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Renting a car vs bus in Crete

We are planning a trip to Crete for late May/early June 2022. We plan to stay in Chania, Kissimo or nearby on west coast, Loutro on south coast, and Irakleo. Our original thought was to rent a car after a few days in Chania and return it in Irakleo. But having second thoughts about driving through the mountains. One thought was to rent a car after a few days in Chania and return it when heading to to Loutro and take the bus. Then take bus to Irkleo. We would be without a car regardless in Loutro. We would give up a day of site seeing in the country side doing that and probably end up in Irakleo longer than we had intended.

My husband is a very good driver but we live in Florida where there are not even hills. We drove in 2018 on Santorini, Naxos, and from airport to Nafplio. We both found Santorini a bit nerve wrecking, at least at first, but were OK with rest. I was worried about driving in Naxos but didn't find it as bad as I feared. We even drove a bunch of gravel roads but near the coast.

But the White Mountains sound like they are a more difficult challenge. Online I keep finding stuff about "thrilling" and "exciting" which seems like nice ways to say "terrifying".

Wondering about people's experiences. If you drove, what places were really tricky and nerve wrecking. If you took the bus, how well did that work?

Posted by
2646 posts

Till one of the experts chimes in, you can often find videos of drives on YouTube. You'll want to really know the tradeoff on what you will give up with out the car--plus, looking down while on a bus ride can be just as scary!
I don't enjoy mountain drives as a passenger, but I'm lucky my husband manages it. I grip the handle and just am glad I get to see so many places I would not otherwise get to see.
In the Peloponnese, the roads were excellent and that made me feel better, so maybe someone can weigh in on that about Crete. Good luck!

Posted by
7750 posts

Driving through the White Mountains from Chania to Chora Skafion did not give us any problems. I would not consider the roads a “difficult challenge” and I have a fear of heights.
We always rent cars wherever we go in Europe including Greece. We have taken a few trains in between major cities but have never been on a bus in Europe so can’t comment on them. If your reason is fear of driving I do not think that it should scare you at all. We left our car parked in Chora Skafion and took the ferry to Loutro for a few days. When we returned we drove up the waterfront to Frangokastello, a nice beach area.
Santorini was a horrible place to drive and add in the crazies on ATVs and it is not a good memory.
Actually Santorini was our least favorite place in Greece and we were happy to get out of there.

Posted by
951 posts

I have driven on many islands and parts of the mainland and for the most part the roads are good and traffic light especially away from urban areas. The only thing you have to keep an eye out on is for goats.

I am never in a rush while in Greece, I take my time, drive slowly and if there is someone behind me pull over where appropriate.

I've driven on many mountain roads which usually contained hair pin turns & switchbacks but if you take your time you'll be perfectly fine, probably much safer than in some in parts of FLA.

Besides who enjoys driving on flat, boring roads? Mountain and hilly roads are fun! The views from mountain and hilly roads in Greece are spectacular and in addition a car will give you far more freedom and opportunities to see where buses don't go, offen time where the "real" Greece is. Plus you can pull over for all the spectacular photo ops. You can't do that with a bus.

Buses only go so many places and their schedules may not be always convenient but will do if you want to avoid driving.

Still it's very easy driving in Greece and you drive on the same side of the road like in the US unlike in England!

Posted by
1734 posts

Thanks for the input. Maybe we are overthinking this....

BTW, we went to the UK in 2019. We were very glad we didn't rent a car! I couldn't even get used to looking the right way to cross the street.

Posted by
2646 posts

I was really worried about driving in Ireland, to the point of looking into bus tours (something I would never do otherwise), but we did it (props to the spouse driver--I can barely drive here at home). After the first few minutes, we were fine. We only got on the wrong road once, and it was in a small town with no traffic. Walking really is harder--if you get the chance, go for that, too!

Posted by
201 posts

Was just there. Roads are easy...just drive normal you'll be good.

