Are you (thinking of) traveling to West-Crete (the areas of Chania and Rethymno) in Greece? After tons of research I found (and did!) a 7-day itinerary that shows you all the highlights of this side of Crete island. Below you will find a mini guide to West-Crete answering the most asked questions, as well as a full 7-day itinerary including tips for where to stay and where to eat.
Do keep in mind that this road trip was hell of a trip and not a ‘relaxing’ holiday. But of course you can decide to leave out whatever you want!
You can get to West-Crete both by plane and boat. The nearest airport is Chania airport, and the nearest port is the port of Souda, outside Chania. Note that Heraklion (2.5 hours away from Chania) has even more options for ferries and domestic flights. In case you fly or ferry there, you have to transport yourself to West-Crete afterwards.
Chania (Souda port) is very well connected by boat to Athens. It is mostly served by night ferries, meaning you’ll sleep on the boat (preferably in a private cabin) and wake up in either Athens or Crete after about a 10-hour ferry trip. These boats are large, stable ro/pax ferries that generally will not make you seasick and have a low chance of getting cancelled due to weather conditions.
Chania also has a ferry connection to Milos island. And there are other, smaller ports in West-Crete as well: Kissamos in the northwestern tip and Chora Sfakion, Paleochora and Agia Galini in the south. Departing the port of Kissamos, one can voyage to the islands of Kythira and Antikythira, and Gythio on the mainland in South Peloponnese. From Chora Sfakion, Paleochora, and Agia Galini you can reach the tiny island of Gavdos which looks like a Caribbean paradise.
You can browse, compare and find the ferry time and price that suits you best easily Ferryhopper. Not only do they have and interactive map on which you can build a route between different destinations, they also have an app that shows the location of the ferry you booked in realtime. This is called live tracking of your ferry. They have even implemented the bonus / loyalty programmes of the ferry companies into their platform. So you can save your points and miles even when booking through Ferryhopper.
I have written an extensive blog on how travelling by ferry in Greece works, answering all the frequently asked questions. There are also pictures of what the ferry to Crete and sleeping in cabin looks like. You can find it here.
After arriving at Souda port or Chania airport, you will have to take a bus or taxi to Chania city. There are regular bus lines and of course taxi’s waiting. Check the section on ‘how to get around in West-Crete’ for more information on these means of public transport. The bus schedules both to and from Souda port and Chania airport can be found here, if you click on ‘From Chania and Rethymno to the airport of Chania’.
Yes, West-Crete like other Greek islands is generally considered to be a safe destination for travelers. The crime rate is low, and visitors are generally welcomed by the Greeks with open arms. It is always important to take the usual precautions when traveling, but on Greek islands you’ll find that people go swimming while leaving their belongings unattended on the beach, houses and scooters are left unlocked, et cetera. Except from Athens, crime in Greece is rare. In 29 years I have never had something stolen or experienced any other form of crime.
The best time to visit West-Crete is in the spring (April to June) or fall (second half of September to the end of October). This is when temperatures are warm but not too hot. The sea is mostly warm enough for swimming, the days (in spring) are long and sunny, and you can explore the stunning landscapes and ancient sites in comfort. In July and August, the hotspots of West-Crete get extremely busy. Crete is one of the most popular Greek islands. Also, prices go up tremendously in those months. If you can, you must avoid going mid-summer. It is however a big island so there are always more quiet and remote spots on hand.
Crete arguably has the best and mildest climate in Greece. Even though tourists businesses close down, you can very easily navigate your way through the island even in winter. The cities and traditional villages are fully operational. And you’ll find that on good November and December days, sunbathing and swimming is still possible. If you must go during winter and you need to choose an island, Crete most definitely is the best choice.
If you are planning on exploring only Chania or Rethymno city and do maybe one excursion, you can get away with 2 to 3 days in Crete.
Generally speaking, you need at least 5 days in West-Crete only to see even some of the highlights. Distances are big and visiting some sites or beaches requires hiking or walking, making them unsuitable for a short photo stop.
