Where to Stay in Crete: Best Hotels, Cities and Beaches
You’ve probably been dreaming of going to Crete for a long time. We had been since we moved to Greece and were lucky to visit this past June. The weather was perfect, and we enjoyed no crowds. Crete is not only the largest Greek Island, but also its most spectacular one. Beautiful cities, ancient sites, lush green mountains, and golden sandy beaches dot this jewel of an island. Fantastic restaurants, bars, and some of the best hotels in Greece are also here in Crete. We’ve crossed the island from east to west, so we’ll help you decide where to stay in Crete. You need to pamper yourself after so many months of hard work!
Best Place to Stay in Crete: Chania
To us, Chania is undoubtedly the best place to stay in Crete. We believe it’s one of the most beautiful cities in Greece. Since it was an important city during Venetian and Ottoman rule, lavish architecture from both periods can be seen all over the place. There is a scenic harbor, a colorful old town, an ancient fortress, several historic churches, and countless charming streets and squares. Chania is also the best place to base yourself in Crete, as some of its nicest beaches lie inside the province.
Hotels in Chania City Center
Chania probably has the widest selection of hotels in Crete. Most hotels in Chania are in its impressive Old Town. You can choose from small boutique hotels housed in old historic buildings to bigger modern ones. That said, there are no major hotel chains, nor gigantic resorts. For the most part, Greek hotels are family establishments offering personalized service!
As you know, we are all about views. That’s why we stayed at the elegant Vilelmine Hotel. This historic house from 1900 presides over the Metropolitan Cathedral of Chania, in the heart of the city. Thus, the unbelievable views and superb location. For the best views of the square and the sea from the comfort of your private balcony, book the top floor suite. Rooms are tastefully decorated, spacious, and comfortable.
Hotels in Chania by the Beach
Chania doesn’t have many hotels on the beach. In fact, its main beach, Nea Chora, is not too wide, nor too long. Though the beach is within the city boundaries, it feels somewhat relaxed. That is if you don’t visit during the weekend when all the locals flock to the beach. Further west of the city center, there are two other nice beaches: Chrisi Akti and Agii Apostoli.
If you want to stay directly on Nea Chora Beach, you’ll be surprised to know there aren’t any upscale options. That’s how low-key this beautiful beach is. Our recommendation goes to Danaos Hotel, a family establishment with rooms for every taste. Choose a sea view room, and relax on their complimentary sunbeds.
Where to Stay in Crete for Couples: Rethymno
Chania may be the nicest city in Crete, but Rethymno is a close second. Its old town is a like a smaller version of Chania’s, but slightly less crowded. There are numerous historical houses, charming alleys, churches and mosques, and a wonderful 17th century fortress presiding over the city. What makes Rethymno different from other major cities in Crete is its gorgeous sandy beach. The beach is long, clean, and only a short walk from the Old Town.
Hotels in Rethymno City Center
In Rethymno, options are so good that it’s hard to decide where to stay. However, you can’t go wrong. While its old town has amazing architecture, the beach is beautiful. Since the main appeal of the Old Town is its atmosphere, we recommend staying in a historic hotel. There are quite a few good ones.
Hamam Oriental Suites
Several Rethymnon hotels in the Old Town are set in historic buildings. We chose the Hamam Oriental Suites, a unique building on a quiet lovely street. This 17th-century Ottoman bath has been converted into an elegant hotel. In fact, one of its rooms is the original bathroom. We spend a night here and were alone admiring this little pearl of a hotel. Amazing!
Hotels in Rethymno by the Beach
As mentioned above, Rethymno has the longest and best beach of all the large cities in Crete. By staying on the beach, you’ll be able to disconnect, yet you’ll have the historic area right next to you. There are numerous hotels along the beach, from small boutique ones to large luxury hotels. You will find the one right for you!
Our favorite Rethymno beach hotel is undoubtedly Poseidon Hotel. We chose it for its convenient location and the fantastic price. We felt that there was something special about it and were 100% right. Not only does it tick all the right boxes, but its elegant yet warm service sets it apart. The views from the balconies are epic, breakfast is abundant and delicious, and they have their own sunbeds. Heaven!
