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Planning a trip to Crete and don’t know where to base yourself? Read on to find out where to stay in Crete, accommodation options for all budgets, and things to do in each area…
Gorgeous Crete is the largest and southernmost island in Greece and is a must-visit if you love ancient history, glorious beaches of white, red and pink sand, enchanting cities with picturesque old towns, peaceful mountain villages, absolutely delicious food, and warm and welcoming locals.
Crete has all this and more and is unlike any of the other Greek islands as it has its own distinct culture that includes traditional clothing, music, food, and a Cretan dialect.
I had been wanting to visit Crete for years and I finally made it happen in summer 2021. I always thought I would love it there but it ended up being more spectacular and interesting than I could have ever dreamed.
I spent two and a half weeks exploring this sunbaked island and I could have spent so much more time visiting more beaches, mountain villages, hiking trails, and historic sites. Crete completely wowed me and I can’t wait to return in the future.
I will write a detailed post on all my favorite places and experiences I had in Crete, but first I wanted to write about where to stay on Crete as this is something that is very important to figure out before visiting unless you have lots of flexibility and time.
Crete is such a large island so I do recommend staying in at least a couple of different places so you won’t spend hours driving every day.
Where I Stayed in Crete
I stayed in four places during my time in Crete and for the amount of time I had, I really felt like my itinerary was perfect and I wouldn’t have changed anything. I split my time between Heraklion, Rethymno, Chania, and Plakias, doing day trips from each place, and they were all fantastic bases to see different parts of the island.
I also recommend considering a stay in Agios Nikolaos as this lovely beachside town is close to a few must-visit sites in the east of the island. The hostel here didn’t look great so I skipped staying here and visited on a day trip from Heraklion which was a good option too.
I didn’t rent a car and it was easy to visit all the must-visits in Crete either independently by bus or by taking an inexpensive day trip. Crete is ridiculously easy to get around without a car and I honestly don’t feel like I missed out on anything, although if I only stayed in one place the whole time, I would have.
If you do rent a car and don’t mind driving a lot then you could stay in one place but I imagine it would be pretty exhausting.
My Crete Itinerary
Here is a quick rundown of my Crete Itinerary, how long I stayed in each place, and the day trips I did from there. I was really happy with the amount of time I spent in each place and the day trips I did.
Heraklion – 4 nights
I stayed at Intra Muros Hostel and I loved the roof terrace, kitchen, curtains and individual lights for the dorm beds, and the proximity to town.
Day 1: Knossos Palace (35 minutes each way by local bus) and Archeological Museum (in town)
Day 2: Matala Beach and Red Beach day trip (2 hours each way by bus)
Day 3: Agios Nikolaos (1.5 hours each way by bus) and Spinalonga Island (4.5-hour tour from Agios Nikolaos)
Day 4: Explore downtown, harbor, and fort then take the bus to Rethymno (1.5 hours). Beach and old town in Rethymno.
Rethymno – 4 nights
I stayed at the Rethymno Youth Hostel, right in the old city walls. It has clean and comfy dorms, two guest kitchens, and indoor and outdoor common areas.
Day 1: Explore Rethymno, swim at a local beach, tour the fort for sunset.
Day 2: Full Day Real Crete Tour to Melidoni Cave, Margarites, Monastery of Arkadi, Eleutherna Museum, and Apostoli and Patsos Gorge.
Day 3: Hike Samaria Gorge on a full-day tour. Includes a few hours at Agia Roumeli and a boat trip to Sfakia.
Day 4: Explore town one last time then bus to Plakias (1 hour). Relax at Plakias Beach.
Plakias – 4 nights
I stayed at the Youth Hostel Plakias and it was definitely one of the most fun and unique hostels I have ever stayed at. This hostel attracts people from all over the world of all ages (there were quite a few 60+ travelers here when I stayed) with many coming back every year for over 20 years.
The dorms are basic but very cheap and clean, and the setting in an olive grove with mountain views is hard to beat. It’s only a short walk to the town center and beach and there is a guest kitchen.
