The 5 Best Areas to See & Stay in Crete, Greece
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The 5 Best Areas to See & Stay in Crete, Greece

Looking for a place to enjoy Greek beaches under the Mediterranean sun? Crete is the place for you. Whether you're a history buff, a foodie or a beach lover, Crete has something to offer every traveler.

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Greece's largest island, Crete, is a haven of history, breathtaking landscapes and vibrant culture. But with so much to explore, where should you plant your sun hat and call home during your stay? Fear not, fellow traveler, for we've curated the ultimate guide to the 5 best areas to see and stay in Crete, ensuring your getaway is nothing short of extraordinary!

We suggest spending at least 7 days here to fully explore the island and you can check out our a full week itinerary to exploring Crete. You can definitely take public transport or book a package tour, but if you want more flexibility to hop between coastal towns you'll need to rent a car.

This post will break down the best things to do in Crete per area and will help you decide where to go and how long to spend. Without further delay, let's dive into it.

Chania - Where Old World Charm Meets Modern Luxury

Chania is located on the northwest coast of Crete, enchanting visitors with its Venetian harbor, narrow streets brimming with boutiques and historical landmarks. Do not miss out on this charming town, as it boasts arguably the best harbor-front views and nightlife on the island. It's an excellent base to stay, serving as a gateway to the west side of Crete. Elafonisi and Balos beaches are some must-see attractions, often ranked as the absolute best beaches in Europe. Kissamos town may be your best option for a nearby stay, but Chania will be your best entry point.

Best Things to do in Chania

Probably our favorite place in Crete with its romantic vibe and never-ending adventures. Here are some must-do experiences in Chania:

Explore the Old Town: Lose yourself in the charming narrow streets and alleys in Chania's Old Town. You can also take a guided tour with a local guide, take a romatic boat cruise at sunset, learn about Minoan history at Minoan's World 9D Experience or take a boat cruise to nearby islands. Admire the Venetian and Ottoman architecture as you browse through artisan shops selling local crafts or head to the Old Chania Market, then see the Church of Agios Nikolaos before heading to the harbor.

Stroll along the Venetian Harbor: Walk along the picturesque Venetian Harbor lined with colorful waterfront buildings, cafes and seafood restaurants. The best time to be here is at sunset or nighttime for a more romantic vibe. You can visit the iconic lighthouse and the majestic Firkas Fortress for free.

Discover the Archaeological Sites: Explore Chania's rich history at the Archaeological Museum of Chania, located in a former Venetian monastery. Admire ancient artifacts from Minoan, Roman and Byzantine periods including pottery, sculptures and jewelry. It costs €6 to enter; free every first Sunday of the month from November to March.

Hike the Samaria Gorge: For outdoor enthusiasts, do not miss this full day trek to Samaria Gorge located about an hour's drive from Chania. Trek through breathtaking landscapes and towering cliffs of Europe's longest gorge. Depending on physical fitness and walking speed, the hike can take up to 4 to 7 hours.

Relax at the Beaches: Saving the best for last. Chania can be your gateway to some of the most popular beaches in Greece. Our top recommendations for you to see are: Balos Beach and Gramvousa island to which you can drive up to but we recommend you take a guided tour; Elafonisi beach, one of the rare pink beaches; and Falassarna Beach, one of the best beaches to see the sunset from the island.

Balos Beach and Lagoon
Balos Beach and Lagoon
Elafonisi Beach, Crete
Elafonisi Beach, Crete
Falassarna Beach
Falassarna Beach

Where to stay in Chania

Casa Leone Hotel - For a more Venetian vibe with views overlooking the harbour with free breakfast included.

Santa Elena Boutique Rooms - Another charming stay located at the Old Town and close to attractions.

Constantinos Studios - If you want to be closer to the beach; a great budget-friendly option.

