Road Trip in Crete

Crete is not only Greece’s largest island, it also has some of the county’s most complex topography. On a 14 Day Round trip of Crete, you can experience it all. It offers that classic Greek Island experience in the stunning white sand beaches and turquoise waters, in the charming and authentic villages. But it also offers amazing mountains, gorges, waterfalls and caves – ideal for those seeking adventure and an encounter with nature. And it also offers fertile landscape – oenophiles will love the vineyards of Crete, and the olive groves and the quality of oil are legendary.

The Ultimate Road Trip of Crete

Add to this the historic attractions of Crete – from the Neolithic era through WWII – and the beautiful and famous towns like Chania and Heraklion, and you have an epic Greek road trip destination.

Day 1 – Chania and the Akrotiri Peninsula

Chania is the perfect place to start, with easy access from points in Greece and abroad. There’s a car rental station at Chania Airport, and a car rental can also be waiting to meet you at the harbor directly upon arrival.

Chania Airport from the plane

The Chania airport is on the Akrotiri peninsula. It makes a perfect place to start our road trip, as here we find a very famous beach, and also a really beautiful monastery.

Seitan Limania Beach

The famous beach Seitan Limani is a zig-zag shaped bay cutting through white rock – an amazing site. Go early – word has gotten out about this wonder – and wear good footwear for the steep climb down. After the beach, we can visit the famous Tzagarolon Agia Triada Monastery – one of the loveliest and grandest of all Crete, built during the Venetian era.

Day 2 – Falassarna, Elafonissi, and Chania Town

Agora Covered Market in Chania

Chania Town is one of Crete’s most popular destinations in itself. To get the feel of the city, start your day at the historic covered public market which is shaped like a cross. We can start the day with a traditional cheese pie – the Chaniotis add sugar. Then we can see the cheeses and the olives, and any number of quality traditional souvenirs, before checking out the catch of the day. The traditional shopping district is nearby – perfect for leather goods. But we’ll be back in the evening for more.

Falassarna Beach Crete

Now it’s off to the west end of the island for two very famous beaches. Falassarna is actually a string of beaches – all famous for their white sands and stunning turquoise waters. Pachia Ammos – ‘thick sand’ – is the most famous and popular of them, with a wilder beach to the north.

Pink beach elafonissi

A beautiful drive from Falassarna is another very famous beach destination – Elafonissi. We’ll have to drive inland to get down to the southwest corner of Crete- the terrain is rugged at the coast. The inland drive is lovely, and the reward is stunning – a beach, a lagoon filled with warm clear water and pink sand, and a beautiful island that is a Natura 2000 network protected nature reserve and looks like paradise.

Chania Harbour

Back in Chania by night, we can stroll through the old town and along the Venetian harbor, or have dinner by the shore in the old tanneries of Halepa.

Day 3 – Paleochora and Sougia

The south coast of Crete along the Libyan Sea is very famous for the excellence of its beaches. But it’s also famous for being remote. The contrast between the more settled north of Crete and the rugged south coast – just over an hour away – is one of the pleasures of a Crete road trip.

Tavernas & Restaurants in Paleochora

Paleochora is a small seaside settlement with several beaches. Pachia ammos (another one)- is again the most famous – a popular Blue Flag beach. But if you want to drive around and explore, you may just find a more remote pebble beach with no crowds, like Keratitis.

Sougia Beach

Sougia is a famous beach destination for both Cretans and visitors. To get to Sougia, although it’s very close, we have another gorgeous inland drive. Sougia is at the mouth of the Agia Irini gorge. The beach has shade from tamarisk trees, wonderful waters, and casual tavernas.

Even though our road trip around Crete continues along the south coast, we will head back to our homebase of Chania, as there is no road between Sougia and our destination on day 4.

Day 4 – Chora Sfakion, Loutro, Agia Roumeli

The drive to Chora Sfakion on the south coast from Chania is a destination in itself – some of Crete’s most thrilling scenery is along the mountain pass with traditional villages dotting the mountainsides.

