Crete, the largest of Greece’s islands, is a land filled with hidden treasures and unforgettable landscapes that deserve to be discovered at your own pace. Embarking on a road trip from the scenic town of Chania, Crete’s second-largest yet arguably its most charming town, allows you to truly immerse yourself in the Cretan authenticity. From the sun-kissed beaches of the coast to the timeless allure of mountainous villages, Western Crete offers an array of captivating experiences that promise to take you on a journey back in time.
While Chania itself is a gem worth exploring, the regions around it brim with adventures that shouldn’t be missed. This post is dedicated to showcasing the best road trips originating from Chania, also accessible from other locations in the Chania region and Rethymno.
To truly unearth Crete’s beauty, we highly recommend renting a car. However, if you prefer not to drive, many of these day trips can be experienced through organized tours. Buckle up and get ready to chart your course through the majestic landscapes of Crete.
One of the gems of Chania is the Lake of Kournas, Crete’s sole natural freshwater body and a Natura 2000 protected site. As an important wetland, Kournas harbours diverse species like moorhens, ducks, eels, water snakes, and the rare Terrapin turtle. Stroll around the lake to witness its ever-changing hues, a masterpiece crafted by the sun’s interplay with the surrounding hills and trees. Immerse yourself in this tranquil environment by taking a dip or renting a pedal boat.
As the day unfolds, make your way to the lush oasis of Argyroupolis for a delectable Cretan lunch. Known for its springs, watermills, and gurgling streams, this locale offers mouthwatering trout, sturgeons, and the unique “antikristó” lamb, a local speciality. Post lunch, head to Georgioupolis, where an expansive sandy beach awaits. The crowning glory of this beach is the striking white chapel of St. Nicolas, standing in the sea and accessible by a jetty. Soak in the serene atmosphere and azure waters before returning to your hotel in the evening.
Begin your day with a visit to the Botanical Park and Gardens of Crete, just an 18 km drive from Chania. The park is a botanical treasure trove featuring a diverse array of local and exotic plants, fruit trees, and herbs. Discover a world of nature on the Park’s trekking paths, explore vibrant gardens, meet the resident wildlife, and immerse yourself in an educational adventure in the Cretan flora and fauna. While there’s no time limit to your exploration, it usually takes around 2-2.5 hours to tour the gardens. Then, depending on your preference, enjoy a leisurely lunch at a beautiful restaurant at the park or venture towards the historical village of Theriso.
Before reaching Theriso, consider taking a detour to the Sarakina Gorge Meskla if you’re up for a short yet rewarding hike. Sarakina’s compact size doesn’t undermine its awe-inspiring natural beauty. However, if you’re not up for another hike, head directly to Theriso. Once a crucial stronghold during the Cretan Revolution, the village offers a unique blend of history and local cuisine. Check out the National Resistance Museum 1941-1945, or treat yourself to a traditional Cretan meal. On your return journey pass through the Theriso Gorge, a stunning sight best enjoyed in daylight right from the comfort of your car, make sure you pass it when there is still light outside. This breathtaking gorge promises a memorable conclusion to your day of adventure.
There are a few options to reach Balos beach from Chania, by car or by boat. You can find more details about this trip here: Balos Beach and Lagoon: One of the world’s most famous pink beaches in Crete. Start your journey early in the morning by taking a bus or driving to Kissamos Port, which is about 25 km west of Chania. Kissamos Port is where you hop on a boat and start your journey to the magnificent Gramvousa Island and Balos Lagoon Beach or continue your journey by car until you reach the parking space at Balos beach. (If you decide to go by car you won’t be able to visit Gramvousa Island).
After the 1-hour boat trip, you will approach Gramvousa Island. Explore the former pirate’s cove of Gramvousa, hike for 20 minutes to a historic Venetian castle atop a 137m high rock, and take in the breathtaking Aegean views. You’ll also have the opportunity to swim near the Agioi Apostoloi chapel. After an hour and a half at Gramvousa, you will continue on a 20-minute sail to Balos lagoon, renowned as one of the world’s best beaches. Marvel at the vibrant turquoise waters, pink sandy shores, and stunning natural beauty during your 2.5-hour stay in this paradise.
