Western Crete Revealed: Sun, Sea and Hidden Gems
Arts & Culture
Food & Wine
The sun-kissed island of Crete is a paradise for those of us who love hiking, history and great food. Even a week's visit gives ample time to explore the famous Venetian waterfront of Chania, visit the ancient ruins at Knossos and Phaistos, hike one of Crete's spectacular gorges and enjoy traditional, hearty cuisine with a view of the sea or mountains (or both!)
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After flying into Chania it's a short taxi ride into town. I highly recommend staying somewhere with a view of the harbor and lighthouse, such as La Vista del Pablo and Domus Renier Boutique Hotel. Sitting on the terrace, sipping wine and watching the scenes below is one of our favorite memories of our time on Crete. If it is really windy, the water in the harbor can get a little wild, and we watched people suddenly get splashed as they walked along the sea front, so beware!!
Chania is very walkable and although it's delightful to get lost for an hour or two in the maze of back streets, it's good to have something planned for dinner, as we found many places were fully booked. Try Mikro Kelari for some traditional Cretan dishes or Orearte Gastro Bar for a more fine dining experience. One place that we especially loved was Kafeneio Fix, which is situated in the charming Splatzia Square at the heart of Chania. This beloved establishment is celebrated for its authentic Cretan meze/tapas, crafted with a focus on locally sourced ingredients. It also just a great spot for people watching and having a cold beer or two!
For cocktails, we loved Sinagogi, which is nestled in the historic heart of Chania. The bar's unique architectural style, with its entirely open top and multiple distinct rooms, contributes to a distinct ambiance. Whether you're drawn to beers, cocktails, wine, or mocktails, the extensive selection caters to all tastes.
If you want the most spectacular sunset views Crete has to offer, spend a night or two at Falasarna. Alma Natura offers up beautiful stone villas with private pools and the most mesmerizing views; quintessential Crete. Enjoying a glass of wine as the sun sets really is a magical experience, and there's a range of tavernas just down the hill beckoning you with the sound of bouzoukis being played and the aromas of home cooked meals. Our favorite was Taverna Spilios as it was the perfect perch for watching the sunset, the wine list was brilliant, the food was delicious, the service was very friendly, and the complimentary raki and desserts were much appreciated!
Falasarna is also a great base for beach lovers. Falasarna's Beach is a long sandy stretch with calm waters and views of mountains in the distance. If you walk all the way down to the norther edge, you will find natural shallow coves to cool off in and will probably have one all to yourself! There are sun loungers to rent for the day as well as some beachfront taverna to grab lunch. We brought a picnic and had a beautiful day swimming, snorkeling and sunbathing.
The drive from Falasarna took about an hour and the road was very quiet, aside from the occasional herd of goats and a handful of cyclists. Elafonissi Beach is renowned for its unique pink sands, clear turquoise waters, and a lagoon surrounded by rare plants and protected wildlife. It was a very windy day and we struggled to find a sheltered spot, but once we were swimming in the sea, we barely noticed the wind. We had our own snorkels with us and there are lots of rockpools to explore. We also took our own little camping chairs so we could venture to a more quiet part of the beach, but there are sun loungers that can be rented for the day. The drive back to Falasarna included a stop at 'The West' Traditional Taverna in the charming village of Kampos, where we savored a late lunch filled with delicious Cretan flavors. After that, we didn’t need dinner!
Even rainy days in Crete can be filled with enjoyable experiences. On a drizzly afternoon we embarked on a tour of the Manousakis Winery, nestled in the scenic hills just south of Chania. The winery tour included a tasting of their delicious wines, where we discovered the intricate flavors of Cretan grapes. Afterwards, we explored the Botanical Park & Gardens Of Crete. We are keen gardeners and this enchanting garden showcased a variety of plants and wildlife, providing a little escape into the natural world. It also has an excellent cafe if you fancy a bit of refreshment!
After our time in western Crete we headed to the center of the island for some mountain time. My guide on Hiking on Crete includes this part of our trip, which was equally magical!
Need to Know
Language: English is widely spoken in the main cities of Heraklion and Chania, and in other tourist areas; away from the towns it's useful to know a few words of Greek, but not essential.
Getting there: As the southernmost part of Europe, Crete is easily reached with direct flights from many European capitals. A traveler from, say, New York can expect a 14 hour journey, changing once.
Driving: Crete is a REALLY big island, so focusing on a region is helpful. Because we were there for 10 days, we chose to focus on western Crete first, and then the second half of the trip we spent in central Crete. We rented a car for part of our trip, but there are also many tour operators we can work with if you aren't keen on driving. The driving was not too intimidating, and once away from the coastline, roads get a lot more quiet.
Crete enjoys mild, rainy winters and hot, sunny summers. The number of days of sunshine per year (325) is comparable to Miami and LA, with an average daily maximum temperature of 75F in May, 85F in July, and 81F in September. We were there in September and we had a few rain showers but it was mostly sunshine!
Parking at Elafonissi Beach:
If you drive to Elafonissi, you will need to pay to park and you will see signs posted where space is available but the earlier you go in the day, the better! It gets crowded and as the lots fill up, you have to walk further to get down to the beach. Many travelers staying in Chania opt for Elafonissi as a day trip and use either a private tour operator, or one of the many group trips by bus.
This trip report is part of our ongoing series on travel to Crete. In need of further inspiration? Check out Elizabeth Kaczka’s guide, Unforgettable Luxury Escapes: Top Hotels in Crete, Greece.
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