Crete Island Guide
Crete has been one of my favourite destinations for many years and the island I most consistently recommend to friends and family, especially those who have never visited Greece before. Its large size brings many benefits, notably: cheaper prices due to local competition for tourists as well as locally-grown produce; easy access via two international airports; a good road network and public transport system; and a huge selection of resorts and attractions.
I first visited Crete with my parents and grandparents over 25 years ago. By that time, I’d already been to Rhodes and Zakynthos but, as a teenager, I was too young to really appreciate what made one Greek island any different from another. Even so, I really enjoyed the two weeks we spent in Makry Gialos on the southeast coast. We liked it so much that we returned the following year. That time my best friend came along and we had a blast: running up and down the beach and playing in the sea during the day, then playing pool in one of the bars in the evening.
In the years since my first visit, I’ve been to Elounda, Malia, Kokkini Hani, Kato Gouves, Analipsi and Hersonissos. In 2021, I finally explored the western side of the island, spending nine nights in Palaiochora on the southwest coast before making my way across the island all the way to Sitia in the very northeast. Along the way, I visited Chania, the inland village of Spili, and the southern settlements of Plakias, Agia Galini and Matala. I finished up in Sitia for a brief overnight stop, departing the next day by ferry for Karpathos.
The best thing about Crete is that its size means there’s something for everyone: lively party resorts like Stalis, Hersonissos and Malia for the young revellers; quiet seaside villages like Georgioupolis and Elounda for those seeking a peaceful and relaxing getaway; vibrant cities like Chania, Rethymno and Heraklion; and plenty of outdoor activities such as hiking in the Samaria Gorge; and, of course, some fabulous beaches for topping up that tan!
The interactive map below shows some of our favourite hotels, restaurants, beaches and places of interest on Crete. Click the markers to see more details.
One thing that makes Crete unique as a Greek island is that it has two international airports: one just east of Heraklion, the other just northeast of Chania. These effectively split the island into two halves: east and west. If you are planning to stay anywhere east of Rethymno, Heraklion is the more convenient airport. Rethymno itself is slightly closer to Chania airport, but either one will do (roughly a 1-hour transfer by car). If you plan to visit one of the resorts further west, such as Georgioupoli, Palaiochora, Kissamos, or Chania itself, then Chania airport is the one to choose.
You can also reach Crete by ferry, with regular services from Piraeus to both Chania and Heraklion. There is also a daily service between Heraklion and Santorini (Thera), should you plan on visiting multiple islands during your stay.
There are many tourist resorts on the island, these are some of the more popular ones that we’ve visited:
Located on an east-facing coastline roughly an hour’s drive from Heraklion, Agios Nikolaos is one of the largest towns on the island. It’s a popular tourist destination with a large selection of bars and restaurants, and plenty of hotels both large and small. It lacks a decent beach, but there are plenty nearby to choose from providing you have transportation.
Just north of Agios Nikolaos lies Elounda. It is a much smaller resort, but still popular with tourists in the summer season. There are several luxury hotels dotted around the nearby hillsides, while the town itself has a decent beach and a good selection of bars and restaurants.
Its proximity to Spinalonga makes it a good destination if you plan to visit the island or any of the villages along the northern coastline.
Don’t be too put off by its reputation as a party resort for the younger generation. While the main strip is laden with bars and clubs, there are quieter spots and plenty of beach space for everyone. The old town, further back from the coastline, is very pretty and worth a visit.
Tucked out of the way on the southwest coast, Palaiochora is a popular seaside resort located on a small headland with a large main beach to the west and a smaller one on the eastern side. About a 90-minute drive from Chania, it does take some effort to reach but is worth it for the relaxed atmosphere, great selection of shops and tavernas and wide, sandy beach.
With unique locations such as Spinalonga, plus water parks, caves, and numerous great beaches, Crete has something for everyone. The large main road that runs across the north of the island makes it easy to get around and there is an excellent local bus service covering most of the island, though smaller villages and resorts may only have one or two connections a day.
Crete is a large island with a vast array of excellent beaches in almost every corner of the island.
Find out more about Crete Beaches here.
Crete offers a diverse range of accommodation options to suit different budgets and preferences, including hotels, villas, apartments, guesthouses, and campsites. From luxury resorts to traditional guesthouses and camping, there is something for everyone.
Crete is a great holiday destination. It has a wide variety of resorts, sights and attractions plus a fantastic selection of beaches, bars and restaurants.
Crete has a huge selection of resorts to choose from, some of the most popular include Agios Nikolaos, Elounda, Hersonissos, Chania, Stalis, Malia and Palaiochora.
Due to its large size, you would need several weeks to explore the entire island, but a week is sufficient to get a taste of the island. This time can be spent in a single resort, or spread across several areas.
Crete is the most southerly Greek island, located just 200 miles off the coast of North Africa. Its westernmost point lies directly south of Athens, while its eastern tip sits below the western edge of Turkey.
Here are some videos of Crete we’ve filmed over the years:
Learn more about Crete by reading our blog posts from recent visits: