Crete best beaches, beautiful villages and top attractions

by Michael Gimm Holdensen

Crete best beaches and warm weather was what we had planned after our spectacular three months in Bulgaria and our cheap ski holiday in Bansko. We had booked an Airbnb for all of March, and coming from winter weather in Bansko; we were looking forward to some warmer weather.

Just the thought of walking those perfect sandy beaches was what we had dreamt of. Even if we only had 18-20 degrees. This year, however, the weather gods were not in our favour. And we experienced the coldest March in 35 years, with rain, hail, storms and even snowfall (in the mountains).

Though the weather was not perfect for sightseeing the whole month, we luckily had a grand finale!

crete best beaches in bad weather

The weather in most of March looked like this. The worst weather in 35 years.

Low season on the island of Crete

You should know that this weather is not usual, and if you’re looking for the perfect vacation spot, look no further than Crete in Greece. This beautiful island is home to some of the best beaches in Europe and charming cities and tourist attractions.

In spring, the beaches and tourist attractions are practically deserted. This is also the perfect time to visit to avoid the crowds. The weather is (usually) still mild, and the landscapes are beautiful with all of the flowers in bloom.

You can find some fantastic deals on hotels and rental cars, so there’s no excuse not to go! Our Airbnb was a third of the regular price, and Ries’s parents, who visited us, rented a car at a third of the cost in peak season.

Agios Nikolaos city and beach

Carla sitting in front of Ammoudi Beach area in Agios Nikolaos.

5 Best Things to Do in Crete

Crete is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, and it has many historical places to visit, delicious food, and a lot of natural beauty. There are a lot of mountains in Crete, but the island is still very fertile, and there are many olive trees. The climate is Mediterranean, with mild winters and hot summers.

Crete has been inhabited since Neolithic times (c. 7000 BC), and it was first ruled by Minos, King of Knossos, who built the palace complex of Knossos on the north coast. This palace is one of the main attractions of Crete because it shows how advanced civilization was in ancient times.

The Minoans of Crete and Mykene have a shared history. They were famous for their gold work, which they used to trade with Egypt, Syria and other countries. We had previously experienced Mykene during our first visit to the Peloponnese in the winter of 2021 and knew that Crete is just as important to ancient Greek history as Mykene. But this time, we didn’t want to spend all our time looking at the rubbles of the past – only the most important sites.

Knossos Palace in Crete

Knossos Palace in Crete – The top attraction and great to visit during the low season as we did in March.

Knossos Palace

The palace of Knossos was built around 3000 years ago and is featured in Greek mythology as the village where King Minos held his son, the Minotaur, in a maze. The palace was destroyed by an earthquake and then rebuilt.

In 1900, archaeologist Arthur Evans discovered the ruins of the palace and restored some of the architecture. You can visit the sweeping reception courtyard where guests would be entertained. You can also enter the throne room and sanctuary, walk a section of the royal way in the direction of the sea and see the royal apartments, built on four levels.

Children can enter for free, and you can hire a tour guide if you want. We didn’t do so cause our kids wouldn’t stop asking questions then and probably not understand half of the words. But we were still entertained walking around this ancient place.

Apart from the site of the Acropolis in Athens, the Palace of Knossos is the oldest surviving example of monumental architecture in the world. It is considered the birthplace of Western civilization, and it is probably the most visited archaeological site in Greece. A must-see if you visit Crete.

Knossos is very close to the city of Heraklion, by the way. In Heraklion, you can visit the harbour and see the Rocca a Mare Fortress. But besides that, we didn’t find the city particular special.

Chania-Venetian-Harbour

The Venetian harbour of Chania. A beautiful place with lots of restaurants.

Chania’s Venetian Harbour

Chania is the second biggest city in Crete, and it has a population of about 53.000.

The Venetian Harbour Mole is an impressive structure that leads all the way to the Lighthouse. The construction began in 1320 and continued until the late 1700s. The Mole is about 300 meters long, and the Lighthouse at the end of it has its shape from the Egyptian period in the early 1800s.

