For anyone looking to head to the Greek islands for a vacation, Crete is a must. There are so many beaches in Crete, which is the fifth-largest island in the Mediterranean, that it can get to be overwhelming when planning your trip to Greece.
Do you want to relax? Be catered to? Be surrounded by nature? Lie on a beach chair with a cocktail? Scale a cliff to get to a secret location? Be able to cross the street from your villa for your beach picnic? Or perhaps you prefer a little bit of everything?
No matter your travel style, we rounded up the best Cretan beaches (which are some of the best beaches anywhere in the Balkans), along with descriptions of how you get there and what it’s like once you’ve arrived, so you can determine which are right for you and truly enjoy the time you have in Crete.
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Where to Stay in Crete
The island of Crete is so big and diverse that it’s almost impossible to make everyone happy when It comes to deciding on the best areas to stay on the island.
Since you will most probably be arriving at the capital, Heraklion, or spending some time in the wonderful western town of Chania, we have included here some of the top accommodations in both places. For more places to stay in Crete, check this site.
Here are our top suggestions for where to stay in Crete. In most cases, budget means hotel stays for around $40 a night, mid-range is from about $50-80 per night, and luxury will cost over $100 per night.
Best Beaches in Crete
WHY IT’S AWESOME: One of the most spectacular beaches in Crete can be found off the western side of the island, about 60 kilometers drive from Chania. You can also travel by sea from Kissamos port, which includes the small island of Gramvousa on its way to Balos Beach.
Balos Beach in Crete is a place where the specific tides of the beach form a lagoon with incredibly shallow (and therefore warm!) waters and an incredibly brilliant turquoise shade of blue everywhere.
Similar to Elafonissi Beach, the beloved “pink beach” of Crete, the sand in Balos is a tiny bit pinkish as well due to the abundance of broken-up shells. The way the water flows at different tides create sandbars where you can walk up to a tiny sometimes-island
HOW TO GET THERE: Balos can be quite difficult to get to, as the best way is by boat. We recommend this excursion from Chania and nearby towns, which includes the transfer but there’s also an additional charge for a boat ticket so read the fine print.
This tour works out cheaper but leaves from Kissamos, so you’d have to get there from Chania via bus, taxi, or car independently. There’s also a tour from Heraklion but keep in mind you’ll have a lot more travel time.
WHY IT’S AWESOME: Elafonisi Beach, more popularly referred to as “The Pink Beach” is my favorite beach in all of Crete. We spent about a week exploring the island and Elafonisi was by far the highlight. At first, the sand doesn’t look that pink, but the closer you get to the water (which is crystal clear, by the way!) the pinker the sand appeared. I flew my drone over the beach to get a birds-eye view, and that’s when I saw how pink the sand was.
While popular, it’s a massive beach and is always quite empty, so don’t worry about competing with crowds of tourists. There are a cute bar and restaurant on the drive down to the beach which is a great spot to grab lunch and enjoy the panoramic view from the outdoor deck. You can see more of my recommendations for Crete activities on my blog.
HOW TO GET THERE: It’s about an hour drive from Chania and the only way to get here is to rent a car and drive – unless you do an organized day tour (here’s one leaving from Rethymnon and here’s another leaving from Chania).
If you prefer a more off-the-beaten-path approach to visiting Elafonisi, you can book this private Elafonisi experience which shows you Elafonisi with some unexpected stops along the way, led by a Crete local. Book here.
Marathi Beach and Loutraki Cove
WHY IT’S AWESOME: Western Crete has some of the most beautiful beaches on the island and two of them (if your base is in Chania) are easily accessible via car and within two minutes of each other. Marathi Beach is 16 km from Chania, Crete, in the southeastern part of the peninsula of Akrotiri. The waters are pristine and because of its proximity to the city, the beach is extremely popular with locals and tourists smart enough to rent a car to explore the hidden coves that are usually only frequented by Cretans. With two excellent restaurants and an abundance of water sports, you’ll find no shortage of things to do.
