Where to Stay on Crete: Ultimate Beach Resort Guide

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Heading to the beautiful Greek island of Crete this year? Here’s a complete rundown on where to stay in Crete to help you choose which part of the island to choose, which town, resort or beach is for you, and the best beach hotels, whether you’re booking accommodation DIY or looking for a package vacation.

This resort guide will cover:

  • which part of Crete to stay in
  • where to stay in Chania and the west
  • where to stay in the Rethymnon region
  • where to stay in the Heraklion region
  • where to stay in Agios Nikolaos and the east
  • Crete’s main resort towns; the best places to stay for nightlife, cheap packages and a younger crowd
  • a rundown of Crete’s quieter resorts and villages; the best places to stay for couples, families and nature

Balos beach on Crete

CRETE OVERVIEW

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Matala beach on Crete
Matala

WHICH PART OF CRETE TO STAY IN?

Roughly speaking, the north coast is developed and is home to the main cities and also most of the beach resort towns. Crete is divided into four provinces, each headed up by a regional capital on the north coast – Chania, Rethymnon, Heraklion, and Agios Nikolaos. The coastline between these cities is the busiest and most developed part of the island.

The south is wild and remote with a spectacularly rocky coast and a few standout beach resorts.

The main cities and towns on the north coast are linked by regular buses – each regional capital has buses going to the south of its region. Be aware that roads and bus routes in the south are sparse, it’s easier to plan an itinerary that takes in one region or travels along the north coast. Crossing the south of the island is difficult.

Crete is a large island – the fifth largest in the Mediterranean – and you can find whatever you’re looking for in each region. Therefore it can be easier to decide on arrival airport/port first, or any attractions that you particularly want to visit, in order to narrow down where to stay.

  • CHANIA REGION (WEST): The Venetian city of Chania heads up the westernmost region of Crete. Beach resorts fan out from Chania, but the rest of the coast is rugged and quiet with a few spectacular beaches (Elafonisi, Falassarna and Balos) and excellent hiking in the White Mountains (the Samaria Gorge).
  • RETHYMNON REGION: Crete’s longest beach starts at Rethymnon, itself a gorgeous historic city. Lots of sandy beach resorts with traditional villages tucked away inland.
  • HERAKLION REGION: Heraklion is Crete’s capital and busiest city. Nearby is the knockout ancient site of Knossos, and along the coast are some of Crete’s largest beach resorts. Inland is agricultural, with plenty of vineyards.
  • LASITHI REGION (EAST): The biggest town in the east is Agios Nikolaos, a popular and cosmopolitan harbour town. The surrounding coastline is home to some of Crete’s most exclusive and charming beach resorts. Way out east it all gets wilder, windier, and much emptier.

The main airports in Crete are Chania International and Heraklion International, both well served by budget airlines. There is also a domestic airport in Sitia with flights from Athens.

CHANIA AND THE WEST

Chania waterfront

CHANIA

Chania (pronounced ‘Hania’ and sometimes spelt Xania), with its old Venetian streets, is the gem of Crete and its nicest city. It’s located on the western end of the north coast, with peaks of the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) providing a dramatic backdrop.

One of the most beautiful cities in all of Greece, Chania is unsurprisingly a popular tourist destination. The coastline is developed on either side, but it was the introduction of budget flights to Chania airport that really put it on the map. Most visitors won’t venture far outside the old town, the nexus of which is the pretty 14th-century Venetian harbourfront, but surrounding it is a decent-sized the modern university city with a year-round population of 60,000 people.

The most well-known landmark is the blush pink Yiali Tzami mosque on the waterfront, with the main (outer) harbour on one side and the Venetian (inner) harbour and arsenal on the other. The main tourist street is Odos Halidon, which divides the old and new city.

Chania’s maze of old town streets have been prettied up for the tourists, but they still retain a charming atmosphere – especially if you can catch them in spring before the masses arrive. The harbourfront is lined with restaurants and smart boutiques, and the narrow alleys filled with souvenir shops, and the colourful tables and twinkly lights of tavernas vying for your trade. 

Top attractions and things to do in Chania include:

Head west from the main harbour to hit the town beaches –  Nea Chora is the closest and a 15-minute walk, Chryssi Akti is the nicest.

As Chania is a regional capital and in close proximity to so many beach resorts, it makes a great base to explore the west of the island. Many boat trips, excursions, and day tours are available, and it’s possible to make some journeys (such as hiking the Samaria Gorge) yourself by bus. 

The KTEL bus station is in the new town, a 10-minute walk from the main harbour – see PDF timetables.

Possible day trips from Chania include:

Transfer time: 25 minutes to the main harbour from Chania International airport.

STAY IN CHANIA

There is no shortage of boutique in the winding Venetian streets of the old town. 