We visited Chania for one day with Rie’s parents and walked around the old town, the harbour, and the modern part of the city. Walking the harbour is a must. It is so beautiful, and you should take a walk to the Lighthouse.

You will probably find the city a bit crowded in peak season, but we felt like we had it all to ourselves when we visited.

Chania Old Town

Walking down Chania’s old town with small shops and narrow streets.

Chania Old Town

Right next to the harbour you will find the old town of Chania. The houses are side by side and built in a romantic and colourful style. There are many small shops and restaurants along the streets, and they offer everything from fresh fish to ice cream.

As we walked around the streets, people were still renovating and painting the houses. Probably to be ready for the peak season.

Spinalonga island

We just had to park on the road right before Plaka Marina to take a picture.

Visit Spinalonga Island

Spinalonga is an arid and barren rocky islet close to the port of Elounda in the north-eastern part of Crete. Because of its strategic location, it has been fortified and has served various purposes over the centuries.

In antiquity, the islet was walled to protect the ancient city of Olous. In the late 16th century, the Venetians built one of the most important defensive sea fortresses in the Mediterranean here in its efforts to defend Crete against the Turkish invaders.

In 1715 the islet was surrendered to the Turks, and Muslims settled on Spinalonga from 1715 and built their houses atop the foundations of Venetian buildings. In 1881 it was a critical Muslim trading post.

Spinalonga-island-view

A view from Spinalonga Island to the beauty of the surrounding areas.

The leaper colony of Spinalonga island

In 1903 a leper colony was established on the island, and its first 251 patients settled there in 1904.

When the island of Spinalonga was first established, lepers from Crete were sent there. But after 1913, when the rest of the island became part of Greek territory, lepers from the mainland also came to the island.

Their limitations did not prevent them from living. They organized, engaged themselves in cultivating the land, fell in love, got married, and had children. Building activity by the leper colony brought drastic interventions to the settlement’s buildings and fortifications.

The colony closed in 1957 and is now uninhabited. The name “Spinalonga” today is synonymous with suffering and misery.

Plaka Marina to Spinalonga Island

Plaka Marina, where we parked for the night, until leaving with the ferry the following day for Spinalonga island.

The ferry from Plaka Marina

To get to Spinalonga, you can take a boat from Agios Nikolaos, Elounda or Plaka. We arrived at Plaka Marina in the afternoon and decided to sleep in the parking area for the night. There were (real) toilets and a really nice playground for the girls to play in while we cooked and prepared the little yellow bus for the night.

The next day we took the ferry, which sails about every half hour. We were maybe ten people on board and had the island all to ourselves. The island and the fortress are an impressive sight when looking at it from the harbour, and it was a fascinating experience to walk around and sense what this place must have been like back in the days.

Agios Nikolaos

A walk around the beautiful town of Agios Nikolaos.

Agios Nikolaos

When arriving at the village of Agios Nikolaos, we saw that this town was unique. It might even be the most beautiful town in all of Crete. With a population of around 10,000, it is pretty small, but it is cosy, has a lot of nice restaurants and cafes, and you will find amazing beaches around the city, with white sand and crystal blue water.

We walked around the harbour, the city and some of the beaches and it was just so pretty!

crete best beaches top 5

Our top 5 best beaches we’ve visited on Crete. This picture is from Balos Beach.

5 top-rated beaches on Crete (our pick)

Cretan beaches are some of the most beautiful beaches in Greece. Soft golden sands and clear blue water create an idyllic setting that draws many tourists to this Greek island.

There are both pebble and sand beaches, so you should know what you’re getting yourself into when visiting these beaches. Regardless of the type of beachgoer you are, you’ll find something that suits you.

Beautiful beaches on the island’s north coast are crowded during peak season, but there are also many empty beaches on the south coast. There are many places to see on the east and west ends of the island as well. Cretan beaches offer great relaxation for those who enjoy the sea.

We spent a month on Crete, travelling around the island and afterwards had a family voting session on which beaches we liked the best. These are our favourite beaches on Crete.

