Crete is the largest of the Greek islands but with this 10-day itinerary you’ll get to visit many of the island’s top attractions and by visiting the capital city, towns, and both mountain and seaside villages will get a good understanding of how vast and beautiful Crete is. The best time to visit is in the Spring or Autumn (April-May or September-early October) as this allows you to avoid the worst of the heat as well as the worst of the crowds.
You might be interested in: The best time to visit Crete.
How to get to Crete
Between the months of April-October, there are regular direct flights from around Europe into Heraklion and Chania airport plus ferries arriving regularly into Heraklion and Chania from Piraeus plus into Heraklion from the islands of Mykonos, Paros, Naxos, Ios, and Santorini. Outside of the tourist season (November-March), there are daily ferries to Piraeus from Chania and Heraklion plus flights to Athens from Chania and Heraklion.
How to get around Crete
The public bus service has regular connections to the major cities and towns during the Summer months but to visit the villages and tourist attractions outside of the cities you’ll need to either take an organised coach trip or hire a car, the latter giving you the most freedom to explore.
Crete Itinerary – 10 Days in Crete
Crete Itinerary Day 1: Heraklion
Start your visit to Crete with a short city break to soak up the history and architecture of the capital city.
- Explore the Venetian Architecture – From the picturesque Venetian harbour with quaint fishing boats, the imposing 16th-century fortress, the Arsenal (Venetian dockyards), and the elegant Loggia building which was a noblemen’s club, not to mention the Lions Fountain and remains of the ancient city walls, Heraklion is awash with Venetian architecture!
- Museum of Ancient Greek Technology – Always wonder how the Ancient Greeks did things? This museum doesn’t only tell you, it shows you! See how the so-called miracles were performed at temples, the ancient wine-serving robot, and Europe’s first alarm clock invented by Plato.
- Historical Museum of Crete – Covering 1,700 years starting in the early Christian period and going up to the present day, learn about Crete’s most famous painter, El Greco, and the most famous writer, Nikos Kazantzakis who wrote Zorba the Greek. Along with an insight into daily village life, you’ll also learn about the resistance of the Cretans and Allies against the German occupation.
Where to Stay in Heraklion
GDM Megaron: With views overlooking the iconic Venetian port and Fortezza, this historic hotel dates back to 1925. Within walking distance of all the main sights, the prestigious hotel includes a health club and fine dining restaurant. Check here for more information and to book your room.
Atrion Hotel: A small yet modern hotel with light and airy décor, the Atrion is very close to the Historical Museum and is just 2 streets back from the promenade, perfect for an evening stroll. Check here for more information and to book your room.
You might want to check out: Things to do in Heraklion.
Crete Itinerary Day 2: Knossos and Archaeological Museum
- Knossos – Described as Europe’s oldest city, Knossos is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete located 5.5km outside of the city centre. With mostly reconstructed ruins, all of the archaeological finds housed at the Archaeological Musem in Heraklion, it’s recommended that you get a guided tour of Knossos for the best experience in understanding the history not just of the palace but of the Minoan’s as a civilisation too. One option is to book the Knossos Palace Skip-the-Line Entry with Guided Walking Tour which also includes entry to the Archaeological Museum.
- Archaeological Museum – See 5,500 years of Cretan history from the Neolithic period right through to Roman times including the findings from Knossos. Key Minoan pieces include the Phaistos Disk, the Leaping Bull fresco from Knossos Palace, and the statues of the Goddesses Of The Snakes.
Crete Itinerary Day 3: Day Trip to Agios Nikolaos or Elounda and Spinalonga Island
- Agios Nikolaos – The town of Agios Nikolaos is most loved for its picturesque lake that connects to the sea. Enjoy a snack at one one of the lakeside tavernas (the best views are from the top!) before looking round the shops or taking a walk along the picturesque seafront to see the Abduction of Europa statue and the Horn of Amalthea, a sculpture made of glass shaped like a wave.
- Elounda – A large fishing village that sits in the breathtaking Mirabello Bay known for the sunken city of Olous, Elounda is also one of the main access points to the island of Spinalonga.
- Spinalonga – Made famous by Victoria Hislop’s book ‘The Island’, visit the former leper colony and explore the ruins, admire the breathtaking views, and learn the history of this incredible place. From 1903-1957 it was used to hold people suffering from leprosy but its history goes back much further being fortified by the Venetians and a large trading centre during the Ottoman reign.
If you don’t have a car, you can take the public bus to Agios Nikolaos from Heraklion, catching another bus at Agios Nikolaos to Elounda where you can get the boat across to Spinalonga.
Alternatively, hop on a full-day coach and boat trip that has the added benefit of swim/snorkelling time and a BBQ lunch on board. Check here for more information and to book your trip.
Crete Itinerary Day 4: Rethymno
Wave goodbye to Heraklion and head to Rethymno, the 3rd largest city on the island. In the maze of picturesque backstreets in the old town you’ll see Ottoman, Venetian, and Greek neoclassical architecture.
- Museums – The Archaeological Museum of Rethymno, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Historical and Folk Art Museum, and the Paleontology Museum are all worth seeing if you’re a culture vulture.
- Rimondi Fountain – As you walk the old town’s shopping streets be sure not to miss the Rimondi Fountain, named after the Venetian Governor who built the fountain in 1626.
- Fortezza – Wander around Rethymno’s old citadel and admire the views out across the sea and the town. The vast fortezza was built in the 16th century by the Venetians and captured by the Ottomans in 1646.
- Lighthouse – Located by the old Venetian Port, the restored lighthouse in Rethymno is the second largest Egyptian lighthouse on the island (the largest being at Chania) built in 1830 after the Ottoman’s gave Crete to the Egyptians.
