Three days in Crete, itineraries with things to do based on your type of holiday
Are you finding it hard to plan an itinerary for 3 days in Crete?
Well, you are not the only one, especially considering this is the biggest Greek island, with over 8,000 square km of land.
I have been travelling to Crete and Greece for the last 20 years, I even lived there for a year. I just love it.
In this guide, I have organised plenty of tips to enjoy your stay in Crete, with a few itineraries for 3 days in Crete, you are either on a family trip, a romantic break away, a beach lover and so much more.
Now, without further ado let’s get into it
Table of Contents
- 1 Three days in Crete – in a nutshell
- 2 Three days in Crete for beaches
- 3 Three romantic days in Crete for couples
- 4 Three days in Crete for families
- 5 3 days in Crete for history and trekking
- 6 Three days to explore everything
Three days in Crete – in a nutshell
Let me be honest with you, as you can imagine with just three days you will not be able to explore the whole island.
In fact, I highly suggest focusing your attention and stay in the area around your airport of arrival.
Chania and Heraklion are the main entry point to Crete. Sitia has also a small airport with mainly national flights.
You can see in this video the key differences of both Chania and Heraklion
Being your time very restricted I also suggest planning the whole trip in advance, including accommodations and organized experiences, if any.
In this way, you will not waste time talking with the local agencies and you will not get disappointed because of booked out day-trips or events.
- 3 days in Crete for beaches: you have a couple of possibilities based on your entry point. The first one is to stay in Chania and from there organising day trips to some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe. Otherwise, if arriving in Heraklion, book your stay in Malia, with a lovely local beach and the possibility to explore Chrissi Island where you will find one of the most stunning beaches of Greece. Read more below on a 3 days beach itinerary in Crete
- Three days in Crete for couples: you have 3 romantic options, based again on which city you will land. The first one is to book in Chania itself, the second one is to stay in Sissi (east of Heraklion) and finally, the last possibility is to get a room in Rethimno, between the two major cities. Read more below on a full romantic itinerary
- For families: For a relaxed three days I would suggest staying in a town close to your airport of arrival and from there enjoy the local beaches and organise maybe a day trip. There are two great destinations for families close to Chania and Heraklion: Almyrida and Agios Nikolaos. Read more below on a family itinerary
- For history and trekking: the great thing about Crete is that you can find everything. If sunbathing is not your thing then you will be spoiled by the selection of great walks and historical sites to visit, including Knossos, the oldest city in Europe. In this case stay in Chania, Heraklion or plan a unique walking loop. Read more below for the history and trekking itinerary
- For a bit of everything: with these two itineraries you will be able to experience a bit of trekking, history and beaches too. Read below for more details
I love Chania, it has everything, from the lovely old town to local beaches as well as access to amazing and unique lagoons.
For a trip of three days in Crete, I would personally suggest flying to Chania, if you can, and go for one of the below itineraries.
Heraklion is more of a city, with almost no beaches but it has easy access to Knossos, the oldest European town listed also in the Unesco Historical Website.
You can read more on my full post about the difference between Chania and Heraklion, including a few tips on the airports.
You can also book a car for a day or two and explore beaches, lagoons or trekking sites on your own.
My go-to website for renting a car is DiscoverCars.com, it’s a comparison site where I usually get the most competitive price (read lowest)
The public bus network (KTEL) is also a good option to move around but it would take more time.
It’s perfect if you want to move between big centres as Chania, Rethimno, Heraklion or Agios Nikolaos are really well connected. Less so for the small towns
You can check the KTEL timetable here.
For every itinerary, I also suggest a few organised activities.
Most of them (if not all) have a free cancellation policy up to 24 hours in advance. I personally suggest to book and cancel later in case you have changed your mind. Keep in mind that the most popular experiences tend to be booked out well in advance.
Three days in Crete for beaches
The most famous and outstanding beaches in Crete, all rated in the top 10 of Greece, are:
Palm/Vai Beach is quite far from both Heraklion and Chania and I would not suggest visiting it on a 3-day trip unless you fly into the Sitia Airport.
Chania and the west
The west and south-west coast of Crete is really outstanding and it’s a pity that with just 3 days you will be limited in your choice (but I am sure you will commit for a second visit 😉 ).
Book your hotel in Chania Old Town and from there explore the beaches.
As I previously said, I highly suggest joining an organised trip for the peace of mind. It will also save you a ton of time.
- Day 1: Take a day trip to Elafonisi Beach in Kissamos, so amazing (you can check the organised trip here)
- Day 2: Take a day trip by boat to Balos Beach, another unique experience, you will fall in love for the blue lagoon (you can check the organised trip here)
- Day 3: Stay in Chania and enjoy one of the local beaches like the popular Chrissi Akti, the secluded Koum Kapi Beach or the child-friendly Paralia Nea Chora.
