We have been everywhere on Crete, picked out the best of the best and created this Crete itinerary. Here you will find world wonders, routes off the beaten path, the most spectacular views, traditional villages, hidden beaches and amazing trails through the beautiful gorges of the island.
Let´s say you landed in Chania. You rent a car, maybe take a look at the town (it is not bad) or maybe you postpone sightseeing to a later day. Either way: don´t stay here for too long.
We’d recommend you to go straight to the north-western part of the island. Here is our first pick: the village of Afrata. Afrata is just a place that embodies everything that we love about Crete: narrow white streets, old houses, flowers everywhere and the scent of flowers in the air. Still, it is far away from the main tourist routes.
[Tip: In Afrata, you may stay at Robin´s Nest B&B and enjoy a beautiful view over the sea. You will love the breakfast there: local yoghurt, honey and fresh orange juice.]
The small beach down the road is likely to be almost empty. Or head to the bigger Ravdoucha or Phalassarna Beaches further west.
Here, on the western shores, you may also find the most splendid and famous sand beaches of Crete: Elafonisi and Balos.
[Tip: A dirt road leads to the Balos Lagoon, make sure your car has a good ground clearance!]
The serpentine road along the west coast with some jaw-dropping views of the sea is a great sight itself.
We found Auto Europe easy to use and it offered us the best deal.
The road from Paleochora to Sougia offers some great views as well. However, the towns of Paleochora and Sougia didn´t impress us that much. I would recommend looking for a nice Airbnb in the hills by the coast if you happen to stay here for the night.
If you are not short on time, get to Agia Roumeli from Sougia by boat and trek the biggest and most beautiful canyon of the island – Samaria Gorge for some days. There is also a smaller, less famous but not less beautiful gorge near Sougia – Agia Irini. If you don´t have extra days to spend for trekking, a short walk in Agia Irini might be a good alternative.
Back in Sougia, take a ferry to Hora Sfakiaon – this time with your car. Shipping a car with the ferry is not expensive. This little town would charm you with its tiny chapels by the sea.
From Hora Sfakiaon, you may do a great day trip to Loutro. You may have seen pictures of a small white and blue town nestling under a cliff – it`s Loutro. But it is better to see it with your own eyes. Loutro has a number of small and cosy hotels and hence is also a great place to spend a night at.
On the way from Hora Sfakiaon to Loutro, you reach one of my favourite spots in Crete: the picturesque ruins of Araden Church. you may spend hours here enjoying the peace and the quietness of this historic place with only goats as companions.
On the next day aim for the Preveli Monastery. You may take either a faster road along the coast via Korakas or if you have some time to spare, take a detour and drive inwards the island. From the hills, you would have a fantastic view over both coasts of Crete. The green meadows, the old villages and herds of sheep will make you love the place.
When you see Preveli Monastery, we promise, you won´t be disappointed. It boasts a great location over the ultramarine sea, beautiful architecture and a splendid interior of the churches. In April, you would have the poppy fields around the monastery that would add to its parlour.
A scenic descent to a gorgeous beach close to the monastery and a short walk in the palm forest by the beach would top off the great day you had. You may want to stay in a basic cheap hotel by the palm forest – we preferred it to the overrun and rather plain Plakias. If you do stay in Plakias, choose one of the hotels situated above the town.
Alternatively go through Kourtaliotiko Gorge to Lampini, an old town with another very old and beautiful church. Lampini is a good base for exploring the scenic atmospheric villages around: Gerakari, Amari, Monastiraki. Plan a couple of days as this region really is a gem!
[Tip: In November 2014, we really enjoyed staying at the hotel Aoritis Villas. On the dark November evenings, its owner used to pop into for a drink and a chat and his wife made delicious cakes we had for breakfast.]
If it is the time for you to get home, you may turn northwards towards Rethymno. Do stop on the way at the famous Arkadi Monastery and Amari monastery.
Once on the highway, you would reach Chania in just a couple of hours.
If you plan to go further to the east, aim for Heraklion and stop at the beautiful small town of Zaros and check the Rouvas Forest and its gorgeous gorge.
These travel tips will help you discover the best on Crete
Read more about the island in the Lonely Planet Crete edition.
Want to learn more about Knossos on Crete?
Crete is a sunny destination! Do not forget to pack sunscreen!
If you land in Heraklion and want to explore the eastern part of the island, check our next blog post – The best Crete itinerary: Eastern Crete!