Are you wondering where to stay in Crete? In this article, we look at the best areas to stay in Crete so that you can fully experience all that this amazing island has to offer its many repeat visitors.
Just the word Crete conjures up magical images of sun-kissed beaches washing legend filled shores that time forgot. This biggest island in Greece is also the fifth biggest in all of the Mediterranean Sea.
On this long and fairly narrow island, you are able to find breathtaking beaches, goggle at the remains of ancient civilizations that once led the world, take in incredible mountain vistas, deep gorges, and green valleys, and become one with the island’s legendary food and hospitality culture.
It is no exaggeration to claim that Crete occupies its own little universe full of treasures and beauty that would require potentially your whole life to fully discover.
Where to stay in Crete: Best areas to stay in Crete
You are truly spoiled for choice in finding where to stay in Crete. There are more than a dozen excellent choices that offer you a different aspect on this magical Greek isle. In this rest of this article, we look at the best places to stay in Crete depending on what Cretan experience exactly you are looking for out of your trip.
Chania is both an ancient town and one of the four provinces of Crete. It offers you an excellent choice for where to stay in Crete. Found on the Western quarter of the island, Chania is heavily defined by great beaches, the incredible White Mountains and their legendary National Park that dominates much of the area. They occupy the biggest portion of the province.
This Prefecture of Chania delivers tourist activities and services of every type imaginable, a literal something for everyone. The city itself proudly embraces all of these best features dating back to the Venetian Rule period to the current era.
The perfect way to start your visit to Chania is by wandering aimlessly through the maze alley of the Old Town. Here you will stumble across gorgeous Venetian era mansions, stunning churches, and classical fountains that will occasionally give way to historical monuments that are beautifully preserved.
You should take in some of the museums while you are enjoying the varied architecture that wends its way around the historical city.
Chania is a slice of heaven for those who love good wine and food. Some of the best and most uniquely Cretan cuisine goes down ideally accompanied with fine Cretan wine. You can visit numerous wineries here where you will learn about the varieties of Cretan vintages and experience the legendary Cretan food and hospitality all at once.
A second of Crete’s four regions, Rethymnon is also one of its most magical medieval era cities. This littlest of prefectures is found between Mt. Psiloritis and the White Mountains.
The region can be summed up by fantastic beaches, unparalleled mountain scenery, melodies centered on the Cretan lyre, caves of legend, historical monuments and monasteries, luxury filled holiday resorts, and traditional villages in the mountains.
Some would say this iconic and remote prefecture is the true essence of Crete. Ir runs the full gamut from breathtaking valleys to harsh mountains and rocky shores to sandy beaches. Small rivers etch their way through the mountains to the sea. It is truly a nature lovers paradise.
The city itself is a fantastic home base and among the best places to stay in Crete. Rethymnon City proves to be quite possibly the very best preserved of Greek medieval towns. It is filled with the charm of Venetian fortifications giving way to Catholic and Orthodox churches, fantastic Venetian mansions, mosques, arches, and cobblestone paved streets that all combine to make for a unique and wonderful atmosphere.
You should try to stay here especially in summer months as there are two not to be missed events then: these are the Renaissance Festival whose performances center on the Erofili Theater in the Venetian Fortezza and the Wine Festival. Wine aficionados and producers come together to form a pan Cretan cultural event that involves entertainment, cuisine, wine tasting, and all around fun.
Heraklion proves to be both the biggest and densest populated prefecture on Crete as well as the island’s capital. It lies in the arms of two towering mountain ranges the Mt. Psiloritis in the West and the Dikti in the east.
Heraklion is most famous for its incredible archaeological treasures, impressive museums, pretty villages, important settlements on the coast, and huge valley populated by vineyards and olive groves.
It also boasts the most organized and strongest tourist apparatus on the island. This one of a kind combination of natural appeals with urban convenience helps Heraklion to be a year round destination of appeal, making it one of the best areas to stay in Crete.
Among the major urban cities of Greece, Heraklion offers incredible sights that you should not miss on a proper tour of Crete. The walls dominating the old city are well worth your time. The Arabs originally built these, though it was the Venetians who reinforced and completed them in the 1400’s.