A two-minute drive from Marathi Beach is another small cove named, Loutraki. Crystal clear waters and there is camping if you’re feeling adventurous. There are no facilities but Marathì is close so it shouldn’t be an issue. If you’re a scuba diver bring your gear! There is an island (Marathì or Paleosouda) you can swim to that is extremely popular with those ‘in the know.’ Explore the western region of the island which is considered the more lush side of Crete, an island that is so diverse that even the natives haven’t seen some of the places mentioned.
HOW TO GET THERE: These beaches are best accessed by car, but a taxi from Chania would be an affordable alternative if you don’t have your own set of wheels.
WHY IT’S AWESOME: Matala is a tiny beach town on the south coast of the Greek island of Crete. It takes around 3 hours from the more popular resort side of the island (the North near Heraklion and Hersonissos) to drive there. The drive itself is beautiful and takes you through mountains, past wine country, and the lesser-visited Minoan Historical site of Phaistos. Once you reach Matala you can park your car and leave it for the rest of your visit, as the town is essentially pedestrian only! You can walk to Matala main beach after a delicious fresh seafood lunch and view and explore Matala’s main attraction: the Roman Burial Caves. These are cut into the impressive sandstone cliff which makes this beach more like a calm, sheltered bay.
If you stay in Matala you can enjoy market-style shopping and then the many alfresco bars and restaurants with sea views that night and the next day walk over the cliff 1km to the Red Beach, which is clothing optional and of course, boasts beautiful red sand. We can vouch that Matala is unmissable after ending up buying toothbrushes and staying 3 nights when we had only intended to visit for an afternoon! You can read even more about this paradise on Earth at our blog.
HOW TO GET HERE: Again, a rental car would be ideal here, but KTEL has a twice-daily bus between Heraklion and Matala that you can take if you don’t want to drive.
WHY IT’S AWESOME: Plakias in the south of Crete is a little out of the way, but definitely worth the effort. Plakias is surrounded by mountains (full of delicious mountain tavernas) and off of the major tourist roads, making it a quiet escape from the crowded Greek resort towns in the high season.
Though it is still somewhat of a hidden gem, Plakias has seen rapid growth in recent years, which is no surprise when you see its rugged mountainous coastline and golden sand beaches. According to a 1961 census, Plakias was home to just 6 fishermen, and it’s now a charming beach town full of cafes, waterfront tavernas, and even a nude beach.
While the mountain road to Plakias may be treacherous for inexperienced drivers, it is easily accessible by bus from either of Crete’s major airports, Chania or Heraklion, with a quick stopover in Rethymnon. Great food and sparsely populated clothing-optional beaches aren’t Plakias’ only claim to fame. Travelers on a budget will be excited to know that this town is also home to the Southernmost hostel in Europe, Youth Hostel Plakias, a charming hostel tucked away in an olive grove just a short walk to the beach and the main street.
HOW TO GET HERE: Rent a car, or take a bus from either Chania or Heraklion to Rethymnon and transfer there to a bus to Plakias.
Seitan Limania Beach (Stefanou Beach)
WHY WE LOVE IT: Seitan Limania (Stefanou Beach) is a beautiful Cretan Beach located in the Chania region of the island. It’s close to the airport and easily accessible if you have a rental car. If you do decide to drive to Stefanou Beach, just be forewarned that the drive down is very narrow, steep, and all zigzags. However, once you are there you will be rewarded with an amazing day at the beach.
The beach is fairly isolated in relation to other Cretan beaches. It’s small and when we were there it was full of young people. The ocean is incredible to swim in. There’s nothing like the warm Mediterranean waters of Greece. I would also advise bringing some snacks and drinks as there is nothing around in terms of food. (Read more about our epic adventures in Crete here).
HOW TO GET HERE: By your own rental car (be careful on the zigzags) or by taxi, which cost us about 35 euros from Chania. There may be public buses from Chania in the high season, but I haven’t been able to find any confirmation on this.
You may also like: Seitan Limania Beach: Crete’s Most Gorgeous Hidden Secret
WHY IT’S AWESOME: Located in Northeastern Crete near the towns of Sitia, Palekastro, and the Dionysades Islands, Vai Beach is one of the most popular attractions of Crete. You could also rent a car or motorbike to make it to the beach. No matter what, you should plan two days to visit the area as it is remote and there is much to explore such as an ancient monastery, winery, and ancient ruins.