Where to Stay in Crete for Nightlife: Heraklion
Heraklion is the administrative capital of Crete and its largest city. Unlike Chania or Rethymno, it is not overwhelmingly touristic. Most people walking about its lovely pedestrian streets are locals. Don’t get fooled by its uninteresting initial appearance. The city is home to some fantastic buildings. There are two beautiful churches, a Venetian Fortress, several historic fountains, and a monumental City Wall. Don’t forget that Crete’s most impressive ancient site, the Palace of Knossos, is on the outskirts of Heraklion.
Hotels in Heraklion City Center
The city center is a mixture of historic architecture and ugly modern buildings. Its most interesting neighborhood is the large pedestrian area with lively bars and restaurants in the center. The Heraklion Archeological Museum, the island’s best, is here too. Likewise, Heraklion’s best hotels are here. Again, most hotels are family-owned and not international chains.
Infinity City Boutique
We chose the Infinity City Boutique for its great location at the edge of the Old Town towards the bus station. It exceeded our expectations in every way. Their rooms are well designed, spacious, and offer comfortable beds. Our balcony even had sea and mountain views. Special mention goes to the lovely receptionist who gave us the best tips to explore the city.
Hotels in Heraklion by the Beach
Though some of the best beaches in Heraklion lie east of the city, we don’t recommend staying there. They tend to be overcrowded, and the beaches are not especially nice either. If you want to stay on the beach in the city, we recommend Ammoudara Beach west of the Old Town. It’s quieter, less crowded, and boasts a wider hotel selection.
Civitel Creta Beach
Most of Heraklion’s exclusive hotels are on Ammoudara Beach. Civitel Creta Beach is one of the best all-inclusive hotels in Crete and has the best location in Heraklion. It offers spacious rooms, lavish gardens, a large swimming pool, and direct access to the beach.
Where to Stay in Crete for Families: Agios Nikolaos
Agios Nikolaos is the least touristy of the four regional capitals. Located in the middle of a large bay in Eastern Crete, it is a charming little town with a laidback vibe. Agios Nikolaos stands out for its unique geography. The beautiful Voulismeni Lake occupies its central part. Impressive architecture lines the shores of the lake. Since 1907, a canal connects the lake to the sea, so technically, it’s not a lake anymore.
Hotels in Agios Nikolaos City Center
Agios Nikolaos has hotels for every taste and budget. Actually, all hotels in the city center are either budget or midrange. The upscale ones are either south of the center or north in Elounda. We suggest spending a couple of days in the city and then heading to a remote beach.
Nine Muses Apartments
In Agios Nikolaos, it’s all about views. To be exact: sea views. For this reason, we chose the lovely Nine Muses Apartments for our base. They offer comfy apartments with sea views right in the center of the city. Likewise, Agios Nikolaos’s only urban beach, Kitroplatia, is just a few steps away.
Hotels in Agios Nikolaos by the Beach
There are two other beaches in the city proper. Ammos beach is to the south; Ammoudi to the north. Both are nice sandy beaches. The best beaches near Agios Nikolaos are south of the city along the road to Sitia. We are talking about Almyros and Ammoudara.
According to many, Almyros is the prettiest beach near Agios Nikolaos. The long sandy beach ends in a river delta with a protected wetland area. The chic Blu Acqua Hotel offers large rooms with balconies overlooking the sea, a swimming pool, and direct access to the beach.
Where to Stay: Best Beaches in Crete
If your main goal is to spend most of your time on the beach, we suggest heading directly to the best ones and staying there. According to most online rankings, there are five best beaches in Crete: Elafonisi and Balos in Chania Province, Plakias in Rethymno Province, and Vai and Chrisi in Lasithi Province. Of those beaches, you can only stay in Elafonisi. On the other hand, Balos is an easy day trip from Chania and Plakias one from Rethymno. Since visiting Vai and Chrisi is more complicated, you’ll need more time.
