Last updated on January 23rd, 2019 at 09:09 pm
I lived in Greece for a while, I have explored most of the mainland and almost all the islands however I was missing one important part, Crete.
I think I was a bit intimidated by the size and I always postponed the trip till I had more time, till I could spend few weeks. The first question I asked myself was where to stay in Crete. And what hotel to choose
I usually like to have a place to stay in a town or city and explore the area from there, however, this island is so big that this would not have been an option. I eventually decided to spend my time in a gipsy style and keep moving with only a few long stops. I booked my rooms in Crete, and the amazing journey started
I have enjoyed Crete so much that since my first long trip I keep going back for shorter stays, however more stable ones 🙂 and now in 2019 I am planning my next trip
This island has really all you need for with some great places to get lost, as the amazing Rethymnon Old Town.
Majestic beaches, unique mountains and gorges for some interesting trekking, isolated villages connected only by ferry, amazing Cretan cuisine, awesome resorts and so much more.
The fact that many politicians, including Prime Ministers, are originally from this island has helped in building a unique public infrastructure of impeccable roads and efficient bus transportation without equals in Greece.
Ok, I get this question many times:
What area would you stay in Crete, or what town? What are the great places or beaches to be around?
There is no magical answer.
I have tried to organise the places based on the type of holiday:
And if you wonder what is the best accommodation in Crete, I am really sorry to say there are a few 🙂 all based on your style of vacation and the points of interest (history, beach, trekking) you have in mind.
If you have just 3 minutes spare and you want only the names of the most beautiful accommodations in Crete, the ones that will stay in your memory for a long while, then check the hotels and resorts below. My suggestion here is to book it, if you find a spot, because these are popular places, especially in high season.
These resorts are all a great value for money and they spread through a different budget
Now, if you can spare another 7 minutes you may read more about all the great areas of Crete, places to see around, beaches and much more.
Do not forget to save, or print, the map at the end of the post for future reference. Plenty of information on all you need for a memorable stay.
If you fly to Crete you will either land in Heraklion or Chania.
Few questions I have heard and received many times:
I personally love both cities, although in a different way.
Heraklion is more of a city, however on a small scale.
It’s actually a university city with a great young generation around which makes it great for bars and nightlife.
There are 2 main streets with lots of shopping possibilities, you can easily spend a few days here without getting bored.
There is also another good reason to spend at least a couple of nights in Heraklion, the most famous of all the points of interest in Crete: Knossos, a must for any trip in the island.
You have public buses leaving Heraklion for Knossos, very easy to organise. It will take around 15 minutes by car, it’s only 6km from the city centre, and around 30 minutes by public transportation.
Lots of nice restaurants in the city. My favourite is still Avli tou Defkaliona, walking distance from the city centre. My only problem here is that I eat too much!
Not to be missed is also the CROP – Roastery • Brewery, best coffee in the city and great beer too in a lovely square, popular with students.
It has to be said that there are basically no beaches in or around the city and this is the limit of Heraklion I believe. You would need to take the bus to Paleokastrou beach, a great spot well worth the 15km trip.
I suggest a couple of activities from Heraklion:
Chania has more character with the awesome old city centre, it has lots of bars and restaurants, amazing old/ancient buildings, just more attractive. It is however more touristy, there are many available hotel rooms, it is not as original as Heraklion, and this is probably the biggest difference.
It has a nice beach too, on a short walk from the city centre. It has really all you need for a much longer stay.
From Chania, you can venture to some of the spectacular sites in the island. The Samaria Gorge should be on top of the list. Easy trekking through a fantastic canyon. This tour has a great price.
Also, spare some time for the beautiful and unique Elafonissi beach and Balos Beach, described in this guide to the South of Crete.
I recommend the Fiali wine & more for an Italian dinner, in case you need a day off from the fantastic Cretan food. The whole area around the Minares Achmet Aga has some amazing nice eateries, popular with the local young generation, just one after the other one, difficult to select one or the other, just taste them all.
If you have one week and you want to stay in only these two cities I would probably book 2/3 nights in Heraklion (to explore Knossos and the city) and 5 nights in Chania.
It’s very easy to go from one city to the other using the public bus transportation. You can check the KTEL timetable here.
You can also rent a car, however, keep in mind that you may experience problems with the parking, very limited in both cities. If you can drive a scooter it’s a much easier option, but only locally.
