Crete is one of the five biggest islands in the Mediterranean. Its unique geography makes it easy to divide the territory from east to west. However, the island looks as if divided in half by different mountain chains with two very different coasts: The beaches on the north are usually crowded, preferred by those looking for active holidays. On the other hand, southern Crete has some of the most spectacular, beaches of the island, with a collection of isolated traditional villages and impressive landscapes. Let’s check some of the best beaches in southern Crete.
- The Southern Coast of Crete
- Best Beaches in Southern Crete: Chania Region
- Pink sand beaches in the south of Chania
- Best Beaches in Southern Crete: Rethymnon Region
- Best Beaches in Southern Crete: Heraklion Regions
- Best Beaches in Southern Crete: Lasithi Region
The Southern Coast of Crete
General Characteristics of Southern Crete
Crete’s most developed area remains the northern coast, with its capital – Heraklion – located in the central portion of the island. The same goes for the remaining important cities of Crete, and therefore the most visited centers. Chania, Rethymnon, and Agios Nikolaos are also in the North.
As a consequence, it’s in the north of the island where airports are located, as well as many major touristic resorts. For those permanently living on the island, this coast also offers a highway and better roads, but also hospitals, universities, and more developed commercial centers.
The geography of Crete has also played a role in maintaining this status, being the island divided by at least three different mountain ranges, some of them of difficult access in winter months, about 90% of the local population lives in the North.
As a result, villages in the South have remained more or less the same as time went by. Mostly agricultural or fishing centers, where tourism is more of a side dish rather than the main economic income and where the family-owned business builds the local character.
The Lonely and Fascinating South
It’s a common belief that those who want to know Crete better choose the isolated south for their vacations, while first-time visitors tend to spend their time in the North. It might be true, what’s a fact is that travelers need no less than 1.5 to 2 hours from any airport to reach the South. That’s something that the traditional holidaymaker on a package tour would not want to do. But well… I don’t write for the package tour traveler, nor would I expect him or her perusing this blog.
Those who come to Crete looking for some authentic rest and a taste of the local traditions are happy to cross any of Crete’s mountain passes to settle for as long as their holiday lasts. That’s key in their Cretan adventure. They know that by doing so, they’ll avoid the crowds and enjoy Crete’s most stunning beaches.
Day-trips to Southern Crete
Some areas in the south of Crete have become overcrowded in the last years through the development of what I define day-trip tourism. In short, people staying in the North jump on any given van to spend one very fast day in some of the most popular southern beaches, aka Elafonisi, Matala, and Loutro to name a few. At a lower scale, the same occurs with day-hikers, — who would not hike a mile back home — but overpopulate Samaria or the easier Imbros gorge.
These day-trips have devastating consequences in these once virgin places. As a result, small villages have now to tackle litter, noise pollution, disrespect for endangered species, and heavy traffic that our roads can’t cope with.
Always keeping these considerations in mind, I’ve decided to include both some remote as well as more popular locations on this list hoping to create awareness about Crete’s incredible resources and landscape uniqueness.
But most of all, because I believe that the only way to respect and protect our island and our environment is not precisely by hiding its beauty. Nor the consequences of mass tourism. On the contrary, if we are aware of our actions, we will be able to take better care of our environment, no matter what beach we choose for our holidays.
Best Beaches in Southern Crete: Chania Region
The region of Sfakia in Crete
General information about Sfakia
The region of Sfakia is located on the southern area of the Chania Regional Unit, counting with about 2500 permanent, 500 of which in the capital, Chora Sfakion. However, Sfakia is more than Chora Sfakia.
Sfakia is a region famous for the character of its inhabitants, and for the role they played in the history of the island during the hundreds of years of occupations. It were the Sfakians who fiercely resisted the Venetians, the Ottomans, and the Nazis, often helped by the indomitable local landscape. A rugged scenario made of deep gorges, steep cliffs, and the blue Libyan sea.
Sfakia is also a region rich in traditions, with a distinctive local gastronomy, music, and dances, as well as one of the most hard to access areas in Crete.
Chora Sfakion, the capital
The small capital of the region of Sfakia, Chora Sfakion, is located between the high White Mountains and the sea. It’s a must-go place if you are staying in an isolated village nearby and you need a bank, a pharmacy or the post office.