If you’ve heard of the famous pink beach of Crete, you should know we are talking about Elafonisi. Located on the island’s southwestern tip, it feels like a piece of the Caribbean in the middle of Europe. The beach got its name from the nearby Elafonisi Island and consists of a strip of yellow and pink sand connecting the island with the rest of Crete. The sea surrounds the beach on two sides, with one side resembling a shallow natural pool.
Hotels in Elafonisi
When we talk about Elafonisi beach hotels, we refer to hotels within walking distance from the beach. Since it is a protected natural area, there are no hotels directly on the beach. Please note that this is an extremely popular beach, so it can get very crowded in summer. Thus, it is worth staying in a nearby hotel so you can enjoy the beach on your own early in the morning and late in the evening. We did just that and felt in heaven.
Undoubtedly, the best hotel in the area is the grand Elafonisi Resort by Kalomirakis Family. This tastefully designed hotel is also the closest accommodation to the beach. Some of their rooms even have sea views. Perfection!
Elafonisi Rooms for Rent
We decided to spend a night in Elafonisi pretty late, so we couldn’t find a room in the resort. Luckily for us, we found the newly opened Elafonisi Rooms for Rent. They have everything you could possibly need: comfortable beds, a clean bathroom, and a verandah to chill. Their restaurant serves delicious food.
Falassarna Beach is another spectacular beach in Chania Province. It is the only big beach on Crete’s western coast accessible by public transport. The term Falassarna Beach refers to a string of beaches. The main ones are Big, Small, and Baby Falassarna. Falassarna is famous for its killer sunsets, considered by many the best in Crete.
Hotels in Falassarna
There is no real town or village next to the beach. Instead, there are several groups of hotels and restaurants every few kilometers. All Falassarna beach hotels are small family-run establishments, and none of them is directly on the beach. No worries, many are just a short walk away.
Pachia Ammos is the best option if you want to stay by the Big Falassarna beach. The hotel is only 100 meters away from the beach and offers large apartments with balconies overlooking the sea and the mountains.
Falassarna Beach Hotel
Take note that Pachia Ammos is perfect for those of you who want to be somewhat isolated. On the other hand, Falassarna Beach Hotel is next to other hotels and restaurants and has direct access to Baby and Small Fallasarna beaches. Apartments are comfortable and have balconies with sea or mountain views.
Plakias is undoubtedly one of the best beaches near Rethymno. Located 40km south of the city, it is the best beach on the south coast that you can stay at. Lush green mountains surround this 1,5-kilometer long beach and there are more fantastic beaches nearby. Preveli is only 15 minutes away by car.
Hotels in Plakias
Plakias is a charming little town that hosts a variety of different accommodation options. The town is at the northernmost tip of the beach, where it becomes narrow. The best hotels and apartments are on the less crowded southern tip, where the scenery is more dramatic.
Plakias Bay Hotel
In Plakias we also recommend a hotel to disconnect. Plakias Bay Hotel is at the southern end of the beach, in the footsteps of the Kakramouri Hill and peninsula. The elegant hotel offers a garden full of flowers, chic rooms, and views you’ll never forget.
If you are traveling with a group of friends, you may consider staying at a private apartment. Paligremnos Studios are also close to the southern tip of the beach, offering tranquility and peace in a splendid setting. Their lovely hosts will go out of their way to help you organize the perfect holiday in Plakias.
Bali Beach is the most accessible of all the great beaches in Crete. Located by the road that connects Heraklion to Rethymno, it is one of the few superb beaches on the northern coast. Actually, it’s not one beach, but an array of beaches of different sizes and shapes tucked between impressive hills and mountains.
Hotels in Bali
Bali hosts some of the best beach hotels in Crete. You should decide whether you prefer a fancy beach resort on a crowded beach or a small family establishment by a smaller beach. Take note that all Bali beaches get crowded on weekends, so organize your stay during the week. There are four beaches in the area: Livadi, Varkotopos, Bali, and Karavostasi.
