I Finally Visited Crete: My New Favorite Greek Island?

I Finally Visited Crete: My New Favorite Greek Island?

39

While this blog’s focus is usually airlines and hotels rather than destinations, I did want to briefly talk about our time in Crete during our recent visit to Greece, and how much I loved it. For anyone planning a trip to Greece this summer (or anytime, for that matter), I’d recommend making the time to visit Crete, as it might be my favorite place in Greece that I’ve visited.

All of Greece is awesome, but…

I adore Greece, thanks to the perfect climate, amazing food, stunning scenery, and generally hospitable people. You’ll experience that almost anywhere that you go in the country.

Mykonos and Santorini are the two most popular islands for tourists in Greece, and I understand why, as they’re beautiful and have developed quite a reputation.

Santorini is stunning, and the picture of the cliffs of Oia is probably the most iconic photo you’ll see of Greece. I get why Santorini is on everyone’s list, because going to Greece and not seeing Oia is like going to Beijing and not visiting the Great Wall, or going to Paris and not seeing the Mona Lisa.

Oia, Santorini

But if I’m being honest, to me Santorini also feels a bit like Disney World — it’s a small island, and while there are good restaurants, wineries, and hikes, there’s not much else to do. Santorini has a year-round population of just around 13,000, so it feels like everything is designed around tourism, and like there’s not all that much life beyond that.

I visited Santorini again on this trip because it was my mom’s first time properly visiting Greece, and I figured she’d want to see Santorini. We had an amazing time, though I also have to say that I don’t think I need to visit Santorini again anytime soon.

Crete, on the other hand…

What I loved so much about Crete

Crete is Greece’s largest island, with a population of around 600,000. In my opinion it gives you the best of both worlds — you get the beauty and charm of the Greek islands, without feeling like you’re trapped on a small island that’s potentially overrun by tourists. Just to give you a sense of how big Crete is compared to other islands, Santorini is 30 square miles, while Crete is over 3,200 square miles, so it’s more than 100x as big.

Crete has some “real” life to it, beyond tourism — there are major cities, and the island is big enough so that you can actually go “off the beaten track” if you want. We spent a week in Crete, and I felt like that wasn’t nearly enough. Crete had several big cities, and endless wineries, restaurants, museums, and more.

Rethymno, Crete

Crete is also the perfect island for renting a car and driving. Personally I don’t think it’s worth renting a car in Santorini due to how small it is, while I couldn’t imagine going to Crete and not renting a car. Driving is easy, and you can drive for hours and hours and enjoy breathtaking views at every turn.

Renting a car in Crete is a must
Views while driving around Crete

I also found Crete to be much more reasonably priced than Mykonos or Santorini, which doesn’t come as much of a surprise.

How we split our time in Crete

Before our trip to Crete I wondered if we should just stay at one hotel the entire time, or if we should stay in different parts of the island. We ended up deciding to move around, and I’m so happy we did.

We split our time in Crete between the Chania area (in the northwest of Crete) and the Heraklion area (in the northeast of Crete). Both Chania and Heraklion have airports with direct flights from some major European airports, so they’re quite accessible. We did Chania before Heraklion because the island’s major port is in Heraklion, so if you want to take the ferry to Santorini after Crete, you’re better off ending your trip there.

For those looking to earn or redeem points for a hotel stay in Crete, Marriott Bonvoy is definitely your best bet. Marriott has four properties in Crete, in two different areas:

I’m so happy we split our time between the two places, as the two areas are so different. Chania is a pretty large city with an old port, and the Domes Zeen Chania is in close proximity to that.

Chania, Crete

But there are lots of other activities in the area, from wineries, to beaches, to driving into the mountains.

Wine tasting in Crete

The Blue Palace is located in Elounda, just under an hour outside of Heraklion. While you could make a day trip to Heraklion from the hotel, it’s not necessarily how I’d spend my time. Rather I loved how secluded the immediate area around Elounda was, thanks to the gorgeous views and small fishing villages.

View from the mountains above Elounda
Plaka, Crete, near Blue Palace Elounda
Elounda, Crete
Driving in the mountains above Elounda, Crete

It’s about a three hour drive between the two hotels we stayed at, though we made a day out of it, because there are lots of great stops. In particular, I’d recommend stopping in Rethymno, which is a super cute town roughly at the halfway point.

Rethymno, Crete

I’ll be reviewing both of the hotels shortly. Long story short, I’d recommend both Domes Zeen Chania and Blue Palace Elounda. Not necessarily because they’re the best hotels in the world as such, but rather because they’re solid and are great bases from which to explore the island.

