Ultimate Crete itinerary based on your length of stay and type of experience
In this guide, you will find all you need to design your Crete itinerary with maps and day-by-day activities to experience the best beaches, trekking, local culture and food
This is a big island, with over 8,000 square km of land. You need 6 hours to drive from the west coast to the east coast. So easy to get lost in the multitude of attractions and destinations
I have been visiting Greece and Crete for the last 20 years on a regular basis, I even lived there for one year. So much fun.
In this post, I have organised a few possible itineraries based on the length of your stay and the things you want to do on your holiday, this could be sunbathing on the most amazing beaches of Crete, trekking a few of the longest gorges in Europe, visiting historical sites like Knossos (the oldest city in the continent), and so much more.
And if you still have a question, leave a comment (I usually reply in no time)
But now let’s get into the meaty stuff
Best Crete Itinerary – In a nutshell
Here down a few quick points, however, keep reading for more detailed information
- How many days in Crete: In two weeks you will have a good overview of the island. With one week you will be able to focus either on the west or the east of the island. In 5 days you can explore the top 3-4 attractions. With 3 days you can explore either Chania or Heraklion and the destinations nearby. This is the most common question I receive, by the way. My suggestion here is to stay at least one week in Crete, but obviously, everyone has their own time constraints.
- Best place to base yourself in Crete: it’s a big island and it all depends on what holiday you are planning to have. I have been asked multiple times where to stay in Crete, what town is best to book the hotel. I personally love Chania, Rethimno and Sitia but there are other beautiful towns and villages around as the secluded and romantic Loutro, reachable only by boat.
- Must-see 5 places in Crete: I will expand this section below but here shortly: Elafonisi Beach, Balos Beach, Samaria Gorge, Knossos and the old town of Chania or Rethimno. These places will give you a great overview of the island. Read more on my expanded unmissable destinations below
- Best 5 beaches in Crete: Elafonisi and Balos Beach in the west of the island, Golden Beach/Chrissi Island (closed in 2021 and 2022) and Vai/Palm Beach in the east, Preveli Beach in the centre south. Keep reading below for beaches and photos
- Itinerary in 3 days: being this island so big I would stay in the city of the airport you will arrive or a nearby location. If you can choose, Chania is a great base and from there you can explore places like Elafonisi and Balos Beach or the Samaria Gorge. There are however other options. Read below for more details on 3 days in Crete
- Itinerary in 5 days: with 5 days you can even think to split your holiday into two areas to see more of the island. The best would be to fly into Heraklion and fly out from Chania (these two cities are very well connected by public bus) if you are lucky enough to have flights to both cities. You can read all the options below in the 5 days sections
- Itinerary in one week: 7 days will give you enough time to see most of the best attractions. However, decide either to stay east or west of the island avoiding spending almost a day moving between the two sides of the island. You can also think to rent a car to make the most of it or visiting the secluded and romantic southwest coast, accessible only by boat. Read more below on my 7 days options below
- Itinerary in 2 weeks: this is the ideal time you want to spend in Crete if you desire to experience almost all of it. You can even think to spend a few days on the small Gavdos Island, the southernmost point of Europe and hippy heaven accessible by boat from the south coast of Crete. Read more below on a 2 weeks itinerary
Crete has a great public bus network (KTEL) that connects the major centres(Chania, Rethymno, Heraklion or Agios Nikolaos) with regular service.
The smaller destinations, as well as the beaches, are, however, not well connected.
In those cases, you can either rent a car or join one of the organised trips.
When I rent a car, I usually get the best price on DiscoverCars.com, a comparative website that provides the cheapest price and the best quality.
If travelling by bus, I suggest checking the bus timetable on the KTEL website and planning accordingly. Usually, buses are right on time.
If you are planning a trip to Crete you should download this Travel Guide to Crete with over 100 pages and 28 possible itineraries to suit any type of holiday. I am just launching it and I made it totally free to download for now, however, you can leave a small donation for my morning coffee 😉
Unmissable places to see in Crete
I have written a full guide to the best places to visit and experience in Crete, including some hidden gems and secret locations.
Here below is a map and the full list of attractions with a short description (for more photos you can check my full post).
I added a small star (*) for what I consider the “must-see” places.
