The best Crete beaches and where to stay

The colour spectrum of any Greece getaway will be centred on deep oceanic blues, gradually transmuting into vibrant pinks and balancing out in dusty whites. Crete is no different and goes one dimension further by adding pebbled beach textures and silky Aegean seascapes. If that wasn’t enough for the senses, the warm, salty breeze coming in off of the coast is sure to do the trick. To best experience the colours, sights, smells and textures of Crete, it’s to the beach we head, choosing from 1,046 kilometres to cover both Chania in the west and the Lybian coast in the south. Discover the best beaches in Crete and the hotels to stay at below.

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Agios Nikolaos, Greece | Photo: Kirill Shavlo

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Elafonissi has a certain enigmatic charm, made so by rose-tinted sands and a pair of lagoons that flank the entry path

1. Elafonissi

When sampling the western shores of Chania, it’s Elafonissi Beach that will undoubtedly become a favourite thanks to its pinnacle location on the island’s westernmost point, 82 kilometres northwest of Chania main town. Connected to the rest of Crete via a shallow reef, crossable in calm water, Elafonissi has a certain enigmatic charm, made so by rose-tinted sands and a pair of lagoons that flank the entry path. Being so far west, Elafonissi is notorious for heavy winds and as such is a popular spot for windsurfers and kiteboarders. Study the sport or snap up a sunbed, moving towards the coves and dunes beyond for more solitude and varying degrees of nudity.

Where to stay: Xasteriá Hotel lies on the beachfront, less than 5 kilometres from Elafonissi and just 15 minutes’ walk from Aspri Limni. Various restaurants are based closer still, as is the Monastery of Chrysoskalitissa.

Elafonissi Beach | Photo: Manos Chainakis

Photo: Manos Chainakis

2. Falassarna

Going one hour west of Chania town will put you in the direction of Falassarna, a slightly lesser-known Crete vacation spot, with panoramic seascapes and the scent of olive groves in the air. Tavernas and villas run the hills behind, but it’s the beach that wins attention among windsurfers, families and honeymooners alike. While in the area be sure to check out the ancient Minoan harbour a little ways inland of Falassarna, returning to the beach for the dreamiest sunsets of burning orange on indigo horizons.

3. Balos

Perhaps the most famed of beach resorts in the west, Balos is undoubtedly postcard material. Located on the north-western peninsula of Gramvousa, Balos is best reached by boat from Kissamos Port, its scrub-laden hills and turquoise lagoons coming into view soon after departure. Alternatively, channel your inner Princess Diana (who once visited with Prince Charles) by arriving via private yacht, or get adventurous with a bumpy drive and 25-minute downward hike to the water. Despite seeing lots of visitors, the beach itself is wholly undeveloped meaning your best bet is to pack a picnic and plenty of water before heading out.

Balos Beach | Photo: Frank-Eiffert

Hotels in Chania

Whether it’s Elafonissi, Falassarna or Balon that has piqued your attention, there are plenty of beautiful Crete hotels nearby ready to put you up for the night. Our first pick, the polished Porto Veneziano, sits afront Chania harbour and provides guests with convenient access to the old town’s main sights and the White Mountains. Samaria Hotel is similarly situated close to the harbour and features a swimming pool and sun terrace for lazy days in luxury. One of the more unique offerings in Chania town however is Monastery Estate Venetian Harbour, set within a 15th-century monastery and former home of a Venetian aristocrat built along the harbour on Roman ruins. Within the original stone walls of the mansion, you’ll find a spa centre with traditional Turkish hammam and pool, in addition to in-suite terraces and hot tubs. As with everything in Chania, the estate can be hard to find, hidden amongst a maze of shopping lanes, though having easy access to various hip cafés and restaurants makes the hunt worth it.

Chania, Greece | Photo: Matthieu Oger

Chania | Photo: Frederik Holmgren

4. Seitan Limania

Lying within a secret cove up on the northeast side of Crete’s Akrotiri Peninsula, Seitan Limania is a rocky wonder. On approach, you’ll see just barren mountains before winding steeply downwards from atop the cliffs. After a series of hairpin bends leading down to Seitan Limania, you’ll see an unearthly strip of blue, wedged between jagged rocks in what one might call a paradise sandwich. Delight in the views atop the hill before carefully climbing down the path towards a tiny strip of white sand, azure shallows and little else but stunning seascapes.

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5. Georgioupolis

Most Crete beaches don’t come made like Georgioupolis and the namesake town at its centre runs rather greener than most. The many restaurants and bars here come shaded by huge trees, adding comfort in the hottest months. At its rolling edge there lies a 2-kilometre stretch of shoreline, along which you’ll find all the facilities you could ever need. Developed as it is, Georgioupolis may not be the quietest beach break on the island, but varied options and proximity to both Chania and Rethymno make it a contender. Take the drive to Rethymno and you’ll also be rewarded halfway with views of Agios Nikolaos chapel set way out on a rocky jetty. Georgioupolis’ location at the point where the Almyros River enters the sea is also a reason for nature lovers to visit. As well as being the key habitat for a vast array of migratory birdlife, it’s also here on the riverbed that loggerhead sea turtles come to nest each year.