- Day 3 (alternative): if you still have some energy for another day trip then rent a car and to go to Preveli Beach (~1.5 hours), a lovely beach with a palm grove and a river
- Hotels: Kasteli Studios & Apartments (low budget), Casa Delfino Hotel (mid-budget), Semeli Studios (next to the beach, families).
- Tours: Day-trip to Elafonisi Beach, Boat tour to Balos Beach
Malia and the east
Malia is a small town 30 minutes east of the Heraklion Airport.
It is famous for its nightlife, however, book your hotel far from the main club street and you will have a peaceful stay.
The old town is so beautiful, with so much character, with many local tavernas to enjoy your dinner in the street.
The beach (around 1km from the old centre) is sandy and wide with many hotels and resorts to choose from.
- Day 1: Take a day tour to Chrissi Island to experience the unique Golden Beach, a real paradise (you can check the organised trip here)
- Day 2: Grab a public bus to Agios Nikolaos, explore the old town and enjoy the boutique beaches of Agios Nikolaos, Kitroplatia and Ammoudi.
- Day 3: Spend a day in Malia at the local beach. You can also grab a taxi or take a walk (~3km) to Potamos Beach, probably the best on this side of Crete, a real jewel.
- Day 3 (alternative): this could be also an alternative for day 2. Rent a car and drive down to Palm/Vai Beach. It is a 2 hours trip (one way), a tiring day, but you will be able to experience the only palm beach in Europe.
- Hotels: Silver Sun Studios & Apartments (low budget), Pyrgos Blue (mid-budget), Stella Family Apartments (Old Town, families)
- Tours: Chrissi Island and Golden Beach tour
You can see all these beaches in my video below, as well as other amazing places to visit
Three romantic days in Crete for couples
Crete can be such a romantic island. There are a few amazing spots to stay and explore that can totally blow your mind.
In this section, you will find 3 possible itineraries for three days in Crete
They are all amazing, and I personally do not have a favourite one.
This is the easiest option if you land at Chania airport.
- Day 1: Organise your boat for a day trip to Balos Beach. It’s not just the beach itself but the whole blue lagoon that will blow you away. Have a walk towards the top of the hill for an amazing view (you can check the organised trip here)
- Day 2: Take a public bus to Rethimno. The old town is to die for and the port area so romantic. Spend your time to explore every small lane and hidden corners. Relax in the afternoon at the local organised beach.
- Day 3: Spend the day in the old town of Chania and relax in the afternoon at the local Chrissi Akti Beach, Koum Kapi Beach or Paralia Nea Chora.
- Day 3 (alternative): For active couples plan a day of trekking at the Samaria Gorge (14km). Alternatively, join the Wine and Oil tour for a fun day discovering the local products and communities.
For dinner go to the pedestrian Chatzimichali Ntaliani lane, full of boutique restaurants with amazing food at night, but so quiet during the day.
From Sissi (east of Heraklion)
Sissi is one of the most romantic towns in Crete, a real boutique destination.
- Day 1: Enjoy the romantic town of Sissi and explore the local beaches. Alternatively, take a taxi or have a walk (4km) to Potamos Beach, such a lovely sandy one.
- Day 2: Organise a tour with bus and boat to Chrissi Island for a day of sunbathing in the amazing Golden Beach, a real paradise (you can check the organised trip here)
- Day 3: Just relax in Sissi and/or take a public bus to the lovely old town of Agios Nikolaos, a great spot also for dinner with two boutique beaches too
For lunch or dinner go to the Fish Restaurant Apostolos, in the small inlet, so romantic.
Rethimno is about 1.5-2 hours from both major airports, right in the middle.
It’s one of my favourite towns in Crete, with a lovely old town, a characteristic small harbour and the best food on the island (just my personal preference of course)
- Day 1: Wonder around town, so beautiful. Spend the afternoon at the local beach, not the best one in Crete but still a good sandy one.
- Day 2: Morning at the beach. In the afternoon take a public bus to Chania to explore the old town and have dinner there in the lovely Chatzimichali Ntaliani lane. If you want to make it a full-day trip you can also think to spend some time at Nea Chora Beach.
- Day 3: Experience the local way to cook in the interior of the island with Bygone Adventure (including a Cooking Class)
- Day 3 (alternative): rent a car and drive to the lovely Preveli Beach, located next to a monastery and a palm valley
For dinner go to the Emmanoil Vernardoy street, next to the Mosque, a pedestrian area with restaurants offering the most amazing Greek food with a twist.
