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November 1, 2023
I am so incredibly excited to finally get my Crete Travel Guide published! Crete is an absolutely magical island and I can’t wait to go back. With the popularity of other islands like Santorini and Mykonos, Crete is often overlooked. Which, honestly, makes me like it that much more. Crete is not tarnished by tourism. As the largest island in Greece, it’s full of locals who actually live there year-round, unlike the touristy islands that shut down after the season. Therefore, it offers more as far as resources go, as well as an authentic experience with true Greek locals. No matter if you’re looking for city action, rich history, or the luxe Balos Beach, Crete has it all.
What to Know
When visiting Crete, you have two main options: Chania or Heraklion. Chania is on the west side of the island and Heraklion is on the east. Both cities have airports and ports. We chose Chania, arriving by plane and departing by ferry.
When traveling to Crete, routes from the US will take you to Athens, you will then travel from Athens to Crete. There are two primary ways to go from Athens to Crete. The first is a plane. Chania has an airport code of CHQ and you can fly via a few local carriers. We flew SkyExpress, with Aegean being the other popular daily flight.
Another way to get from Athens to Crete is by taking a ferry. On our way back to Athens from Crete, we took Minoan Lines (with a 5-day pit stop in Milos!) and it was actually really great. We did the high-speed ferry and booked a cabin. It was like a mini cruise ship with restaurants, a pool, multiple levels, and more. I definitely recommend getting a cabin if you’re going the whole way from Athens to Crete, which is about 7-8 hours.
Communicating and Spending
Just like in Athens, I found that many people speak English in Crete. I did have a few instances with people who didn’t speak a ton of English, but we were always able to get by and everyone always tried their very best to communicate. As far as spending, this is one of the BEST things about Crete: everything is extremely affordable! For a group of four, we typically spent around $60-$75 for dinner, including a plethora of appetizers, bottles of wine, entrees, and more. For comparison, in Atlanta, the same dinner would be in excess of $200.
One big thing to know about the Greek culture is their generosity and love of happiness. Greeks literally just want everyone to be happy and have fun. In Crete, it’s traditional for restaurants to always give a free dessert at the end of a meal. ALWAYS! They will also typically bring over raki, a Cretan liqueur that will definitely get you nice and loose.
You definitely need a rental car in Crete! There is so much to see and since Crete is the largest island in Greece, it is fairly large and spread out. To give you an idea, the drive from our hotel to the famous Balos Beach would be about an hour.
We didn’t take any public transportation while there since we had a car, but we did see some buses. There are also local taxi services that can take you places. They’re nice cars, but the private ride will cost you quite a bit. Our 30-minute ride to the port was about $50, which is a lot when you compare it to the lower Crete prices we were used to!
Crete is safe, but again, since it’s the largest island, it’s not as worry-free as a tiny island like Milos. It’s also not as rough as Athens (which is honestly fine). You probably shouldn’t leave your keys in your car and leave your home unlocked when you leave, but taking extensive precautions is not really necessary. Just use common sense and don’t make yourself a target for petty theft and you’ll be good!
What to Pack
With so much to do in Crete, you can pack a variety of outfits, from casual to more trendy and stylish. I wore flats the whole time, but my friend Eleni wore heels and totally fit in, so it’s not one of those super casual barefoot islands…though we did go barefoot a few times! Since I went in the summertime, I wore mostly tank tops, shorts, and lots of bathing suits. No need to be super conservative. If anything, feel free to show a little more skin than usual! Here’s what I wore on my trip:
One thing you don’t want to forget is sunscreen. The only place we could find it had it priced at nearly $30 for a standard-size tube! I also recommend bringing swim shoes and swim earplugs if you plan to do lots of swimming (Balos Beach, anyone?)! There are plenty of caves to explore and both will come in handy.