I managed to squeeze all the highlights of West-Crete into a 7-day trip, and it was an amazing but also exhausting trip. So be aware of this and the distances on the island while planning. You can find the itinerary below.
You could however easily spend 2 to 3 weeks in this area and still find lots of place to explore. It takes a lifetime do fully discover Crete!
The best way to get around in West-Crete is definitely by car. It is safe to say you need to rent a vehicle for sure. Distances are big, easily 1.5 – 2 hours one way and the roads are windy and mountainous. Sometimes the last part to a beach or other site is a dirt road. This makes me say that cars are to be preferred over scooters or (slow) ATV’s, especially if you’re planning on driving at evening or night times. However, you’ll find that many people are exploring Crete on a scooter or ATV and are completely fine. To rent a car you need to be at least 21 years of age and to rent a scooter or ATV you need to be at least 18 years of age.
Taxi: check the video below for an explanation on taxi’s in Crete.
In the TikTok below I’m explaining the options for transportation in Crete
Replying to @kyaogink_ Replying to @kyaogink_ This is info on the 5 ways to transport yourself on the Greek 🇬🇷 island of Crete 🥰: rented vehicle, public bus, organized (group) tour, taxi and boat. Hope it helped! #crete #cretegreece #creteisland #cretetips #kreta #traveltips #reistips #transportation #greecetrip #griekenland #traveltiktok #tzatchickie #greekislands #islandlife #greece2022 #greeksummer♬ Happy, summer, ukulele(852618) - Eternal Waves
If you want to stay in one place and not move around, I’d highly recommend staying in or near Chania. It has a port where large ferries arrive, it has an international airport. Also it is a large city with a Venetian-style old town that will keep you entertained for days. There are all sorts of nightlife, restaurants and shops available. It has beaches all around as well, with all types of accommodations (from Airbnb to resorts). And the most important thing: it is in the middle of West-Crete. So you can literally choose where to go when exploring: east towards Rhetymno, southeast towards Plakias, west towards Kissamos, southwest towards Elafonisi. If you stay further east or west, chances are you’re going to leave exploring other parts out because the drive is too far.
Below, in the 7-day itinerary that I am suggesting, I point out where to stay in West-Crete for every day of the road trip.
Below I have written down a complete 7-day itinerary in which you can see all the highlights of West-Crete. It is a very full road trip with little time to relax for a day on the same beach. But if you think you might not come back to West-Crete for a while, this is the way to see ‘it all’ (the highlights). Video footage of this trip is in my highlights on Instagram. Although based on my experiences I tweaked the sequence of some activities a little bit. You get the improved version here!
After your arrival in Chania, drive to the ‘Akrotiri peninsula’ of Chania, where Chania airport is located as well. There are lots of nice things to visit here. It is a 30 to 45-minute drive from the city to the places on this peninsula.
This – literally translated – ‘devils beach’ looks like a natural wave pool with every shade of blue water you can imagine. The view from on top and down at the beach are both amazing. To get there you have to drive down a windy but asphalted road and park your car on top. You’ll notice many friendly goats around 😊. Then you have to walk / hike down to the beach in 20 minutes. A part of it is stairs, a part of it is a path. This is not doable for people with disabilities or with a stroller, et cetera. Relax and recharge on the beach. One piece of advice: don’t walk up alone. When you go down, the path seems so logical. When you go up, I remember there is a point at which it is not clear where you have to go, if there is no one descending or ascending in front of you. So it is best for your own sanity to have some company that you can figure out the route with in case you get confused. If you go here with children or disabled people, you can just enjoy the view from up above and use it as a photo stop.
This is a very impressive building with beautiful gardens. It was built in the 17th century by 2 wealthy brothers of the Tzagaroli family and therefore also called the Tzagaroli monastery. I believe it is one of the most beautiful monasteries in Greece. There is a small entrance fee for foreighners (€ 2.50 when we visited in 2021). If you speak Greek, try to pretend you are a Greek. We got in for free! You can walk around, enter the church and visit the small museum with all kinds of religious artefacts such as icons and wood carvings. Also, you can visit the chamber in which the bones of the late monks are stored. This is called an ossuary and it is a monastery tradition. The monastery harvests its own grapes and olives and therefore produces excellent wine and olive oil, that you can buy on your visit.