Pick of the pack is the uber-chic Serenissima Boutique Hotel – it’s located one block back from the main harbour in a 15th-century Venetian mansion.

On the harbour: If you’re after a harbourfront hotel with a sea views balcony just bear in mind that noise and light from the restaurants below go on until late.

The 5-star hotels on the harbourfront are Scala de Faro and Domus Renier. Also along the main harbour, you’ll find the stylish Elia Zampeliou Boutique Hotel and the funky Alcanea Boutique Hotel.

Inside the old town: for historic charm check out Bozzali Hotel with its whitewashed decor and cute courtyard, whereas Casa Delfino offers a modern take on the traditional Venetian mansion.

For those on a smaller budget, have a look at the small and friendly Nostos Hotel which is a few minutes from the main harbour. Or the clean and modern Central City Hotel and Aeolios Design Hotel.

On the Venetian harbour: is the 5 star Ambassadors Residence which has rooftop hot tubs. La Maison Ottomane brings a touch of Ottoman decadence meets modern style. Palazzo Duca is one block behind the harbour and is clean and modern with comfortable Cocomat mattresses.

Hostels: Chania has two gorgeous design hostel options – Cocoon City Hostel and Kumba.

RESORTS NEAR CHANIA

If you’re planning on staying in the area for more than a few days in the summer then it makes sense to be out in one of Chania’s coastal resorts, to take advantage of beach access and/or parking (which is very difficult in the centre).

The resorts spread out in either direction along the coast. Most of these are connected to town by regular bus. They get progressively smaller, more village-like and quieter the further out you get.

To the west:

  • Agioi Apostoli – small and friendly, good for nature
  • Nea Kydonia – lively, close to Chania
  • Agia Marina – popular and buzzing
  • Platanias – party zone, has its own strip
  • Stalos – busy with lots of apartments
  • Gerani – wide beach and good scenery for nature lovers
  • Maleme – quiet with a big beach
  • Tavronitis – quiet and untouristy with a pebble beach
  • Kolymbari – quiet with a fishing village feel

The Akrotiri Peninsula is where you’ll find the airport, a swathe of villas, and a few spectacular beaches such as Stavros Bay and Seitan Limani.

To the east, towards Rethymnon:

  • Almyrida – laid back but lively
  • Georgioupoli – quiet fishing village

Transfer time: 15-45 minutes from Chania International airport.

STAY IN CHANIA BEACH RESORTS

Luxury highlights: Domes Noruz in Kato Daratsa is the 5* pick – beachfront location, private plunge pools and hot tubs are available

Minoa Palace Resort & Spa is another beachfront blockbuster with private pools and daybeds.

S&K Villas near Amyrida has a modern white cubist design and pool.

Mid-range boutique: Casa Cook is a beach resort reimagined for the Instagram generation, with boho-chic minimalism up on the hills behind the beach in Kato Daratsa.

For something different, highly rated Ammos Hotel in Agioi Apostoli brings a touch of Scandi cool to proceedings.

On a budget?: Effi Apartments are a steal and right on the beach in Platanias.

Check TUI for packages including hotels and flights

KISSAMOS

Kissamos is a working port town on the northwestern edge of Crete. You’re most likely to end up here if you’re catching a ferry to Kythira or to Gythio on the mainland, or if you’re using it as a base to explore the nearby beaches at Balos and Falassarna.

It has a slightly scruffy feel but there are two town beaches, an archaeological museum and some excellent restaurants to entertain you. Boat trips to Balos leave from the harbour.

Transfer time: 50 minutes from Chania International airport.

STAY IN KISSAMOS

Accommodation in Kissamos tends to look a bit dated but you can find good value in the surrounding beaches such as resort-style Balos Beach Hotel, Galini Beach Hotel, and the simpler Maria Beach Hotel.

FALASSARNA

Falasarna beach on Crete

Falassarna is home to one of the best beaches on Crete – vast, sandy, and relatively undeveloped. Parts of it are organised in the summer months though, and it does attract daytrippers. There’s no real village to speak of, but there are a few places to stay tucked away in the flat plain behind the beach.

Transfer time: 1hr 10 minutes from Chania International airport.

STAY IN FALASSARNA

Swanky Aspalathos Falassarna Villas has an infinity pool, hot tub and sauna.

But most options are traditional apartment complexes such as Petritos Rooms or small houses like Arodamos Sea House.

ELAFONISSI

pink sands of Elafonisi beach on Crete

The pink sands of Elafonisi are one of the main attractions in west Crete, with coachloads arriving every day to bathe in the glorious lagoon-like waters. The beach is in a protected park and no development is allowed with 1km. 

Transfer time: 1hr 45 minutes from Chania International airport.

STAY IN ELAFONISSI

The nearest rooms are a few miles away – try the serene Glykeria Hotel and Elafonisi Resort.

