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Crete & Naxos or Santorini--Itinerary help please~

We are planning to spend 12-14 days in Greece starting 4/25. it's our first trip to Greece. Initial Tentative itinerary is:

3 nites Athens (our flight from US/Rome arrives 6:30Pm, so too late to fly directly to Crete)
5-6 nites Crete --fly to Crete from Athens
4 nites Santorini or Naxos --get there via ferry?
Return to Athens to fly out

Crete: should we stay in 3 places? divide time between Chania and Heraklion? Or stay in Chania and visit ruins in Haraklion on the way in or out?

Naxos or Santorini: Naxos seems more appealing as its less crowded /touristy and looks beautiful. Would we miss out by not staying in Santorini? We are interesting in history, archeology and also charming villages, walks, shops.
My husband has a knee issue and so steep downhill walking is a bit painful. Is that a concern for Santorini?

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It’s definitely worth spending at least one night in Iraklio (Heraklion). The Archaeological Museum, with most of the treasures found at the Knossos ruins, is more fascinating than the ruins themselves, although the ruins are still a must-see. That, and dinner at Ippokampos, a fantastic restaurant.

We had over 2 weeks, and also went to the far eastern side of Crete, plus interior locations like the Lasithi Plateau, but with less time, if ancient Minoan sites are of interest, you could still add a third place to stay, in Festos (Phaistos), at the south-central Crete. It’s a nice town, has amazing ruins, and also offers beach access, if that’s helpful.

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10110 posts

Crete- I would stay in Chania and do a day trip to Heraklion which is what we did
Santorini- Disclosure, we are not big fans of Santorini. Crowded. But it is a must see one time. Our Oia hotel, Hotel Esperas, was on a steep incline, lots of stairs. and there were no railings to get down to our rooms. Many of the hotels are situated the same way to get the views so be careful when choosing where to stay.

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Many of us suggest you get to your first island on day of arrival in Athens. Leave Athens to the end of the trip so you are on the mainland the day before your return flight. I just checked Skyscanner and there is a 21:10 flight from Athens to Chania Crete on Sky Express April 25. With an 1800 arrival that gives you 3 hours to make the connection to Crete.

So fly to Chania you will love it be sure to stay in the old town Venetian harbour area.
Chania 2022.

You will have to get to Heraklion the night before your transfer to Santorini or Naxos by ferry.
This plan buys you an extra night. You might use that for a 1 or 2 day visit to Santorini and another couple of days in Naxos. Those 2 islands are a very good choice. The spectacular with an authentic experience.
There are easy hike up around the mountain villages. This early in the season you will want to stay in Naxos town probably St George beach which is part of Naxos town.

Around Naxos town 2022
Back to Naxos 2022

Chalki and Vivlos villages

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Thank you for all your suggestions. It is very helpful.
Stan, i did want to go directly to Crete when we landed but that meant we would be up for about 22 hours straight. So we decided to stay in Athens for 3 nites and then fly to Crete. Our tentative revised plan is:

Flight Athen to Crete
Athens to Chania 1:30pm departure Sky Express (6:45am and 8am are too early for us)
OR Athens to Heraklion 11:20 departure Voltea

I thought to take the earlier flight, but as we plan to stay in Chania first, we'd arrive earlier with the 1:30pm flight.

4 nites Chania (friends suggest Agios Nikolaos but I think Chania is better situated for first time visitor)

2 nites Heraklion (museum and Knossos)

Ferry to Naxos -- i get easily seasick; is it likely to be rough the very beginning of May?

4 nites Naxos --St. George beach
Fly to Athens/Rome

We might have one extra night to spend on the islands. Would you spend it in Naxos or Chania or Heraklion? or as most likely we will have to change ferries in Santorini, spend 1 night there?

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Your plan is fine it works logistics for ferry hopping works well. I would suggest you plan to fly Naxos to Athens at the end.

On our first several trips we arrived and stayed in Athens then went to the islands. After a couple more trips we realized that Athens can be exhausting lots of walking, hills, crowds and heat ( of course thats not a problem in April) We suffered from jet lag badly. We now get out to Crete same day we arrive. Just getting to a taverna on the Chania harbour and having a glass of wine in that surrounding immediately brings a feeling of peace.(We too live on the west coast but because we are on an island our time in the air is 24 hours.)
If you have an extra day I would probably spend it in Chania. Note you will have to get to Heraklion the day before your ferry hop to Santorini and on to Naxos. This early in the season as far as I can see there is only one ferry on that route a seajet that departs at 8am and arrives Naxos around 11. Thats a pretty good connection.
You can get to Heraklion and do the museum and Knossos in a day so you really only need that one night in Heraklion.
Be sure to find the central area of Heraklion. The local do their evening promenade there. Its fun to join them.

