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Variety is the spice of life on one of the largest islands in Greece, Crete. It is the lair of the legendary Minotaur and the birthplace of Europe’s first developed society. It is also a striking and sensual mosaic of contrasts, from exalted mountains and pink-sand beaches to energetic nightlife and popular kafeneio (coffeehouses).
Resting at the crossroads of three landmasses, the island is described by Homer in his Odyssey as a fair land amid the wine-dark sea.
The marks of successful invasions can be seen in Turkish bathhouses, Venetian fortifications, and Byzantine architecture. However, Cretans decline to dwell on the past.
Each and every occasion is an excuse for a gland (party), normally revolving around food: home-grown vegetables, locally manufactured olive oil, fat snails reaped in the mountains, or raki brewed in the local still. And (as any Greek will boastfully tell you) Crete is the country’s most hospitable island, so you can anticipate lots of invitations to participate in the fun.
Temperatures are mild all year round along Crete’s vast coastline, although it frequently rains from January to March and there will be a few days of snow. The weather up in the mountains is more chill. You can expect cold weather from late December to early April.
As summertime comes, when temperatures along the coast rise to 30℃-35℃, the mountain villages are perfect for avoiding the heat. That’s because they are usually five degrees cooler.
Sea temperatures begin to increase in late April and May, and you can often still swim in November. The island is packed during July and August when Cretans from overseas return for the summer. But in late spring and early autumn, the beaches and attractions are frequently far less crowded, particularly in the east of the island.
Greeks are well-known for their hospitality, and the island of Crete is considered a friendly tourist destination. However, further understanding of Greek etiquette will help you communicate and blend in with the locals.
Understanding body language is key, so be careful with your gestures. For example, signaling “OK” using the thumb and index finger is considered offensive in Greece. Greeks show “yes” with a slight downward nod, and “no” with a slight upward nod.
Due to Crete’s warm climate, the wearing of shorts and T-shirts are accepted while walking around the cities or the beaches. However, if you are touring any religious sites, make sure to wear more conservative clothes like long pants and shirts that cover the shoulders and the chest areas. You should also dress more formally when dining at any restaurant as Greeks tend to get dressed up when they go out.
Restaurants in Crete are used to serving foreigners and commonly accept most major credit cards. However, Cretans themselves frequently pay in cash. Since the euro to U.S. dollar exchange rate shifts, be sure to check what the current exchange rate is before you start touring the island.
Like any residents from other countries in Europe, Greeks don’t tend to tip, so you don’t have to either. Service charges are often included in restaurant bills, but if you still want to give something extra, a 10 percent tip is enough.
Top Road Trip Destinations in Crete
Each region in Crete has something distinctive to offer for travelers; wherever you go, you will get the chance to taste some of the most delectable food, all fresh, delicious, well cooked, locally manufactured, and homemade.
You will notice proud old Cretan villagers, attired in their distinct black outfits, appreciating their coffee early in the morning or in the afternoon in the charming village squares. This gives the feeling that time still holds on this island.
The captivating archaeological sites, crystal blue-green sea, sandy beaches, and palm trees will astound you while you drive along attractive asphalt roads owning the panoramic view of the mountains or breathing in the fresh salty air of the coastline.
With so several routes and an endless list of travel options, it’s not simple to decide the best route for your Crete trip. We did the difficult part for you and gathered the best advice and recommendations on what you should not miss when touring in Crete from the local experts.
You just need to pick your type of car from any variety available and get ready for some amazing experiences around the southern island in Europe.
Explore the pure traditional villages in the Vamos area. From the main village of Vamos, drive to Kefalas, passing the Kokkino Chorio (Red Village), and end your journey at Gavalochori. These lovely villages with the unique architecture and sculpture, a merging of the past centuries, embrace you to tackle your homemade sweets with honey and fruits, nuts and “skaltsounia”, local wine, and homemade raki.
Tour the folklore museum in Gavalochori and cherish the old-time classic “Κοpaneli” in all classifications of fabrics and styles. That’s because this is the original birthplace of this exquisite lace-making.
