Last updated on January 18, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, following extensive travelling in Crete

Five days in Crete, itineraries for beaches, couples, families and more

With 5 days in Crete, you will be able to organise some interesting itineraries and experience some of the most beautiful beaches in Greece as well as unique trekking and historical sites.

But is it actually enough time to enjoy the whole island?

The quick answer is that to experience the whole of Crete you would need at least 2-3 weeks, this is one of the biggest islands in the Mediterranean sea.

In saying that, with 5 days in Crete, if you plan well in advance, you will be amazed by how many things you can do and how many places you can visit.

And this guide will help you to plan your itinerary, you are either looking for the ultimate beaches, a romantic trip, a family holiday or some trekking and historical sites.

But let’s get straight into it

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Heraklion main port
Heraklion main port

Five days in Crete – in a nutshell

The first thing to consider in your planning is where to stay in Crete for 5 days

I personally suggest either staying in a single place or changing 2 locations at the most.

In this way, you will limit the packing/unpacking process besides the check out/in, always quite time-consuming.

Crete has two major airports in Heraklion and Chania and a small one in Sitia, mostly used by national flights.

Below is a map of the island with the major towns and points of interest I am gonna introduce in this post.

Main destinations for 5 days in Crete
Main destinations for 5 days in Crete
  • 5 days in Crete for beaches: with 5 days you should focus either on the east or west of the island. One possibility is to be based in Chania, the other suggested solution is to book in Agios Nikolaos, just 45-60minutes east of Heraklion Airport. Read more below on a 5 days beach itinerary in Crete
  • Five days in Crete for couples: In this case, I would suggest building an itinerary on 2 locations, either exploring the isolated and secluded south coast or staying in the characteristic north coast. Read more below on a full romantic itinerary
  • For families: For a quality break with the family I would suggest basing yourself in one location only and Almyrida would be just perfect for that. From there you can also organise a few amazing day trips with your little ones. Read more below on a family itinerary
  • For history and trekking: Rethimno is the best base from where to plan your trekking and historical site explorations, besides having one of the most beautiful old centres. Read more below for the history and trekking itinerary
  • For a bit of everything: Stay in Chania to experience a bit of everything, from beaches to amazing trekking sites. Read below for more details

If you are thinking to rent a car I highly suggest checking out DiscoverCars.com, a website that compares all the rental companies to provide the most competitive price (read lowest)

Check the car prices

I also suggest using the public bus network (KTEL) to move between the biggest centres like Chania, Rethimno, Heraklion or Agios Nikolaos. Very efficient

However, the runs are not as frequent to smaller towns.  

You can check the KTEL timetable here.

I would not suggest a trip to Gavdos Island unless you have at least 10-14 days in Crete (it’s a long boat trip)

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 booking and cancelling later in case you have changed your mind. Keep in mind that the most popular experiences tend to be booked out well in advance.

Five days in Crete for beaches

Crete has 4 of the top 10 beaches in Greece, 4 paradises that you should not miss out:

They are all reachable by day trips with either a bus, a rented car or by boat.

Palm/Vai Beach is probably the hardest to get to unless you stay in Sitia, the major centre east of the island.

Five days in Crete for beaches
Five days in Crete for beaches

Chania and the west

Chania is one of my favourite towns in Crete.

Two main reasons: the lovely old town full of character and the proximity to amazing beaches.

For this 5-days in Crete itinerary, I suggest booking your accommodation in Chania itself and exploring from there.

Resources:

You can see all these beaches in my video below, as well as other amazing destinations

Agios Nikolaos and the west

Agios Nikolaos is a lovely town just 60 minutes from Heraklion Airport and it’s a very handy destination if you fly there

I usually suggest Agios Nikolaos to explore the beautiful beaches of the east coast.

This is a lovely town full of character with a small inlet and a square around it, very busy during the summer months.

  • Day 1: stay local, explore the old town and the local boutique beaches: Kitroplatia and Ammoudi.
  • Day 2: time to explore the most beautiful beach in Crete, in my opinion: Golden Beach on the tiny Chrissi Island, a paradise of turquoise water and white/brown sand (you can check the organised trip here)
  • Day 3: another day in paradise, on the biggest palm beach in Europe: Palm/Vai Beach. You can either drive your rented vehicle or take an organised trip for peace of mind.
  • Day 4: take a local bus for Malia to spend the day in Potamos Beach, one of the best on this side of Crete.
  • Day 5: either stay local or grab a bus for Voulisma beach, a small boutique sandy beach with crystal clear water 10-15 minutes from town.

Resources:

Chrissi Beach, south of Crete
Golden Beach in Chrissi Island, south of Crete

Five romantic days in Crete for couples

For a romantic stay, I would personally suggest staying in the west of the island.

