A less explored Crete itinerary: Eastern Crete

Ingrid & Alex

Summer is here, and my thoughts immediately run to the sunny shores of the Greek islands. Where else would you find that perfect mix of sandy beaches, stunning blue water, scrumptious food, and history-packed places? While Eastern Crete is not as popular as its Western part or other Greek islands, it is the perfect destination for those looking to escape the crowds. 

Sure, Crete might not be as popular as Santorini or Mykonos, but it is, after all, Greece’s largest island. With plenty to explore, I don’t think you could see every important attraction on this island in just one week.

However, if you don’t have more time and want to see some beautiful places while still getting to chill by the sea, Eastern Crete is the place for you. We also wanted to escape the crowds and stay in a boutique hotel in a hidden, authentic Greek town.

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Where to stay in Eastern Crete

Elounda Crete

While most of the people visiting Crete choose to stay in more popular places such as Heraklion, Rethymno, and everything in between, we wanted to be further away from the crowds. 

Even though that placed us further away from popular destinations, we chose to stay in Elounda, one of the fancier resorts on Crete Island.

I highly recommend it to anyone looking to explore Easter Crete. It has nice beaches, plenty of restaurants on the seafront, and boutique hotels with breathtaking views.

Elounda Orama Creta

Elounda Orama.

We stayed here during the second half of our honeymoon, and we absolutely loved it. Perched on a hill with direct access to the main road leading to the center of the village, the hotel boasts a great rooftop swimming pool and rooms with views for days. What I loved most was having breakfast and dinner in their rooftop restaurant, with neverending blues under your eyes. 

The rooms were very comfortable, with a modern Greek design and great food. 

Check out availability and prices here!

Adrakos Apartments

The hotel is located between Elounda and Agios Nikolaos, high on the hills overlooking Spinalonga and Elounda Bay, offering incredible views. It is a family-run hotel highly rated by couples who stay here, mainly for the romantic vibe, the beautiful swimming pool, and the staff’s friendliness. 

Check out availability and prices here!

Blue Palace, a Luxury Collection Resort and Spa

It is an incredibly luxurious hotel with many rooms overlooking the sea and Spinalonga Island, some boasting small private infinity pools. Come here to be blown away by the award-winning cuisine and a state-of-the-art spa – a 2,000-m² area with indoor pools, 24 treatment rooms, two hammams, saunas, and hot tubs. 

Check availability and prices here!

Other towns where you can stay in Eastern Crete

Agios Nikolaos

Choose to stay in Agios Nikolaos for the city vibes and if you don’t want to be too far away from the central part of the island. The city is charming and offers many things to do, and you can still feel the summer holiday vibes.

Here are a few great accommodation options for Agios Nikolaos.

Minos Palace Hotel & Suites – Adults Only

It is a stunning resort loved by guests, boasting infinity pools and a private beach. Only 2 kilometers away from the city center, you will perfectly mix the city with the vacation vibes here.

See more here!

Hotel Port 7- Boutique Collection

If you would rather stay in a small, coquette boutique hotel, choose the sea-facing Port 7 Hotel. The hotel is in a perfect location by the port, and the rooms with balconies overlooking the harbor are amazing.

See more about the hotel here!


Located to the very east of Crete, Sitia is served by a small airport and is popular for its exotic beaches and palm tree forest. Explore the Kazarma Fortress and the Archeological Museum, spend time at Vai beach, marvel at the palm tree forest, and drive from one beach to another.

Mira Sitia Luxury Apartment is a great accommodation option. It has modern interiors, a big window overlooking the sea, and a small balcony to relax and enjoy the views. The kitchen is fully equipped for a perfect vacation. See availability and prices here!

Apartments Kalaitzakis with private pool. These new villas with private pools overlook the city of Sitia. They are fully equipped with brand-new furniture and kitchen apparel and set in a quiet location. See more here!


Located in the southeastern part of Crete, Ierapetra has a laid-back vibe. You can enjoy the small city life, spend time at one of the many terraces along the beach, take the boat to Chrissi Island, explore the Venetian Fortress, or step inside some of the old churches in town.