Places close to Chania and Rethimno
- (*) Elafonisi Beach: this is the heaven of the west coast, with its turquoise water and pink beach. It is probably the most popular destination in Crete, truly unmissable, however, you will not be alone. Try to make it there with the earliest tour or by rented car
- (*) Balos Beach: this is also known as the blue lagoon, a must-have on anyone’s bucket list. You can reach it in two ways: with an organised tour by boat, my favourite way, or with a rented car through a bumpy road. The great thing about driving there is that the view from the parking area is just incredible (see photo below) but then you need to walk down/up quite a bit to actually enjoy the beach
- Preveli Beach: another amazing beach nestled between an inlet, a palm valley and a monastery. In most of Greece, Preveli should be a must-visit but in Crete, the competition of the other beaches is just too outstanding
- (*) Trekking in the Samaria Gorge: although it’s not the longest gorge in Europe (as sometimes wrongly advertised), still it’s an amazing 16km trek that will take you through an awesome National Park and Unesco World’s Biosphere Reserve.
- Trekking in the Agia Irini Gorge: the little sister of Samaria Gorge, equally beautiful but much shorter, around 8km. The great thing about Agia Irini is that it’s not that popular so you will share it with not as many people. It’s still a bit of a hidden place. If you are not too keen on trekking the Samaria Gorge because of the many organised trips going there then Agia Irini is the best place for you.
- Trekking in the Imbros Gorge: another beautiful trekking destination unknown to most. You will find it on the road to Hora Sfakion. It can be done also using public transportation that runs parallel to the gorge. The starting point is in the small village of Imbros
Places close to Heraklion
- (*) Knossos: the must-visit archeological site of Crete, considered to be the oldest city in Europe with the first houses built around 4,000 years ago. Knossos is also a Unesco site with minor works still ongoing. The visit can take anything from 1.5 hours to 3 hours. I personally suggest buying the skip-the-queue ticket in advance to avoid wasting time (queues can be long, unfortunately). These tickets also offer a local guide, essential if you want to go deeper into the history of this unique site.
- Paliani Monastery: built originally in 668 AD, it went through a few reconstructions and expansions. Today is still running based on the original layout designed around the over 1,000 years old myrtle tree.
- Trekking around Mount Ida: this is the highest mountain on the island with a peak of almost 2,500 m (just over 8,000 feet). It’s used by the locals in the winter season for skiing. You would need to rent a car for a visit and the trip is really outstanding with a great view too.
Places close to Hersonissos and Agios Nikolaos
- Spinalonga: this island has a long history. It was originally part of the mainland. The Venetians separated it after massive excavation work to create a unique defensive point. They consequently built a fortress and a castle. Over the years, Spinalonga went through different occupations to end up as a leper colony. You can today walk all around the island and through the partially intact fortress.
- (*) Chrissi Island: a real jewel with, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful beaches in Greece and possibly in Europe: Golden Beach. It’s still sort of unknown to the mass and not as popular as Elafonisi. You need a short boat trip to reach it and the whole trip can be tiring but absolutely so well worthwhile. Starting in 2022 the island has been closed to docking. This means that the boat will take you around 10-15 metres from the beach and you will have to swim the last part.
- Water and adventure parks: the whole coast around Hersonissos has a few water parks, wildlife and adventure parks that are so popular with children and families
Other hidden places
- The South-West coast: this is a small micro cosmo reachable only by boat. The small old fishing village of Loutro is the most beautiful and romantic of all, without roads and cars.
- Vai/Palm Beach: far from most of the destinations except Sitia, located at one of the eastmost points of the island and reachable through a winding road. This is the largest natural palm beach in Europe, a really unique experience.
- Trekking in the Richti Gorge: located between Agios Nikolaos and Sitia. You can park the car at the starting point, along the main road. The trekking will take you to a lovely waterfall and an isolated beach cove
For more details and possible organised tours on the above places and other secret corners, you should read this guide to the best attractions of Crete
You can see some of the unmissable places in my video below, including two little gems.
Itinerary in 3 days
This is a very short stay in Crete, an island with more than 8,000 square km.
I personally suggest staying in one destination and exploring the nearby attractions.
The best place to be based should be close to your airport of arrival, Chania or Heraklion.
Longer transfer from the airport would just take valuable time off your short break away.
