Crete is not only the largest Greek Island, but also the largest island in the Mediterranean! In this guide you will discover the best places to visit on Crete, how to get around the island, and a few things to know before you go!
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History of the Island
The island has a huge history, with findings of tools dating back to 130,000 years ago. The first human settlement on the island began around 6500 BC, and by 3000 BC the Minoan civilization was emerging. In the 2000s BC the Minoans begun building 'palaces' which you can still find the remains of, these include: Knossos, Phaestus, and Malia. From that time, there have been influences by Greek mainlanders, the Dorians, the Ottoman Turks, and others. You can find very interesting ruins around the island from these timeframes, and artifacts in their museums. My favorite museum on the island, that is a must-see, even for those who aren't the biggest museum-goers is the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. It is so fascinating learning more about the peoples of the islands throughout the years.
Crete is situated about 160km from the Greek mainland in the Aegean Sea. It's the biggest island in Greece, and second biggest the Mediterranean. You can see exactly where it's located on the map below! (the island with the red border)
How to Get There
There are a few different ways you can get to Crete.
Option #1: By Plane
From Athens, you can take a direct flight to either Heraklion, Chania, or Sitia. Prices range from abut $40 USD-$90 USD one-way depending on what day you fly on and how far in advance you book your flight. The flight is about an hour and there are a few different airlines that fly the route.
Option #2: By Ferry
I only recommend this option in the summer, because in the winter months a lot of the routes will be closed. There are daily ferries from the Piraeus port in Athens to Chania, Heraklion, and Rethymno. The port of Heraklion also serves regular itineraries to/from Rhodes and Santorini as well.
What to Know Before You Go
Another amazing thing about this island is that Crete is one of the most budget friendly islands in Greece! I would get $5 meals, $2 drinks, and free shots! It was a dream... For food you can plan to spend around $15-$40/day on food depending on how often you eat and what kind of restaurants you visit. No in some areas there are fancier restaurants and those of course are more, probably $15-$20/meal. But at most places you can expect to see $5-$10 for a meal.
Before coming here, I didn't know a word of Greek.. and I wasn't sure how that was going to go. Luckily, for me, pretty much everyone on the island also knows and speaks English. (like, literally everyone) So besides some of the signs, there is not a language barrier on this island at all. Which is super nice! Although, I always like to learn some of the basic words to be respectful and I suggest you do the same. Learn how to say hello, goodbye, and thank you to score some extra points with the locals.
How to Get Around
There are many ways you can get around the island, it just depends on your budget. If you have a bigger budget you can rent a car and that is also the most flexible way to see the island and the only way to get to some of the places more off the beaten path.
But, the mode of transportation I took was public bus. Crete has an extensive bus system, KTEL, that goes to all of the major cities, and lots of other tourist spots, etc. And... it's SO affordable! Like SOO affordable. It cost me only $10 USD to get to a city that was 2 hours away! Not only that, but it's very safe and comfortable. The only downside is you won't be able to get everywhere like you can with a car .
Where to Stay
There really isn't a bad place to stay and it quite frankly comes down to what you are most interested. in staying near. If you want to be in the city, I recommend booking a hotel in Chania (that was my most favorite city on the island and has a lot going on). You can find some amazing ones here! There are also a lot of hotels in the countryside or on the beach, but not in a city center and if you are renting a car I recommend getting one of those! One I stayed at that was so beautiful, was Vergina Beach Hotel .
For my fellow budget travelers, don't worry there are plenty of hostels as well! Most around $20/night... woooo!! One that I stayed at for 3 weeks was the Heraklion So Young Hostel. But, there are also some in Chania and Matala as well.
Must See Places
Located on the southern part of the island, this gorgeous town is known for its unique history and stunning beaches. You can easily get here via the public buses! There's also a hidden beach (the first photo) which you can find called 'The Secret Beach', be sure to grab a mojito from the Mojito Master while you're there!