We rarely stay at a budget hotel, but this time we decided to give it a shot. Sea Vessel turned out to be the best affordable accommodation in Bali and perhaps in all Crete. In fact, it’s pure luxury: comfortable rooms with balconies offering the most spectacular views. The place is literally a few steps away from the beach and next to a delicious taverna. Let’s not forget the lovely hosts.
Nostos Beach Boutique Hotel
If you are a resort queen, you will like Nostos Beach Boutique Hotel. Located directly on Livadi beach (Bali’s largest), it hosts spacious tastefully decorated rooms with private balconies. There is a large garden with a swimming pool and a beach bar with sunbeds.
Heraklion is Crete’s province with the least attractive beaches. Beaches east and west of the city are pretty but crowded and somewhat noisy. The best beach in Heraklion province is arguably Matala Beach on the southern coast. Apart from being a super cool beach, it is famous for its caves, popular among hippies.
Hotels in Matala
Matala is a small town by the southern end of Matala Beach. Some hotels are here. Others are by the road leading to Heraklion. There aren’t many accommodation options in the area, and no hotel is directly on the beach.
Nikos Hotel is the best option close to the beach. Set in a leafy little street, it offers colorful rooms, and a beautiful courtyard to relax and chill. Some of their rooms have a small kitchenette. Some even offer sea views.
If you are looking for something that feels like a resort, you should stay at Fragiskos Hotel. All of their rooms come with a private balcony; there is a large garden with a nice swimming pool, and direct beach access through a parking lot.
Istron Bay Beach
Among the best beaches in East Crete, Istron Bay stands out for its dramatic scenery. Though located close to Agios Nikolaos, by the main road to Sitia and Ierapetra, it feels quite deserted. At least if you visit during the week. There are several beaches in the area: the private Istron Bay and the public Voulisma are the most famous ones.
Hotels in Istron
Most small hotels and guesthouses in the area are in or around Istron village. The village is southwest of Voulisma Beach. Take note that most private apartments are on the hills, south of the main road. In any case, you’ll have to cross the main road to access the beaches, unless you stay at Istron Bay Hotel.
Istron Bay Hotel
Istron Bay Hotel is not only the best place to stay in the area, but probably one of the best hotels in all of Crete. It’s a superb hotel with an outstanding private beach. We especially loved their huge beds and balconies overlooking the bay.
If you prefer staying in a private apartment, there are plenty to choose from. Our favorites are the Anemone Homes between Istron Bay and Voulisma Beach. Their apartments have a seating area with a dining room and kitchenette. The public terrace offers stunning views of the bay.
Our Recommendation for the Best Place to Stay in Crete
Most people visiting Crete for the first time wonder whether to go to Chania or Heraklion, as both have international airports. To us, there is no doubt: we believe the best area to stay in Crete is Chania province. Apart from the spectacular city of Chania, the best beaches in Crete are here, just like the islands’ nicest natural spot Samaria Gorge. If you are coming to Crete for a short holiday, staying in Rethymno is a great idea. The city beach is fabulous, just like its old town. Besides, you can spend a few days in Plakias and then go to magical Preveli for a day. History-lovers should not miss Heraklion with its Knossos Palace.
Other More Secluded Beaches You Can Stay At
Apart from Elafonisi and Falasarna, the south of Chania Province offers other incredible beaches. From Chania city, you can take a public bus to two fabulous beaches. Frangokastello is a small town with a sandy beach and an impressive 14th– century Venetian Castle. The best hotel in the area is Paradisos. Palaiochora is another lovely beach worth visiting. We recommend staying at the elegant Blue Horizon.
How to Get to Crete
Most visitors arrive in Crete through Heraklion and Chania international airports. Few people know that there is actually another airport in east Crete, Sitia Public Airport. Another great way to get to this magnificent island is by boat. Ferries connect Athens with Chania in about 8 hours. The ride from Athens to Heraklion is an hour longer. Take note that you can take boats to Crete from Santorini, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Syros, Milos, and Tinos.
We use Ferryhopper to check prices and buy our ferry tickets across Greece.