Experience the magnificent view of northern Crete and the White Mountains, engage with locals in the main squares, and listen to the one-of-a-kind “madinades” (the island’s traditional century-old poems.) Breath the fresh air from the mountains that envelope you. The road is easy and wonderful and reveals another side of Crete’s charm; its mountain settlements and its well-preserved monuments.
You may have viewed pictures of them everywhere but it’s a whole new sense if you see these coasts live in front of you. Drive to Falaserna, distinguished as one of the best beaches in the world, and the best in Europe, as declared so almost every year.
Drive a little bit further and you will arrive at Gramvousa beach of Balos at the peak of the westernmost peninsula. Check out this amazing crystal clear light blue water and the golden sand; you will assume that you are in the Caribbean within minutes away from the city of Chania.
In the south, you will reach Frangokastello with its striking Venetian fortress. And just a little further down, you will reach the exotic Elafonisi.
You can leave the car at the plot in front used as an open parking space and stroll to the beach while feeling the light sand under your feet and admiring the captivating view of the sea and the open horizons in front of you.
It becomes very busy in August as it is one of the favorite spots to swim for locals and visitors, yet it should be included on your list for your road trip as both the route is wonderful and the view will leave you breathless with its diversity and natural splendor.
Palaiochora and Sfakia
Drive to the real Crete by reaching the little town of Palaiochora. There you will witness the boundless beach of Palaiochora, which is a two-kilometer stretch of golden sand and crystal clear water. Next to it, you will discover the beach of Chalikia.
Although less organized, you can still find peace of mind even in mid-August when everywhere else is crowded and bustling. You can visit some local taverns that will serve you fresh fish and regional dishes full of flavor and aroma. You can also spend a nice afternoon with the locals and fellow travelers who will wholeheartedly share this amazing place with you.
In Sfakia you can leave the car at the open space car park to enjoy the picturesque village and even take the little fishing boat and row to Loutro, the small fairytale settlement literally in the water. Don’t miss the chance to eat at the unique tavern facing the crystalline green-blue water!
From these villages, you can either drive to the mountains or keep on driving the coast until you reach Preveli and its awesome view and sea.
Agios Pavlos and Triopetra
There is nothing like the dragon ridge that joins the sea in the village of Agios Pavlos. If you adore yoga and wellness, this village is perfect for you. All-day pursuits like hiking, climbing, horseback riding can be added to your list, as well as swimming or dune climbing.
Enjoy this bizarre little village that seems secluded from the rest of the world. Tour the local bars and taverns for some tasty home-grown salads, dishes, and sweets, and proceed to Triopetra which lies just next to it. There you will discover more options with taverns and restaurants and a lovely beach ideal for the whole family.
From here, you can either drive straight to Matala (the popular hippie villages of the 60s) or head back to Chania while praising the awe-inspiring view of the sunset on your way.
In just a short drive from the center of Chania, you will discover the fascinating coastline of Platanias. It is always bustling with people who prefer to see and be seen.
Boasting excellent nightlife and full of restaurants and beach bars, this area is convenient if you want to have everything at your fingertips.
You will discover some luxurious resorts by the beach, boutique hotels and guesthouses, stores and taverns, and coffee shops open from the morning until late at night. It’s a perfect place for those who want to unwind by the sea and be just a small walk away from the sights around the Chania region.
A drive to Knossos, the unique archaeological site in the world, must be included in your list!
It’s a 140 Km drive from Chania to Heraklion. The driving can be easy as you can either take the national road all the way or if you still have just a little more time to allot, you can pick various routes through lovely villages by the sea or by the mountain.
Driving in Crete
The best way to explore Crete is via car. There are also public buses that bring travelers to the major towns of Heraklion, Rethymnon, Chania, and Agios Nikolaos but it can be very hectic. You can also take a few lines that will take you to southern cities, but since all public bus timetables fluctuate to seasonal needs, the service may be too infrequent for those on vacation.
You can easily rent a car in any major city in Crete or even hire a car directly at the Heraklion International Airport (HER) and Chania International Airport (CHQ). If you intend to do a lot of traversing, keep in mind that the island is bigger than it may appear; you can remove excessive amounts of time behind the wheel by preparing your itinerary.
Crete is notable for its safety. However, one safety matter to take note of is for those who choose to rent a car.
