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Are you putting together a Crete itinerary and want to know the best places to visit on a Crete Road Trip? Well, read on!
I had wanted to visit Crete since a cousin of mine lived there for a few months when I was a kid. When I finally made it there in 2021 I wasn’t sure what to expect. It ended up being my favorite place in Greece.
Dreamy Crete is the largest and southernmost island in Greece and is an island full of incredible beaches of white, red, and pink sand, interesting ancient sites, delicious food, charming old towns, picturesque mountain villages, well-cared-for street cats (very important to this cat lover), and friendly locals.
Crete is a microcosm of Greece and has everything that makes this country great, plus some distinctly Cretan offerings including a unique culture you can explore through the island’s music and cuisine.
I put together a list of all my favorite places in Crete that you can visit on a Crete Road Trip. I recommend basing yourself between Heraklion, Agios Nikolaos, Plakias, Rethymno, and Chania, and visiting the other places on this list as day trips.
All of these places are accessible by taking public transport or doing day tours too if you don’t have the budget to rent a car – I have more info about where to stay and how to get around in Crete without a car in this post.
Here is my pick of the best places to visit on a Crete Road Trip.
Places To Add To Your Crete Itinerary
Heraklion is the biggest city in Crete and is the starting point of this Crete itinerary because it is probably where you will be arriving by plane or ferry.
A lot of people skip visiting Heraklion and see it as just a non-descript big city but although the beauty of it isn’t as obvious as in Chania and Rethymno, it is there.
The city is full of regal fountains, churches, and squares to explore, as well as a picturesque waterfront to stroll. It is particularly vibrant at night with a lot of al fresco dining and lit-up squares.
There are a couple of must-visits in Heraklion – the Heraklion Archeological Museum, which is one of the most important museums in Europe and absolutely fascinating, and the Palace of Knossos on the outskirts of the city. It was built by the Minoans, Europe’s oldest known civilization.
There are also a couple of beaches near town to cool down, the Rocca a Mare Fortress which has interesting exhibits about its history, and sections of the old town walls that you can explore. But one of the best things to do in Heraklion is to just wander, discovering churches and squares in the Old City and harbor.
Heraklion also has a lot of great options for food. My favorites are Kritikos Fournos across from the main bus station which has incredible desserts and pastries, and Kalamaki Meat Bar for excellent gyros.
The next stop on your Crete Road Trip should be Agios Nikolaos, a lovely seaside resort town that has just the right amount of tourism infrastructure while still feeling like a bit of a hidden gem.
There are some nice beaches in and close to town, a pleasant waterfront, and a charming town center – both of which are very walkable. Look for the various sculptures dotted around the waterfront during your wanders.
Lake Voulismeni is a scenic lake right in town and it was believed to be a passage to communicate with evil spirits in ancient times. These days it is a pleasant place to go for a walk or grab a meal or drink at one of the restaurants along the lakefront.
A very worthwhile half-day trip from Agios Nikolaos is Spinalonga Island. This small and now uninhabited island in the Gulf of Elounda has a long and interesting history starting in the mid-16th century when it was a fortress protecting the ancient Venetian port of Olous.
Since then it has been occupied by the Ottomans for 200 years and was used as a leper colony for over fifty years until the last resident left in 1962. Since then, the island has been uninhabited.
It is both a scenic and historically interesting place to visit, and you can explore the Venetian Fort and other buildings from its time as a leper colony. There are also a couple of pebbly beaches with super clear water, and excellent views from the high points on the island.
The boat trip there from Agios Nikolaos is stunning too.
Chrissi Island is located 15km south of Crete in the Libyan Sea and can be visited from Ierapetra in southern Crete on a day trip.
The island is home to some of the most incredible beaches in Crete with light turquoise water and powdery white sand so if you are a beach lover, don’t miss Chrissi Island.
I didn’t end up visiting Chrissi Island myself because the reviews I read about visiting in August were pretty bad because of the extreme heat, lack of shade, and crowds, but if you are visiting in the shoulder season I think it is worth a visit because the beaches do look amazing.
Matala Beach and Red Beach
Matala Beach is one of the more unique beaches to visit in Crete because of the caves carved into the cliff by the beach. These caves are believed to be over two thousand years old and are thought to originally have been tombs, later being used as living spaces.
You can visit the caves and you will see bed platforms, seats, and tables carved out inside. Hippies lived here more recently in the 1960s and 70s including famous musicians like Joni Mitchell and Cat Stevens.
The town still retains a hippie vibe while also feeling like a sleepy fishing village. The beach isn’t the nicest in Crete but the water is clear and I enjoyed swimming around to the rocks below the caves.