Enorme Santanna Beach

Enorme Santanna Beach is a 4-star hotel with big and luxurious rooms. Guests really enjoyed the food at the hotel, but also the friendly and helpful staff. See more here!

Kales Sea View Suites. If you would rather stay in an apartment with a sea view and everything you need for a vacation with your family or a longer stay, this is the place for you. See more here!

How to get to Eastern Crete

As Greece’s largest island, you would imagine Crete would be served by more than one airport. As a matter of fact, that’s indeed true, and you can choose to fly into Crete at one of the island’s four airports.

However, the two are the most popular, with plenty of flights from Athens and other parts of Europe, especially during the summer. Chania and Heraklion airports are located in the island’s northern part, but you might want to know which one to choose if you want to visit Eastern Crete.

The answer is simple: for Eastern Crete, choose to fly into Heraklion Airport

Getting around Eastern Crete

Renting a car is the easiest way to get around Crete if you want to make the most of your vacation and see everything on this list and more. 

Driving around Crete might be challenging initially, mainly because of the narrow streets and because people tend to drive a bit hectically. However, you’ll get used to it, and I recommend getting a small car that can be easily parked and fit through the narrowest streets.

We got a Volkswagen Up, which was great for wandering around the island, even though I dreamed of a convertible Mini or Fiat 500. Since we hadn’t booked beforehand, my dream options were unavailable

Thus, you might want to learn from my mistakes and book online beforehand. That way, you’ll secure the model you want at a lower price.

Discover Cars is a great aggregator that will help you save up to 70% on your car rental.

What to do and see in Eastern Crete

Even though in one week, chances are you won’t get to see the stunning Balos Lagoon or the famous pink sand beach Elafonisi in the western part of Crete. You’ll have to skip seeing the white houses of Loutro and the colorful streets of Chania. 

On the other hand, we got to explore a less popular part of Crete. One that didn’t disappoint at all. And we have a good reason to return to the island for more exploration. 

Spinalonga island 

Spinalonga Crete
Spinalonga Island Crete

I won’t lie to you; this is an arid island, and if you go there, as we did, on a hot August day, you’ll need to bring plenty of water along. 

Only less than 30 minutes away by boat from Elounda, the island of Spinalonga stands proof of the history this island bears. Because of its strategic location, the island has been fortified and played many roles. 

The fortress dates from 1579 and was built by the Venetians on the ruins of an ancient acropolis. The Venetians managed to control it for almost half a century after Crete fell under the Ottomans. 

Later on, this is where lepers from all over Greece were isolated. 

You can visit the island by boat and take in the immense blue surrounding it. 

Book a day trip to Spinalonga and Elounda

Insula Spinalonga Creta
Spinalonga island

Take a road trip on the Lassithi Plateau

Lassithi Plateau

As soon as you start driving on the winding roads and lose track of the sea, you’ll forget you’re on an island. Even though the number of kilometers is not that big, the road makes it time-consuming, but you’ll enjoy the view that lies before your eyes. 

Apart from nature and the 18 picturesque villages of the area, the main attraction is the windmills with white cloths. We climbed from sea level to 800 m and explored some lakes, Zeus’s Cave, and some of the small villages with colorful flowers.

If you don’t feel like driving on the winding roads of this area, I suggest booking a tour to the Lassithi Plateau with options from Ierapetra or Agios Nikolaos. 

Get the best deal from Ierapetra here!

Get the best deal from Agios Nikolaos here!

At the top, we stopped for lunch and enjoyed true Cretan food with a view. 

Here are some other stunning places for nature lovers you’ll want to get to if you want to spend some time exploring the natural beauty of Crete:

  • Havgas Gorge – is such a picture-perfect location. 
  • Go on a hike to Samaria Gorge from Agios Nikolaos. See more here!
  • Katharo Plateau and Sarakina Gorge on an SUV Tour. See more here!
  • Hike through nature and follow a path that the Minoans created thousands of years ago on the Kavolisi Hike. 
Lassithi Plateau

Chrissi Island day trip from Ierapetra

Chrissi Island, Crete
Ierapetra, Crete

Now you have two choices when it comes to getting from Elounda or Agios Nikolaos to Chrissi Island:

  • Self-drive to the city of Ierapetra and book a boat trip to Chrissi Island. That’s what we did, and it was such a nightmare to find a parking space in Ierapetra. Once we did, it was a bit hard to find the place where the boat was leaving. By the time we managed to find it and buy a ticket, the boat left, and we had to wait another few hours for the next boat. 
  • Book a whole day trip from Agios Nikolaos to Chrissi Island. You won’t have to worry about parking in Ierapetra or boat timetables. This option is more efficient and leaves you more time on the island.