Where to Stay in Crete
When it comes to where to stay in Crete, there is only one answer: Kamares Sanctuaries. Staying at Kamares Sanctuaries transformed our trip from a typical summer vacation to an authentic Greek experience like none other. This trip to Crete was one of our favorites ever and that is in large part thanks to the owner of Kamares Sanctuaries, Emilio. Not only is Emilio a wonderful host, but he goes the extra mile to share his love of Crete with each and every guest. The entire experience at Kamares Sanctuaries went above and beyond any expectations. From the modern decor to the lovely outdoor lobby area, to the hand-crafted coffee each morning (made by Emilio himself!), Kamares Sanctuaries is the definition of hospitality done right.
Our room itself was a two-level loft suite, called the Superior Suite, with everything you could need. Looking back, I don’t think there was a tv in the room. But I promise, you definitely don’t need one! We had our own private outdoor terrace, as well as a balcony on the second level. I loved the stylish touches throughout the room and the hotel, and the bar area is awesome. The view of the mountains and countryside, as well as the ocean, was so gorgeous. I didn’t want to leave!
Before we checked in, Emilio sent us a list of his recommendations (more on that below!) and on the last night, he actually came to dinner with us. We had such a great time and will remember that night forever. It was the perfect way to end our trip. We have made a friend for life in Emilio and will undoubtedly be back to Kamares Sanctuaries!
Where to Eat & Drink
I have to give credit where credit is due. Every single one of these incredible restaurants we went to in Crete was recommended by Emilio. I don’t think we ate anywhere except his recommendations! And every single one was phenomenal.
Frosinis Garden is an outdoor restaurant that cooks everything on an open fire. This restaurant provides an incredibly unique experience with the warmest staff and owner. This is where we went on our last night in Crete and as I mentioned we were joined by Kamares Sanctuaries owner Emilio. Since he came with us and is friends with the owner of Frosinis Garden, George, he actually joined us as well (with endless bottles of raki!). We ate, drank, and talked all night and were the last ones to leave. George gave us a tour of the cooking area and we got to meet the staff as well as the many cats that roam the property. By the end of the night, George was barefoot and we were cuddling with the cats, lol! We didn’t want the night to end!
We stopped here on our way to Falasarna Beach on our first day out and about in Crete. It was the perfect first stop because not only were the views beautiful, but the service was amazing! The servers were so friendly and never stopped smiling. They had fun with us and even posed for photos. It was a great introduction to the wonderful Greek culture. Here, we had our first horiatiki (Greek salad) and Aperol Spritzes of the trip. They both became staples at every single meal for the duration of our stay! Stop here for lunch before Balos Beach or Falasarna Beach!
tavern Spiliaraki topolia
Another awesome spot with beautiful views and friendly staff. We were in heaven here on our way to Elafonisi Beach. It is located in a small village right down the road from one of my favorite attractions: Local Art Workshop by Manolis Tsouris. More on that below!
This was definitely the most high-end place we dined in Crete. The interior of the restaurant feels like you’re in a fairytale with its unique decor and huge round door entrance. The service here was great, the food was delicious, and by the end of the night, we received a shockingly low bill of just $65. Although this is a more traditionally “high-end” restaurant, the prices were still great! At the end of the night, instead of the usual free dessert, there is a fruit bar where you can take home whatever you want! This is a great choice after a day at Balos Beach as it is very close!
What to Do
If you’re interested in a premade itinerary, or even a custom one, the owner of Kamares Sanctuaries started a new business: RadicalTourists. For one low fee, you can experience all Crete has to offer – and the price includes your stay!
Go Wine Tasting
Since I’ve been to Greece before, I knew going wine tasting definitely had to be on our itinerary. The wineries in Greece are so special and of course, I love wine, so it’s a no brainer. There are a few options for wineries in Chania and there was even one very close to our hotel, but we decided to make the trek to Loupakis Winery based on the reviews we read online. And man, were we blown away. The winery sits on the top of a hill viewable from the street, and the grounds are absolutely stunning. It’s hard to put into words just how magical the tour and tasting at Loupakis Winery is. We happened to get there in time for sunset even though we were running about an hour behind. The owner, Milton, is the sweetest man ever and is multi-talented as a winemaker and artist.
