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11 Nights in Crete - 5 nights Chania Town as 1st base - others to add?

I have reviewed trip reports and have 2 travel guides that I have begun to read. My husband and I will be in Chania Town first. Appears to be a very beautiful place to walk around the harbor and great home base from which to explore Western Crete. Our interests are exploring historical sites, beaches, quaint villages., and to immerse ourselves in the culture/cuisine of Crete. We will go to the Herkalion Archaeological Museum and Palace of Knossos - should we plan on a second base to explore central/southern Crete? We plan to go in July and will have a rental car. We are in good shape and would also be open to do hiking, but not sure if I would want to do the Samaria Gorge, unless it is a "must do" experience.

I appreciate any advice that you may offer, and I will continue to investigate on my own!

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773 posts

I went to Crete in July 2018. But I only gave myself 3 days and two nights, in Heraklion and Chania. I am sure you could occupy yourself in Crete for at least 7 nights. I bought "the Rough Guide to Crete". "The Lonely Planet guide to Crete" might be a good guide too. I was only in Chania for a night. In Chania I saw the maritime museum. It had an exhibit on the Battle of Crete in World War II. If you only see one archaeology museum in Crete, you are right to see the one in Heraklion. The Knossos site was worth my time. Look up the Venetian fortress of Koules in Heraklion. I thought it was worth my time too. The structure has been professionally renovated, you can go inside and you can walk onto part of the roof and get an unobstructed view of the Mediterranean sea. Heraklion is quite under-rated by others on this site, maybe because it doesn't have a beach nearby and/or because there are few old buildings - most of the old buildings were destroyed in the Battle of Crete. I don't care much for beaches. Make sure you see the remains of the old city walls if you are going to walk in the town anyway. If you are not careful it is easy to get lost in the erratically planned maze of paths and streets in Heraklion but that's just part of the charm of walking in the town. If I had had more time I would have walked the Samaria Gorge, checked out the small archaeology museum in Rethymnon, and possibly seen another Minoan site. But you really have to have read about the Minoans or have a good imagination to appreciate the Minoan sites because in the pictures it looks like most or everything that was more than a few inches above ground is now missing or destroyed.

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While in Chania, we took a day-long trip that went up a gorge, not Samaria, and ended at Elafonisi beach. That beach is stunning, turquoise water and pink sand. The guide was very knowledgeable about the history and natural history of the area. I’m sure yourhotel can recommend something like that, if it interests you.
I should think that the Samaria Gorge hike would be too hot in July. It’s reputed to be quite challenging. I think what put us off from trying it was that we read that there is no alternative way out; i.e., you can’t do a shorter version, other than to figure out when you’ve reached half your limit and turn back.

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334 posts

I love Crete andwish I could spend more time there But not going to happen just yet. Asa guide book I recommend the Rough Guide for information on the many sites on the Island. He in Chania be sure and visit Aptera, a site that bears traces of Minoan, Mycenaean, Hellenic, Byzantine, Ottoman and WWII remains. It also has stunning views over Souda Bay. Try and visit Spinalonga Island near Ayios Nikolaos and visit the Venetian Fort on the Island. It was also occupied by the Ottomans and then was the lasteper colony in Europe. I found it very evocative and it is a lovely setting. Lots of places to stay .... From large resorts to small pensions.

I haven’t been to the southern side of Crete bu I understand there are lots og less touristy places than on the North coast.

Try and visit the site of Phaestos if you head south - It’s Knossos without the controversial reconstruction: I found It useful to see Knossos first but to me Phaestos is a more impressive site and also less visited.

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7682 posts

We spent two weeks in Chania, loved it there. But our Greek friends encouraged us to visit the south coast for a few nights. We drove to Chora Skafion and took a ferry to Loutro. It was remote, but there are hotels and restaurants, beach. We were so glad we included it.

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Thank you all for your great suggestions. I do have both the Rough Guide to Crete and the Lonely Planet guide for Crete - I just need to read them more carefully!
For the sites like the Palace of Knossos, would you suggest staying in Heraklion or in an area outside of Herkalion?

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773 posts

I stayed at the hotel "el Greko" in Heraklion. It isn't hi or low class. The place did the job perfectly. I didn't rent a car. I took the bus from a spot very close to the Archaeology museum to the Knossos site. I don't remember the details except that the ride was about 20 minutes and there was slow-moving traffic. If you rent a car, i guess you can stay inside or outside Heraklion, wherever has the best combination of price versus amenities versus good or bad neighborhood, without regard to proximity to the buses. I had good luck finding my hotels on booking.com. I don't or didn't pay attention to the hotels in the guidebooks.

Edit: I always try staying in or very close to the touristy or oldest historic neighborhoods of towns. For Knossos, you should stay in Heraklion and minimize the time and effort of having to drive and find parking spots.

Edit: I was in Crete in October 2018. I went to Italy in July 2017. Then I got wiser and started researching the weather in verious times of the year in places I want to travel to. Obviously you will survive Crete if you are there in July. Carry water if necessary and don't get dehydrated (or over-hydrated). Its not like people don't live there and visit in July too. July-August are the hottest time of the year in Crete.