View of Spinalonga from the Blue Palace Elounda

Bottom line

If you’re considering a trip to Greece, you absolutely have to visit Crete, in my opinion. While Santorini, Mykonos, etc., are beautiful, Crete has so much more to offer. It gives you the beauty of Greek islands while also giving you access to endless activities, dining, and driving.

I can’t wait to return. While we explored the northern part of the island extensively, I’d love to visit the south of the island. So if anyone has experience or tips with that (including where to stay), I’d love to hear it!

To OMAAT readers who have been to Crete, what did you think? Anyone planning a trip to Crete soon?

Conversations (39)
Oldest comments are displayed first.

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Type your response here.

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Anyone can comment, and your email address will not be published. Register to save your unique username and earn special OMAAT reputation perks!

  1. Christian

    BP is good but you should have stayed at the Domes of Elounda! Much better all round hotel.

  2. SINJim

    Ben, as someone who likes early morning coffee, did you have a problem at the Blue Palace? On my only stay there, coffee was not available until their restaurant opened for breakfast. However, the lobby staff were nice and each morning they would specially brew coffee behind the bar, making for a great sunrise.

  3. Maxn

    There is only one place in Greece to go, and this is Hydra Island :-) (former home island to Leonhard Cohen, amongst others)
    No cars, donkeys as transport, no Hotel chains ;-), only accessible by boat, ship or helicopter ane the most creative and open-minded people you will find on this planet :-)
    Let me know when you go, I am happy to guide you!

  4. Jamieo

    Samaria Gorge south of Chania is the biggest gorge in Europe and is great for hiking.

  5. Anthony

    I just returned from Athens. My Airbnb host and taxi driver described Santorini as the Disney version of Greece and both recommended Crete for my next trip to Greece.

  6. Glenn

    Avoid north coast
    Everything else is magic, wild, beautiful

    What a waste

  7. Romanianflyer

    Glad you liked Crete. I write it all the time: I don't understand why Americans are so dead-set about visiting only Santorini and Mykonos. Sure, Santorini has an epic view, but there are more Greek towns/islands with similar views. Mykonos I can only get if you are into hedonistic partying and want to show off spending money in jetset surroundings. Both are however generally terrible value-for-money and aren't the islands Greeks would choose for their...

    Glad you liked Crete. I write it all the time: I don't understand why Americans are so dead-set about visiting only Santorini and Mykonos. Sure, Santorini has an epic view, but there are more Greek towns/islands with similar views. Mykonos I can only get if you are into hedonistic partying and want to show off spending money in jetset surroundings. Both are however generally terrible value-for-money and aren't the islands Greeks would choose for their holiday. For culture, food, beaches and cute towns there are so many better choices!

    As a former Chania resident, I can recommend tons of places on Crete which you probably haven't seen yet. However, do note that Crete's southern coast is VERY mountainous. There is for example not even a coastal road along the entire southern coast because of this. There aren't even many towns compared to the northern coast, and there are generally far less accommodation options (at least when you are looking for options which can be booked with points and/or chain hotels). Yet compared to Crete's north coast, the southern coast is much more beautiful, much more remote, many more mom-and-pop kind of restaurants/hotels.

    Elafonissi and Preveli are two of Crete's most stunning beaches on the southern coast. If you haven't seen them, Falasarna (western coast) and the palm beach at Vai (eastern coast) are also gorgeous. Gialos, Paleochora, Matala and Ierapetra are the biggest towns on the southern coast and have the most accommodation options, especially the latter two. Matala has a hippie kind of vibe. Loutro is a cool town too (can only reached by boat or hiking, not by car) and of course hiking the Samaria Gorge is a must as well. But for the "real" traditional Crete you must head into the mountains as well to places like Anogia or the small towns of the Sfakia. It's almost an entirely different world, with independent-minded locals and old women still dressed in black. These areas were for example famous for their fierce resistance against German occupation in World War II. If you visit on a Sunday you can smell the freshly grilled lamb from miles away.

    1. Steve

      "I don't understand why Americans are so dead-set about visiting only Santorini and Mykonos."

      Have you heard about this thing called social media and instagram. People under 35 in the US will do things and travel across the world with the sole reason to take a photo in front of something.

    2. Super

      I love how you say this as if everyone aged 35-80 doesn't have photo album after photo album collecting dust of them standing in front of monuments in various cities. And what's wrong with taking a picture in front of something beautiful/cool/interesting? It's nice to have memories of visiting someplace.

