As one of Greece's leading writers Nikos Kazantzakis, once wrote: 'The mysteries of Crete run deeper... '
Table of Contents:
Crete is the largest island in Greece. Those who walk the island are aware of mysterious forces that flow freely and peacefully throughout the island. It's not surprising that the mysterious, pristine, and gracious island south of the Aegean Sea is alive with the Greek spirit and attracts visitors from all over the world.
The island is an ideal destination for tourists and travelers looking to discover the quintessential Greek island lifestyle and some of the best examples of Greek culture. It offers a unique experience no other greek islands can.
That being said, because of its vast size, deciding which region of Crete to choose for your accommodation is a tough job. That's why today, we will introduce you to the best regions of Crete to transform your stay into a phenomenal trip you'll tell your grandkids about!
The four regional units of Crete island
Balos, Crete - credits: Masson/Shutterstock.com
Testifying to being the largest island in Greece, Crete is divided into four administrative regions or prefectural districts, which run from eastern Crete to west Crete. They are also referred to as Lasithi (Eastern Crete), Heraklion (Central Crete), Rethymnon (south coast), and Chania (West Crete).
The north coast of west Crete is more highly developed — in fact, almost every major town is on the north coast. The south coast can generally be reached via the north-to-south ridge, but access has become more convenient now.
Chania; the most popular of Crete regions.
Chania, Crete - credits: Aetherial Images/Shutterstock.com
The Prefecture of Chania is the westernmost of Crete. It has been characterized as the place of canyons since, in the entire prefecture, there are more than 60 canyons, small and large, incomparable in beauty. It has to show unique natural attractions from caves and mountains with dense vegetation, but also wild landscapes, to the dreamy sandy beaches that some are washed by the Cretan Sea and others by the Libyan Sea.
The Prefecture of Chania is considered the greenest region in Crete, as the Lefka Ori mountain range is responsible for the increased rainfall compared to the rest of the island.
Chania old town - credits: Patryk_Kosmider/Shutterstock.com
The Venetian harbor with the lighthouse and the old town in the center has given Chania the reputation of the most picturesque town in Crete, hosting thousands of visitors every year. The Old Town is a real gem and has many shops, cafes, and taverns, which are perfectly combined with a romantic stroll in the summer evenings.
Apart from the amazing city of Chania, the prefecture of the same name can also be proud of other areas, such as the province of Apokoronou, Kissamos, and, of course, Sfakia. The trip to the traditional villages of the prefecture is extremely interesting and enjoyable.
With a coastline of more than 250 km, you realize how many beautiful beaches this area of Crete has. Between the unspoiled coasts and the cosmopolitan organized beaches, you will surely find some to enjoy what you love most: relaxation, swimming, diving, and water sports.
Harbor of Chania, Crete - credits: Neirfys/Depositphotos.com
Some of the most beautiful beaches in the prefecture of Chania are the beach of Nea Chora, Agioi Apostoli, Gerani, Maleme, Platanias, and Kissamos in the Kastelli area, but also Marathi and Kalathas in Akrotiri. On the road that connects Chania with Rethymno, there are Kalyves, Almyrida, and Georgioupoli. As for Falasarna, Elafonisi, and Balos, what can one say? They are the most famous, the most photographed, and undeniably heavenly!
In addition to the enchanting beaches, the prefecture of Chania has unique lakes, such as those of Kournas and Agia, and caves, both terrestrial and marine. And as already mentioned, it is the prefecture with the most gorges, among them the most famous one, the Samaria Gorge, which is worth visiting. In general, even if you are not a person of activities, you will hardly "resist" the nature and beauties of the prefecture of Chania.
Samaria Gorge - credits: Efstathios_Chatzistathis/Shutterstock.com
For lovers of ancient Greek and Cretan culture, Chania offers a journey into the past through monuments, archaeological sites, and museums. The ancient settlements of Kydonia, Aptera, Polyrnia, Falasarna, and Lissos impress many tourists and enhance their knowledge of our Greek history and culture.
The city of Chania and the capital of the prefecture stands out for its charm and nobility. It is divided into the old and the new city. The new city is a modern urban center with all the amenities of any big city. It embraces - metaphorically and literally - the Old Town, and we could say that it harmonizes with it.
As one walks through the picturesque streets of the old town and observes the architectural structure of the districts, one perceives the traces of the cultures that marked the history of the place and the culture of the people. Remarkable neoclassical buildings, preserved Venetian mansions, and old quarters reveal the strong Venetian and also Oriental influences that the region suffered.
Loutro, Crete - credits: arturasker/Shutterstock.com
Chania is of great interest. Both for visiting their many monuments and for the many options of entertainment and activities they offer, making it a top destination for your stay in Crete.
The tourist infrastructure ensures a dream vacation for every visitor: state-of-the-art hotel complexes and rental apartments and studios for those looking for economical solutions, all are available to visitors, along with great cafes and restaurants to try the famous and healthy Cretan cuisine.
