Last updated on July 2, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, following extensive travelling in Crete

Heraklion or Chania – Which one is better

If you fly to Crete you will most likely land in the International Airport of Heraklion or Chania.

These are the two main cities of the island, but which one is a better place to stay?

I find it difficult to say if Heraklion or Chania is best for you, it really depends on the type of trip you are planning to have.

There are great things about both, but there are also things that would make you excluding straight away one of the two cities.

In this post, you will find a full Heraklion vs Chania comparison that will help you to select your destination.

And if you do not find your answer, do not hesitate to leave a comment. I usually reply in no time.

Sunset on Chania
Sunset on Chania

Heraklion or Chania – in a nutshell

I personally love both cities, although in a different way. 

Here below is a comparative table for a quick overview of the differences. But keep reading for more information.

Swipe left and right with the mobile. Click on the subject for a full description of the comparison

SubjectChania
(in summary)
Heraklion
(in summary)
My Favourite
For FamiliesIdeal for families with small kids, beach paradise.Better for families with older kids, shopping opportunities.Tie
BeachesHome to several local beaches, close to famous beaches.Lacks nice beaches in the city, car is required.Chania
For CouplesMore romantic, town feel, small lanes, hidden alleys.More bustling, lively nightlife, modern vibes.Chania
HoneymoonRomantic old town, picturesque harbour, beautiful beaches.Bustling city life, historical sites, wineries.
Chania
HistoryLess historical attractions compared to Heraklion.Home to Knossos, a Bronze Age archaeological site.Heraklion
TrekkingNear the famous Samaria Gorge, amazing walks.Some trekking around Mount Ida, the highest in Crete.Chania
WeatherMediterranean climate, hot summers, mild winters, less windy.Similar climate, slightly warmer summers, more ‘Meltemi’ winds.Chania
Restaurants and FoodEclectic eatery scene, wide variety of cuisines.Fantastic and affordable dining options, traditional Greek cuisine.Chania
CafesSeveral cafes with modern vibes and youthful energies.More cafes due to University city, nice music vibe.Heraklion
NightlifeGood nightlife scene, an international crowd.Unbeatable for partying, with lots of underground bars and clubs.Heraklion
3-days ItineraryOld Town, nearby beaches, Samaria Gorge hike.Archaeological museum, Palace of Knossos, vineyards in Peza region.Chania
ShoppingLess shopping opportunities compared to Heraklion.Extensive shopping opportunities in the pedestrian centre.Heraklion
CostLess touristy, and generally cheaper except in peak season.More expensive, but competitive in summer.Tie
ArchitectureBlend of Venetian, Ottoman, and Greek influences.Mix of contemporary and historical architecture.Chania
NatureMix of beautiful beaches, mountain ranges, and gorges.Impressive mountain landscapes lacks good beaches.Chania
SizeSmaller, more intimate and relaxed.Larger, busier and more bustling.Tie
Access to the IslandInternational airport and seaport, decent public transportation.More frequent flight and ferry connections, centrally located.Heraklion
Local Public TransportationEfficient local bus system, easy access to attractions.Better frequency and reach of bus services.Heraklion
Where to stayCasa Delfino Hotel
(more info on my guide to where to stay in Chania)
Lato Boutique Hotel
(more info on my guide to where to stay in Heraklion)
Heraklion or Chania – Which one is best

Here below I better explain a few more points. You can also jump to the first comparison point.