PALEOCHORA

Much of the south-west coast is rocky and inaccessible, with steep cliffs that drop dramatically into the sea and small beaches that form at the end of gorges. Except for the blockbuster beaches that attract day trips, it’s not ideal for beach tourism. With the exception of Paleochora, that is.

Paleochora is the main resort town on the south-west coast. It’s a windswept and low-key kind of place, with remnants of a hippie vibe. Paleochora is located on a small peninsula with beaches on either side – perfect for windsurfing as one of them will always be catching the wind.

It attracts independent travellers and plenty of returners and is a popular base for hiking in the area.

Transfer time: 1hr 35 minutes from Chania International airport.

STAY IN PALEOCHORA

Libyan Princess is the most comfortable and modern hotel on the block. But there are many places offering rooms and studios at a great price.

Check Paleochora rooms and prices on Booking.com

THE SFAKIA COAST

sugarcube village of Loutro on Crete with its bright turquoise sea

The remote area of Sfakia on the southern coast is one of the most beautiful parts of Crete – but you have to be prepared for an adventure to get there. There are few roads in the area, and some of the villages are accessible only by boat. Their wild and remote location and lack of road access have helped to preserve their beauty. It feels a little like the end of the known world, and Sfakions are known for their fierce independence and excellent cheese pies. 

Agia Roumeli is the most visited village in the area as it forms the exit point for the popular Samaria Gorge hike – every day in the summer hundreds pop out of the gorge and onto a ferry to X where they can reconnect with the road system.

But the highlight is the peaceful and picture-perfect sugar cube village of Loutro, with its whitewashed walls and electric blue seas.

A network of small ferries connects Paleochora and Sfakia at either end, with the villages of Sougia, Agia Roumeli, and Loutro, and the island of Gavdos to the south. A perfect miniature island-hopping adventure.

The long-distance hiking route passes through the area, and there are several smaller gorges and empty beaches such as Sweetwater to discover.

Transfer time: 1hr 30 minutes from Chania airport.

STAY IN SFAKIA

There are no luxury hotels in the area, but an excellent selection of traditional family-run hotels and pensions, many with sea views.

Agia Roumeli: Lots of budget rooms all around the same price point thanks to the proliferation of walkers – try Agia Roumeli Hotel or Gigilos which are both right on the beach

LoutroPorto Loutro On the Hill has the best position with balcony rooms looking out over the bay.

Other options include Hotel Loutro BaySifis and Daskalogiannis Hotel. There are plenty of options for self-catered too, like Villa Niki.

Chora Sfakion: A few upmarket options here such as the No Problem Luxury Suite (it has a bathtub), and the excellent value  Livikon Hotel and Samaria Hotel which both have fresh white and blue decor and seaview balconies.

FRANGOKASTELLO

If you like your beaches vast and often deserted then make a beeline for Frangokastello on the south coast. Few make it out this far, despite it’s calling card – the impressive (but empty) Venetian castle on its shore. Most of the visitors are locals in the high summer months.

The beach is sandy and the sea is calm, though the south coast does get fierce winds at times.

Transfer time: 1hr 40 minutes from Chania International airport.

STAY IN FRANGOKASTELLO

Accommodation in Frangokastello is all self-catered and around the same price point. Options are spread out along the vast beach – so check the location before booking if you want to be closer to the castle for proximity to the few tavernas and cafes. Sfakia is the nearest town for amenities.

Check the rooms and prices on Booking.com

THE RETHYMNON REGION

colourful Rethymnon harbour

RETHYMNON

The city of Rethymnon (you might also see it spelt Rethymno or Rethimno) is like a smaller, more chilled version of Chania. It has the same old-world charms with its colourful Venetian harbourfront, relics of Turkish rule, student population, and tangle of tiny alleys. It’s a perfect romantic destination for couples.

The thrum centres around the Venetian harbour, the cafe-packed backstreets, and the extensive beach which extends to the east.

Top things to see and do in Rethymno include:

And possible day trips in the area include:

Rethymnon Beach is Crete’s longest sandy beach at 12km long, and as it extends east from the city it swallows up villages that have long since morphed into suburban beach resorts. Most of the beach is lined with tavernas, cafes and bars, but with easy acces to the city. The further out, the quieter it gets. Rethymno Beach is also one of Crete’s most important turtle nesting grounds. Swimmers will prefer the deep water at Episkopi.

Some of the beach resorts along Rethymnon beach include:

  • Pervolia
  • Misseria
  • Platanes
  • Pigi
  • Sfakaki
  • Skaleta

The area around Platanes is popular and sandy.

The beaches in the Rethymno province are some of the best – not as dramatic as the west coast, but long and sandy and perfect for long, lazy beach days. The resorts here are some of the nicest places to stay on Crete.