Posted by
101 posts

We were going to rent a car on Crete (Chania), but there were none available. After having done a tour from Chania to the Knossos Palace, both my friend & I were very glad we didn't have the car. I drove all over the Peloponnese as I have Ireland, Germany, NZ, and countless other countries, but the hairpin turns on that mountain road to Chania were breathtaking - and not in a good way.

Posted by
1734 posts

Layni-thanks for a different perspective. I am a bit confused though which I am sure is my ignorance of Crete’s geography. You said that you were glad to not be driving the hair pin curves from Chania to Knossos but I thought that mountains were in the south.

Posted by
15 posts

We just returned from 2 weeks in Crete. We rented a car from Just Rentals. They picked us up from our hotel in Chania in the Old City. No point in having a car in the Old City-no parking and no cars allowed. We drove to Ano Archanes in the mountains, to Heraklion-Knossos, etc. and then onto Agios Nikolaos. At the end of our trip, we left the keys with the hotel in Agios Nikolaos so it was very convenient. We took a taxi transfer to the airport in Heraklion.

The mountain driving was not difficult. What is tricky is negotiating the very narrow streets in some of the small villages. My advice is to get an automatic car. Most of the rental cars are manual. I can drive a manual but don't need the extra effort when in a foreign country and negotiating narrow streets.

Posted by
1117 posts

I can't speak to Crete in particular, but we've been to a lot of (smaller) Greek islands and relied almost completely on the bus system. It was inexpensive and usually absolutely reliable and surprisingly punctual. I must admit that we came expecting the cliché Mediterranean mindset which is somewhat relaxed, but no, whenever we were only a moment late, we'd see the tail lights.

We only rented a car sometimes for a day or so to get to those really remote places where the bus doesn't go.

Posted by
1734 posts

Thanks for all the feedback. I would want an automatic. And I can see that my assumption that one would available might be flawed.

We might mix it up and do some of both driving and taking a bus.

Posted by
11 posts

Just spent 10 days on Crete with rental car. We stayed in agios nicholas, chania and heraklio. I drove the whole time since i get car sick. High ways between those 3 towns were great. We
rented thru Dollar and specified automatic since i can't drive a manual. I had a much harder time in the cities than on the mountains since the cities are so congested. The worst road was from Chania to Omalos headed to hike the samarian gorge. It seemed to be about 100 hairpin turns but there are lots of road signs warning you. Had to drive it back in the dark but there was a whole string of cars doing the same.

Posted by
1734 posts

I drove from Fira to Oia in the dark and that was scary enough! I followed a bus in the dark and was white knuckled when I arrived!

I would not have wanted to do what you did!

Posted by
7750 posts

Driving from Chania to Heraklion was on the National Road and also was not difficult at all.
The only difficulty driving in Greece is that it took longer than expected to drive to the destination.

Posted by
2876 posts

Beth, i see a "split decision" regarding driving in Greece... and I think you can only decide once you settle on the exact # of days in Crete, how many days in the Chania area, -- exactly WHAT sights you want to see on or near the south coast -- what you want to see in/around Heraklion and whether you are leaving via ferry or by plane.

It helps to use a great online map for advance ponder -- https://www.explorecrete.com/crete-maps/images/Crete-eot.png Click & it gets huuuge.. navigate via side-slides. It shows TERRAIN, making it clear how limited yur N - S routes are. If you DRIVE s. to get to Loutro, you have to go down the rim-road of Imbros Gorge -- my driver (in 2001) lives in Colorado, had fantasies of being a Grand Prix champ, and Loooved the 26 hairpin switchbacks! Others experiences may differ. And if you drive, you'll hve to leave car parked in Hora Sfakion while you stay in Loutro. BTW, what's all this about staying in Loutro awhile?? Frankly i think 2 nights would be plenty since I don't think you are attempting cliff walks or other gorges. Its beach is tiny... People go there to hike. We hiked down Imbros Gorge, got a taxi (pickup truck actually) back up to Imbros start, then drove down that 26-switch rim road. We stayed in Frangokastello ... the castle is fascinating for 30 minutes, beach is nice but THE shallowest in greece... you must wade 200 yard to get knee-high. We then parked car in Hora Sfakion, took ferry to Loutro, had lunch, then did the cliff-to-beach-tocliff-to-beach thrill hike back to Chora Sf. Exhirilating but scarey; I did it 20 years ago & triumphed over acrophobia, but now/?? never. Today? I would take bus from Chania down those switchbacks, ferry to Loutro for 2 night max, then back & bus back to Chania.

