Without a doubt Greece is one of my favourite countries. I love the islands, the food, the cute towns with the friendly locals and, of course, the beaches. Plus, I also feel comfortable traveling solo in Greece as a woman. So, when friends of mine planned a destination in Crete I quickly said “YES!” and planed a week of exploring Greece before their big day. Crete was a lot bigger than I expected and while I didn’t see it all, I saw a lot. So, for anyone looking for a Crete itinerary, here’s my suggestions for how to spend 7 days in Crete.
When to go to Crete, Greece
The furthest south of the Greek islands, Crete stays warmer for longer in the year. That being said, it’s still seasonal so don’t expect sunny, hot beach weather in January. April until the mid/end of October is the typical full season with the busiest months being June, July, and August. To escape the crowds, you’ll want to visit in those earlier spring months or later fall months. However, keep in mind the weather can be volatile. I visited in mid-October and had a few beautiful beach days but also some intense storms with disastrous flooding.
How to Get to Crete, Greece
Crete is the largest Island in Greece and also the furthest south. While it is possible to take a ferry to Crete, it might be a very long journey depending on where you are coming from. For example, Santorini is only 2 hours but taking a ferry from Athens to Crete will take, on average, 7.5 to 9.5 hours. With that in mind, it might be easier to fly to Crete, depending on where you are coming from.
There are two main airports in Crete. The first is in Chania and the second is in Heraklion. If you have 1 week in Crete then I highly suggest flying in from one and out from the other. After all, Crete is a big island and while 7 days in Crete seems like a good amount of time, you’d rather spend it exploring and not driving to the airport.
Getting Around Crete, Greece
Crete, more so than some of the other Greek islands I have been to, really would be best explored by car. Keep in mind that if you are renting a car the roads can be narrow with lots of turns. Plus, almost all car rentals are standards rather than automatics, so make sure that you know have to drive stick if you plan on renting a car in Crete.
If you do not want to rent a car, you can still get around. You just won’t have as much freedom and it might take a little longer. There is a decent bus network for the main areas (ie: Chania to Heraklion). Though some smaller spots have longer journeys that do require changing buses. Again, not a bad thing but a little more time-consuming.
You can also use day trips, some of which I will recommend below, to explore parts of the island.
Where to Stay in Crete, Greece
With one week in Crete, you can split up your time in multiple places depending on your interests. Chania and Heraklion are the two main cities that most people go to, but there are a few other options as well. I would say with this 1 week Crete itinerary you can plan on staying in 3-4. Here are my recommendations on where to stay in Crete.
Chania: Chania is a beautiful old town with a Venetian port. The city looks typical for a Greek island with colourful buildings, a taverna-lined waterfront, and lots of winding alleyways and streets. This was my favourite city in Crete and I highly recommend spending at least a couple of nights here.
Rethmynon: Another old town. Like Chania, Rethymnon has lots of little streets to explore and a waterfront. There is also a very impressive fortress on top of a hill overlooking the town and out to sea. If you don’t stay here, it’s at least worth a day trip.
Heraklion: The biggest city in Crete. Heraklion feels much more like a living city than a tourist city and while it’s nice to explore for a day it doesn’t have the same charm as Chania or Rethymno. That being said, because it is more of a living city, I found costs (especially for accommodation) to be more affordable here.
Agios Nikolaus/Plaka: Great areas for beach lovers. These towns are small and seasonal but if you love being by the ocean or are looking for a resort stay then I highly recommend a couple of nights in this area.
Suggested Crete Itinerary for 1 Week
For the sake of creating this itinerary, I’m suggesting flying into Chania and out of Heraklion but you can also do it in reverse!
Day 1: Chania Old Town (overnight in Chania)
Day 2: Elafonisi Beach (overnight in Chania)
Day 3: Rethymnon (overnight in Rethymnon)
Day 4: Heraklion (overnight in Heraklion)
Day 5: Knossos (overnight in Heraklion)
Day 6: Plaka & Spinalonga (overnight in Plaka)
Day 7: Plaka (overnight in Plaka or back to Heraklion depending on your flight)
Day 1: Things to do in Chania
Chania was my favourite part of my Crete itinerary. The beautiful old town is so picturesque to explore. There are plenty of tavernas along the waterfront or down the little alleys and I found the people to be very kind and friendly. Old Town Chania is small enough to see within a day but it makes a great base to see some of the highlights of this part of the island.
Some of my favourite suggestions for Chania include:
- Walk around the old Venetian port. There are plenty of tavernas to grab a bite or a drink and watch the water.
- Visit the Egyptian Lighthouse
- Explore the different neighbourhoods of Chania. Topanas, which used to be the Catholic part of town. Zudecca, which is the Jewish neighbourhood, and Splantzia which is the Turkish Quarter. There is so much history here and I loved the mix of old churches, synagogues, and mosques.
- Try a certain bougatsa: bougatsa are Greek pastries common around the country but Crete has its own version made with local cheese and topped with sugar. The most famous, and my favourite place to get a Cretian bougatsa was Iordanis Bakery.
Day 2: Elafonisi Beach Day Trip
The Greek islands are known for their beaches and Crete is no exception. Perhaps the most famous beach in Crete is Elafonisi Beach, known for its soft pink sand and turquoise waters. It’s considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and while it will be a very long journey (especially if you don’t rent a car) I do think it’s worth the day trip if you love beaches. Driving is the easiest and quickest way to go, if not you can join an organized day trip (it is slow, but still faster than local buses). Book a day trip from Chania to Elafonisi Beach here.