  8. nunzio

    Hope u got chance to visit small village of Aghios Nikolaus close Elounda and above all the amazing small island of Ierapetra where u can find yourself suddenly as in caraibic sea colours among Mediterranean:)

  9. Nick Thimas

    We came here on holiday in the SE, returned again a few weeks later and bought an old Venetian house. 2 years of renovation and a total of 7 living here has rewarded us with a large beautiful property high in the mountains looking through a valley to the Libyan Sea.
    Our locality is not so commercialised as on the North with the added bonus of lovely little coves and the long sandy shallow beach at Makrigialos, safe for young children...

  10. Anthony

    Ben,

    Just curious - Greece is a pretty big Airbnb location. I know you are all about points and loyalty, but you have recently done a lot of paid stays at properties like Four Seasons where points and status are less of a factor. Given that, would you consider expanding your reviews to Airbnb, VRBO, or other similar services? I love hotels but I have started to include short term rentals in many of my searches.

    1. KR

      Would love to have Airbnb, SRBL and other similar short-term rentals included. This was a great idea. We spent 10 wonderful days in Paris at a VRBO (HomeAway) and spent a fraction of what Parisian hotels offer. There's no comparison to a full apartment, which provides such nice comfortable living quarters, to a tiny hotel room with merely one foot on each side of the bed in the old Parisian hotels. The lobbies are beautiful,...

      Would love to have Airbnb, SRBL and other similar short-term rentals included. This was a great idea. We spent 10 wonderful days in Paris at a VRBO (HomeAway) and spent a fraction of what Parisian hotels offer. There's no comparison to a full apartment, which provides such nice comfortable living quarters, to a tiny hotel room with merely one foot on each side of the bed in the old Parisian hotels. The lobbies are beautiful, but how much time does one spend in the lobby? As for services and restaurants, they are always right around the corner from the hotels and short-term rentals. Did I mention how nice it was to have a kitchen (Ours was small, but perfect)? In hotels they do not like you putting your purchased champagne or other beverages or food into their small room refrigerators.

      Have been to Greece (Athens, Thessaloniki, several islands and Crete). Did not care for Athens. Very nice in Thessaloniki and the islands. Absolutely LOVED Crete. It was the best kept secret. Southern Crete. The hotel was wonderful. Bigger rooms than Paris, of course. The weather, views and food (especially outdoors by the sea) were outstanding. Would love to return to Crete! Clean, friendly, wonderful place.

    2. Hilton

      yes Ben so correct with this take Greece has many many great Airnbnb's

  11. Jared

    Crete is fantastic. On our yearlong honeymoon bike-packing tour around the world, Crete was one of the destinations. The 400 mile tour with blends of paved roads and dirt tracks was a fantastic way to see the island.

  12. Robbert

    As Athos is difficult to get into,

    Don't forget northern Greece with the amazing sites of Meteora: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meteora

    But then again there are no points hotels there so you should look to be based in Thessaloniki

  13. Jerry

    I’ve been preaching about Crete since I visited in 2019. One week isn’t enough. I loved Chania the most, but also Rethmyno. Heraklion had excellent food at locals prices. I also visited Agios Nikalaus on the east end of Crete which had the most spectacular views on the island.

  14. brian kusler

    The ruins at Knossos and the Heraklion Archaeological Museum are my two favorite things in Crete.

  15. Michael

    Thanks, @ben! My partner and I are heading to Santorini (2 nights) and then taking the ferry to Crete for 4 nights (mostly Chania). Any favorite restaurants or wineries we should visit??

  16. shoeguy

    Loved Crete. Really beautiful place. Varied topography, lots to see and do and beautiful beaches too. If Santorini and Mykonos are one's only destinations on a trip to the Greek Islands, you've wasted a trip. Loved this article./

  17. Anthony

    I'll be staying at both of those hotels in August. I've stayed at the Blue Palace several times before but the Domes Chania will be new for me. Crete is my favorite island in Greece.

  18. Ben

    I stayed in Lentas ( at Lentas Paradise ) in 2017 . Lentas is really small ( less than 90 people in that village ) . Michaillis and is Mom run this small place . Got a one 2x size bed roof with a fridge and a stove for close to nothing a night . Clearly steps away for the beach . At arrival his Mom was cooking this traditionnal wild herbs and potatoes stew...

