A Crete road trip
While I’ve suggested a few major stops below, half of the joy is being flexible. So, embrace “island time” and don’t be afraid to stop in at those off-the-beaten-path places along the coast, or to explore the charming villages along the way.There is a lot to see and do and you will leave Crete feeling like you’ve done a mini version of all of Greece!
Start your Crete road trip in – Chania
Chania is Crete’s second-largest town and is one of the most beautiful places on the island. It’s a great place to start your road trip around Crete after spending a few days enjoying the town itself. Pick up your car from Sixt car rental who have offices at the airport as well as in the Old Port. Before you start heading east use your car to explore some of the famous sites to the west of Chania, in particular, Balos and Elafonissi Beaches, which are both incredible!
Chania is popular with visitors as well as locals, and there’s an abundance of great restaurants and other amenities. These are mostly dotted around the tiny maze-like network of narrow streets, so be sure to leave plenty of time to unearth some hidden gems.
Probably the most famous attraction in Chania is the glittering Venetian harbour, with a nearby 16th-century lighthouse. Be sure to get your camera ready for that one!
We enjoyed our stay at Hotel Belmondo which has cheap and cheerful rooms right on the waterfront with beautiful views over the Venetian Harbour.
For a luxury resort experience Domes Noruz Chania, Autograph Collection is a adults-only resort and a 10-minute drive west of Chania Town and Minoa Palace resort is another 10. Both are on the wide sandy beaches of the Cretan Riviera.
Chania to Rethymnon
To head to Rethymnon you need to get on the VOAK/A90 highway and take the exit for the E75 near Kapetan Giorgia. This is one of the most popular routes on a Crete road trip.
You will see the turnoff past Rethymnon at Misiria and will backtrack into the charming town. The journey takes only an hour but you might like to stop off at Winery Dourakis on the way which is excellent.
Rethymon Old Town is car free but you will find parking stations around the perimeter of the quarter as well as some metered parking too.
In Rethymnon, you’ll find another beautiful Venetian harbour (they were good at building those), and this one might be even more charming than Chania’s.
The harbour in Rethymnon is smaller, but you can still expect to see plenty of boats docked elegantly within it. You’ll also notice more nods to Greek architecture here, and the Ottomans also left an imprint as well. For a relatively compact town (with a population of around 30,000), it certainly packs an historical punch.
If the exploring wears you out, be sure to pop down to the beach to the east of the port to cool off.
There are some very exclusive boutique hotels in Rethymnon with world-renowned reputations. Rimondi Hotel and Palazzo Rimondi are located right across from each other in the heart of the Old Town and Casa Dei Delfini and Cressa Corona are a few lanes over. All gorgeous!
Budget travellers will be very happy at Pension Castello just one street back from the waterfront.
Rethymnon to Heraklion
Rejoining the E75 you will enjoy an easy drive on to Heraklion which takes just an hour direct. Along the way it’s worth stopping at the Monastery of Agios Ioannis Prodromos and beautiful Karavostasi Beach for a swim.
The capital of Crete, Heraklion is the largest city on the island and home to most of the business. Surrounded by fortified walls, Heraklion still shows signs of its long history (that dates way back to the 9th Century), however, it’s certainly moved with the times. You’ll find plenty of modern attractions here, from boutique clothing stores to ritzy restaurants.
As well as enjoying what’s on offer at the city itself, I highly recommend driving the short five kilometers to the ruins of Knossos, Crete’s most famous archeological site. Knossos is believed to have been a bustling hub from around 2000 BC until its fall in 1000 BC. At its height, it boasted a population of 100,000 and was believed to be home to the legendary half man/half bull, the Minotaur.
Don’t forget to nab some Skip the Line/Guided walking tour tickets!
Heraklion to Agios Georgios
A great contrast to the beautiful beaches and harbor towns on Crete is spending some time in the mountains. The small town of Agios Georgios is some 69 kilometers south-west of Heraklion in a wild valley that is great if you enjoy hiking. Staying here is like stepping back in time and a stark contrast to the popular beach areas of Crete.
