We are absolutely obsessed with Crete! From the beautiful Cretan beaches to the amazingly photogenic cities of Chania and Rethymnon to the simply stunning Seitan Limania, we just can’t get enough! Here are thirteen of the best places to visit in Crete (though you can find tons more if you give yourself more time here)!
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The Best Places to Visit in Crete
In no particular order…
Crete has two airports, so most people starting out their trip trying to figure out whether to start in Chania or Heraklion. While I adore Heraklion (more on that below), Chania is the more “quintessentially Cretan” of the two.)
Start in the Old Venetian Harbor, a gorgeous waterside paradise featuring a lighthouse, fortress, and beautiful Ottoman mosque.
You’ll find the streets of the old town absolutely charming, full of gorgeous spots perfect for Instagram, boutique hotels with waterfront views, and delicious tavernas flowing with raki.
If you only have two or three days in Crete, base yourself in Chania.
A beautiful day trip from Chania, Seitan Limania is one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. While the paths on each side of the gorge are steep, it was more than worth the walk down to the bottom.
Besides teal waters and cliffs perfect for jumping off, you’ll also find the occasional local goat hanging out on the rocks or bullying tourists for their sandwiches.
If you come, bring your own supplies. There are no businesses (or…ahem…facilities) on the beach.
Hiking Samaria Gorge in western Crete is one of the island’s most famous activities for nature enthusiasts, and it’s no wonder since the gorge is the longest in Europe. It is sixteen kilometers long, and ranges from 150 meters wide to just three meters wide at it’s the narrowest point!
This charming town in northern Crete has a lot of similar sites to those in Chania or Heraklion, but because it’s not located near one of the island’s airports, there is a more remote vibe.
Whether you choose to base yourself here at one of Rethymnon’s beautiful hotels, or simply visit as a day trip from Chania or Heraklion, you really need to make sure you leave room for Rethymnon on your Crete itinerary.
Highlights include the Egyptian Lighthouse in the harbor, walking through the old town, and climbing up to the Fortezza.
Located between Kissamos and Chania, Balos Lagoon is a gorgeous spot with claims to being the most photographed beach in Crete.
In fact, Balos is so famous that Princess Diana and Prince Charles once visited on their yacht.
The most famous vacation spot in southern Crete, Plakias has been able to maintain its small-town feel despite the tourists who love to relax here every summer.
With a more boho vibe than the towns in the north, this is a great place for anyone who wants to come and get away from it all, yet still, have the comfort of delicious tavernas close-at-hand.
“Spinalonga. She played with the word rolling it around her tongue like an olive stone. The island lay directly ahead and as the boat approached the great Venetian fortification which fronted the sea…This, she speculated, might be a place where history was still warm, not stone cold, where the inhabitants were really not mythical”
The island has inspired authors, historians, archeologists, and now thousands of tourists. Abandoned and boasting a Venetian fortress, Spinalonga Island is a popular boat trip from Ayios Nikolaos, though you can also come from Elounda or Plaka.
You can walk around the island in about an hour, explore the historic abandoned buildings, and swim on the island’s secluded beaches.
If you want to spend time in some of Crete’s picturesque villages, you can’t do worse than a visit to Loutro. While many of the people who live here are seasonal visitors coming in for the summer, it doesn’t feel overly touristy since it’s remote and only accessible via boat.
A quiet place with almost no true nightlife, Loutro is the best place to visit in Crete if what you’re looking for is a remote spot to enjoy the sites and sounds of Crete without any hassle.
Crete’s famous “pink beach,” Elafonisi Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Crete. During the high season, Elafonisi is crowded with tourists looking for that perfect Instagram photo, but you can still enjoy a quieter slice of paradise if you come during late April, early May, and late September.
Getting here can be a bit of a chore (we ended up not being able to go because we waited to figure out transportation until the last minute), so we suggest booking a tour from Chania so you don’t miss out too.
Famous among Europe’s hippy community in the 1960s and 1970s, this beach southwest of Heraklion is still a great getaway for someone looking for a beach with a more wild feel (though you’ll still find great facilities like sunbeds and lifeguards waiting for you).
You can stay in the area at one of Matala’s great accommodations, or visit as a day trip from Heraklion or other eastern Crete city.
One of the most picturesque villages in Crete, Agios Nikolaos is built on three hills, with a bridge connecting the different parts of the town. Vibrant and colorful with a definite small island feel, it’s amazing how different a visit to Ag Nik can feel from staying in the island’s bigger towns.
You can also see the tiny island of Agii Pandes just behind. Think Greece’s answer to the Cinque Terre, but with enough Raki and mezze to keep you happy for days on end.
You might be surprised to find Heraklion, Crete’s capital and its most famous city isn’t the first entry on this list. While I adore the city, I think people make a mistake and delicate too much time here. While I’ve spent weeks in the city, if you only are going to be in Crete for a week, I would skip it.
The most popular excursion here is to go to Knossos. It’s so popular and brimming with so many tourists, that if you do go you should get a Skip-the-Line ticket so you don’t waste a ton of time standing in line here.
If you do come here, I suggest spending time exploring Koules Fortress, enjoying the delicious Heraklion restaurants and cafes, and soaking in the definite Bakan city vibes that you get here. I especially love the historic Lakkos District and Heraklion’s street art scene.
While you may not think of Heraklion as a typically “beautiful Greek island” city, there are actually some beautiful photo spots here if you know where to look for them.
A stunning beach in southern Crete on the Libyan Sea, you can easily visit Preveli from either Plakias or Rethymnon. You can appreciate the Palm Forrest, the nearby gorges, and, of course, you can just spend your time relaxing on the beautiful beach.
While Preveli isn’t the most famous of Crete’s beaches, it’s definitely not a hidden gem. There are tons of organized tours to help you visit from Plakias and Rethymnon.
5 Things to Bring with You to Crete
If you’re planning a trip to Crete, 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, in paper or on 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 generally, the tap water in Crete is drinkable, 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! There are places on the island where the water tastes like minerals.
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. Crete roads are winding, especially around the coast. 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 the Balkans tend to be… how can we say it?… not so well-stocked. Save yourself the disappointment and bring a mini-rescue pack of wet wipes & hand sanitizer.
– Travel safety items. We think Crete is very safe to travel, but at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Stephanie or 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 Crete Travel Resources
Headed to Crete? 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. We also have a Balkan currency guide which explains how money works in Greece and local tipping customs.
If this will be one of your first trips to the Greek islands, check out our massive Greek Island hopping guide as well as our recommendations for where to go in Greece and when is the best time to visit.
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.
Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!
I’m sure you’re aware that getting travel insurance is a good idea for traveling in Greece, the Balkans, or anywhere in the world! Allison and I have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption.
While Crete is perfectly safe to travel around, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel, so it’s better to play it safe.
Pin this Guide to the Best to Visit in Crete for Your Trip!
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.