Rethymno - Where Romance Meets Riviera

Prepare to be charmed by the picturesque town of Rethymno on Crete's northern coast. Wander along the Venetian harbor and lose yourself in the streets of the Old Town. With its romantic ambiance and boutique hotels, Rethymno is the perfect destination for couples seeking a dreamy getaway.

Best Things to do in Rethymno

With its blend of Venetian and Ottoman influences, Rethymno offers a great variety of experiences for travelers seeking history, culture and relaxation. Here are some of the top things to do in Rethymno:

Explore the Old Town: Wander through the streets of Rethymno's Old Town, a well-preserved medieval quarter characterized by narrow alleys and Venetian mansions. Pass through the Guora Gate and visit the Church of the Four Martyrs, Theotokos Metropolitan Cathedral, Neratze Mosque and Church of Our Lady of the Angels before heading to the Rimondi Fountain.

Visit the Venetian Harbor: Take a stroll along the picturesque Venetian Harbor lined with colorful buildings and waterfront tavernas. Say hello to the Statue of Two Dolphins and admire the iconic lighthouse and historic Venetian fortress.

Take a sunset cruise. Enjoy a romantic experience with the view of the Crete's coastline at sunset. You can board a premium-class catamaran or a wooden pirate boat.

Discover Fortezza Castle: Ascend to the hilltop Fortezza Castle, a massive Venetian fortress overlooking Rethymno. Explore the ruins of ancient walls and towers, and enjoy panoramic views of the city and the surrounding coastline for only €4.

Take a Wine Tasting Tour: Discover the flavors of Cretan wine on a tasting tour of Rethymno's vineyards and wineries. Sample a variety of indigenous grape varieties including Vidiano and Kotsifali, and learn about the island's winemaking traditions from knowledgeable experts. From Rethymno, you can book a winetasting and wine cellar tour to Digenakis Winery.

Take a day trip and head South. If you are don't plan on staying on the South Coast, why not just take a scenic day trip south? You will be amazed at the beauty of the landscape as you head towards the beach and ancient ruins. You can visit Spili, Agia Galini and Matala caves and Preveli and Plakias Beach.

Agia Galini, Crete
Agia Galini, Crete

Where to stay in Rethymno

Mansio Boutique Hotel - This charming stay is located at the center of Rethymno town. The rooms are beautifully decorated with an outdoor pool.

Hamam Oriental Suites - Also located in the Old town, the rooms here have options for spa bath and outdoor baths.

Elma Suites - Is a budget-friendly option but offers a cozy vibe and stunning views. It is located closer to the water, walking distance to shops and restaurants.

Caramel Grecotel Boutique Resort: Located outside of town but close to the beach. We chose to stay here as one of our most luxurious hotels in Crete, and it is a gorgeous property.

Heraklion: Gateway to Minoan Majesty

As the capital of Crete, Heraklion, located on the North side of the island and close to Rethymno, gives off vibrant energy and archaeological wonders. As this is one of the big cities in the island, those not looking to drive to multiple cities may opt to stay here and take a day trip to Rethymno and Chania.

Best Things to do in Heraklion

You can explore famous landmarks and get to the Palace of Knossos by a hop-on hop-off bus. Further, here are some of the best things to do while exploring this dynamic city:

Visit the Palace of Knossos: Step back in time to the center of ancient Minoan civilization with a visit to the Palace of Knossos that was built around 1700 BC. We recommend booking it online and downloading the audio guide to save time and skip the line. Explore the labyrinthine ruins of Europe's oldest city and learn about the fascinating history of this archaeological site.

Wander through the Old Town: Your trip to Heraklion would not be complete without seeing to the Old Town. Wander and visit sights such as the Venetian Loggia, Morosini Fountain and Agios Titos Church. You can discover hidden gems around every corner.

Visit Rocca a Mare Fortress (Koules Fortress): Take a stroll along the restored fort in the 16th century Venetian Harbor and learn more about the history of the fortress through the exhibitions. You can explore the fortress walls and climb to the top for panoramic views of the harbour. Ticket price is €4.

