Driving in Crete

I'm getting mixed signals on renting a car and driving in Crete. On the one hand, it's a large place and some of the good places (south beaches) are not readily reachable by public transport (bus) ... plus, longer travel times (etc., etc.) On the other hand, we've read some blogs that talk about the difficulty of navigation because the signs are (understandably) in cyrillic and therefore a bit hard to process 'on the fly'. One local we're talking to assures us that the roads, while not what we might be accustomed to in the U.S., are good and some stretches recently maintained. (That's fine - we've done, and survived, roads in Ireland.) Other reports, tho', have warned about the drivers. Do you have any 'interesting' (good and/or bad) experiences with driving in Crete?

Posted by Lee
1924 posts

It's been a long time since I drove from Chania to Agia Galini to Matala to Heraklion but the roads were fine. Sort of like the road between Kona and Hilo, if you're familiar with that one, in terms of curves and maintenance. Some stretches better than others but for the most part, no problem. All the road signs I remember were doubled with phonetic English, so I don't think navigation will be a problem. Just get yourself a good roadmap of the island. Be sure to go to your local AAA office to pick up an International Driving Permit, no test or membership required. You might not be asked for it but if you get in an accident and don't have it you'll wish you had stayed home.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
21439 posts

keri, You can avoid some of the "difficulties in navigation" by packing along a GPS unit along with good Maps. As I recall, Greece is one of the more "risky" locations to drive in the E.U., so budgeting for the most comprehensive CDW would be prudent. Also, as previously mentioned it's important to have an International Driver's Permit, which is used in conjunction with your home D.L. I believe they're compulsory in Greece and as I recall as was asked to produce an IDP when I rented a Car on Santorini (I always travel with one anyway, so it wasn't a problem). Happy travels!

Posted by keri
Honolulu, HI, USA
293 posts

Hi, Ken, Re. GPS ... hadn't thought of that. In the U.S. we just use our iPhones but for Europe we get the minimal (albeit expensive) AT&T data plan for the 2 months, just for 'emergency' usage & rely on WiFi for everything routine. But I'd imagine that using those phones with a data plan as GPS would really bump up data usage. And buying a dedicated GPS (with foreign maps) just for a week seems like overkill. Maybe the rental car would offer that, tho'. You'd really buy a GPS for one week's use? IDP - yup, we do that (for driving in France and Spain) no problems getting it thru AAA. Insurance - on past trips we've used the AmEx extended protection plan. $24.95 per rental (except in the 6 banned' countries - Ireland, Italy, etc.). We've not checked to see if they've changed the plan for this year - need to put that on our list as well. Thanks for the reminder. Up to this point we'd only been thinking of a rental car in Ireland, where that plan's coverage isn't an option.

Posted by Brady
Chania, Crete, Greece
42 posts

The roads are fine, the signs are all in Greek and English and it's pretty easy to get around. Your rental car company should give you a map of the island. Just be careful, people here can drive really slowly and not pay attention (like coming around a curve while in the middle of the road). Also you might come around a blind curve and run into people, goats or dogs walking in the road.

Posted by keri
Honolulu, HI, USA
293 posts

Lee, Brady, Thanks for this information. It covers the basics I was asking about. FWIW, we have driven in Ireland and New Zealand so have encountered: slow, critters, farm machinery, families in the road ... even a pack of German cyclists who had forgotten the side of the road rules and came soaring around the corner of a small rural Irish road. I was more interested in whether the reports of FAST and rule-ignoring encounters were blog hyperbole (for a good tale) or true. For example: http://bit.ly/z80iCj There was one story (that my husband found but I cannot now relocate) that talked about a driver (wife?) becoming so frustrated with not being able to read the signs that one of them got out and walked and the trip ended with them following a taxi. Something like that. So my concern (since I'm the 'navigator') was about the signage. I don't grasp what the blogger above reported about the signs not being readable ("drivers were speeding like 20-30 over the limit, I can't read their signs, and what was a 2 way freeway, turned into 4 for the natives") but you each report that the signs are in both styles, which does make sense (e.g., like we experienced in Japan) so I'm less concerned on that front. Oh, and it looks like "driving in Crete" is a popular topic in general. Trying to find that dire story I simply googled "driving in Crete" and found many more calming reports that match what you have said. So, thanks again.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
21439 posts

keri, I've been packing along a small Garmin NĂ¼vi GPS unit for several years, and find that it's a very useful travel accessory. I use it not only for in-car use, but also when walking around cities. The GPS unit I've been using is now "discontinued", but the replacement model is the 275/275T, which includes both North American and European maps. It's currently listed on Amazon for $129.99. Yes, using cellular data on an iPhone could become VERY expensive, so that's not a good option. You might check with AT&T to find out what the cost would be for "limited" data access with a roaming plan. Cheers!