That said, they are exposed to the northwesterly Meltemi wind which blasts Greece throughout the summer – beware big waves and undercurrents when the wind is blowing, pay attention to local advice. You may have to head to the south coast when the wind is blowing. Palm-fringed Preveli is one of the most unique and beautiful beaches on Crete.

Transfer time: 1hr 10 minutes from Chania International airport, 1 hr 10 minutes from Heraklion International Airport –  book a transfer.

STAY IN RETHYMNON

There are lots of lovely places to stay in Rethymnon.

Boutique and luxury: Cressa Corona Boutique Hotel is the best address in town. An adults-only hotel in a converted historic mansion, it has been elegantly restored and has its own hammam.

The other top choice in Rethymnon is Rimondi Estate whose courtyard swimming pool is becoming an Instagram star in its own right.

The Ottoman influence is front and centre at the Hamam Oriental Suites, housed in a former hammam building – some rooms have hot tubs.

Avli Luxury Apartments are sumptuously decorated – and there’s a rooftop pool.

Mythos Suites is another town highlight with a pool.

Good value town hotels:

The City Hotel & Suites is a clean and modern hotel offering excellent value at a lower price point, as are Menta City Boutique Hotel and Omiros Boutique Hotel.

Dorm rooms are available for the budget traveller at Rethymno Youth Hostel.

On the beach: Check out LUX.ME White Palace and Caramel Grecotel Boutique Resort –  for sheer whitewashed bliss right on the beach.

Budget alternatives include Axos Hotel and Swell Boutique Hotel.

 

PANORMO

view of Panormo from the hills

So many people make a beeline for Rethymno that it’s surrounding villages are something of a hidden gem. Panormo is the first beach resort that you hit east of Rethymno that has a proper village feel and isn’t just an outpost of the city. It has a quiet and authentic atmosphere and a well-sheltered beach – it’s one of the best places in Crete for families with small children.

The beaches here are small – but this helps to keep the crowds away.

There are enough family-run tavernas and seafood restaurants that you can eat out somewhere different every night for a fortnight. It’s also a good base if you want to rent a car as there are plenty of beaches to explore in the area and it’s only a 15-minute drive to Rethymno.

Transfer time: 55 minutes from Heraklion International airport.

STAY IN PANORMO

There are a few large all-inclusive hotels in Panormo – Iberostar Creta Marine and Iberostar Creta Panorama & Mare being two of the larger ones.

But it would be a shame to miss out on the excellent tavernas in Panormo.

Captain’s House is in a traditional building by the waterfront – a friendly welcome, fantastic sea views, and comfy beds. It’s only a matter of steps to the beach. 

Z Boutique Hotel has comfortable rooms and a small pool.

If you’re bringing the familiy you may prefer a villa with a pool – have a look at Philoxenia Villas which has fresh modern decor and is 200 yards from the beach.

BALI

pretty Bali bay

A lively beach town, the resort of Bali is set around a handful of coves in a scenic bay. It’s a busy tourist town dominated by resort hotels, with a small harbour and 4 organised beaches, and is packed with pretty bougainvillaea and colourful sun loungers. 

The beaches aren’t huge so they do get busy; Bali is larger than it looks and popular with the package tourism crowd and daytrippers from the wider area.

But it has everything you need – it’s ideal if you’re looking to enjoy one place for your holiday and don’t feel the need to visit the larger towns. There’s plenty to keep older children entertained, including watersports and boat trips.

If you’re used to staying in small villages then you may find Bali too busy and commercialised.

Bali is roughly halfway between Rethymno and Heraklion – there are bus services both but not as frequent as other resorts. It’s a 40-minute drive to Rethymno.

Transfer time: 50 minutes from Heraklion International airport.

STAY IN BALI

There are of resort hotels in Bali strung out along the coast – many are looking a bit dated but there are a few standouts.

T Hotel Premium Suites is the most comfortable place in town. It’s set back from the town but is 4* and modern, with 3 pools and spacious rooms. Some swim-up rooms are available.

If you want to be closer to the beaches, Nostos Beach Boutique Hotel is freshly renovated and has a pool, beach bar and day beds.

On a budget? The Troulis Apart-hotel is excellent value.

AGIA GALINI

the resort town of Agia Galini

South coast Agia Galini is a small harbour town that was once the biggest resort town in the Rethymno region. Tourism here peaked in the 90s and as such it has a slightly careworn feel and is friendly but not busy. Rapid growth resulted in some dense development around the small harbour, and the small beach is a 10-minute walk out of the village.

But there are plenty of returners from those days – its warm seas, great views, and some of the best fishing in Greece make it particularly popular with expats. It’s perfect for mature couples who don’t need excursions and are happy to rent a car to explore the south coast. That said, there are bus links to Rethymno and Heraklion so car hire is not necessary. Beach bums are better off at Plakias (see below).

Transfer time: 1hr 15 minutes from Heraklion airport.

