Choosing where to stay in Crete, the largest Greek Island and the furthest south requires some research. Crete is also the island with the largest population, so naturally, there’s plenty of accommodation for visitors. Because of its location, Crete has mild, somewhat wet winters and hot, dry summers. The north coast of the island is the most populated and this is where the major cities are located. There is a highway, Greece’s only motorway that isn’t on the mainland, that stretches along the north coast from the westernmost town, Kissamos, to the easternmost, Sitia.
Along the highway, you will find the island’s capital, Heraklion, a busy working city close to the famous archaeological site of Knossos. Rethymnon and Chania, to the west of Heraklion, retain influences of both Venetian and Ottoman rule. Agios Nikolaos is to the east of Heraklion and is a relaxed tourist resort, while people who want to party all night head to resorts such as Malia and Hersonissos.
The island’s south coast is more rugged and less visited than the north. Here you will find gorges, quiet beaches, and isolated villages. However, a few resorts on the south coast are popular during the summer, particularly Paleochora in the southwest and Irepatra in the southeast.
The north and south of the island are separated by mountain ranges which offer fantastic hiking and exciting drives. In the White Mountains, you will find the Samaria Gorge, which is a hike of 16 km (9.9 miles) over rocky terrain.
Crete is special because of its rich and varied history, starting with the Minoans, who date as far back as 3,500 BC, through to Venetian rule, Ottoman invasion, and then German occupation and the daring actions of the Cretans.
The Cretan diet is Mediterranean and one of the world’s healthiest. It relies on olive oil, of which the island produces plenty, herbs, fresh vegetables and fruit, and fish and seafood. Meat is just eaten once or twice a week. To get the real experience, visit a taverna off the tourist track to taste the food as the Cretans enjoy. The traditional Cretan spirit, often given at the end of the meal as a gift, is raki. The Cretans also enjoy ouzo, always with a mezze plate.
Crete is the place to go if you want to sunbathe and swim. And you won’t be disappointed if you enjoy visiting museums and archaeological sites. If you want to enjoy nature, you will be in your element. I have chosen five cities on the island, all offering diverse activities to help you decide where to stay in Crete.
Where To Stay In Crete
I may be biased because I live close to Chania, but I think this is the best place on the island. You can take a full-day trip to Chania from Rethymno but it’s worth staying in Chania for longer.
The city has a beautiful 14th-century Venetian harbour, buildings with influences of the Ottoman Empire, narrow streets and unique shops in the Old Town, and many waterfront restaurants and bars. A fun way to explore the old town is on a guided Segway tour.
If you are interested in the area’s history, there are museums galore, but if beach life is what you are after, there are lovely beaches on the city’s outskirts.
The New Town is filled with modern shops, and here you can shop ‘til you drop.
The nightlife in Chania is lively, with bars and clubs open until the early morning hours.
A popular tour from Chania is to take a boat trip to Elafonisi Island.
Hotels in Chania
Luxury – The Chania Hotel
This 5-star hotel is right in the centre of Chania, in 1866 Square in the New Town. It isn’t far from the harbour, with plenty of restaurants and bars.
The lovely Old Town is also nearby, with its jewellery and souvenir shops and Leather Street is where to buy leather items, including shoes, bags, purses and belts.
If you are vegan, stay away!
The hotel is steeped in tradition, which can be seen in the rooms, many of which are adorned with historic photos of the city.
Rooms in The Chania Hotel are luxurious and have air-conditioning, a coffee maker, a kettle, a minibar and a safety deposit box. They also come with desks, flat-screen TVs and private bathrooms; some rooms have balconies.
Included in your stay is a la carte or continental breakfast. At an extra cost, you can go to the Pantheon Bar and Restaurant for lunch or dinner on the rooftop, and from here, you will get spectacular views of The White Mountains and the city.
Traditional Greek cuisine is served in the restaurant, and if you are looking for a cocktail, head to La Canega Cafe Bar.
The hotel has free Wi-Fi, a 24-hour front desk, a tour desk, car rentals and airport transfers at an extra cost. There is a business centre which has a fax machine and photocopier.
If you feel you have overindulged in Cretan cuisine, head to the gym or swim a few laps in the rooftop swimming pool. There is a sauna and a wellness centre, but you can have treatments in your room if you find that more comfortable.
Nea Chora Beach is just 1 km (0.62 miles) from the hotel, within walking distance.
Mid-Range – Mosaic Venetian Harbour Suites
The Mosaic Venetian Harbour Suites are in the Old Town of Chania and are just 400 metres (1312 feet) from the harbour, where you will find many restaurants, tavernas and bars.
The Old Town offers shops selling hand-made jewellery and souvenirs.
You are also close to the Maritime Museum, which tells you about Crete’s history with the sea.
It is also a short walk from the hotel to the Nea Chora beach.
