Crete, Greece: must-see spots on this beautiful island!
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Crete, Greece: must-see spots on this beautiful island!

This is your ultimate guide to Crete for 1 week

Welcome to Crete, the captivating gem among the Greek islands! As the largest and most populous island in Greece, Crete boasts stunning landscapes, history, Mediterranean water and warm-hearted locals. While renowned destinations like Santorini and Mykonos often steal the spotlight, Crete offers an equally enchanting experience without breaking the bank.

During our week-long exploration of this magnificent island, we embarked on a wonderful journey, hopping from one stunning beach to another and experiencing the distinctive charm of various towns and local flavors each night. In this blog post, we will share our experiences showcasing the breathtaking beaches we discovered, the unforgettable experiences, and even our own missteps along the way to offer you valuable insights on what you can do differently.

Whether you're seeking a budget-friendly escape or simply yearning for an authentic Greek island adventure, join us as we unveil the hidden treasures of Crete, inviting you to immerse yourself in its captivating beauty, rich history, and unforgettable experiences. So, let's delve into our day-to-day itinerary and embark on an unforgettable journey through this remarkable island.

Please note that this itinerary is packed with activities and driving. If you choose Crete over the smaller islands, we assume that you are doing so with more focus on travel and exploration rather than relaxation. While this itinerary covers all the highlights that are do-able within a week, an additional week would be ideal to travel at a slower pace and explore the island more thoroughly.

Day 1: Arrive in and explore Athens

Flying from Canada, we arrived in Athens, the historical capital city. Opting for a more economical option, we decided to skip taking a taxi and hopped on the Metro at the airport. The

Metro Line 3 connects the airport to the city center (Syntagma Square). For €10 per person and running every half hour, the metro transported us to the vibrant city center after an hour's journey.

Once we reached the city center, we left our luggages in a secure storage facility (usually €3-5 for the day) allowing us to fully explore Athens without all the hassle. We also made sure to purchase a reliable sim card, as we planned to book a rental car and Google Maps would be a necessity.

In Athens, you cannot miss to visit the famous Acropolis, an architectural marvel that left us in awe. Entrance to this iconic site costs €25 for a skip-the-line ticket including an audio guide. We explored the Parthenon, the temple of Rome and Augustus, the Helenic flag with a viewpoint and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus to name a few. You can book this tour here.

Athens Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide

We did not stay in Athens and we opted to take an overnight ferry, saving us time and having to pay for a night's stay. Departing from Piraeus port, the ferry Festos Palace, costs us €160 for 2 people and our accommodation on the ferry resembled a cozy hotel room, complete with two comfortable beds and a personal washroom. Remarkably, the journey remained stable throughout, ensuring a restful night's sleep for both of us. You can book your ticket here.

With a travel time of approximately 8 hours, the ferry offered a pleasant surprise with its remarkable amenities including spacious restaurants, different shops, a dedicated children's area, and a deck that afforded us invigorating sea breezes and the enchanting sight of seagulls gliding alongside the ship. This was preferable to a trip back to Athens airport, saving us both time and money.

Ferry Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide

Our advice:

If looking to book an audio guide, download it and the map ahead of time. Be sure to buy your tickets online prior to arrival. Also consider if you’d like to purchase the City Pass, this gives you access to the Acropolis and a number of other famous sites within the city, in addition to bus transport and other discounts. 

Athens is big and if you are a history lover, one afternoon is not enough. Buying the City Pass and exploring for two days would be ideal.

We had difficulty finding both a storage facility and a store selling sim cards. For storage facilities, research them ahead of time, there are quite a few around town. For the sim card, we found a store near KFC close to Syntagma train station, it is €20 euro for 1 month of unlimited data. The one thing that our research failed to mention was that the entire city seems to shut down on Sundays, making our search for a SIM card much more difficult. Find out if your phone supports eSIM prior to your trip to save on the hassle.

Day 2: Explore Heraklion and stay in Stella Island Luxury Resort and Spa

We woke up in Heraklion, the principal port of Crete, brimming with anticipation for all the adventures in this Greek island. Upon disembarking, we opted to walk a few blocks away from the port to avoid costly taxi fares to pick up our rental car. The rental car costs us $288 CAD for the week, inclusive of insurance. We typically rely on the insurance benefits provided by our travel card for coverage during our trips. However, we made the decision not to use it at this time due to certain limitations in the offered insurance policy, such as the exclusion of police coverage.

