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Greece: travel guide to Crete | Itineraries and Highlights

To the point See all our photos in our Crete travel guide, which includes must-sees and our favorite addresses!

Crete is an ultimate sun destination. We made this wonderful trip in 2019. You will discover still wild nature, beautiful beaches, charming towns and villages.

You’ll appreciate the friendliness of the Greeks, their history with the presence of archaeological sites, their culture for wine and olive oil, and their cuisine made with simple, fresh ingredients.

Don’t be surprised if restaurant service is slow: it’s part of the local culture! Be patient, enjoy and let yourself be tempted at the end of the meal by a glass of raki!

The landscapes of Crete are enchanted by the multitude of olive trees. Cicadas are ubiquitous and wild goats are regularly encountered on the roads.

The essentials

What to see

Chania / La Canée

Nicknamed Little Venice, we come here for a drink, to enjoy the sunsets over the port, to get lost in the alleys and its shops, to taste the different cuisines. There’s no shortage of choice!

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Phare de La Canée
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The city of Rethymnon is very friendly. We loved walking around. Again, the same little tourist stores, but the town has a lot of charm.

You’ll enjoy wandering through the less commercial parts of the town, discovering lovely little streets with traditional Turkish wooden balconies.

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You can visit the Fortezza citadel that dominates the city and protected the inhabitants of the Ottomans.

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Close to Rethymnon, we suggest a visit to a sanctuary, the Arkady monastery where the resistance against the Ottoman occupation has settled. Ideally, you should be accompanied by a guide.


Capital of Crete, this city is not a must-see for us. However, several historic sites are well worth a visit:

  • The fortress, built by the Venetians ;
  • Heraklion Archaeological Museum;
  • The palace of Knossos, archaeological site ;
  • The historical museum of Crete.
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Lake Kournas

Lake Kournas is a unique freshwater lake in Crete. There is plenty of free parking all around.

Cretans love to relax, swim, pedal-boat and picnic here. You can spot turtles, geese and ducks.

Several restaurants and craft stores have taken advantage of the opportunity to set up shop in the area.

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The beaches

The island boasts several magnificent beaches. The best known are Elafonissi, the lagoon of Balos and Falassarna. At the opposite extreme to the east, you’ll find wild beaches: access is generally well signposted and parking is available. We detail them below in the family section.

However, not all beaches are easy to access (Balos lagoon and Seitan Limania beach), so be careful if you’re with children!

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Nikolaos Agios

A very touristy town that lacks a little authenticity. It’s a pleasant place to stroll, whether to the pedestrian street or around the natural lake. But you’ll soon get the hang of it.

As for bars and restaurants, there is no shortage of choice. Stop at the statue of Zeus at the end of the pier!

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Spinalonga Island

The Venetians originally built a fortress on the island of Spinalonga in 1579, opposite the town of Elounda, to protect Crete from Turkish forces.

From 1904, the island became known as Leper Island. Anyone carrying leprosy was deported to the fort, as the cretans thought the disease was highly contagious.

Spinalonga has a nice little waterfront with restaurants that are by the waterfront offering daily fishing.

British author Victoria Hislop wrote the book “The Island of the Forgotten”, which traces the tragic life of a family affected by leprosy.

Want to find out more? This private day trip to Spinalonga and Eloundanear the Roman town of Olous.


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To eat

Cretan specialties

Don’t miss the various Cretan specialities such as :

  • Mezzes;
  • Greek salad;
  • Olive oil and local olives;
  • Fried snails;
  • Stuffed or fried sun vegetables;
  • Moussaka;
  • meat stews, grills or slouvaki (pork, lamb, beef, rabbit);
  • Fish (swordfish, sea bream, red mullet, sea bass), cuttlefish, squid, octopus and saganaki shrimp.

Ask your hotel concierge or Airbnb host about good restaurants and avoid the touristy ones!

Ask the waiter about the restaurant’s specialties, and on the fish side, check the weight of the fish you are given to ensure that it matches the price advertised when ordering.

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Suggested restaurants


At Spelios, we shake your hand when you arrive! The place is crowded, no mistake, this is the place to be.

After a day on the beach, there’s nothing better than a beautiful terrace to admire the sunset, accompanied by a glass of wine.

Enjoy a delicious moussaka (the best we’ve ever had in our lives, that’s for sure!), or let yourself be tempted by grilled meats, octopus or shrimp saganaki!

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Corinna Star

The Corinna Star restaurant has a terrace overlooking a beautiful pool and the sea, perfect for admiring the sunset as you dine.

Very good food. Several menus on offer. Beautiful flavours. A very good Greek salad, a delicious tuna. We loved it!

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Mon.Es is a restaurant tucked away in an alleyway in Chania, very friendly, in a magnificent setting. Delicious food, refined dishes, we really appreciated the service! We recommend it.