Aerial View of Chora Sfakion Port

Chora Sfakion is a famous village and charming for a stroll. But we may want to leave our car here and hop on a boat to see the enchanting little port of Loutro – the only way to get to this car-free harbor is by boat or on foot. It’s a short boat ride.

Loutro Village in Chania

Or we can stay in the boat and go to Agia Roumeli, the base of the famous Samaria gorge. The most dramatic part of the gorge is the very end, so we can check it out then go for a refreshing swim.

Day 5 – Rethymnon Town, Spili, and Preveli

Just one town over from Chania is Rethymno. Another Venetian beauty, it makes a perfect home base for exploring the center west of the island. There are many fantastic things to do around here.

Rethymno old port

After exploring the old town with the Rimondi fountain and the Venetian fortress, we can set off for the island’s south. The drive to Spili, a lush mountain village is beautiful. Here, we can refresh ourselves in one of Greece’s loveliest fountains with cold mountain spring water gushing from the mouths of lions.

Preveli beach at Libyan Sea

Continuing south brings us to Preveli – both a famous monastery and an amazing beach. We can start at the historic monastery. Then we can enjoy views of the coastline all the way down the many flights of steps that descend the cliffs to reach the palm forest and river that meet a wonderful beach.

Day 6 – Arkadi Monastery, Margarites Village, Bali Beach

Arkadi Monastery

The Arkadi Monastery is one of the most famous on Crete, both because of its beautiful architecture and for its role in the history of Crete, especially during an uprising against the Ottomans.

Margarites Crete

A lovely traditional village is nearby. Margarites has a centuries’ old tradition of ceramics, and you will find workshops specializing in superb craftsmanship, with innovative designs both modern and ancient.

Main beach in Bali

Rejoining the coastal road, we come to Bali. This series of five beaches in its own protected, eastward-facing bay belong to some of the loveliest beaches of Crete. A fishing village is at their heart.

Day 7 – Heraklion – Knossos, Rocca al Mare and the Old Town, Museums, CretAquarium

Heraklion

The capital of Crete is a fantastic destination in itself and the perfect place to understand the unique culture of Crete. We can experience Minoan culture at its peak, as well as the elegance of Venetian culture that shaped this lovely port city.

North Entrance in Knossos Palace

Just outside of Heraklion is Knossos, the palace of the Minoans. The Minoans were an advanced Bronze-Age culture. The palace was restored by Sir Arthur Evans at the beginning of the 20th century and has a bold red palate and vivid reconstructions of wall paintings. You can imagine Minoan life here.

Archaeological Museum Heraklion

Afterwards, a visit to the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion gives further insight. You’ll see the original treasures unearthed in the excavations.

Morozini fountain in Lion Square

The Venetian heritage of Heraklion gives the city elegance. See it at the Rocca al Mare fortress guarding the harbor, the Venetian Loggia, and the Morosini Lions Fountain.

Day 8 – Matala and Agia Galini

After a day of culture in the urban center, the beach calls. This time, it’s one of the most famous beaches in the world, because of a whole generation of flower children who loved it here. This is Matala, just over an hour from Heraklion, and, of course, the drive is beautiful. We can get a taste of the hippy lifestyle on this sandy beach in its enclosed bay. There are tamarisk trees for shade, and a view of the tiny Paximadia islets. Plenty of tavernas can serve up a fresh catch of fish.

Crete Matala Beach 2020

For a change of pace, you can also go over to the popular resort town of Agia Galini – “Holy Tranquility” – once a traditional fishing village and still very charming, with good seas.

Day 9 – CretAquarium and a Waterpark (or, a Winery)

The CretAquarium is a wonderful place to truly connect with the magnificent biodiversity of the Mediterranean. It is a traditional Aquarium experience, a learning center, and a base for research. It’s wonderful with or without children. For more child-friendly activities, we can follow it up with a visit to Crete’s largest waterpark, Aqua Plus.