While at Matala, I highly recommend visiting gorgeous Red Beach as well. It is a short but steep hike up and over to the next bay. The sand at Red Beach is more of a bright orange than red with crystal-clear water, and the view over the beach as you are hiking down is magnificent. Take lots of water if you are hiking during summer.
Plakias is an unassuming beach town on the south coast of Crete that has a tight-knit community and a chilled vibe, making it the perfect spot to slow down your Crete travels and enjoy the sun and sea.
There isn’t a lot to do in Plakias itself other than go to the beach but some of the most beautiful beaches in Crete are really close by including the hidden cove beach of Kleidisi which you can hike to.
Swim at the small beach just to the west of the main beach – it is much nicer than the main beach. Visit Myrthios for dinner one night, it’s a small village above Plakias which has fantastic views. And just relax and enjoy the slow pace of life here.
Preveli is a palm tree beach with a crystal clear river running into the ocean. It is easily reached from Plakias by regular boat transfer or by taking a ten-minute bus ride and then hiking twenty minutes down to it. I recommend taking the bus there so you get the epic view from above.
As well as relaxing on this beautiful beach, I highly recommend walking part of the way up the river and walking/swimming back to the beach. It is a green oasis and one of the most unique spots in Crete.
Rethymno is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Greece and the narrow streets in the old town are full of historic buildings draped in bougainvillea and vines, plazas with intricately carved fountains, and local restaurants with al fresco dining.
But unlike the white-washed old towns on other Greek Islands, Rethymno is home to buildings of honey-colored stone.
The best thing to do in Rethymno is to just wander the mazelike streets and harbor, and don’t miss visiting the Venetian Fort at sunset. There is also a beach right by town if you want to cool off.
Margarites is a picturesque mountain village that is known for its many pottery studios. It is the perfect place to pick up tasteful souvenirs and the best thing to do there is to just wander, admiring the village and scenery.
I recommend spending a day visiting other nearby sites as well including the sacred Monastery of Arkadi, Ancient Eleutherna and its museum, and haunting Melidoni Cave. I loved doing this Full-Day Real Crete Tour that covered all of these spots and more, or you can drive to each place yourself.
If you enjoy hiking, don’t miss hiking the Samaria Gorge. The Samaria Gorge cuts through the White Mountains and is the longest gorge in Europe at 10 miles/16km.
You will need to do a full-day tour from Chania or Rethymno to hike the Gorge because it is a one way hike. You’ll get dropped at the top and will hike down into it and along the bottom following the river until where the gorge ends. From there, you can catch a ride on a local bus to the cute village of Agia Roumeli on the coast.
It is a gorgeous hike starting at 1230 meters above sea level, with many stone steps leading into the gorge. You are surrounded by pine-covered mountains at the beginning and the steep walls of the gorge once you hike further down.
It gets hotter as the day wears on but luckily there are many places along the way where you can fill up your water bottle.
After reaching the end, depending on how long it took you to hike you will have a couple of hours at Agia Roumeli where you can swim at the beach and grab lunch at a local taverna.
To get back to where you started, you will take a scenic boat trip along the coast to Sfakia, and then a bus from there back to Chania or Rethymno. It’s a long day but I guarantee it will be one of the best days of your Crete Road Trip!
Picture-perfect Chania was my favorite place I stayed in Crete. There is a scenic old town with a winding maze of pretty alleyways draped in bougainvillea, a historic Venetian port and lighthouse, and a vibrant and lively atmosphere. I spent hours wandering the old town and Jewish Quarter and it never got old.
Chania is one of the best places in Crete to try traditional Cretan dishes like boureki, dakos, and Cretan cheese, as well as excellent Greek dishes. The food scene in Chania is outstanding.
Don’t miss trying the traditional Greek dessert bougatsa at Bougatsa Iordanis, the vegan moussaka from Pulse Vegan, and stuffed calamari at Tamam Restaurant.
Another big reason why I loved Chania is because of all the kitties – there are multiple stray cat colonies here that are well looked after and many of the cats love a pat or a cuddle.
Chania is one of the absolute must-visit stops you should add to your Crete Road Trip.
Elafonisi Beach is famous for its pink sand and it is truly stunning – definitely one of the most beautiful beaches in Greece. Located on the west coast of Crete, it is the perfect day trip from Chania.
There is no town at Elafonisi, just a perfect beach, so your time here will be mostly relaxing, although I recommend walking across the shallow lagoon and along the beach to the end. You’re going to want to get in that bright turquoise water as often as possible too.
Balos Beach and Gramvousa Island
Another perfect Greek beach is Balos Beach in the northwest of Crete. Balos Beach and its lagoon are one of the most photographed places in Crete and rightfully so. The water of the lagoon is such a pale shade of turquoise that it looks like it is glowing, and the sand is bone white.
