Located in the Mediterranean Sea, Crete Island is Greece's largest island. Thanks to its rich history and natural sights, it has become one of the country's most popular vacation spots. About 3 million tourists visit Crete Island every year to explore its diverse culture and enjoy the scenery.
There are many places to visit and things to do in Crete as a visitor. Crete Island will conquer your heart if you seek for a quiet romantic getaway, vibrant nightlife, and fun-filled family adventure. The choice of where to stay in Crete depends on the type of vacation you want.
Apart from the big cities, there are towns in Crete to visit for a lifetime experience. These towns are also home to some of the most beautiful villages in Crete. Let's explore some of the best towns and villages on Crete Island.
Best for First-Timers
Heraklion, the capital city of Crete, is an important part of Greece. As a commercial hub, it has the largest airport on the Island. It is usually the first point of contact for tourists, and it showcases the best of Crete.
This modern town is crowded, upbeat, and bustling with college students. Heraklion is one of the best towns in Crete because it has a port that ferries almost everywhere on the Island. For this reason, many tourists prefer to stay over either at the beginning or towards the end of their vacation.
Heraklion is the best spot to visit Knossos Palace. It is the oldest city in Europe, dating back to the Bronze Age. The Knossos Palace is very famous and always filled with crowds. Setting out early to visit this archeological site is an enormous advantage of staying in Heraklion.
This beautiful seaside town is an old-world charm. It is also home to the Archeological museum, Koules Fortress, Venetian harbor, and other cultural attractions.
Best for Adventure
Chania is the second largest town on Crete Island. It is located close to the airport so it is also easily accessible. Surrounded by beautiful beaches and archeological sites, this historic town is a perfect blend of the historical and modern world. Chania is one of the prominent towns in Crete to visit for a grand adventure.
As a popular tourist destination, it’s quite crowded, especially during the summer months, which is obviously a high season in Chania. People are mostly looking to sunbath on the beaches, swim in the sea, or chill beside the water.
There are several beaches found in this picturesque town. First is the Venetian Harbor located centrally in Chania. This is the old part of the town where you will find the best view of the town, cafes, and traditional tavernas serving seafood delicacies. Walking around the alley will get you immersed in the history and beauty of Chania.
To enjoy the best of Crete while in Chania, visit the 16th-Century Venetian lighthouse. Although no longer functional, it is an ideal spot to capture the view at the harbor. Also, while in town, check out the Archaeological Museum of Chania, and shop at Chania Municipal Agora (one of the oldest farmer's markets). Don't forget to relax at the beaches to get the most of this town.
Best for a Romantic Getaway
Sissi is a small village located to the east of Heraklion. As one of the most beautiful villages in Crete, this quiet seaside village appeals to couples looking for a romantic getaway. It is far away from the business of the city of Malia. Once you arrive at the harbor, the beautiful scenery makes you feel you have stepped outside of time. The sea and Mountain View create a relaxing atmosphere that you quickly ease into.
Fishing is common in Sissi. Here, many tavernas serve some of the best fish dishes and seafood delicacies. The major attractions of Sissi are its port and waterfront. You can spend time exploring them or stroll around this beautiful village in Crete.
Best for Families
Hersonissos is one of the best towns in Crete for a wonderful family vacation. Located 50 miles east of Crete's capital, Heraklion, this town was once a Roman Port on Crete Island. Over the years, the town has changed dramatically with tourism growth.
Hersonissos perfectly matches you if you are looking for a family fun-filled vacation. You will find many shops and video game arcades on the town's street. You can stop here with the kids to have a family bonding time. While here, enjoy the nice beaches, the tavernas, and have a family adventure at any of the water parks in the town. Explore some of the best theme parks, like the Labyrinth and Dinosauria parks, for some more family adventure.
Also, visit the Lychnostatis Open Air Museum to learn about the early life of the inhabitants of Crete Island. Explore the Aquaworld Aquarium and Reptile Rescue Center and see the Roman archeological remains.
While this seaside resort is family-friendly, it also features some of the best nightlife vibes. Many young tourists troop into the town during the summer months, especially for the nighttime fun.
Best Day-Trip Destination
Spili is one of the best holiday villages in Crete. Located between mountains, it is 30 km away from Rethymnon. Spili's village center is well known for its unique Venetian fountain of lion heads. All the 25 lion heads lined together continually pour water from Mount Psiloritis.
While in this village, explore the Folk Museum of Spili. The museum displays tools and local crafts, mostly from embroidery work. You can also visit the beautiful Holy Metropolis of Lámbi and stroll through the cobblestoned street to explore the local shops and cafes.
Most people stop at Spili on their way to Rethymnon or come here for a day trip. Amari Valley is thirty minutes away from Spili. Consider planning a visit there once you finish in Spili. Also, the Preveli beach, one of the best beaches of Crete, is only a drive away.