Cretaquarium

Alternatively, we can visit one or more of the excellent wineries around Heraklion, many of which specialize in the cultivation of ancient Cretan grape varieties for a true taste of history and culture. The wineries to check out include Alexakis, Lyrarakis, Douloufakis, Diamantakis, and Paterianakis as well as the Cretan outpost of Boutaris.

Day 10 – Agios Nikolaos

Agios Nikolaos 2019

Agios Nikolaos is enchanting, a port town that also has its own lake, making for a port experience full of romance. Make sure to visit the statue of Europa – for whom our continent is named – on the back of a giant bull – that’s Zeus, who abducted her and brought her to Crete.

Mirabello Bay

All around Mirabello Bay are fantastic beaches. We can take our pick – Havania, Voulisma, Almyros, Kitroplatia – or maybe have a beach-hopping day, enjoying the famously beautiful waters. Most of the beaches are full-service, with sunbeds and loungers, and there are also often water sports facilities.

In the evening, we can stroll around the Marina and the port, not forgetting lake Voulismeni – to pick out the perfect taverna for an evening meal.

Day 11 – Spinalonga Island and Elounda

Island of Spinalonga

One of the most famous sites this side of Crete is Spinalonga – and that is thanks to the famous book by Victoria Hislop – “The Island.” Spinalonga is heavily fortified – the work of the Romans, who wanted to protect their salt flats and the riches from them from the bands of Pirates who for decades, even centuries, controlled the seas here. The island is beautiful. The second reason it’s so famous though is what inspired the author – the years the island spent in the first half of the 20th century as a leper colony. A museum recording this fascinating period is among the ruined buildings.

Elounda Crete

Elounda

Elounda is one of the most famous beach resort destinations in the world – come see what all the fuss is about afterwards for another terrific afternoon of swimming at Kolokitha, Skisma, and others.

Day 12 – Sitia – Vai and the Toplou Monastery

Europes’ largest palm forest – a paradise of date palms on the beach – now a protected region. The beach itself is also fantastic. These are at the north eastern tip of Crete, worth the drive.

Vai beach palm trees

Also on this remote and beautiful peninsula we find 15th century Toplou Monastery that has played an important role in Cretan history – in both the Greek War of Independence of 1821, and during WWII. There is also a splendid icon collection and a collection of portraits, and a winery.

Church in Toplou monastery

Day 13 – Kato Zakros – the Valley of the Dead and the Palace of Zakros

Hikers love the Sitia region of Crete. There are many gorges, part of the E4 path is also here, and it goes through the Valley of the Dead.

Zakros Gorge of the dead

The Valley of the Dead is beautiful and filled with positive energy. It takes its name from the fact that the Minoans of the palace of Zakros once laid their dead to rest in the caves high on the walls of the valley. We can start at the top, or just drive to Kato (lower) Zakros and enter from the end, walking as far as we wish.

Peaceful Village of Kato Zakros

In Kato Zakros, at the end of the gorge, we can enjoy one of Crete’s most relaxing little towns – just a handful of authentic tavernas by the beach. We can also visit the ruins of the Minoan Palace of Zakros.

Day 14 – Ierapetra and Chryssi Island

Ierapetra is the main town in the south of Sitia, and a wonderful destination. The drive to Ierapetra goes through golden countryside and along stunning coastline. Ierapetra has some sights of interest, including the former Ottoman mosque with its fountain and the Venetian Fortress of Kales.

Fountain in Ierapetra

But one of the very best things to do in Ierapetra is to catch a boat to Chrissi Island, an uninhabited paradise covered with rare juniper trees. The swimming here is incredible, in clear seas in vivid jewel tones of turquoise and jade.

Beach in Chrissi Island

14 Day Round Trip in Crete – a Road Trip

One of the best things about a road trip in Crete is experiencing the beauty of the island by car. With plenty of days, none of the drives are very long, including the one to take us home. The Heraklion International Airport is less than an hour and a half from Ierapetra.

We hope you enjoy this in-depth experience of all that Crete has to offer!