If you drive to Balos Beach you will have a rough road to drive and a bit of a hike to get to and from the lagoon but you’ll get incredible views on the way down. Another option is to take a bus and boat tour to Balos Beach from Chania or drive to Kissamos and take a boat from there. The best thing about doing this is that tours stop at Gramvousa Island.
Gramvousa Island is absolutely stunning and you can hike up to a Venetian fortress and relax on a beautiful beach during your time there. Balos Beach is often windy so the swimming is actually better on Gramvousa Island.
If you decide to do a tour, I recommend this one.
Seitan Limania Beach
Another beautiful beach close to Chania is Seitan Limania. I didn’t get to go here because I had two days of rain during my time in Chania so I had to skip it.
Getting to lovely Seitan Limania involves a 20-minute hike down, but you’ll be rewarded with stunning views for your trouble. Once at the beach, you’ll be wowed by the sliver of sand tucked into a zigzag cove with bright blue water.
There are no facilities here so pack a lunch and bring lots of water.
Where To Stay on Your Crete Road Trip
So, you’re probably wondering where you should stay for your Crete Road Trip. Crete is larger than you probably realize so I recommend basing yourself in a few different spots on the island and doing some day trips as well.
I would recommend staying at the following places based on a two-week Crete Road Trip:
- Heraklion – 2 nights (Visit Knossos Palace and the Archeological Museum)
- Agios Nikolaos – 2 nights (Visit Spinalonga Island)
- Matala or Ierapetra – 1 night (Visit Chrissi Island and Matala Beach)
- Plakias – 2 nights (Visit Kleidisi Beach and Preveli Beach)
- Rethymno – 3 nights (Hike Samaria Gorge and visit Margarites/Monastery of Arkadi/Eleutherna/Melidoni Cave)
- Chania – 4 nights (Visit Elafonisi, Balos Bay, and Seitan Limania)
I wrote a detailed post about where to stay in Crete so I recommend you check that out for a larger selection of accommodation but here are a few options:
For a budget option stay at Intra Muros Hostel, a midrange option is Olive Green Hotel, and a luxury option is GDM Megaron Historic Monument Hotel.
For vacation rentals, stay at this Luxury Two-Bedroom Apartment With Sea View, this Colorful Studio in the City Center, and this Renovated Studio Apartment in the Heart of the City
Agios Nikolaos Accommodation
For a budget option stay at Pension Mylos, a midrange option is Palazzo Arhontiko Apartments, and a luxury option is The Island Concept Luxury Beach Hotel.
For vacation rentals, stay at this Stylish Two Bedroom With Sea View, this City Center Apartment with Mirabello Bay View, or this Beach Studio with Ocean Views.
For a budget option stay at Coral Hotel, a midrange option is El Greco Hotel and a luxury option is NUMO Ierapetra Beach Resort.
For vacation rentals, stay at Villa Pelagos Seafront Villa, this Family-Friendly Old Town Apartment, or this Luxury Villa With Pool Directly on the Beach.
For a budget option stay at Hotel Orama-Matala, a midrange option is Paradise Matala Hotel, and a luxury option is Boutique Hotel Die Zwei Bruder.
For vacation rentals, stay at this Brand New Stone House Near the Beach, Bella Vista Three-Bedroom Holiday Home, or this Villadream House With Panoramic Sea Views.
For a budget option stay at Youth Hostel Plakias, a midrange option is Horizon Beach Hotel, and a luxury option is Belvedere Luxury Apartments & Spa.
For vacation rentals, stay at this Three Bedroom Beach Apartment With Sea Views, this Villa Alkisti With Private Pool, and this Luxury Villa With Sea Views and Private Pool.
For a budget option stay at Rethymno Youth Hostel, a midrange option is Menta City Boutique Hotel, and a luxury option is Casa Moazzo Suites & Apartments.
For vacation rentals, stay at this Sunny Rooftop Two-Bedroom Near the Beach, this Two-Bedroom Beachfront Apartment, or this Historic Apartment in the Heart of the Old Town.
For a budget option stay at Cocoon City Hostel, a midrange option is Palazzo di Irene, and a luxury option is Chania Flair Deluxe Boutique Hotel.
For vacation rentals, stay at this One Bedroom Venetian House Overlooking the Harbor, this Restored Historic Two-Bedroom in Old Town, or this Historic Old Town Studio.
The Best Insurance For Your Crete Itinerary
Make sure you get travel and health insurance before your Crete trip – this is very important! Safety Wing is my go-to and they are cheap and easy to claim with.
Safety Wing also allows you to sign up when you are already traveling, unlike a lot of other travel insurance providers.
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