Crete was an island I had 0 interest in visiting on my first trip to Greece. I had tunnel vision when it came to the Greek Islands – my focus was the iconic white-washed gems of The Cyclades. Crete was a last-minute reluctant addition to our itinerary, and I’m so thankful we made the decision to visit. We spent a week exploring the western side of Crete, a dazzling mix of vibrant old towns, stunning beaches, epic gorge hikes and some of the friendliest people in Greece. I left completely enamored with the island. Below is my complete travel guide to western Crete including the best Old Towns, beaches, treks, day trips, hotels, Airbnbs, restaurants and more to help you plan an itinerary.
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All the sparkles on Elafonisi Beach.
SEVEN DAYS. The island of Crete is massive. It’s the largest in Greece both by size and population. You’d need a couple of weeks to cover the entire island at a relaxed pace, but for the purposes of visiting western Crete, I recommend seven days. Everything is pretty spread out, which means lots of day trips to different parts of the island.
The summer energy of Seitan Limania, one of the prettiest beaches in Western Crete.
Colorful corners sit tucked away in Chania’s Old Town labyrinth.
The beautiful swirls of white sand and shallow blues offer some of the most stunning views on the west coast. It’s easiest to reach Balos Lagoon by boat tour, but also possible to drive if you have a 4×4, and then hike down to the beach.
CHANIA OLD TOWN
It’s one of the prettiest Old Towns in Europe, and certainly my favorite city in Greece. Chania weaves together narrow alleyways, pedestrian corridors and hidden squares to create a labyrinth that looks more Venetian than Greek. The colorful streets come alive in the evenings, my favorite time of the day to get lost in the winding corridors lined with charming shops, blooming bougainvilleas, lively bars and cozy tavernas.
The island’s most famous beach sits on the southern tip of western Crete. Elafonisi is stunning, a shallow lagoon of white and pink sand surrounded by shallows that sparkle turquoise when the sun is out. An early arrival is a must. The beach fills up very quickly with thousands of tourist.
Falasarna sits on the island’s western tip, and thanks to the beach’s large size it never feels overly crowded. There are plenty of bars and sun beds scattered along Falasarna, but if you’re looking for a quieter experience, head to the peaceful north end of the beach where the nude sunbathers hang out, and lay claim to one of the secluded sparkling coves.
Gorgeous narrow cove on the south coast of Crete, near the village of Plakias. The water here is incredibly clear and sparkles intense shades of deep turquoise. The craggy rocks are connected by a small bridge, and rocky ledges are lined with sun beds and umbrellas. Very picturesque.
KOURTALIOTIKO GORGE & WATERFALL
The trailhead is located in southern Greece, close to Preveli Beach. Free parking is available at the Kantina parking lot, a short stroll from the trailhead. From here there are two trails, one takes hikers to the top of the falls, and other leads adventurers down finto the water. The trail is short. For a longer trek, there’s a 10km hiking trail that connects Kourtaliotiko Gorge to Preveli Beach.
Spend the day strolling the waterfront and sunbathing at the beach in the charming fishing village of Loutro, in southern Crete. White-washed buildings with blue shutters line the seaside where life is mellow and things move at a snails speed. Enjoy fresh seafood at one of the local tavernas, and then an afternoon at a village beach.
RETHYMNO OLD TOWN
This lovely little Old Town is a labyrinth of Venetian wonders on Crete’s north coast. The cobbled lanes of Rethymno are lined with picturesque tavernas, cozy wooden tables, pottery shops, churches, historic fountains, boutiques and more.
SAMARIA GORGE HIKE
One of the most epic hikes on the island is down into the Samaria Gorge, the longest gorge in Europe. The famous hiking trail cuts through Crete’s most epic mountain scenery, and then straight out to the Libyan Sea. I don’t normally do the tour group thing, but it’s a logistical nightmare to do this on your own.