Of the original seven bastions, the Martinengo Bastion is the lone survivor today. In here visitors can also pay respects at the tomb of N. Kazantzakis, the internationally famous writer. Fabulous views of the city are included here. Of the original four entrances gates to Heraklion, Chanioporta (from 1570) and the New Gate (1587) to the south are the last survivors.
You should not miss visiting the old port (Venetian port) that lies beside the modern day port facilities. You can experience firsthand the vaulted tarsanades where the Ventians built their merchant and war ships here. The western side of Heraklion lies in the shadow of the impressive 1500’s era Koule Fortress.
4. Agios Nikolaos
A favorite with British holidaymakers for generations is Agios Nikolaos. This is one of the four primary centers of Lasithi prefecture. The area offers visitors the Vai mythical forest of palm trees, the Plateau of Lassithi windmills (which are the biggest in Crete), the picturesque Gulf of Mirabello, crystal water lapped beaches, lovely cities, and luxury hotels.
Agios Nikolaos itself is aptly described as unique to every other city or town in Crete. Somehow the town mixes together the ambiances of leisurely, artsy, bustling, and sleepy altogether where it sits spread over three hills. The present day city was constructed over the ancient ruins of past residents’ houses. Fans of the town simply refer to the town as Ag Nik.
The town itself is medium sized but offers you a true smaller town atmosphere, albeit one with plenty to offer. It is imminently walkable with its couple of waterfronts. Ag Nik faces the sea on three fronts in the Kitroplatia Beach, the Lake and port, and the marina.
The lake is a considerable bit of water that has a narrow inlet to the sea. Restaurants and cafes overlook this, making it an important place for the tourists and local residents alike to gather and mix. Cafes share the space with classic Greek tavernas overlooked by the finer dining restaurants above. Ferries ply the narrow inlet taking people from the open port out into the lake.
Kitroplatia Beach is almost unique on the island as it offers the town center lying alongside it. It is where you will find holiday rental apartments as well as hotels and some of the earliest restaurants in the town.
The other side of town takes you to the Agios Nikolaos marina. This is the third sea front in town, and one where you can see visitors arriving in splendid yachts while personally enjoying either sweet or savory Crepes. Throughout all parts of the town are beautiful churches scattered along the various streets. One of these actually lends its name to the charming town.
For a taste of the less touristy places on the island, Sitia is your town where to stay in Crete. The Venetians built it, though the Turks destroyed and then rebuilt it. Today it prides itself on its long and sandy beach that offers sun, sea, sand, and excellent swimming and windsurfing.
While it may be less touristy, Sitia is still a highly lived in town. It offers the friendliest and most cheerful Cretans around. These people are proud of their town and maintain its cleanliness. They do not do this to bring in the few tourists here, but because they love Sitia.
The town and area host famous monasteries, palm forest lined beaches, archaeological sites, wonderful walks through the mountains, and sparkling bays to dazzle you. Nearby villages provide ancient archaeological sites and buildings.
There are a few hotels on the bay in Sitia. These are more the smaller, higher quality varieties of hotels. There are also around two dozen rental holiday apartments lining the seafront. These are self catering facilities, complete with kitchens.
In the south of Crete lies a seaside village called Matala. Its biggest attraction is its close proximity to Phaistos, second biggest Minoan Palace on Crete. Matala appeared on the map in the Sixties as a haven for hippies who lived in the internationally renowned Matala caves near the beach.
Today the village is optimal as a place for where to stay in Crete for those individuals who want a quieter holiday in traditional Cretan atmosphere on beautiful beaches lying near famous archaeological sites including the ancient Gortys, Agia Triada (a Minoan Villa) and Phaistos.
The village has lost much of its traditional character through rising tourism, though nearby villages like Kamilari and Sivas provide all of this you could want in only a few miles distance.
For those who are looking for wild fun and rocking nightlife, Matala is not the best choice. There are a few hotels and bars that offer live music on the sea and good drinks, but this is the extent of the nightlife. Yet its amazing beach once frequented by Bob Dylan and contemporaries may be enough to make up for it.