- Hotels: Casa Delfino Hotel in Chania, Caramel Grecotel Boutique Resort in Rethymno, Castello Boutique Resort & Spa in Sissi
- Tours: Boat tour to Balos Beach, Trekking in Samaria Gorge, Local Wine and Oil Tour from Chania, Chrissi Island and Golden Beach tour, Bygone Adventure with Cooking Class
Three days in Crete for families
There are two great locations for families, around one hour from the airport: Almyrida and Agios Nikolaos.
From Almyrida (Chania)
Almyrida is a nice small quiet town which works great for a short family trip.
The beach is beautiful and ideal for kids, you will also be a short taxi ride to Chania Old Town for a much busier evening out with plenty of shopping possibilities and dining options.
If travelling with bigger kids, you may also think to organise a trekking day to the Samaria Gorge.
- Hotels: Almyrida Bay Hotel or check out the Almyrida section of my guide to where to stay in Crete
- Tours: Day-trip to Elafonisi Beach, Boat tour to Balos Beach, Trekking in Samaria Gorge
From Agios Nikolaos (Heraklion)
Agios Nikolaus is a lovely town full of character, just one hour east of the Heraklion Airport.
It has a small inlet that creates a tiny lake with a big square where usually they organise plenty of events during the summer months.
There are 3 boutique beaches in town or you can decide to take a day trip (bus + boat) to Chrissi island to experience one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe, Golden Beach
With bigger kids, you can also think to rent a car and have a day trip north to Elounda and the island of Spinalonga, with its Venetian fortress.
For active families, you could also think to trek into Richti Gorge down to the waterfall.
- Hotels: Candia Park Village or check out the Agios Nikolaos section of my guide to where to stay in Crete
- Tours: Chrissi Island and Golden Beach tour
3 days in Crete for history and trekking
Crete is arguably the most fantastic Greek island for both trekking and historical sites
I would personally highly suggest staying in Heraklion if you are super keen to experience the most important historical landmarks of the island.
Otherwise, you can organise a full loop itinerary with 3 days in Crete.
You can organise day trips to:
- Knossos, a Bronze Age archaeological site and Europe’s oldest city. Really something else. I highly suggest booking the skip-the-line ticket with a guide. It will save you plenty of time.
- Paliani monastery, founded in 668AD. You can also think to rent a car or a scooter and combine this visit with Knossos
- Mount Ida, the highest mountain on the island, a full-day trip
- Spinalonga, the Venetian fortress turned into a leper colony. Rent a car a make it a full day trip with a stop in Agios Nikolaos
- Richti Gorge, an awesome day trekking through a waterfall down to an isolated beach
- Hotels: Lato Boutique Hotel or check out the Heraklion section of my guide to where to stay in Crete
- Tours: Knossos skip-the-line with guide
The trekking loop
This is the most physically demanding of all the itineraries I have listed in this post.
You will change hotel every single night and you will take your backpack always with you
It is a DIY loop and you will use only the public busses and ferries. It starts from Chania
- Day 1: From Chania town take the early bus in the morning to the start of the Samaria Gorge. Trek down the 14km till the coastal town of Agia Roumeni where you can have lunch and enjoy the beach till the arrival of the ferry that will take you to the isolated coastal town of Loutro (reachable only by boat) where you will spend the night
- Day 2: After a healthy breakfast, pack up and trek to Hora Sfakion (~7km coastal walk) with a halfway beach stop at Glika Nera (sweet water) Beach where the freshwater from the underground mixes with the seawater. Spend the night in Hora Sfakion
- Day 3: Take the local early bus to the start of the Imbros Gorge (~8 km) where you will venture up till the town of Imbros. From there, catch a bus and make it back to Chania to spend the last night. Please note that usually this Gorge is done starting from Imbros down, however, in this case you better do it in a reverse way.
Three days to explore everything
In these two itineraries, you will explore a bit of everything, from beaches to historical sites.
If you can choose, try to stay in Chania where you will have easier access to beaches and you can visit Knossos on a day trip.
You will be able to organise day trips to:
- Elafonisi Beach (you can check the organised trip here)
- Balos Beach (you can check the organised trip here)
- Samaria Gorge (trekking, check out this organised trip)
- Agia Irini Gorge (trekking)
- Preveli Beach by car
- Local Wine and Oil Tour
- Rethimno for a nice and romantic evening out by public bus
- Knossos on a day trip (you can check the organised trip here)
In Heraklion, you will not have direct access to the beach but you will be a stone away from Knossos
You will be able to organise day trips to:
- Knossos (remember to buy the skip-the-line ticket with a guide)
- Paliani monastery, founded in 668AD
- Potamos Beach in Malia, a short bus ride from Heraklion
- Chrissi Island (check out this organised trip)
- Spinalonga, to visit the Venetian fortress on the remote island