  • Is it better to fly into Heraklion or Chania? This really depends on your ultimate destination and the available flights that you have from your departure airport. Heraklion Airport is connected to more destinations, however, it tends to be very busy as well, especially for check-in. If you are thinking about an itinerary trip then I suggest flying into Heraklion and flying out from Chania, where check-in tends to be quicker and less chaotic. 
  • Chania or Heraklion for families: Chania is more organised for families with small kids. There is also a good local beach to spend some time playing with sandcastles beside the few parks and playgrounds. It’s more of a big town. Heraklion may work better with bigger kids because of the extensive shopping opportunities in the pedestrian centre. Read more on a family trip
  • Heraklion or Chania for beaches: Chania is the easy winner here. Chania has a nice local beach in the new part of town, walking distance from the old centre. Moreover, from Chania you can visit, with a rented vehicle or organised trip, two of the most beautiful beaches in Greece, Elafonissi Beach and Balos Beach. Read more on Chania and the beaches
  • Which one works best for couples: Chania is more romantic, you will have more of a town feel with plenty of small lanes and hidden alleys. The old town is a real maze
  • What is better for history: There is no doubt that Heraklion has more in this section. Heraklion is only 30minutes by bus and 15 minutes by taxi to Knossos, a Bronze Age archaeological site and Europe’s oldest city. Absolutely stunning. 
  • Chania vs Heraklion for trekking: Chania is located near the famous Samaria Gorge, an amazing 15km walk down to the beach of Agia Roumeli. It’s a popular walk and you will not be alone. For a more isolated experience try one of the other less known gorges, as Agia Irini Gorge. Heraklion has also some trekking around Mount Ida, which at 2,500m is the highest you can go in Crete. 
  • Chania or Heraklion for restaurants and food: There are great restaurants in both cities. I will add a few suggestions below. It’s really a hard call. I probably love more the environment in the Old Town of Chania, with small pedestrian lanes and restaurants all over that get populated later at night. Read more on restaurants in both cities
  • Chania or Heraklion for cafes: Another hard call. You can find great cafes in both destinations. I like Heraklion probably more because of the young crowd (this is a University city), with a nice music vibe too. Read more below for my favourite cafes.
  • Chania or Heraklion for nightlife: Chania has a good nightlife scene, however, Heraklion is unbeatable for partying. Being a university city, there are plenty of underground bars and clubs to discover and share with the local students. Read more about the nightlife
  • What about shopping: the shopping area of Heraklion is unbeatable. It’s a nice pedestrian area with plenty of shops of any type, always full. A real pleasure to walk around.
  • Is it cheaper to stay in Heraklion or Chania: Heraklion is probably cheaper, it’s less touristy than Chania. You will have more local prices, overall.
  • Where to stay in Chania and Heraklion: There are many options in both cities. Just avoid the few noisy streets if you want to have a quiet sleep. Read more below on the best places to stay
  • How easy is to move between the two: very easy. There are frequent busses between the two cities, it’s inexpensive and it takes less than 3 hours. You could even decide to split your holiday between the two cities so that you can experience the beaches and the charming Old Town of Chania and then move to Heraklion for Knossos and some underground nightlife. 
  • Is parking easier in Chania or Heraklion: it can be complicated in both cases. In Heraklion, I usually go to the City Center Parking. It’s not the cheapest option but it is perfect for a short stay, next to the shopping area and they park your car for you. Another good place is in this square. In Chania, the Ermis Parking is a safe spot to leave your car. It does not come cheap but they do a good job (you can even ask to clean it for you)
  • Overall, Is Chania or Heraklion nicer? the only thing I know is that it’s a hard choice. Heraklion has more of a city feeling and in this respect, I like it less than Chania. But it’s the perfect destination for a visit to Knossos and of course if you are flying to Heraklion airport.
  • Chania vs Heraklion vs Rethymno: things become even more complicated. Rethymno has the most lovely old town with, in my opinion, the best food on the island. However, the local beach is not the most amazing one and Chania is unbeatable for that. Heraklion is the best for Knossos accessibility and the local nightlife.

In this video, I go through the pros and cons of both cities with some footage of Chania, Heraklion and the area around

I have more videos on Crete in this dedicated YouTube playlist.

Chania or Heraklion for families

Heraklion

Heraklion is ideal for families with older kids.

You have a lot to explore in this historic gem from archeologic ruins like the Palace of Knossos to historical collections in the Museum of Crete.

The main pedestrian area is a heaven for shopping and a nice place to have a walk and wander around the old and new buildings

The children will also enjoy trips to the nearby waterparks like Bravo Water Park and Watercity Water Park.

Chania

Chania is a beautiful beach paradise that is ideal for families with younger kids with shallow and calm water.

Plan to visit the beautiful Municipal garden of Chania which makes for a wonderful family day out as you explore the town.

Chania is also a short drive away from the Limnoupolis Water Park which the kids will love.

Favourite

This is a tie and it really depends on the age of your kids. I personally prefer Chania, it’s more of a town than a city. The local beach is great and you can easily reach other gems in the west of the island.

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

Heraklion or Chania for beaches

Heraklion

If you are into beaches then Heraklion is not the place for you because basically there are no really nice beaches in the city. 

You will need to go to Ammoudara Beach or even better to Paleokastro Beach, however, you will have to rent a car or a scooter.