Eager to immerse ourselves in the Cretan local atmosphere, we took a leisurely walk through the bustling town of Heraklion. We enjoyed a breakfast admiring the Venetian Fortress. Our exploration led us to the Central Market, where we got essential supplies for our trip, including a beach mat, beach umbrella, and some booze. To our surprise, we found ourselves in an early morning wine and raki tasting experience at 9 AM—an invigorating way to start the day.

Heraklion Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide

Next on our itinerary was the place we had eagerly anticipated—Stella Island Luxury Resort and Spa. A true paradise in every sense.

Stella Island resort Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide

Upon arriving at this all-inclusive and adults-only resort, we were warmly greeted and the attentive staff took charge of our luggages. As we proceeded with the check-in process, we were pleasantly surprised to be served refreshing cocktails—an experience we believe should be the standard for all check-ins! The resort boasted captivating swim-up pools and over-the-water bungalows that mirrored enchanting islets. Picture yourself relaxing by the hammock or taking a refreshing plunge into the swim-up pool mere steps away from your room. We indulged in refreshing cocktails, good-tasting food and the amazing architecture of the place. We concluded our day with a rejuvenating soak in our private hot tub. Honestly, we cannot recommend this place enough!

Resort Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide

The next day started with waking up by the beautiful poolside while listening to bird songs and having a lavish buffet breakfast with all kinds of food. The best part? You can enjoy breakfast with a live saxophone serenade.

Resort Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide

It is important for us to be transparent about our travel expenditures, and we want to provide you with an honest account. The accommodation at Stella Island, which included a room with a swim-up pool and a jacuzzi, as well as all-inclusive meals and drinks, constituted the largest portion of our expenses—approximately one-third of our total budget. We paid $1000 CAD for this remarkable experience, which we felt was well worth it given the exceptional amenities and unforgettable moments we enjoyed throughout our stay. We were very glad that we chose the all-inclusive option, as the restaurants were of incredible quality and service. You can book your paradise experience here.

Resort Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide

Our advice:

Ask for a later checkout, or ask if you can enjoy the pools and restaurants after checkout. Our host was very encouraging that we could spend the day in the resort after checking out of our room, and we’re glad we did as we certainly didn’t want to leave.

If we did not take this day to relax at Stella Island, we would have spent our day visiting Knossos Palace, and the nearby vineyards.

Day 3: Visit Potamos and Kolykytha Beach

Though we are sad to leave the dreamy Stella Island, we are excited to start our beach exploration adventure. We drove to the east heading to our first stop, the beautiful Potamos beach. With its inviting long strip of sandy shores and a selection of restaurants in the vicinity, this beach provided a delightful introduction to our coastal journey. What's more, it offers free entrance and convenient free parking along the roadside.

Best Beach Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide

Our next destination, Kolykytha beach, proved to be a thrilling and slightly unconventional experience. According to Google Maps, a road led to the beach, but much to our surprise, we found ourselves maneuvering along a cliffside navigating a narrow one-way road. Oh, Google Maps! Then, we spotted a few parked cars in the area and noticed a small trail. However, in hindsight, it was a mistake to carry our food, drone, and snorkeling gear along the rough and indistinct path with spiky plants and rocks. After a challenging trek, we reached a rocky area where sunbathers lounged, and we took advantage of the moment to fly our drone, capturing the breathtaking beauty of the surroundings. We walked towards the coast and took our first dip - the water was so clear and perfect to try out our snorkeling gear.

Best Beaches Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide

Our accommodation for this day was the beautiful Blue Marine Resort and Spa. Nestled on the cliffside, this hotel offered an unparalleled vantage point with awe-inspiring views of Mirabello Bay and the pool. Imagine waking up and having your breakfast with this view. You can book this stay here.

Best Beaches Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide

Our advice:

Do not fully trust Google Maps, especially in remote destinations; try to read reviews and suggestions, so you can be prepared.

If you love snorkeling, we suggest you check out Elounda. You can also take a ferry to Nisida Spinalonga, a preserved Venetian island, as these are the two most popular attractions in the area. Agios Nikolaos is the main town and offers beautiful views of the bay surrounded by excellent restaurants.