Photo courtesy of CreteTravel
Heraklion is the capital city of Crete and is a must see while you are on the island. It will also most likely will be the city that you will fly into or take the ferry into. My favorite places to visit in the city are the Archaeological Museum and the Venetian Port. It's a lovely city and makes for a great start to your Crete trip!
3. Balos Beach
This is known as the most beautiful beach on Crete. It's located on the very western end of the island and there are a few ways to get here. 1. You can book a day trip from the Kissamos Port which you can easily get to via the public bus from Chania. Book the trip here . or 2. You can rent a car and drive there here .
This is the 2nd biggest city on the island and a very different vibe than Heraklion. The buildings are more historic and it's definitely less populated. I loved Chania and you should spend at least 2 nights here! You can get here easily from Heraklion via the public bus system.
5. Agios Nikolaos
Agios Nikolaos is one of the quaint, smaller towns on the island that is a must visit! It's about a 1.5 hour drive from Heraklion so it makes a great day trip. Although it's so beautiful, so I would recommend spending 1 night here if possible. You can easily and affordably get here via the public bus system.
6. Preveli Beach
Photo courtesy of TripAdvisor
This is a gem of the island that is absolutely breathtaking. There are no roads to Preveli Beach. It can only be accessed by boat or by foot. Preveli Beach is very busy during peak season, so get there early to escape the crowds. The closest towns to Preveli Beach are Plakias and Rethymno. You can book a day trip from Rethymno here .
7. Kourtaliotiko Gorge
Photo courtesy of CretanBeaches
The Kourtaliotiko Gorge, also known as the Asomatos Gorge, is a gorge on the southern side of the western part of the island of Crete. It's one of the most beautiful places to visit and is very different than other parts of the island. It’s easy to get to Kourtaliotiko Gorge by public bus, and I recommend taking the early morning bus (06:00 on weekdays). I recommend going here from Rethymno. To get to the start of the Kourtaliotiko Gorge hike, you’ll need to take the public bus (KTEL) from Rethymno to Plakias.
Get off at Asomatos – the closest bus stop to the gorge. From there, you’ll need to walk 30 to 40 minutes (3km) to get to the start of the Kourtaliotiko Gorge hike.
8. Seitan Limania
Photo couresty of Itinerai.com
This is a beautiful, remote swimming spot in a cove surrounded by rock formations. In order to get to Seitan Limania you have to drive towards the airport of Chania, turn left right before the airport towards village Chordaki, and then follow the signs to Rizoskloko. At some point you will start seeing small signs that will lead you to the beach. The easiest way to get here is to rent a car from Chania.
9. Elafonissi Beach
Photo courtesy of GreeceTravelIdeas
Elafonissi Beach is a pink sand beach located on the southwestern point of the island. There is no entrance fee but the easiest way to get here is to rent a car. The journey takes about 1.5 hours from Chania and free parking is available. Another option is to join a guided tour or take the Elafonissi Express Bus, which arrive in the morning and goes back at 4.30 pm. If you don't want to rent a car, you can take a guided tour that's a day trip from Chania check it out here .
10. Samaria Gorge
Photo courtesy of GreekCityTimes
Samaria Gorge is a beautiful area in southwestern Crete. It is a 9.0-mile point-to-point trail near Lakki, Crete and is generally considered a challenging route, it takes an average of 13 h 57 min to complete, but of course you don't have to do the entire route. There are daily buses starting from Chania to the start of the gorge called Xyloskalo. The buses depart from Chania's Central Bus Station at 06:45 and 08:15 and the fare for the single fare is 7.50 euro or the round trip is 14.80 euro.
I absolutely loved my time on Crete and will for sure be back one day! Whether you want to chill at a stunning beach, go hiking through gorges and waterfalls, or explore ancient cities, Crete has it all! And the best part, it's so affordable! Make sure to save for your future travel planning.
Thank you for reading, and keep exploring xxx