The hotel offers continental breakfast at an extra charge and free Wi-Fi throughout the building.
The rooms all have air conditioning, a coffee machine, a kettle, desk, fridge, TV, safety deposit box and a private bathroom with a shower.
Budget – Kedrissos Hotel
The Kedrissos Hotel is great value for money and has excellent amenities for the price.
It is on the outskirts of Chania but it doesn’t take long to walk in, or you can take the bus. Parking is difficult if you don’t know Chania, so I suggest not to take a car into the city.
The hotel is just 500 metres (1640 feet) away from the beaches of Aptera and Chrissi Akti.
If you prefer a pool, the hotel has a 150 square metre (1614.6 square feet) pool with a separate section for children.
Self-catering rooms have air conditioning, a kitchen, a TV and a private bathroom. A bar/restaurant offers breakfast at a reasonable rate.
There is room service and free Wi-Fi throughout the hotel. The hotel also has a fitness centre and free parking if you want to hire a car.
Rethymnon is also on the north coast of Crete, about 63 km (39 miles) east of Chania.
Like Chania, it has a Venetian harbour lined with tavernas and bars. And minarets and domes harking back to Ottoman rule.
Guarding Rethymnon on top of a spectacular headland is the Fortezza, which is well worth visiting for superb views of the sea and the city.
The city is steeped in history, with museums like the Archaeological Museum and the Historical & Folk Art Museum.
The Old Town is beautiful with its narrow streets, jewellery stores and souvenir shops.
Nightlife is vibrant during the summer months. There are many cafes and bars around the harbour area as well as summer clubs playing a variety of music.
There is a long sandy beach in town, so you can combine sightseeing and sunbathing without leaving Rethymnon. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, head out on a half-day quad bike safari.
Hotels in Rethymnon
This hotel has certainly earned its “luxury” tag.
It has a large patio with palm trees, a swimming pool, and a Turkish Bath and massage service.
The hotel has two buildings offering different types of accommodation with varying sizes, and some rooms even have a hot tub.
All are decorated with beautiful fabrics and have air conditioning, free Wi-Fi, a tea/coffee maker, a minibar, satellite TV, a DVD player, and a private bathroom with a bathrobe, toiletries, and a hairdryer.
Buffet breakfast is included in the room rate and is served by the pool.
The main restaurant is open all day and evening, serving Cretan and Mediterranean cuisine.
The pool bar serves light meals and an extensive range of drinks, especially signature cocktails.
The Venetian Harbour and Old Town are just a five-minute walk away, and Rethymnon Beach is 15 minutes away.
Mid-Range – The City Hotel & Suites
The City Hotel & Suites is in the centre of the New Town of Rethymnon.
It has a sun terrace and swimming pool, so you don’t have to walk to the beach if you want to swim.
The hotel offers guests free Wi-Fi throughout the building, a tour desk, free parking and a business centre.
Rooms in the City Hotel & Suites have air conditioning, satellite TV, a fridge, a kettle, a desk, and a private bathroom with a shower and hairdryer.
A full breakfast buffet is served.
Some packages include it; others offer it at a very reasonable price.
The hotel is right across from the Palaeontology Museum, and the Archaeological Museum and Municipal Gardens are close by.
It’s also not far from the harbour.
Budget – Melitti Hotel
This hotel is in a prime position if you want to enjoy water sports as it is only a few metres from Rethymnon Beach.
It is also just 2 km.
(1.24 miles) away from the centre of the Old Town and the harbour.
There are plenty of bars and restaurants close by the hotel, as well as mini markets and bakeries.
The Cretans do make delicious baked goods, so be sure to try some during your stay.
There is a bus stop just 80 metres (262 feet) away if you don’t fancy walking to the harbour or want to explore further afield.
Heraklion and Chania are both an hour away, Chania to the west and Heraklion to the east.
If you don’t like the sand between your feet, the hotel has a swimming pool.
It has free umbrellas and deckchairs.
The hotel has 27 studios and apartments, all offering a kitchenette, TV, air-con, a safety deposit box, and a private bathroom.
Some rooms include breakfast in the package.
If not, you can buy breakfast at a very good price.
Heraklion, also known as Iraklio, is the capital city of the island of Crete and a working city, so it remains busy even in the winter.
It has been made famous through the Palace of Knossos, just 3 km (1.86 miles) east of the city.
This archaeological site dates back thousands of years to the Minoan civilisation.
Many of the artefacts found here are now housed in the Archaeological Museum in the centre of Heraklion, but it is still well worth visiting Knossos to see how advanced the Minoans were.
However, be prepared for crowds in the summer months.
As in most Greeks cities, there is an Old and New Town. The hop-on hop-off bus is an easy way to explore.
In the New Town of Heraklion, you will find many famous chain stores, designer shops, restaurants, cafes and bars.