After THAT, your car trip can explore wonderfully and easily. The back road (below the Big N. Highway) from Chania = Rethymon, then South (very good road) thru Spili .... Here you could detour and go down the WEST road of beautiful Amari Valley, then emerge close to Ag Galini. Matala is uncrowded at the time you're going, & I have a great place to stay just back from the beach, Villa Dimitri. Nearby ruins areas - Phaistos, Komo, Ag Triada ... you can linger on the way N.E. Toward Heraklion area -- Zaros in foothills is where the MOST popular water in greece is bottled... All round is Cretan Vineyard country.

Moving on to Heraklion area -- what do you want to see?? Top Two = Heraklion Museum and Knossos. Some say, see Museum first because then you'd appreciate ruins more... opinions differ. What you SHOULD do is minimize driving IN Heraklion.. madness. If u do Knossos first, map shows u can totally bypass the city to Knossos area, stay around Archanes, jst south of ruins site. Either go at 8 AM or after 3 pm to Ruins, to avoid crowds/sun. You can return car at airport & take easy local bus in to Heraklion, stay right on seafront (I recommend Hotel KRONOS specify sea view balcony), walk to Museum & at evening to FOrtezza & seafront cafe liek Hippocampus. Convenient for leaving on AM ferry or (via taxi) back to airport... no driving/parking hassles in city.

About the start in the Chania area, you'd have to tell us if you want to stay in town or just outside on a beach (see Hotel AMMOS) and take local bus 20 mins into heart of Old Town your choice. U may want a 1-day car rental for particular sights E or W of Chania. You have many months to plan... have fun!

Posted by
1734 posts

Janet-

I agree about "split decision" and think I would prefer to take bus to Hora Sfakion but drive the rest of the time. But haven't figured out yet how to do that logistically. Ideally, I want to do some day trips from Chania with a car so hard to figure out how to do that and take bus to Hora Sfakion, stay in the area a few nights, and come back to Chania.

To answer some of your questions: We will have 11 nights in Crete, we will fly to Chania and from Heraklion, and plan to stay in town in Chania. For Heraklion, we want to see to see the Heraklion Museum and Knossos. Your idea of staying in Archanes sounds interesting.

I have two new books just on Crete (already had Rough Guides and Lonely Planet on all Greek Islands). I was looking at Amari Valley and some wineries. So lots of fun planning ahead!

Posted by
999 posts

I am a bit late on this thread but hopefully I can provide some additional information.

We have rented a car several times including a three week trip in East Crete. We will be renting a car on our 2022 trip in May as well.
First tip, rent from a local car rental agency. Most of the complaints on the forum are from people who rented from multinationals. There are several that have great reputations. We always rent from AutorentalsCrete. They are family owned and provide excellent service. Others are Anna Cars and The Best Cars plus a couple of others. Autorentals will allow you to rent a car in one city and drop it off in another which can be very convenient.

