Crete travel tips | Monza Car Rental Blog

Where to go in Crete: the highlights in every region

Are you planning your summer vacation and wonder where to go in Crete? Well, this question is more complicated than you may think as Crete is significantly larger than any other Greek island. That means it is better to choose one prefecture and explore this area, unless you have 3-4 weeks for your holidays. The best thing to do is to rent a car in Crete, stay in the large town or a touristic resort of this prefecture and organize day trips to see the best points of interest all around. We gathered for you here the top of the top highlights for every region to know what to expect in every region. This touristic overview can help you to get the most out of your trip in Crete, but we encourage you to find on your own even more places!

Chania

The star of Crete in the western side of the island is characterized by stunning beaches and the multicultural and cosmopolitan town of Chania.
Beaches: Inspiring Balos Lagoon with its turquoise waters; Elafonissi with the pink sand and the cedar trees; Falassarna the golden exotic beach
Town of Chania: The Venetian harbour of the Old Town, multicultural Splatzia Area, the lighthouse
Nature: The famous Samaria Gorge
Day trip: untouched island of Gavdos
Time to dedicate: 5 to 8 days

Rethymnon

The prefecture of Rethymnon is considered one of the less developed places in Crete, and thus it is ideal for authentic vacation away from mass tourism.
Beaches: Preveli Beach, where the river flows into the sea inside a forest of palm trees
History: Monastery of Arkadi, the symbol of the battle of the Cretan people to gain their freedom against Turks
Nature: Ideon Cave, the place where Zeus was raised by a goat; Lake Kournas, the only freshwater lake in Crete
Rethymnon Town: The castle (Fortrezza) and the famous mosque inside; the Ottoman Baths in the Old Town
Villages: Anogeia, the settlement with the most authentic Cretan character
Time to dedicate: 4 to 6 days

Heraklion

Heraklion is the most touristic prefecture of Crete, full of resorts as well as significant historical sites.
Beaches: Matala with its caves; family-friendly Agia Pelagia; Malia full of beach-bars
History: Knossos and Phaistos Minoan Palace
Heraklion Town: The Archaeological Museum
Touristic resorts: Stalis, Matala and Malia
Time to dedicate: 4 to 7 days

Lassithi

Lassithi is the most exotic region in Crete, close to Libyan Sea.
Beaches: The palm forest of Vai; touristic Zakros beach
Day trips: Spinalonga islet, the former leper colony; Chrissi, the islet with the pristine beaches
History: Archeaological Site of Lato
Agios Nikolaos Town: The Archeaological Museum; the sea lake
Touristic resorts: highly prestigious Elounda; exotic Ierapetra
Nature: Lassithi Plateau
Time to dedicate: 5 to 7 days

Road trip in Heraklion: 4 wonderful places to visit you didn’t know about

If you rent a car in Heraklion, we recommend you doing a road trip to explore this interesting prefecture, which is full of beautiful resorts, stunning beaches and significant historical sites. You may already know that you should definitely visit the Minoan sites of Phaistos and Knossos, the hippies’ beach Matala, the touristic resorts Hersonissos, Malia and Stalis. However, did you know that there are many other places that are definitely worth visiting, especially if you want to go off-the-beaten-track in Crete? You can find great deals for renting a car in Crete and extend your journey for a couple of days to discover even more amazing places. We recommend you in this article some of these places, but of course the region has always something more to offer to you. Enjoy!

Fodele

Fodele is located 30 km from Heraklion town and is a quiet little Cretan town with a beautiful river. Above the river is the village, where the main pedestrian road is lined with charming shops and traditional taverns, where you can eat fresh fish. Fodele is the hometown of the famous painter El Greco. Dominikos Theotokopoulos, as his real name was, was born in Fodele and then lived in Spain. 5 minutes-drive from the village is located the El Greco Museum, where you can admire a large collection of reproductions of his main paintings.

Church of Annunciation of the Virgin Mary

A short drive from the El Greco Museum, you can make a stop at the 12th-century Church of Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. Inside this church, there are impressive frescoes and Byzantine paintings, as this small church was very important during the mid-Byzantine period.

Monastery of Agios Panteleimon

Six kilometres from this church, we recommend you making a stop at Monastery of Agios Panteleimon. This monastery was an important centre during the Cretan Revolution against the Ottoman Empire and dates back to the Venetian Times. It is definitely worth visiting to appreciate its Venetian influences and its fine architectural details.