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11 nights is a good amount of time to enjoy the highlights of Crete. I have been there several times as my wife was born in Chania. If I were bringing a friend to Crete for 11 nights this is what I might do.

Fly into Chania and take a taxi to the city. Stay in the old town area 3 nights. Explore the old town, harbor, Venetian ruins, and museums by foot as you get over jet lag and immerse yourself in Greek culture. A long walk or short bus or taxi ride will take you to some picturesque beaches. A car is unnecessary and parking is a nightmare!

Day 4 pick up a rental car and drive a short way west. From Agia Marina to Gerani is sandy beaches overdeveloped with modern hotels and restaurants. This makes a great base for the second 3 nights with much easier highway access than Chania. One day drive to Kissamos and walk around, then pick up lunch and dessert from a bakery, and go to the white sand beach of Paralia Falasarna. One day drive up into the mountains and explore villages. Best day: drive to Elafonissi Beach on the southwest corner of Crete. Absolutely spectacular. Google maps says one hour, but expect two.

Day 7 drive east of Chania and pick a small beach town between Rethimno and Heraklion for your next 3 day base. One day relax. One day explore Rethimno and its castle ruins. One day visit Knossos in the morning then the archeological museum in Heraklion.

Last two nights stay in Agios Nikolaos.

You have seen Crete!

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3681 posts

We did our Crete visit exactly opposite of your direction. We started in Heraklion, arriving by fast ferry from Santorini.

We stayed at the Lato Boutique Hotel (https://www.lato.gr/), within walking distance of the ferry dock at the port.

We took the bus to the Palace of Knossos. Of course there are lots of taxis more than willing to take you there.

The central bus stop was also within easy walking distance of our hotel. The amazing Archeaological Museum of Heraklion (https://heraklionmuseum.gr/) is at the same square.

Obviously, we like being in town.

It was at the port that we caught the long distance bus to Chania.

That trip was in 2014 and we enjoyed both locations.

The previous time I was there was in 1978. Yikes! I did go to the south side of the island, but it was a very different trip and time. What I mostly remember is the bus having to stop to remove rocks from the road.

Hmmm? 🤔 Come to think of it, the same thing happened on the 2014 trip, but that was on the road from Ermioni to Nafplio.

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35 posts

Once again, many thanks for your suggestions. We will incorporate your itineraries into our trip. We would have preferred to go in September or early October as we typically do for many of our European trips, but our work schedules would not allow that this year. That means we will spend more time at the beautiful beaches of Crete or in the mountains of Crete!

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1202 posts

The Two Faces of January is a thriller movie that was partially filmed on Crete. I've never been there but after watching the movie recently I'm ready to go. Have fun!

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984 posts

With 11 days I would concentrate on one side of the island. Crete is so large that you need a month to do the whole island and even at that you won't see it all.
I assume you will be flying into Chania and out of Heraklion?

We have visited Crete 10 times with a minimum of 14 days and the rest 21 to 28 days.
We fly into Chania. We try to get all the way to Chania on the same day as our transatlantic flight so we get over jet lag on the island rather than Athens.

You are correct Chania is a lovely place to wander around. be sure to find a hotel in the old town/harbour area. It is magical. You really do feel as if you have stepped back in time. Here are some images of the area where we stay.
Theotokopouluo Street https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157632118491316
Chania https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157632117917828

Unless you plan to do some day trips there is no need for a car for the first few days in Chania. Once you do get the car you can visit Ancient Aptera perhaps Falasarna with its great beaches plus an ancient site. Elafonissi is a highlight as is the excursion to Balos and Gramovossa two great beaches plus a pirate fortress to climb up to. The monastery of Agia Triada at Acroteri near the airport is also worth a visit. If you do all of these sites it will take you at least 4 days. Use Chania as a base during this time.

Gramovossa,Balos and Elafonissi https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157698932695812
Agia Triada https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157674450353888

You can travel east and spend a night or two in Rethymnon
Ancient Aptera near Chania and Meladoni Cave in Rethymnon area.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157672118379637
Rethymnon https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157654700502270

Continue to Herakion. find a hotel near the center. We stay at Kronos Hotel. Its across from the sea and the Castelo mentioned by Mike. Its a short walk to the centre where there is lots of evening people watching.

Castello Heraklion https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157686964935102
Heraklion https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157655935354556

Visit Knossos and the archaeological museum but then head south to Phastos and the biggest unknown highlight of the whole trip will be a visit to Gortyz. It was the Roman Capital of Crete. The archaeological site is spread out in olive groves and there are streets, the forum the Governors Pratorium, baths , amphitheatre and a temple all partially excavated. It feels like you have just found an archaeologists dream discovery.

Finish that day at the seaside village of Matala for some 1960 hippy vibe.
Gortyz https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157666456665788
Matala https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157687857502721

I have alternate options that are mostly remote beaches, mountain ranges, Lybian sea villages, ferry trips and an opportunity to do the bottom part of the Samaria Gorge which is flat.

