The largest and southernmost of the Greek islands, Crete is known for its dramatic arid landscapes and beautiful beaches lapped by turquoise waters. Ranging from hidden coves to palm-fringed sandy beaches, the stretches of sand here are so numerous that it can be hard to know where to start. Luckily, we’ve got you covered with a roundup of the best beaches in Crete…
The most popular
Just an hour's drive from the port city of Heraklion, the village of Matala was once a hippy hangout in the 1960s and 70s. The chalk cliffs, sparkling bay and mysterious caves drew in visitors on their way to Kathmandu – among them, the singers Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens. These days, the town has become quite touristy and many people prefer to visit off-season to reminisce about the Flower Power days while gazing across the blue horizon.
The most westerly
Hidden along the Gramvoussa peninsula, Balos beach is known for its beautiful blue waters. Follow a dirt track across the rocks, cliffs and fragrant scrubland until you reach the famous Balos lagoon with its crystal-clear waters and white sand. You can also reach this paradise-like spot by boat, embarking at the town of Kissamos.
The most glamorous
Take the road that winds around the bay of Mirabello, passing brilliant blue coves and tiny villages until you reach Agios Nikolaos, a small harbour with sun-warmed cobblestones, cute fishing boats, idywhite houses, and a handful of ice cream parlors. The shallow waters here are perfect for cooling dips and the sheltered beaches are ideal for sunbathing – the only downside is the crowds, so make sure to visit out of season to enjoy the beaches to yourself.
The most Instagrammable
With its turquoise waters and pink coral sand, Elafonissi beach - nicknamed the pink beach of Crete – its no surprise that this is considered one of the best beaches in Crete and visitor numbers have soared over the years. If you’re looking for some peace and quiet, you can cross the lagoon to the offshore island, a nature reserve, where the dunes are a haven for seabirds, the water is shallow and calm and there is a quaint lighthouse on the western point.
The most exotic
Located on the east coast, the sandy beach of Vai is widely considered one of the best beaches in Crete with its forest of swaying palm trees. According to legend, the palm grove dates back to the time of Phoenician merchants who ate dates by the bucketful and discarded the cores, giving birth to one of the most beautiful palm groves in Europe. Follow the path that climbs the cliff and you’ll reach a quiet cove – the perfect serene spot for an afternoon snooze.
The most romantic
Located 30 miles from Chania, south of Cape Tigani, you’ll find the beautiful beach of Fallassarna which can be reached by car, following the road to Platanos. The beach is famous for its clear waters and the best views are enjoyed on the descent from the village. The best time to visit this stretch of sand, which is almost two miles long, is in the late afternoon to watch the sun set.
The most idyllic
You’ll find Preveli beach at the mouth of the Kourtaliotiko gorge, a river lined with palm trees and oleanders, which flows into the sea and cuts the beach in two. Enjoy cooling dips in the turquoise waters and don’t miss a visit to the small monastery perched on the cliff.