The Ultimate Island Hopping Guide: From Athens to Crete
Updated: Apr 22
From Athens to Crete, the journey is one that every traveler to Greece should take. Athens is a city steeped in history, with ancient landmarks that have withstood the test of time, while Crete is the largest island in Greece and a hub for culture, cuisine, and adventure. Whether you're seeking out the country's rich history, sampling delicious traditional food, or simply soaking up the sun on a Mediterranean beach, the journey from Athens to Crete is one that offers something for everyone.
This guide is designed to help you plan the ultimate island hopping adventure from Athens to Crete, taking you through the must-see sights, hidden gems, and best experiences that Greece has to offer. We'll guide you through the best transportation options for getting from Athens to Crete, as well as the top places to stay and eat once you arrive. We'll also share some of our favorite activities, including visiting ancient ruins, hiking the rugged terrain, and exploring quaint seaside towns.
So join us on this journey from Athens to Crete, and let's discover the beauty and magic of Greece together.
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Athens vs. Crete
Athens is a city that is steeped in history and offers visitors the chance to explore ancient ruins, including the world-famous Acropolis. It's a place where the past and present collide, and visitors can enjoy both modern attractions like museums, shops, and restaurants, as well as historic landmarks like the Parthenon and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Athens is also a city that offers a lively nightlife scene, with bars and clubs that stay open late into the night. When traveling from Athens to Crete, you may only stay in Athens for a short time, so knowing the best way to explore Athens in 24 hours is a must!
Crete, on the other hand, is a more laid-back destination that offers visitors the chance to unwind and relax. The island is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Greece, as well as a rugged interior that is perfect for hiking and exploring. Visitors to Crete can also enjoy sampling delicious local cuisine, including fresh seafood and traditional dishes like moussaka and dakos. The island is also home to a rich history, with ancient ruins like the Palace of Knossos and the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.
While both Athens and Crete offer incredible experiences for visitors, they are very different destinations. Athens is a bustling city that is perfect for those who love history, culture, and nightlife, while Crete is a more laid-back island that is ideal for those seeking relaxation, natural beauty, and delicious food.
Best Time to Travel from Athens to Crete
The best time to travel from Athens to Crete depends on your preferences and what you want to experience. The weather, crowds, and availability of attractions and accommodations all vary depending on the season. Here are some things to consider when deciding the best time to visit:
Low Season (November - March)
The low season is a great time to visit Athens and Crete if you want to avoid the crowds and enjoy lower prices. The weather is mild, with average temperatures ranging from the mid-50s to the low 60s Fahrenheit. Some attractions may have shorter hours or be closed, but this is a great time to enjoy the local culture and cuisine without the crowds. You can also enjoy outdoor activities like hiking and exploring without the heat of the summer.
Spring (April - June)
Spring is a beautiful time to visit Athens and Crete, as the weather starts to warm up and the flowers and trees begin to bloom. The average temperature in Athens and Crete is in the 70s Fahrenheit, making it perfect for exploring ancient ruins and outdoor activities. The crowds are also less intense than in the summer months, so you can enjoy attractions like the Acropolis and Knossos Palace without the long lines.
Summer (July - September)
Summer is the peak tourist season in Athens and Crete, with sunny skies and warm temperatures averaging in the 80s Fahrenheit. This is a great time to enjoy the beaches and water activities, but be prepared for larger crowds and higher prices. It's best to book accommodations and attractions in advance during this time of year. However, you can also enjoy lively nightlife, outdoor concerts and festivals during the summer.
Ultimately, the best time to visit Athens and Crete depends on your interests and priorities. Whether you want to avoid the crowds, soak up the sun on the beaches, or explore ancient ruins and culture, there's a perfect time to travel from Athens to Crete.
Getting from Athens to Crete
Getting from Athens to Crete is relatively easy, with several transportation options available. The two main ways to travel between the two destinations are by air and by ferry.