Agia Pelagia

Located 20 kilometres northeast from Fodele, Agia Pelagia is a coastal town, which is ideal to relax, eat delicious Cretan food and spend all day long on the beach. The beach of Agia Pelagia is fully organised with numerous cafés, seaside taverns and rooms to let, from where you can enjoy the endless blue. Around the settlement of Agia Pelagia, you can discover many pretty beaches, especially if you rent a car and you are flexible to do every route you want. Ligaria, Psaromoura and Monofatis are astonishing coves with soft sand and deep blue waters to spend an unforgettable day by the sea with your family or your friends.

Everything you need to know about Samaria Gorge

Did you know that Samaria Gorge is the longest canyon in Europe? It is the most important natural landmark in Crete and the second most popular point of interest on the island after the Minoan Palace of Knossos. If you rent a car in Chania, we recommend you exploring the wider region around the town, which is full of interesting places to visit. One of them is Samaria Gorge, which is ideal for the lovers of hiking as well as for those travellers, who want to discover the breathtaking natural beauty of Crete. Read here everything you need to know about this incredible must-see in Crete.

How to go to Samaria Gorge

Samaria Gorge is located in the prefecture of Chania, inside the National Park of Lefka Ori (White Mountains). You can stay in Chania town and take a guided tour to access the gorge or go there by the public transportation. A bus starts early in the morning every day and ends up in Xyloskalo, the starting point. If you hike the gorge, whose route ends up in the coastal town of Agia Roumeli, then you can take the boat to go back to Chania. The most convenient way to go to the gorge is of course by car, but remember that hiking the whole gorge lasts about 7 hours. So, it is impossible to go back to take your car in the same day.

Hiking in Samaria Gorge

The most popular activity is hiking in the gorge. Although it is a long route, it is something even beginners can do, and the landscape is just fantastic. The entrance fee is 5€, and the gorge is open to the public from May to October. While hiking in Samaria Gorge, you will admire the wild scenery, pass through wooden bridges, see the Cretan wild goats (kri-kri) and walk inside forests with pine and cedar trees surrounded by unique flora and the famous all over the world Cretan herbs.

What to see in Samaria Gorge

In addition to these amazing experiences, don’t miss out some important points of interest inside the gorge. The Church of Saint Nikolas is built in the lowest point of the gorge, on the ruins of an ancient temple. Samaria Village is located in the middle of the gorge, and it is a perfect stop to get rest for a while. The village is now abandoned, but there is an information desk, a doctor’s office and a guard point. Iron Gates is the end of the Gorge before reaching the coastal town Agia Roumeli, which overlooks the Libyan Sea in an exotic scenery. In this route, you can admire a Venetian castle and ruins from prehistoric settlements.

How to plan your road trip in Crete

Road trips in Crete are amazing ways to explore the island in only a few days. However, as there are literally hundreds of beautiful places and beaches to see in Crete, it is wise to make a reasonable plan and not to have the expectation to see the whole island in 5 days. It is better to pick one prefecture (Chania, Heraklion, Lassithi or Rethymnon) and organize your road trip to see all the points of interest there. After this decision, you should follow some more steps to get the best out of your vacation.

Rent a car in Crete

The first step is to rent a car in Crete, which is convenient for your type of holidays. If you travel with your family, we recommend you renting an SUV, which is the ideal type of car for kids and many luggages. However, for two people, it is more flexible to rent a small car, which is great to find parking easily wherever you want.

When to come

Most travellers come to Crete during the summer months and especially in July and August. But if you want to spend some relaxing days away from the crowds, you should definitely avoid this time span. For road trips, you should also avoid the winter months and especially January and February, as there are mountain chains on the island, and you will find snowy conditions on the twisting roads. The best time to come is in autumn and spring and especially in May and October, when the weather is still good and the sea water warm enough to enjoy your holidays away from mass tourism.

Organised beaches or off-the-beaten-path?

Another decision to take when planning your road trip is whether you want to go off-the-beaten-path or stay around the fully organised and highly touristic places. Generally, the northern coast of Crete, which overlooks the Aegean Sea, is developed with many resorts and organised beaches, while the southern coast, which overlooks the Libyan Sea, is wilder and more untouched and virgin. However, part of it, such as around Agia Roumeli, is not accessible by car.

Itinerary

If you stay within one prefecture, you will need about 1-2 hours maximum to go from one point of interest to another. Keeping that in mind, you can organize your plan to see the best highlights in every region. Remember that roads are not highways, so you have to drive carefully. Plus, it is better to have extra time during every route to enjoy the magnificent scenery or make unplanned stops to a virgin cove or a traditional village you may unexpectedly discover.

Accommodation

You can stay in a hotel in the main town of the prefecture and then organize day trips around it. In large towns, such as Chania and Heraklion, as well as in touristic resorts, such as Stalis and Hersonissos, you can find great deals and cheap all-inclusive packages. If you want something more authentic, you can stay in a traditional guesthouse in a mountainous village, find your inner peace and explore by car the breathtaking places all around.