Day 4: Enjoy the sun in Matala Beach and have dinner at Agia Galini

We continued our exploration and headed to Matala beach, a little gem perfect for enjoying the sun. Sunbeds are available to rent, if you don’t have your own umbrella or mat. This spot can also get touristy so make sure you go early. The waves here are strong but equally fun. If you wish, you can also visit Matala caves which housed hippies in the 60s.

Matala beach Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide

After enjoying the sun, we headed to Agia Galini to find a dinner spot. We wish we had more time to explore this charming town. Built in a hill, be prepared for some uphill paths but you can stop every now and then to shop. Also, there are a lot of restaurants that offer good sunset views. We had our dinner at Taverna Avli, a highly recommended restaurant! We enjoyed our meal in their outdoor dining but had to leave as soon as the sun had set and we didn't want to drive in the dark.

Food Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide

Be warned that the drive in the south is not the best, especially at night. Despite our efforts to start our drive early, we only drove for 10 mins of setting sun then its complete darkness driving around cliffs and steep turns. The 1.5 hour drive felt like forever as there were no street lights other than when you are passing small towns and this major highway passed through small one-way streets of small towns. It would be a little more enjoyable in the daytime. 

At 10:30 pm, we reached our overnight accommodation, Kallicrates Village, where we were warmly greeted by the kind-hearted owner. He went above and beyond by assisting us in carrying our luggage up to the second floor. We couldn't help but notice the surprise in his eyes upon learning that we had driven all the way from Agios Nikolaos.

Kallicrates Village is a lovely stay with its unique architecture, spacious garden and scenic mountains in the background. We had breakfast while enjoying the pool and the views, this is one of the best value stays in Crete. You can check it out here.

South coast Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide

Our advice:

Try to avoid driving in the south of Crete at night, the steep turns by the cliffs in darkness is not the most ideal driving situation.

The south coast is quite remote and rugged compared to the north. If you have more time, you can easily spend an entire week on this coastline. We missed out on a number of excellent destinations: Ierapetra, the Minoan Palace of Phaistos, as well as Skinaria beach and countless others.

Day 5: Stroll at Hora Sfakion and admire the charming town of Chania

Our first stop of the day was the stunning town of Hora Sfakion, nestled along the southern coast of Crete. Known for its charming harbor, we strolled around the town admiring the views and tasting coastal foods. We saw signs for a water taxi ride to private beaches which, unfortunately, we didn't have enough time to do. We headed to Frangokastelo beach instead and found scenic landscapes and even a historic fortress in the background.

Castle fortress Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide

Afterwards we drove north and found ourselves navigating a curvy road that snaked its way along the cliffs. The drive from Hora Sfakion to Imbros Gorge is one of the most windy roads we’ve ever driven and every twist and turn reveals breathtaking views. Unable to resist the magnificent views, we made several stops along the uphill drive to take photos and videos of this scenic road.

Driving roads Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide
Village Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide

We continued our drive heading north towards the charming town of Chania. Known for its bustling streets and tourist attractions, Chania offered a delightful mix of shops, historical ruins, and beautifully restored buildings. Our Airbnb, situated in the heart of the town center, welcomed us with its authentic Greek charm, and the complimentary raki in our room added a touch of local flavor. On the rooftop patio, we savored our drink while observing the vibrant energy of the town below, as tourists eagerly explored the shops and took memorable photos.

As night falls, the town of Chania comes to life with its romantic lights lining the coast and the iconic  lighthouse adding charm to the lively vibe of the town. Chania at night is a true gem with its undeniable charm and leaves a lasting impression. We spent the rest of the night visiting shops and continuing our food journey as we sampled various snacks from local shops.

Chania Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide

We strolled through the bustling streets of Chania, each corner revealing new wonders. For dinner, we chose to dine at Steki, a charming tavern that exceeded our expectations with its delectable cuisine. We were treated with a free dessert and of course, more raki.

Chania restaurant Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide

Our advice:

You can consider hiking Imbros Gorge, an 8-km hike and second most popular gorge that runs parallel with Samaria Gorge. You can park at the bottom and get a cheap taxi to take you to the trailhead. Samaria Gorge is one of the major tourist attractions in the island, twice the distance and the longest in Europe.

When you stay in Chania, we suggest you choose a hotel near the downtown/harbor and see the fortress, lighthouse, old market and many museums.