Chania and Malia (east of Heraklion) are both great bases to visit at least 2 of the most beautiful beaches I listed above.
The small village of Sissi (1 hour from Heraklion airport) and the old Venetian centre of Rethimno are my choices for a romantic stay for couples
Almyrida and Agios Nikolaos, both one hour from the two airports, are ideal for families with children
This is a draft table for the 3 days Crete itinerary to explore the best beaches – sleeping in Chania (Casa Delfino Hotel)
|1||Day trip to Elafonisi Beach in Kissamos||A beautiful beach that’s worth a visit||Organised trip|
|2||Boat trip to Balos Beach||A unique experience with a stunning blue lagoon||Organised trip|
|3||Stay in Chania and visit local beaches||Options include Chrissi Akti, Koum Kapi Beach, and Paralia Nea Chora|
|3 (alternative)||Day trip to Preveli Beach||A lovely beach with a palm grove and a river, about 1.5 hours away by car||Rent a car|
For more information, I highly suggest reading this comprehensive post with day-by-day plans for 5 types of possible 3-day itineraries in Crete based on your kind of holiday (beaches, couples, families, history, trekking), including maps as well as photos.
Itinerary in 5 days
With 5 days in Crete, you can even think to build a small moving itinerary based on 2 towns from where to explore the nearby attractions.
However, for a more relaxing breakaway, stay in one location and enjoy a few day trips to your favourite attractions, including beaches, trekking and outstanding historical sites.
Chania is still one of my favourite towns to be based in, thanks to the lovely old town and the things to do around.
For beaches, besides Chania, I would suggest also Agios Nikolaos, another lovely town from where to plan your day trips to Chrissi Island and Vai/Palm Beach
For couples, why not plan an itinerary touching two towns in the secluded and romantic south-west coast, with Loutro (no roads no cars) the highlight of the trip
Almyrida is still my favourite place to be for families, even more with 5 days, enough time to relax at the local child-friendly beach and take a couple of day trips to explore the marvellous west side of Crete.
|1||Explore the old town and Koum Kapi Beach||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.||N/A|
|2||Boat trip to Balos Beach||A lovely boat trip to Balos Beach and the blue lagoon. It’s indeed a popular destination, however really unmissable.||Organised trip|
|3||Trekking to the Samaria Gorge or Wine and Oil tour||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.||Samaria Gorge, Wine and Oil Tour|
|4||Transfer to Rethimno and explore||Explore the old centre, experience the tiny lanes and the hidden corners and cafes, and 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.||N/A|
|5||Day trip to Preveli Beach||Rent a car and drive down to Preveli Beach (~1.5 hours), a lovely beach between palms next to a monastery.||Rent a car|
You should read this full guide to 5-day itineraries in Crete based on your kind of holiday (beaches, couples, families, history, trekking), including day-by-day plans with excursions, maps as well as photos.
Itinerary in 7 days
Having a week opens up a ton of possibilities
You can split your stay between the east and the west and see all of the most beautiful beaches of Crete, as an example.
You can also decide to take it in a more relaxing way, book your hotel in one town and explore all of the attractions nearby. In this case, Chania is still my favourite place to be.
For families, you can also book an all-inclusive week in Gouves, close to Heraklion and Hersonissos, a popular area for families with a few water parks as well as wildlife and adventure parks.
The isolated southwest coast is another area for a great Crete itinerary, that you can approach in a romantic way, by ferry boat, or in a more active one, trekking the gorges and along the coast.
This is a draft table for the 7 days Crete itinerary for a romantic time.
|1||Bus to Palaiochora||Take the bus to Palaiochora for the first two nights. This is a lovely small town with a very long local beach where you can spend the day. In the evening the town becomes a huge pedestrian area with a local market and restaurants in the street, so beautiful and romantic.|
|2||Rent a bike or walk to Gialiskari Beach||Rent a bike or have a walk to the secluded Gialiskari Beach (4km), a great secluded one with mostly local people.|
|3-4||Ferry to Agia Roumeli||Take the ferry to Agia Roumeli where you will stay for two nights. This town has no roads in/out, it’s connected only by ferry. It’s quite busy during the afternoon with tour groups ending the Samaria Gorge trek but once they leave you will share the village with mostly locals. There is a pebble beach with sunbeds and you can also have a walk to the most spectacular part of the Samaria Gorge: the Iron Gates.|
|5-6||Ferry to Loutro||Time to pack and take the ferry to Loutro, the most romantic and secluded village in Crete. It’s a small fishing village (although tourism is the major business in summer) reachable only by boat. Absolutely gorgeous. Once there have also the coastal walk to the Glyka Nera Beach (3km), where the freshwater coming from underground mixes with the seawater, pretty unique. The east side of this beach is dedicated to nudists. There is a cafe/restaurant on the west side.|
|7||Ferry to Hora Sfakion and bus to Chania||Take the morning ferry to Hora Sfakion and from there a bus to Chania (they are usually synchronised).|
The above week plan is just one of the 5 options I have included in this ultimate guide to one week in Crete where you can see day-by-day plans based on your type of holiday. It’s a great reference with maps and photos.
