The Ultimate Travel And Diving Guide For Crete, Greece

Johnny

The island of Crete was my first foray into visiting the incredibly beautiful and complex system of Greek Islands. It turns out, I picked one of the best according to everyone I’ve talked to and I can see why after visiting the island for just under a week. I spent most of my time diving but managed to explore a chunk of the island as well.

Crete in all of its beauty

Crete in all of its beauty

There is no shortage of things to do on the ancient Minoan island where Theseus killed the Minotaur in ancient times (aka mythology). While Crete sees its fair share of tourists thanks to so many direct flights connecting the airports of Chania and Heraklion with the rest of Europe, the island is plenty big enough where you can get away from the crowds and enjoy nature as it should be. This post will be a guide of how to travel Crete, where you should visit, and what to know if you’re planning on scuba diving.Crete in all of its beauty

 

Crete is not a quick destination


Simply put, Crete is huge. If you look at a map of the Mediterranean, there’s no doubt the first thing that stands out is that large piece of land in the center. That is Crete, also the second biggest island in the Mediterranean after Cyprus. Larger than Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia, and certainly larger than Malta. 

In fact, Crete is one of the only Greek islands that is entirely self sustaining. This means they require no agricultural imports from the mainland that other islands like Santorini, Kefalonia, Rhodes etc. would require. It’s evident as well because the food you eat in Crete is all grown in Crete and oh my goodness is it ever so delicious.

Crete beaches

Crete beaches

Crete is not a simple let me fly into Chania or Heraklion, scope it out and call it a day. There is so much to see that you could easily spend two weeks on the island and still not see everything. There is so much culture, history, beautiful beaches, quaint Greek towns, and food to be had that you need to pick an area to tackle if you’re only here for a few days. I was here for about 5 days and spent most of it diving, but I could have easily spent another week easily to explore the island.

Beautiful beaches abound in Crete

Beautiful beaches abound in Crete

 

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Pick your location to stay

Unless you have weeks on end, I would elect to just choose somewhere to be your home base. Since most people fly into Heraklion or Chania, these two cities are very popular for home bases. However, don’t be scared to stay in another town nearby like Rethimno or in the southern coast where we did. Where you base yourself, will dictate the areas of the island you explore. I stayed in Plakias which is south center and spent my entire week exploring the western half of Crete. Otherwise, driving to the other side of the island would have taken most of the day to just reach and then I’d have no time to actually see much.

Southern Crete

Southern Crete

If you are visiting for more than a week, I’d recommend staying in separate places on different parts of the island so you can see everything. From west to east, it is about a 4-5 hour drive!

 

Getting around

Rent a car is you want to see any part of the island that are not the main cities where airports reside (Chania and Heraklion). The island is just so massive that you will not see much if you’re relying on buses or cabs. Car rentals are very cheap from the airports, and twice as cheap if you can drive manual (like most of Europe). I rented from a company called Green Motion from the Heraklion airport. For a five day rental, I paid about €70 which is about the price you’d pay for roundtrip transfers from the airport to the city so you’re already winning!

 

Beware of the road conditions

The roads in Crete are notorious for being pot-hold ridden and difficult to drive on. I definitely saw my fair share of potholes on the smaller roads in the south. The highway that connects the North between Heraklion and Chania is great but don’t expect it to be the same everywhere else!

The strangest thing about driving in Crete, and perhaps this is the case for the rest of Greece is how people pass each other and change lanes.

The lanes are curiously designed to be extra large, but instead of splitting into two lanes, the Greeks keep it as one large lane. The shoulder lane (where you pull over) is also extra large. So instead of having a two lane road with a small shoulder lane, you have one large lane with a large shoulder. The slow drivers that would normally drive on the right lane drive half way between the shoulder lane and the regular lane and the fast drivers pass accordingly on whatever lane is left. The other side of traffic also does the same thing so you have a quasi 4 lane road even though there are two lanes! It is very funny to observe.

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Staying in Plakias and Myrthios


In the end, we picked a dive shop in the southern town of Plakias, one of the largest in the south. By large, I mean it is still a village in comparison to Chania or Heraklion. After perusing booking.com and Airbnb, we stayed at a beautiful traditional Cretian villa in the town of Myrthios which is up on the hill overlooking Plakias and the bay.

The views from the town and from my apartment were nothing short of stunning. You could see everything here and the sunsets were absolutely epic. We spent most of our time exploring the nearby restaurants in Myrthios because why would you go anywhere else when you have stunning views from your table as well as absolutely delicious food.

We booked our apartment on Airbnb and paid about €100 a night which is very expensive by Crete standards. However, we loved our deck where we could enjoy the sunset and drink wine every night.