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Stan, thank you for responding. We rent cars in Italy and France but are nervous about driving in Greece. Any thoughts?
If we don't rent a car, I figure we would use taxis or an excursion to some of the places around Hania.

I gather you favor only 1 nite in Heraklion and adding a nite to Hania. Any suggestions where to look for a driver to get us to Heraklion? and then we'd like to meet a guide at Knossos and the museum. Does that seem feasible?

We are hoping to get to Tofino this fall! Just after Labor Day was suggested as a good time to visit!

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Frankly the KTEL bus system is great in Crete. Big inter city buses with large bins for luggage. Professional drivers and quite inexpensive. Two bonuses, you can watch the scenery rather than focusing on driving. And you do not have to find parking.

Do consider making your transfers by bus.
Even if you do rent a car you will not need one for at least 2 days because there is so much to see and do in Chania. Its a waste of resources having the car parked.

Excursions you might want to consider is Balos and Gravossa. You get a pirate fortress, shipwreck and two great beaches. its a full day excursion. Any travel agent can book it for you, Oops just remembered your dates. That tour probably will not be running that early.

We had a great time with a tour from Smart Tours. Its based at the KTEL bus station. On our last trip in May I saw there mini bus parked at the station but their office was locked. You might want to look at their web site to see what they are offering. They had several, we did wine and olive oil tasting, but they also had Monasteries and a couple others. If they are still active its a very good tour with no more than 12 people.

There are guides at the entrance of Knossos. When enough people show up off they go. Do not know prices. There might be a guide willing to do a personal tour.
You certainly know BC, Tofino is an amazing location. The drive there is pretty much like the drive to Sougia, mountains, trees, curves but no goat herds on the way to Tofino.

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We are debating where to stay in Chania for 5 nites w/o a car--in town or nearby at a resort. Any ideas are appreciated.
Casa Delfino looks nice for in town, but for more of a resort feel what about Domes Noruz or Domes Zeena?

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Well since Domes Noruz is an adults only resort it pretty much eliminates it as an option. The Chania experience is the old town. it still has city walls in some areas, your kids are going to be amazed when they wander the Venetian old town, their imaginations will slip back into time. Resorts are outside of the old town, if its a beach you want Neo Chora is just a 15 minute stroll from the city walls to the west. You can have the beach plus all the activities of old town.

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Our adult kids will not be with us! Is there a specific hotel in Chania town that you have enjoyed?

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alain, for a Knossos guide for our 2019 trip, we first contacted Rick Steves’ principal guide for Greece, Nikki. She said she only does the mainland (especially Olympia), but referred us to her excellent colleague on Crete, Maria Verivaki ( We took the city bus from downtown Iraklio to the gate at Knossos to meet her. There were other guides at the gate, and they said, “Everybody wants Maria!”. After our tour, she rode with us on the bus back into Iraklio.

We saw the museum the next day on our own, dodging group after group of cruise ship passengers, but we were able to move to another room until they left, then went back where we’d been a few minutes earlier. I’m certain Maria would’ve provided her own strategies, and in retrospect, would’ve been a good guide at the museum, too, although we did OK.

We did have a car after we left Iraklio, and that’s how we reached Hania, so I don’t have public transportation recommendations between the two cities.

As we drove thru Agios Nikolaos, it had tons of people (in late September) walking thru town town towards the beach, toting their inflatable pool toys and beach towels. Didn’t seem like any prime resort, but did attract lots of beachgoers.

In Hania, we stayed at the Elia Palatino, overlooking the old harbor and Venetian lighthouse. The location was central to the old town, very atmospheric, and it included a fabulous breakfast. One downside was a confounded disco at the far end of the harbor, open late with a loud, thumping bass you could hear if we kept the window cracked open.

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Sorry, somehow I confused your thread with someone else with kids.

Anything resembling a resort will be at least a kilometre from Chania old town. I think we walked past this resort several times on our last visit to Chania. For us Chania old town is the major attraction. Anything like a resort will be a new property away from the old town. The beach resort experience really is not why one would visit Chania.

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Crete is huge and it takes a minimum of a week with a rental car just to barely scratch the surface. Combined with Santorini, either Paros or Naxos will provide you with a nicely diverse Greek Island experience. 12-14 days is barely enough time for Athens and 2 islands. For me the right choice would be Santorini, Paros and Athens, and saving Athens for the end instead of at the beginning is the best way to insure that you're back on the mainland in time for your flight home.