Let’s face it. Greece is probably the most beautiful place in the world. And of all the places in Greece I’ve been to, Crete is probably the MOST beautiful. So does that mean that Crete is the most beautiful place in the world? Whaaaat. It just might be!
The biggest island in Greece (by far), Crete offers a mountainous interior with a beachy border. As an outdoor lover you can get the best of both worlds. There is rich history in places like Knossos and port cities with exceptional food like Chania and Heraklion. Above all, Crete has some of the most unique and beautiful beaches on the planet.
1. Elafonisi Beach
This beach is pure paradise. That’s the only way really to describe it. Warm and shallow water. Soft and pink sand. Yeah, it’s pink sometimes. The crowded beach forms a sort of lagoon - which is why it’s also referred to as Elafonisi Lagoon. The drive to the beach from Chania can be a little tricky and not for the faint of heart, but the reward is a perfect day out at the beach.
The only downside of Elafonisi is the wind. It started getting wildly windy when I visited and by the late afternoon visitors were flocking for their cars to avoid flying sand. A small price to pay for an otherwise unforgettable day in paradise.
2. Seitan Limania Beach
In terms of memorable and unique beaches, the hard-to-find Seitan Limania has got to be at the top. Not receiving as much attention as Elafonisi or Balos, this hidden gem lies about 30 minutes away from Chania on the northern end of Crete and you’ll need a car to get there.
The drive down to the beach parking contains a multitude of pinpoint switchbacks with very drop offs, so caution is advised while driving in. This beach is not for everyone as it also requires a difficult hike down a very rocky and potentially dangerous path to reach the water. But the rewards are magnificent.
The little cove provides a great swimming area with plenty of options to jump off the rocks into the warm water. The beach attracts a lot of natives and Eastern European travelers: I did not encounter any American tourists at this beach.
Beware of the goats: the beach is filled with goats whose sole purpose is to terrorize the beach-goers. Don’t leave your food out unattended if you go into the water as they WILL find it. They may even pry it out right from your hands. BUT you can always use this to your advantage to get a goat beach selfie.
3. Balos Beach
Possibly the most iconic beach in Crete, Balos Lagoon is must see. Less than a 45 minute drive from Chania, you will need to take a boat to the magical beach. Get there early to enjoy the turquoise waters and white sand as the beach tends to get crowded.
There are a few ways to get to the beach. The most practical and popular is to take a boat there for a full day experience. This is what I planned on doing when I visited but as we were on the boat waiting to take off, the captain came over the speakers and informed us that the wind was too strong and all boat rides that day would be cancelled. So wind can be a factor in getting to the beach.
Other options of getting to the beach include hiking 6 miles from Kaliviani along a rocky path, or driving along a very bumpy road and parking near the top (if you can find a spot) and hiking 30 minutes down to the beach. I unfortunately did not get a chance to visit Balos due to the circumstances but if I ever go back to Crete it is at the top of my list.
4. Samaria Gorge
Crete isn’t all about beaches. The rocky interior provides some jaw dropping scenery including the Samaria Gorge. Located just 25 miles from Chania, the gorge is perfect for adventurers looking to get in some exercise. The world renown hike is 10 miles long and takes about 5-6 hours to complete. Pass through one of Europe’s longest canyons and finish at the black sand beach of Agia Roumeli, located on the Libyan Sea.
If you plan to hike the gorge, it is advised not to drive a car as it is generally considered a one-way hike. Rather, take a bus from Chania to the trailhead. At the end of the hike you reach the Libyan Sea where you will take a boat to the town Chora Sfakion. Here you can take the bus back to Chania. Day tours can also be arranged.
The capital of Crete until 1971, Chania is the second largest city on the Greek island. The city boasts a picturesque Ventian port lined with an abundance of delicious restaurant options. The food I had in Chania is some of the best I’ve ever had in my life. Take a stroll through the narrow, winding old town streets or walk along the seawall to the lighthouse.
Chania is the perfect area to base your Crete trip as it is within close driving distance to Elafonisi beach, Balos beach, Seitan Limania beach, Lake Kournas, Falassarna beach, and the Samaria Gorge. After a day at the beach, the port of Chania is the perfect spot to end the evening for a nice dinner by the water and a walk along the twinkling harbor.
If history is an interest or passion of yours, this might be number one on your list. The center of the Minoan Civilization, Knossos is often referred to as “Europe’s Oldest City”. Admire the famous Bronze Age palace while taking a tour of the ruins.
Located minutes away from the island’s capital, spend a few days in Heraklion and soak up the venetian harbour. If you want to expand your ancient Greece knowledge, Heraklion also has the Heraklion Archeological Museum and the Historical Museum of Crete.
7. Lake Kournas
Another lesser known gem on Crete is Lake Kournas. If you are looking for a beach vibe set in the mountains, this is your spot. With tons of little beach shops lining the path down to the sand, you wouldn’t imagine this is in fact a lake and not the ocean. Only a 45 minute drive from Chania makes this a great day trip destination.
Lake Kournas has a gorgeous mountainous backdrop, warm waters, and plenty of options for entertainment on the water. Rent a canoe or pontoon boat, hang at the local beach bars, or take a swim without fear of getting eaten by a shark. Because it’s a lake. I would highly recommend this day trip as the drive to the beach is also stunning in its own right.
8. Falassarna Beach
Another beautiful beach in the Chania area, Falassarna offers wide sandy beaches with warm, shallow waters. The long beach is fully serviced with lounge chairs, bars, and snack stands. With a beautiful mountainous backdrop, this is also a popular area for snorkelers and windsurfers.
With hundreds of Greek islands to choose from, Crete offers some of the most beautiful and unique beaches in all of Europe. From exploring one of Europe’s oldest civilizations to hiking the world famous Samaria Gorge, Crete is a destination that should be on everyone’s bucket list.