Day 1: Kleidisi Beach and Ammoudi Beach (45 mins to one hour hike each way)
Day 2: Preveli Beach and river (10 min bus ride then 20-minute hike down there, 15 min boat transfer back)
Day 3: Relax at the beach in Plakias. Dinner in Myrthios village above Plakias (ride with hostel friend)
Day 4: Relax at Plakias beach in the morning then buses to Rethymno and then Chania (2.25 hours approx.)
Chania – 5 nights
I stayed at Cocoon City Hostel, a beautiful boutique design hostel close to town with a small pool, two guest kitchens, and well-equipped dorm rooms.
Day 1: Elafonisi Beach (1.5 hours by bus each way)
Day 2: Balos Beach and Gramvousa Island full-day tour
Day 3: Explore Chania Old Town, Venetian Harbor, and the Jewish Quarter.
Day 4: Seitan Limania Beach (approx. 40 min by bus each way). I was planning to go here but it rained all day so I skipped it and spent more time exploring Chania instead.
Day 5: Leave early to fly to Athens.
One place I didn’t go that I had originally planned to visit was Chrissi Island. I read a lot of negative reviews about how hot it is in August (when I would have visited), how crowded it is, and how long and expensive the day trip is so I decided against it. If I was visiting in mid-September I would have likely done it.
Where To Stay in Crete
Check out my detailed interactive map for where to stay in Crete here.
I wanted to break down in more detail the best places to stay in Crete including what to do there, where to eat, the day trips you can do from each place (within 2 hours by bus or tour), and accommodation options from budget through to luxury. I hope this helps in your Crete trip planning!
Chania – The Best Place To Stay in Crete
If you only have the time to stay in one place in Crete, I think that charming Chania is your best option as there are lots of excellent day trips to do nearby, the old town and Venetian Port are possibly the most picturesque in Crete (it’s between here and Rethymno), and it is a vibrant and lively city with great transport connections.
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 caliber of the restaurants here is outstanding.
Chania is also the best place to stay in Crete if you love cats because there are multiple stray cat colonies here that are well looked after and many of the cats love a pat or a cuddle.
Places To Visit in Chania: Make sure to give yourself time to explore the old town and Jewish Quarter – I ended up spending a couple of hours every day of the five days I spent here just wandering, checking out the shops and eating at different local restaurants, and it was perfect. There are a couple of beaches on the edge of town that are perfect for swimming, and walk around the Venetian Port and Venetian lighthouse.
Best Things To Eat in Chania: Don’t miss trying the traditional Greek dessert bougatsa at traditional Bougatsa Iordanis, the stuffed calamari at Tamam Restaurant, the vegan moussaka from Pulse Vegan, and boureki, a traditional Cretan dish of zucchini, potato, and cheese – you can find it all over town.
Day Trips From Chania: Samaria Gorge, Elafonisi Beach, Balos Beach and Gramvousa Island, Rethymno, Seitan Limania beach
Chania Accommodation Options
Budget: Cocoon City Hostel, Boho City Hostel
Mid-range: Palazzo di Irene, Christina Beach Hotel, Lignum Suites Chania
Luxury: Monastery Estate Venetian Harbor, Chania Flair Deluxe Boutique Hotel, Casa Delfino Hotel & Spa
Vacation Rentals: One Bedroom Venetian House Overlooking the Harbor, Restored Historic Two-Bedroom in Old Town, Historic Old Town Studio, Sea View One Bedroom Apartment
Rethymno – A Quieter Alternative To Chania
Lovely Rethymno is an excellent alternative to Chania as it gets less tourism and is just as beguiling. To many people, this is the best place to stay on Crete and it was definitely one of my favorites.
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.
Like Chania, the old town looks quite different than what you would expect from a Greek Island as the buildings are a warm honey color rather than the white-washed old towns you usually see on Greek Island postcards.
You could literally spend hours just wandering around here because everywhere you look there is beauty.
Places To Visit in Rethymno: Get lost in the maze-like alleyways of the old town, swim at the beach by town, explore the Venetian Harbor, and tour the Venetian Fortezza Castle – I recommend timing your visit for sunset.