Aside from the main highway that goes through the main cities in Crete’s northern coastlines, the more rustic mountainous areas can be difficult for drivers, as several of those roads are underdeveloped and, in some cases, require proper signage. Cretans firmly suggest driving very carefully through these areas and asking locals for the safest way to drive.
Driving rules in Crete (Greece)
- All vehicles are driven on the right side of the road.
- The minimum driving age in Crete is 18, but some rental companies require all drivers to be older.
- Seatbelts are mandatory for all (driver and passengers).
- The blood alcohol limit is 0.05%.
- Speed limits are well displayed in a circle.
- Most villages impose a 40km/h speed limit and a lot for narrow streets.
- Priorities – in towns, vehicles coming from the right must be prioritized ( when there are no signs).
Documents Needed While Driving in Crete
Foreign drivers must be 18 years old and over and holding a full, valid driving license to legally drive in Greece. Riders of motorcycles up to 125cc must also be at least 18 years old, while riders driving a motorcycle not exceeding 50cc must be 16 years old and above.
Driving licenses that are issued in any EU and EEA countries are accepted. We also advise you to obtain an International driving permit in case you are stopped by the police.
Vehicles from the UK can be temporarily carried into Greece for up to 6 months without customs papers. But these following documents should always be carried:
- Full, valid UK driving license
- Proof of ID (passport)
- Motor insurance certificate
- V5 registration document
Driving in Greece Packing Checklist
As for supplementation to required documents, motorists are also required by law to provide the following items while driving to avoid fines:
- Warning triangle (mandatory in every vehicle).
- Headlamp beam deflectors (depending on your car, you will either require deflector stickers or have to change the beam manually).
- Crash helmets are mandatory for all riders of mopeds and motorcycles.
- Fire extinguisher (mandatory in every vehicle)
- First aid kit (mandatory in every vehicle)
Renting a Car in Crete
You’ll find rental agencies in the bigger cities and at the Heraklion and Chania airports. Although U.S. driver’s licenses have worked in the past, try to save yourself the worry by getting an International Driving Permit before you leave the states.
An international driver’s license can aid you to avoid any misunderstanding at rental agencies or if you get caught in a sticky situation on the road. To rent a car in Crete, drivers must be at least 21 years of age. You can apply for one here.
You can rent a car
- upon arrival at the airports
- and at ferry wharfs
- or from all major town centers.
In any case, if flying during the summer or school holidays, always book your car early!
Car Rental Companies in Crete
Most of the major international brands of car rentals are available in Crete. But there are also several local brands.
Landing at Heraklion airport, you will surely be impressed when you see all the cars parked at the booths! And if you hire a well-known brand, you can expect a certain standard.
If you are hiring a local one, we recommend choosing one with complete insurance to avoid any “bad” surprises.
- Option 1: You can obtain your preferred international brands and compare car rental prices in Crete on Discovercars.com — one of the most reliable customer-rated comparison sites!
- Option 2: Check out some local car rental companies in Rental Center Crete. They have an outstanding reputation and they incorporate a zero-excess insurance policy
What Type of Car can I Rent in Crete?
You have to keep in mind a few points when choosing your car:
- Motor – Prefer a car with a good motor. You’ll be turning and going up and down while driving, so a stable car without you changing gear all is more enjoyable.
- Transmission – Note that in Greece, most vehicles are employed with manual transmission. If you prefer an automatic one, then you have to specify it and pay an extra amount.
- 4WD – Most top destinations in Crete are reachable by paved roads. Few remote gorges and beaches are attainable only by a dirt path. You may hire a 4WD but take note that most rental companies’ insurances normally do not incorporate off-road driving.
Documents Needed to Rent a Car in Crete
- Licenses: Non-EU drivers must possess both – an International Driving Permit (IDP) and a valid national driver’s license. Both documents are required (as per a recent law) when hiring a vehicle in Greece. EU citizens are not required to obtain an international driving permit but must travel with their own country’s valid driver’s license.
- Passport or ID
- Valid Credit (even if you settle in cash)
- Rental Agreement with accepted standard rental terms and conditions
Car Rental Insurance in Crete
In the case the car is damaged or stolen, you are not required to spend any excess as long as the use of the car is incorporated into the Terms and Conditions. At rental pick-up, no credit card deposit is needed and you will not be required to spend an extra amount for additional insurances.