The most convenient way to travel from Athens to Crete is by air. Several airlines offer daily flights from Athens International Airport to Heraklion and Chania airports in Crete, with flight times ranging from 40 to 60 minutes. Aegean Airlines is one of the major airlines offering flights from Athens to Crete, with several daily flights to both Heraklion and Chania. Other airlines, such as Olympic Air and Ryanair, also offer flights to Crete. There are also seasonal flights to other airports on the island, such as Sitia and Kastelli. Flights can be booked online, and prices vary depending on the season and how far in advance you book.
Another option is the ferry from Athens to Crete. Ferries depart from Piraeus Port, which is located about 12 kilometers from Athens city center, and arrive at the ports of Heraklion, Chania, and Rethymnon on Crete. The ferry ride takes around 8-10 hours, depending on the route and the type of ferry. Ferries generally operate year-round, with more frequent services during the high season. Prices vary depending on the time of year, the type of ferry, and the class of ticket.
Some of the most common ferry operators from Athens to Crete are ANEK Lines, Minoan Lines, Hellenic Seaways, and Blue Star Ferries. To find booking information for these ferries during the spring and summer months, you can visit their official websites or use online booking platforms such as Ferryhopper or Direct Ferries. These platforms allow you to compare ferry schedules, prices, and routes across different operators, making it easy to find the best option for your travel needs.
Additionally, it's important to check the departure and arrival ports, as some ferries may depart from the port of Piraeus in Athens, while others may depart from the nearby port of Rafina. Similarly, the arrival port in Crete may vary depending on the ferry operator, with some ferries arriving in Heraklion, while others may arrive in Chania or Rethymno.
By Air and Ferry
Another alternative is to take a combination of both flights and ferries. There are also direct flights to some of the smaller islands close to Crete, such as Santorini and Rhodes, and then take a ferry to Crete. This option allows you to break up the journey and explore other destinations along the way. Keep in mind, however, that ferries to locations like Santorini and Mykonos are quite limited if you are traveling from Crete to Athens during the low season.
There are several transportation options available for traveling from Athens to Crete. Whether you choose to fly or take a ferry, both options offer their own unique experiences and opportunities to explore the beautiful landscape of Greece.
Getting Around Crete
Once you arrive in Crete, there are several options for getting around the island. While renting a car is the most popular way to explore Crete, there are also other options available for those who prefer not to drive.
Renting a car is the most popular way to get around Crete, as it allows you to explore the island at your own pace and visit places that are not easily accessible by public transportation. There are several car rental companies located at both Heraklion and Chania airports. We picked up our rental from Heraklion Airport, and there are several agencies available as soon as you exit baggage claim. You can also rent a car in Rethymno and other popular tourist towns on the island, but it's much easier to rent at the airports. It's recommended to book a car in advance, especially during the high season, as availability can be limited. The cost of car rental varies depending on the type of car, the rental period, and the season.
Crete has a public bus system that connects the major cities and tourist destinations on the island. The buses are operated by KTEL, and the schedules and fares can be found on their website. The bus system is reliable and relatively cheap, but it can be slow and crowded, especially during the high season. There are also local buses that serve the smaller towns and villages on the island.
Taxis are widely available in Crete, and they are a convenient way to get around if you don't want to rent a car. Taxis can be found at the airports, ports, and major tourist areas on the island. The cost of a taxi ride is regulated by the government, and there is a surcharge for rides during the night and on weekends.
Bicycle and Scooter Rental
If you prefer a more eco-friendly way to get around, bicycle and scooter rentals are available in many tourist areas on the island. This is a good option for short distances and for exploring the towns and villages at a slower pace. However, it's important to note that the roads in Crete can be steep and winding, and the traffic can be hectic, especially in the larger cities.
Overall, there are several options for getting around Crete, depending on your preferences and budget. Renting a car is the most popular way to explore the island, but public transportation, taxis, and bicycle and scooter rentals are also available. No matter which option you choose, Crete is a beautiful and diverse island with plenty to see and do, and getting around is part of the adventure.
The Major Cities of Crete
Crete is home to several major cities, each with its own unique history, culture, and charm. Three of the most popular cities on the island are Heraklion, Rethymno, and Chania.