Visit the toilets and you’ll feel dizzy with the archaeological remains under your feet!

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Meltemi is a bar and restaurant. We suggest you stop off here for a refreshment and, above all, to admire the breathtaking view!

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Other tables

To try


If you’re a keen hiker or climber, you’ll find all the information you need on the website of the Association of Mountaineering Clubs of Chania. Between canyoning, climbing and trekking, you’ll find plenty to please you.

We suggest a visit to the Samaria GorgeThese well-developed gorges are popular with hikers (16 km), so start early in the morning.

Rendezvous at Omalos or Sougia. Ask about taking the morning ferry to Agia Roumeli.

Samaria Gorge

Diving and snorkeling

With its clear, deep waters, snorkeling is the perfect option. Many caves are to be seen. Contact one of the diving centers to observe morays, scorpion fish, octopuses and other fish. There are many of them.

There are several spots to try:

  • Around Elounda to see the sunken town of Olous, Blue Cave near Agia Pelagia ;
  • Dia Island to see a shipwreck;
  • To Malia to see the wreckage of a German fighter plane;
  • Or on Skinaria beach, near Plakias.

Other activities

For the sporty, explore picturesque landscapes on a quad safari, book a Jeep tour through eastern Crete or the southern canyons and reconnect with nature on horseback.

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For wine lovers, a visit to a vineyard such as Klados, Douloufakis or Manousakis is a must.

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For the most gourmet,we suggest you visit an olive oil factory. Why not visit Astrikas or Vassilakis: a culinary voyage combining olives, wine and raki is a must!

Want to cook like a Cretan? Don’t hesitate to take a cooking class to become an expert.

Finally, a sailing excursion, whether for the day or to watch the sun set.

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What to do as a family

The beaches

Ideally, we suggest you get to the main beaches early in the morning or late in the afternoon, to avoid the large influx of tourists during the summer season. On each, Transats and umbrellas are available.

Elafonisi Beach

After 1 h of winding, narrow roads, which can be done very well in a small car if you’re coming from the north, you’ll be on the protected beach of Elafonissi, listed in the Natura 2000 network.

Ample parking is available along the entire length of the site, and we’ll tell you where to park.

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The sandy beach is very large and very busy. Some places have pebbles. Sand can become pink in places due to shell debris.

With an average depth of one metre over long distances, it’s perfect for families with children. The water is very clear.

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Kitesurfers will appreciate it! It is exposed to winds so slightly colder than other beaches.

Kedrodasos Beach

Too many people on Elafonissi beach? Located about ten minutes away, this wild, well-hidden beach is very beautiful with its junipers. Perfect for snorkeling!

Falasarna Beach

Located to the north-west, this beach is more pleasant, longer, with more waves, less clear and deeper, but less windy than the previous one.

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Balos Beach

You’ll have to drive 7 km of dirt road at 20 km/h to get to Balos lagoon! With an ounce of hope, try to make your way to the main parking lot to find a spot.

The rest is done on foot. A beautiful 2 km “hike” made up of ascents and descents on steep paths, carved out by the footsteps of tourists.

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Beautiful views of the lagoon! You’ll be amazed by this stretch of turquoise water protected by rocks.

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Make sure you have good walking shoes (flip-flops to avoid).

To avoid the heat, it’s best to go up after 4 pm.

Fill up with water and food, and save some for the ascent. Everything’s more expensive downstairs, of course (well, that’s relative: halfway down, you’ll find a stall). A bottle of fresh water on the way up costs €2 ).

A few large tourist boats drop the plagists in the distance during this time.

The right-hand side is busier, of course, thanks to its clear water and fine sand, and the tourists who drop off nearby by boat. Prefer the left side if you want more tranquility even if it can be a little more rocky.

On the way back, a surprise may be waiting for you on the roof of your car: there are plenty of friendly goats around!

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If you have small children, we recommend taking the boat to Chania. The journey takes just as long by car as by boat!

The price may be high, and you certainly won’t have a view of the lagoon, but the climb back up can be tough with children in your arms. We have seen parents “struggling”, the tiredness of the day not being for nothing either.

For babies, the baby carrier is perfect.

The Natural History Museum of Heraklion

The Heraklion Museum of Natural History is not very big, but very nice. It appeals to younger visitors with its interactive features.


The Aquaworld Aquarium located at the port of Hersonissos is a children’s paradise. It is also a care center for injured and orphaned reptiles. You can interact with the animals in the center

Limnoupolis Water Park

Need to keep your kids cool and busy? The Limnoupolis water park is 15 minutes from the center of Chania.

On the spot

Getting there

How many Aeroplan points do you need for a one-way economy flight from Montreal? According to Air Canada’s points predictor, you’ll need to save at least 40,000 points to reach Heraklion airport (HER).