A shallow, sandy beach with warm (because its closed off in a bay) and very clear water. It was used for the famous ‘sirtaki’ dance scene in the movie ‘Zorba the Greek’. It is based on a story that actually happened. In real life, the story took place in the Peloponnese on Kalogria beach in Stoupa. Because this beach is sandy and has shallow waters, it is a perfect swim stop for those traveling with children. During the tourist season, there are options for drinking, eating and renting a set of loungers and an umbrella.
Elefterios Venizelos was the most important Greek political figure of the 20th century and a successful priminister for a long time. He was born in Crete and thus he is buried here together with his brother. It is not just a grave, it is actually a whole park that looks out over the city of Chania. A stunning view and an even more stunning sunset. I recommend going here at sunset time and having dinner at the restaurant Carte Postale to watch the sunset. The restaurant is located on the side of the park, near the parking lot. It is not the cheapest restaurant in Greece, but definitely reasonably priced considering te view. And the food was great.
On this day you will drive to the south of Crete, while exploring some amazing wonders of nature on the way. It is a very full day, so leave as early as possible. I have decided to NOT include Rethymno in this itinerary. Because it is similar to Chania and the trip is already so full. However, you can decide spending the night of day 1 and the morning of day 2 in Rethymno (because you will come back to Chania at the end of the trip) . This way you can easily include a quick view of the city. You will miss out on lake Kournas though, which is located between Chania and Rethymno.
From Chania, drive towards Rethymno.
Your first stop will be lake Kournas, a freshwater lake located on the foothills of the White Mountains and surrounded by olive groves and vineyards. It is a 55-minute drive from Chania. The lake is renowned for its crystal clear waters, and visitors can take a boat ride to explore the surrounding area, while taking in the breathtaking views. The lake is also home to a variety of wildlife, including the endangered European water vole, and is a popular spot for fishing, swimming, and bird watching. In the summer months, visitors can enjoy a relaxing stroll along the lake’s shore and enjoy a picnic in the shade of the olive trees. There are also excellent fish restaurants.
While driving from Rethymno towards the south (45-minute drive from Lake Kournas), you will pass by the Kourtaliotiko gorge. What you can’t see from the road is that this is a place straight out of a fairytale! With waterfalls from the cliffs of the gorge that you can swim in. Park your vehicle where it says ‘Church of Saint Nicholas’ on Google Maps. Walk down a few hundred steps of the stairs. At some point you can go left and right. The left stairs go to a point where you can see the waterfalls from above, so you see the water pouring into the canyon. The right ones go to the place where you can swim through the canyon towards this point. The last part involves a little bit of climbing over some rocks and pipelines. Remember to bring swimwear and dry clothes. The water is only 8C so it is cold. but not so cold that your body doesn’t get used to it. But on a windy day you might want to put on your dry clothes directly after swimming. To get to this point you have to swim maybe 50 meters, because at that point the canyon is deep and you can’t stand. But after these 50 meters, you can stand again. So be sure to be able to swim and to put your phone in a waterproof case!
Preveli beach is where the Kourtaliotis river flows into the sea. So it is basically the end of the Kourtaliotiko gorge and just a short, 15-minute drive from the waterfalls you visited earlier. And it has a palm tree forest right on the beach with 10 acres of palm trees! You can park your car on the parking lot above the beach for 2 euros (2021), and walk down in 20 minutes. It means (again) hundreds of stairs though. You can also drive straight to Plakias as there are boat trips from there and other nearby coastal villages. Or you can hike all the way through the gorge to the beach! Beware: it is crowded as it is famous and popular. There is a café on the beach. Some other fun facts about the beach you can read on an information sign on the beach:
– Pirates use to stop over here for fresh water
– The homo erectus might have lived here 130.000 years ago
– It was a favorite destination of hippies some decades ago
If this activity is too much for one day, you can postpone Preveli beach and do it on day 3.