Where to stay: Pilot Amphora Boutique Hotel is an exclusive adults-only property in Georgioupolis, around 800 metres from Peristeras Beach and hosting its own garden sun terrace and stylish terracotta pool area where you can soak up the Greek sunshine in utmost peace. The fitness centre and boutique services can see you satisfied on-site, or otherwise, car and bicycle rentals allow you to explore the hills nearby.

Seitan Limania | Photo: Katarzyna Tyl

Photo: Christo Anestev

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Gaze down on Preveli from the precipice above and you may get butterflies from either the steep descent that awaits you or the perfect views below

6. Preveli

Gaze down on Preveli from the precipice above and you may get butterflies from either the steep descent that awaits you or the perfect views below. Regardless of your jitters, taking the rocky pathway is certainly worthwhile, leading visitors through the endpoint of Kourtaliotiko Gorge down to an undeveloped pebble beach and snorkelling haven. Stay amidst the jagged hills and jungle vegetation to fully realise your desert island self, or alternatively visit the nearby Preveli Monastery set on a hill overlooking the Libyan Sea.

Preveli beach | Photo: Mary Fotinaki

7. Matala & Kommos

A legend among hippies since the 1960s, Matala prior to that was a small fishing village known only in Greek mythology as the place where Zeus swam ashore with a kidnapped Europa on his back. Since the hippies took over, Matala and the nearby beach of Kommos have boomed in popularity to become two of the favourite tourist spots on the island. Outside of high season, however, Matala calms down to provide a dreamy selection of bays, cliffs and caves ripe for exploration. Come to Matala via a 1-hour, scenic road trip from Heraklion, stopping by Matala Beach to see the cave once inhabited by singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell, or by Messara Bay for something slightly less crowded. Those seeking local experiences thereafter can head inland to the peaceful villages of Pitsidia, Sivas and Kamilari where traditional lifestyles and archaeological intrigues await.

Matala | Photo: Leonhard Niederwimmer

Photo: Andrea Piacquadio

8. Ammoudara Beach

Somewhat closer to the city of Heraklion is the 7-kilometre stretch known as Ammoudara Beach, based just 5 minutes from the Old City and considered one of the best in the area. Walk the entire length at a leisurely pace, renting a sunbed, kiteboard or windsurfing instruction whenever you fancy. Ammoudara Beach comes fed by the River Giofyros and outlined by the ancient coastline, with areas for both socialising and solitude. The west part of the beach – from Pancretan Stadium to the dunes of Xeropotamos – comes quieter than other parts, as do the beaches at the mouth of the Almiros and Gazanos River. During your stay in Heraklion, there is much else to do besides beaching, including visiting the Heraklion Archaeological Museum and Palace of Knossos, ending the night on vibrant squares filled with restaurants, shops and bars.

Where to stay: Ikaros Suites comes with its own pool, Cretan restaurant and garden some 100 metres from Ammoudara Beach, in proximity to a handful of café bars and a mini-market. Alternatively, adults can live large at the aptly named Enorme Lifestyle Beach, taking advantage of the seven outdoor pools, sun terrace and garden overlooking the Mediterranean Sea beyond. Expect world-class service from your Bali daybed as well as sustainable facilities close by a number of shops and restaurants.

Photo: Emilia Babalau-Maghiar

9.  Agios Nikolaos & Voulisma

Agios Nikolaos is a top choice for travellers seeking both culture and coast, as it lies close to a range of sublime beaches while centred within a lively town. Beaches in the area include Kitroplatia Beach with its views across Mirabello Bay and the mountains beyond, based not far from the town’s lake and port areas. Almyros Beach lies a little further out beckoning visitors with its undeveloped pristine sands. Of the best Crete Greece beaches in the region, however, Voulisma Beach wins out owing to its wide, curving bay set against a spectacular backdrop of cliffs. Largely undeveloped, Voulisma is reachable via a long staircase and offers water sports and jet ski rentals.

Where to stay: On a rocky outcrop overlooking Almyros Beach, The Island Concept is easily a contender among the best hotels in Crete, not least because of its sea views and remote feel. On the grounds, you’ll also find an infinity pool, spa and outdoor gym, with cliff pathways leading to the beach and Agios Nikolaos beyond. Minos Beach Art Hotel meanwhile hosts guests on the sea edge among a fine selection of contemporary works, with access to the beach via a stone walkway and a short stroll from the taverns and shops of Agios Nikolaos. The last of our hotels in Crete Greece then is Daios Cove Luxury Resort & Villas, set across different levels upon the northeast coastal cliffs. Working with the natural attractions of the cove, Daios offers 165 seawater pools alongside a spa, international food bazaar and luxury rooms.

Voulisma | Photo: Evangelos Mpikakis

Agios Nikolaos | Photo: Tobias Reich

10. Vaï

Venturing east to Lasithi province for one last look around, you’ll be happy to find Vaï, more Caribbean than Cretan in appearance thanks to an abundance of palm trees (a grove of over 5,000 of them!) lining calm shores. Don’t be fooled however because you are most certainly still in Greece, as reflected in the ancient Minoan site of Itanos which itself has a trio of secluded bay beaches. Though crowded in high season, Vaï runs for kilometres parallel to the ‘Palm Forest’ meaning there are any number of places to rest in tropical climes, with snack bars and cafés close at hand.

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Matala beach | Photo: Tobias Reich

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