Heraklion is the largest city in Crete and the capital of the region of Heraklion. It is home to several important historical and cultural landmarks, including the ancient Minoan Palace of Knossos, the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, and the Venetian Walls and Harbor. Heraklion also has a lively waterfront area, with many restaurants, cafes, and shops. The city is known for its bustling energy and modern urban atmosphere, but it also has its fair share of historical charm and architectural beauty.
Rethymno is a charming coastal town located in the center of the island, between Heraklion and Chania. It is known for its beautiful Venetian-era old town, with narrow alleys, colorful houses, and historic monuments such as the Fortezza castle and the Rimondi fountain. Rethymno also has a long sandy beach, several museums and galleries, and a vibrant nightlife scene. The town is a popular destination for couples and families looking for a romantic and relaxing vacation.
Chania is a picturesque coastal city located in the western part of Crete. It is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Greece, with a Venetian-era old town, a scenic harbor, and stunning beaches nearby. Chania's old town is a maze of narrow streets, colorful houses, and charming squares, with historic landmarks such as the Venetian lighthouse and the Turkish mosque. The city is also known for its lively food and drink scene, with many tavernas, cafes, and bars serving local cuisine and drinks.
Each city has its own unique character and attractions, from historical landmarks and museums to picturesque old towns and beaches. Whether you're interested in history, culture, or simply relaxing on the beach, Crete's major cities offer something for everyone.
Where to Stay in Crete
Crete is a large island with a diverse range of accommodations to suit every budget and preference. From luxury resorts and hotels to traditional guesthouses and vacation rentals, there is something for everyone in Crete.
When it comes to choosing where to stay in Crete, it's important to consider which area of the island you'll be visiting, as well as your budget and preferred style of accommodation. The most popular areas to stay in Crete are the cities of Heraklion, Chania, and Rethymno, as well as the coastal towns and villages along the north and south shores. We spent the majority of our time in Rethymno because of it's equidistance from both Chania and Heraklion, typically about a 1-1.5 hour drive in either direction.
If you're looking for a more authentic and personalized experience, Crete AirBnBs can be a great option. There are many beautiful and unique Airbnbs available in Crete, from cozy apartments in the old town of Chania to rustic villas in the countryside.
Some of the most popular Airbnb listings in Crete include traditional stone houses with stunning views of the sea, luxurious villas with private pools and gardens, and charming apartments in the heart of the island's historic towns. We stayed in an excellent, newly constructed Airbnb right in the heart of Chania, which was the perfect addition to our day-trip to the city. Airbnb hosts in Crete are known for their hospitality and local knowledge, and many offer personalized recommendations for things to see and do on the island.
In addition to Airbnbs, there are also many other types of vacation rentals available in Crete, such as villas, apartments, and guesthouses. Many of these accommodations offer great value for money and are located in scenic areas of the island. Whether you're looking for luxury accommodations or budget-friendly options, there are plenty of great places to stay in Crete.
Top Things to Do When Traveling from Athens to Crete
Crete is a treasure trove of experiences, from its stunning natural landscapes to its rich history and culture. Whether you're a nature lover, a history buff, or a foodie, there's plenty to see and do on the island. Here are some of the top things to do in Crete:
1. Hike the Imbros Gorge
One of the most popular hiking trails in Crete is the Imbros Gorge. This scenic trail takes you through a narrow gorge with towering cliffs on either side, and offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
2. Explore the Samaria Gorge
The Samaria Gorge is a must-visit for hikers and nature lovers. This 16-kilometer-long gorge is located in the White Mountains and offers breathtaking views of the rugged landscape. Note that the Samaria Gorge is closed during the low season, but Imbros Gorge is a great alternative.
3. Explore the Old Towns
Crete is home to several charming old towns, each with their own unique character and history. In Chania, wander the narrow alleyways and colorful houses of the Venetian harbor area, while in Rethymno, explore the maze-like streets of the old town and admire the Ottoman-era architecture.