Rethymno; the beauty of the north coast
Rethymno, Crete - credits: mairu10/Shutterstock.com
The entire prefecture of Rethymno is full of beauties that impress every visitor, Greek or foreign. The homeland of Zeus, the god of hospitality, combines all that one looks for when looking for an authentic place to spend his holidays.
With a rich history and culture, with numerous Byzantine churches and monasteries, wonderful Venetian monuments, endless beaches, and a nature that includes caves, gorges, and unique species of flora and fauna, the prefecture of Rethymnon are an excellent and at the same time alternative proposal for you you want to enjoy a truly unforgettable vacation.
Travel among the vast olive groves of Rethymno, where the fine Cretan oil is produced from the lush olive trees. Also, during your tour of the prefecture, you will come across the vineyards from which the famous wine and the famous tsikoudia spirit are produced.
Lake Kournas - credits: Aphotog/Shutterstock.com
The mountains are characteristic of the prefecture of Rethymno. Psiloritis, the most famous and highest mountain of Crete, dominates the east of the prefecture. Its height reaches 2456m. and its volume occupies 1/5 of the total area of the prefecture.
The old town of Rethymnon is one of the most well-preserved Renaissance towns. It is located in the heart of today's Rethymnon and combines the oriental aspect of the Ottoman Empire with Renaissance Venetian architecture.
As for the beaches of the prefecture of Rethymno, they are incredible and easy to access for the most part. On the north coast, you will swim in Geropotamos, Episkopi, Petres, Panormos, and Balos, on the north coast, while on the south coast, you will find Ammoudi, Souda, Plakias, Preveli, Triopetra, Agios Pavlos, Agia Galini.
Whatever you choose, you will certainly enjoy the beautiful coasts with the clear blue waters. Finally, the beach of Rethymno, which ends from the city and ends at Skarleta, has an area of 12 km and is the ideal proposal for those who do not wish to move away from the city. It is organized and provides opportunities for water sports.
For those who love tours, there is the suggestion of the excellent route to Ierapetra. It starts from the city of Rethymno and passes through Armeniou, Spili, Triopetra near the village of Akoumia, Agios Pavlos, Agia Galini, Tympaki, Agia Triada, Phaistos, Gortyna, Matala, Tripiti, Koudouma Monastery, and Arvi to end up in Ierapetra.
Through this route, the visitor gets to know one by one the beauties of the Cretan land, including picturesque settlements, springs, Byzantine monuments, impressive beaches, fertile plains, archaeological sites, and other important attractions.
Boats in Heraklion - credits: pamuk/Shutterstock.com
The Prefecture of Heraklion is the largest on the island and is located in central Crete. The main cities of the region are Heraklion (which is the largest city in Crete), Matala, Tympaki, Moires, and Ano Viannos, while it is located between two mountain ranges, Ida in the west and Dikti in the east.
The morphological diversity of the prefecture's landscape is reflected in its beaches, which stretch both to the north and the south of the prefecture, revealing bays and steep rocky coasts. Undoubtedly, the beaches of Heraklion prefecture satisfy every visitor.
The best-known on the northern coast of the prefecture are Agia Pelagia, Ammoudaras, Mononavtis, Lygaria, Gouves, Stalida, Malia, and Paleokastro. In the south of the prefecture is Kalamaki, the famous beach in Matala, Loutra, Lenda, Kataliki, and Keratokambos.
With urban planning, Heraklion has the characteristics of Athens as a student town. However, it bustles with life in winter and summer, and if you let yourself go, it can drag you into an incredible rhythm of fun.
It is a fact that in the summer you will hardly choose it as a base of accommodation as there are many attractive options in tourist resorts and coastal villages. But it is worth discovering the signs of the past in one of the most historic cities of the Mediterranean: the Venetian walls, the Ottoman monuments, the Loggia, the central market, the Basilica of St. Mark, the churches of St. Titus, St. Minas, St. Ekaterini, Agios Petros, and the imposing Koule fortress.
Heraklion city - credits: kavalenkau/Shutterstock.com
The Archaeological Museum of the city is the ark of Minoan art and one of the most important museums of prehistoric art in the world. Your picture of the Minoan civilization will, of course, be completed with a visit to Knossos Palace, Phaistos, and Archanes. The advantage of the Heraklion area is that it can cater to every type of traveler.
In Hersonissos and Malia, you will enjoy the intense nightlife in the company of young European tourists and quiet holidays in one of the big resorts. The same is in Agia Pelagia, which is chosen as a place of residence by families enjoying the all-inclusive packages.
Paleochora, Crete - credits: Vladimir1984/Shutterstock.com
If you are still looking for a travel experience, from nature-loving hikes to walks in untamed villages, you should explore the area under the shadow of Asterousia and the root of Psiloritis.
Summer is an ideal time for Crete, but winter will also give you a different view of the island. The city of Heraklion, however, is always alive, and the large archaeological sites are open all year round.