Great accommodation in Chania and Heraklion
Chania is a beautiful and busy place to stay for couples. However, it may be not Crete’s best if you after a quiet time
If you prefer to be more isolated, have more of a romantic escape, then these 4 lovely towns/villages should not be missed
How lovely is the unpretentious Sissi. You can always miss it out when you drive from Heraklion, direction east…..but you shouldn’t.
Indeed, because this is one of the most romantic spots on the island with a natural inlet covered by palm trees.
The small port is what you probably expect, or look for, in Greece on a trip with your partner.
This was the port used during the Cretan revolution to unload the weapons but long gone is the fight time. Now Sissi is really a small peaceful village that comes alive in the night with just a few local restaurants and bars.
For some swimming, you can visit Boufos Beach, probably not the most popular beach in Crete, however great for some relaxing time
The most amazing restaurant is not actually at the pier. It’s 15 minutes walk from the town to Neromilos taverna. Not to be missed!
If you are after fresh fish just visit one of the many taverns at the pier. They can actually be quite busy with Greeks from Heraklion that drive here for the best fish in the island, so it is said at least but I can’t imagine not being great in other villages too LOL
The hotels are all around in Sissi, there are a few options, from budget to boutique.
Sissi is certainly one of the most picturesque sites in Crete and if you are after a bit of nightlife you can always take a taxi to Malia, so close, just 10 minutes by car, however so distant with the many night bars open till late.
For a great experience when travelling as a couple I suggest the Castello Boutique Resort & Spa. It is an adult only accommodation which means you can be sure you will have a tranquil time, especially in the pool area. Great service and a wide choice at the buffet breakfast make this place a must stay in Sissi.
Paleochora used to be the hippy town of Crete many years ago, in the 70s.
It’s not anymore, however it still keeps that slow pace. I arrived there with the bus (easy trip from Chania). The station and the main street were like a desert late in the morning.
I had a walk around, I found my accommodation (there are a few hotel rooms options around), I had a little nap and I was ready for the “party”, a Nescafe at the main beach. Not much happening really but still quite a romantic town, especially after sunset with all the characteristic restaurants and bars around the end of the main street (closed to traffic at night).
There is a great long beach in the small bay with the wind coming up after lunch.
Relaxation is really the word that comes to my mind when describing Paleochora.
One of my favourite restaurant here is the Oyzepi Restaurant. The Oyzeri is usually a place where you drink Oyzo (a Greek aperitif) and eat some sort of Greek tapas, however here they have added also some typical mains. Loved it.
Remember to have a walk to the castle for the beautiful view.
From Paleochora you can take the ferry to the villages on the south coast, mostly isolated and with no land access. Really a romantic trip. Have a look to the guide to the south coast of Crete for more information.
The Aris Hotel in Paleochora is one of the best options in town. The first thing to impress you will be the luscious garden, then the interior design and finally the great service. The location is a stone away from the restaurant area but still secluded enough to have a quiet time.
Maleme is the perfect spot if you want to have a relaxed time, close to the beach, very quiet but still a great base to visit the nearby tourist destinations.
The town is only 16km from Chania, which makes it great for a late afternoon visit followed by a dinner there
A tour to Elafonisi beach and Balos beach, probably two of the best beaches of Crete, is around 50km one way, or about one and half hour.
And if you are after an active day you can always take a detour at the Samaras Gorge, around 1 hour away. This is the experience I would suggest to everyone, however, take some good shoes with you, not the flip flops like I did!! I know I am a bit of an idiot LOL
And, once back in Maleme. it’s relaxing time in one of the many resorts
The beach is long and nice, with few organised spots usually connected to either a cafe or a restaurant
Sitia is a 3 hours bus drive east of Heraklion. It is indeed a long trip however you will be rewarded by a lovely sleepy town that wakes up when the ferry arrives in town.
Sitia has, in fact, a port where ferries connect to Athens or other islands, so if you are into an island hopping experience you will probably end up here, which is great.
The promenade is a fantastic spot for a night walk after the usual amazing dinner at one of the many local restaurants.
There is also a town beach, on the right side, quite a long one actually, with few organised spots connected to the cafes and/or restaurants.
This side of Crete can be quite hot in summer which explains the landscape around the town. Isolated as in a desert. I suggest grabbing a scooter to explore the surrounding, really interesting.
