Crete is the largest and most populated of the Greek islands, and the 5th largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. In fact, it is said that Crete should be its own country and we can see why! The island has a stunning 1,000 kilometer-long coastline which is marked with numerous towns; both big and small, harbour ports, bays, extremely mountainous scenery and fresh, flavourful food that is to die for.
Although small parts of Crete are reminiscent of other Greek Islands, Crete stands alone and has an unmistakable atmosphere, culture & cuisine.
Top Tips for Crete
- Organise your car rental before arriving to save money.
- Drive a manual. There are very minimal automatic cars to rent last minute and manuals are literally 1/2 the cost.
- Check the fuel gauge on your rental when you pick it up, although it is the norm to have it somewhat full, ours was given empty so we returned it empty. (we’ve heard of people returning it full without realising)
- Choose your location wisely based on what you want to visit (areas listed below)
- Don’t try and fit too much in over a short time. Distances are large!
- Appetizers such as bread, olives etc are placed on the table when you sit down at a restaurant but not always free. If you eat it, you pay for it, generally 1 or 2 Euros per person.
- Tap water is fine to drink although some people dislike the taste.
How long do you need for Crete?
Crete is a large island with so much to offer. You are surrounded by stunning beaches, archaeological sites, small islands, gorges & historical towns. To see all the “top sights”, it will take a minimum of 10 days – 2 weeks, however, you could easily spend 4 weeks and still have more to see.
So, realistically, we don’t recommend any less than 7 days. This will allow you to see a few of the main sites (Knossos, Samaria Gorge, Balos, Elafonissi Beach) and still have time to relax and indulge in the amazing Cretan Cuisine (see our post on Cretan Cuisine here).
Note: Depending on where you are staying, day trips to the most popular sights can take up 12-13 hours, round trip.
Arriving into Heraklion Airport
Upon arriving into the small airport of Heraklion there are many counters for car rentals, transfers & taxis. If you aren’t renting a car directly from the airport, the local buses run until midnight to various towns or your hotel can arrange a pickup service. If you’re arriving late or want to pre-arrange an airport transfer, Hoppa has the best rates and really great service.
Where to base yourself
This is the million dollar question that everyone wonders when they visit Crete. With a place so big, you don’t want to get it wrong! We’ve outlined the main spots below.
We stayed on the west side of the island, 14km NE of Chania at Tersanas Beach Lodges. It was right on the sea and very peaceful due to how remote it was. We had a spacious room, a beautiful balcony with sunset views every night, a private beach in front of our property and another 5 minutes walk away. The only downside of being so remote was the lack of accessibility to supermarkets & restaurants. We didn’t have a car, but there were buses into town every 2 hours.
You will find the majority of “action” and tourists in the North, North West Crete. If you’re coming to Crete for the beaches, you won’t be disappointed where ever you stay but if you plan to see the majority of the “main sites”, we do recommend North North/West Crete.
Listed are some of the largest towns in North/North West of Crete. At each of them, you’ll find a range of accommodation choices from luxury hotels to family owned and run apartments, hotels, BnB’s and even camping.
Here’s a little bit about each of them.
- Chania – Chania was our favourite of the towns and a great place to base yourself in Crete due to it being central to the main sights. The Old Town is still very much intact and has alleys filled with cute restaurants, apartments with balconies overlooking the harbour + a really relaxed atmosphere. Chania also has an international airport. Chania is a great base for exploring Crete.
- Kissamoss – Kissamos is built along a wonderful sandy beach and is the closest town for exploring Balos and Elafonissi Beach. You’ll find that Kissamoss is not as crowded as Chania.
- Rethymno – Rethymno combines the conveniences of a large city with the beauty of a small old town. The Old Town is a maze of lanes and alleys mostly reserved for pedestrians. Frequent buses run to the beaches in the South of Crete from Rethymno.
- Heraklion – Heraklion is the largest city in Crete and holds one of the 2 main airports on the Island. Apart from spending an afternoon and evening there, there wasn’t too much else going on, it’s a port city. We enjoyed the variety of restaurants in the main pedestrian area along with the range of shops. If you find yourself in Heraklion, grab a meal at Parilia, it was on the water and it was extremely fresh and very affordable. If want a beach, the decent beaches near here are a bus/car ride away from Heraklion. The most visited attraction in Heraklion is the Archaeological Museum.
- Malia – Malia is located in North East Crete and is primarily a party destination especially for young British backpackers. Pubs, clubs and fast food restaurants line the main street and the crowds during the summer are in full force. Unless you want to party, avoid Malia during the summer! We came here for a quick stop over and the only thing we enjoyed about Malia was having cocktails at Drossia Restaurant & eating at Thalassa Bar Restaurant on the waterfront. Otherwise, I think we were about 8 years older than everyone else here.
How to get around Crete
As we mentioned at the beginning of this post, Crete is large and therefore the distances between the towns and the main sights can be long depending on where you’re based. Thankfully Crete has a few options of getting you from A to B.
- Bus – Crete’s bus system is extensive and there are regular services that run across the north of the island and from north to south. The buses stick to their timetables, have A/C, comfortable seats and for the longer journeys have luggage compartments to store your bags. For the routes and timetables, visit the KTEL website. Tickets can be bought at the bus stations as well as on the bus. Hold onto them, they will be checked along the way.
- Local Buses – Local buses run into the smaller streets and are a convenient way to get around the towns. Buy your tickets before getting on the local buses as they are more expensive on board.
- Car rentals – “Coming to Crete without a car is like being in Manhattan without a wallet”- Unknown. We ended up renting a car for just one day (we took organized tours on the others) and we were given the biggest piece of junk I think we’ve ever rented or driven! We made the mistake of renting too late (we needed an auto). Our manual driving skills are not up to scratch and we weren’t comfortable navigating on the “other side” of the road, however, there are ample car rentals in Crete but the petrol comes at a high price tag. We drove for 4 hours and used 35€ of gas without using the A/C. Whilst the bus system works well, renting a car does allow much more flexibility.
- ATV/Scooter – For short distances, ATV’s/Scooters are commonly rented in and around the towns but not as frequently as some of the other Greek Islands.
Researching Crete was somewhat overwhelming and at times slightly confusing. With such a big place, you want to be sure you do it “right”, right? If there’s anything to take away from this post, know that wherever you go and whatever you do, it is impossible to disappoint, after you’ll be on an island!
Still not sure what to do? Maybe you want to know the best Crete food to eat or the best Crete sights to see? We’ve written another 2 articles covering both of these topics so check em out!
Married days survived; 531