Shop at the Central Market: Immerse yourself in the sights and aromas of Heraklion's Central Market. Browse stalls selling fresh produce, local cheeses, olives, herbs and spices. Be prepared to sample Cretan delicacies and Raki, a Cretan spirit.

Take a Day Trip to Knossos Wine Estate: Take a scenic drive to the Knossos Wine Estate located just outside Heraklion. Visit Scalarea Estate, Domaine Paterianakis and Lyrarakis Winery to name a few wineries in the area. Tour the vineyards, learn about the winemaking process and enjoy wine tastings with beautiful countryside views. Another great option is to take an olive farm tour with local delicacy tasting.

Watch the sunset at Dia Island: After all the exploration and wine tastings, a great way to end the day is to take a sunset cruise to Dia Island. You can enjoy the beautiful view of the Aegean sea with snacks and drinks or enjoy some water activities such as snorkeling and paddle boarding.

Relax at Ammoudara Beach. If you don't want to do a boat tour, then a trip to Ammoudara beach is for you. You can relax in the sandy beach or rent a sun bed. Though a little far from the city center, a good option to go here is by a hop-on hop-off bus.

Where to stay in Heraklion

Stella Island Resort & Spa (Adults Only) - As featured above, this dreamy stay with its swim-up pool and all-inclusive option will make you want to stay. Located east of Heraklion, it is a perfect stay for a honeymoon or a couples' vacation.

Infinity City Boutique Hotel - Has a variety of room options. You can enjoy a good view of the harbour from your balcony and have a buffet breakfast before you start your adventures.

Vespera City Hotel - Have some pretty rooms and budget-friendly options with a buffet breakfast as well.

Kronos Hotel - Another great option if you want a view of the water and still wanted to stay close to the town. They also offer a buffet breakfast.

Agios Nikolaos/Elounda - Serenity by the Sea

Agios Nikolaos and Elounda are tucked away on the peaceful shores of Mirabello Bay, located on the east side of the island. Whether you're seeking a secluded retreat or a family-friendly escape, both are good choices with nearby beaches, shops and restaurants. Famous for luxury resorts, this area is popular with celebrities and those who want to try scuba diving.

Best Things to do in Agios Nikolaos

Here are some delightful activities while exploring this picturesque town:

Explore Lake Voulismeni: Begin your adventure by strolling along the promenade of Lake Voulismeni, the heart of Agios Nikolaos. Or better yet, go up the hill to fully admire the view of the lake and the bridge. Legend has it that goddess Athena bathed here.

Take a Boat Trip to Spinalonga: Embark on a boat trip to the nearby island of Spinalonga, once a leper colony and now a haunting reminder of the island's past. Explore the abandoned buildings and narrow streets learning about the island's fascinating history from knowledgeable guides.

Relax in endless sandy beaches: You will never run out of a beautiful sandy beach to explore and relax. In Agios Nikolaos, you can visit Ammos Beach, located just a short walk from town center; Almyros Beach, just south of the same coastline; and further south is the Voulisma Beach. In Elounda, find the crystal clear water of Schisma Elounda Beach, Plaka Beach and Kolokytha Beach a great way to spend the day.

Visit the numerous Elounda windmills: On your way to Kolokytha Beach, find several ancient stone windmills towards the Kolokytha peninsula. There are several others to see around Elounda.

Kolokytha Beach, Agios Nikolaos
Kolokytha Beach

Where to stay in Agios Nikolaos/Elounda

Emerald Lake Studios - Imagine waking up to the views of Lake Voulismeni while staying close to restaurants and beaches.

Ikaros Art Hotel - Located in Agios Nikolaos, find this cozy stay offering breakfast and a good value for your money.

Blue Marine Resort & Spa - A beachfront resort with all-inclusive option. They have a rooms overlooking the sea and an outdoor pool to enjoy the sun.