To get there you continue on the E75 turning right onto Epar. Od. Neapolis-Chersonisou near Malia ( which is a place I strongly suggest you avoid unless you love Irish pubs, Bikini bars, and all night clubs).
There are a number of things to stop and see on this mountain route including the ancient Platanus Tree in the village of Krasi, the Kera Kardiotissa Monastery in Kera and The Dikteon and Cave of Zeus. In fact, the whole Lassithi Plateau is bursting with wildlife, farms, orchards and even an excellent ceramics factory.
One popular trail will see you visit the charming old Monastery of St George, which is a look both into the past and into traditional life on the island.
Agios Georgios hotels
Hotel Maria is a sweet little hotel covered in Ivy with inexpensive, clean rooms. Breakfast is plentiful and the owners deliver old school hospitality.
Agios Georgios to Agios Nikolaos
Heading west out of the mountains on Epar.Od. Neapolis – Chersonisou, Epar.Od. Drasiou you will join the E75 road again in just over an hour. There will be many worthy photo stops of the beautiful Cretan valleys along the way!
Located on the North-Eastern coast of Crete Agios Nikolaos is a pretty seaside town reminiscent of a bygone era. It is full of traditional homes, shops, and tavernas and is very close to the exclusive resort town of Elounda as well as the fascinating former leper colony of Spinalonga.
I highly recommend a boat trip to Spinalonga. There is a daily boat from Agios Georgios and you can also do a tour from Heraklion and Rethymnon that includes lunch and a swim – the water around the fascinating island is stunning!
In summer you find old fishing boats rubbing boughs with huge super-yachts and there are a number of excellent beaches in the area including Almyros Beach and Ammoudi.
Part of the harbor is actually called Lake Voulismeni and you can easily spend hours there watching the world go by. There is a ferry port near here where ferries connect with Santorini, Athens and a few other islands. Other activities in the area include a very interesting Olive Farm and press and the unique Moni Faneromeni Monastery with its spectacular views.
Agios Nikolaos Hotels
In exclusive Elounda, you will find some of the most luxurious, and expensive, accommodation in Greece. Adults-only Minos Palace is right next to Minos Beach Art Hotel and St.Nicolas Bary resort whilst Daios Cove Luxury Resort and Villas is south of Agios Nikolaos near the village of Vathi.
Agios Georgios to Lerapetra
Heading south on the E75/EO90 highway it takes only 40 minutes to reach the town of Lerapetra which is located on the southern coast of Crete. The south is far less developed than the northern coast and here you will find a lot more authentic Cretan towns and villages, albeit with less infrastructure.
You drive along pretty Mirabello Bay until you turn south to cross the interior to the southern coast.
Lerapetra is a nice place to base yourself to explore much of the southern coast. It’s a fairly sleepy town with inexpensive hotels and tavernas and a good place for families with wide sandy beaches.
Lerapetra and beyond
There is a lot to see and do along the Southern Coast of Crete. Beautiful beaches, quaint coastal towns, and villages, monuments, ruins, caves and more.
Be sure to stop for swims at Listis and Kokkinia Beach ( aka Red Beach for its distinctive red sand).
Take the route back to Chania via highway E97 which will take you through the mountains and along some narrow swists and turns. Here you will come across shephards, fruit stalls, beekeepers and many locals just going about their lives.
The wonderful Agia Marina Donkey Rescue Sanctuary is definitely worth a visit and can always use a donation!
The charming medieval village of Spili is also worth a stop with a number of excellent attractions including the Folk Museum. It’s a lovely town and well worth an overnight stay if you can manage it.
The road will take you back down the mountains and onto the main E75 highway near Rethymnon. Take the time to check out anything you may have missed along the road back to Chania and don’t forget to fill your car up before returning it!
I guarantee you will love every minute of your Crete road trip. It’s one of the few islands where a road trip really is warranted and in fact, is the best way to see everything it has to offer. You will notice many people simply fly into Chania or cruise into Heraklion and see little other than the immediate surrounds so exploring a car gives you a real advantage.
If you’d like to see more of Greece by car than we have an extensive guide to popular road trips in Greece. They really are incredible!
Also, you must read Driving in Greece which gives you all the tips about driving in this country as well as mandatory information you need to know.