We started the experience with a tasting of white wine and some crackers, cheese, fruits, and nuts. We then tried three more wines, followed by a tour of the vineyards, some wine-making education, and a viewing of Milton’s art. Finally, we settled back where we started and watched the sunset while sipping on more wine. It was truly one of the most beautiful nights of my life. In the end, we bought 4 bottles of wine and three bottles of Milton’s sister’s olive oil. These were the perfect souvenirs!
Meet the Wizard
One of the coolest things we did was stop at the Local Art Workshop by Manolis Tsouris. It’s in a small village on the way to Elafonisi Beach and it is such a special experience. Everything in the shop is hand carved by who we call “The Wizard” (can you see why? Ha!). The craftsmanship is breathtaking and there is something for everyone. This is a great place to get some souvenirs, from a gorgeous cutting board to a small wooden toy. Nothing is marked with a price so you have to ask when you get there. The wizard will smell the piece and then tell you a price! It’s so funny and amazing. He did give us a really good deal and even agreed to take a photo with us. He may look intimidating, but he’s very sweet! When it’s time to go, they pack up your purchase in a fun and custom-decorated bag filled with candy. It was so awesome!
Charter a Yacht
You’re truly cheating yourself if you don’t charter a boat in Crete. It may be a splurge, but I can’t express how worth it a boat day is – private or public (just make sure they stop at Balos Beach!). We went with Chania Yachting and it was beyond beautiful. One of the biggest reasons we chose Chania Yachting was the gorgeous yacht, but they also depart out of Kolymbari, which is where we were staying. Most of the others were out of Chania, which would have been a 30-minute drive.
The experience with Chania Yachting far exceeded our expectations. Though it was pricey, they made sure the experience would be unforgettable. The captain and part owner, Yiannis, is so fun and cool. He is a flawless drone pilot and captured some great footage for us. And they even gifted us a bottle of champagne! Stella, the first mate, was so sweet and communicated very well with us ahead of our trip. She wanted to make sure we went on a day with great sailing conditions and due to her recommendations, we did end up switching days for our charter. We were also treated to a full traditional Greek lunch that was delicious!
In the end, we decided to extend our charter an extra few hours because we just didn’t want it to end! Chania Yachting was so generous and hospitable and was just as excited as we were about extending. It was such a lovely day and I felt like I was a millionaire socialite the entire day.
Falasarna was definitely my favorite of the Chania beaches, by far! It was the first beach we went to and I honestly wish we skipped the other beaches (besides Balos Beach) and just did this one every day! We went to a beach club named Liokalyvo with the absolute best vibes ever. We got a little cabana for $30(!!!!!) with bottle service and relaxed on the beach all day. There was also a restaurant, but we didn’t have a chance to try it. This will be my first stop on my next visit to Crete! It was also the closest to where we were staying in Kolymbari, so very convenient compared to the 1-2 hour drives to the other beaches.
This is perhaps the most popular beach in Crete and definitely the most popular of the Chania beaches. It is the famous pink beach in Crete with pink sand and gorgeous, crystal clear blue waters. Well, unfortunately, that was not our experience. I was so disappointed upon our arrival. The pink beach was nowhere to be found! After lots of searching and fighting our way through the packed beach, I did find a small area of slightly tinted pink sand. What a letdown! It was a very disappointing Instagram vs. reality moment.
Just a 15-minute drive from Elafonisi is Kedrodasos Beach. We didn’t go here, but boy, do we wish we did! It is another recommendation from Emilio and if I could do it all again, I would 100% skip Elafonisi and go here instead!
Balos Beach is another very famous beach in Crete, and is much more easily accessed by boat than by land. It takes quite a hike to reach from the parking lot, so we opted to make this a stop on our boat charter, though that meant missing the famous view of Balos Beach. Even from the boat though, it was absolutely gorgeous! This was our top priority of destinations for our boat day and I’m glad we went there first. After about 11am, it gets VERY crowded with tons of boats carrying hundreds of people. Definitely go early to avoid the crazy crowds!
Would you visit Crete or would you rather visit the other Greek islands?
Photos by Ryan Carpenter.