An 8-Day Road Trip Itinerary through Breathtaking Crete
Food & Wine
Arts & Culture
Road Trip Travel
A journey through Crete will take you on a tour of Greece’s history, natural beauty and cuisine. The landscape will captivate you along with the warmth of the people. From my first visit, I found a place that was easy to navigate, chock full of breathtaking scenery and it kept drawing me back for more. A trip to Crete should be on everyone’s Greek itinerary!
The Fora Difference
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Where to stay
Casa Delfino Hotel and Spa
This hidden spot has views of Chania’s cobblestone harbor, rich interiors and a must-visit roof terrace.
Elounda Beach Hotel & Villas
In this hideaway overlooking the Aegean Sea with luxury guest rooms and villas, experience the feeling of relaxing in your own heaven at sea level with outstanding personalized service.
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Upgrade & extended check-out whenever possible.
Naiades Village Elounda
A new luxury complex of studio apartments at the heart of the picturesque town of Elounda. Overlooking the spectacular coastline and the gulf of Elounda, it is only a minute's walk to the beaches and the nearby fishing village.
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Day 1: Arrive in Chania
Chania International Airport is a quick 20 minutes from the city center. Pick up your car at one of the rental agencies located in terminal or just near the airport and you’re ready to set off on your adventure.
Explore Old Town Chania
As you get settled in, take a stroll around the quaint old town Chania harbor. The views of the lighthouse and the waterfront at sunset are gorgeous.
When you’re ready for a bite to eat, stop in at one of the many restaurants lining the harbor or find one of the hidden gems on the quiet side streets. A few worth noting are Oinoa, To Xani and Pallas. Cretan cuisine is known for its simple but fresh local ingredients.
Be sure to make your reservation with an established agency ahead of time and confirm any one way drop off fees at pickup. Make sure to get a vehicle with 4 wheel drive to access some of the more remote beaches as they are not to be missed! Agencies will add fees if you take a regular car off road.
Can’t miss Cretan dishes:
Souvlaki - small pieces of meat and sometimes vegetables grilled on a skewer
Moussaka - traditional Greek eggplant casserole made with eggplants and potatoes, a rich, tomatoey beef or lamb mince sauce and topped off with a deliciously creamy bechamel sauce
Kleftiko - slow cooked lamb marinated in garlic, olive oil and lemon juice, wrapped in parchment paper and traditionally cooked in an earth oven
Dakos - sliced rusk (twice baked bread) topped with tomatoes and feta/mizithra cheese
Kaltsounia - cheese pies... need I say more?
Dolmades - while these can be found throughout Greece, each region has their own spin on this Mediterranean favorite.
Raki (Tsikoudia) - This Cretan wine is offered with almost every meal. Don’t let this unassuming local drink fool you, the un-infused version can be very strong but like many traditional drinks there are many varieties. My favorites were a honey Raki which is fairly common, but a rose flavored Raki topped my list!
Day 2: Day trip to Elafonisi Beach
Now some may say a trip to Elafonisi beach is a bit touristy, but I say the drive itself and the crystal clear waters are worth a visit. The scenic drive through small picturesque towns will take you along narrow roads but they are generally easy to navigate. Get there early!
Once you arrive, set yourself up under a beachside palapa. Be sure to hang your belongings on the hooks under the umbrella because these aren’t your regular loungers. They are set up in about a few inches of water that doesn’t rise much and you can lay and watch tiny glimmering fish swim past as you relax.
After a little relaxation, take a swim in the warm waters. You’ll soon find that the level doesn’t rise very high and you can walk out pretty far, take a seat in the soft sand and languish in the water.
If you’re feeling a little adventurous continue your walk across the lagoon over to Elafonisi island along the southern coastline. This is also a great spot to set up if you want to get away from any crowds. The pink sands and crystal blue waters will delight!
If you are there with family there is a more family friendly side of the cove with a shallow lagoon.
Day 3: Hike the Samaria Gorge
The Samaria Gorge in the southwestern region of Crete is an awesome experience for the hikers out there. I highly recommend using a tour company for this excursion because the hike is best done from top to bottom and requires transportation to and from your home base. Most tours drop you off at the town of Omalos early in the morning to start your hike during the cooler part of the day (especially in summer).
This 15km hike can take between 5-7 hours and will take you through a valley carved out by a river between the White Mountains and Mt. Volakia. As you wind your way down, you’ll traverse the famous “Gates” where the sides of the gorge close in to a width of only 4 meters and soar up to a height of almost 300 meters (980 feet). You might even see a few kri-kri’s (Cretan goats) along your path.
