Choosing where to stay in Crete is an important decision in making sure you have a dream trip to Greece’s largest island. Due to the size of the island, it’s important to choose carefully to make sure you can easily reach all of the things you want to do and see.
Of course, the best place to stay in Crete will depend a lot on what you want to do during your stay — perhaps lazing by the beach, or exploring historic sites. To help you decide, we’ve put together this guide to the best locations to stay on the island.
Where to stay in Northern Crete
If you’re looking to enjoy the best amenities that Crete has to offer, the most popular tourist areas in the north of Crete are a good choice. Generally, they offer the best transport links as well as plenty to do, see and eat!
Bustling Chania is one of the most popular places to stay in Crete, and also one of the most charming. It offers a stunning beautiful Old Town, where you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back in time as you wander the laneways. Here, you’ll find plenty of excellent restaurants, bars and shops.
In particular, the fourteenth-century Venetian harbour is absolutely beautiful, while simply wandering the streets spotting the influence of groups including the Ottomans and the Egyptians is a history lover’s dream. Add in a number of museums and archaeological sites, and it is probably the best pick for those interested in learning more about Greece’s history.
The town is also very well-connected by public transport and taxis, so it is easy to get around to other sites such as Knossos. For the most part, however, you’ll find everything you need within the town’s beautiful centre, whether you’re looking for a charming boutique or a luxurious restaurant.
All of the above charms of Chania mean it is one of the busiest places on the island, so you should be prepared for some crowds, especially in the summer. However, this only adds to the bustling atmosphere and it’s possible to head further out to get some respite from the crowds.
Along with Chania, Heraklion is one of the most popular places to stay in Crete, and many visitors are torn between one or the other. Heraklion is also the location of the island’s major airport, so many visitors will arrive in the city when they first get to Crete.
One of the biggest difference is that while Chania is a little more historic and character-filled, Heraklion is a little more lively, thanks to its large student population.
Overall, the nightlife tends to be a little more local-focussed than Chania, which is more popular with visitors. Similarly, Heraklion offers many great local restaurants which are sure to please foodies!
Perhaps the biggest draw of staying in Heraklion is that it is within easy reach of the ancient city of Knossos, perhaps Crete’s most iconic landmark. There are also a number of other historic sites in the city, which will keep history buffs intrigued.
After Knossos, you simply can’t miss the great beaches that are within easy reach of Heraklion, and perhaps enjoying a glass of wine as the sun sets over them. Do keep in mind that Heraklion has more of a ‘city’ atmosphere than Chania and elsewhere on Crete, which may or may not be to your liking!
Many visitors who are torn between Chania and Heraklion love Rethymnon, which offers a little bit of everything. It’s also on the north coast, located approximately half way between the two well-known locations — in both geographic location and character!
Like Chania, Rethymnon offers a charming Old Town, where you can wander down a hodge-podge of cobbled streets and stop in at some traditional tavernas for some authentic Greek cuisine. By night this area gets quite lively, and there’s some great nightlife for those looking to sip a few cocktails or even dance the night away.
There’s also a more modern section of the town, which is somewhat reminiscent of Heraklion. Similarly, the town is also located on a beautiful sandy beach which is great for relaxing and swimming, although it does get a little crowded, especially in the high season.
Rethymnon is also well-located for visiting further out sights, such as beautiful Knossos or Sania Gorge. In addition, its convenient location means you can easily visit both Heraklion and Crete, as well as enjoying the many charms of Rethymnon.
Nestled on the coast in the north-east of Crete, Agios Nikolaos is a totally charming place to stay. Here, you can find tucked-away places to totally escape the crowds, as well as more lively venues and bustling places as well.
One of the most unique features of Agios Nikolaos is that it features a beautiful lake that is narrowly connected to the sea. It’s very picturesque, and there is a great selection of cafes, restaurants and bars lining the lake and taking advantage of the views.
In addition, there are several beautiful beaches which are lively but not overly crowded, as well as a marina. If you love views of the water, you will be spoiled for choice in beautiful Agios Nikolaos! Ammos and Kitroplatia are the two most well-known beaches, and both are worth visiting.
Where to stay in Southern Crete
Only 25% of visitors to Crete stay in the pristine south, but that’s part of the appeal. While it may not have all of the amenities and transport of northern Crete (your own transport is recommended), it offers wide open spaces and the chance to experience more traditional life.
If you want to enjoy the peace and quiet of southern Crete without totally giving up the amenities, Lerapetra is a great choice! It’s the largest town in southern Crete, so it offers the most in terms of choice of accommodation, restaurants and shops.
Lerapetra also has two other big claims to fame: first of all, it’s the most southern town in all of Europe, and it’s also Crete’s warmest town. The climate is absolutely perfect for enjoying the beautiful beaches that surround the town.
If you don’t have your own vehicle but wish to explore southern Crete, then Lerapetra is a great choice. It is connected to the north (particularly Heraklion and Agios Nikolaos) by the intercity bus. Once you arrive in Lerapetra, there is plenty to explore, although you may need to get a taxi to the sights further afield.
While it is the most lively place to stay in southern Crete, it is still much quieter than the big cities up north, and gives you the chance to enjoy a quieter, more traditional side of Crete.
For a quieter, but not totally deserted, option there is Paleochora in Crete’s south-west. As it is located along a peninsula, it offers beautiful views, authentic culture and a selection of excellent sandy and pebbly beaches.
The town itself is well-equipped with a selection of restaurants, cafes and even a couple of bars. That said, it’s more a place to enjoy a laidback glass of wine or beer rather than spend the whole night partying — things tend to get pretty quiet by late evening!
The main beach offers a swathe of soft sand but can get a little busy in high season (although nothing like the beaches up north), while the pebbly beaches may not be quite as pretty, but they are more secluded from the winds, so are more family-friendly.
In high season there are a couple of daily buses from Chania to Paleochora, and there’s also a ferry service that connects Paleochora with other southern beaches. That said, you will have more flexibility with your own vehicle.
recommended hotel in Paleochora, Crete
Recommended mid-range hotel : Libyan Princess
There’s no denying the appeal of a remote island escape, relaxing amongst a teensy village and enjoying the simpler things in life. If this is what you’re looking for, and you don’t mind foregoing the bustling clubs, restaurants and shops, Mirtos may well be perfect.
This tiny village (population: 600) maintains its own website where the mayor describes it as ‘a big family’ and invites you to become a temporary member. Away from mass tourism, things are sleepy, friendly and, above all, relaxing. Best of all, it’s said to be the sunniest village in Greece, with an impressive 320 days of sunshine every year.
There’s a nice beach (although the sand is more grey than white), and a network of great walks around the village’s outskirts. The village itself is quite charming, and stopping in for a traditionally prepared Greek coffee is an absolute must.
You will need your own car to access Mirtos as there is no regular public transport. There aren’t many amenities there, but it’s not far from Ierapetra if you need anything. It’s also a lovely base for exploring the unspoiled eastern Crete area or taking a day trip over to Chrissi island.
Recommended hotel in Mirtos
Recommended mid-range hotel : Hotel Myrtos
Wherever you decide to stay in Crete you are sure to have a wonderful vacation. With so much to see and do and so much natural beauty and history there really is something for everyone on the biggest Greek island!
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