There are many beautiful towns and villages on Crete Island, each of which has its own unique history and charm. While most travellers know of Heraklion, Chania, and Rethymno, you’d hardly experience the true Cretan lifestyle at these well-developed coastal towns. Head further towards the eastern or southern ends of the island to find traditional villages steeped in ancient Greek mythology.

    Crete's accommodation options include charming boutique hotels in historical Venetian mansions, spa hotels, all-inclusive resorts designed for family fun, and self-catering apartment complexes. A beach hotel with a big pool is a priority for most travellers, especially during the summer. There are tranquil rural inns in the hills as well as friendly, family-run guesthouses in out-of-the-way harbour villages. Here's where to stay in Crete.



    Crete’s underrated capital

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    Heraklion, which has a marina and international airport, is usually the first stop for most travellers to the island. The capital city of Crete Island is very modern, though you can also get a feel for everyday island life by strolling along its waterfront and miles of sandy beaches.

    If ancient Knossos is on your bucket list (as it should be), staying in the Old Town makes it easy to get there ahead of the crowds. Most of Heraklion's museums and major monuments are easily accessible on foot, as many streets around the city centre are pedestrianised and free from traffic. One of Heraklion's most important landmarks is the Koules Fortress at the Venetian harbour.

    Location: Heraklion, Greece


    Rethymno (Rethimno)

    A traditional setting with mansions and churches

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    Rethymno lies on the northern coast of Crete, offering a mix of modern amenities and historic landmarks. You can find a wide choice of boutique hotels occupying buildings in the Old Town, while sea-facing hotels dot a long sandy crescent stretching from the east end of Rethymno.

    The city has a rather traditional style, where you can explore Venetian fortifications and mansions, orthodox and catholic churches, and mosques. Rethymno's Venetian harbour hosts a lively scene of docked fishing boats, along with tavernas, cafés and bars with excellent sea views. Plan a day trip to the outskirts of Rethymno to explore the spectacular Mili Gorge, Arkadi Monastery, and the mountains of Psiloritis and Lefka Ori.

    Location: Rethymno 741 00, Greece



    Sunbathe and swim at its 2-km-long beach

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    Malia has a long main road that divides the town into 2 areas – the Old Town and the 2-km-long Malia Beach. Most travellers are naturally drawn to the wide but busy beach, which has sunbeds, umbrellas and water sports, as well as a lively nightlife scene.

    For something a little more laidback, the Old Town of Malia has narrow streets and courtyards lined with old houses and beautiful gardens. Must-sees include the central church of St. Nektarios, the church of Panagia Galatiani, and Agios Ioannis, which dates from the Venetian period. Malia is around 33 km east of Heraklion – you can get there by taking a bus that departs from the Heraklion Port Passenger Station.

    Location: Malia, Crete 700 07, Greece



    Pristine beaches and old-fashion market streets

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    Chania is the 2nd-largest city on Crete, with plenty of attractions that are within walking distance of each other. There's a decent beach with café/bars that’s within a 10-minute bus ride from the town centre. During the summer, it’s often packed with travellers looking to swim, sunbathe, and enjoy water sports during their holiday. You can also find several beaches west of town, around Agia Marina, and east to Kalami and Kalives, on Souda Bay.

    Shopping in old-fashioned market streets, relaxing in a harbourside café and after-dinner bar-hopping are some of the most popular things to do in Chania. You can also check out the Archaeological Museum of Chania, which occupies the former Venetian Monastery of Saint Francis. Nature lovers can plan a trip to the White Mountains, which looms on Chania’s southern horizon.

    Location: Chania, Greece



    For wealthy sunseekers

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    Elounda is a seaside holiday destination with excellent views over the Gulf of Mirabello. Located on the northern coast of Crete, it has many hotels offering suites with private pools or whirlpools, spas and wellness centres. Some of Elounda’s most important sites include Olous – an ancient sunken city of ancient Crete – and the Venetian Fortress on the nearby island of Spinalonga.

    In this small town, you’ll find miles of private beaches and semi-tropical gardens that look like they belong in the Caribbean instead of Greece. Elounda is also an excellent base for exploring eastern Crete – ideally, of course, in a chauffeured car or aboard a private yacht. The town is within an hour-long drive from Heraklion Airport and Port.