I booked our trip through Elafonissos Travel, and the trek felt surprisingly independent. A guide picked us up at 6 AM in a bus that shuttled us to the Samaria trailhead, located deep in the White Mountains. Everyone hiked the gorge at their own pace with the guide picking up the rear, starting his trek 30 minutes after the group. The trail is incredible – sheer rock faces, gushing blue rivers, ruins and even wild Ibex. It’s impossible to get lost – the trail leads one direction, straight out to the sea. Everyone reaches the coast at different times, we finished almost three hours early – so we had time to grab lunch in the little village, and relax on the beach before boarding a ferry that took us up the coast where we then boarded the bus back to Chania.
My favorite beach in western Crete is Seitan Limania, a deep channel of milky blues that open up to a small beach surrounded by cliffs, a bit like the Calanque d’En-Vau in the South of France and Calo des Moro in Mallorca. Seitan Limania is a popular spot for sunbathing, swimming and cliff jumpers. There are no facilities here, so bring plenty of food, water and an umbrella if you want shade.
The water on Crete is so calm and clear.
Arrive at Seitan Limania early to nab a spot on the tiny beach.
I love staying in Old Towns when I’m in Europe, and western Crete happens to be home Chania and Rethymno. Both Old Towns are vibrant, lovely and feel like a step back in time – walking distance to restaurants, boutiques and cafes. I’ve included several boutique hotels and apartments located in the heart of these Old Towns below, as well as a few upscale resorts.
ASTERION SUITES & SPA (PLATANIAS)
This beautiful adults-only resort is located in Platanias, just 20 minutes from bustling Old Town Chania. Like many Cycladic hotels, Asterion Suites & Spa goes for simplistic luxury. Both the interior and exterior spaces embrace a neutral palette – lots of creamy tans and off white tones. The resort offers a selection of nine room / suite categories – all spacious and plush with lots of light.
CASA DELFINO (CHANIA)
My favorite place to stay in Crete is Old Town Chania amongst the labyrinth of pedestrian lanes. And one of the best upscale options in Old Town is Casa Delfino. The boutique hotel sits in a 17th century Venetian mansion, formerly the private home of the Delfino family. It now houses 24 distinct guest rooms and suites (the suites are the most spacious option). And the Chania waterfront location is ideal – walking distance to everything in Old Town.
CASA GIORGIO EXCLSUIVE SUITES (RETHYMNO)
Casa Giorgio Exclusive Suites is comprised of four luxury suites that sit inside a fully restored 17th century Venetian-Othoman structure. Rooms are classic, but modern and very clean – high wood ceilings, stone relief walls and glass enclosed showers. Suites share a rooftop plunge pool. The property is located on the edge of Old Town Rethymno, a quick five-minute walk to the centre.
CASA MINARETTO (CHANIA)
Absolutely lovely house that was completely renovated in 2018. Casa Minaretto is bright, white and modern. Spread over two levels, the design includes white wood ceilings, a white and grey color palette, open living space, modern vintage styled kitchen and a rooftop garden. The apartment is ideally located in Old Town Chania. Great spot if it’s available.
DOMES ZEEN CHANIA (CHANIA)
Elegant luxury is the vibe at Domes Zeen, a modern beachfront oasis with views of Chania’s Old Town. The five-star resort is a part of Marriott’s Luxury Collection, but doesn’t feel corporate or commercial at all thanks to the zen design cues. The space relies heavily on grey, brown and tan tones – lots of concrete floors and wood paneling. Rooms are spacious and ultra lux with hints of Boho details.
A charming apartment located just outside of Old Town Chania in the Nea Chora neighborhood. The thoughtful design makes the small space feel even bigger than it is – high ceilings, stone walls and light colors. The one bedroom apartment includes a kitchen and two courtyards. It’s a 10-minute walk to reach Old Town from Hestia.
KROKOS CRETE (RETHYMNO)
An absolutely lovely multi-level home located in the heart of Old Town Rethymno. This one-bedroom apartment is bursting with character – the charming kitchen, wood beam ceilings, stone walls, pastel green front door – lots of love went into the design of this home. Krokos Crete is small, but the smart use of space and the clean modern design make it wonderful little gem.
LA CASA NOVE (CHANIA)
La Casa Nove is an apartment building that sits in the heart of bustling Old Town. It holds three units that have been completely renovated and modernized, but still retain an Old World charm. I love the use of blue throughout the apartment – the blue ceilings, balcony, wall trim, doors and windows contrast beautifully with the neutral stone walls. The apartments boast hard wood floors, high ceilings, walk-in showers and clean, modern furniture pieces. A great find.