The laid back coastal village of Plakias will be your end station for the day. It is a relaxed place with a fabulous sunset and some nice tavernas and shops on the boulevard. I would definitely recommend taverna Christos. It has the best sunset view and the traditional Greek food is cheap and delicious.
After a very full day 2, today is a day to take it a little bit easier. The area of Plakias has some amazing, secluded beaches on a 10 to 30-minute drive, that you should definitely explore. If day 2 was too full, you can also decide on doing a boat trip to Preveli on day 3 instead of going there on day 2. If you do that, be sure though to check out at least Calypso beach as well.
This is a stunning beach sandwiched between high rock formations. It has crystal clear waters and is the perfect place to enjoy snorkeling or take a professional diving course. There is a diving center on the beach. There is an old resort on this beach, but you don’t have to stay in this resort to access the beach. Although in summer it might be full with hotel guests from early morning.
These are 3 amazing little bays with white sand and blue waters close to Plakias. In high season they tend to be organized and at least one of them is worth a visit. Kleisidi beach in my opinion is the most beautiful.
You will spend the night again in Plakias.
Day 4 is a very full day again. You’re going to drive further west on the Cretan south coast, and in the end make the drive up again to the north-west to be in a good position for the activities of day 5. So the best thing is to leave as early as possible.
From Plakias, leave in the direction of Chora Sfakion. After a 45-minute drive you will make your first stop.
Frangokastello beach will be your first (short) stop. The Venetian castle on the beach has been completed in 1374. It was initially called St. Nikitas after a nearby church. But locals persistently called it ‘Castle of the Frank’s’ and that’s how it got its final name. There is a myth to this castle. Around the anniversary of the battle of independence each May, shadows of the armed Cretan and Epirote soldiers who lost their lives there seem to march towards the fortress around dawn. These ‘Drosoulites’, or dew-men, in reality are caused by the (position) of the sun and how the light falls onto the castle that time of the year. On the left side of the castle I found another building that made a perfect photo spot due to the high grass (see picture below). After a short stop to check out this castle (maybe drink or eat something at the taverna on the beach) you will continue towards Chora Sfakion.
Chora Sfakion is not a destination on this day, but the endpoint of the ‘main’ south road from which you have to decide how you want to get to Loutro, the main attraction of the day. Loutro is a very very picturesque village (whitewashed houses and streets) that is very peaceful and far away from any hustle and bustle, because you can only reach it by boat or hike. People go here to do absolutely nothing except from swimming, eating and sleeping. You got to see it with your own eyes. There are 3 ways to reach it.
Boats leave regularly from Chora Sfakion, for instance with Anendyk The journey takes about 20 minutes and costs € 8,- at the moment of writing (2023). It is probably the fastest and most convenient way.
I won’t get in to this option in detail here, but you can start a very challenging hike all the way from Chora Sfakion or drive up a windy road to Anopoli and start from there. This will take you at least 2 hours one way.
This is what we did because at the time, we weren’t able to take a boat due to COVID-regulations. There are few big benefits to this and also a few negative points. The negative point is that the drive to Finikas takes one hour and is a challenging one with extremely windy and steeps roads (and a small part of it is a dirt road). After the drive, you have to do the 25-minute hike to Loutro of course. The benefits however are that you can decide how long you want to stay in Loutro yourself and that you see some amazing things on the way to Finikas that most tourists will NEVER get to see. First, you’ll pass by Anapoli, which is a traditional mountain village with some amazing traditional tavernas. After 40 minutes and just before you start your descend to Finikas, you will pass the Aradena gorge and bridge on your right. The MESMERIZING bridge was constructed in 1986 and consists of a steel construction and wooden planks. It therefore makes a terrifying (or so I believe) sound when a car or truck (even worse) crosses it. But the Greeks have no fear of this bridge as they casually cross it with 50+ km per hour. I couldn’t listen to it. Next to the bridge you can find a path/stairs that leads you down into the gorge. There is also a coffee place next to the bridge. Though it is on the other side so you’d have to cross it, haha. When you arrive at Finikas you can park at the hotel and restaurant ‘The Old Phoenix’. From this taverna there are 2 walking routes to Loutro, a shorter but steeper one (700 m) and a longer but more relaxed one (1300 m), which is more of a path around the cliffs of the peninsula. We took both (one while going there and the other one while coming back). On the shorter one you’ll pass by the nice ruins of an old Turkish castle, and you have the most amazing view of Loutro from right above. The longer path passes by a white church on the cliffs and gives you a nice view of the coastline. Of course, you can also visit Loutro by boat and do a 1-hour walk around the peninsula before leaving by boat again. But you’ll miss out on the Aradena bridge.