The beach is home to Europe’s largest palm forest and is a protected area. There is a restaurant and a café on the beach should hunger strike. If relaxing on the beach au natural is more your style, a nude beach is a short hike away. If you go during the high season (June to August), be prepared for massive crowds. Nevertheless, the beach is stunning, the palm forest is beautifully unique, the sea is gorgeous turquoise and excellent for summer photos. Vai Beach will make a great addition to your Crete vacation!
HOW TO GET THERE: Go by car, or take a bus from Heraklion to Sitia and then another bus from Sitia to Vai.
Whichever Beach is Closest!
One of the great things about Crete is that no matter where you are, you’re never too far from a beach! When we were staying outside of Chania, we walked about a block to hang out on the local neighborhood beach. While we loved days when we adventured out to some of the more famous and spectacular beaches, we also loved being able to relax within a ten-minute walk from our villa. This is a great way to maximize relaxation time while also setting out to see some of the island’s more famous shores.
If you’re planning a trip to Greece, you’ll want to pack all the normal essentials, but here are a few things we strongly recommend bringing that may not have crossed your mind. For more packing tips, check out our complete Greece packing list.
– A physical guidebook, on paper or Kindle. We love Lonely Planet Greece for this region and strongly recommend it to supplement blogs. Blogs are great, but a combination of a blog and a guidebook is key to having the best access to information easily at your fingertips.
– A water bottle with a filter. While often, the tap water in Greece is drinkable, there are places where it isn’t, including some popular tourist destinations like Santorini.
We generally recommend using a water bottle with a purifying filter to reduce your plastic consumption and ensure you won’t drink any funny-tasting water on your stomach that could make your trip unpleasant!
We recommend the GRAYL water bottle – it filters water perfectly in an instant so that you can even drink from lakes, bad taps, etc.
– Motion sickness pills. Many Greek roads are winding, especially around the coast. Not to mention how choppy the ferries can be if you’re not lucky with the weather! If you have a weak stomach as we do, save yourself and bring some non-drowsy motion sickness pills.
– Wet wipes, hand sanitizer, TP & other Balkan transit needs. Bathrooms in Greece aren’t always well-stocked. Save yourself the disappointment and bring a mini-rescue pack of wet wipes & hand sanitizer.
– Travel safety items. We think Greece is very safe to travel to, but at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Stephanie nor I use these. Instead, we both carry the same PacSafe anti-theft backpack.
It has locking zippers, slash-proof construction with metal mesh hidden in the fabric, and tons of other smart security features — all while being cute and stylish enough to be our everyday bag. We recommend it highly for both male and female travelers, as it’s neutral enough to be unisex. We also strongly recommend travel insurance! Our recommendation is at the bottom of the post.
More Greece Travel Resources
Headed to Greece? We have some great travel resources to help you with your trip.
First read our guide to planning a trip to Greece, which covers visas, budgets, vaccines, and much more.
Next, you’ll want to read our all-season Greece packing list.
If you’ll be spending time in Athens, check out our Athens Instagram guide, the best Athens day trips, and our complete Athens hotel guide. We also have Athens safety tips so your trip can be hassle-free. We are currently working on our mega-post of things to do in Athens as well as our itineraries, so stay tuned!
We publish new content about the Balkans almost every day! For more information about traveling to Greece and the Balkans, bookmark our Greece and Balkan travel pages so you can find out what’s new before your trip.
Planning a Trip to Crete? Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!
Make sure you always travel to Crete with a valid travel insurance policy. Travel here includes outdoor activities and travel to highly touristed sites. You need to be covered in case you have an accident or fall victim to theft. Travel insurance will help you recover your expenses and continue to enjoy your trip.
For travel insurance, I use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.
Planning a Cretan Beach Vacation? Have You Been to any of the Best Beaches in Crete? Share your questions and tips below!
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Stephanie has been living in and traveling around the Balkans for the past three years. She’s written for National Geographic Online, appeared on CNN Arabic and in the New York Times, and ridden more Balkan buses than is good for a person.