Day Trips From Rethymno: Samaria Gorge, Arkadi Monastery, Margarites, Chania, Heraklion, Knossos Palace, Matala Beach, Preveli Beach, Kleidisi Beach
Rethymno Accommodation Options
Budget: Rethymno Youth Hostel, Route 66 Arizona 7 Studio
Mid-range: Lilys Apartments, Hotel Ideon, Menta City Boutique Hotel
Luxury: Pepi Boutique Hotel, Dyo Suites, Casa Moazzo Suties & Apartments
Vacation Rentals: Sea View Two-Bedroom House in the Old Town, Sunny Rooftop Two-Bedroom Near the Beach, Two-Bedroom Beachfront Apartment, Historic Apartment in the Heart of the Old Town
Heraklion – The Big Smoke of Crete
Heraklion is the biggest city on this list and I heard from so many people that it isn’t worth staying there for long because it’s just a city, but I disagree.
I actually really enjoyed my time in Heraklion, and I think it is the best place to stay in Crete to do day trips to some of the eastern places of interest on the island. It is also one of the easiest places to get to in Crete with a major airport and one of the main ferry ports in Crete.
You may need to scratch a little below the surface to appreciate Heraklion because the beauty and charm of the city aren’t as obvious as they are in Rethymno and Chania. There are a number of beautiful fountains, churches, and squares to explore, as well as a picturesque waterfront to stroll.
I think it is much easier to fall in love with this city if you wander around at night. The city really comes alive with so many squares and alleys with al fresco dining, beautifully lit up churches, and a buzz in the air.
Places To Visit in Heraklion: Visit the Rocca a Mare Fortress which has excellent exhibits about its history, wander between churches and squares in the lovely Old City and harbor, wander sections of the old town walls, and don’t miss the excellent Heraklion Archeological Museum, one of the most important museums in Europe. On the outskirts of the city is the Palace of Knossos which was built by the Minoans, Europe’s oldest known civilization. There are also a couple of beaches near town to cool down.
Best Things To Eat in Heraklion: Grab a pastry or five from Kritikos Fournos across from the main bus station – I highly recommend trying the Ekmek Kataifi, a traditional Greek dessert of thin pastry strips soaked in a lemon syrup and topped with custard and cream. Don’t miss the gyros from Kalamaki Meat Bar – I love the chicken souvlaki pita.
Day Trips From Heraklion: Rethymno, Knossos Palace, Matala Beach, Agios Nikolaos, Spinalonga Island
Heraklion Accommodation Options
Budget: Intra Muros Hostel, So Young Hostel, Marin Hotel
Mid-range: Lato Boutique Hotel, Olive Green Hotel, Porta Medina Boutique Hotel
Luxury: DOM Boutique Hotel, GDM Megaron Historic Monument Hotel, Legacy Gastro Suites
Vacation Rentals: Luxury Two-Bedroom Apartment With Sea View, Colorful Studio in the City Center, Sea View One Bedroom in the City Center, Renovated Studio Apartment in the Heart of the City
Plakias – A Chilled and Friendly Beach Town
I only heard about Plakias by chance, from one of my dorm mates in Paros, but I am so glad that I did because Plakias is a special place and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.
This unassuming beach town on the south coast has a tight-knit community and a chilled vibe, making it the perfect spot to slow down your Crete travels and do some beach bumming for a bit.
I stayed at the hostel here and met so many people of all ages who had been coming to Plakias for years, and it was the most friendly and social place I stayed on my trip. We went out for group dinners, bar hopped, and hung out at the beach. If you are traveling solo and are looking to meet people – don’t miss Plakias!
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, and Preveli, a palm tree beach with a crystal clear river running into the ocean.
Places To Visit in Plakias: Visit the small beach just to the west of the main beach – it is much nicer than the main beach. If you have a car, go for dinner in Myrthios, a small village above Plakias which has fantastic views. Relax and enjoy the slow pace of life here.