Pro tip: We were warned that the electricity here is wonky so not to buy any dairy products ie: ice cream. An entire group got sick once from it.
Day 3: Things to do in Rethymnon
Drive or grab a bus in the morning from Chania to Rethymnon, another picturesque old town on the coastline of Greece. Rethymnon is also quite small so a day here will allow you to explore and see what the town has to offer.
The biggest attraction in Rethymnon is the fortress, La Fortezza. Built by the Venetians and captured by the Ottomans, La Fortezza is huge and considered to be one of the top things to do in Rethymnon. Also, wander along the Venetian port and explore the winding streets of the Old Town. Keep an eye out for the Rimondi Venetian Fountain and if you enjoy museums you might like the Archaeological Museum of Rethymnon and/or the Historical and Folk Art Museum.
Day 4: Things to do in Heraklion
Drive or take a morning bus to Heraklion, the largest city in Crete. Unlike Chania and Rethymnon, Heraklion feels a lot bigger and more modern. It’s more of a living city than a tourist city which has some advantages and disadvantages. As mentioned earlier, I found it cheaper in Heraklion than in other places on the island of Crete. But, it wasn’t as charming and I didn’t feel like there was as much to do. So, for this reason I would say that one day is sufficient enough to explore Heraklion.
Some of the top things to do in Heraklion include seeing the following:
- Central Market
- Koules Fortress
- The Heraklion Archaeological Museum
- Venetian Harbour
- The Venetian Loggia
- Agios Titos Church (the oldest in the city)
- Morosini Fountain
Day 5: Knossos and the Minoans
If you are familiar with any Greek mythology you have no doubt heard of the famous Minotaur. Well, that story comes from Crete. Specifically, the ancient palace of Knossos.
Knossos is the second most popular archaeological site in all of Greece (the Acropolis in Athens is #1!) and an easy bus ride from Heraklion as it’s only 11km away. If you do take public transit, download the Moovit App and it will show you the easiest way to get there based on where you are staying in Heraklion.
You can buy your ticket on arrival to tour around on your own or you can choose to hire a guide. I visited on my own and while the signage was good and helpful, I definitely lurked around some of the guided tours to hear what they had to say. The guides explained in a lot more detail and shared the connection between the famous myths and the palace. So, if you love history or legends, I would suggest spending the extra money and hiring a guide. You can book a spot on a group guided tour here or a private tour here.
A visit here will take at least two hours, depending on how interested you are. but it’s a definite must on your Crete itinerary So, with travel time, expect it to take about half a day. Keep in mind it’s open and in full sunshine so it can get very hot if you are visiting during the warmer months. Afterwards, you can head back to Heraklion and site-see a little more (now might be a good time to visit the Archaeological Museum) or if you are up and a little adventure you could drive or hop a bus to Ammoudara beach, which is the closest beach to Heraklion (15-minute drive or 40 minutes by public transit).
Day 6: Plaka and Trip to Spinalonga
For your last couple of days, I suggest heading to a beach/resort area for a couple of days of R&R. I stayed in Plaka, which I’m basing this itinerary on. However, it’s a bit long but public transit so you can also choose Agios Nikolaos which has the same idea and the same opportunities.
This area has lots of beautiful resorts but if you prefer you can still find nice hotels and guest houses near the beach. We stayed at Cayo Resort in Plaka as I was there for a wedding. The resort was absolutely stunning and I would recommend it if you have the budget.
While in this area a day trip to Spinalonga is a must! It’s an island in the bay with a fascinating history. It was originally a fortress but is most famous for being home to a Leper Colony that was only shut down in 1957. You can visit on your own but having a guide will tell you some incredible stories. You can book a half-day trip from Spinalonga from Agios Nikolaos here.
Day 7: Relax
Make your final day in Crete a relaxing one. Spend it at the beach or at the pool of your hotel. Head down to one of the tavernas to dine on some incredible seafood and soak up the sunshine and sea air. You can spend the night here or head back to Heraklion depending on the timing of your flight.
If You Have More Time
While my suggested 7 days Crete itinerary will show you some of the highlights, Crete is a very large island and you could easily spend 2 or even three weeks exploring. Especially if you choose to rent a car.
If you have more than 1 week in Crete then I also suggest you look at the following:
- Balos Beach and Gramvousa Island: Another busy, full day from Chania but a stunning beach. Book here.
- Samaria Gorge: the most popular hike in Crete. You can book a guided hike from Chania or Rethymnon here.
- Visit some of Crete’s wineries
It’s also worth noting that Crete is quite close to Santorini and while I wouldn’t recommend just going for a day (although some people do) if you have more time, it’s a good island to visit!
Final Word on 1 Week in Crete
Crete is very big when it comes to Greek islands, so while 1 week in Crete might seem long at a glance, as you can see from my suggested Crete itinerary, it will be pretty fast-paced and busy. My suggestions show the highlights of the island but you might also prefer to slow down and spend longer in some places. Whatever you decide, I hope you enjoy this beautiful Greek island.
A Note on Travel Insurance in Greece
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine multiple times. While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance as they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found, plus, they are who I use and I have had great experiences with them. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.