Consider a day trip to Vai Beach with the amazing blue water, green palms and brownish sand. Great contrast of colours.
I would suggest Sitia also to families with kids, so easy to enjoy the beach and have a relaxed time.
A great spot to stay in town is the Sitia Beach City Resort & Spa Hotel. This is a nice simple hotel at a great price. It’s perfect for both couples and families as some units offer split-level bedrooms. The provided breakfast will make a great start of the day. I personally suggest going for just Bed & Breakfast instead of the full board. In this way, you can explore other restaurants in this tiny town. Location is just in front of the beach 😉
Heraklion is probably not one of the great places to stay in Crete for families. There are no beaches and consistent city traffic.
Chania is instead much better, with a nice beach too.
In saying that there are other towns and villages that are probably more suitable for a family-oriented holiday
I just love Agios Nikolaus. Nice town on the water with a natural inlet, that creates a small lake, and a small square where Greek performances are usually organised in the nights, mostly during the high season.
The bus station is a long walk from the town centre. I would suggest a taxi driver for the last leg to the hotel, especially if you are with kids.
It’s a great town to have your dinner and go for a walk along the 2 pedestrian streets interconnected by another square.
There are two small beaches, the first one called Kitroplateia Beach, right in the heart of Agios Nikolaos, and Ammos Beach on the southern side of town. They are both enough for a short stay.
If staying longer I would probably suggest to rent a car and explore the surrounding, including a visit to the Fortress Spinalonga, a small island with a long history, as a Venetian fortress, a refuge for the rebels and, more recently, a place of exile for lepers. It is now one of the major attractions of the Crete.
If driving the own car, head to Plaka and catch a local boat. They run quite frequently. Very easy and inexpensive. If you prefer an all organised local excursion ask your hotel/resort, there are a few around.
The Candia Park Village is a superb Hotel to stay with families. Why? Because it has even a kids pool, a kids club and a playground beside the adults swimming pool so that you can switch between some busy time and relaxed moments. The architecture of the units is very Cretan style and the location is both quiet and close to the main happening areas. Great swimming pool and right in front of the beach. Sometimes you can find amazing deals in this place, just try to book well in advance if you can 😉
From Agios Nikolaos I suggest a visit to the uninhabited island of Chrissi, with crystal clear water. It is said that on clear days you can see the African continent (I didn’t and it was a spectacular day).
In saying that, it’s really an amazing trip, Chrissi island is so beautiful. This tour has a bargain price. Book well in advance to avoid disappointments, especially in high season. The tour actually starts in Heraklion and picks up customer along the route. Being in Agios Nikolaos, last station, you will spend the least time on the bus and the most on the island, which is great.
This is the place to come if you are after a beach holiday. There are so many around to choose from. Just keep in mind that they mostly face the north and they can get a bit wavy in the afternoon.
There are however a few beaches covered by the breakwater that keep the area as a natural pool, Marina Beach and the ones around the port are the most popular ones.
Gouves is not actually the name of a town, in fact, if you search it on Google Map you will be redirected to an inland area. It’s the name of a district made of Kato and Pano Gouves, lower and upper Gouves. Two towns slowly created with the tourism, made mostly of hotels and restaurants.
It’s an easy spot for the family with kids as you will have all you need on a walking distance.
You can, however, drive from there to Knossos for a cultural day.
For more fun, you can take your kids to the Anopolis Water Park or the Aquaworld Aquarium & Reptile Rescue Centre in Hersonissos. Plenty of option for a crazy day.
Another activity is a visit to the local Crete Aquarium, a great display of the Mediterranean sea life.
In Gouves you find also one of the most beautiful and best-rated accommodations in Crete, the Amirandes Grecotel Exclusive Resort. This is a resort dedicated really to all ages. They have a beautiful infinity pool with view to the sea, private beach with lots of gazebos for the guests, food to die for and lots of attention for anything you need.
Almyrida is another town that expanded in the late few years, thanks to the tourism influx.
In saying that, it is still really a quiet area with 2 nice front beaches. They both face north and they can get some waves and wind in the afternoon. If this is the case you should move on the east side where it gets covered by the little pier.
It’s so close to Chania, less than 20Km, that it makes it a convenient day trip.
Again, a nice family town with all you need at walking distance and few local trips that you can organise with one of the agencies around.
The beaches are all organised, with sunbeds and umbrellas for a relaxing time.
