Crete is by far the largest Greek island, more than double the size of the second closest (underexplored Euboea) and almost 100 times the size of Mykonos. Getting around this vast and mountainous island is like navigating a small country.
Many people – even those on extended vacations – choose to limit their explorations to one part of the island, often choosing east or west. Fortunately, getting around Crete is easy, although it can sometimes take time.
Covering 8,336 km² (3,219 sq mi), Crete is dotted with decent, albeit winding, roads served by a busy bus network. You can also rent a car, motorbike or scooter, which will give you the freedom to explore many other obscure – and rewarding – things! – corners of Crete.
There are taxis for local jaunts and ferries linking idyllic beaches along the southwest coast, and intrepid cyclists will find plenty to challenge their skills in the mountains inland. Here are our top tips for getting around Crete.
Skip the hassle (and help the environment) by taking the bus
You can get to almost anywhere in Crete by bus, and the island’s coaches are modern and air-conditioned with frequent service on most routes. Two websites provide information on timetables and fares: one is for western Crete, with services centered on the town of Hania, while the other covers services for central and eastern Crete. Crete, with services centered on the island’s capital, Iraklio.
Regular buses ply the main roads through Crete, stopping at villages and attractions along the way, and bus fares are cheap – the hourly service between Hania and Iraklio costs less than €14 and takes 2 hours and 40 minutes.
Small villages away from main roads and secluded beaches may only see one or two buses a day, so you may need to plan to stay overnight. The must-see Elafonissi Beach has just one bus a day that makes the two-hour journey south from Hania in the summer.
Iraklio has two bus stations, each with services to different parts of the island, but most large and medium-sized towns in Crete have a bus station. These are usually centrally located and have services such as toilets and convenience stores. In smaller towns, there will simply be a bus stop at or near the central square or other important location. In rural areas, you can hail the bus from the side of the road.
When traveling on busy routes such as the trip from Hania to Heraklion, it may be useful to purchase a ticket online to have a seat reservation during holiday periods. Don’t expect to show up and get a spot right before and after Greek Easter.
Otherwise, you can buy tickets at ticket offices at bus stations. In smaller towns, a cafe near the central stop may sell tickets or you can simply buy them on the bus. Fares are set and regulated by the government, and many buses have free Wi-Fi.
A rental car makes exploring Crete easy
Renting a car (or motorbike) in Crete is easy, with vehicles in high demand during the tourist months of April to October. The main airports of Hania and Iraklio both have dozens of rental companies, including all major international brands. However, as is often the case throughout Greece, you can often get the best deals from local businesses, so it pays to shop around. Away from the airports, local businesses are often the only sources for car rentals across the island.
You can reduce the cost to your wallet and the environment by using the buses as your main source of transport, saving renting your own wheels for a day or two exploring stunning mountain scenery, small villages and secluded beaches.
The main roads of Crete are in good condition, but leave plenty of time for journeys, as you will be tempted to stop often – to explore a village, admire a view or go for a hike. In addition, the mountainous landscape of Crete means many winding and sometimes dangerous roads. The sparkling beaches of Elafonisi are only 75 km (46.6 miles) southwest of Hania, but driving here will take at least two hours.
Note that road signs are sporadic – download local maps to your phone’s mapping app before you go, as mobile service may be interrupted when you need it most. And be prepared for local drivers who have a lax attitude to stay in their lane, obey speed limits, and tread carefully around blind corners.
Take a ferry to reach the stunning beaches of Crete
On the beautiful southwest coast of Crete, a network of passenger ferries connects beaches and resorts in summer – a few villages are only easily accessible by boat. You can take a small boat or water taxi at many stops between Elafonissi in the west and Hora Sfakion in the east. Confirm times in advance, especially for smaller beaches, where ferry services may be limited. Rates are generally less than €10 per person.
Hail a taxi for short trips and post-hike pickups
Taxis can be found in towns and most places where tourists congregate. Make sure the driver uses the meter – in remote areas taxis may not have a meter, so agree a price before setting off. Central taxi ranks in smaller towns often display a list of local taxi fares, so you don’t have to worry about overcharging.
There are no ride-sharing services on the island, so keep the number of a local taxi company handy if you plan to hail a cab at the end of a hike.
Hire a bike to explore the area – but be prepared for the hills of Crete!
You can hire a bike in major towns and tourist areas – expect to pay around €20 a day or less. However, with Crete’s winding roads, perilous waterfalls and maniacal drivers, going on a bike ride is not for the faint-hearted. Those up for the challenge will find the roads winding through the island’s peaks and gorges to be sublime rides.
Accessible transport in Crete
For travelers with reduced mobility, getting around Crete is difficult. Buses do not have lifts and taxis designed to accommodate people with disabilities are only available in Hania and Iraklio. Renting your own vehicle may be the easiest option or arranging a trip with a specialist operator like Eria Travel. For more information on accessible travel, see Lonely Planet’s accessible travel resources.
Why I like to take the buses of Crete
Today, Crete’s buses are modern, safe and have comforts like air conditioning and wi-fi, but I’m still taken back to a trip to 1985 in the then isolated hippie seaside town of Matala. As our rickety bus sped along the primitive roads, the driver misjudged a bend and slammed into the corner of an old stone house, shearing off many huge stones. However, he didn’t miss a beat when he pressed the accelerator instead of the brakes, while we passengers brushed away the shards of glass and stone!