Best for Ceramics
Margarites is another holiday village in Crete, well known for ceramics and pottery work. It is a small village at the foothill of Mount Psiloritis south of Rethymnon with a sea view. Located to the west of Crete, the village that borders the Margarites gorge.
Margarites is one of the most beautiful villages in Crete. At every walkway or street corner, beautiful Ceramic vases with flowers decorate the village. Walking around the village, you will find many ceramic studios with works on display for tourists. You can explore the studio to admire and buy the works or get your hands dirty by trying out pottery.
Margarite is crucial to pottery on Crete Island. The craft is a long-continued tradition that can be traced back to the 13th century B.C. Outside the villages and at the foot of the mountain, clay is found in abundance. While in Margarites, you can explore the small village by taking a walk down the alley. While walking, see the ancient stone house or stop at any café to enjoy a delightful treat.
Best for Nature Lovers
Loutro is another of the best holiday villages in Crete, located deep in the countryside of Sfakia. Mountains and gorges surround this charming seaside village. As a result, it is only accessible by boat. It is one of the villages in Crete that is pedestrian-only.
With its beautiful emerald-colored water and whitewashed buildings, Loutro welcomes tourists from all over the world. In Loutro, the beach is made of rocks and pebbles, so be careful while walking in the water. You can sit under the umbrellas to relax and unwind while appreciating the stunning view. Alternatively, you can enjoy a Sea Bream at Niko's signature restaurant. From the restaurant situated right on the beach, you get a perfect view of the beach.
During the summer months, hikers have fun exploring nearby Samaria and Imbros gorge. For day trip ideas from Loutro, take a ferry to Chora Sfakion, or visit the nearby Sweetwater and Marmara beach for a great time.
Best for Nightlife
Lying on the North Coast of Crete Island, Rethymnon is one of the best towns in Crete. It is located halfway between Chania and Heraklion. Rethymnon combines old Venetian culture and modern architecture. This seaside town is the third-largest in Crete. This beautiful medieval town is characterized by stunning mountain scenery, rivers, and traditional villages. It is a must-visit for nature lovers and people who want to have a feel of traditional island life.
Rethymnon has a good local beach and a sea harbor. However, tourists are attracted to this town because of the historical landmarks. Walking around the town, you will see several gorgeous buildings, including old churches, Venetian mansions and fortifications, and local shops.
In the old town center, you will find some of the best cuisines and affordable accommodation. You should know that the University of Crete is in Rethymnon. As a result, this large university town is famous for its vibrant nightlife that attracts many young travelers. Before leaving this old university town, stop at one of the many souvenir shops and grab a gift for your loved ones.
Best for Beach
Matala is a beautiful beach village on the southwest coast of Crete Island. This quiet village has the most bohemian beach made of sand and stone in all of Crete. History has it that the Greek god Zeus emerged from the sea located here in the form of a bull. Matala is a popular day-trip destination from Heraklion.
The quiet and simple nature of Matala makes it a perfect location for tourists who want to reflect or enjoy a lazy afternoon. Compared to the vibe in the big towns, the atmosphere here is laid back. The cave houses and dramatic landscapes in the village are always busy with tourists during the day. In the evening, the town is quieter because most people who come for day trips will have left by then.
While in this hippie village, explore the Roman Burial caves, enjoy local cuisine in a taverna, and stop to grab a souvenir. During the summer months, you will find more crowds here than usual, so keep this in mind when planning your trip.
Best for Luxury Vacation
Elounda, Agios Nikolaos
Elounda is a small fishing town on the Northern coast of Crete Island. Full of character, it is one of the Island's smaller coastal towns. Elounda is the best town in Crete to visit for luxury accommodation and five-star restaurants. However, there are cheaper eateries and mid-range accommodation available for budget travelers.
Although the village is small, you will find activities that will keep you engaged. Many tourists swim, go diving, and some even go mountain climbing. The best way to explore is to take a leisure stroll to the town center. You will find all kinds of boats lined up on the harbor. Walking east to the harbor, you will come across local tavernas. Turning to the south, you will be walking towards more exclusive restaurants and bars.
The ancient Greek city of Olous is an important historical site to see in Elounda. Supposedly, the city was said to have been sunk because of volcanic activities. To get the best view of the city's ruins, you might have to snorkel. Before leaving Elounda, take a boat trip to Spinalonga, a former leper colony. Before a cure was found for leprosy, affected victims were isolated here to contain the spread. This location was brought to the limelight by a popular 90s novel.
Regardless of which towns and villages you get to see during your travel to Crete, we’re sure you’ll be mesmerized - it’s just what Crete does to poeple!