Crete villa

Our traditional house

 

Cretian Food and Drink


Food in Crete is absolutely top notch. Greek food was a hit for me even before I came to Greece but anyone that has been here will tell you nothing compares to the stuff from Greece. The main reason is because of the ingredients and this could not be more true when you’re in Crete. Everything is freshly grown here from the meat to the produce. Throw in fresh seafood from the day’s catch, the most flavorful olive oil you’ll have and you have a recipe for success.

Souvlaki all day every day in Greece. mmm delicious

Souvlaki all day every day in Greece. mmm delicious

In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been so obsessed with tomatoes, yes tomatoes in my life. I didn’t think a tomato could be that delicious until I had Greek salads every night that included fresh tomatoes. Speaking of Greek salads, I never cared for them back home in America because the ingredients were just never there. But fresh feta, vegetables, and Cretian olive oil will quickly change your perspective and I ended up having Greek salads with every meal.

Greek salads for every meal yes please.

Greek salads for every meal yes please.

It’s difficult to have a bad meal in Crete. I mean I just googled restaurants near me while I was staying in Myrthios and every restaurant had a review of 4.5* and above. I went to every restaurant around my town and suffice to say that everything was above my expectations.fresh olive oil, honey and raki

 

Taverna Dionyssos

Taverna Dionyssos is ranked in the top 10 restaurants on Crete. This was our first real meal of the trip and my goodness were we blown away.

We nabbed the best seat in the house with breathtaking views of the ocean. We ordered the Greek salad (and every meal thereafter), octopus, garlic bread with cheese (crazy delicious) and sausages. For my main, I had their grilled chicken which was probably one of the best grilled chickens of my life.

Perfectly seasoned, juicy, and just immensely flavorful. The dark and green Crete olive oil is also incredibly delicious and is really what makes the salad so delicious. We also shared a 0.5L of wine for €5. We ate like absolute kings and were stuffed beyond reason. Our bill was about €50 in the end.

 

Taverna Mabiou

This taverna located in the nearby town of Mabiou came highly recommended to us by the dive shop. Like the other restaurants in the area, the views of the bay are at your foorstep and you can’t but help feel completely mesmerized by the sunset and ocean. Come here on the earlier side to enjoy the sunset over some drinks and delicious food.

The food as you’d expect is absolutely fantastic. We had the standard Greek salad, feta cheese, lamb sausages and grilled chicken. The food was absolutely delicious just like everywhere else we had been. Total bill was once again around €50 for 4 starters, 2 mains, and 0.5L of wine.

 

Vrisi Restaurant

Vrisi is located near to our apartment in Myrthios and as you can see, offers unobstructed views of the ocean and mountains. We had the most delicious fried feta pastry and honey. It was honestly mind blowing. I had the lamb chops which are highly recommend. The goats are all raised in Crete and you can see them roaming around the island when driving around. They are absolutely delicious!

Vrisi restaurant views in Crete

Vrisi views in Crete

 

Drink Raki

Raki is very much a part of the Crete culture. I’m not sure if this is influenced by Turkey as they are what I think of when it comes to drinking raki. Nevertheless, you will find no Ouzo in Crete but you will find Raki being served after every meal at a taverna free of change. Some restaurants give you a whole 200ml vial of it on the house so you will not go home sober. Of course, it is rude to refuse so we made sure to drink everything that was offered!

Raki with a view in crete

Raki with a view

Alternatively, you could buy raki at a local shop for about €3-4 for a half liter.

 

Scuba diving in Crete


As you’d expect, Crete is surrounded by beautiful coastline and therefore there is diving to be had all over the island. If you do a search of dive shops in Crete, you’ll find countless shops all around the Cretian coast.

Dive2gether in Crete

Dive2gether in Crete

It was hard to find any resources for diving in Crete. I went back and forth between choosing dive shops around Chania and others in the south of the island. The draw of the north were the famous elephant caves which is a stunning cavern underwater with remnants of an elephant. The pictures certainly looked cool.

Dive2gether in Crete

Diving in Crete!

 

Diving in the South of Crete

I ended up picking the South for diving as the few resources I did read recommended the south. Plus I could tell the vibe in the south would be much more laid back than in the north by the cities.

All in all, this was my first foray into diving in the Mediterranean and as expected, there isn’t much to see. The diving was mostly rocks with a few coral pieces, and very little fish life. From everyone I’ve talked to in the past, this is what they told me to expect and it is true. The diving in the Mediterranean just isn’t that great. We mostly saw lionfish which are an invasive species multiplying in alarming numbers. There were a few reef fish and the occasional octopus or moray eel. Overall, I’m glad I didn’t dive every day in Crete! The water was chillier than I expected too with September water temperatures at 24c (maybe 25c).