Posted by Julie
SF Bay Area, CA, USA
446 posts

Keri - If you survived Ireland, you should be able to survive Crete! We used Sixt for our car rental (arranged it through our hotel in Heraklion for the best price we could find including full insurance - cost was almost double if we had booked it on our own). We usually get the full insurance in Greece as we don't want to spend any time taking care of things should there be any damage or an accident. They gave us a good map and we used it along with the Michelin map. Many of the locals gave us great directions and navigation was really easy. It takes a little getting used to their driving, but once you do it seems to make sense. I found myself riding the right white line subconsciously when I got home.... Once you get over their habit of passing on blind curves in the mountains, driving is relatively stress free. Just like Italy and Spain, don't assume anyone will stop at red lights or stop signs right away. They did seem to stop for pedestrians this past trip - have to be careful taxis slamming on their brakes in the cities. Not sure if it's a new rule or I just didn't notice it last time. The scariest thing we saw was a local car in front of us on the main road between Heraklion and Chania beeline for a pedestrian (seemed like a local) shaking his fist. The pedestrian ran for the guardrail and jumped over. The driver swerved, just missing the guardrail and drove off really fast still shaking his fist. The pedestrian got up and ran across the street shaking his fist and yelling as the car drove off. We spent the rest of that car trip making stories up about what just happened... The only problem we had was getting around in Chania but after going in circles we knew the streets really well. Also, ask the locals about parking restrictions - some of the signs in Chania contradicted each other. They gave us good information about where we could and could not park and which signs to go by.

Posted by Jim
New Berlin, WI, US
156 posts

Ken, roads in Crete are not great but compared to driving in Ireland, Crete is a piece of cake! The drive from Chania to Elafonissi Beach is a little challenging but not really a problem. We had no GPS, just some decent maps and we got along fine. I second the comment on driving in Chania. We stayed at the Palazzo in the old town area (it was great!) and once we memorized the various turns to get back to the hotel, it was fine. Chania is one of our favorite towns. The people were fantastic. I used a computer at one internet cafe and had forgotten my money clip at the hotel. I owed for computer time and a beer! The owner said, "Don't worry about it." I returned a hour later with the money, the owner wouldn't take it. He said, "I told you no problem. Stop in and see me the next time you visit Crete." That ever happen to you anywhere in the world?

Posted by Debbie
Sunnyvale, CA, USA
290 posts

Listen to the locals. I was in Crete May 2011 for 10 nights and the roads were in better condition than here in California. Definitatly rent a car. You'll be happy you did when you see folks walking alongside the highway to get to a bus stop. Anna Car is a great car rental. Get a good road map. Signage isn't the greatest but I got around just fine. Don't worry about other drivers. Some folks are like very slow turdles and drive in the gutter so others can pass & a few are jack rabbits that will pass in unsafe parts of the road. Just get over to the right for the speeders.

Posted by David
Boise, ID, USA
1 posts

These are some great comments, and really help in my planning for my family's visit to Crete in July. Rental car - check! IDP - Check! ATT International package - not going to go there, as a GPS and buying a local vodaphone is cheaper. Sounds like the roads are imminently improved since I was last there as a child in 1969 - took all day back then to travel from Heraklion to Chania'!

Posted by Elizabeth
Lake Oswego, OR, United States
45 posts

We drove without difficulty a year ago September (we were based in Chania and went to Falasarna (gorgeous beach) as well as to Rethmnon and ultimately to Heraklion, without any problem. One note: I was glad to have read ahead of time of the Greek tendency to drive with the right tires off the main road and on the shoulder when driving on the National Road... This creates a kind of passing lane in the middle of the road, as the National Road, while "the" main highway, is only a couple of lanes wide!
We found Chania to be totally walkable and did not drive in town, but rather in and out to our various locations as noted above. We LOVED Chania and Crete in general.