The resort island of Crete in Greece is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. With over 8,000 square km of land, it accommodates a wide range of attractions. Here you can find the most spectacular beaches, some of the longest gorges in Europe, historical sites like Knossos (the oldest city in the continent), and the old town of Chania. Without taking any breaks, it takes 6 hours to drive from the west coast to the east coast… although this can easily be extended to a couple of weeks given the vast array of attractions along the way!
If all you want is a relaxing, lie-on-the-beach getaway, 3-4 days at one of Crete’s many resort destinations should suffice. Some of the most popular beach destinations in Crete include Elafonisi Beach, Balos Beach, Golden Beach, Palm (aka Vai) Beach, and Preveli Beach. There are a number of spectacular holiday villas available to rent on or near these trendy Crete beaches.
Ranked as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, the pink Elafonisi Beach is connected to Elafonisi Island, which you can walk to from the Chania shore. The west side of the beach, facing the famous Elafonisi Lagoon, has numerous beach umbrellas and is a little windy but less busy.
The east side of the beach is very popular as it is sheltered from the wind and also offers plenty of umbrellas to relax under.
The north section is perfect for families with small kids, with calmer water and gentle waves.
There are two little huts in the middle of the beach selling drinks and fast food, and a friendly taverna that offers delicious Greek salads and other Cretan dishes.
The second essential beach destination in Crete is Balos Beach in Chania, a small isthmus connecting Crete's mainland and Tigani (“Frying Pan”) Island.
To the south of the beach, visitors can enjoy frolicking in the shallow turquoise lagoon. On the north side, there is a beautiful blue bay, also shallow enough for small kids to play in. The beach is equipped with a few sunbeds and beach umbrellas and is about a 15-minute walk from the jetty. It is easily accessible by one of the boats that depart regularly from the Kissamos Pier (about 3 km from the small town of Kissamos).
There is a good selection of food and drinks available on the boat, which stops for a couple of hours at Gramvousa Island and then for about 3 hours at Balos. If you drive there yourself, you may spend the whole day, but it’s a 25-minute walk to the beach from the parking area above the beach (however, this does afford you a gorgeous view of the lagoon).
A Rich History
Other short-stay attractions include its historic cities and villages, which can also be explored while staying on a luxury holiday villa in Crete.
If you only have a few days, enjoy the wealth of attractions in Chania, including the 14th-century Venetian harbor, quaint narrow streets, and superb waterfront restaurants.
Similarly, the city of Rethymno also has an old town, with its Venetian Harbor hosting fishing boats and various tavernas. The Rethymno Lighthouse (built in the 1830s) is a must-see, as is the hilltop Fortezza, an impressive 16th-century citadel. The Rethymno Historical and Folklore Museum is home to a fascinating selection of local craft relics.
The town of Sitia is another popular Crete destination for visitors with limited time, offering a good selection of attractions to explore.
The Archaeological Museum of Sitia has a collection of Minoan-era artifacts from Sitia, Zakros, Petra, and Palaiokastro. The Folklore Museum of Sitia is housed in a beautiful neoclassical house and exhibits 19th- and early 20th-century embroidery, textiles, wood carvings, costumes, and photos.
Chania’s Loutro Village got its name from the Greek word for bath, due to the many ancient baths found in the area. Loutro is the site of the ancient city of Phoenix (Finikas), the port town of ancient Anopolis in Hellenistic and Roman times. Today, the village is best known for its idyllic setting and relaxed atmosphere, which makes it perfect for a long, lazy weekend.
A Week in Crete
Given a week in Crete (5-7 days), you could have a decent amount of beach time, exploring the island’s other attractions and enjoying the city lights.
A Week in Chania
A week spent at a beach-front villa in Chania would be ideal for this. Based on the beach, you could relax for a couple of days as the sea water washes the stress of day-to-day life from your bones.
Head off next to enjoy the region’s great selection of historical and natural attractions, including parts of the ancient city of Chania itself such as the port and old town, the extraordinary Samaria Gorge, and the nearby (10 km east) rocky peninsula of Akrotiri that hosts 3 ancient monasteries: Agia Triada (1612), Gouverneto (1537), and Katholiko (the oldest monastery in Crete, founded in the 11th century by St. John the Hermit).
A Week in Heraklion
With a week to spend in Heraklion, you could enjoy some downtime on pristine beaches such as Amnissos, Ammoudara, and Karteros.
With your batteries recharged, head off to local attractions to explore in the remaining time. Popular destinations include the Palace of Knossos (an ancient Minoan site with frescoes and baths), the impressive CRETAquarium, and a day trip exploring Zeus Cave, traditional villages, the old windmills, and an olive oil factory.
From Rethymno, you can also visit the historical and cultural attractions mentioned previously, as well as great beaches to relax on including Bali Beach, Panormos Beach, and Platanias Beach.
2 Weeks in Crete
If you can swing for 2 weeks in Crete, you’ll be able to have a comprehensive experience of this vibrant yet relaxing resort island.
It is best to choose a base city, such as Chania, Heraklion, or Rethymno, from where to set out on the various activities and outings you can choose to fill your days. Naturally, these excursions can be interspersed with lazy days lying on the beach wherever you may be.
As mentioned earlier, the island of Crete can be traversed in 6 hours, so any activity or attraction you are interested in can be enjoyed within a day. Here is our selection of the top 14 attractions Crete has to offer, one for each day of your stay:
Heraklion Archaeological Museum,
Old Venetian Port of Chania,
Venetian Fortezza Castle,
Spinalonga (a former leper colony),
Historical Museum of Crete,
and Gouverneto Monastery.
How Many Days Should You Spend in Crete?
With so many attractions, Crete is a place that you will want to visit repeatedly. Even if you can only spend a couple of days, the island will woo you and leave you longing for more. So, head over to our selection of top holiday villas in Crete and get ready for the experience of a lifetime!
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