If you can make it to Loutro around (late) lunchtime, you can have a nice swim and meal there and leave on time again to make the drive up north. Take the road next to the Imbros gorge and enjoy some amazing views. Next:
This village is worth a stop because a river flows right through the heart of the village. This is about 50 minutes from Chora Sfakion, meaning 1 hour and 50 minutes if you’re coming back from Finikas.
And go directly to your accommodation to rest 😊.
You will spend the night in Kissamos, after you’ve already had dinner in Vryses
We stayed at Arodamos Apartments & Suites, which I would DEFINITELY recommend. The biggest and most modern room we ever had for just € 35 per night (in October 2023). They also offer an apartment with pivate pool. The garden is beautiful and the location is very convenient, near the main road but not noisy. You won’t spend much time in your room anyway if you follow this itinerary so it’s very good to be on the main road within seconds.
The question haunting me on this trip was: how can I squeeze in and visit the must-see beaches of Falasarna, Balos and Elafonisi? Unfortunately I found out the answer to late (so I had to skip Balos) but I do have the answer for you!
On day 5, you will drive to Falasarna beach. After the hours of driving of day 4, this is just a relaxed, 20-minute drive. Falasarna is an enormous beach with the clearest blue waters, the most amazing sunset and is also super organized. So
Then, walk to the stand of Falasarna Activities on the beach. They offer Jet Ski Safaris and cruises with a small boat to Balos from Falasarna. Yes, this opton is more expensive than driving and hiking to Balos or taking a boat tour from Kissamos. But it is the only way in my opinion to combine both beaches and have a more relaxed day. Going by jet ski or speed boat from Falasarna is way faster and ensures you can relax the rest of the day on a comfortable bed on a beach that is way more suitable for that and for swimming.
The other option for this day then is of course skipping Falasarna and taking a boat tour from Kissamos to Balos, or driving there (40-minute drive partly on a dirt road) and hiking down.
In the evening you can have dinner in Kissamos on the cute boulevard. We had fish with some locals (so you know it’s good) at FIshTavern1960. Alternatively, on your way back from Falasarna or Balos, you can have lunch at the renowned Gramboussa restaurant or Taverna Spilios, the latter overlooking Falasarna beach. Both locals and tourists agree that these are 2 places that serve amazing food and are great to sit at in terms of location.
You will spend the night in Kissamos again.
Of course we needed to keep some of the best for last. Day 7 is the day to drive down to one of the most famous places in Crete, Elafonisi. It gets extremely crowded and the road to Elafonisi as well. Even in October this was the case. So leave early!
I totally recommend 2 to 3 short stops on the way to Elafonisi because there are so many interesting things to see!
A weird and beautiful geological phenomenon, often referred to as the Cappadocia or Arizona of Greece. But what are they? They are 7️million years (!!) old ‘clay’ hills that have shaped this way due to weather conditions throughout the centuries. Dutch researchers found fossils of 15-meter sharks that lived over 7 million years ago within this landscape. That is because around 10 million years ago, this part of Crete (before the Mediterranean Sea took its current shape) was under water. The funny thing is that they are ‘naked’ except for their tops that have plans on them, making them look like the humps of camels. Whenever the weather is warm & dry, you can climb these hills and play around. When it has rained, all is of course muddy. Just park your car on the side of the road, and whatever you do, please respect the nature.
