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2-week Crete Itinerary

Starting to plan our two-week vacation to Crete. We’re hoping to mix beach, hiking, history (Knossos, etc…) and spending time in some of the nicer towns. Here’s our first cut. Thoughts? Too much time or not enough some places? Something we’re missing we really need to see? Something on here that we should skip? Thanks.

Day 1 – Depart USA

Day 2 – Arrive Iraklion by air. Secure rental car. Drive to Agios Nicolaos (40 miles). Overnight: Agios Nicolaos.

Day 3 – Agios Nicolaos. Overnight: Agios Nicolaos.

Day 4 – Day trip to Sitia, Moni Toplou, Finikodasos Beach (116 miles roundtrip). Overnight: Agios Nicolaos.

Day 5 – Agios Nicolaos. Overnight: Agios Nicolaos.

Day 6 – Kritsa, Lasithi Plateau, Diktean Cave, Iraklion (75 miles). Overnight: Iraklion.

Day 7 – AM: Iraklion. PM: Knossos. Overnight: Iraklion.

Day 8 – Gortyna, Phaistos, Matala (55 miles). Overnight: Matala.

Day 9 – Amari Valley (Thronos), Monastery of Arkadi, Rethymnon (50 miles). Overnight: Rethymnon.

Day 10 – Argyroupoli, Hania (50 miles). Overnight: Hania.

Day 11 – Samaria Gorge Hike. Overnight: Hania.

Day 12 –
• Option A: Drive back to Hora Sfakion (45 miles). Ferry to Loutro. Hike/Beach. Overnight: Loutro
• Option B: Drive to Elafonisi beach. Overnight: Elafonsi.

Day 13 –
• Option A: Loutro. Hike/Beach. Overnight: Loutro.
• Option B: Elafonsi. Beach/Hike. Overnight: Elafonsi.

Day 14 – Return to Hania or Iraklion; Fly home.

Posted by
3470 posts

You've certainly scoped out what there is to see. Of course, you must realize you might not do everything you've listed on some of the days. My only criticism is that I don't think you've allotted enough time to Chania. In fact, it looks like you aren't really planning to spend any time in the town itself.

I presume you are going to Kritsa to see the Panagia Kera. Check the opening times. We somehow missed that it closes at 3, and had to return a second time to actually get inside.

If you are flying back to the U.S. from Athens, it would be wise to spend your last night there.

Posted by
61 posts

Thanks, Rosalyn. Actually, we were thinking the afternoon of Day 10 in (C)Hania but maybe we need to adjust and allow more time there? On Loutro vs. Elafonsi, any recommendations?

Posted by
91 posts

This depends partially on what time of year you are travelling.

Personally I think you have longer than necessary in Agios Nikolaos & not long enough in Chania.

From Agios Nikolaos I would recommend drive to Plaka & go on the small boat (ideally on the early boat at 9:0/9:30) to Spinalonga, really not to be missed in this area. & Elounda is a nice place for a wander/ meal. Some great beaches just outside Agios Nikolaos.

re Loutro/Elafonisi, they are very different. Loutro is truly picture perfect tiny village, only accessible by ferry (usually from Hora Sfakia), in a fantastic area for hiking, some of the best walks in Crete around here (to Sweetwater, Aradena gorge etc)BUT because of this it does get very full, especially during July-September. Loutro's beach is not good, but Sweetwater & Marmara - walk or take the little boats - are excellent.

Elafonisi is a lare, very beautiful beach but now popular with coach trips etc, so can get over-busy. Go early in the morning as it fills up around midday. there is no village there, only a couple of room places dotted around. if you do visit it, you need to walk across the bay onto the sand-dunes, to find the beautiful pink part. Sady many people just sit on the packed-in sunbeds like sardine next to the car park - this is NOT Elafonisi!

Consider walking Imbros gorge on the way to Sfakia, perhaps you'd like to stay a couple of nights on the South coast. & from Agia Roumeli you could walk partway up Samaria gorge, or get the bus to the top & walk down & stay overnight.

If you go to Arkadi I will highly recommend Eleftherna nearby.
In Heraklio don't miss the Archeological museum.

Posted by
61 posts

Thanks Jwugg. If we do those other things you suggest around Agios Nicolaos, I don't think we can cut a night there to spend more time at Chania. Between the two - those things you suggest near A. Nicolaos and another day in Chania -- which would you recommend?

Yes, we are planning to hike Samaria Gorge from top to bottom (Day 11). Ideally, we'd just stay at Hora Sfakion and then boat to Loutro for a couple of days but we can't figure out how to get our luggage down there from Chania. Any ideas on that?