In the capital, you can find traditional tavernas on the seafront promenade, as well as good options for accommodation. Those interested in visiting some of Crete’s most remote beaches normally depend on the boats departing from the small harbor of Chora Sfakion if they don’t intend to hike some of Chania’s gorges or the E4 European path.
A must in Chora Sfakion is the delicious Sfakian Pita, a flat cake made of light dough, filled with mizythra cheese and sprinkled with local honey. Sfakian thyme honey is known for its unique density, taste, aroma, and qualities.
From the small port of Chora Sfakion, daily ferries depart to Loutro, Agia Roumeli, Glyka Nera, Marmara, and the island of Gavdos.
In Chora Sfakion, it’s a good idea to visit the Cave of Daskalogiannis, , A milestone in Cretan history, a hideout in the cliffs where the Cretan rebel planned his revolutionary moves. Also interesting is the nearby mountain village of Anopolis (600 m height above the sea level).
Best beaches in the region of Sfakia
This well-known small fishing town is located between Chora Sfakion and Agia Roumeli. It represents a good example of how the southern beaches in Crete look like: Pristine crystal waters, a laid-back atmosphere, and not much to do. Popular activities include hiking, swimming, and splurging in local tastes in one of the many fish tavernas on the seafront.
You can easily reach Loutro with the ferry from Chora Sfakion. If you prefer to walk, the hiking trail from Chora Sfakion takes about two hours. It’s common for hikers to take a resting break in Glyka Nera. If you keep walking west you can reach Marmara and, after a while, Agia Roumeli.
There is not much to be done in the village, just lay your beach towel on the smooth pebbles and chill until it’s time to sail back to Chora Sfakion. For lunch try the local fish in Notos, a small taverna almost at the end of the promenade with convenient prices.
Another wonderful beach in Sfakia is Glyka Nera (meaning “sweet water”). A wide sandy-pebbled beach with usually cold and blue waters.
There are abundant tamarisk trees and it’s not weird to find goats in the cliffs that abruptly end on the sand. More tourists started visiting the beach when the London Times included it in the list of the 20 Best Beaches in Europe. However, it still retains a lonely atmosphere since it’s not so easy to visit.
Remember that the water in Glyka Nera is generally cold because of the springs, even in midsummer.
About 14 km east of Chora Sfakion lies Frangokastello. This village is famous for a wonderful Fortezza right in front of the sea. The only attractions in town are the castle and a fine sand beach, ideal for children.
Water is shallow but it can get a bit windy on occasions. Frangokastello is the perfect place to disconnect from everyday life, enjoy the local food and get to know the traditions of the island.
Even though it seems rather impressive from a distance, or even from the beach, nothing much remains but its huge walls and the corner towers.
The Venetians built the fortress between 1371 and 1374 to deter pirate attacks and to bring order to the area of Sfakia, whose inhabitants are still known for their rebel character and spirit.
A curious legend lives among the walls of the castle. During an important battle fought at Frangokastello, in May 1828, hundreds of Sfakiots, in an attempt to spread the War of Independence from mainland Greece, occupied the castle but were killed by the Turks.
As a consequence, imagination fuels the legend. In fact, the locals claim that around the anniversary of the battle, shadows of the armed Cretan soldiers seem to march towards the castle. They’re known as Drosoulites (the dewy ones) because they appear in the mist at dawn. A phenomenon that has often been explained as meteorological.
Where to Stay in Frangokastello
In the need for some utter disconnection, we spent about five days in Frangokastello and chose a family hotel. We were incredibly happy to discover a host which was also an amazing cook… So much so, we never looked for a restaurant in town.
Paleochora is about 77 kilometers from Chania located on a small peninsula. It has the traditional atmosphere of Cretan villages plus some amazing beaches to enjoy.
Paleochora is a relaxing destination really popular among locals. There are beautiful organized beaches with very clear waters. There are also several tavernas, cafés, bars, and hotels. The village has a lively spirit at night as well, and it is possible to reach the area also with a ferry boat.
Pink sand beaches in the south of Chania
Elafonisi is the real Pearl of the South. Since I moved to Crete, there’s nothing like knowing I’ll be spending a day in Elafonisi. I’ve recently published a super complete guide to Elafonisi beach.
The guide includes all the details regarding the alternative routes to get there, the beach facilities, Elafonisi hotels, and other attraction in the area and on the way to Elafonisi.
Elafonisi is famous for its unique turquoise waters that contrast against pinkish tones of the sand. Elafonisi is, in fact, an island, within walking distance from the mainland. Most times to reach it, it’s necessary to walk through the water, but sometimes you won’t get wet at all. It depends on the tides.