Having dived all around the world, and going to amazing places like Komodo, the Maldives, a liveaboard in the Red Sea, I don’t think I would come back to Crete for diving. However, I would definitely come back to Crete for everything else like the food and the nature.

 

Diving with Dive2Together

I chose to dive with Dive2gether which was one of the few shops in the south. Located in Plakias town on the water, they have great access to all the dive sites in the south. The dive shop itself was extremely well run and the staff were great. The divemasters and instructors were fantastic. We had a great time diving with them!

However, as a divemaster myself, I think the divemasters here work too hard. For every dive, they are required to dive with a floating device which makes guiding more difficult in my opinion. This means they are diving at 20m and have to worry about this surface buoy connected by rope that can easily get entangled in the big rocks that are the mainstay of the Mediterranean underwater landscape. They also are required to take photos of their divers which I suppose I can understand because it generates money. But a dive guide’s job should be to look after the safety of the other divers first and foremost, followed by showing them interesting things. I think taking photos of the guests as well as diving with a surface indicator is too much work!Related image

Nevertheless, we had a great time diving with them and they even had a delicious Greek style BBQ on one of the nights.

 

Visiting Chania


The old city of Chania, which won the title of the most beautiful city in Crete, is really a gem preserved with a scent of the past. The walls of the old city more or less define the most interesting, and also the most touristy part of the city – the Venetian Quarter and the Turkish Quarter. The two quarters give us a glimpse of the history of the island, and the differences between them are evident mainly in the style of the buildings.

Chania, an amazing city to visit in Crete

Chania, an amazing city to visit in Crete

It’s especially fun to walk around the ancient Venetian port that looks like a postcard – dozens of restaurants facing the blue sea, part of which is part of an ancient wall, colorful boats tied to the dock and seagulls that adorn the sky.

Beautiful streets in Chania

Beautiful streets in Chania

At the entrance to the port you can’t ignore two beautiful ancient buildings – the picturesque lighthouse, built more than 400 years ago, and the Turkish mosque known as the Küçük Hasan Pasha Mosque {“The Sea Mosque”}, with the pink dome. Both are worth a close visit, where you can also read some historical details about each of the buildings. Chania, an amazing city to visit in Crete

Visiting Rethimo


Rethymno combines rarely united features: the old town’s charm and history, with proximity to a long sandy beach.Rethimno town in Crete Greece

Although it is the third largest town in Crete, Rethimnon never feels like a city as Chania and Heraklion do. Instead, it has a provincial air; it’s a place that moves slowly, a very romantic plade and the most important preserves much of its Venetian and Turkish appearance.

Explore one of the best preserved medieval cities in Greece, and search for your fairy-tale romance in Rethymno. Venetian fortification works mingle harmonically with orthodox and catholic churches, mosques, majestic mansions of Venetian architecture, arches and cobbled paths which create a magical atmosphere, reminiscence of the city’s turbulent –yet glorious– past.

You can enjoy arriving by ferry and be “there” close to the centre of the Old Town, just a 5 minute walk away (newly built harbours on many Greek islands are now far from the center, removing the romance of arriving IN the place you are visiting!).

There are two sides to Rethymno offering two styles of visit: the endless big beach hotel strip that stretches from the east end of Rethymno, lapping up the coastal “villages” of Perivolia, Platanias, Adelianos Kambos, Pigianos Kambos, Sfakaki, Stavromenos and Skaleta – and – the Rethymno that allows you the character of the old town with its mix of architecture and history, cultural influences and styles ranging from Venetian to Ottoman empire. We present the second and more romantic choice – leaving the all-inclusive beach and booze tours to others.

 

Visiting the Countless beaches of Crete


Crete is known for its gorgeous beaches and let me tell you, if it is nice beaches you’re after, you will not be disappointed. The island is a goldmine of picturesque and stunning blue beaches. I can’t even begin to act like I know where they all are but here are some of the most stunning ones I discovered.

Beautiful coastline of Crete

Beautiful coastline of Crete

 

Seitan

The word “Seitan” is Turkish and it has remained from the period of the Turkish conquest in Crete. It is translated as “satanic”, so Seitan Limania means the “Ports of Satan”. Despite its name, the beach is rather heavenly. The beach has gravel and sand, blue crystal waters and is surrounded by huge rocks. These rocks are suitable for diving and protect the cove from bad weather. This heavenly small beach is more known to the locals of Hordaki who try to keep it clean and protected from mass tourism. It is also worth to visit the small, old church of Agios Stefanos(Saint Stefan), which is carved into the rocks.