Posted by
91 posts

Looks like you've got 2 days allocated for Ag Nik, you don't need them, so I'd suggest 1 of those for Spinalonga & Plaka with Ag Nik later in that afternoon/ evening & the other add to Chania. Chania is without doubt one of Greece's most beautiful cities.

re south coast - not easy but how about you go to Sfakia (or Paleochora or Sougia) & get ferry to Agios Roumeli for the night, walk up the gorge (many say this is better as you can see your feet easier & are going the opposite way from the hordes; if you start early you can a good way before meeting them coming down), you can get a bus (summer season only) back down & ferry. Many people have blogged about these logistics. Personally I would choose Imbros gorge - easy to do with hire car on way to Sfakia, leaving luggage in car & getting 'taxi' (open-backed truck) up from Koimotades back to car. & then walk Sweetwater or Marmara or Aradena from Loutro, or some combination.

BTW - day 14, flight from Chania, obviously, much easier than backtracking to Heraklio
& day 8 - Unless you specifically want to stay in Matala, you may like to consider Zaros instead - it's a lovely old traditional village in lovely landscape with some excellent tavernas & 3 interesting & different accommodations.

Posted by
3188 posts

We spent nearly 4 weeks on the island of Crete a few months ago. Here are some suggestions based on our experience:

We weren't impressed with Agios Nikolaos but stayed nearby in Elounda 4 nights instead. We loved our stay at Elounda Garden Suites and used Elounda as a base to visit Agios Nikolaos, Lasithi Plateau, Diktean Cave, and the sights nearby. We didn't get to Sitia but it could easily be done from Elounda.

We based in Rethymnon for 5 nights and took day trips to drive the region including the Amari Valley, Monastery of Arkadi and the pottery village of Marguerites. The Casa Vitae Hotel in Rethynmon was a great place to stay--I'd suggest planning more than one day for this drive and more than one night in Rethymnon.

We didn't get to Gortyna, Phaistos, or Matala but since you're going to Knossos, I think you could skip this and add time to Chania or Rethymnon.

We didn't hike the Samarian Gorge as it wasn't yet open when we were there in late April but I'd do some research to see if there is a better starting point than the early morning bus from Chania. Maybe even spend the night in Omalos the night before you hike.

Rather than stay in Loutro (only accessed by ferry) you can hike there from Chora Sfakion though it is a rugged hike, the scenery is beautiful. Then take the ferry back to Chora Sfakion.

We also liked the village of Paleochora but adding that to your itinerary would be difficult time-wise. There are some great hiking options from there and also from Sougia nearby.

We loved our stay in Crete and are anxious to return one day! Even with 25 nights, we didn't get to do everything we wanted. I wouldn't try to see everything this trip--pick a few places and enjoy the hiking, the people, the food, and the beauty of this island!

Posted by
61 posts

Thank you Sharon! This is very helpful. Just curious to know what you didn't like about Agios Nikolaos and what you liked about Elounda? From the reading we've done so far, Agios Nikolaos is claimed to be "picturesque," with scenic Lake Voulismeni, inner harbor, and lots of atmospheric cafes and tavernas. Elounda is supposedly the home to several high-end, celebrity visiting resorts (out of our price range) and the town itself isn't much. What are we missing in our homework? Thank you.

Posted by
91 posts

Agios Nikolaos & Elounda are 2 very different places, although geographically so close! Both sit on the scenic Mirabello Bay.

Agios Nikoloas is a working town, reasonably large, with the traffic & hustle & bustle of people doing their chores, shopping, banking etc. & it has a few roads of touristic shops. The lake is small, pretty with café bars around the edge. There are some nice beaches on the outskirts of town & just outside, need a car for most of these.

Elounda is quite a compact little resort village, with a sweet fishing harbour at its centre & some good tavernas along the harbour. It has a reasonable beach in the village. There are, you are right, many exclusive 5*, AI type hotels - these are just out of the resort. Within it, are small apartments & family run 'rent rooms' & hotels. I really like the Akti Olous, on the causeway, a 7 min or so flat stroll to the centre (simple, great value, lovely newly refurbished bathrooms, nice staff, breakfast sitting on a pier over the water). & you are a few mins drive to Plaka, or a nice gentle stroll (30 mins). A lovely little place for visits to Spinalonga, the historic island that has had many incarnations, including as the leper colony that inspired the book 'The Island', which is a fascinating & eery trip.

Posted by
3188 posts

I think jwugg did a great job of explaining the difference between Agio Nikolaos and Elounda. For us, the traffic and general grittiness of Agia Nikolaos wasn't conducive to relaxation. A.N. might have once been a relaxed destination but it doesn't seem so any more. We were interested in visiting the Archaeological Museum there but once we found it, we learned that it's closed until 2018 for renovation.

For Elounda, the 5-star resorts are between Plaka and Elounda. Elounda itself is a small-ish fishing village with local bakeries, tavernas, and markets. We had a small apartment at Elounda Garden Suites for 70 Euros per night. It was really lovely. Also, just up the hill from Elounda are some traditional villages which are nice to hike to and explore. There are also some really good restaurants in Elounda.