MADDONA DEL MARE (CHANIA)
Lovely set of spacious apartments in Old Town Chania. The building is historic, but the spaces feel completely modern. Madonna del Mare sits very close to the Venetian Harbor.
MARIA SEASIDE APARTMENT (RETHYMNO)
Maria Seaside Apartment was completely renovated in 2022, and you can feel it from the moment you step inside. Everything feels clean and new, and the attention to design detail really elevates the space. The bright apartment is a mix of whites, browns and tans – all accented with African design cues (paintings, monkey sculptures, fruit bowls). The one bedroom apartment can house house up to three people. It’s located in Old Town Rethymno.
MONASTERY ESTATE (CHANIA)
Monastery Estate sits in the former home a 15th century aristocrat that now houses 11 luxury suites. The rooms are simple, but elegantly designed to highlight the property’s historic roots with its hard wood floors, stone walls, wood beam ceilings, archways and stone alcoves. Lovely luxury option very close to the Venetian Harbour.
Seitan Limania is a vibe for summer swims and sunbathing.
7 THALASSES (RETHYMNO)
Upscale seafood restaurant that serves a variety of options including fresh fish, seafood carpaccio, mussels with pesto, lobster linguine, sushi and more. Reservations highly recommended.
An all-day option in Old Town that serves breakfast, lunch and early dinner. Menu options include a range of delicious dishes including scrambles, baos, sandwiches, yogurts and burgers.
Great spot for affordable, handmade pasta dishes. Select a noodle, select a sauce and they’ll cook your pasta fresh to order.
FOGOTTO JAZZ BAR (CHANIA)
This iconic jazz bar sits in one of the beautiful Venetian buildings Old Town. It’s open during the day, but absolutely comes to life in the evenings with classic jazz, swing and blues. Order a cocktail and settle in at one of the small outdoor tables to people watch and enjoy the music.
GINER CONCEPT (CHANIA)
Very cute breakfast spot in Old Town that serves up acai bowls, toasts, egg dishes and pancakes.
MOUTOUPAKI TAVERNA (CHANIA)
A lovely restaurant tucked away down a quiet alleyway in Old Town where dozens of tables fill an outdoor square with vines, jasmine and lights that hang overhead. Moutoupaki serves classic Greek dishes. Reservations recommended.
Another delicious seafood restaurant, this one with sea views in Rethymno. Menu highlights include the grilled sea bass, steamed mussels, langoustine and the selection of meze.
OASIS SOUVLAKI (CHANIA)
It’s cheap, delicious and quick. Oasis serves some of the tastiest gyros in Chania. The pita is fresh. The tatziki is flavorful. And the meat is perfectly grilled.
Popular Chania restaurant for local Cretan cuisine. The restaurant is tiny, expect a bit of a wait!
TO MARIDAKO (CHANIA)
Delicious seafood restaurant in Chania. Menu highlights include fresh sea bass, sea bream and mussels.
It’s so easy to get lost in Old Town Chania.
A car rental is pretty essential on the largest island in Greece. While it’s all pedestrian corridors within the Old Towns of Chania and Rethymno, you’ll need a set of wheels to explore anything beyond that. The island’s beaches, hiking trails and historical sights are scattered across the island. A scooter is certainly possible, but a proper car would make the far distances much more comfortable. Most major car rental brands are available at the island’s major airports.
Cliff jumpers at Seitan Limania.
Crete is a big island. Make sure to select the airport or port closest to where you’ll be starting and ending your trip. Certain are routes limited or non-existent depending on the port or airport, so make sure the route you want exists. There are five passenger ports (Heraklion, Chania, Sitia, Rethymno and Agios Nikolaos) and three airports (Heraklion, Chania and Thessaloniki) on Crete. Flight time from Athens to Heraklion and Chania is approximately 45 minutes. The ferry connects Crete to several Cycladic islands including Santorini, Naxos, Paros and Mykonos. Ferry timetables and tickets are available on Ferry Hopper.