STAY IN AGIA GALINI

Agia Galini has a great selection of accommodation. Top hotel pick is Palazzo Greco, a small hotel with a boutique feel – the terrace pool and balconies have impressive sea views.

Astoria Hotel is a small family-run hotel with sea views and coastal decor. 

The 3* Villa Maxine Hotel is great value and has a chic poolside area. 

PLAKIAS

Plakias is one of the nicest small resorts on Crete. It’s a relaxed south coast village, about 30km from Agia Galini, and has a wide, sandy Blue Flag beach and a spacious feel. It attracts a younger crowd than Agia Galini, more families and independent travellers.

This area is perfect for beach lovers (although it’s worth noting that the main beach does get very windy). Some of the most beautiful and unique beaches are in the area – nearby Damnoni is sandy with shallow clear waters, perfect for kids. The famous Preveli Palm Beach with its exotic date palm forest at the end of Kourtaliotiko Gorge is 5km away. And you can find amazing rock formations nearby at Souda – such as Calypso Bay.

But it’s also possible to use Plakias as a base for walking and hiking. There are several beaches that you can reach by foot, and as the crowds thin out you can still find a few nudist beaches. If you have a car then you might also want to consider accommodation up in Mirtios village above the bay.

Transfer time: 1 hr 40 minutes from both Chania and Heraklion airports.

STAY IN PLAKIAS

Whitewashed and chic Cyano Hotel is the best place to stay in Plakias – rooms are spotless, the beds are comfy, and its a short walk to the shops and beach.

Belvedere Apartments are box fresh and have spa access.

There are a number of hotels right on the beach such as the modern and comfortable Sofia Hotel.

And Plakias now has a youth hostel! You can’t miss it, it’s called Youth Hostel Plakias.

HERAKLION

Heraklion waterfront from the Venetian fortress

Slap bang in the middle of the northern coastline, the city of Heraklion (also spelt Iraklio or Iraklion) is the capital and its surrounding coastline is some of the busiest and most developed on Crete.

Heraklion itself is not quite an attractive destination in the same way that Chania and Rethymnon are – much of its historic architecture was damaged during heavy bombing in WWII. A few Venetian buildings remain but most of the city is a modern concrete jungle that always seems to be dusty and full of building works that were halted during the crisis.

If you can get beyond immediate appearances, it has a likeable vibe – there are some excellent museums and a good bar and music scene propped up by the local student population. Top things to see and do in Heraklion include:

Ammoudara is the easiest beach to reach from the city – the line 12 bus runs throughout the day. Head west for quieter beaches at Amnisos or Tobrouk.

But the main attraction that brings tourists to Heraklion is the nearby ancient Minoan site of Knossos – the biggest and most well-known on the island. It’s an easy and cheap bus ride to Knoss from Heraklion. There are more Minoan ruins worth discovering though – head further afield to Malia and Phaistos. Heraklion Archaeological Museum is fantastic – it’s worth visiting before you head out to the ancient sites if you can.

Day trips from Heraklion:

Inland Heraklion region is home to farmland and vineyards, whereas the coastline spreading east from Heraklion is also the most developed on Crete, and home to its most famous (and infamous resorts).

Transfer time: 15 minutes from Heraklion International airport.

STAY IN HERAKLION

Historically all of the tourist accommodation has been outside the city in the summer resorts.

Classy Veneziano Boutique Hotel is in a beautifully renovated historic building. The LATO Boutique Hotel is more modern and has harbour views. 

Candia Suites are close to the harbour with clean modern interiors and bicycle rental available.

If you want to meet other travellers there are two hostels in town Intra Muros and So Young, but private rooms in traditional domatia or apartments can be found on Airbnb for a similar price.

Outside Heraklion centre is the vast and swanky kid-friendly resort Amirandes Hotel

The lush Villa Octo is up in the hills behind the city and sleeps 6 in luxury. 

AGIA PELAGIA

pretty Agia Pelagia bay

Agia Pelagia is halfway between Bali and Heraklion and is the only real beach resort to the west of the capital, to which it is connected by a regular bus service which takes about 1 hr.

The vibe is family-friendly thanks to its sheltered bay which is lined with a number of traditional tavernas. The beach is a mix of shingle and sand, and the water is crystal clear and calm. The resort itself is sleepy but – like most in the area – the beach gets very busy in the summer.

In the small grid of streets behind the main beach, you will find souvenir shops, mini-markets, and small hotels/rooms to let. The surrounding hillsides are home to a swathe of lovely resort hotels and a few minor beaches.

Transfer time: 30 minutes from Heraklion airport.

STAY IN AGIA PEGALIA

The swankiest resort in town is the long-established Out of the Blue Capsis Elite Resort. Set in landscaped tropical gardens, it has 7 pools, a spa, and access to a rocky private beach. Kids go free to the Minoan Amusement Park.

