How to Plan a Fabulous Road Trip in Crete

If you’ve been following all my articles about travel in Crete, you already know that I always suggest you discover Crete by car. With so much to see and do all over Crete, the best way to discover the island is to take a road trip. By car, you’ll be able to see the best beaches and the most stunning mountains. You’ll be free from schedules to explore historic sites, ruins, monasteries, and incredibly beautiful villages. This guide is a great tool that will help you get ready to see the best of Crete and get to know unique off-the-beaten-track places.

Tips to plan a road trip in Crete

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Planning a road trip in Crete

The more you read about Crete, the more you want to visit lots of places on the island. And if this is your first trip to Crete, I understand your enthusiasm but don’t forget that the island is really big, the landscape is mostly made of mountains. On Crete, the roads are often bendy and narrow, and speeding is not always a good idea. So, it’s better to start by planning every step of your trip. If you’re still uncertain about what regions to visit, make sure to check this top 50 in Crete before booking anything, it will help you decide what you really want to see.

Road trip in Crete: Basic things to know

These are important tips for you to remember before sitting down to sketch your road trip in Crete. They will save you time and give you a better idea about what to expect.

ROADS: Most roads in Crete are in good condition. It’s important to remember that the northern coast is well connected through the National Road, while the southern coast is more isolated and driving times tend to be longer. The National Road (also known as BOAK or A90 on roadsigns) connects the four main cities of Chania, Rethymnon, Heraklion and Agios Nikolaos, and important towns such as Kissamos in the west, and Sitia in the east.

LANDSCAPE: Crete is more than 80% of mountains, therefore roads are almost never straight. Driving from North to South implies endless hairpin turns, tunnels, cliffs, and bends. Mountain roads require a little skill and extra time. There can be unexpected animal traffic or rocks on the way, and in extreme weather conditions (it usually snows in winter) some roads might be closed. To play it safe, always overestimate when establishing driving times. Likewise, you cannot drive everywhere. Especially when it comes to the southern coast, some villages (for instance Loutro or Agia Roumeli) which can only be reached on foot or with a boat.

TIME ON THE ROAD: For the reasons stated above, but also because Crete is really big, crossing the island from west to east can take you from 4 to 6 hours, depending on how many times you stop along the way.

TOLLS: It’s still free to drive on Crete, no matter what road you choose!

WHEN TO VISIT: The island is packed with tourists from late June until mid-September. July and August are usually overcrowded. Most visitors rent a car to travel the island, so traffic tends to be heavy on the National Road. In this period, there are also more long-distance buses as well as private vans. However, the roads leading to lesser-known villages are not so overcrowded. The roads to the most popular beaches, including Balos and Elafonisi, are usually jam-packed.

>> Check this guide to driving and renting a car in Crete to be ready for your road trip!

What destinations to include in your Crete road trip

There are 4 different regions that make the island of Crete, from west to east, they are Chania, Rethymnon, Heraklion, which also hosts the capital of the island, and Lasithi. You can decide exactly where to go according to the style of holiday you prefer. Down here, a quick overview of the highlights in every region and the map of the island.

Chania Region

Chania is the second most important region of the island. It’s located on the west, and there are fascinating beaches along the coast. The most famous ones are Balos, Falasarna, Elafonisi, and Paleochora, all of them in this guide to west Crete. The region is also home to a beautiful old town, and some wild, hidden beaches.

>> Check the best Airbnbs in Chania Old Town.

You can also hike the spectacular gorge of Samaria (or choose a more accessible mountain hike, such as Imbros Gorge). In the Chania region, the mountain areas of Therisso and Sfakia are ideal to get a closer view of the local traditions. Some of the places in the region can be only accessed by boat (or walking), such as the fantastic fishing village of Loutro.

Rethymnon Region

Rethymnon map with things to do in Rethymnon

Rethymnon is located between the regions of Chania and Heraklion, and it’s a favorite place for holidays. Rethymnon is a popular place to stay if you want to explore a little bit of every region. There are some stunning beaches in the south, such as Triopetra, Preveli, Ligres, Agia Galini, and Agios Pavlos. Mountain villages you can visit include the traditional Anogeia and the fantastic Spili.

In the region, there are several monasteries to visit, including the famous Moni Arkadi and Moni Preveli. Rethymnon is also home to Crete’s highest peak, Mount Psiloritis, 2456 meters above the sea level.