Day 6: Balos Lagoon and Gramvousa Island - destinations you shouldn’t miss

Energized by a quick breakfast and after a playful insistence to get a matching Greek shirt, we eagerly headed to the Kisamos port. A boat tour to Balos and Gramvousa proved to be one of the absolute highlights of our Crete adventure. If there's only one tour you can experience on this magnificent island, we highly recommend making it this one.

Boat beach Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide

We opted to book our tour online through Get Your Guide. It is a 7-hour tour and costs $35 CAD per person. Bring bathing suits, snacks and plenty of sunscreen. The boat offers umbrella rentals and onboard food options for those in need.

Our first stop on the tour was the breathtaking Gramvousa island, one of the famous destinations in Crete, where we were greeted by the mesmerizing beauty of the Mediterranean waters. For the more adventurous souls, there is an option to hike up to the fortress (1 Euro entrance fee) for approximately 20 minutes, followed by a refreshing swim. However, since we wanted to maximize our time in the water, we opted to capture stunning aerial shots using our drone and indulge in leisurely swims. The crystal-clear waters invited us to grab our snorkelling gear and spot countless colourful fish just steps from the shore.

Gramvousa Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide

Next part of the boat tour was the enchanting Balos beach and lagoon, a place that quickly stole our hearts. This place is one of the best beaches in Crete. The mesmerizing turquoise waters were perfect for snorkeling, while the adjacent lagoon tempted us to explore its captivating beauty. We discovered shallow areas where we could simply lay or sit in the ankle-deep water, basking in pure relaxation.

Balos beach Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide

For a truly memorable experience, we had dinner at Taverna Vasilis, a delightful family-owned restaurant with ample garden seating. It was here that we savored the best Mousaka of our entire trip, delighting our taste buds as we marveled at the stunning sunset backdrop.

Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide sunset

As the sun started to set, we started heading to Elafonisi for our Airbnb accommodation, marked as Stomio Room in Google Maps, a place that exuded the charm of a castle from the outside. Walking through the entrance, we couldn't help but feel like royalty. While the interior space was slightly smaller than anticipated and certainly lacked some modern comforts, with enough room for a bed, we appreciated the experience as we knew it would add a special touch to our trip.

Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide airbnb stay

Despite our late arrival at around 10:00 pm, we were warmly greeted by our host, who happened to be hosting a small family gathering at their restaurant, adjacent to our stay. Their hospitality was truly heartwarming with their kind invitation to join in the celebration. Although we had already enjoyed dinner, we gladly indulged in dessert and raki. How often do you find yourself invited to a family gathering by your Airbnb host?

Our advice:

Visiting Balos Lagoon and Gramvousa Island is one of the highlights of this Greek island. We highly suggest you visit these stunning locations 

The western coast has some stunning beaches, some of the highest rated in all of Europe. If beaches are high on your Greek priority list, dedicate some additional time here.

Day 7: For the best sunset views, Fallasarna Beach and Elafonisi Beach (which also happens to be a pink sand beach!)

Our weeklong exploration keeps getting better and better. One of the absolute must-visit spots on this enchanting island is Elafonisi Beach, a rare gem known for its distinctive pink sands. While it may not have been as vividly pink as seen on Instagram, it still boasted delicate shades of pink that added to its allure and makes it one of the best beaches in Greece. We couldn't resist taking a pinch of the sand home as a special souvenir. It's worth mentioning that the pink hue can vary depending on the tide and weather conditions.

Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide elafonisi beach

As one of the island's top attractions, Elafonisi Beach tends to draw a considerable crowd during peak times and seasons. As it is also on the facing west side, this is a perfect spot to watch the sunset. Umbrellas are available for rent, and there's a small coffee and snack bar to keep you refreshed. If you're seeking a more secluded spot, you can head towards the sandbars that connect to another island, where equally mesmerizing views await. Additionally, certain rocky areas provide excellent opportunities for snorkeling.

On our way back north, we passed by a nearby beach. This is Fallasarna Beach, renowned as one of the most scenic spots in all of Crete to witness the sunset. We highly recommend timing your visit to coincide with this magical moment. The long strip of sand offers a gorgeous spot to enjoy the sun during the day.

Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide fallsarna beach

Check-in to a luxurious beachfront hotel, Caramel Grecotel

After basking in the beauty of the beaches and soaking up the sun, we made our way back north to the charming town of Rethymno. Our accommodation was the luxurious Caramel Grecotel, a magnificent 5-star hotel where we were able to apply our $200 Amex travel credits, further enhancing our stay. Taking advantage of the $125 USD AMEX Fine Hotels & Resorts benefit, we treated ourselves to a couples' massage, and a complimentary late checkout.

Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide caramel grecotel

From the moment we arrived, we were greeted with refreshing drinks and escorted to our exquisite room. Immaculately clean and radiating a serene ambiance, the space immediately put us at ease. To top it off, a complimentary bottle of wine awaited us, setting the tone for a truly indulgent experience.

While we contemplated enjoying a glass of wine in the comfort of our room, we couldn't resist the beauty of the hotel's pool. The scene was nothing short of picture-perfect, with the pool transforming into a mesmerizing display of changing colors as the evening unfolded. The reflection of the restaurant lights shimmered on the water's surface, creating a captivating ambience. To enhance the experience further, live violin music filled the air, adding a touch of elegance and enchantment to the atmosphere.

Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide resort

Our stay at Caramel Grecotel was an absolute delight, surpassing all expectations. We indulged in a sumptuous buffet breakfast and with satisfied appetites, we made our way to the inviting pool, relishing every moment of our final swim in this idyllic setting.

Our advice:
Though in our map we highlighted spots to see in Rethymno, we were not able to explore it and we wish we had more time to do so. Rather than enjoying a luxury stay you may opt for a full day in this charming city, as there’s plenty to see.

Day 8: One last glance of Heraklion

Returning to Heraklion, the bustling capital of Crete, we found convenient parking available for a reasonable fee of 6 Euros for a three-hour duration. Exploring the town on foot, we discovered hidden gems that we missed during our initial visit. One of the spots to see is the Morosini Fountain, provided a delightful backdrop for a leisurely stroll or while enjoying a Greek coffee. We admired the architectural beauty of the Venetian Loggia, which currently serves as the city hall, and took the opportunity to explore its charming courtyard. Heraklion offered an array of enticing dining options, and we made sure to marvel at the grandeur of landmarks such as the Heraklion Museum, Agios Titos Church, Bembos Fountain, and the historic Venetian Port.

Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide heraklion port
Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide island

Seeking a memorable dining experience, we opted to dine at Peskesi where the staff of Grecotel helped us to book. Renowned for its commitment to serving fresh farm-to-table cuisine, this highly-rated restaurant promised a fitting conclusion to our culinary journey through Crete.

Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide cretan food

For our return journey to Athens, we chose Aegean Airlines, opting for a short one-hour flight. Many people recommended ferries to travel between the Greek islands, however wanted to avoid a lengthy transit to the airport, so we opted for a flight back to the capital before continuing home. 

Our advice:

Visit a local winery or farm to add to your authentic Cretan experience. Make sure to check their websites as they do not offer daily tours.

Greece Crete must-see locations itinerary guide coast

Our exploration of Crete has been an unforgettable journey filled with breathtaking landscapes, rich history, and warm hospitality. From the charming streets of Heraklion to the pink sands of Elafonisi Beach, this Greek island has captivated us at every turn.

We embarked on an unforgettable adventure, uncovering hidden gems and indulging in unforgettable experiences. From the breathtaking tour to Balos and Gramvousa to the tranquil moments spent in luxurious resorts, each day brought new surprises and delights. We admired the ancient wonders of the Minoan civilization, immersed ourselves in the vibrant culture of local towns, and savoured on the flavors of Cretan cuisine.

Throughout our journey, we encountered friendly locals who shared their stories and made us feel like part of the community. We navigated picturesque coastal roads, wandered through charming towns, and soaked up the Mediterranean sun on pristine beaches.

Crete exceeded our expectations, offering a perfect blend of history, natural beauty, and warm hospitality. Whether you're seeking relaxation, adventure, or a cultural immersion, Crete has it all. We encourage you to explore this diverse and vibrant island, immerse yourself in its rich heritage, and create your own unforgettable experiences.

We just upgraded our drone, so the next time we travel we will be able to share some incredible shots with you! Curious how much a professional drone costs these days? Check it out here!