Malia is all you about late night, it is synonymous with extreme nightlife in Crete.
Explore this area in the morning and you think that there is no tourism at all and all the hotels around are struggling to find customers. Stay till the evening and suddenly it gets populated with a young crowd that leave the hotel rooms to start the night.
It’s more of a British enclave with the many Irish and English pub along Beach Road (which is not the real name, however, everyone knows it that way).
It’s party till the early part of the morning in the many nightclubs
The beach is fine and tends to be empty until mid-afternoon.
For more peace head to the old town, inland, still with lots of character packed in the small lanes and typical restaurants.
If you are after a nightlife holiday, then don’t look any further….well maybe check out Hersonissos 😉
Hersonissos is the biggest resort area in Crete. The old part of town is really small and till the 60s it was just few houses around the harbour.
It all expanded with the arrival of the mass tourism that now monopolises this area of Crete.
The town is more dedicated to a young crowd with lots of bars and a long nightlife till the early hours of the morning and this respect it is probably Crete’s best
If in Malia tourism is mostly British, in Hersonissos you will find more of an international crowd.
From here you can organise tours in one of the many agencies. Knossos is probably the most famous spot to visit
Remember also a visit to the famous Aquaworld Aquarium & Reptile Rescue Centre, especially if you have kids with you.
In Anissaras, a beach area close to Hersonissos, you will find one of the best resorts in Crete, the EAldemar Royal Mare Thalasso Resort. The hotel is based on multiple small villas and apartments around a lagoon of swimming pools. The hardest decision is if you want to either spend the day at one of the several pools or at the private beach just in front of the resort, with a stop-by at the gym of course 🙂
If you are after a bit of everything I would consider Chania as one of the alternatives. Heraklio is also a good starting point, except there is no beach.
These are other towns that I would suggest, with Rethymnon probably my favourite, especially for the amazing food, unique in Crete
Rethymnon is more of a city town than a village. It actually offers everything you want, for either a family vacation, a couple stay or more of a nightlife experience.
The Rethymnon Old Town is just magnificent and mostly off-limits to the traffic which makes it a really nice place to have a walk around both during the day and in the evening.
The beach is a long stretch of sand on the east side of town. It is not my favourite spot for swimming as it tends to be quite busy and the beach itself is very narrow, just the space for a few sunbeds from the promenade, not ideal for kids however good for a relaxing day after a long night out
The modern part of town is not really inspiring and mostly based on buildings.
From Rethymnon you can easily visit the Samaria Gorge, the most spectacular and easy to access trekking in Crete.Book this tour for a great price.
The Greek cuisine here is just fabulous. Many restaurants have added that little twist that takes the usual expected dishes to the next level with the addition of honey and spices. Rethymnon is my favourite place in Crete for food.
Restaurants are mostly located in the old town. I love To Rakodikeio. It’s all so amazing that is hard to suggest any dish. It’s also in a nice spot, facing the Neratze Mosque and next to Mikrasiaton Square.
Nightlife is big in town. You can start for a few drinks and mezedes (small tapas version food) in one of the few bars at the Arkadiu and from there move to the Old Harbour for dinner. Walk around the corner to Venizelou road (Eleytheriou Venizelou) for one of the many bars to start your night.
The Caramel Grecotel Boutique Resort is one of the better rated, year over year, accommodation in the island. It’s just a 5 minutes taxi ride to Rethymnon, its shopping, its old town and the nightlife of course.
It has been built with the Greek feeling in mind. Small white villas with a beautiful green garden around, some with a view to the Mediterranean sea, gazebos placed randomly on the private beach for a freedom feeling, great interior design with lovely Greek tiles. A gym, a pool and a breakfast to die for.
Elounda is the luxury destination of Crete with the highest concentration of 5-stars hotel in the island. This is where you will find Crete’s best resorts
It has been a long favourite of many Greek politicians, music stars and Russian tycoons. And this is no wonder, being the area so beautiful.
It is situated in a natural bay with amazing water and limited wind, being the town covered by the hills all around.
But it’s not only luxury, in fact, you can find accommodation at a similar price as in other parts of the island.
A must attraction close to Elounda is Spinalonga, the island where the Venetians built a fortress that lately was used as an exile for lepers.
There are two small beaches, on the north and south end of town. But not really the reason to come here. It’s more about the beauty of the area and possibly of the resort you will stay.