On the north coast of Rethymnon, don’t miss the old town with its stunning Fortress and the beautiful Venetian Harbor. Seaside resorts such as Panormos and Bali are popular places for those looking for a more organized kind of holiday.

Heraklion Region

Other than being the region home to the capital of Crete, Heraklion is a fantastic city with countless things to do. There are beautiful beaches, theme parks for children and an active nightlife. But, above all, Heraklion is the best region to visit if you love history.

It’s in Heraklion where you’ll find the archaeological sites of Knossos, Malia, and Phaistos, three of the four Minoan palaces on the island. You can also check unique museums, the hippie beach of Matala, the Cretaquarium, and fantastic wineries in Heraklion’s wine region.

Lasithi Region

One of the most beautiful landscapes in Crete is the one you’ll find in the eastern region of Lasithi. Somewhat overlooked and forgotten, there are plenty of things to do, both on the north and the south coasts. Lasithi is a region that perfectly fits any road trip, with endless empty roads and awe-inspiring scenes. For instance, the stunning Lasithi Plateau is among the most beautiful scenic drives on Crete.

On the northern coast, you can explore cities such as Agios Nikolaos and Sitia, while in the south, Ierapetra is the perfect place to stay if you include a boat trip to Chrissi in your Crete itinerary.

>> The four regions in a map

When to visit Crete: Pick a date

the island is an amazing destination any time of the year, however, take these into consideration if you need to decide when to give your road trip in Crete a go.

Mountain road, sea, cliff

Summer in Crete

If like most European travelers, you’re bound to travel to Crete during your summer holidays, your most obvious advantage is that knowing your available dates in advance you’ll be able to purchase your tickets and book accommodation with plenty of time. This usually allows you to save, cutting on high last-minute fees. You will also get a better deal for your car rental, and a wider choice of car category too. If you search for your car through a powerful search engine, you’ll have a wider choice too.

Fall in Crete

If you’re free to come any time you want, late September and October are great months to visit Crete. Cities and attractions are less crowded, it’s easier to find accommodation, and the sea will be still warm for long swims. In general, the weather is quite good for long road trips in Crete.

Spring in Crete

Most hotels and touristic places start opening in March but don’t expect the island to be completely open until after Easter (always remember that Greece celebrates Orthodox Easter and dates will vary from Christian Easter, check this information in advance). April, May, and early June are good months to visit, the sea is still not super warm, but roads aren’t overcrowded. There’s almost no rain and the weather is especially pleasant for walks and outdoor activities.

Winter in Crete

Not many tourists make it to Crete during winter, although the island is starting to receive people that want to experience Christmas on the island. However, there are people willing to escape the colder European winter. In winter, days are shorter, it can rain, it snows on the mountains, and be a bit chilly, yet, it’s easy to experience pleasant temperatures and plenty of sunshine. Although some ferry routes and mountain passes can be closed, you can tour a good portion of Crete also in winter.

GREECE - CRETE - ROAD

How much time you need to tour Crete

If you have just one week or less to visit Crete, forget the hassle and simply focus on one region only. Otherwise, you’ll be running from one place to the other, unable to enjoy a road trip in Crete. In my opinion, the best part of any road trip is the freedom you get when you’re driving around. No tight schedule will ever match such an experience.

You need at least 10 days to visit two, (maximum three) regions, better if you have two weeks. But much, much better if the weeks available are three! With four weeks, you could discover so many interesting places!

>> If you’re looking for a good 3-week itinerary (with tips to adapt it for a 2-week road trip, check this article.

If you decide to take it easy and explore one region at a time, there’s plenty you’ll be able to discover. In general, I suggest you devote 2-4 days to Heraklion, 5-8 days to the region of Chania, 3-5 days to the Rethymnon region, and 5-8 days to Lasithi. You can do everything in fewer days, but times on the road will seem longer.

If you decide to take it easy and explore one region at a time, there’s plenty you’ll be able to discover. In general, I suggest you devote:

  • 2-4 days to Heraklion,
  • 5-8 days to the region of Chania,
  • 3-5 days to the Rethymnon region, and
  • 5-8 days to Lasithi.

You can do everything in fewer days, but times on the road might feel longer. Ok, now that you know how much time to spend, where to go, and when to visit, let’s get to the fun part of planning your road trip!

>> These guides include loads of valuable details to consider!

Getting to the island: Travel to Crete

I’ve just published a great guide with every detail to travel to Crete by plane or by ferry. It covers European flights and flights coming from the US, Canada, Australia, and Israel, among other areas. It also includes a detailed explanation for those reaching Athens and getting to Crete from there, either by air or by sea.