About 15 miles east of Heraklion lies Hersonissos. Tourism has changed this once-sleepier part of the prefecture into the biggest tourist resort on the entire island. As such it is one of the best places to stay in Crete.
There may only be 3,000 permanent residents living here, but the summer time population massively increases as literally thousands of seasonal workers for tourism flood into town to service the hundreds of thousands of visitors coming to enjoy Hersonissos for their holiday.
The resort Hersonissos stands for mass tourism and big fun, busy and lovely beaches, and a modern town complete with dozens of shops and stores vending everything from jewelry and clothing to tourist necessities. Restaurants provide all sorts of food while bars, cafes, and nightclubs promise something to suite all interests of the visitors that stay here.
The city has hotels both large and small. It is renowned for conference tourism in the bigger luxury hotels. It boasts the one golf course on the island as well as the all inclusive holiday packages for tourists who do not plan to leave their hotels even to take in the stunning sights of the island. This is regrettable as this town is perfectly situated for convenient travel to the rest of the island by bus or rental car.
Hersonissos is ideal for families with children. Between its two water parks, the enormous CretAquarium, and the Hersonissos Aquarium, kids find something to keep them occupied. There is the happy train and even the restaurants here offer children’s play areas. It is surely among the best areas to stay in Crete for families with kids to entertain.
En route from Heraklion to Agios Nikolaos lies Malia. The road there splits through the town into the Old Malia lying in the foothills of Mount Selena and newer town closer to the shore. Malia is another town completely unlike the others on the island. It was long famous for its incredible potatoes, but these fields have been mostly replaced by small and large hotels as well as bars and tavernas.
Tourism here has split the personality of the town between the old Malia complete with narrow streets, houses lined with flowers, and live Greek music-offering tavernas. The other component of the town now is the coastal resort complete with nightclubs, bars, and the frantic nightlife that keeps the younger tourists dancing from 11 pm until the early hours of the night.
People looking for quieter nights will retreat to their hotels or rental studios and apartments when the sun sets. These are found in both sections of town, the old town streets and coastal Malia. Restaurants and tavernas of all kinds and price points line the streets on both sides of town.
Elounda is a charming seaside fishing village situated on beautiful Mirabello Bay. Those individuals seeking a seafront holiday that is not too isolated or too overrun with tourists will find this beautiful coastline with its crystalline waters, shady beaches, and archaeological sites an ideal place to stay in Crete.
You can swim and walk the Kolokitha Peninsula, enjoy tiny uncrowded beaches, make a visit to Spinalonga Island, and walk the charming nearby villages that are inland and still provide a realistic view into a timeline since gone, namely Plaka, Skisma, Mavrikiano, and Epano Elounda.
This town is not for you if you are looking for non-stop nightlife or the other extreme of an isolated beach on the south of Crete. The harbor called the Gulf of Korfos provides a beautiful and natural lagoon along the Gulf of Mirabello’s blue waters. This is not the town of big package hotels, but for people satisfied with rental apartments and smaller hotels, it suits admirably.
Palaichora was famous in the rocking 70’s as a hippy town. It may keep that slower pace, but it is no longer hippy. Several hotels with smaller numbers of rooms are found around the town today. The main beach is romantic and charming. Though it is a quieter town, it does have the bars and restaurants at the main street’s end. This area is closed to traffic and pedestrianized at night.
For people hoping for relaxation on a long beautiful beach, Palaichora is a good choice. One of the famous restaurants here is the Oyzepi. It features fantastic Greek Oyzo and excellent tapas along with mains.
There is also a castle here offering fantastic area views. There is also a ferry leading to the southern coast villages that are isolated and lack land access. It is highly recommended as a romantic trip that provides a glimpse into a part of Crete that is still unspoiled to this day.
See also: Where to stay in Mykonos
For a modern seaside town lying around 20 miles to the east side of Chania, you should try out Kissamos. Its 5,000 inhabitants are primarily engaged in agriculture still, Their wine and olive oil is justifiably famous around this part of the world. Tourism is a still growing trade here that has not yet overrun the town (and hopefully never will with their excellent agricultural products).
