You may remember Crete from your Greek mythology unit in school, but the home of the ancient Minoans is littered with much more beauty than you can imagine! Approximately 200 miles south of mainland Greece and 200 miles north of Africa sits an island so rich in history and diverse landscapes that you should probably just go ahead and add Crete vacation to your travel bucket list now.
On the island where ancient Greek history began, you can’t travel very far without getting a lesson in Minoan history and culture. And, at only a few hours drive in length and width, Crete offers visitors drastically different experiences at every turn. From prehistoric-looking mountains and lakes to postcard-perfect beaches and pink sand, there is something for everyone.
Cruising Central Crete
The first thing you need to know about your Crete vacation is that renting a car and driving across Crete will give you more freedom to explore than a bus tour could. About an hour outside of Chania is Lake Kournas — a stunning shade of green and the only freshwater lake on the island, which is the alleged birthplace of Zeus’s father. It looks as old as the myth itself. Enjoy it by renting a pedal boat and having a lakeside lunch.
Also in Central Crete, you can find one of Europe’s most extreme gorge hikes. The Samaria Gorge is only accessible by bus from Chania. Once at the entrance to the gorge (Omali), you hike about 10 miles through the steep gorge to the little village of Agia Roumeli. From Agia Roumeli, you take a ferry boat to the nearest bus station where your tour bus is waiting. It is an all day (seven-hour) ordeal, but so worth it.
The western coast of Crete is the most popular. The old town of Chania has been summoning visitors like a siren for hundreds of years. Chania has picturesque beach areas, but it is most famous for Balos and for the world-renowned treasure, Elafonisi.
Famous for its pink-sand beaches, Elafonisi is a must-see. It is quite difficult to get to, though, — roughly a two-and-a-half-hour bus ride or car ride through winding mountain roads. But, it is worth every moment of potential car sickness. The trip is made extra special by the wonderful villages and stops along the way. The drive to Elafonisi is dotted with churches carved into mountainsides, restaurants with spring-fed waters running through them, and food that puts anything else to shame.
A destination all its own, Chania is a time warp back to the Greece of the Darnell family (The Darnells in Korfu: My family and other animals). Chania offers visitors many miles of beautiful beaches, loads of history, and museums for the history buff of your group.
Most visitors find wandering the streets of the old town to be the most enjoyable part of there Chania, Crete vacation. It is a very unique experience to wander streets that time has barely touched. You will be pulled into restaurants and gypsy stalls. You can’t go wrong with your food choices, unless you order something American.
Throughout the old town, you will see Turkish influence as Crete spent many centuries under Turkish rule. Crete has been invaded many times, and the architecture and products reflect these invasions. Wonderful seafood restaurants dot the waterline, and boat tours, snorkeling, and carriage rides are all wonderful options as well.
Planning Your Crete Vacatio
Crete offers so many options for visitors it is hard to decide how to maximize your Crete vacation. Our two biggest tips are:
- Eat local
- Rent a car
Cars are very affordable (30-40 euros) per day and automatic transmission cars are available, though significantly less common. Driving in Chania can be a bit stressful with the number of pedestrians, but you have so many more options with a car.
Be careful not to overbook yourself. You’ll want time for the many beaches and for wandering through alleys and shops.
Getting Around Crete
If renting a car is not an option for you, then the bus will be the next best option. The bus system is very efficient and clean. There are buses from Chania to the airport, Elafonisi, all around the Chania region, through some of the beautiful villages, and a two-and-a-half-hour bus ride across the island to Heraklion. Use the bus. It is very affordable and safe.
There is very little crime in Chania, so feel free to walk after dark and anywhere possible during the day. If you are planning on ferrying to nearby islands, most of the ferries leave from Heraklion. The most popular ferry is the one to Santorini.
It all sounds very complicated, but it isn’t. Do not over think things like driving, or taking buses. Both options are perfectly safe and cost-effective. Get out there and experience it all if you have time.
Has your Crete vacation inspired more Greek travel? Don’t miss our must-sees around
the Greek islands.
Photo Credits: Lydia Bradbury