Your journey will wrap up in Agia Roumeli on the Libyan Sea. Grab a bite to eat at one of the beachfront cafes and take a refreshing dip in the ocean, not necessarily in that order. ;) From there you can catch a ferry to Hora Sfakion and your transportation back to Chania.
Day 4: Sweetwater Beach & Agia Roumeli
Pack your bags, it’s time to leave Chania behind and continue your exploration of Crete. Drive to Hora Sfakion and head to the harbor to catch a ferry to Sweetwater Beach (Glyka Nera). You can also hike in over the cliffs but I definitely recommend the ferry. Spend a few hours basking in the Grecian sun without being overcrowded and grab a drink at the overwater tavern!
When you’ve had enough sun and fun, hop back on the ferry and head to Agia Roumeli. This cute little town at the base of the Samaria Gorge is a great spot to grab lunch and take advantage of the slower pace of life. Check out Rousios on the eastern end of town for some great traditional dishes. Don’t miss the local honey Raki!
Leave your car in Hora Sfakion and overnight in Agia Roumeli. Pack a day bag to take with you and you’re on your way!
Check the ferry times before you leave Chania. The ferry to Sweetwater (direction Loutro) leaves every 2 hours. https://www.sfakia-crete.com/sfakia-crete/ferries.html
Day 5: Matala
Catch a ferry back to Hora Sfakion to pick up your car and head to Matala. Spend the evening exploring town and its cute shops before grabbing dinner. Highly recommend Restaurant Scala with its cliff side location with great view of the Matala caves and beach.
Wild Herbs of Crete: For those of you interested in herbs and essential oils, this stop on your way from Hora Sfakoion to Matala is for you. This shop is off the beaten path in the mountains of Crete where they hand harvest and process all of their products. Note: the drive up winds through many switchbacks and is pretty narrow but the views are stunning.
Day 6: Beach Hike and Beyond
After a restful night's sleep, get an early start and drive over to the Red Beach trail. The trailhead is at the end of a dirt road accessible from the main road in town. The 20-30 minute hike is a little steep but provides you with breathtaking views overlooking Red Beach. Follow the signs to make your way down to a beach with incredible red sands, crystal clear warm waters and cliff side view. You’ll also be able to grab a mojito at the infamous and colorful Jannis Mojito bar!
You can also catch a water taxi from Matala to Red Beach that runs every 20-30 mins which runs you about 6€ per person.
If you use a beach lounger and palapa, there will be someone coming by to collect a daily use fee.
After a morning on the beach you’ve surely worked up an appetite. Make a stop in Archanes before heading onto Elounda. Archanes sits in an area filled with olive groves and vineyards. It’s the perfect stop to grab lunch and enjoy some of the local wine. I recommend making a stop at either Bakaliko or Taverna Spitiko.
Day 7-8: Elounda
Elounda is a little slice of heaven just north of Agio Nikolaos. The blue skies and waters in this charming seaside town offers delightful views and a chill pace. Take a walk along the waterfront and head into town where you can find shops with great items to take home.
Pop into Del Mar Snack Bar for a morning bite and coffee along the way and watch the fish swim by at one of their waterfront tables.
If you fancy a hike, head to Spinalonga peninsula. There are many trails that can be picked up as you enter the peninsula from the land bridge from town. Make sure to put on your sunscreen!
Before you head back to Elounda proper, stop in for lunch at Kanali. Their seafood dishes are fantastic and the waterfront views can’t be beat!
To learn and experience more about Cretan cuisine and diet check out Cretan Olive Oil Farm. A tour takes you through the history of olive oil and cheese making both of which have strong roots on this Grecian isle. You’ll get to taste fresh mizithra made from the milk of the goats on the property. As an add-on, I highly recommend signing up for one of their cooking classes. Loved learning to make my own tzatziki and dolmas! And don’t miss picking up a bottle of hand pressed olive oil to take home.
For one of your nights in Elounda, grab dinner at Lotus Eaters. The majority of their menu is sourced through local suppliers and extremely fresh. Their Stifado (slow cooked beef and onion in a lightly spiced red wine sauce served with potatoes) is mouth watering! Reservations recommended!
Need to Know
For more travel tips, check out Fora Advisor Rabia Malik's guide, A Relaxing 5-Day Venture to the Island of Crete.
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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Greece.