    I stayed in Lentas ( at Lentas Paradise ) in 2017 . Lentas is really small ( less than 90 people in that village ) . Michaillis and is Mom run this small place . Got a one 2x size bed roof with a fridge and a stove for close to nothing a night . Clearly steps away for the beach . At arrival his Mom was cooking this traditionnal wild herbs and potatoes stew . It smell so good I had to ask her what it was . She gave me my key and a bowl of that hot stew with a lemon to squeeze in and told me to add some olive oil with that . I went in my room with this big childish smile and was almost crying in joy after the first bite . I loved that place I want to go back again . I’m planning a third trip to Crete Island and make sure that I’ll make another stop there . DO NOT FOLLOW YOUR GPS IN CRETE ! Buy a real map ! Dirt roads appear as normal roads . I got lost in some hazardus spots many times . But reflecting on this , it made my trip something to remember .

  19. Paola

    I am also interested in info of the southern area. Thanks!

  20. Dimitri

    I'm from Crete, living and churning in the US. Let me know if you want recommendations regarding south Crete.

  21. Bobby

    Go to the Sfakia region of Crete, on the southern coast of Chania prefecture. find an Airbnb either in Chora or Loutro and base yourself there for four days. It is an amazing experience to stay in a wild, rustic yet beautiful majestic place

  22. Allet michel

    yessss! Creta is the most spectacular island to discover, leaving space between you and nature.. I highly recommend even to rent a mobile home on the spot, you will easily there refresh all your child and teenage sensations of seeing a wonder land, from dunes to volcanos, endless fields of olive trees to long desert beaches, tropical seaside to chestnuts forests, sophisticated churches to Middle age little chapels of antic frescoes, without mentioning the various...

    yessss! Creta is the most spectacular island to discover, leaving space between you and nature.. I highly recommend even to rent a mobile home on the spot, you will easily there refresh all your child and teenage sensations of seeing a wonder land, from dunes to volcanos, endless fields of olive trees to long desert beaches, tropical seaside to chestnuts forests, sophisticated churches to Middle age little chapels of antic frescoes, without mentioning the various dishes along the adventure.. go there and keep it all secretly in you..

  23. TheBlackBrent

    Wow, great insights! You can actually do activities outside overpriced hotels on holiday, who would have guessed. Will really use this advice soon!

  24. Nick

    @Anthony I find Airbnb a thing of the past. I prefer Marriott Homes & Villas, cause in the same environment, I can book both hotel villas and standalone villas. In any case I would never change a hotel villa, with a villa rental. Hotel villas are the best of both worlds - ie villa privacy + resort services + point acquisition / reimbursement.

  25. Bilingual

    If you really want to explore Greek Islands without the mass tourism, go to the smaller islands like Amorgos, Symi, Leros, or Donousa.
    Santorini and Mykonos are lost causes and Kos, Rhodes, Corfu parts of Crete can also be very crowded.

  26. July

    Crete is wonderful island with so many beautiful beaches and stunning view. I was lucky to live here in RETHIMNO old town.

  27. Santastico

    My family spent a week at the Blue Palace 2 years ago and it was fabulous. Used points and had an amazing suite with private pool. Highly recommend.

  28. alex

    Crete is great, Santorini has pretty views and there are plenty of other great islands out there...

    But Mykanos? Why on earth would you go there? It's known to be incredibly trashy and full of 'new money' without class trying to show off. Let alone it's not exactly known for its natural beauty either? Odd choice.

  29. Gary Salisbury

    My wife and I have visited Crete several times. We found a beautiful small resort on the south of the Island called Ague Gallini it was so picturesk and not overcrowded like Chania and Rythmanon.

  30. Ben

    I also adore Crete. I agree with your views on Santorini too - spectacular scenery but just too tourist oriented. It's certainly worth visiting, but probably not somewhere I'll go back to any time soon.

    I am particularly fond of the south coast of Rethymno, especially places like Triopetra which is beautiful. It's a wild, rugged area with few towns or people so it's great for getting away from it all. There's also the lovely...

    I also adore Crete. I agree with your views on Santorini too - spectacular scenery but just too tourist oriented. It's certainly worth visiting, but probably not somewhere I'll go back to any time soon.

    I am particularly fond of the south coast of Rethymno, especially places like Triopetra which is beautiful. It's a wild, rugged area with few towns or people so it's great for getting away from it all. There's also the lovely palm beach at Prevelli not far away.