- Neratze Mosque and Kara Musa Pasha Mosque – Explore the Ottoman heritage of Rethymno, both of these mosques being former Venetian churches. Neratze Mosque has been restored recently so that you can see inside but Kara Musa Pasha with its fountain and graves is only visible from outside. Look up as you’re walking around the town noting the minarets rising high above the rooftops.
- Argyroupoli Springs and Ancient Lappa – If you have a hire car, make the 27km journey Southwest to the picturesque village of Argyroupoli. Ancient Lappa, in the upper part of the village was once a powerful Roman stronghold and is known for its Roman mosaic floor. Meanwhile, the lower part of the village (there are hiking trails between both parts of the village or you can drive) is famous for its waterfalls and springs with the restaurants serving up trout and meat from the spit.
Where to stay in Rethymno
Veneto Boutique Hotel: Located on the edge of Rethymno’s Old Town in a beautifully restored 14th-century building, the Veneto stays true to its name with original Venetian features. Click here for more information and to check the latest prices.
Rimondi Boutique Hotel: This small boutique-style hotel is located in the heart of the Old Town. With Turkish Bath and massage service, this luxury hotel is a great place to relax after a day of sightseeing. Click here for more information and to check the latest prices.
You might want to check: Things to do Rethymno.
Crete Itinerary Day 5: Trip to Arkadi Monastery, Preveli Monastery, and Preveli Beach
- Arkadi Monastery – This picturesque monastery with parts dating back to the 12th century is famous for the events that took place during the 1866 revolution – Cretan’s barricaded themselves into the monastery, preferring to kill themselves in a gunpowder explosion than be caught by the Ottomans.
- Previli Monastery – With an old lower monastery that dates back to the 2nd Byzantine period and a newer, still active, upper monastery, both of the Preveli monasteries are well worth stopping at before dropping down to the famous beach.
- Preveli Beach – Famous for the palm grove that you can walk through and the river that splits the beach into two before joining the Libyan sea, Preveli Beach is accessed by walking down 500 steps – Though a struggle coming back up, the views make it worthwhile!
If you don’t want to visit the monasteries you can access Preveli Beach via a boat trip over from Plakias or with a Jeep Safari tour.
Crete Itinerary Day 6: Chania
Pack your bags and head West to the 2nd largest city on the island. Pronounced ‘Hania’, there’s plenty to see and do in Chania’s picturesque old town.
- Venetian Waterfront – The jewel of Chania is its 14th century harbour with Egyptian lighthouse. You’ll also see the Mosque of Janissaries, the oldest Ottoman building on the island.
- Covered Market – Walk through the cruciform shaped market that was built between 1909-1913. Once filled with produce stalls, the market has now mostly been taken over by tourism but you can still see a couple of fish, meat, and cheese stalls.
- Museums – Choose from the Maritime Musem of Crete, the Archeological Museum of Chania, the Municipal Art Museum, the Folklore Museum, or, if you’ve got kids, visit Minoan World for a 9D experience taking you back in time!
Where to stay in Chania
Splanzia Boutique Hotel: Located in Chania’s maze of beautiful quiet backstreets in a restored Venetial building, the Splanzia boutique hotel is conveniently located for all that the city has to offer. Click here for more information and to check the latest prices.
Scale de Faro: A stylishly decorated hotel located right on the waterfront of Chania’s Old Town providing views out to the iconic lighthouse with all you could need within walking distance. Check here for more information and to book your room.
Check out: The best things to do in Chania.
Crete Itinerary Day 7: Trip to Balos Lagoon
One of the most famous and beautiful beaches on the island, Balos Lagoon truly is an exotic paradise with its shallow aquamarine waters and white sandy beach with small patches of pink sand. You can drive to Balos or get a boat trip from Kissamos, both options having their positives and negatives.
The drive to Balos is via an 8km long dirt track – A jeep is highly recommended for making the journey due to the many potholes in the road and it should be noted that hire car companies do not insure you to drive this road. Once you reach the parking area you have a 1km walk down 845 steps.
The views are stunning from the road and from the steps, nothing beats your first view of the lagoon! Boat trips are also available with a full-day tour from Chania – The boat trips allow you to visit the island of Gramvousa with its castle which you wouldn’t get to visit if driving but on the flip side, you miss the stunning birds-eye views overlooking the lagoon.
Crete Itinerary Day 8: Elafonisi Beach
Elafonisi Beach is loved for its pink sand though the sand is nowhere near as pink as the Photoshopped images would have you believe! Though remote, Elafonisi is easier to access than Balos both in terms of driving and walking since the car park backs on to the beach.
It’s also vast, not one beach but actually a series of beaches – cross the shallow water of the lagoon following the footpaths through the sand dunes and the soft sand and turquoise waters stretch out before you on the other side. If you don’t drive, day tours are available from Chania, just bear in mind that the time you’ll be on the coach can be longer than the time you’ll get on the beach!
Crete Itinerary Day 9: Hike Samaria Gorge
Hike 16km through the stunning national park which has 450 protected species of plant and animal of which 70 are endemic to Crete. The gorge starts in the White Mountains at an altitude of 1,230m and ends on the coast at Agia Roumeli.
It is possible to take the early morning public bus from Chania to the start of the gorge and then get the boat and another public bus to wherever you’re heading from the town of Chora Sfakion but it’s usually easier to book a day tour so you don’t have to worry about missed connections.
Half-day hikes are available which have you entering the gorge at the bottom then walking halfway before retracing your steps back to Agia Roumeli but if you think either of the hikes might be too strenuous for you, just enjoy the scenery by driving to Chora Sfakion and catching the boat across to visit the picturesque villages of Loutro and Agia Roumeli.
Crete Itinerary Day 10: Return Home
Head home, or to another Greek destination, out of Chania port or airport or from Heraklion port or airport after a short drive.