4. Visit the Arkadi Monastery
This historic monastery, located near Rethymno, played an important role in the Cretan resistance against the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century. Today, it's a popular destination for visitors interested in the island's history and architecture.
5. Visit the Venetian Fortezza
Located in Rethymno, the Venetian Fortezza is a 16th-century fortress that offers panoramic views of the town and the sea. Explore the fortress walls and towers, and take in the history and architecture of this impressive structure.
6. Visit Knossos and the Archaeological Museum
For a glimpse into ancient Cretan history, head to the archaeological site of Knossos, home to the Minoan palace complex. Afterwards, visit the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion to see artifacts and exhibits related to Minoan culture and history.
7. Take a Boat Trip to Balos Lagoon
Balos Lagoon is a picturesque lagoon located on the northwest coast of Crete. It's accessible only by boat or by hiking, and is known for its turquoise waters and stunning views of the surrounding cliffs and hills. A boat trip is a great way to explore this beautiful spot.
8. Go Wine Tasting
Crete is known for its wine production, and there are several wineries on the island that offer tastings and tours. Visit a local winery to sample some of the island's finest wines and learn about the local wine-making traditions.
9. Take a Chania Food Tour
Crete is also known for its delicious cuisine, and taking a food tour is a great way to sample the island's traditional dishes and learn about its culinary heritage. In Chania, take a guided tour of the local markets and restaurants, and taste everything from fresh seafood to traditional sweets.
10. Visit the Elafonisi Beach
This stunning beach, located on the southwestern coast of Crete, is known for its crystal-clear turquoise waters and pink sand. It's a perfect spot to relax and soak up the sun.
Where to Eat in Crete
Crete is a foodie paradise, with a rich culinary heritage that draws on the island's history and geography. Here are some popular restaurants to check out in the major cities of Chania, Heraklion, and Rethymno:
1. Bougatsa Chania
This small bakery is famous for its bougatsa, a traditional Cretan pastry filled with sweet or savory filling. Try the spinach and feta bougatsa or the sweet custard-filled version.
Located in the heart of Chania's old town, Tamam is a popular spot for traditional Cretan cuisine. The menu features classic dishes like lamb with artichokes and fava bean puree, and grilled octopus with fava beans.
This restaurant, located in the heart of Heraklion, focuses on using locally-sourced ingredients and traditional Cretan recipes. Try the rabbit stifado or the roasted lamb with herbs and potatoes.
This cozy restaurant serves up a delicious mix of traditional Cretan and Mediterranean dishes. Try the fried snails with rosemary or the lamb chops with thyme and honey.
5. Kormos Bakery
This bakery is a must-visit for its traditional Cretan pastries, like the kalitsounia, a sweet or savory pastry filled with cheese or herbs. Try the cheese-filled version or the sweet almond and honey pastry.
Located in the heart of Rethymno, Achinos is known for its seafood dishes, with fresh catches from the nearby fishing village of Kokkini Hani. Try the grilled squid with olive oil and lemon or the seafood risotto with saffron.
These are just a few of the many great restaurants to check out in Crete, where you're sure to find delicious food and warm hospitality.
There is so much to explore and enjoy when traveling from Athens to Crete. The island's stunning landscapes, rich history and culture, delicious cuisine, and warm hospitality make it an ideal destination for travelers looking for a diverse and rewarding experience. Whether you're interested in exploring ancient ruins and museums, relaxing on pristine beaches, hiking through scenic gorges, or indulging in local culinary delights, Crete has something for everyone. The island's charming towns and cities offer a glimpse into its fascinating history and culture, while its natural beauty and stunning landscapes provide endless opportunities for outdoor adventure and exploration.
As you plan your trip from Athens to Crete, be sure to consider the best time to visit, the different transportation options available to you, and where to stay and eat on the island. By doing so, you'll be able to make the most of your time on this beautiful and enchanting island. A trip from Athens to Crete is an unforgettable experience that is sure to leave you with memories to last a lifetime. So pack your bags, grab your camera, and get ready to discover all that this stunning island has to offer!
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