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Suggestions for Crete

Looking for Crete suggestions including 1. archeological ruins 2. Good home bases/hotels/cities. 3. Beaches. 4. Flights/ferries in and out. Planning a trip late next summer 2023 for maybe 2 weeks but like to plan early. Thank you Bill

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11368 posts

We enjoyed staying in Loutro and Frangokastello when we went to the south shore of Crete. We also used Chania as a base for two weeks.

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842 posts

Just back from Crete. Had hotels booked for Heraklion, Rethymno, and Chania. Rented car in the middle of those days for 7 days and drove east Crete and booked as we went.
Almost every place you can go is covered in one or another guide book.
Water is clear and blue. A lot of rocky, pebbly beaches. Some sand beaches.
Ruins are underwhelming if you have seen any ruins in Italy, castles in various countries, or ruins in the Americas. Even the well known Knossos. Not very large. Not very rebuilt. A lot of imagination needs to be used. Other ruins are often simply short stone walls.
Driving takes a while. Mountain roads. Many many curves, often blind. Very little traffic outside the cities. Travel times projected by google maps or maps.me are really not true. Average speed over distance may be 40kmh.
Good food. Friendly people. Very safe.

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1397 posts

Are you planning on heading right to Crete on Arrival in Athens? If that is the case then you can book a flight to Crete. You will need 2 hours to clear passport control and get back through security for the connecting flight.

If you plan on going to another island then you will be dealing with ferry's which take up a half day for every ferry hop.

Crete has 2 airports Chania and Heraklion. Heraklion is a good place for historical sites. There is Knossos and the museum. Its a good idea to visit the museum first. If you have a car you can drive south to visit Phastos which is like Knossos but without all the reconstruction. Nearby plan to visit Gortyz. It was the Roman capital of Crete and there is a city partially buried in olive grove. It is a must see.

As a destination we love Chania. It old town and Venetian harbour are an experience. You can imagine you have stepped back into the 14th century.
Do stay in the old town within the city walls.

Excursions could include the ruins at Aptera just 18 km from Chania. 5000 years of history on a mountain top. Beach excursions might include a trip to Kissamos where you can take a ferry to Gramvossa with its pirate fortress a ship wreck and a good beach. Next stop is Balos Lagoon. Great beach experience. There is also a daily bus to Elafonissi with its pinkish sand.

From Chania you can go south to the little village of Sougia and take the ferry along the coast of the Libyan Sea and perhaps do the bottom portion of the famous Sameria Gorge.

Our favourite beach area is at Plakias on the Lybian sea just south of Rethymnon.

Here are some images.
Chania Sougia and Plakias 2019
https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157711266062752
Gramvousa,Balos and Elafonissi https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157698932695812

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7653 posts

We went to Crete in Sept. 2019. Archaeological sites were one of the priorities, and we stopped at several small ones while driving our rental car. Please note that Greek place names can have several different translations in English (Iraklio vs. Heraklion, and Festos vs. Phaistos for example). Having a rental car really helped us get around the island to a variety of places, although in Iraklio and Hania cities, it’s a pain. On twisty mountainous roads, with blind corners on curves, oncoming drivers would frequently cut inside on the curve, coming at us partially in our lane. They always, eventually, got back on their side of the road, but it was unnerving every time it happened. Anyway, in addition to ruins sites, be sure to spend time in the archaeological museum in Iraklio. If it’s full of guided tour groups, go to a room without groups, then double-back to other exhibits once the tour has left the room.

  1. Knossos ruins are a must-see, just south of Iraklio. We got there and back by city bus. It was, controversially, partially “restored” back in 1920’s, by an archaeologist who was just guessing what the ruins originally looked like. The modern approach is to sometimes do some repairs to prevent further deterioration, but not to rebuild things. The Minoan civilization of ancient Crete was as old to the ancient Greeks as the ancient Greeks are to us. The Malia Palace, a couple miles from modern Malia, is another essential sight. Farther south, Festos was a surprising treat, a short drive from the town Pitsidia. Close by is Gortyna, more ruins that should be seen. Also, there’s a nice ruin adjacent to Kato Zakros, in the southeast of Crete.

  2. Look for lodging in Iraklio, maybe Malia, Kato Zakros, and Pitsidia. Breakfast is usually included in the price. Hania (Chania) is also worthwhile, farther west, but not for archaeological ruins. It’s an ancient port town with its own history.

  3. Our one beach visit was in Kato Zakros - nice size, good water and black sand, and not crammed with tourists. Elsewhere, we saw lots of people in swimsuits carrying pool toys, making their way to beaches in Malia, Agios Nikolaos, and Pitsidia. I’m guessing those beaches were packed, but if they draw crowds, maybe they have desirable settings.

  4. Ferries would take time. We flew in to Iraklio, and out of Hania, on Easyjet, connecting Denver to London to Crete. Are you coming from Denver? Flights out of DIA to Europe now include several potential airlines, but British Airways, through London Heathrow, has been the way we go most often. From there, Easyjet is cheap.

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884 posts

We flew in to Chania from Athens; morning flight on Aegean Airlines. Rented a car through Auto Club, which I do NOT recommend. A problem developed with the car and customer service was extremely poor trying to get a different car. After picking up the car, we had lunch at a spot in the Venetian Harbor and there was also a farmer's market that day which was fun to wander through for a bit. We stayed at a B&B for the first part of our trip, but it is no longer in business. Wine tasting and light lunch at Dourakis Winery was terrific! We found The Palace of Knossos to be underwhelming to say the least. Several hours of our life that we will never get back. While in Heraklion for the latter part of the trip, we stayed at the Dom Boutique Hotel. Excellent service and breakfast; easy walking distance to things in the city. Ferry to Santorini ended up being a no-go. We received a strike alert from the Smart Traveler Program the day before, however we called the ferry company & they assured us that they would be sailing. In fact, they did not sail, so we were scrambling for a flight that the next morning. Crete is beautiful; have a wonderful trip!

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7653 posts

TravelBug79’s comments do have a point about Knossos. It’s not a Pompeii, either as big, or as well described for visitors. We arranged for a guide ahead of time (Maria, referred to us by Nikki, Rick Steves’ top recommended guide for mainland Greece), and she met us at the entrance. There were other certified guides at the entrance that you could hire on the spot, if you didn’t have one prearranged. Having a personal guide was extremely helpful understanding the various parts of the site, and their functions for the ancient occupants. That also helped provide context for what we saw in the Iraklio museum the next day.

While the Knossos site was evocative to me, even with most other visitors just taking selfie photos in front of the “restored” painted wall in one small part of the ruins, then seemingly being done with the place, having a guide made a huge difference in making it an interesting visit. It might’ve been just a big pile of huge stone walls without the guided tour. Without Maria explaining the subtle details at Knossos, it could have been sort-of underwhelming. We spent about 2 hours there. With a guide at Knossos, it then helped provide some understanding when we went to Festos, and other sites around Crete.

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2599 posts

We also hired a guide but one at the entrance. We ended going with a couple from Norway. We really enjoyed our time there-the guide made a big difference.