But there are plenty of alternatives if your budget doesn’t stretch quite that far, have a look at Blue Bay Resort Hotel, Peninsula Resort Hotel, Pela Mare, Seascape Luxury Residences, and Acro Wellness Suites.

On a budget? Check out cheery Sunday Life.

MATALA

small boats in Matala bay

Crete’s famous hippie beach is located on the south coast – the name will be familiar to any fan of Joni Mitchell, who lived in the caves here for a short time as described in the song ‘Carey.

Although the hippies have long since been moved on, and the caves protected and closed to the public, the town retains a laidback feel despite the explosion of tourism here. It’s a popular day-trip destination and the crowds somewhat marr the incredible natural landscape with its towering rock formations. There are some quieter beaches in the area if you’re up for a bit of scrambling, and things calm down in the evening once the coaches have packed up for the day.

Those in search of the original 60s free-spirited vibe will be disappointed (though try nearby Red Beach), but Matala is a fun seaside town and is a good choice for younger couples looking for somewhere lively and photogenic. 

Transfer time: 1 hr 5 minutes from Heraklion International airport.

STAY IN MATALA

Most hotels and rooms in Matala are simple and value. Try the spotless Marina Hotel, or the beautiful white and blue decor and sea views at Elektra.

HERSONISSOS

Hersonissos waterfront

Hersonissos is the biggest resort in Crete, it’s a large and lively resort town with something to suit every taste and budget. It can be as quiet or as rowdy as you like. 

There are 3 main beaches and a long waterfront area that’s full of seafood restaurants, bars and clubs, and is popular in the evening. The prices in Hersonissos are very competitive, partially to lure customers out of the many all-inclusive hotels in the area.

The older part of town (Ano Hersonissos or Palia Hersonissos) is set back from the coast and has lots of little family-run tavernas. A typical routine is to eat dinner in the old village and then head down towards the waterfront for evening drinks.

The outskirts of Hersonissos are home to some of Crete’s swankiest 5* resort hotels. Take a 15-minute walk uphill from the main town and you will find Koutouloufari and Piskopiano, two traditional villages that are increasingly popular for upmarket accommodation options.

There’s a regular bus to Heraklion, and it’s possible to reach Rethymnon and Agios Nikolaos for day trips too.

Transfer time: 20 minutes from Heraklion International airport.

STAY IN HERSONISSOS

Koutouloufari is awash with luxury adults-only complexes. Some of the best are: Creta Blue Boutique Hotel & Suites, Villa IppocampiCasa Bianca Boutique HotelAbaton Island Resort & Spa, Cook’s Club

On a budget? Check out Aspri Petra Apartments or Asterias Village.

STALIS

The main attraction in Stalis (or Stalida) is its 6km golden crescent of beach, and its proximity to party capital Malia (just a 30-minute walk). The beach here is better than any at Hersonissos, which is 5km away. 

It’s a purpose-built resort and essentially a quieter outpost of Malia though, with lots of the same English breakfast cafes and Irish bars. There’s a wide selection of accommodation, easy transport links, a short airport transfer, and child-friendly shallow waters. If you have a mix of old and young children – or value convenience – then Stalis is a solid option. Just don’t expect to find authentic Crete here.

Transfer time: 20 minutes from Heraklion International airport.

STAY IN STALIS

Malliotakis Beach Hotel and Aggelo Boutique Hotel are both close to the beach and offer stylish places to lay your head.

Packages to Stalis are available through TUI.

MALIA

sandy beach at Malia

The infamous resort of Malia is known for its 24hr party scene – it’s the best spot for nightlife on Crete, as legions of teenage boys well know.

But the rowdy bars are largely confined to one strip – the ‘Malia Mile’, and the party doesn’t start until later in the evening. Outside this, it’s a large resort town with an excellent (though busy) beach, an unashamedly commercial centre, and a charming old quarter (Old Malia), where you’ll find traditional houses and tavernas.

Nearby is the Palace of Malia, one of the best Minoan ruins on the island.

Transfer time: 35 minutes from Heraklion airport.

STAY IN MALIA

There is the standard selection of resort hotels in the surrounding coastal areas –  stylish Cretan Malia Park is one of the best, with beachfront access, boho chic decor, and family-friendly facilities.

Malia can be a great option for cheap last minute packages – keep an eye on Lastminute.com for deals.

EASTERN CRETE – LASITHI REGION

Agios Nikolaos waterfront

AGIOS NIKOLAOS

Lasithi, the easternmost province of Crete, is home to some of its most luxurious hotels as well as its wildest and most traditional areas.

The main town in the region is likeable Agios Nikolaos (or Ag Nik, as it’s affectionately known), which makes up the quartet of north coast main cities. It has a pretty setting in the Gulf of Mirabello with waterfront bars encircling a small lake – it’s made for people watching, and there is a cosmopolitan cafe-bar scene. It’s a year-round Greek town that attracts tourists and expats, rather than a purpose-built tourist town.