Have fun planning.

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Thank you stanbr and other posters. Stanbr, I have seen many of your posts and photos- I definitely loved the ones of the archeological site in Gortyna - we will definitely visit!

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984 posts

I think you will really like Gortyz/Gorten. There is a gated site there with admission. Its a nice site, quite small and well maintained. When you leave the parking lot of that site walk along the road in the olive groves. You will be startled to see columns lying under the trees. The adventure starts as you continue walking in the olive groves.

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459 posts

We loved our apartment in Chania, in well-run Pandora Suites - hope they're still in business. All those great photos of the harbor & the little domed waterfront mosque (now a cinema) - that's our balcony above it! Roof terrace breakfast was icing on the cake. Chania's a great walking town. Don't miss the maritime (ancient) museum as well as the aforementioned naval with World War II history, & walking out of town on easy & wow-scenic cliff-edge paths. We rented a car for a couple of days to go to Heraklion etc, though parking was a pain back in Chania (big municipal lot past the far side of the harbor) (other hand, free). Good municipal market & Inka supermarket, take-away stands, bakeries, harborside see&be seen cafes with couches. July 2013 was hot but not suffocating in town (another advantage of a breeze-admitting balcony). Knossos was sun-beating-down-on-your-head; be prepared. This all makes me want to go back!

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For our late Sept.-early Oct. 2019 trip, we also used Rough Guide and Lonely Planet books for planning. For starters, one used different spelling for some places, which was actually helpful. Iraklio, Hania, and Festos, for example, are closer to how those places are actually pronounced, and if you’re not using the Greek alphabet anyway, they turned out to be better spellings for our purposes. You could find alternative spellings for a location in your research, too.

Anyway, we also started in Iraklio, and flew home from Hania. In between, we drove a basically clockwise route, including central, eastern, southeastern, and south-central parts of Crete, staying many places. Although we certainly didn’t see all of Crete, being in more than just those two biggest cities was rewarding and very worthwhile.

On a previous trip to Greece, we did a private guided tour of the ancient site and museum at Olympia with Nikki, Rick Steves’ prime guide who’s been featured in his TV shows. We e-mailed her about an expert for Knossos, and hired her recommendation, Maria. Increasingly, we’ve found guides really helpful at archaeological sights, especially at popular places. They help us get through, or away from crowds, and also can help with understanding the history and function of a structure that would otherwise just seem to be a pile of stones. Took taxi to Knossos, met Maria at the gate, then took the bus back. Iraklio was close to Knossos, and our hotel was just a short walk to the Archaeological museum.

Regarding the museum, late September wasn’t high tourist season, but I’d have to think that July will have more crowds. Still, we learned that at least one huge cruise ship had arrived, and wave after wave of ship tour groups flooded into the room with the incredible frescoes from the Knossos palace, then just one other room. The rest of the museum didn’t get such a crowd, and by moving to another room, then returning later when a crowd had left, made it possible to see things much better. The fresco room needed 4 separate times to see well.

In Iraklio, be sure to have dinner at Ippokampos (“Seahorse” in Greek). It was recommended over and over, and it was outstanding, worth a bit of a walk from our hotel. You might want to make a reservation, especially in July. The Iraklio airport’s on the east end of town, just off the highway. Turn in your rental car there; driving around in the city isn’t the way to end (or in our case) begin a vacation.

As for central Crete, totally different from the coast, I can’t stress enough how extraordinary the Lasithi Plateau is. We stayed in Tzermiado. It’s flat land surrounded by a ring of mountains and quaint, tiny villages. We had to drive up a twisty road to get to this high plateau, and hiked one of the many trails that ascend from there. There were once a thousand windmills, and a few remain, but aren’t an agricultural necessity now. On the way from Iraklio, we stopped to tour the magnificent Malia ruins, visible from a pull-off along the highway but well worth going inside to see up close, and a contrast from Knossos.

Southeast is Kato Zakros, with a small beach (still had warmish water in late September), its own Minoan site a few hundred yards away, and its own gorge, much shorter than Samaria. The Gorge of the Dead, named for caves high on the walls of the gorge that were used long by ago as tombs, ends right at the sea. The place we stayed overlooked the ocean - stunning.

South-central Crete, we based ourselves in Pitsidia. We were about the only Americans, as every other visitor seemed to be Germans. Pretty short walk to the ocean, pretty short drive to the amazing Festos site.

We had a fabulous view from our room in Hania, right on the old harbor, but a night-long loud disco at one end was less than perfect. But do get an old town location, harbor view optional.

Samaria was iconic, with unique kri kri goats. It’s your big chance to do it, but not totally must-do.

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If you have any interest in wine, then I would suggest a visit to Dourakis Winery while you are in Western Crete. We had a tour and then the "Light Lunch" Tasting (which was more like a full meal) It appears that at the current time they are just conducting the tastings but not the tours due to Covid. However that may change by the time you are there. It was a memorable experience!