary: Best Route, Hotels, and Tips For Your Visit
If you have any questions about our Crete travel guide or your own tips? Please comment below!
Brigitte & Jake
Where in the world are we? Follow our daily adventures on Instagram @nothingfamiliar!
Greece Travel Planning
Packing Lists: Find all the inspiration you need with our Amazon packing lists. Including electronics and camera gear, must-have medical items, and long flight essentials!
When island hopping use FerriesinGreece to compare different routes, prices, and companies.
Flights: We always check Skyscanner and Kayak to search for cheap flights. That’s how we got from Crete to Athens for under $50 USD!
Accommodation: Compare multiple sites to get to the best deal such as Booking.com and Agoda! Also, Hostelworld should be your go-to source if you’re traveling on a budget.
Rental Car: You can book a rental car for around $20 a day in Greece! We use Discover Cars to explore the larger islands with a vehicle.
Tours: Check out Get Your Guide for thousands of activities in Greece. You can find everything from visiting the Acropolis in Athens to wine tasting in Santorini, and a boat tour in Milos.
Travel Insurance: Never travel abroad without protection. We’ve been using SafetyWing for the last few years on the road and they are there when we need them.
Rhodes: Planning a Trip – Renting a Car – 23 Things to Do – Old Town – Elli Beach – Kallithea Springs – Lindos Guide – Lindos Acropolis – Monolithos – Melenos Art Boutique Hotel – 11 Best Beaches – Anthony Quinn Bay
Karpathos: Fun Things to Do – 1 Week Itinerary – Must Try Food – 6 Best Beaches – Olympos – Saria Island Boat Tour
Crete: 10 Day Itinerary – Elafonisi (Pink Sand) – Bus Tips
More Dodecanese: Halki Island – Symi Island Guide – Symi Things to Do
Cyclades: Adamas Milos – Ios – Naxos Beaches – Galissas Syros – Santorini
Corfu: Old Town Food – Greece to Albania Ferry
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Hi cretans only call it raki infront of tourists ,locals call their brew Tskoudia ! Good blog though !
haha good to know! We’ve heard it called all different things throughout Greece and the Balkans. Everyone seems to have their own name for it.
I will ne in Stalida in septembrie.Can You Tell me more about Stalida and Zephyros hotel.Thank You!
Hi! great that you’re visiting Manuela. In some of our more specific blogs on Crete we recommend hotels to stay in. Not sure about these so you should check the reviews and pick what best suits your style. Enjoy!