Agios Nikolaos has four sandy beaches though they’re all a little way out of the city – Kitroplateira is the most central, Almiros is the nicest. There are also plenty of boat trips are available from its harbour.

Top things to see and do in Agios Nikolaos include:

Possible day trips include:

Transfer time: 50 minutes from Heraklion International airport.

STAY IN AGIOS NIKOLAOS

Porto Maltese Boutique Estate is Ag Nik’s most stylish des res, with a waterfront location, courtyard, and sympathetic restoration.

St Nicholas Bay Resort Hotels & Villas is a large 5* complex with direct beach access.

You can find private plunge pools at Miramare Resort & Spa.

5* Minos Beach Art Hotel has 1km of beach access, spacious grounds, and calming minimalist decor.

Drive 10 minutes south from Agios Nikolaos for the stunning 5* resort Daios Cove, which has its own beach and private seawater plunge pools.

SISSI

tourist boat by the harbour in Sissi

Sissi is a small resort that’s on the coast between Malia and Plaka, known for its pretty harbour and seafood tavernas. It’s popular as a boat trip destination – the summer months can see an influx of tour boats from nearby Malia and Hersonissos – but relatively few actually stay there, and those that do tend to love it.

It has a tranquil fishing village vibe, although the heart of the village does feel a bit commercialised, and there are some small beaches a short walk away (the main one is Boufos).

Despite its proximity to larger resorts, the bus service to Sissi is limited, so it’s better suited to couples looking for a quiet place to stay in Crete or those wanting to explore the wild Agios Ioannis peninsula by car.

Transfer time: 25 minutes from Heraklion International airport.

STAY IN SISSI

There is an increasing number of upmarket resorts in Sissi. Grecotel Meli Palace and Kalimera Kriti Resort both have direct beach access.

Angela Suites Boutique Hotel is all whites and blues and has a pool.

MILATOS

Milatos is a small and low-key beach resort just beyond Sissi. It’s known for its big waves, fishing heritage, and seafood tavernas set around a small crescent of beach. The main village is set 1km back from the beach and is a popular area for villas and expats.

There is very little public transport.

Transfer time: 1hr 5 minutes from Heraklion International airport.

STAY IN MILATOS

Set in landscaped gardens, the freshly reinvented Radisson Blu Beach Resort has seven pools, direct beach acces, and is popular with families.

PLAKA

The upmarket vibe of Elounda is rubbing off on the small nearby village of Plaka, which is ideal with those looking for a quiet and peaceful holiday. It has a sand-and-pebble beach and a handful of good tavernas to choose from. It’s deliciously quiet in shoulder season.

Plaka is also the gateway to the Spinalonga, the small fortress island that famously housed a leper colony and is now one of the main day trips in the area. Small ferry boats make the run over to Spinalonga from both Plaka and Elounda.

Transfer time: 1hr 5 minutes from Heraklion International airport.

STAY IN PLAKA

There are only a few places to stay in Plaka – try Athina Villas, Plaka Beach Cottages, or Cayo Exclusive Resort & Spa.

Several of the Elounda luxury resorts are actually in Plaka. Blue Palace Luxury Collection has views across to Spinalonga, an extensive spa, and direct access to a pebble beach. 

5* resort Domes of Elounda is one of Crete’s most exclusive hotels and has access to a private sandy beach, VIP services, and a champagne bar. 

ELOUNDA

small boat by Elounda beach

5km south of Plaka is the small beach town of Elounda, one of Crete’s most characterful resorts and home to some of its premier luxury hotels.

Elounda is a lively harbour town that’s surrounded by beautiful scenery and a sandy Blue Flag town beach. It’s unsurprisingly popular with returnees. Something of the original working fishing harbour feel remains, and traditional domatia and cheap cafes sit alongside bijou boutiques and expensive seafood restaurants.

The Spinalonga peninsula is connected to the town by a causeway – the peninsula curves right around and the UNESCO-listed island sits at its tip, creating a natural harbour sheltered from the elements. It also provides stunning views from all angles.

The area is also crisscrossed with donkey paths that make it fantastic for walking (it’s possible to walk to Plaka). There’s an excellent selection of tavernas, and it’s a short drive to Agios Nikolaos for city delights.

Transfer time: 1hr from Heraklion International airport.

STAY IN ELOUNDA

There are so many luxury hotels in Elounda that it’s impossible to list them all. Several of Elounda’s top luxury hotels are actually in Plaka, so read the section above if you haven’t already.

Porto Elounda Golf & Spa Resort has a Six Senses Spa, direct beach access, and a private 9-hole golf course.  

Elounda Gulf Villas provide a free transfer to a private beach club.