The best road trips to do around Chania

if you rent a car in Chania, it is totally worth it to explore the whole prefecture and not to stay only around the beautiful city. The area is blessed not only with astonishing beaches but also with magnificent nature and traditional coastal and mountainous villages that travel you back in time and make you understand what the Cretan authenticity is about. We gathered here the best short excursions in a close distance to Chania with starting point the village of Vamos, which is perfectly located in the middle of a wonderful region. Car rental in Crete is the best, most convenient and most flexible way to see the island and discover remoted and untouched places away from the crowds. Take a look at these fascinating routes to do by car and get ready to plan your summer holidays in Crete. In every village you visit, don’t forget to sit in a café or a tavern and spend some moments with the friendly and hospitable locals.

Vamos – Gavalochori – Douliana

This route is about 30 km of asphalt road, and it is one of the most convenient routes in the prefecture. You will have a magnificent view of the Cretan Sea and the White Mountains as you pass through the traditional villages of Vamos, Kefalas, Kokkino Chorio, Gavalochori and Douliana. Well-preserved buildings, old schools, Byzantine churches and wild nature constitute a landscape that will take your breath away.

Vamos – Therisso

This route is about 45 km asphalt road and gives you the opportunity to enjoy the view of Souda Bay and pass through the gorges of Macheri, Diktamos and Therisso. Green forests and steep cliffs as you drive from one rural village to another make you feel like having just discovered a virgin paradise!

Vamos – Georgioupoli – Kourna Lake – Argyroupoli Springs

Start from Vamos and drive about 25 km to see astonishing water landscapes. As you drive, you have great view of the White Mountains on the one hand and Georgioupoli Bay on the other hand. Lake Kourna is a top spot to do canoeing or sea bike, and then go to Argyroupoli with its impressive springs and waterfalls.

Vamos – Askyfou – Chora Sfakion

An impressive route of 65 km asphalt road that allows you to explore mountainous Crete. You pass through the White Mountains and then you reach the Askyfou Plateau, where you can take beautiful photos with the view of Imvros Gorge. If you love hiking, you can leave your car there and go on foot in this easy gorge, ideal for beginners in hiking. Then, drive to Chora Sfakion, a small picturesque village on the southern side of Crete with cozy taverns by the sea. The view of Libyan Sea from there is amazing.

Top 5 unspoiled gems in Crete

Let’s be honest. Crete is a highly touristic island with thousands of tourists every summer. That means it is hard to find some truly untouched places to go, especially if you visit the island in the high-season. Even remoted places, such as Balos Lagoon and Elafonissi, are full of travellers. What we recommend is to come in the middle-season, for example in May or September, and get ready to explore the last hidden gems on the island. In order to do so, it is wise to rent a car in Crete and have the flexibility to make some amazing routes through impressive gorges and mountains. Thus, you will have the opportunity to discover these truly unspoiled places around the island.

Triopetra

Triopetra is a remoted beach on the southern side of Crete, 52 km from Rethymnon town. Three rocks at the end of the beach protect the bay from the strong winds, but the greatest asset of Triopetra is the magnificent sunset, when the sun is lost in the horizon of the Libyan Sea.

Xerokampos

Another untouched beach is Xerokampos, about one-hour drive from Sitia and Ierapetra in Lassithi prefecture. It is a lovely sandy cove with deep blue waters and only a few tourists, but the best thing with it, is that you drive through a stunning gorge while going down to the beach. This is the best part of car rental in Crete, that you see places you would not even have the chance to see by public transportation.

Melidoni Cave

In a close distance from the village of Melidoni in the prefecture of Rethymnon, is located the Melidoni Cave, a heroic place that combines history with geology. During the Cretan Revolution against the Ottoman Empire, 400 people, including women and children, found refugee inside this cave, which in 1824 was blew up by the Ottoman soldiers burning all the innocent people. Although it is a significant historical site, it is not full of tourists, as most people prefer going in more famous caves, such as Diktaion or Ideon Cave.

Vossakos Monastery

Most monasteries in Crete are crowded during the high-season, but this monastery is totally peaceful and tranquil due to its location, which has nothing else around. You have to drive about one hour from Heraklion to the northern coast. An old building surrounded by an impressive garden in a very calm and mystical atmosphere is what you should expect.

Therisso Gorge

The most impressive thing with Therisso Gorge near Chania is that you can drive through the whole gorge to the bottom. Thus, you only have to rent a car, and you are not obliged to hike for several hours as with other gorges in Crete, for example Samaria Gorge. This is why most lovers of hiking prefer to go to other gorges, and Therisso has remained untouched.