You can bookmark that guide and read it later. Now, just keep in mind these important tips and two basic options:

Travel to Crete by plane

This option will save you extra travel times.

  • The main airport is in Heraklion, but the Chania airport is also a great arrival point in summer. Choose the best place to arrive and depart from to plan your itinerary accordingly.
  • It’s a great idea to arrive at one airport and depart from the other one if you’re driving around the island.
  • If you’re not coming from Europe, you will land in Athens. From there, it’s a 45-minute flight to Chania or Heraklion.
  • Save even more time picking your rental car at the airport. Choose a company that allows you to drop off your car at a different airport when it’s time to fly back home.
  • Greek carriers flying to Crete are Aegean Airlines and Olympic Air.
  • Check here for tickets to Crete.

Travel to Crete by ferry

Considered the most traditional way to travel in Greece, it’s a great experience to sail from Athens on an overnight ferry to Crete.

  • Those coming by car from the rest of Europe can board a ferry and drive their own car in Crete!
  • The route Athens (Piraeus)-Heraklion/Chania takes 7-9 hours, Most ferries depart at night, although there are morning ferries departing in summer.
  • The main port is in Heraklion, while the port of Chania is also quite busy in summer. As you can do with planes, it’s a good idea to arrive and depart from different ports. If you’re renting a car, go for a company that allows different pick-up and drop-off points.
  • Check this company to compare ferry fares.

Renting your car for your Crete road trip

The first thing you should do is go and check this insanely useful driving and car rental in Crete guide. It includes every detail for a hassle-free experience when driving on the island. You can also bookmark it and read it later.

>> These are the main points to remember

  • Despite what car companies might suggest, a small car is the best way to tour the narrow roads. They are ok to drive off-road paths too. If you don’t believe me, look at the cars that locals own! A 1.3 engine will be more than enough even in the mountains. The most popular compact cars are Fiat Panda, Suzuki Celerio, and Hyundai i10. Don’t feel they’re too small, unless you have lots of luggage, they aren’t!
  • There’s absolutely no need to rent a 4WD, but of course, it’s thrilling, so if your budget allows, go for it!
  • It’s hard to get an automatic car available, if this is an absolute must for you, rent well in advance and be ready to pay extra.
  • Extra insurance is not really necessary, but it’s always advisable for peace of mind. Book an extra-driver option if you plan to drink the stunning local wines and spirit!

>> Car rental companies

  • It’s a good idea to trust a car rental search engine to discover all the car rental possibilities you have on the island. Including both local and international companies. Discover Cars searches over 500 trusted rental companies for you to find the best deal. Compare prices for rental cars in Crete here.
GREECE-CRETE-LASITHI-MAKRI-GIALOS-HARBOR

Crafting your road trip in Crete: Plan the itinerary

This is definitely the most exciting part before the actual trip: Road trip planning! Make yourself a cup of coffee, gather any travel companion, spread a good road map of Crete on the table, and keep my site open on your computer. Check all the articles I’ve written about Crete through the years to discover both popular areas and off-the-beaten-track places to see. Let me guide you…

>> Chania West Crete Travel Guide: If you are looking for a stunning guide, written by a local, about how to tour and what to do in West Crete, check my e-book Chania and West Crete, you’ll get every detail you need to visit the area. It’s been specially thought as a handy road trip guide to have always with you. Here you can get a copy.

GREECE - CRETE - Elafonisi ROAD - Topolia

Decide where to stop during your Crete road trip

Now that you’ve more or less an idea of what cities, villages, and seaside resorts you want to include in your Crete itinerary, go ahead and book accommodation. I’ve often suggested the convenience of Booking as a great platform to find the place that better suits your needs. Check Booking.com.

>> Don’t forget to check or bookmark the following accommodation guides

>> In my opinion, these are the best areas to stay

>> The best hotels sell out early, book as son as you know where you want to stay!

GREECE - CRETE - CHANIA - OLD TOWN

Bookings through Airbnb have soared on Crete during the last years, and all indicate that the trend is here to stay.
>> Click on this map to check the best Airbnbs in Crete.

Packing for your road trip: Essentials

Yes, I’ve also written this article, it’s a very useful packing guide specially designed for a road trip on the island. You can bookmark it and read it when it’s time to pack, or you can take a look at it now.

