Trying to decide whether you should visit Chania or Heraklion on your trip to Crete? Both cities have advantages and similarities, but they are very different places. If you stay within Heraklion or Chania proper, you will have drastically different experiences. I love both cities, but you should pick the one that’s right for you. Here are twelve important points to help you decide whether to visit Heraklion or Chania.
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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.
Choose Chania for…
Here are four reasons to pick Chania over Heraklion.
…stunning lighthouse views
Crete has a lot of lighthouses (over a dozen!) and my two favorite ones are located in Chania and Rethymnon. If you want to see a beautiful Venetian lighthouse, you should pick Chania. Sometimes the lighthouse is referred to as Egyptian because of the period of reconstruction. Make sure to visit at golden hour for the best light.
…charming city streets
Both cities have pretty corners, but Chania is more consistently pretty than Heraklion is. I know where to find the pretty spots in Heraklion, but in Chania, the town is gorgeous pretty much no matter where you are. If you want to spend hours wandering around a charming city, pick Chania. You can also do it by joining a private tour like this one for better insight.
A lot of Chania’s charm comes from its beautiful architecture, but another element is its beautiful storefronts. If you want to see buildings that pop with color (or perhaps…Instagram them) then pick Chania.
…day tripping to Seitan Limania beach
After spending weeks in Crete, I can confidently say that Seitan Limania beach is my absolute favorite Cretan beach. You have to do a bit of walking/climbing down the cliff sides to get to the bottom, but once you’re down there’s it’s stunning.
If you’re curious about how to visit Seitan Limania, check out our guide to visiting Seitan Limania from Chania.
Choose Heraklion for…
While Chania is the more charming of the two, there are a few reasons you should pick Heraklion over Chania.
…visiting the Palace of Knossos
If you’re interested in learning about Minoan history and culture, then you need to pick Heraklion. You can take a trip out to the Palace of Knossos and visit the archeology museum to see amazing artifacts from this period of Crete’s history.
…thought-provoking street art
Heraklion is more of a city than Chania, and that means that it has some city amenities that Chania does not. One of these is a thriving street art scene, centered around the historic Lakkos district. This former red-light area of Heraklion has been revitalized, with a self-guided walking tour of the area’s most important sites and an artist-in-residence program that produces amazing street art to appreciate.
…you like the quirky and mysterious
Chania is charming, but Heraklion is quirky. If you’re more likely to travel for Atlas Obscura than for Instagram, then Heraklion is the right place for you. For example, the city’s most famous fountain was built with a headless Roman statue at its center. If you like places like Pristina, Skopje, Thessaloniki, and Athens’ Exarchia neighborhood, then you will feel right at home in Heraklion.
…you love Greek literature
If you love Greek literature, then come to Heraklion to see the grave of Nikos Kazantzakis, the author of Zorba the Greek. His grave is high up on the city walls because when he died he was at odds with the Orthodox church which banned (and burned) his books.
He nearly won the Nobel Prize in Literature, barely losing out to Albert Camus. So if you’re a fan of great literature and you want to explore Greek literature further, pick Heraklion.
Choose Both for…
Whether you choose Chania or Heraklion, you can expect a warm Cretan welcome. There are a few things about the Cretan culture that make both of these cities fantastic places to visit. Here are four things you can count on whether Heraklion or Chania wins you over.
…delicious Cretan cuisine
I love Cretan cuisine, which is similar to Greek cuisine. However, it has some dishes that all its own that you simply must have while on the island. I love dakos, kaltsounia, and they do absolute wonders with lamb.
…beautiful Venetian harbors
While I adore the lighthouse in Chania, if you want to spend time walking around beautiful Venetian harbors, you can choose Chania or Heraklion. They’re the highlight of both cities. While there are more restaurants and bars sitting on Chania’s harbor, Heraklion’s harbor is more peaceful with fewer tourists. They’re both a complete delight.
…great cafe culture
You can’t go one day in Crete without someone asking you to have a coffee. Whether you’re in Heraklion or Chania, you can expect to (and you should) spend hours whiling away your time in the beautiful and chill cafes of each city.
…all you can drink Raki
No matter which tavern or rakadiko you choose, prepare to be offered raki after your meal. Many places will give you an entire mini-carafe of the liquor, even you’re traveling solo. And then, should you be strong enough to finish it, happily offer you more. Crete is a giant all-you-can-drink raki bar, and you can’t keep up.
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 that 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.
Key Things to Pack on Your Trip to Greece
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.
Finally, Make Sure You Come to Crete with 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. The saying goes “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel” is true!
Pin this guide to decide which city to visit in Crete… Chania or Heraklion for an outstanding holiday in Greece!
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.