CDW – Collision damage disclaimer with ZERO EXCESS
The renter is insured for the rental vehicle if it is damaged by accident without any obligation to pay any excess.
FDW & WUG – Full collision damage disclaimer with ZERO EXCESS
The renter is insured for any damages made to the underside of the vehicle, glass, tires, and engine without any obligation to pay any excess amount. Some car rental companies use the term Super Collision damage waiver (SCDW) or Full collision damage waiver (FCDW), or Wheels under side and glass insurance (WUG).
TP – Theft Protection with ZERO EXCESS
The renter is insured for instance that the vehicle is stolen, but not if theft happens because of negligence. Any stolen items in the interior of the car that belongs to you (eg. cameras, travel bags, or cell phones) are not included by any insurance.
PL – Public Liability insurance
The renter’s accountability is covered to a maximum of €1,000,000 for death and bodily injuries and €1,000,000 for material damages. It is sometimes called PLI.
PAI – Personal accident insurance
The same as Public Liability Insurance, the passengers of the rental vehicle are also insured for death or bodily injuries in case of accident to a maximum of €1,000,000, while the driver is insured to the amount of €15,000.
Crete car rental tips
- Petrol: Bring your rented car back with the agreed “level of fuel” in the tank to avoid spending an extra amount.
- Photos: Anywhere you rent a car, it is advised to take some photos of scratches before you take your rental car with you.
- Insurance: We strongly advise obtaining insurance for gravel protection and broken glass. There are a lot of rocks on the side of the road since they don’t apply many nets to prevent them from falling from the cliff.
Frequently Asked Questions
Age requirement when hiring a car in Crete
The required age to hire a car in Crete is 21. Though some car rental companies require the driver to be a minimum age of 25.
What is NOT included in the official car rental expenses?
- Fuel: the renter is the one who must pay for the fuel.
- All traffic fines and parking charges are paid by the client or the driver.
Am I required to present a credit card to rent a car in Crete?
No, there is no need to present a credit card. Although to pay in advance, you need to own a credit or debit card with your or your driver’s name on it.
Inform the car rental company as soon as possible if you want to cancel or change the reservation date.
Some car rental companies in Crete impose a free cancellation charge (with a full refund) if the cancellation is made within 48 hours before picking up the vehicle.
What should I do if my rental car breaks?
The first thing you have to do is inform the car rental company of your exact location. They will immediately do the appropriate actions to replace the ‘broken’ car with another one.
How many drivers can drive the rented car?
Prices and offers already include one person as the main driver, as well as another driver. There is an option where you can add other people as a third driver and it costs just €3/day.
Where to pick up my rental car?
Company employees will wait for you at the designated meeting point (customs-exit – inside the arrival hall) and will be holding a banner with your name on it as well as the company’s name.
As opposed to Heraklion Airport, you have to proceed to the car rental station which is located just 100m away from the airport.
Documents required when picking up the rental car
When you pick up your car, you will need to present the following documents:
- Valid driving license in English characters.
- Valid passport or ID card.
- The Rental Agreement with the acceptance of the standard rental terms and conditions
If there is one word to express the Greek island of Crete, it would be “diverse.” Sandy beaches sneak among towering mountains, palm tree forests thrive in the middle of sprawling plains, and busy modern cities yield coastlines with centuries-old edifices.
Speaking of cities, they honor the people that came before in Crete.
The streets are filled with amazing structures that show the life of Minoans, the Venetians, the Ottomans, and contemporary Greeks. Despite the evident contradictions, this island keeps a sense of unity, exhibited whenever you step onto the street, feast at a local taverna, or fancy a glass of raki at a sidewalk café.
Crete’s adventures are as mixed as its history, so make sure to take some time to determine what type of vacation you’re really trying to have. For an urban environment with a vast option of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, try to walk along the northern coast of Chania or Heraklion. Those who fancy the great outdoors should travel to Rethymnon or Agios Nikolaos for the various beautiful beaches.
Driving a car on Crete is not really as hard as it seems. You just have to follow the basic rules of their road and you’ll surely be able to experience a wonderful holiday. So, take the time to explore Crete’s unique astonishing landscapes.