For our part, we took Easyjet from Nice to Chania, a 2.5-hour flight.

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Save with points

There are two Marriott Bonvoy credit cards issued by American Express, which allow you to quickly accumulate a large number of Marriott Bonvoy points. Thanks to these cards, you can enjoy several free nights.

We stayed at Domes of Elounda, Autograph Collection and Domes Noruz Chania, Autograph Collection.

Here are our reviews of these establishments:

At independent hotels, travel credit card points can also be used to save on reservations.

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They’ll add up quickly with your day-to-day spending and welcome bonuses when you open a new credit card. You could opt for the National Bank World Elite Mastercard®, which offers excellent insurance coverage.

Getting around

By land

The easiest thing is to rent the car. Please present your French or international driving license (compulsory). For our part, we chose Sixtbooking via Holiday Autos – which is fast and convenient, being located just outside Chania airport on the left.

Gasoline is expensive, so prefer a compact car with low fuel consumption to a diesel.

The driving is on the right. Cretans are not the most disciplined drivers:

  • Don’t be surprised if they overtake, honk or cross the white lines;
  • Don’t be surprised if you see other drivers in the hard shoulder. It’s their way of letting themselves be overtaken.
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Speed cameras are present and the police are rare, but present to have seen them in action, so take care and respect the limits.

Other ways to travel for long distances, the bus. I recommend the ktel company (central and eastern region) or this ktel website (western region).

In the city, we recommend taxis, and make sure their taximeter is activated.

By sea

Various ferry connections (with the option of taking the car on board) are available between villages such as Paleochora and Agia Roumeli. However, it is important to check the weather conditions and timetable on the day itself.

We recommend the gtp|Ferry Connections website, to see all the ferry connections and timetables on the Greek islands, and the Anendyk website.

Other information

As a family,the stroller will only be useful in the city. Away from home, you’ll be more comfortable with a baby carrier or children on your shoulders, as the roads and paths are not suitable, especially if you’re a fan of archaeological sites!

You’ll find plenty of mini/super markets, petrol stations and chemists with late opening hours. Choices are sometimes limited in small boutiques, but the main items are there, so don’t worry!


You’ll generally need to budget around €70/person/day for Crete, less if you use points (rates shown are for 2019).

  • Food: affordable, between €15 and €30, but the bill can quickly rise in restaurants. We suggest you don’t always order dessert, since a sweet touch is usually offered with the digestif;
  • Accommodation: everything will depend on the types of rentals Hotel, Airbnb, homestay or other type of rental. For our first three nights, we booked the Dempla Heights Villas accommodation ;
  • Car : for our week-long trip, we used the Holiday Autos website, which offered excellent rates at Sixt. The rental cost €150 and we filled up only once (after 1,000 kms!), on our return to the airport, for about €60;
  • Activities: entrance fees for sites and museums range from a few euros to around €12. If you’re planning activities such as boating, quad biking or diving, the costs will of course be higher.

When to go

Crete is a destination where the weather is good all year round, with mild temperatures in winter. To visit, we suggest the period from April to mid-October, and avoid July-August when attendance, prices and heat are at their peak.

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What to take with you

In addition to the classic sun kit (sunglasses, hat, cream, etc.), we recommend that you take :

  • Mask and snorkel, if you’re a snorkeling fan;
  • Good sneakers for walking to the steep beaches, and flip-flops so you don’t burn your feet in the sand;
  • In addition, beach shoes can be practical since some beaches are rocky.
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The essential guides

Ulysses Travel Guides has an extensive collection of books on this destination:

Visa and Canadian representation

We recommend that you complete the registration form for Canadians abroad on the Government of Canada website to be notified of any events, civil disturbances or natural disasters during your travels abroad.

Canadian Embassy:

Canadian Consulate :

Tourist offices

If you’re looking for inspiration, take a look at theCrete Tourist Board website. The site provides a map with all points of interest, all the information is there.

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Health and safety

It is recommended to have up-to-date vaccines and a list of your drug profile in case of a problem, with a copy of your prescriptions for opioid-containing treatments.

Many pharmacies are present, you will have no trouble finding one.

This geographical area does not present a risk of unsanitary conditions, conventional hygiene rules apply and tap water is safe to drink.

Long clothes and high-boots are recommended for hikers due to the presence of snakes that can be dangerous on the island.

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Suggested itinerary

You should allow around two weeks to visit the island of Crete. One week on the west coast, with its famous beaches, and another week in the wilder, more authentic east. We therefore suggest a minimum stay of one week to discover part of it!

Come to discuss that topic in our Facebook Group!
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Mother of two young children, pharmacist, travel hacker's wife and frequent traveller, Audrey shares her advices and destinations recommendations on milesopedia.

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