And try a traditional Sfakian pie, which is a crepe with feta and honey inside! There is a taverna in Topolia with a spectacular view of the valley below, it is called Spilaraki.
Of course you can also decide to head straight to Elafonisi and make these stops on the way back.
It is a one hour drive to Elafonisi beach:
This is in fact a lagoon where the water is shallow and crystal clear and the sand is white and pink. Pink because of crushed pink shells and organisms that wash up on the beach There is lots and lots of parking space available (biggest parking lot in Greece I have ever seen) but even that fills up. If you go early you can park closest to the beach, you have more space and can take pictures without anyone on it. AND the pink sand seems to be more clearly visible in the morning, before many have walked on the beach. Also, don’t sit where everybody sits. Walk over to where it says ‘Elafonisi south beach’ on google maps. There are no sunbeds here but it is more quiet and the water is more beautiful.
Because of the crowds and the prices at Elafonisi, I actually recommend you to have a walk around and a swim on the ‘south beach’ on the other side of the little island. And then leave again. Why? Next to Elafonisi is a stunning, secret beach with the exact same water and pink sand that is not organized and doesn’t get many visitors. It is called Kedrodasos.
The parking place for this beach is a few minutes drive from Elafonisi beach. Then you need to walk/hike 15 minutes on a path down to the beach. But it is definitely worth is, since it is a true hidden gem. It is unorganized however, but has lots of stunning trees that provide shade. I advise spending the afternoon here.
After your visit to Kedrodasos beach, you will head back north. You can decide whether to stay in Kissamos again for the night or drive straight back to Chania (which is worth it so you have the full day in Chania from the next morning). For the recommended hotels in Chania, check day 1.
Day 7 is the day to fully explore the city of Chania. Start with a delicious continental breakfast at one of the places I suggest below.
Have a stroll through all the alleys of the old town, do some (souvenir) shopping. Also, you can’t miss out on the Old Chania Market (although at the time of writing it is closed for renovation), which is more of a ‘souk’.
For dinner, walk east alongside the coast. First you will pass by Koum Kapi beach first. When holiday goers in Chania want a swim they ususally walk to the left, to Nea Chora beach. But if you walk to the right, you will end up in Koum Kapi, where you can drink and swim with the locals. It used to be a neighbourhood for Bedouin immigrants, who lived in huts. But these have now been replaced with trendy cafés and bars. And WHY arent’s these changing rooms super Insta famous yet? Perfect spot for pictures!
Continue your walk on the coastal path and you will end up in Tabakaria.
Tabakaria is an area full of deserted tanneries -> leather factories, on a lovely 10-15 minutes walk alongside the coast from Chania’s city center. It is as if time stood still, with used equipment still inside. Raw, and interesting to wonder around at. Read more about the history online before you visit and find out that the neighborhood was built ‘far’ from the city center to prevent the inhabitants from smelling the factories all the time. It is now very quickly becoming a well know romantic dining spot. Not hard to understand why. The scene at Thalassino Ageri restaurant could literally be a movie set, and the sunset view is amazing!
You will spend your last night in Chania, for which I have made hotels suggestions below.
Other options for eating and drinking in Chania are discussed below.
I have made a TikTok video with the best breakfast / lunch / brunch spots in Chania. Check it out below.
I would like to add Bougatsa Iordanis to the list. Bougatsa is a pie with phyllo pastry that can be filled with either sweet cream (and cinnamon and icing sugar on top), or savory things such a spinach and feta. Bougatsa Iordanis is very famous for it because they still make it the traditional way. Gordon Ramsey even came to this shop to learn it from the best.
Crete is almost a country in itself and has so many traditions going on that you can’t count them. Lots and lots of Greek dishes have their origin in Crete, some of which you can hardly find outside of the island and some of which are available (but less good) all over the country. In the video below I name 5 traditional Cretan foods you HAVE to try on your visit.
Thank you very much for reading this guide to West-Crete with a 7-day itinerary along the highlights of West-Crete and Chania. I hope it helped and you will enjoy your holidays in West-Crete.
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