Itinerary in 2 weeks
Two weeks will give you enough time to explore the whole island, both the west and east side.
You will be able to see all the amazing beaches, visit every historical site, go for a day trekking in popular and secret gorges with waterfalls as well as experience the local life and ultimately also take some relaxing time.
Crete and Rethimno are my favourite towns on the west side of the island with a characteristic and busy old centre.
Agios Nikolaos and Sitia are instead my go-to places on the east side, with Sitia not as touristic as the others.
It would be a crime to write just a few lines about a 2 weeks Crete itinerary. It deserves so much more, also because we all like to live our holiday in a different way based on our passion, this could be sunbathing or trekking, to mention just two of them.
For this reason, I wrote a very comprehensive guide with maps and possible daily plans for 2 weeks itinerary in Crete. I have included 6 types of trips to cover all needs. For example, with the plan below you will cover the most beautiful beaches of the island.
|1||Arrival to Chania||Arrive in Chania and wander around town.|
|2||Day tour to Elafonisi Beach||Take a day tour to the beautiful Elafonisi Beach.|
|3-4||Enjoy the local beaches of Chania||Enjoy the local beaches of Chania, the most popular Chrissi Akti, the beautiful and secluded Koum Kapi Beach and the child-friendly Nea Chora Beach.|
|5||Day tour by boat to Balos Beach||Take a day tour by boat to the stunning Balos Beach.|
|6||Bus to Sitia||Take a bus to the characteristic town of Sitia.|
|7||Relax at Sitia Beach||Spend the day relaxing at the local beach of Sitia.|
|8||Drive to Vai Beach||Rent a car or a scooter and drive east to Vai Beach, the only palm beach in Europe.|
|9||Explore other beaches||Keep your vehicle and explore the other beaches around, such as Erimoupolis Beach, or the Kyriamaki Nature Park for more loneliness.|
|10||Bus to Agios Nikolaos||Take a bus to Agios Nikolaos and wander around town.|
|11||Enjoy the local beaches of Agios Nikolaos||Enjoy the local beaches of Agios Nikolaos, Kitroplatia or the more popular Ammoudi.|
|12||Trip to Spinalonga||Take a trip to Spinalonga, a tiny island full of history, with Venetian fortification all around used in a later stage also as a leper colony.|
|13||Day tour to Chrissi Island||Take a day tour to Chrissi Island for the amazing Golden Beach, a white and blue paradise.|
|14||Bus to the departure airport||Take a bus to your airport of departure (Chania or Heraklion).|
Is 3 days in Crete enough?
While 3 days allow you to see some highlights, you will miss out on some attractions due to the island’s size.
How many days is ideal for Crete?
The ideal number of days for Crete depends on your interests, but at least a week is highly recommended to explore the main attractions.
What are the must-see attractions in Crete?
Must-see attractions in Crete include the cities of Chania and Heraklion, the Samaria Gorge, the Palace of Knossos, and beaches like Elafonisi and Balos Lagoon.
What is the best way to get around Crete?
The best way to get around Crete is often by car, which allows you to explore at your own pace and reach remote areas. Public transportation is also available.
What is the best 7-day itinerary for Crete?
A 7-day itinerary could include exploring cities like Chania and Heraklion, visiting beaches, hiking the Samaria Gorge, and taking a boat trip to Balos Lagoon.
What can I see in Crete in 14 days?
In 14 days, you can thoroughly explore Crete’s cities, beaches, historical sites, and natural attractions, and even take day trips to nearby islands.