Five romantic days in Crete for couples
Five romantic days in Crete for couples

I hereby list a couple of itineraries, both amazingly superb, however slightly different in charm and seclusion

Chania – Rethymno (charm and character)

Start your trip in Chania

  • Day 1: take an easy day exploring the old town and the characteristic port area. After lunch head to Koum Kapi Beach, the most secluded beach in town. 
  • Day 2: time for a lovely boat trip to Balos Beach and the blue lagoon. It’s indeed a popular destination, however really unmissable (you can check the organised trip here)
  • Day 3: if you are an active couple you may want to experience the 14km trekking to the Samaria Gorge. Alternatively, for a more relaxed day, I suggest joining the Wine and Oil tour for a fun time tasting local wine and discovering local products.
  • Day 4: Transfer to Rethimno. Explore the old centre, experience the tiny lanes and the hidden corners and cafes, walk along the charming old harbour. You may also relax at the local beach. In the evening, it’s time to check out the fabulous restaurants and characteristic bars. 
  • Day 5: Rent a car and drive down to Preveli Beach (~1.5 hours), a lovely beach between palms next to a monastery.

For dinner in Chania go to the pedestrian Chatzimichali Ntaliani lane, the lights of the night make this area so magical.

For dinner in Rethymno go to the Emmanoil Vernardoy street, behind the Mosque, where you will be able to taste, in my opinion, the best food of Crete, traditional Greek with a twist.

Resources:

My favourite street for restaurants in Chania - Chatzimichali Ntaliani
My favourite street for restaurants in Chania – Chatzimichali Ntaliani – quiet in the day, so busy in the evening

South-West Coast (seclusion and idyllic)

This is a part of Crete that may be not as popular however it’s so astounding.

So why is it off the main radar?

Because part of it is actually quite isolated and reachable only by ferry and there are no roads arriving in town. 

So, most definitely, you will have a secluded and romantic stay, if this is what you are looking for.

The starting point is from Chania, however, you could do it even if you arrive at Heraklion Airport.

  • Day 1: Take the bus to Palaiochora where you will spend 2 nights. This is a lovely small town that closes its main street in the evening creating a huge pedestrian area with a small market and restaurants in the street. Enjoy the long and wide local beach in the afternoon and get ready for a romantic night.
  • Day 2: Rent a bike or have a walk to the secluded Gialiskari Beach (4km), such an amazing spot. 
  • Day 2 (alternative): for the active couples, get a ferry ride to Agia Roumeli and, from there, have a walk inside the Samaria Gorge to the Iron Gates, so spectacular
  • Day 3: Time to pack, take a ferry and go to Loutro, the most romantic and secluded village in Crete. This is a small harbour settlement with no roads and therefore no cars. SO romantic at night. Spend the day at the local beach and enjoy the time passing by.
  • Day 4: Time for a walk to Glyka Nera Beach (3km one way). This is a really unique beach with fresh water coming from underground and creating paddles along the beach. Part of it is a nudist beach. A bar/restaurant is at the start of the beach for lunch and snacks.
  • Day 5: Take the morning ferry to Hora Sfakion and from there a bus to Chania (they are usually synchronised). Spend the night in Chania.

Once again, in Chania, you should have dinner in the Chatzimichali Ntaliani lane, with plenty of boutique restaurants on the street.

Resources:

Five days in Crete for families

Almyrida is one of the best places for families in Crete. You will have a calm family-friendly beach, in a quiet village, just the right size.

Five days in Crete for families
Five days in Crete for families

You can enjoy your time in town and you can also organise fun day trips as:

  • a boat trip to the blue lagoon at Balos Beach
  • a bus trip to the kids-friendly Elafinisi Beach.
  • rent a car and explore the peninsula north of Chora with a must-stop at the family-friendly Kalathas beach
  • with bigger kids, why not organise a trekking day to the Samaria Gorge.
  • (half)day trip to Chania, a popular option for shopping. Visit the child-friendly Paralia Nea Chora for a swim
  • late afternoon to Rethimno, for the lovely charming historical town centre

Resources:

5 days in Crete for history and trekking

Crete is a real heaven for both trekking and historical sites, with Knossos the most famous of all

5 days in Crete for history and trekking
5 days in Crete for history and trekking

Rethimno has an amazing old town, so charming. Moreover, it’s central to both historical sites and trekking destinations

For the best dinner in Rethymno go to one of the boutique restaurants on Emmanoil Vernardoy street, famous for their traditional Greek cuisine with a twist.

Resources:

Knossos, Europe's oldest city
Knossos, Europe’s oldest city
 

For a full-on trekking experience, you can also plan a DIY loop from Chania, through the Samaria Gorge, a coastal walk and back from the Imbros Gorge.

That will take 5 days with a couple of nights break.

You can read more about it on the trekking loop description here. It’s for three days but you can easily extend it to five.

Five days to explore everything

The best base to explore a bit of everything is Chania.

True, you will not see the destination on the east side of the island, however, being Crete so big and having only 5 days means that you need to give up on something.

Five days to explore everything
Five days to explore everything

Book your accommodation in Chania, and from there either rent a car or join the organised tour for the preferred destination:

I would personally not suggest travelling to Chrissi Island from Chania. True, it’s so beautiful but from Chania, you would spend more time travelling than actually enjoying the place.

Resources:

Trekking in the Samaria Gorge
Trekking in the Samaria Gorge
Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

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