Chania

Chania is such a better option.

Chania is home to several local beaches, the most popular being Chrissi Akti.

It has beautiful calm waters and offers access to several beachside activities like volleyball and horse riding.

You also have other amazing options including the beautiful and secluded Koum Kapi Beach and the child-friendly Paralia Nea Chora Beach.

Chania is also strategically located for convenient day trips.

You can take advantage of the daily tours that will guide you to the famous beaches around, either by bus or by boat.

Elafonissi Beach in Kissamos is about an hour and a half away.

The crystal-clear water and lagoon-style beach definitely make it worth the trip.

Elafonissi is regularly rated as one of the best beaches in Greece

You could also plan a trip to Balos Beach for the turquoise water, clean white sand and awesome views of the lagoon. 

You can rent your car and drive there through the bumpy road for the best view from the top of the hill or just book an organised tour by boat.

You can also check out my 3 days itinerary to the beaches around Chania.

Favourite

Easy, the clear winner is Chania.

Balos Beach
Balos Beach

Chania Vs Heraklion For Couples

Chania

Chania, with its romantic Old Town and Venetian Harbour, is perfect for couples looking for a blend of history and charm.

Its cobbled streets are lined with quaint shops and cosy tavernas, ideal for leisurely exploration.

The local restaurants offer delicious Cretan cuisine, which you mustn’t miss out on – particularly the fresh seafood.

The night walks by the picturesque harbour, illuminated by the warm lights of the lighthouse, are simply breathtaking.

You should not miss out on the sunset view from the lighthouse, one of my best memories of Crete.

Heraklion

Heraklion, on the other hand, offers a bustling city life with its lively nightlife and modern vibes.

The city is abundant with lively bars, clubs, and restaurants, making it perfect for couples who enjoy active nightlife.

Exploring the city’s magnificent archaeological museum and visiting the famous Palace of Knossos are must-do activities.

Favourite

While both cities have their unique charm, Chania wins my heart for couples. The picturesque setting and the laid-back pace of life provide a romantic backdrop, ideal for couples to create unforgettable memories.

3-Day Itinerary for Chania and Heraklion

Chania

In Chania, start with exploring the Old Town and the Venetian Harbour on day one.

Day two can be for visiting some of the nearby beaches, like Balos or Elafonisi – both offer stunning landscapes.

For the final day, a trip to the nearby Samaria Gorge is recommended for nature lovers. It’s a lovely hike that will keep you busy the entire day.

You will experience amazing views and a fantastic beach at the end to have a swim. I loved also my late lunch in the town of Agia Roumeli, a little gem right at the end of the gorge, reachable only by boat.

Heraklion

In Heraklion, start your trip with a visit to the archaeological museum and the Palace of Knossos.

For the second day, a visit to the vineyards in the Peza region is highly recommended – the wine tasting was a highlight of my trip.

On the final day, explore the city’s vibrant markets and enjoy the city life, or take a quick trip to the nearby beaches.

Favourite

Chania, with its mix of beach, history, and nature, offers a more diverse 3-day itinerary, making it my favourite. The blend of activities caters to different interests, ensuring there’s something for everyone.

I wrote a full guide to 3 days in Crete with 5 types of trips that you should read for more ideas.

Is the Weather better in Chania or Heraklion?

Chania

Chania enjoys a typical Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters.

The summer months between June and August are great for beach activities, while spring and autumn are perfect for hiking and exploration.

Heraklion

Heraklion shares a similar climate, with a slightly warmer summer and cooler winter.

The city’s location on the northern coast makes it a bit more susceptible to the ‘Meltemi‘ winds (northerly winds) during summer.

Favourite

The weather in both cities is quite comparable, but Chania’s milder summers and less windy conditions make it my favourite, especially for those sensitive to high temperatures.

Chania or Heraklion for restaurants and food

Chania

Chania has a very eclectic eatery scene with everything from modern, high-end restaurants to old-school tavernas.

You have a wide variety of cuisines for you to explore.

For some Greek delicacies then Steki should do the trick while Μεσογειακό comes through beautifully for that Mediterranean cuisine craving.

Another great spot in the area is Fiali Wine and More for its unique Italian food.

Heraklion

Heraklion also has fantastic and incredibly affordable dining options for that fancy night out during your trip.

Avli tou Defkaliona is a great example of this. They offer high-quality food with décor that perfectly balances luxury and hominess.