The waters are shallow which makes it an ideal spot for families with children. The island is a Natura 2000 protected area and has more than once been included in different lists of Best Beaches in the World.
Exotic and with bizarre vegetation it shines bright against the bare Cretan mountains. There is a lot to explore in the area, coves, rock formations and over 100 species of plants that easily put this place among the 10 best beaches in south Crete.
How to Reach Elafonisi
Elafonisi is located 75 kilometers from Chania. There’re several roads to get to Elafonisi (Google maps suggests 3), locals recommend to go through the gorge of Topolia, dangerously narrow at times but with gorgeous views. Second on the list is the coastal road that passes right in front of the beaches of Sfinari and Falasarna.
Where to eat and stay in Elafonisi
Finally, if you happen to drive around Elafonisi at night, open your eyes wide… chances are you encounter a deer or two wandering in the darkness. It was impossible to picture them, but they were a feast for the kids!
This stunning place is 1 kilometer east of the lagoon of Elafonisi. There is a juniper grove all over the area which offers comfort and shade under the hot Cretan sun. Naturists are usual visitors to the beach, some even camp there for days.
The sand is white sand and there are some rocks all over the area. This is a completely secluded beach, so pack lunch and drinks if you visit for a day trip.
When visiting Kedrodasos, do remember that the area is home to a very fragile ecosystem which should always be respected. if you can, avoid camping in the area or damaging the unique juniper trees that grow by the sea.
Best Beaches in Southern Crete: Rethymnon Region
Preveli palm tree beach
Preveli beach is about 35 kilometers of Rethymno, and it’s located at the exit of the Kourtaliotakos Gorge. Its river, Megas Potamos or Big River, flows through the gorge to reach the sea. The palm forest on the margins of the river has also made the beach very well-known since they add a tropical note to the landscape.
At the exit of the river, a sandy beach with pebbles and sand is formed, with sea water being very cool due to the river. In the eastern part of the beach, there is a beautiful rock reminding of a heart. The beach is not well organized because the area is protected, without any umbrellas.
If you approach the south from Rethymno, you will go through a few spectacular gorges to reach the sea. Drive through the narrow Kotisfou Gorge.
The bends of the road produce stunning landscapes, forcing you to pull over to admire the scenery all around you. There’s a wonderful church perched on the side of the mountain once you’ve passed the gorge. The whole area is really worth the drive.
There are several beaches in the area of Plakias, other than the more crowded Plakias itself. Most of them are divided by rocky promontories offering dramatic views of the sea.
Damnoni is a fantastic long beach with golden sand, clear waters, and a secluded angle for naturists. Other pretty places to spend the day include the beaches of Amoudhi and Skinaria, popular among divers for their submarine landscapes.
One of the most stunning beaches on the southern coast of Crete is probably the lonely Triopetra each (sometimes also written as Triapetra). This extremely long and wide shore extends both west and east of the three-rock formation that gives name to the beach.
Triopetra can be reached driving from Rethymno (it’s about a 52-km drive), through the small mountain village of Spili, worth a lunch stop as well.
From Triopetra it’s possible to reach the next beach on our list, Ligres either walking or through a scenic semi-off road trail, with some breathtaking cliffs by the side of the road.
After Ligres, you can check the fantastic sandy beach of Katsouni, also good for naturism and complete relax.
Probably one of my favorite beaches in Crete is the lesser known Ligres.
Ligres is located about 5 km from Triopetra, and it’s a perfect place for complete isolation. The vast sandy beach of Ligres has deep shores perfect for submarine exploration and interesting rocky formations as well as a small collection of waterfalls on one of the ends of the beach.
Since reaching the area is not simple, it still maintains a rather secluded atmosphere, with very few tourist structures. On the beach, there’s a wonderful tiny taverna serving exquisite fish and local salads.
Best Beaches in Southern Crete: Heraklion Regions
The hippie village of Matala is located about 75 km south of Heraklio, the capital of Crete. It is, in fact, one of the best places to spend a few days at the beach when you’re staying in Heraklion. But also, Matala is a place rich of history, legend, and ideal to explore both the areas to its west and east.
Matala is a natural harbor which makes it well-protected from the winds. It is located on the beautiful bay of Messara, with soft sand and pebbles, and clear, cold waters, as in the rest of the south. Matala is one of the favorite beaches in Crete with many returning tourists every summer.
