A Road Trip Itinerary for Crete, Greece
Crete is the largest of the Greek Islands, suspended beneath Greece in the Mediterranean, just north of Egypt and Libya. The island has been the centre of human civilization for thousands of years, beginning in the neolithic era in 10,000 BC. Since then, Crete has been ruled by a number of civilizations, including the Minoans, the Doric, the Ancient Greek, the Byzantines, the Venetians, and the Ottoman Empire. As a result, Crete offers an incredible patchwork of history, culture, architecture, art, and cuisine.
From my experience, Crete is best explored by car. Today, I’m sharing a one week itinerary that will take you on an unforgettable road trip around the island, beginning in the northwest, then heading west along the southern coast, and finally looping east along the north shore.
Warning: this road trip is not for the faint of heart. We drove nearly 1400km in one week, but it never once felt like too much. I’d attribute that to beautiful views, good music, and great company.
So grab your car keys, role down the windows, turn up the music, and let’s go!
Day 1: Elafonissi
Welcome to Crete! Hurry up and load your luggage into your rental car so we can hit the beach. Elafonissi, arguably one of Crete’s most beautiful beaches, is the ideal place to spend the day after a morning of travel. Enjoy the wide open sand bar or search for a sheltered cove for more privacy. Elafonissi is known for its crystal clear water and pink sand, which is actually an accumulation of millions of crushed seashells.
Drive along the western coast of the island on the way to the beach, and inland through the Topolia Gorge on the way back to your accommodation on the northern shore.
Day 2: Hora Sfakion and Loutro
Set your alarm early because today is going to be a good one. Head southeast to the small coastal town of Hora Sfakion. From here, you can hike along the shore to the most picturesque village on the island, Loutro. There are a number of spectacular beaches to stop for a swim at along the way. Catch the ferry back to Hora Sfakion at sunset.
Driving time: 1.5 hours
Distance: 75 km
Stops along the way: Stop for coffee at one of several roadside cafes overlooking the Askifou Plateau
Day 3: Kapetaniana
Today is the day to escape from the more touristy areas of the island. High above the Libyan sea, nestled on the Asterousia mountains is a tiny village called Kapetaniana. Many of the village’s traditional stone houses have been converted into stunning guesthouses. The untouched landscape surrounding the village is rough, sunburnt, and beautiful.
Driving time: 3 hours
Distance: 135 km
Stops along the way: Anopoli, the ancient Minoan ruins of Phaitos, Lentas, Agios Nikaloas cave church
Day 4: Agios Nikalaos
After a day of relaxation in the Asterousia mountains, you’ll be ready to hit the town for some authentic Greek cuisine and music. Agios Nikalaos is a vibrant harbour town with plenty of shops, restaurants, and bars.
Day 5: Heraklion
After a night out in Agios Nikalaos, it’s time to head back east towards Chania. There a number of important landmarks to stop at along the way, so this may require some picking and choosing depending on your interests. The Archaeological Museum of Heraklion is a must-see, however.
Day 6: Balos Lagoon or the Samaria Gorge
It’s your last full day on Crete, so make the most of it. Balos Lagoon on the northwestern tip of the island is a stunning white sand beach that can be visited both by car or by ferry. The Samaria Gorge offers a great day trip alternative if you’re not in the mood for salt and sand.
Driving time: 1.5 hours
Distance: 55 km
Stops along the way: both the Balos Lagoon and the Samaria Gorge are full day trips
Day 7: Chania and Seitan Beach
Spend the morning exploring the narrow medieval laneways of Chania’s Old Town. Can you spot the Venetian architectural influences hidden amongst the many shops, restaurants, and cafes? Venice ruled the city on and off from the 1200s to 1400s, after the Byzantines and before the Ottomans.
Before catching your flight home, save some time to visit Seitan Limania beach, a long narrow inlet edged by steep cliffs, for one final dip in the sea.
Driving time: 50 minutes
Distance: 32 km
Stops along the way: These are your last hours in Crete, stop anywhere that catches your eye!
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