If you want more of a taverna with traditional Greek cuisine, then Arismari Versamo is worth checking out.

Favourite

It’s a tough call. My personal choice goes to Chania, I loved so much the food in Chatzimichali Ntaliani

My favourite street for restaurants in Chania - Chatzimichali Ntaliani
My favourite street for dinner in Chania (almost empty during the day) – Chatzimichali Ntaliani

Chania or Heraklion for cafes

Chania

Chania has several cafes, most of which have very modern vibes and youthful energies.

One of the most popular includes Monogram known for its artisanal brews and modern twists on traditional café favourites.

The Blockchain Cafe Bar is also worth checking out for this same modern vibe.

If you want something more authentic to the region, the Kormaranos Bakery Cafe could be a nice escape in Chania.

Heraklion

Heraklion also has its fair share of picturesque cafes that are ideal for a quick bite as you explore the rest of the town.

Crop Cafe in the area is known for roasting its own coffee and for its fabulous snack menu.

You could also check out Estrella Heraklion with its modern vibes and make sure to try the tasty and colourful pancakes.

Favourite

Heraklion has a bit of a lead on cafes. After all, this is a University city, with plenty of cafes and restaurants made for them. Always great places to catch up.

Lovely cafes of Chania and Heraklion
Lovely cafes of Chania and Heraklion

Chania or Heraklion for nightlife

Chania

Chania is in a regional tourist hub and the international crowd dominating the night scene is the best example of this.

If you want to party with the wide variety of night owls, the town offers several nightspots.

If you want a chilled bar vibe, you check out Ammos and Ilios Beach Bar or Café Café Cocktail and Gin Bar which is about 20 minutes from the main town centre.

Heraklion

Heraklion, on the other hand, has more of a youthful crowd with most party-goers being students from the University of Crete.

One of the most popular spots in the area is Jailhouse Rock Bar where you get to party with the locals.

Stone Project Cocktail Bar is also worth checking out for the awesome music and unique cocktails.

Favourite

Heraklion is the winner in this section. It offers nightlife in both summer and winter, thanks to its young University population. There is always an open place to spend the night.

Nightlife in Heraklion
Nightlife in Heraklion

Where to stay in Heraklion and Chania

There are many options in both cities.

My important tip is to avoid booking in the restaurants and bar areas if you are planning for a quiet sleep.

It can be quite noisy in a few streets, especially in the old town of Chania.

Based on my multiple trips to the island I wrote an extensive guide to the best places to stay in Crete. Only lately I have decided to write more specifically about where to stay in Heraklion and where to stay in Chania, with a comparative table of the best areas and comprehensive maps.

If you are running out of time, have a check to below options:

Architecture in Heraklion and Chania

Chania

Chania’s architecture is a blend of Venetian, Ottoman, and Greek influences.

The city’s old town, with its Venetian mansions, narrow lanes and a lighthouse, gives it a distinctive character.

The Ottoman influences are visible in the mosques and traditional houses.

Heraklion

Heraklion, being a more modern city, has a mix of contemporary and historical architecture.

The city is famous for the ancient Palace of Knossos, which showcases Minoan architecture.

However, the cityscape is dominated by modern buildings, mostly made between the 60s and 70s with less of a design and more of a practical style

Favourite

My favourite for architecture has to be Chania, with its beautifully preserved Old Town that offers a journey back in time. The town’s Venetian influences give it a unique and enchanting character.

Nature in Chania and Heraklion

Chania

Chania offers an incredible mix of beautiful beaches, mountain ranges, and gorges.

The White Mountains or Lefka Ori and the Samaria Gorge offer breathtaking natural beauty and hiking opportunities.

The Balos Lagoon and Elafonisi Beach, with turquoise waters, are a paradise for beach lovers.

My personal favourite was the Samaria Gorge hike – a nature lover’s dream, offering striking landscapes and diverse flora and fauna.

Heraklion

Heraklion too boasts of natural beauty with impressive mountain landscapes.

You can find charming olive groves and vineyards in the countryside.

The city’s close proximity to the beautiful island of Dia, a protected nature reserve, adds to its natural allure.

It must be said, however, that Heraklion doesn’t have good beaches in the city.

Favourite

While both cities offer natural beauty, Chania, with its blend of mountains, gorges, and stunning beaches, is my favourite. The region provides a more diverse natural landscape and offers something for both mountain and beach lovers.

is Cheaper Chania or Heraklion?