Crete best beaches - Preveli Beach our no. 5

Preveli Beach is quite amazing to view from above. We rated it as the fifth-best beach we visited.

5. Preveli Beach

Going to Preveli Beach, we used Google Maps to get there and ended up at the parking area. As usual, we hadn’t spent enough time researching the route to the beach, and we found that it was quite a walk from the parking area to the beach.

The area was sealed off with a sign saying “Closed due to forest fires”. Since it had rained a lot in March, we decided this was an old sign and went under the barrier. After 100 meters or so, we were amazed. The view down to Prevali Beach with the deep blue Libyan sea in the background is nothing short of spectacular! A glance will make you feel that the steep descent down the stone walkway will be worthwhile! And you will be right.

If you aren’t up for walking, you can drive to Drimiskiano Amoudi and walk from there. It’s only a five minutes walk to Preveli from here. But you will miss the view from the top. The beach is set behind two steep hills at the back of the beach. Here you will find palm trees, creating the feeling of a green oasis in an otherwise dry region. There are no chairs or umbrellas for rent, so come prepared.

Except for a couple of nudists and some young people, we were almost alone at the beach, but then again it was only March, so it might be more crowded in peak season.

Elafonisi Beach

Elafonisi beach is known for its pink coloured sand. Not too evident in this image, though.

4. Elafonisi Beach

Elafonissi Beach is a beautiful pink-coloured sandy beach located 90 minutes from Chania in the southwestern corner of Crete. The white sand here is very soft and easy to walk, unlike many pebble beaches on Crete. It is maybe the most famous beach in Crete.

Although it’s divided into two parts by a narrow strip of land, the two parts are connected by a canal. There are also two lagoons that separate the beach from the rest of the island.

We went there with Rie’s parents at the beginning of March, and it was almost empty. But judging by the size of the parking area, it is a famous beach.

When looking at pictures from this beach, you will notice the pink sand. This is due to the crushed shells of seashells that are mixed in with the sand. How cool is that?

Nevertheless, we thought it was pinker in pictures than in real life, but it might have been due to the time of year we visited.

Balos beach one of Crete best beaches

Balos Beach is simply beautiful. A bit unfortunate that an oil slip has ruined a part of the experience.

3. Balos Beach

In the first week of our stay on Crete, Ries’s parents visited us and together, we had some great days exploring the north and western part of the island. One of the places was Balos beach. If you’ve been wandering through the shopping districts of Crete, you may have noticed a picture of Balos. As you look out at the ocean from the beach, the array of greens and blues is unforgettable.

Best reached by boat, Balos is a beautiful beach on the northwest coast of Crete. Similar in nature to Elafonissi Beach, the beach is connected by a narrow channel to an offshore island, resulting in shallow lagoons and calm waters.

Once you arrive at this beach, you’ll understand why Prince Charles and Princess Diana stopped by on their yacht many years ago. A beautiful beach surrounded by impossibly clear turquoise water draws you into this tiny piece of paradise.

If you’re up for adventure and don’t mind walking 25 minutes down to the beach (and back up), consider driving. This will allow you to set your own schedule and avoid the crowds that come by boat. The road is gravel for most of the way, but there are some sections where it’s paved.

We spent around 30 minutes driving very slowly to the parking area and walked from there. Even our three-year-old, Carla, managed the walk. Be aware that you might experience a great deal of traffic during peak season if you are going by car.

While discussing our top 5 beaches, we voted down Balos beach because we found numerous pieces of tar in the sand, which were almost impossible to remove. Beach-wise it’s more beautiful than Matala Beach, but Matala Beach has more to it than “just” water and sand.

Vai Beach Crete

Vai Beach is a beautiful beach on the northeast tip of Crete. The area is known for its many palm trees.

2. Vai Beach (Palm Beach)

Vai beach is located in the eastern part of the island of Crete. It is known for having the largest palm forest in Europe. The clear water, soft sand, unending views, and the fact that it is located near the island’s eastern tip make it a great place to go by car. You can go to the main beach or find a nice spot under the palm trees.