The Old Town has smaller individual shops selling jewellery and souvenirs and is dominated by the Venetian Fortress of Koules.
Nightlife is vibrant, but if you don’t want to dance the night away, you can still spend long evenings in a taverna enjoying a few glasses of raki after your meal.
You are never rushed in a Cretan Taverna; sometimes, they will have live musicians playing traditional Cretan music. However, for those who want to party, there are many clubs where DJs play international hits.
There aren’t any beaches in the town centre, but if you go a little way out, you will find many beaches. One of the nearest is Ammoudara Beach which is 8.3 km (5.2 miles) to the west. You can take a bus if you don’t want to hire a car.
A fantastic tour from Heraklion is a half-day sailing trip to Dia Island.
Hotels in Heraklion
Luxury – Dimargio Luxury Hotel & Spa
Dimargio Luxury Hotel & Spa is a five-star hotel with well-preserved stone walls, a staircase, and an atrium designed as it would have been in ancient Greece.
The facilities are second-to-none. The hotel has a fitness and wellness centre, a business centre, a shared lounge, a terrace, a bar, and a restaurant.
The Dimargio Bistro serves delicious and healthy Mediterranean cuisine.
Breakfast is included in the room price, and there’s a choice of an American breakfast, continental or buffet.
The rooms are luxurious and have air conditioning, free Wi-Fi, a coffee machine, a kettle, a fridge, a desk, a TV, and a private bathroom with a shower. Some rooms have a balcony.
Mid-Range – GD Gallery Suites
This hotel is in the centre of Heraklion, 4 km (2.5 miles) from the airport.
It offers free private parking, free Wi-Fi throughout the building, room service, a bar, and a restaurant, the DelMode Cafe Bistro, which is open all day.
You can get a la carte breakfast here at a very reasonable price, and during the day, it serves small meze plates, while in the evening, you can have a full meal and a signature cocktail.
The wine list will blow your mind with its variety of high-quality wines.
You can wind down in the hotel’s spa and wellness centre.
All the rooms have a balcony with a view towards the city, a private bathroom fitted with a shower, a TV, tea and coffee-making facilities, and air conditioning.
Budget – Talos Apartments & Studios
Talos Apartments & Studios are self-catering and all accommodation has a fully equipped kitchen, dining area, washing machine and air conditioning.
Free Wi-Fi, a private bathroom with a shower, hairdryer and free toiletries complete the home-away-from-home feel.
Some of the apartments have a balcony or patio with city views.
Talos Apartments & Studios has a fitness centre, shared lounge, and a terrace.
They offer a car rental service as well.
If you stay here, you won’t be far from restaurants, bars, the Archaeological Museum and the Venetian Walls.
Agios Nikolaos used to be famous for its bars and clubs, and young holidaymakers headed here to party all night.
However, now it is quieter and more relaxed with just a few music bars and ‘British-style’ bars.
The party animals now head to Malia and Hersonissos, on the north coast between Heraklion and Agios Nikolaos.
I can’t say I’m sorry that Agios Nikolaos isn’t a party town anymore as it is a lovely place. Now you will find relaxed cafes and bars on the harbour’s south side, popular with locals and holidaymakers, making the place feel more authentically Greek.
The highlight of Agios Nikolaos is Lake Voulismeni, which is in the city’s centre and is connected to the sea. It is 64 metres (210 feet) deep, although locals say it’s bottomless.
There are restaurants and bars around the lake where you can while away the hours.
There are a couple of museums in Agios Nikolaos, but it isn’t known for its historical significance. However, if you enjoy visiting churches, there are 28 in and around the city and seven monasteries.
If you enjoy art, paintings and sculptures can be found adorning 11 different staircases around the city.
Some pedestrianised streets are in the middle of Agios Nikolaos, where you will find tiny jewellers, souvenir shops, bars, and cafes.
While in Agios Nikolaos, you should take a boat trip to Spinalonga Island, a leper colony until 1957. It is just 15 km (9.3 miles) from the port and most boat trips include a swimming stop.
Hotels in Agios Nikolaos
Luxury – Wyndham Grand Crete Mirabello Bay
If you want to be treated like a celebrity, this 5-star hotel will suit you down to the ground.
The service is top-notch, and the facilities are excellent.
There are three swimming pools, a well-equipped gym, a volleyball court, a tennis court, and a wide range of water sports.
The rooms are luxurious and have air conditioning, a tea/coffee maker, a TV, a bathroom with complimentary toiletries, a bathrobe, and a hairdryer.
There is free Wi-Fi in all the rooms and throughout the hotel.
The hotel has an amazing total of nine restaurants serving different types of food, such as Cretan, Mediterranean, barbecue, and Italian.
You can choose to include breakfast, breakfast, and dinner or all-inclusive.