Blue Marine Resort & Spa
Blue Marine Resort & Spa

Domes of Elounda, Autograph Collection - A luxury resort offering great views of Spinalonga island, a spa and VIP services.

Athina Stunning Elounda View Apartment - For a cheaper option but still with great views and cozy rooms.

Crete's South Coast

Exploring the south coast of Crete offers a world of natural beauty, stunning beaches and historical sites. This coastline is the most rugged and least explored part of the island. Most people choose to do a day trip towards the south coast from Heraklion, Rethymno and Chania, or you can choose to stay here to soak more in the natural beauty of Crete. There are unique and beautiful beaches here and you will notice that the landscape towards the south is different and perfect for a scenic road trip.

Best Things to do in the South Coast of Crete

From beautiful beaches to exploring coastal towns, here are the top things to do in the Soath Coast:

Hike the Imbros Gorge: Lace up your hiking boots and take an adventure through Imbros Gorge. A great alternative to Samaria Gorge, this hike is a lot shorter and easier and still offers excellent views. Many people opt to park at the base of the cliffs, then take many of the available shuttle services to the top, then hike back down to their car.

Visit Matala Beach: Begin your journey by visiting the iconic Matala Beach, renowned for its unique cliffs and caves once inhabited by hippies in the 1960s. Dive into the crystalline waters or explore the fascinating caves for just €4.

Matala Beach and Matala Cave
Matala Beach and Matala Cave

Visit Frangokastello: Step back in time at Frangokastello Castle a medieval fortress overlooking the Libyan Sea. Explore the well-preserved castle for free and soak up the panoramic views of the surrounding countryside or choose to spend the rest of the day by Frangokastello Beach.

Explore Agia Galini: Experience the serene atmosphere of Agia Galini, a picturesque fishing village south of Rethymno. Wander through the charming streets, admire the colorful boats in the harbor and savor fresh seafood.

Explore the Kourtaliotiko Gorge: Another stunning place to visit is the Kourtaliotiko Gorge where you can visit a small church and a majestic waterfall. It's truly a great sight to see. Further south, you can visit the Preveli Beach.

Discover Preveli Beach: A trip to the south coast would not be complete without visiting Preveli Beach. It is a hidden gem found at the the Kourtaliotiko Gorge and a unique sight to see as it is where the Kourtaliotis River meets the sea. You can also visit the nearby Preveli Monastery perched atop a cliff overlooking the beach.

Explore Plakias: Discover the charming seaside village of Plakias surrounded by rugged cliffs. Relax on the sandy beach or wander through the village's quaint streets.

Explore Chora Sfakion: Another coastal village in the south is Chora Sfakion, located at the foot of the White Mountains. Enjoy fresh seafood at waterfront tavernas or take a boat trip to nearby beaches.

Hora Sfakion town, Crete
Hora Sfakion

Where to stay in the South Coast of Crete

Kallicrates Village, Crete
Kallicrates Village

Kallicrates Village - Located at Frangokostello, close to the beach and with beautiful views of the mountain side.

Palazo Greco - A beachfront hotel located in Agia Galini with elegant rooms and breakfast option.

AKTI Homes Matala - It is a holiday home with hot tub located in Matala and close to Matala Beach and Caves.

Crete, Greece
Crete, Greece

Final Takeaways

Crete is a destination that catered to every traveler, whether you like beaches, hikes, traveling solo, or traveling with a partner or family. From the enchanting streets of Chania to the luxury resorts of Elounda and the stunning beaches of the south coast, these best spots in Crete offers it all. So pack your bags and take an adventure discovering history and falling in love with the magic of Greece!

If you are planning to stay here for a week and see all the best spots, check out our 7-day itinerary to exploring Crete and Croatia.

Looking for your next European adventure destination? Check out this ultimate guide to exploring Sweden's capital.

Curious on what drone we have? We currently have the DJI Mini 4 Pro and we couldn't recommend it enough especially for beginners as it has good stabilization and obstacle avoidance (because you don't want to crash on a tree on day 1!)

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