The island of Crete has a long, long history. It was once home to the ancient Minoan civilization, which predates the Greek civilization and was once one of the most influential in the region. Growing up, I was fascinated by the Minoans – I even did a special history report on them in 9th grade! Crete holds a special place in my heart because that report and the fact that the capital of Knossos has some impressive ruins. More than ancient ruins, though, Crete has beautiful beaches, excellent hiking, quaint little historic towns, delicious food and wine, and friendly, welcoming locals. I love the island and it’s size ensures you can visit and find little places to escape the crowds of tourists (this travel guide can help!).
Hostel prices – An average price of a hostel here is 10-25 EUR per night for a dorm bed. Consider coming in the fall or winter months for cheaper prices (plus fewer crowds). The few hostels that are located on the island do not have private rooms.
Budget hotel prices – You can find rooms at 2-star hotels starting at 25 EUR a night. Hotel rooms at this price point include a private bathroom, mini-fridge, air-conditioning, a TV and many offer free breakfast for their guests. During the summer, expect to pay much more as Crete is a popular destination during July and August. An alternative to hotels is Airbnb. Shared rooms start at 10 EUR and entire homes (including studio apartments) can be rented for as little as 40 EUR per night.
Average cost of food – Sit down restaurants with drink will cost about 20 EUR for a nice dinner, even in the tourist area. A meal at a very luxurious restaurant will begin at 30 EUR. If you really want to eat cheap, eat gyros (like kebabs). A Gyro is around 3 EUR and will easily fill you up. If you cook your meals, expect to pay 35-45 EUR per week for groceries that will include pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foods.
Transportation costs – Crete has a bus system that is easy and cheap to use. Within the main towns, buses only cost 1.80 EUR per trip. There is also ferry service offered to other islands. The ferry also covers the southern part of the island, since there are very few roads. Taxis are available on the island, though they are not cheap. Also, keep in mind that prices will be higher during the night. The best way to get around Crete, however, is to rent a car; the island is fairly large and the buses don’t go to many of the smaller sites. Rentals prices will vary, but expect to pay around 30 EUR per day for a car. As for flying, there are three airports on the island and daily flights to Athens can be found for as little as 30 EUR.
Suggested daily budget – 40-50 EUR / $42-52 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- Visit in the off-season – August is the most expensive month, so if you can arrange for a visit before June which would really cut down your accommodation and flight costs by up to half.
- Eat super cheap – Gyros and other street snacks only cost a few Euros and can keep you full for less than 10 EUR per day.
- Rent a moped – When you can’t ride the train, rent a moped. It’s cheaper than a car and a great way to see the various towns and cities. You can usually rent a moped for around 14 EUR per day.
- Book overnight ferries – Greece’s inter-island ferries can get quite expensive if you are visiting a lot of them. Taking the overnight ferries can save you up to half off the normal price plus save you a night of accommodation.
- Book ferries early – If you book the ferries around two months in advance, you can save up to 25% off the cost of your ticket.
- Couchsurf – If you plan ahead, you can usually find really nice Couchsurfing hosts on the island. This way, you not only have a place to stay, but you’ll have a local host that can tell you the best places to go and things to see. This is one of my favorite sharing economy services to use and really lets cut down your expenses.
Top Things to See and Do in Crete
- Visit the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion – The number one attraction on Crete, this museum also happens to be Greece’s second largest archaeological museum next to the museum in Athens. There is a stunning collection here, which highlights the Cretan civilization (dating back from Neolithic times, through to the Roman empire). It’s open daily 8:30am-5pm, except Mondays when it opens at 12pm. It does have abbreviated hours December-February. Admission is 6 EUR.
- Check out the Yakinthia Festival – This is an annual festival of music and dance that features presentations on Greek mythology. It’s a festive party that locals really get into. Don’t miss it.
- Visit Loutro – On the south side of Crete, this village offers beautiful and sweeping views and a clean, white sand beach. It’s a nice place to relax away from the crowds for two or three days.
- Visit the Castello del Molo – For a 5 EUR entrance fee, you can explore this ancient castle and ruins on a self-guided tour. The view from on top of the fort is worth the trip in itself. You get to see the lovely hills that dot the island.
- Visit ancient Aptera – A wonderful day trip and opportunity to try local wines and cheese. Besides indulging in food and drink, you can walk through the ancient town and explore the underground water reservoirs.
- See the Lassithi Plateau – If you enjoy Greek mythology, come here. Rumored to be the birthplace of Zeus, it’s a fascinating sight and also another low-cost way to spend your day.
- Visit Knossos – This was the ancient capital of the Minoan empire and the ruins are some of the oldest in Greece. This old palace is wonderfully preserved and some of the original colors are still visible on the walls. It takes a long time to see it all, and if you want to understand the history of the island, you can’t miss it. (This was also the supposed home of the mythical Minotaur.)
- Walk down the Samaria Gorge – The walk down the Samaria Gorge from the Omalos plateau to Agia Roumeli on the Libyan Sea is very tough but the beautiful views and rewarding finish at the beach town are well worth it. Try to avoid midsummer as the heat it tough to bear. The walk takes between four and seven hours.
- Visit Chania Town – The second largest city in Crete, Chania Town also happens to be one of the major tourist hot spots. There are a number of fascinating historical sights as well as numerous harbor cafés, great shopping at the Old Cross Municipal Market, and more.
- Eat at Waves on the Rock – This little restaurant serves the freshest and tastiest seafood that you can ever hope to find. It is tucked away and slightly difficult to find but recommended by anyone who knows about it. There are even rooms for rent above the restaurant for those that want to hang out in the area for a few days.
- Explore Dikteon Cave – One of the major sights of Lasithi, this cave system covers over 2,000 square meters. Surrounded by ancient Greek mythology, there have been various discoveries that indicate this cave was once a place of cult worship. Additionally, there are tons of various stalactite and stalagmite formations.
- Visit Rethymnon – Located in the northwest part of Crete, this city is most famous for its spectacular, 11-km long beach and the Venetian fortress. After you have had your fill of beach days, head over to the fortress for an engaging afternoon. It is the largest Venetian castle ever built.
- Take a trip to Spinalonga Island – Long before this island was a leper colony, the Venetians built a fortress on the island, and then it was taken over by the Ottoman Empire.