>> These are some essentials that you should not forget

  • Have a great backpack with you is you’re a fan of carry-on-only trips. If you prefer a small suitcase, this AmazonBasics is great. It’s a 40-liter, hardshell spinner with built-in TSA lock and wheels.
  • Include a foldable backpack for trips to the beach, to the mountains, and exploring the city center. When flying, it can work as your personal item.
  • Don’t forget your camera. It can be a phone camera, an action camera, or a DSLR… the views on the island are inspiring! Don’t forget extra batteries, charger, adapter, and extra SD cards.
  • Grab a TomTom for ease of planning. I also include a good road map, always!
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses, snorkeling kit, hat, hiking shoes, and flip flops: Indispensable!

Adrenaline junkie?
>> If you’re looking for a memorable off-road experience, check these safari tours in Crete!

Ready? Let’s go!

A road trip in Crete is one of the most rewarding experiences you can live in Greece, the island is just right for driving adventures. When moving around, don’t forget to interact with the locals, try their stunning food, and venture in lesser-known areas. It will be a rewarding trip and definitely one that you will want to repeat!

Are you ready to explore Crete? It can be the trip of your lifetime. Get in touch if you need extra help to plan your itinerary and join our Crete Travel Group on Facebook. Or check this guide if you’re touring West Crete. You’ll find detailed info about where to go, what to see, where to eat, and more!

Coming to Crete any time soon? These fantastic resources will help you organize the trip!

Finally, make sure you’ve got everything you for a hassle-free trip!

  • I never move around the island with any of these… my Osprey backpack has been the most loyal travel partner over the last 5 years. It’s sturdy, light, roomy, and super comfortable! I just love it. To visit the old town, archaeological sites, and museums, this little crossbody bag is always around.
  • When driving around Crete, I always pack my Michelin map, clear, accurate, and easy to read and my Nikon D7200, I’m lost without any of them. In summer I also carry good sunscreen lotion, the sun on the island can be pretty aggressive.
  • Greece, and especially Crete, is a fairly safe destination, however, I’m sure you know that it’s always better to travel with an insurance policy for complete peace of mind. My favorite? World Nomads. Already left home? Buy your travel insurance online now!
  • Always bring with you a good travel guide to Crete! The best Crete Travel Guide I’ve found so far is the one published by Lonely Planet. It has all the information you need.
  • Airfares to Crete can vary immensely from one airline to the other, make sure you always compare ticket prices with a powerful search engine. Getting to Crete can be really comfortable with an airplane, but nothing beats the romantic experience of traveling by sea. I always choose Let’s Ferry to visit other Greek islands or to travel directly to Crete from Athens. It has a powerful search engine to get the right ticket you need!
  • If I need to book accommodation in Crete or anywhere else, I personally use Booking.com. Their Genius Loyalty Programme allows me to find better fees. As they say, the more you stay with them, the more rewards you get.
  • Road trips in Crete are the most authentic way to explore the island. Find the cheapest rental car using a good car rental search engine. Discover Cars searches over 500 trusted rental companies for you to find the best deal. Compare prices for rental cars in Crete here.
  • Sometimes, the best way to get to know a place better and make the most of your time on Crete is to join an organized tour. GetYourGuide has a great selection of proposals that help you save time and money. From cooking lessons to archaeological site tours, skip-the-line attractions, and even airport transfer!

Do you have everything you need? Then you just have to get ready to discover Crete, Greece’s most beautiful island!

  • Further reading

If you would like to learn everything about the practical aspects of planning a trip to Crete, you should also check what to pack for a road trip around Crete and this crazy useful guide to renting a car and driving on the island. This 3-week-in-Crete itinerary is super flexible and can be adapted for less (or even more) time on the island. However, you might already know that the island is quite big, and it’s not always easy to decide which region to visit or where to stay. I’ve written a post about the best regions to stay in Crete according to your interests and travel style, and it’s a must-read before your trip.

Once on the island, make sure you check some of the best archaeological sites in Crete as well as the stunning Balos Beach, on the western coast. Make some time to discover Crete’s beautiful monasteries and to taste the most delicious street food in Chania while exploring the Turkish district in the old town!

Are you planning your road trip in Crete?
Let me know in the comments below!

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Tips to plan a road trip in Crete
Tips to plan a road trip in Crete
Gabi Ancarola | The Tiny Book

About the Author

Hola! I’m Gabi. Welcome to The Tiny Book – Crete Travel Blog! I moved to Crete to explore the island all year round. I love taking pictures and driving on the mountain roads of Crete. I’m a beach freak and on this island I’ve found heaven on earth!

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