Georgioupolis is a bit of a sleepy town, however with few options also for the nightlife that would make happy the young crowd a well.
The village is organised around the antique square that gives a lot of Greek character to the town, with some nice tavernas and bars/cafes
The beach is a long one that starts on the narrow side, in the town, but it gets much wider once you walk few hundred meters away from the centre.
If you are there with kids, and you are after a swimming pool, have a look to the Corissia Park, great spot also for a cocktail…or two…or more 🙂
If staying in Georgioupolis, you should not miss Arkadi” Fish Taverna for either lunch or, even better, dinner. It’s probably the best spot in town with a unique view and awesome local food, based mostly on fish.
Let me say straight away that Crete is an easy island to move around. The bus and ferry transportation is great as well as the roads around the island, probably some of the best in the whole country.
The mean of transportation will give you a different experience and let me explain why
This will give you the highest level of freedom. You will be in a position of driving around Crete at your own pace. And I think on a long-term you can actually save some money too, besides a better experience when visiting popular sites.
Because you can drive to sites like Knossos, for example, in the early morning without having to wait for buses and loads of people. You can visit the Spinalonga Fortress just driving to the small pier in front of the island and be charged just a few Euro from the small boat operator, instead of the full trip fare from an agency.
And, most important, you can stop by in any village to have lunch or dinner and experience the local life and the amazing fresh food at a great price too.
I drove around and I was really surprised by the beautiful roads and the unique views. Obviously, I could stop and take my time and photos 😉 something that is impossible to do with public transportation.
If you are looking for an agency you may check one of these two options:
There are lots of pros about driving a car, however, there are few sites where a bus or a ferry make life easier. I am thinking here of the south-west coast for example where beautiful towns as Loutro are accessible only via sea. Even the Samaria Gorge can be easily done by bus as you enter from the mountain ranges and you walk down to the beach area (a beautiful trek by the way)
When visiting Crete I would personally recommend a mix of transportation means. A car can be used to explore the North coast meanwhile public transportation can be the answer for the south coast or even a trip to Gavdos (plan at least a night there).
Once I rented a car in Heraklion and I explored the eastern part of the island, then I took a public bus from Heraklion to Chania where I rented a car to explore the west side of the island. This is another option.
In saying that, I feel pretty confident about driving everywhere. For example, in my last in trip in Thailand I rented a car to explore some of the most beautiful temples close to Cambodia, otherwise impossible by public transportation and honestly driving there was ok for me. Though, driving around Crete is so much easier LOL
If you do not feel confident, I suggest taking a KTEL bus to move around, super easy. Then pop up in one of the many agencies to plan a local trip (like to the Samaria Gorges or Elafonissi Beach). No worries. There is nothing worse than driving with fear as you will not be able to enjoy your holiday.
The public bus transportation runs pretty much always on time too which makes it easy to organise your plans. You can check the KTEL timetable here.
Put it simply, Crete is the biggest island in Greece with lots of points of interest.
As I said, the large size can actually be intimidating, compared to other Greek islands that you can visit in 2 or 3 days. And this is why it is so important to understand where to stay in Crete.
A car trip between two of the most beautiful beaches on the island, from Elafonissi to Vai Beach, can take 6 or more hours.
If interested to visit most of the island you may look into multiple bases, book your rooms though Crete and from there you can explore the local areas.
From Crete, you can also take a ferry to Gavdos island, the southernmost European island, still politically part of Crete. The ferry trip takes a few hours and I would not suggest it for just a day visit. It’s a great hippy island though, worth a week or two if you are after some easy time.
Crete has two main airports, Chania and Heraklion.
Which one is best?
It really depends on what you want to do.
If you are after the nightlife of the island, then the closest airport to Hersonissos and Malia is Heraklion.
If you are after some trekking in the Samaria Gorge or want to visit and stay close to Elafonissi beach then Chania works better.
If you want to tour the island you could fly to Heraklion, explore the eastern part of the island and then move to the west and finally fly out from Chania, assuming your departing airport is connected with both cities.
There is no better airport, it all depends on what area you decide to stay in Crete.
You can also check the interactive Google Map here.
Stef Ferro is the founder and editor of MEL365, a travel & photography website made to enhance the travelling experience and improve the photography work.
Stef is a professional travel photographer with past experience in the cycling and film industry.
Stef runs travel photography workshops in Melbourne and around the world.