Image result for seitan beach crete

 

Balos Beach

Balos beach is with no doubts amongst some of the most used cover photos and surely you must have come across it, at least once in your life, while leafing through a magazine or on any travel websites. It’s also an easy drive from Chania (about 30 minutes).

The place gets very busy during the high season as its beauty only rivals that of Elafonissi but is totally worth it if you’re staying in the area.

Balos beach by Chania

Balos beach by Chania

 

Falassarna Beach

This beach has consistenly been ranked as one of the nicest beaches in Europe. It’s hard to disagree. It’s arguably one of the most tropical and clearest beaches I’ve seen in the Mediterranean. The water is crystal clear and the sandy beaches stretch on for miles on end. It’s located on Crete’s west coast by Elafonissi making this a great alternative to the more popular beach.

Related image

 

Elafonissi

I didn’t even know about this beach when I first came to Crete. It wasn’t until after reading some blogs and reviews that this beach came up and I knew I had to visit. It’s about 1.5 hours from Chania and 2.5 hours from where I was staying in Southern Crete! Nevertheless, it had to be done and we made the road trip here starting early in the morning.

Elafonissi Beach Crete

Elafonissi Beach

This beach is a huge lagoon with a stunning sandbank that runs between the mainland of Crete and the tiny island of Elafonisi. During low tides, you can walk along the Sandbank to the island of Elafonisi where there is an old church. The beach does get very crowded however, but if you walk away from the main strip, there are plenty of places for you to relax and enjoy the beautiful ocean. The water color here is superb and is without a doubt one of Crete’s nicest beaches!

Drone shot of Elafonissi

Drone shot of Elafonissi

 

Visit the Samaria Gorge


The diversity of Crete’s history is surpassed only by the diversity of its natural landscape. The more developed northern coast (home to the three largest cities) is dwarfed by the incredible mountains of central Crete. The ‘White Mountains’ dominate Western Crete, while Mount Psyloritis (also known as Mount Ida), the highest mountain on the island at almost 2500m, is located south of Rethymno. For much of the year the mountains are capped with snow, and create a rugged and wild landscape that is truly breathtaking.

The terrain here is absolutely stunning and reminds me a lot of the Canyons hike in the Isalo National Park in Madagascar.

Related image

Among the mountains are a variety of deep gorges, including Samaria Gorge (a reason on its own to visit Crete!) and Imbros Gorge which are great for walking and exploring the dramatic landscapes. In the province of Chania, you can find Crete’s only freshwater lake, Lake Kournas, which is surrounded by a lush green area full of wildlife.

Tip: Hiking through Europe’s longest gorge (aka Samaria Gorge) is one of the best things to do in Crete, hands down. The gorge was created by a river running from high in the White Mountains down to the sea, and you can hike down along the river for an unforgettable experience. The walk itself is a long one, at nearly 16km, but if you are up for some active exploration it is well worth it (plus it is all downhill!). The path ends at the tiny village of Agia Roumeli, where you get your reward for the hike – a dip in the sea at the black sand beach. The only way out of the town is by ferry boat to a nearby port with bus service, so you are forced to relax and recover for a little while, and get a bit of extra sightseeing in at the end.

 

Visit Loutro


Located in southwestern Crete, and just a few kilometers from Hora Sfakion, lies the beautiful and pristine seaside resort village of Loutro. Its name is derived from the Greek word for ‘bath’, due to the ancient baths that were discovered there. It is a quaint little place literally on the sea, with its typical architecture and a marvelous little bay to call its own.

Image result for loutro crete

Peaceful and quiet, this place suits those who seek to destress, reconnect and reset. It can only be accessed by sea, and with a prohibition of motor vehicles except for one, Loutro exudes an unmatched tranquility and a tactile authenticity that permeates every inch of the tiny settlement.

Image result for loutro crete

 

Visiting Knossos


This is a very important historical attraction. It’s the largest Bronze archaeological site on Crete and considered to be Europe’s oldest city. One of the most important sites is the Palace of Knossos which dates back to 2000-1350 B.C. It is the largest of the preserved Minoan palatial centres. King Minos’ palace is the setting for many a great Greek myth, the most famous being Theseus and The Minotaur. The labyrinthine ruins and stunning wall murals really bring Greek mythology to life.

Exploring Crete by road Global Grasshopper

 

 

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Crete is a Greece lover\'s paradise. All of the charm and beauty of Greece without the extreme over-tourism. There are so many towns and so many beaches here that anyone will find what they\'re looking for here. From the incredible food to the stunning beaches, you will not be bored here. #crete #elafonisi #chania #heraklion

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  • Avatar
    Nick @ GreekBoston.com
    Reply

    There’s so much to do on the island of Crete that it can be hard to choose. You’ve given us a nice collection of activities that gives you a bit of everything.

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