You do not need a car while spending time in Chania. When you want to start to explore the rest of the area is the time to rent. There is free parking in a lot at the foot of Theotokopoulou street in West Chania. While competition for a spot is fierce there is also free parking on the nearby roads. We have parked up to ta half kilometre away and then just before bed pick up the car and park it close by. That only works when one of us is not drinking.
Theotokopouluo Street https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157632118491316

In recent years we have used the local KTEL bus to visit the little village of Sougia on the Libyan Sea. Its small but has three of the best tavernas on Crete. In my opinion its way better than Chora Sfakion. It also has the daily ferry that takes you to the bottom of the Samaira gorge. My knee is not capable of doing that hike but it is fairly flat at the bottom so we did about 7 kilometer hike up the gorge from the bottom. You can also get to Loutro from Sougia by changing ferries at Agia Roumelli.
Last rip we did Chania without a car, took the bus to Sougia then returned by bus to Chania where Autorentals met us with a car and we spent the next 10 days with the car in Central Crete. I think Janet mentioned a visit to the Monoen site at Phastos. Nearby you will also find the amazing site at Gortyz. There is a whole roman city partially excavated in olive groves. You will virtually have the place to yourselves.

We returned the car in Heraklion. Honestly that is the worst city to drive in. It is sheer chaos. I really did get out of the car and kiss the ground. Best to return the car to the airport. Like Janet we too stay at Hotel Koronos. Family owned great location right at the seafront by the fortress.

I recorded some of the drive in the bus to Sougia. Remember whet tommyK said about goats.
Chania Sougia and Plakias 2019
https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157711266062752
Castello Heraklion https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157686964935102
Gortyz https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157666456665788

By the way I also highly recommend Plakias. It has a great beach with about 5 other beaches within 3 km. Its a great location for day trips around south central Crete.

Plakias https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157665045541263

Posted by
1734 posts

Stan,

Thanks for the detailed reply. I was just looking at AutorentalsCrete yesterday and so glad to have your recommendation.

I also have been reading about Sougia and hiking the Sameria gorge from Agia Roumelli.

I have also thought about mixing buses and rental car so was encouraged by your experience of having Autorentals meeting you with a car.

Did you visit the area surrounding Chania by bus or confine yourself to Chania this time, since you did not have a car?

The pictures of the goats on the road are great! We saw some sheep on the road in northern England but not as many sheep as you saw goats.

Posted by
777 posts

I went to Crete only for 3 days and 2 nights, just long enough to see certain sights in Heraklion and Chania. I took the bus to Knossos, and from Heraklion to Chania. I don't rent cars in Europe. Or at least I never did and I prefer to avoid driving in Europe unless I am really convinced that where I want to go requires a car. Yeah I know that with a car you can leave and arrive at places randomly instead of keeping track of the bus schedule and waiting for the buses. Yeah I know I have a valid Michigan driver's license.

Posted by
999 posts

On the last trip we stayed in Chania for the first 4 days getting over jet lag, Then we took the bus to Sougia. It is an amazing sightseeing drive and whenever I drove it I only saw the road. Thats why we took the bus. We also took a tour with Smart tours. It was a brand new tour company run out of the KTEL bus station. Only 12 people and very well priced. We saw places we have not seen before.
If you choose to have a car in Chania there is free parking on the waterfront at Talos square right at the foot of Theotokopoulou street. There is also on street parking in the area but competition for a spot is fierce.

Posted by
1734 posts

Stanbr-we are now thinking we might take the bus to south coast after three nights in Chania . We then would rent a car upon returning to Chania to tour. There doesn’t seem to be as much advantage to having one on coast.

I read on earlier post of yours about the tour you took with Smart Tours but I can’t find anything similar on line. I found a company with that name located in Chania but the tours listed do not seem to be in Crete I had thought it would be a great activity. I wonder if they were causality of covid.

Posted by
999 posts

I think you will appreciate the bus ride through the white mountains. You are correct I can't find anything specific on Smart tours. There is a web site with Smart tours in Chania but it appears to be a general travel agent. It is owned by KTEL which also owned the Smart tours bus excursion.
It might be worth your while checking at the bus station to determine if the tours are still being offered. If they are still available we will be taking one or two. Cost is about the same as renting a car and there is no parking issue in Chania.
We will rent a car for the rest of the trip though.

Posted by
1734 posts

We will check into tours when we are in Chania. I would love to do the one you described in an earlier post. But we will have to see it seems if any thing is being offered.