    Other places I particularly like are the area around Sitia, Argilos beach in the far south-east, Mochlos on the north coast, Phalasarna beach in the west. Elafonisi beach is lovely if you can get there when it's quiet, but can get too busy for my taste. There's another lovely beach just a short drive away at Kedrodasos. Then there's the food, the culture and the amazing mountainous terrain of the interior.

    It's really got so much. One of my favourite places in the world.

    1. Dustin

      Hi Ben,
      I'm going to be visiting Greece for two weeks leaving next weekend. Crete will be on the the itinerary. What did you do for the COVID testing when returning to the US? Where did you have the test taken and what was the turnaround time for the test results?

  31. Georgia

    I agree ... Crete is amazing but for history buffs you forgot Knossos the site of the first advanced civilization

  32. Shaun

    We are doing Greece next year. We are planning Santorini to Crete to Athens. Would you suggest from Santorini to take the ferry to Heraklion. Spend a night there. Then go to Chania for 2 nights. The fly from Chania to ATH....does this seem logistically the best plan for anyone who's done it this way?

  33. Bruce Anderson

    Our family has taken 3 trips to Crete in the last 5 years after having done the obligatory more popular touristy islands of Santorini, Mykonos, and Rhodes
    Crete offers the best to Greece. We had taken 6 weeks to explore the island from Elafonisi in the south west to Kato Zakros in the east and everything in between. As mentioned, a car is needed to explore all that Crete has to offer. We found...

    Our family has taken 3 trips to Crete in the last 5 years after having done the obligatory more popular touristy islands of Santorini, Mykonos, and Rhodes
    Crete offers the best to Greece. We had taken 6 weeks to explore the island from Elafonisi in the south west to Kato Zakros in the east and everything in between. As mentioned, a car is needed to explore all that Crete has to offer. We found Chania and Heraklion too metropolitan and not what we wanted to experience. Rethymno was quite pleasant but the laid back areas of Palaiochora, Ierapetra, and the villages of Mochos and Siitia on the east end to be more in keeping with the vibe we were looking for and without all the tourists.

Featured Comments Load all 39 comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Romanianflyer

Glad you liked Crete. I write it all the time: I don't understand why Americans are so dead-set about visiting only Santorini and Mykonos. Sure, Santorini has an epic view, but there are more Greek towns/islands with similar views. Mykonos I can only get if you are into hedonistic partying and want to show off spending money in jetset surroundings. Both are however generally terrible value-for-money and aren't the islands Greeks would choose for their holiday. For culture, food, beaches and cute towns there are so many better choices! As a former Chania resident, I can recommend tons of places on Crete which you probably haven't seen yet. However, do note that Crete's southern coast is VERY mountainous. There is for example not even a coastal road along the entire southern coast because of this. There aren't even many towns compared to the northern coast, and there are generally far less accommodation options (at least when you are looking for options which can be booked with points and/or chain hotels). Yet compared to Crete's north coast, the southern coast is much more beautiful, much more remote, many more mom-and-pop kind of restaurants/hotels. Elafonissi and Preveli are two of Crete's most stunning beaches on the southern coast. If you haven't seen them, Falasarna (western coast) and the palm beach at Vai (eastern coast) are also gorgeous. Gialos, Paleochora, Matala and Ierapetra are the biggest towns on the southern coast and have the most accommodation options, especially the latter two. Matala has a hippie kind of vibe. Loutro is a cool town too (can only reached by boat or hiking, not by car) and of course hiking the Samaria Gorge is a must as well. But for the "real" traditional Crete you must head into the mountains as well to places like Anogia or the small towns of the Sfakia. It's almost an entirely different world, with independent-minded locals and old women still dressed in black. These areas were for example famous for their fierce resistance against German occupation in World War II. If you visit on a Sunday you can smell the freshly grilled lamb from miles away.

Steve

"I don't understand why Americans are so dead-set about visiting only Santorini and Mykonos." Have you heard about this thing called social media and instagram. People under 35 in the US will do things and travel across the world with the sole reason to take a photo in front of something.

Anthony

Ben, Just curious - Greece is a pretty big Airbnb location. I know you are all about points and loyalty, but you have recently done a lot of paid stays at properties like Four Seasons where points and status are less of a factor. Given that, would you consider expanding your reviews to Airbnb, VRBO, or other similar services? I love hotels but I have started to include short term rentals in many of my searches.

Meet Ben Schlappig, OMAAT Founder
4,523,713 Miles Traveled

25,807,500 Words Written

28,675 Posts Published

Keep Exploring OMAAT