People who come to Kissamos love it for its authentic Greek town that has not been ruined by the tourism that it embraces. You can truly immerse yourself in the local traditions and life in Kissamos, ranging from magical cultural events held in summer time to the everyday experiences of locals.
The town has also focused on building up a reputation for natural eco tourism. It has become a magnet for those who love to walk, nature, and bird watching.
Kissamos remains friendly and extremely hospitable, yet still has the organization to provide all needed facilities for visitors like post offices, banks, health clubs, Internet cafes, stores and supermarkets, cafes, bars, and tavernas. The promenade lining the seafront is pleasant and covered by bars, cafes, and tavernas that run from early morning until late at night.
An added bonus for those staying here is that the town port offers ships running from Kissamos harbor on to mainland Piraeus (Athens port), the Peloponnese, and Kithira. Daily cruises leave town to the Balos Lagoon and Gramvousa.
Kissamos itself also offers a worthwhile archaeological museum in its central square Stratigou Tzanakaki. This building was recently renovated and hosts a true treasure of locally uncovered archaeological finds dating from Hellenistic to Roman eras. The mosaics at this museum are especially impressive.
One street simply not to be missed is the charming Skalidi that goes through the middle of the old town and its traditionally arched buildings along shops run by local craftsmen.
Around a mile from the middle of Kissamos lies the charming fishing port. It boasts two good tavernas before you come to the bigger commercial port and its regular ferry services and daily pleasure cruises.
Not to be missed between these two ports is a hidden 900’s era church that was rebuild in 1947 called St. John Damialis. It was constructed directly into the rock face opposite a tunnel that leads down to Damiali Beach. This cove covered with pebbles boasts amazingly clear waters sure to enchant any visitors.
The biggest tourism resort in the West of Crete is called Platanias. This was constructed fronting a beautiful sandy beach. It appeals more to package tour visitors, many of whom come here from the Scandinavian countries.
Platanias is found right on the main coast road around 10 miles from Chania. Bus service here is frequent and good. The resort is busy and a very popular place to stay in Crete, though most love or hate it. It offers simple hotels on up to luxury hotel choices.
Visitors can enjoy a wide range of restaurants and food stalls here as well as abundant shopping opportunities for times not spent by the pool or getting sun on the beach.
The nightlife in Platanias is what you would expect with bars and even some dance clubs. It is likely the liveliest nightlife in all of Western Crete. The beach here is wide and sandy, though it can be exposed to the wind, which leads to occasionally treacherous underlying currents.
Sissi lies east of Heraklion. If you are not looking for it you could drive past it, but this would be a sad mistake. Repeat visitors to the town call it among the most romantic places in Crete with its charming natural inlet covered with palm trees. It boasts a small port that was a key unloading point for weapons in the Cretan revolution.
Nowadays, Sissi has reverted to its peaceful, small village charm that does come to life in the night time thanks to its handful of local bars and restaurants.
There is great swimming in its Boufos Beach. Though this is undoubtedly not the best known beach on the island, it does offer fantastic and relaxing sand and swimming. The town has a pier with restaurants and bars, though the best one is probably Neromilos Taverna, a 15 minute walk from town.
Any of the pier side taverns will offer you fantastic fresh fish. It is a busy place as restauranteers and shop keepers from Heraklion come here to get what local call the best fish in Crete.
Sissi offers a surprising range of hotels for a small quiet town. The several choices here range from boutique to budget depending on your particular price point. If you are looking for what could be the most picturesque little village in Crete that comes with some nightlife, then this is a good choice where to stay in Crete. The wilder Malia is only a 10 minute drive away by taxi or car.
For a relaxing Cretan holiday, you can not go wrong with Maleme. It lies on the beach and is quiet, but it offers an ideal base from which to visit close by traditional touristy destinations like Chania, a mere 10 miles away. You can get to what could be the best two beaches in Crete in an hour by driving 30 miles to Balos Beach or Elafonisi Beach.
For a more adventurous day, consider the Samaras Gorge that lies only an hour to the south. This vigorous walk offers absolutely breathtaking scenery to those who brave it. Maleme offers a number of resorts lying along its beach and in town, as well as several good restaurants and cafes.