There are also bars in the hotel, including a wet pool bar.
The hotel has a 24-hour front desk, and meeting and banquet facilities are on offer.
Mid-Range – Palazzo Arhontiko Apartments
This hotel is conveniently situated on Kitroplateia Beach and is only a few minutes walk from the centre of Agios Nikolaos with its restaurants, bars, and shops.
Rooms all have air conditioning, free Wi-Fi, a living room, a kitchenette with a microwave, fridge, kettle, a dining room and a balcony.
You can see the majestic Sitia Mountains and the Mirabella Gulf from some of the rooms.
A continental breakfast is available at an extra charge in the Palazzo Café, where you can also have drinks and refreshments during the day.
Enjoy snacks, drinks and beach cocktails in the lounge.
The hotel also has a library and a reading room, offers massages, and there are babysitting facilities if you have children.
Budget – Victoria Hotel
This reasonably priced hotel is in a beautiful setting; it is right by the sea near the blue-flagged beach, Ammoudi.
You get lovely views over Mirabella Bay from the hotel and the beach.
The rooms all have air conditioning, free Wi-Fi, a TV, a phone, a mini fridge, and a private bathroom.
Some have views of the sea, others of the gardens.
Ammoudi Beach is just 80 metres (262 feet) away, and here you can enjoy water sports and take boat trips.
The hotel doesn’t offer food or drinks, but plenty of tavernas and bars are nearby.
You are also just a seven-minute walk from the city centre and the lake.
We can’t not mention one of the few resorts on the south coast of Crete.
I have chosen Ierapetra, a peaceful town famous for its exotic beaches and great weather in the southeast of the island.
Even in the winter, it doesn’t get particularly cold, and it rarely rains there because the mountains act as a barrier against bad weather.
The long waterfront has many cafes, bars and fish taverns serving the day’s catch.
The beach by the waterfront is sandy and organised with sun loungers and water sports opportunities.
The port area is very pretty; here you will find more tavernas, shops and hotels.
Ierapetra isn’t a town for history buffs, but you can explore the Venetian Fortress, built in the 14th century.
It survived both Venetian and Ottoman rule; nowadays, it is home to various cultural events.
If you want a day trip from Ierapetra, take a boat ride to the tiny Chrissi Isle, eight nautical miles into the Libyan Sea. It is a flat strip with shallow, clear turquoise water and pink sand surrounding it.
If you are interested in bird watching, there are 120 species on the island and if you are really lucky, you may even see the Coretta sea turtles.
Another excellent thing to do is a self-drive jeep tour to explore the villages in the Thripti Mountains.
Hotels in Ierapetra
Luxury – Enorme Santanna Beach
This 4-star hotel faces the beachfront and has many facilities, including a seasonal outdoor swimming pool, a garden, a gym, a terrace, a 24-hour front desk, a bar, and a restaurant.
Breakfast and dinner are included in the price. Breakfast is either continental, buffet, or American. Dinner includes dishes from all over the world, and there are choices for vegans, vegetarians and people with allergies.
The hotel offers airport transfers, saving you from driving after a long flight. There is free Wi-Fi throughout the hotel.
The rooms are luxurious and have air conditioning, a TV, a coffee machine, a kettle, a safety deposit box, and a private bathroom.
Enorme Santanna Beach hosts live music once a week, and yoga and beach volleyball are on offer.
The hotel is just 2.5 km (1.5 miles) away from the centre of town.
Mid-Range – Pignolia Suites – Adults Only
This hotel is for you if you want a peaceful holiday without children running around and it’s in a prime position, just 700 metres (2297 feet) from Agia Fotia Beach.
The hotel has an outdoor swimming pool if you don’t fancy sand between your toes.
There is also a lovely garden to relax in, a shared lounge, a bar and a buffet breakfast is available at an extra charge.
You can use the barbecue area whenever you want if you don’t want to go out for the evening.
If you have a rental car, you can park here for free and use free Wi-Fi throughout the property.
The rooms have air conditioning, a seating area, a satellite TV, a kitchen, a dining area, a tea/coffee maker, and a private bathroom with a hairdryer, toiletries, and a shower.
Budget – Irene Villas
Irene Villas is across the road from a sandy beach, 1.5 km (0.93 miles) long so you won’t have a problem finding somewhere to sunbathe.
The Villas have two sets of apartments in beautiful gardens.
The gardens have a swimming pool, a children’s pool and a spa pool.
There is a barbecue area that guests can use.
The 16 apartments have air conditioning, a kitchenette, a dining room and a private bathroom.
Some apartments have verandas with sea views, while others have views towards the gardens.
Irene Villas doesn’t serve food, but they are just 1 km (0.62 miles)from Ierapetra Town, where you will find many tavernas, bars, cafes, and shops.