Lasithi Plateau - credits: Antonis_Brt/Shutterstock.com
The Prefecture of Lasithi has excellent tourist infrastructure. Its resorts, such as Agios Nikolaos, Elounda, Sitia, and Ierapetra in eastern Crete, have gained world fame and welcome thousands of visitors from all over the world every year.
The area is suitable for nature trails, religious tourism, and historical and archaeological research. Its fertile soils produce the largest quantities of fruits and vegetables in Crete, as well as excellent quality olive oil from the local olive trees and raisins.
Panoramic view of Spinalonga island - credits: photoff/Shutterstock.com
Lasithi also has some of the most beautiful sandy beaches in Crete, some sandy, some with fine pebbles, some sheltered from the winds, and others hidden in small and very charming coves, with the best known of these being in Agios Nikolaos in eastern Crete, Elounda, Wow, in Makrygialos and Ierapetra. leper colony island of Crete.
The prefecture of Lasithi is also surrounded by many small islands, with Spinalonga, the former leper colony of Greece, being the most famous of them. At the same time, equally noteworthy are Agioi Pantes, Psira, and the islet of Agios Nikolaos, Dionysades, and Chrysi on the south coast.
Where to stay in Crete for the most stunning beaches?
Crete sunset in Balos bay - credits: natalyphotography/Shutterstock.com
On the west coast of Crete island, Chania hosts some of the top sandy beaches in not only the island but the whole of Greece: Elafonisi, Balos on the north coast, Falassarna, and the golden sand beach of Chrissi Akti on the east coast. They are all situated in the prefecture of Chania, and despite being far from one another, they all deserve to be included in your itinerary.
Vai beach- Georgios_Tsichlis/Shutterstock.com
Of course, there are striking beaches all over the island, such as the palm beach of Vai in Lassithi, which boasts the largest natural palm forest, and the famous Preveli beach in Rethymnon in West Crete. However, the vast majority of the most gorgeous and popular ones are situated in the prefecture of Chania, so if you're a sea lover, the choice is obvious!
Where to stay in Crete for couples?
Elafonisi beach - credits: _Alexandros_Kant/Shutterstock.com
Chania has a romantic ambiance you cannot beat. That being said, couples in love should keep in mind that Chania is a lively place with vibrant nightlife and an endless stream of tourists.
As a result, if you're looking to spend precious romantic moments in peace and solitude, you should either visit Chania during the shoulder or off-season or favor Elounda for your romantic trip or Crete honeymoon.
One of the most picturesque fishing villages of the island, Elounda, offers flawless tourist infrastructure to host your love, while it is much more laid-back than Chania, with little to no nightlife but an excess of opulence and tranquility.
The best areas to stay in Crete for history buffs
Knossos - credits: Scorpp/Shutterstock.com
Heraklion is home to the famous archaeological sites of Knossos palace and Phaistos, some of the most popular tourist attractions in Crete, and two of the three fine examples of a Minoan palace on the island.
Just the same, Heraklion is not the only region of Crete that hides a wealth of history and culture. The magnificent old towns of Chania on the west coast and Rethymno on the south coast and the rich heritage of Lasithi will hold the interest of any history enthusiast with a passion for exploring historical monuments.
Our favorite hotels in Crete
Falasarna beach - credits: lucianbolca/Depositphotos.com
Being a sought-after tourist destination for years has caused Crete to boast flawless tourist infrastructure, part of which are the luxurious accommodation options the island is full of.
From adult-only hotels to family, all-inclusive resorts with private beaches, small hotels, high-end suites, and opulent villas, you can find everything you want to, exactly where you want to -especially if you go through the booking process early enough.
You can see our top picks here, and choose the one that fits your criteria.
Airport and ferry connections to other Greek islands
Greek tavern in Heraklion - credits: Dmitry Naumov/Shutterstock.com
Because of its size, popularity, and large number of residents, Crete enjoys very good ferry connections with both mainland Greece and other islands.
Specifically, from Kissamos ferry port, you can go to Gytheio and the island of Kythera. What's more, from Sitia, you can cross over to the nearby islands of Karpathos, Rhodes, and Kassos.
The Minoan palace of Phaistos - credits: Luxerendering/Shutterstock.com
Both ports are located on the north coast of the island, with Kissamos being in west Crete and Sitia in eastern Crete.
Moreover, Crete has three significant airports that connect it with most other islands and destinations on the Greek mainland. The airports are the Chania airport, Heraklion airport, and Sitia airport, and picking accommodation close to them will save you a lot of trouble if you're considering an island-hopping adventure for you, your significant other, your friends, or your family members.
Heraklion through a window - credits: Neirfy/Shutterstock.com
Touched by the Aegean and Libyan sea, Crete, the southernmost island of Europe, is a sight to behold and such a diverse island that can accommodate the needs and desires of everyone under the sun. Along with the famous local cuisine and Cretan hospitality, which is one of the most recognizable features of the island, this Greek island is not to be missed.
Now that you know exactly where to stay in Crete, you have no reason to hold off on your Cretan vacations!