Day Trips From Plakias: Rethymno, Preveli Beach, Kleidisi Beach, Spili
Plakias Accommodation Options
Budget: Youth Hostel Plakias, Elena Rooms
Mid-range: Horizon Beach Hotel, Afroditi Hotel, Paligremnos Studios
Luxury: Alianthos Garden, Belvedere Luxury Apartments & Spa, Thalassa House Apartments
Vacation Rentals: Three Bedroom Beach Apartment With Sea Views, Cozy One Bedroom Apartment, Villa Alkisti With Private Pool, Luxury Villa With Sea Views and Private Pool
Agios Nikolaos – A Lovely Seaside Town
I was going to stay in Agios Nikolaos but the one hostel here didn’t have much information about it online so I just visited on a day trip instead. Agios Nikolaos is a lovely seaside town that has just the right amount of tourism infrastructure while still feeling like a bit of a hidden gem.
As well as being the jumping-off point for boat tours to the former leper colony on Spinalonga Island, Agios Nikolaos has a lovely town center to explore and a scenic lake that feeds into the sea with numerous bars and restaurants clustered along its shores.
There are numerous beaches right in town with clear water and soft sand, and the waterfront is perfect for getting your steps in with a pathway stretching for miles around the coast. Look for the various sculptures dotted around the waterfront.
Places To Visit in Agios Nikolaos: Visit Lake Voulismeni which was believed to be a passage to communicate with evil spirits in ancient times, wander the waterfront path, go beach hopping, and check out the restaurants and stores in the town center.
Day Trips From Agios Nikolaos: Knossos Palace, Heraklion, Spinalonga Island, Chrissi Island
Agios Nikolaos Accommodation Options
Budget: Pension Mylos, Kalliopi Home Stay
Mid-range: Kitro Hotel, Creta Hotel, Palazzo Arhontiko Apartments
Luxury: Minos Beach Art Hotel, The Island Concept Luxury Beach Hotel, Wyndham Grand Crete Mirabello Bay
Vacation Rentals: Stylish Two Bedroom With Sea View, Sea View Two Bedroom Close to the Beach, City Center Apartment with Mirabello Bay View, Beach Studio with Ocean Views
Agia Roumeli – An Offbeat Best Place To Stay on Crete
I didn’t stay here myself, but I absolutely loved Agia Roumeli when I spent a few hours there at the end of my Samaria Gorge hike. This seaside town has an end of the world feel about it due to the fact there is no road that leads here – you have to catch a ferry or hike through the Samaria Gorge – and that is why I loved it.
If you are looking for a chilled beach town where you can get away from all the stresses of everyday life – then Agia Roumeli is a great option.
Places To Visit in Agia Roumeli: There isn’t a lot to do in this sleepy town and that is kind of the point. Hang out at the beach in town, hike some of the Samaria Gorge, hike to one of the smaller beaches along the coast, or snorkel around the rocks on the main beach. There is a small 19th-century Turkish fort that sits above the town that you can hike to as well.
Day Trips From Agia Roumeli: Samaria Gorge, Sfakia
Agia Roumeli Accommodation Options
Budget: Panorama Rooms, Tarra Guesthouse, Paralia Guest House
Mid-range: Sweet Corner Masxali, Calypso Hotel, Agia Roumeli Hotel
Vacation Rentals: Artemis Studios With Sea or Mountain Views, Giannis Studio Apartment Close to the Beach
These are my picks for where to stay in Crete but there are lots more options depending on what you are looking for. Do your research, decide what places you want to visit and the transport options, and go from there. But you can’t go wrong with any of the above best places to stay in Crete.
The Best Insurance for Your Crete Vacation
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. They even have COVID coverage.
Safety Wing also allows you to sign up when you are already traveling, unlike a lot of other travel insurance providers.
If you liked this post, check out some of my other Europe content:
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- The Most Beautiful Parks in London For a Winter Stroll
- What Life is Really Like on a Houseboat in London
- A Perfect Day Hiking the Amalfi Coast of Italy
- Things To Do in Richmond, London: A Quintessential English Village
- La Gomera: The Undiscovered Canary Island
- The Most Beautiful Towns in the Dordogne Region of France
Hadn’t thought of Crete for travel but I got your post in my in box and I’m intrigued. Lots of great practical information.
Thanks and safe travels,
That’s great Janet, it is a fantastic destination