When it comes to the island itself, there isn’t that much to do here except relax on the beach and swim in the deep turquoise waters. 

As soon as we approached the island, the water started to look like it was in the Caribbean, and I couldn’t stop taking pictures that wouldn’t do true justice to this sight. 

I would encourage you not to stop at the first beach, where the boat leaves you and where you’ll find the bar/restaurant. The water on the other side of the island is so much bluer, and the beach is sandier.

You can rent sunbeds and umbrellas to hide from the sun at noon. Just sit down, and someone will come and charge you. 

Knossos Palace in Heraklion

Knossos Palace
Knossos Palace

No matter where you stay in Crete, Knossos Palace is one of the must-see attractions, and there are plenty of organized tours available.

If, however, you choose to drive yourself all the way to Heraklion—as we did—it is worth booking in advance a skip-the-line ticket together with a guide who will tell you the story of this magnificent place. With the same ticket, you’ll also be able to visit the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion. 

Because it was hot outside, the photogenic orange juice stand right by the entrance offered a chance for a nice picture and a refreshing drink. 

Knossos Palace dates back to the Bronze Age, and you will step back in time to more than 3500 years ago. It is considered Europe’s oldest city, and you can imagine what this place looked like back then: mystifying sanctuaries, luxurious domestic quarters of the royal family, and the imposing throne of Minos.

Take a day trip to Santorini Island

I absolutely love Santorini, so I urge you to spend at least one night there and see the famous sunset over the caldera. Ideally, you should stay there for 2 days.

However, if you are on the run, a day trip from Crete could be enough to see the best places on the small island. 

The high-speed luxury boat will take you to Santorini in 2.5 hours. You’ll tour the island by bus and see both Oia and Fira—Santorini’s gem towns, perfect for a postcard picture. On your way back to Crete, you’ll see the sunset from the boat. 

Book your Santorini day trip from Heraklion or Agios Nikolaos here!

Taste some local Cretan wine

Hop on a wine discovery and visit 3 of the best local wineries in Crete. Have a sommelier help you understand the differences between wines and what each goes well with. 

Book your tour here!

Explore the different beaches around Elounda

Sure, some of the big luxury hotels in the area have their own private beach, but that’s not all when it comes to Eastern Crete. 

Apart from the beach a few steps away from the city center of Elounda, here are a few others you should see: 

  • Schisma – a sandy beach with palm trees
  • Plaka – a pebble beach 
  • Driros Beach – is one of the best in the area
  • Vai Beach – with the famous palm trees forest
  • Istro Beach – the golden sand and beach umbrellas
  • Agia Fotia – on the edge of a pine tree forest
  • Sissi Beach – surrounded by taverns with fresh fish

Go on a Boat trip to the island of Koufonissi

For a unique and different experience, go to the less-known and explored island of Koufonissi. Another uninhabited island, like Chrissi, Koufonissi, has a special landscape where you will feel like stepping inside a desert without traveling too far from Crete.

The island has Hellenistic and Roman ruins to explore, but the main attractions are its beaches and the landscape, which resembles an African dessert. As Chrissi, the island is protected, and while you won’t have to pay any fee to visit, you still have to treat it respectfully.

There are 36 beaches with white and gold sand waiting to be explored, with Pigadi and Anemertia being the most famous ones.

Book your boat trip to Koufonissi here!

Pay Agios Nikolaos a visit

Photo by rogov on Unsplash

One of the largest cities in Eastern Crete, Agios Nikolaos, is worth a visit if you miss the city vibes and have had too much sun, sea, and beach. While you won’t “escape” those here either, there are plenty of other things worth doing and seeing in Agios Nikolaos.