Hope that helps! You might get other opinions too.

I used the Trip Advisor Forum also when I was planning our trip. Someone suggested that we just concentrate on the Western side of Crete (Heraklion and West.) For us, Elounda was a highlight because it was so relaxed but with your time frame you might consider saving it for another time. Just a thought!!

Posted by
3143 posts

What you've learned about Ag Nik and Elounda is the reason that many of the crete "regulars" from the US on these forums do not spend much time in Eastern Crete. It is mostly favored by people from the UK who go to Greece from different motives ... a holiday by the sea sort of thing (the way Americans use Florida). There just isn't as much of interest, in the way of dramatic landscapes or interesting Ancient history or villages to visit. Even Spinalonga is rather boring, unless you're a big fan of the novel written about it. And from what friends say, the drive to Lassithi Plateau is enjoyable but the place itself isn't that much once u arrive... the "windmill" aspct of old-time is not there except for a few windmills for postcard purposes, and its mainly for bus tours.

I also share the puzzlement of so much time in Iraklion , going out & returning. I've gotten used to having my final day there (and I've become interested in some of the history thru reading the book "Freedom or Death" by Kazantzakis ... but frankly the place is a hot concrete city where you have to hunt out the beauties. If you still want to land there, my advice is to see the Museum, then rent a car, go to Knossos, and hit the big highway driving WEST to Rethmynon & Chania. SO much more to see & do!! BTW, for planning This is a SUPER Map! Click & it gets huuuge, and shows both roads and terrain, very useful in seeing driving or bus routes.

So far, you have said nothing at all about WHEN you are going, but i'm guessing it's not until at least September or in 2018, and you have not yet locked yourself into hotels or flights. In that case, I would strongly suggest that you fly into CHANIA (or as I said above, drive there immediately) .... spend a good bit of your time exploring that wonderful town and perhaps doing day trips from there ... some thoughts:
• GORGES & WALKS -- Samaria if that's your interest. I myself much enjoyed Imbros Gorge, a shorter hike, but just as narrow, and with the PLUS that in May, it is almost deserted, not the long lines of people that file down Samaria, thousands. Another Gorge experience, just to drive down -- Topolian Gorge ... including a 1-lane mountain tunnel (there's a stoplight & cars take turns PLUS a stunning cave in side of a cliff, called "st Sophia" but really a prehistoric place of worship to ancient gods. THere's a fine outfit out of Rethymnon that has day-walks throut little villages, and also thru a wonderful short GREEN walk with watermills, that leads to a beach on the NORTH coast.
• Excursion - to Balos & Gramvous beaches, via boat ... great beaches & you neednt drive to them
• Going south ... down from Rethymnon, thru Spili (stop for the wonderful fountains!) ... Phaistos en route to Matala. N OTE; the hotels right on the beach are jammed togther and rather tacky ... back ab out 75 yards, off the road to the left, Dimitra Villas is quiet, scenicly lovely, vine-covered patios, a pool, a family-run delight. IF you drive instead down to Hora Sfakion, the boat trip to Loutro is fun.... and (if you have a head for hight), there's a cliffside walk back to Hora Sfakion... take a trekking stick!!
• Wending north ... in the Mountains, a lovely area, around Zaros (nearby is the source of one of Greece's most famous bottled water)... and you can get off main highway near Dafnes -- heart of wine country -- and visit some vineyards.

My friend "Stanbr" & his bride also love Western Crete and have some gorgeous photo albums to prove it here are just a couple:

Posted by
1065 posts

It is very important to let us know when you'll be going and what your budget is. That can make a huge difference on what you can expect from your Greek Holiday Experience.

I agree with Janet that Chania is the best town to base yourself to explore the island, especially the western end of it which is much more "Greek". Even though it's a long way from Knossis you can get there via bus or car rental or a tour group outing and see the archeological remains. Bear in mind that a lot of the remains have been "doctored" by the English archeologist who "thought" he knew what ancient Knossis was all about. The brightly colored "remains" were recreated fairly recently and may not be representative of what was originall there. However, Knossis is still a major archeological site and should be visited.

Chania, especially the Old Town is just picture perfect and lovely, especially the area in and around Theotokopolou St. named after the famed Greek painter who went to Spain and because of the difficulty of pronouncing his last name has ever since been known as El Greco (The Greek).

Just lovely, beautiful architecture, narrow lanes, shops, markets, tavernas, pretty waterfront and a great place to base yourself as your explore western Crete and the rest of the island.

Posted by
3188 posts

I wouldn't quickly discount Eastern Crete if you have time. As I said above, we really enjoyed Elounda and enjoyed using is as a base to explore the region. Just depends on how much time you have available...

Posted by
61 posts

Thanks everyone. Lots of good advice to sort through. Much appreciated!