On our drive there, it felt like we were driving to nowhere. There was nothing else to see except the road and rocks, but the beach was awesome!

You are not allowed to stay here for the night, so we drove about 4 minutes north to Erimoupolis Beach and stayed there for the night. Also amazing!

Matala Beach - our pick on Crete best beaches

Matala Beach and the hippie caves. The best experience on our road trip around Crete.

1. Matala

Matala is a popular tourist destination on the south coast of Greece. It’s known for its caves at one end of its shoreline, which hippies once inhabited.

The long and wide stretch of the white sandy beach consists of small stones and soft sand. Umbrella holders and beach chairs line the entire beach in peak season, but you’re free to bring your own equipment. Matala Beach is also an excellent place for snorkelling, and you’re allowed to swim in the sea without any restrictions.

Matala town local shops

Local shops and art. You will find a lot like this around the small town of Matala.

The town of Matala is located right next to the beach, and it has a few restaurants, cafes and bars. There is also a small market where you can buy some groceries and various local charming shops.

We talked to some of the shop owners, and one guy told us he felt like this place was the closest to the Carribeans you could get in Europe. He had lived in the Caribbean for some years, so I guess he would know. We also got the advice to visit Matala in either May or September. It tends to get very crowded during peak season, and the heat can be extreme.

Matala Beach - today is life tomorrow never comes

We loved this painting. It is on a wall at the beach beneath the restaurants. It says, “Today is Life – Tomorrow never comes”. Kind of how we try to live right now!

One night at Matala Beach

We went to Matala on our road trip around Crete on one of the last days. The plan was to experience the caves and then head back home to our Airbnb because we had already stayed in the car for some nights. But this place was magical. And the caves were closed until the following day, so we had to stay for the night.

Matala Beach free parking area

Parking right at the beach was free. There are cold showers on the beach and decent toilets. You might consider the campsite 100 meters from the parking area if you want to camp.

We decided to stay at the parking area, just by the beach. There were showers (cold) and decent toilet facilities, which is more than we had the other nights we stayed out. There is also a community campsite right next to Matala beach if you want to stay for more than one night.

Matala Beach hippie caves

Emma climbed the rocks to the hippie caves. Even little Carla joined us for a bit of climbing. The stones are soft and filled with a lot of writing.

The next day we went to the hippie caves. This place is really cool. It’s a cave that goes under the beach, full of hippie graffiti. The hippies used to live here in the 60s and 70s until the church forced them out. From here, they spread to other beaches like Preveli Beach and Vai Beach.

Overall, we loved our time at Matala beach and would highly recommend it to anyone travelling to Crete. I might even say this was our favourite.

Vai Beach handstand practice

Liva and Emma on Vai Beach. Liva practices her handstand.

What is the Nicest Beach on Crete?

Crete has many beautiful beaches spread all over the island. We visited a number of them. Some we stayed for longer, and some just stopped for lunch while driving. There is something for everyone, and whether you visit one or the other depends very much on where you stay on the island.

Our favourite was Matala Beach because of the vibe there. But there are several very popular beaches we haven’t even mentioned because we haven’t visited them. If you want to know more about the other beaches, you should take a look at the site Cretanbeaches.com. They have a comprehensive list of all the beaches.

Agios Nikolaos view

Crete is big and bigger than you might think. We saw some of it, but could easily have spent much more time exploring.

How Long Should You Spend on Crete?

When you arrive at Crete, you’ll realize it’s the largest island in Greece. If you’ve been to any other Greek Islands and think they seem bigger than expected, you’ll be surprised to get to Crete. It takes over five hours to drive from one end of the Island to the other!

You can easily spend seven days here and feel satisfied. You could also spend a whole month as we did in Crete and never get bored. There is plenty to see and do here! If you’re going to Crete, I’d recommend staying at least one whole week there.

We had difficulty getting out and experiencing the island due to historically horrible weather conditions. But when we did go out, we saw a lot. Some are mentioned in my post, and others you will find on our @TheGimms on Instagram.

 

Kreta i marts 2022

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