Admire Lake Voulismeni and learn about its many legends, some saying that the goddesses Athena and Artemis used to bathe here at night. Eat at a local taverna, enjoy the vibe, and shop in El. Venizelou square, or allow yourself to get lost on the city’s streets.

Malia Minoan Palace

If Knossos wasn’t enough for you and you still want to learn about the Minoans, don’t miss a visit to the Melia Palace. It is the third-largest Minoan Palace and is believed to have been built around 1900 BC. The remains show a town larger than anything that existed before, thus the importance of Melia.

Learn to dive

If you want to see the magical depths of the water, snorkeling alone is not enough; thus, you should go on a beginner’s diving training. There are plenty of options, mainly from Heraklion, and thus, in the eastern part of the island. Join an experienced instructor to learn the basics of diving and explore the underwater world.

Book your diving experience here!

Enjoy Eastern Crete’s natural beauty

Hike some of the most popular gorges in Crete: Zakros, Pefki, Katsounaki Gorge, Chochlakies Gorge, and many others.

Indulge in some local Cretan traditional food

Greek food
Greek food

Okay, I must start by saying we are obsessed with Greek food. So much so that I cannot remember one vacation when we didn’t eat so much that we felt sick, this one included. 

The pictures above were our first lunch in Crete, and we wanted to try everything. That’s a portion for two people, so make sure you know what to expect when you order food in Greece. 

Prices in Elounda are not as cheap as in other parts of Crete or Greece. However, the food is delicious, the fish is fresh, and there is a wide variety of picturesque seafront restaurants to choose from. 

Further away destinations for your Crete itinerary

If you have more time to spend on the island, you might want to move somewhere on the Western side not to waste so much time on the road daily. 

Don’t miss out on: 

When is the best time to visit Easter Crete

Like any other Greek island, the perfect time to go is during the sunny season. Even though we went in August, I won’t suggest you do the same, if you have a choice.

July and August can get really hot, and while you will be on an island and enjoy the breeze, days can become unbearable (especially if you travel to more arid places such as Spinalonga).

Thus, in my opinion, the best time to go to Eastern Crete is anytime in spring (May and June) and fall (September and even October).

A 7 day in Eastern Crete Itinerary idea

We usually try to mix the time spent at the beach or by the pool with road trips. Especially if this is one of your few vacations of the year, you will also want to do that. Thus, here is an example of an easy 7-day Eastern Crete itinerary

  • Day 1: Depending on where you stay, explore your city, discover restaurants and bars, and spend time by the pool or at the beach.
  • Day 2: Go on a day trip to Ierapetra and Crissy Island.
  • Day 3: Go on a road trip to the Lassithi Plateau.
  • Day 4: Go on a short trip to Spinalonga Island.
  • Day 5: Visit the Knossos Palace in Heraklion and go on a wine-tasting tour or a Greek night.
  • Day 6: Take a boat trip to Koufonisi Island, go diving, or go on a day trip to Santorini Island.
  • Day 7: Explore some of the island’s beaches.

Other tips for an Eastern Crete road trip

If you are planning to rent a car and drive around Eastern Crete, here are a few extra tips you must know.

Choose a small car. Roads are not very wide, and driving along villages might end up on very narrow alleys. That’s why we always choose a small car, the smallest model available (something that would fit a child seat as well). It is easy to get around, and you can easily park.

Pay attention to the other drivers and even to stopped cars. We almost hit an open door because the person was not paying attention, so we opened it at the last moment.

Fill up your tank when you get the chance. You might not have many opportunities, especially as you explore hidden beaches and the top of the mountains.

Bring your documents. If you are from outside the EU, you will need an International Driving Permit (IDP) and a valid permit. You will also need to have your ID or Passport with you.

Rent ahead of time, especially if traveling during the peak season; you should not leave it until the last moment. Choose an aggregator to find the best deal and book ahead of time, especially since the last years have seen an increase in demand. Book here for the best price!

Bring your credit card. Most rental places will require one, but when booking online, you can also choose options that accept a debit card instead.

Please read all the information and understand what is included and what is covered by the insurance you choose.

The speed limit in Crete is 50 km/h


Crete things to do and itinerary

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