Chania

Chania, being smaller and less touristy compared to Heraklion, tends to be cheaper in terms of accommodation and dining.

Of course, the prices depend a lot also on the season of your visit. July and August are the most expensive months.

Heraklion

Heraklion, as the capital and a major tourist hub, can be more expensive, particularly in the city centre and surely in winter.

In summer, Heraklion suffers from the competition of other towns and the major rival, Chania, and prices become very competitive.

Favourite

It’s a tie, with Chania being certainly cheaper for most of the year, but probably slightly more expensive in July and August.

Honeymoon in Chania Vs Heraklion

Chania

Chania, with its romantic old town, picturesque harbour, and beautiful beaches, is an excellent choice for a honeymoon.

There’s a great choice of luxury resorts and boutique hotels offering honeymoon packages.

My personal suggestion would be to book a resort close to the Old Harbour – the sunsets there are truly magical.

Heraklion

Heraklion, with its bustling city life, historical sites, and wineries, also makes for a unique honeymoon destination.

The city offers a range of luxury hotels with excellent services.

A must-try for newlyweds is a romantic wine-tasting tour in the Peza region.

Favourite

For a honeymoon, my favourite would be Chania. The atmosphere is so much more romantic. And if you still have some energy, you can always plan day trips to unique beaches and amazing gorges.

Size of Heraklion and Chania

Chania

Chania is smaller compared to Heraklion, making it feel more intimate and relaxed.

The city centre is walkable, and most attractions, shops, and restaurants are conveniently close to each other.

Walking around the old town and harbour area was an unforgettable experience for me.

Heraklion

Heraklion is the largest city on Crete and feels busier and more bustling.

There is more ground to cover and more variety in terms of neighbourhoods and attractions.

I found that the energy of Heraklion was quite infectious, and the city’s vibrancy really captivated me.

Favourite

This is another tie. I enjoy the buzz of Heraklion. There are so many things to do in both winter and summer. Chania, with its smaller size, has a more cosy and romantic feel, and you can navigate the city more comfortably on foot.

Easy Access to the Island

Chania

Chania has an international airport and a seaport, providing convenient access to other parts of Crete and Greece.

The public transportation system is also decent, with regular buses to major attractions.

I found it easy to plan day trips to places like Elafonisi Beach and Samaria Gorge.

Heraklion

Heraklion also has an international airport and a busy seaport with more frequent ferry connections to other Greek islands.

Flights to Heraklion tend to be cheaper than to Chania, but of course, it all depends on the time of the year.

The city is centrally located and it offers the central bus hub of the island.

Favourite

In terms of access, Heraklion is my favourite. Its central location and frequent ferry services provide more flexibility for exploring Crete and the rest of Greece.

Local Public Transportation in Chania and Heraklion

Chania

Chania’s local bus system is quite efficient, providing easy access to beaches, resorts, and other attractions.

The bus station is a short walk from the Old Town.

Around the bus station, you can also find many agencies to organise day trips to the major destinations.

Heraklion

Heraklion also has an efficient local bus system with frequent services to major attractions and other towns on the island.

Heraklion is the central hub for the Crete transportation system.

The Bus Station is not too far from the port, and a short walk from the town centre.

Additionally, being a larger city, there are more taxi and private transfer services available.

Favourite

Heraklion is my favourite here. The frequency and reach of its bus services are better, making it easier to get around the city and explore other parts of the island.

Book your rental car in Heraklion or Chania

There is not much of a difference.

You can even think of booking the car in one city and leave it to the other one, if you select one of the major rental companies. 

You can rent directly at a local agency or online.

I used to rent my car directly on site, but I noticed in the last few years that the rental companies are more often than not fully sold out with online bookings.

I now book only online to avoid disappointments. It turned out it is, in most cases, cheaper too.

I use a website called DiscoverCars.com that compares all the major players and a few local operators to give the best price for quality (read cheaper rent)

Check the car prices

The Gate
The Gate at 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.

18 thoughts on “Heraklion or Chania? The best (and the worst) of both”

  1. Both cities are very nice !! The port of Chania is more ”Italian”. The centre of Heraklion is more alive and better for young people

    Reply
  2. In my opinion, both Heraklion and Chania are fantastic choices for a vacation in 2023, offering unique charm and plenty of wonderful attractions to indulge in!

    Reply

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