For self-catered accommodation,  Airbnb has the best selection of apartments,, villas and studios.

SITIA

Sitia promenade

East of Sitia the crowds really thin out – most tourists don’t make it beyond this point. The landscape is dry and barren, and the beaches largely empty. This is Crete off-the-beaten-track.

The small city of Sitia is a working port town with a pleasant seafront promenade, a sandy town beach, and a slow lifestyle. It does attract some tourists, mainly from the continent. As with the other northern cities, it has a Venetian Fortress (the Kazarma) and an Archaeological Museum. 

One of the main attractions of this part of Crete is Vai Beach, the famously exotic palm beach and former hippie colony. It’s still a 30-minute drive from Sitia.

To the west of Sitia is the small coastal village of Mochlos which sports two islets with Minoan excavations.

Ferries leave Sitia once a week for Rhodes, Karpathos, and Kassos. There is a small airport serving flights to and from Athens.

Transfer time: 2hrs from Heraklion International airport, 10 minutes from Sitia Public Airport.

STAY IN SITIA

There are lots of good value hotels in Sitia, though in general decor is a tad dated – check Booking.com for prices and availability.

PALEOKASTRO

Head east from Sitia and you eventually reach is Paleokastro, a windswept resort with an edge-of-the-world feel and some of the best windsurfing in Europe. It’s friendly and authentic – if you want to get away from mass tourism then this easternmost part of Crete is a good bet.

Most accommodation is in Paleokastro village which is a short drive from several excellent beaches including Kouremenos, Hiona, and Mandati. And there’s an ancient Minoan site that you’re likely to have to yourself.

Transfer time: 2 hours 30 minutes from Heraklion International airport.

STAY IN PALEOKASTRO

Good value rooms and family-run studios abound – check rooms and availability on Booking.com.

 

IERAPETRA AND MAKRIGIALOS

The southeast coast is one of the least touristed parts of the island. South of the Lasithi Peninsula, this part of Crete has its own climate – it’s drier, hotter, and more barren than the rest of the island. Here you will find the emptiest beaches on the island and you can swim well into the autumn/winter months. And it’s one of the warmest places in the Mediterranean in winter. 

Ierapetra is known as the capital of the south coast as it’s the biggest town along the coast, and one of the southernmost towns in Europe. Not overly touristy (though all the amenities are present), it has a working town feel – albeit one with an Ottoman mosque, Venetian Fortress, and Blue Flag Beach.

Makrigialis, on the other hand, is a small and friendly traditional beach resort. Development is focused around a small harbour and excellent beach – sandy, with shallow child-friendly waters. Most of the accommodation in this area is in traditional rooms and studios.

Two Crete’s minor islands – Chryssi and Koufonisi – are just off this part of the shore.

Transfer time: Ierapetra minutes from Heraklion airport, Makrigialos 1 hr 50 minutes from Heraklion airport

Stay in Ierapetra: The Cretan Villa Hotel is a handsome restored 18th century building, or else there’s a good selection of studios on Airbnb.

Stay in Makrigialos: White Pearl Apartments are right on the beach.

The White Houses are traditional waterfront houses decorated in local antiques and cool whites and blues.

Read more:

Where to Stay on Corfu: Ultimate Beach Resort Guide

Where to Stay on Kefalonia: Ultimate Beach Resort Guide

Where to Stay on Lefkada: Ultimate Beach Resort Guide

Where to Stay on Zakynthos: Ultimate Beach Resort Guide

Where to Stay on Skiathos: Ultimate Beach Resort Guide

Where to Stay on Rhodes: Ultimate Beach Resort Guide

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Image credits:

Stavros Bay aerial: © Mike Drosos / Shutterstock

Balos © smallredgirl / Adobe Stock

Matala rocks: © Georgios Tsichlis / Shutterstock

Chania: © gatsi / Adobe Stock

Falassarna: © gevision / Shutterstock

Elafonissi: ©  Zakhar Marunov / Adobe Stock

Paleochora: © Vladimir1984 / Shutterstock

Loutro: © singidavar / Adobe Stock

Rethymnon: © giumas / Adobe Stock

Panormo: © Jaroslav Moravcik / Shutterstock

Bali: © Honza Hruby / Shutterstock

Agia Galini: © Georgios Kritsotakis / Shutterstock

Heraklion: © The Mediterranean Traveller

Agia Pelagia: © Kiev.Victor / Shutterstock

Matala: © gatsi / Adobe Stock

Hersonissos: © balipadma / Shutterstock

Malia: © Neirfy / Shutterstock

Agios Nikolaos: © olgaarkhipenko / Adobe Stock

Sissi: © Andrei Nekrassov / Shutterstock

Elounda: © Georgios Tsichlis / Shutterstock

Sitia: © viperagp / Adobe Stock

 

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