If you’ve been following 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, 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.
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Crete on the road
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) 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 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.
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 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.
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.
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 on 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.
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.
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 itinerary, 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.
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.
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…
- If you’re a beach fan, you’ll love exploring the coast of Crete. You can bookmark my beaches in Crete category, to have every article at hand, or directly visit this article including over 45 top beaches in Crete. I’ve also written dedicated articles for Crete’s popular beaches, such as Balos and Elafonisi. A guide to the south beaches, and a guide to the best beaches on Crete for naturists among many others.
- For those of you into history and cultural experiences, check this guide to visit Knossos, as well as this unique article exploring the most beautiful archaeological sites on the island. Explore how to reach Crete’s historic monasteries and churches, or visit the museums.
- If you’re interested in the local lifestyle and traditions, discover authentic Cretan villages that you will actually see on the road. Also, you can check the wines of the island. If you’re interested in the cities, discover the best things you can do in Agios Nikolaos, Chania, and Rethymnon.
- For short itineraries to combine, these articles will prove super valuable: 1-3 days in Chania, 1-3 days in Rethymnon, 1-3 days in Heraklion, Ierapetra & Chrissi island.
Chania West Crete Travel Guide: If you are looking for a 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 of as a handy road trip guide to have always with you. Here you can get a copy.
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 .
Don’t forget to check or bookmark the following accommodation guides:
In my opinion, these are the best areas to stay:
- Chania region: Cape Akrotiri is a great place to stay because it has awesome beaches and it’s fairly close to the center. If you opt for a more romantic holiday, book a stay in the old town, there’re plenty of things to do! Check here the best places to stay in Chania.
- Lasithi region: The quiet and lee-explored region of Lasithi is one of the most rewarding destinations for a road trip. Check accommodation in Lasithi here.
- Heraklion region: Choose the city center for comfort and so as to explore the best parts of the region, here you can check the best rates and read reviews before you book.
- Rethymnon region: A stay in Rethymnon will allow you to navigate east and west spending less time driving, if that’s what you’re looking for, check places to stay here.
The best hotels sell out early, book as son as you know where you want to stay!
Bookings through Airbnb have soared on Crete during the last years, and the trend is here to stay.
>> Check here 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!
>> 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 planning your road trip in Crete?
Let me know in the comments below!
Travel Plans for Crete?
More Resources to Organize Your Trip!
Start by heading right to my tips to plan a trip to Crete for in-depth details you need to know about Greece. You can also check my post to better know what to pack for a trip to the island or read this info to visit Crete with children!
Get in touch if you need extra help to plan your trip. If you want to tour West Crete, check my guide. Want more? Join my Private Facebook Group to connect with like-minded travelers who love Crete as much as you do!
Make Sure You’ve Got Everything For a Hassle-Free Vacation!
I never move around the islands without my Osprey backpack, a sturdy but light travel partner I just love. For short trips, I carry this little crossbody bag. If I drive, I pack my Nikon D7200 and a good travel guide! Lonely Planet’s Best of Greece & the Greek Islands.
For accommodation, I personally use Booking.com. Traveling to remote places is easier with Discover Cars. Other times, I join organized tours with GetYourGuide, which features anything from cooking lessons to airport transfer!
Are you coming to Crete any time soon?
Get in touch and let me know!
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Crete Travel Blog: Fantastic Family Holidays in Crete
- This is a pin-pin situation!
About the author:
Gabi has been living in Crete for the last five years. Here, she juggles being a solo mom, hosting culinary tours in the summer, translating, and working as a tech advisor.
She’s written for Greek Reporter, published two travel guides about Greece, and drunk more glasses of frappe than any regular person would be able to handle.