If you want to read more about the legendary hippy past of the village, read my post about Matala as well as beaches and archeological sites in the area.
About 80 kilometers from Heraklion, at the exit of the gorge of the same name, the beach of Agiofarago is a wonderful place to visit. You reach the beach after crossing the gorge, after a hike that can last up to an hour. It is also possible to visit by boat, departing from Matala or Agia Galini.
Agiofarago beach is a place of unique beauty, with clear waters and very fine pebbles. Towards the west of the beach, there is a nice rocky arch, perfect for photography fans.
Best Beaches in Southern Crete: Lasithi Region
Makrigialos is a rare gem in the south of the island, not very popular among tourists so not usually crowded. It’s only a few kilometers east of Ierapetra, about 30 minutes by car. It’s also easy to reach from the nearby Sitia (just an hour away).
The village is mostly developed along the coast, where you can find nice and convenient tavernas for lunch and dinner, and lovely little venues for an afternoon drink.
It is a sandy beach with shallow waters and rather calm due to the shape of the bay. Don’t miss the impressive mountain backdrop and the gorges of the area.
Makrigialos is a great place for a day at the beach when staying in nearby bigger towns. Still, you should consider it’s also a good place to spend a few days too since there are several hotels, apartments, and rooms for rent.
The relaxed atmosphere makes it a great place for family holidays or for couples.
Beaches of Chrissi island
Finally, this list could not finish without another paradisiac post in Crete. This is definitely the nearby island of Chrissi or Gaidorounisi. The island is about an hour by boat from the port of Ierapetra, (about 9 nautical miles to the south), and it is also a Natura 2000 protected area of unique beauty.
Since it’s isolated and also uninhabited, Chrissi is considered one of the last gems in the Mediterranean. A day trip to Chrissi is a day trip to heaven.
The island is pretty small, there are no houses, structures, roads or cars. It has very exotic waters, with a wonderful shade of turquoise and green, the beaches are sandy, some with rock formations. There is a unique cedar tree forest too, about 200 years old.
Chrissi can be reached from Ierapetra every day (weather conditions allowing). The boat departs in the morning (11.00 am) from the port of Ierapetra. However, please check the timetable because it is a seasonal service.
The tickets range from 12 to 25 euros, kids up to 2 years old travel for free, and meals are not included in the price.
Useful resources to visit the Best Beaches in Southern Crete
Disclaimer: Bear in mind that some of the links in this post are affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Keep in mind that I link to products & companies that I personally use and recommend for their quality.
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TOURS & DAY TRIPS
For organized activities, I usually book my tours through Viator and GetYourGuide. From transfer to cooking lessons, including archaeological site visits, skip the line attractions, and boat trips, both platforms help you save time and money.
Getting to Crete can be really comfortable with an airplane, but nothing beats the romantic experience of traveling by sea. Choose Let’s Ferry to visit several Greek islands or to travel directly to Crete.
Greece, and especially Crete, is a fairly safe destination, however, you should never travel abroad without an insurance policy for complete peace of mind. My favorite? World Nomads, click here for a quote.
Whenever I travel around the island, I never leave, my camera gear, my backpack, and my maps at home. I also use packing cubes, hiking gear, and beach wear. Getting everything from amazon.com is easier thanks to hundreds of reviews that help choose what I need.
You can read more about Chrissi island in the Complete Insider’s Guide to Ierapetra.
This guide is currently up to date, but I’m sure you can help me to make it better. Is there a place missing? What’s your favorite beach in Southern Crete? Let me know in the comments below!
Is the city of Chania in your Crete Travel Plans?
Why don’t you combine the best views of the idyllic Old Town with some of the most delicious bites of the Cretan Cuisine? I can personally guide you through the most stunning views of Chania’s Venetian Old Town, check my dedicated post to the best things to do in town… Or book my exclusive gastronomic tour of Chania!
PIN FOR LATER: BEST BEACHES IN SOUTHERN CRETE
This post was first published in October
READ ABOUT OTHER STUNNING CRETAN BEACHES
About the author
I’m Gabi. I moved to Crete a few years ago to have more and better opportunities to explore the island all year round. I love to backpack with my kids, taking pictures and driving around the spectacular mountain roads of Crete. I’m a freelance content creator and language consultant working for the travel and gastronomy industries in Greece.