    Location: Eloúnda, Greece



    A tiny village with a temperate climate

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    Spili is a picturesque village that stands at 450 metres above sea level, between 2 cliff faces at the foot of Mount Kedro. It enjoys a rather mild climate, even during summer, resulting in a very green and cosy atmosphere. You can stroll along cobblestoned streets to find tiny shops selling regional goods and herbs, as well as local cafés offering excellent coffee and snacks.

    There’s very little sightseeing in Spili besides the Holy Metropolis of Lámbi, Sívritos and Sfakià and the Folk Museum of Spili. It’s often a stopover for those heading to Rethymno, which is around 31 km to the north.

    Location: Spili 740 53, Greece


    Agios Nikolaos

    A sleepy town with a waterfront boulevard

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    Agios Nikolaos is a sleepy coastal town that was a prominent resort of Crete in the 1970s. It’s still rather popular among travellers looking to escape summertime crowds of busier towns like Heraklion. There are plenty of mid-sized, affordable hotels around the Voulismeni lagoon and along Akti Koundourou, the waterfront boulevard north of the harbour.

    You'll find some more expensive resort hotels with pools, gardens, and beach access on the northern outskirts of Agios Nikolaos, but still within walking distance of the town centre. The town has many archaeological sites – the Ancient City of Lato is one of Greece’s best-preserved cities of the classical Hellenistic period, while the late-Minoan ruins of Vrokastro can be found on a steep slope near Kalo Chorio.

    Location: Agios Nikolaos, Greece



    Surrounded by lush gorges, mountains, and beaches

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    Loutro is a remote seaside village in west Crete, close to Samaria Gorge. The town is car-free since no roads lead to it – the only way to get there is by boat. Thanks to its rather traditional style, you get a glimpse into true Cretan life that’s hardly visible in other towns on the island.

    Surrounded by gorges and mountains, Loutro enjoys a mild climate. Hikers often explore Samaria and Imbros Gorge during the summer, but there are several beaches – Sweetwater and Marmara – offering sunbeds and umbrellas for hire. Loutro is around 24 km east of Hora Sfakion, which also makes for a nice stop if you’re in the area.

    Location: Loutro, 730 11, Greece


    Hora Sfakion

    Enjoy miles of trails and sand on Crete’s south coast

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    Hora Sfakion is on the southern coast of Crete, towards the 11-km-long Imbros Gorge. Located around 74 km south of Chania, you can get there via a scenic route that passes the White Mountains of Crete. This small fishing village has beautiful beaches like Sweetwater, Marmara and Vrisi Beach. Especially in the summer, Sfakia Port often receives many boats ferrying hikers looking to explore Imbros and the nearby Samaria Gorge. You can also take a boat to neighbouring towns like Loutro and the island of Gavdos.

    Hora Sfakion’s main harbourfront is one of its busiest areas, where you can find many tavernas, restaurants, cafés and bars serving local specialities. A must-try is Sfakian pie, which is made with fresh cheese and honey.

    Location: Hora Sfakion, Greece



    A village steeped in Greek mythology

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    The hilltop Anogia village lies at an altitude of around 700 metres, on the northern side of Mount Psiloritis. Parts of the municipality are often mentioned in Greek mythology – Ideon Andron is a cave where Zeus was raised, while Nida Plateau was where the goddess Demeter fell in love with a mortal named Iasion.

    During the summer months, Saint George Square in central Anogia hosts many musical and theatrical performances. Iakinthia (or Yakinthia) is an annual cultural festival that takes place in July at a temple dedicated to Saint Hyacinth. Don’t miss out on roast lamb when you’re in Anogia – this region is also known for its quality breeding and authentic recipes.

    Location: Anogia, Rethymno 740 51, Greece



    Over 11 km of beaches facing the Libyan Sea

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    Palaiochora occupies a beautiful peninsula on Crete’s southwestern coast. Spanning an 11-km-long coastline that borders the Libyan Sea, this laidback town attracts those looking to enjoy water sports and relax on pristine beaches. Some of its most popular beaches include Pachia Ammos, Chalikia and Pahia Ammos.

    The town is on the European E4 hiking trail, which results in a wide range of accommodation, dining options and artisan shops. A stroll through its pedestrian-friendly streets will take you to whitewashed buildings and beautiful courtyards. From Palaiochora’s port, ferries can take you to nearby Crete towns such as Hora Sfakion, Sougia and Loutro, as well as the islands of Elafonisi and Gavdos.

    Location: Palaiochora, Greece

    Penny Wong | Compulsive Traveller

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