Note: Please be aware that sometimes the boat might not disembark directly onto Balos beach. Instead, the boat will anchor in close proximity, and you will have the opportunity to swim from the boat to the beach. Please check with the boat tour company beforehand.
Before heading back to Chania check the Ancient Olive Tree of Vouves. It is probably the oldest olive tree in the world and it still produces olives. It is confirmed to be at least 2000 years old based on tree ring analysis, but it’s claimed to be between 3000–4000 years old!
Recognized as one of the top 10 European beaches and the best in Crete, Falassarna boasts some of the most renowned coastlines in Greece. Spanning five consecutive beaches, the central two being the most frequented, Falassarna is a scenic 59km drive west from Chania city. Here, you can unwind by the beach, enjoy a meal at one of the local restaurants, and gear up for an exhilarating journey to the iconic Balos beach and Gramvousa Island.
Start a heart-pounding adventure by jet skiing from the stunning Falassarna Beach to the enchanting Balos Lagoon. The 25-minute ride across the turquoise waters leads you to the paradise of Balos Lagoon, where you can bask in the sun, swim in the crystalline water, or simply relax on the beach for an hour. Your return journey includes a quick stop at the historic Gramvousa Island, adding a dash of historical allure to the trip. If desired, you can swap drivers or accompany the guide on their boat for the 20-minute journey back to Falassarna Beach. This thrilling day trip is a must for thrill-seekers and watersports enthusiasts looking to explore the beauty of both Balos and Falassarna in a single, unforgettable day!
Regarded as one of the world’s top ten beaches and a favourite among Instagram travellers, Elafonisi Beach is a destination not to be missed on a visit to Crete. This enchanting spot, located at the southwesternmost tip of Crete, 76km west of Chania, indeed lives up to its reputation. On your journey to this extraordinary locale, consider taking a brief detour to explore the Cave of Agia Sofia, nestled just past the Tunnel by the Topolia Gorge.
Elafonisi’s peninsula is flanked by stunning, Caribbean-like beaches, replete with white sands, turquoise waters, and a distinctive pink hue in the sand – a result of countless crushed shells. The water at the peninsula’s end is shallow, forming a lagoon ideal for children and allowing visitors to wade through carrying their belongings. After a day spent here, if you’re yearning for further exploration, make your way to the mesmerizing Kedrodasos beach, only 1km east of Elafonisi. Famous for its juniper forest and sandy dunes, it’s a sight to behold. Other hidden gems in close proximity include Aspri Limni (White Lake) Beach and Voulolimni (sunk lake) beach, both near Elafonisi beach. End your day with a hearty meal at the cosy Taverna Stomio, where a warm, family atmosphere meets delectable food and charming surroundings.
Embarking on a journey through the Samaria Gorge is a full-day commitment, mainly due to the logistical aspects of transportation to and from the site. This single-direction hike spans approximately 13 km through the National Park’s captivating gorge, followed by an additional 3 km beyond the park’s boundaries. The hike begins to descend significantly around the 4th km, so be prepared for a knee-testing adventure!
The initial stretch of the hike offers awe-inspiring vistas that will leave you speechless. Following this, you’ll traverse through a 5-kilometre-long forest offering limited views, but abundant in flora – over 450 types, with 70 unique endemic species found only in this region. What makes this trip exceptional isn’t solely the stunning hike through one of Europe’s longest gorges, but its culmination point – a gorgeous beach, providing an opportunity to cool off with a swim and indulge in local cuisine at nearby taverns. Rather than driving, we recommend participating in an organized tour or utilizing public transportation for this excursion.
Nestled on the Southwestern coast of Crete, Hora Sfakion is a charming coastal village sitting 70 km away from Chania. This serene spot is reachable by car or public transport. From here, embark on a boat ride to Loutro, a picturesque seaside village, inaccessible by car and dripping with authenticity and charm. You’ll find the locals living at a leisurely pace, unperturbed by the outside world’s hustle. The quaint whitewashed houses and seafood tavernas mirror the aesthetic of the Cycladic islands, while the stunning turquoise waters and majestic backdrop of the White Mountains create a scene of unparalleled beauty.
But the enchanting experience doesn’t stop there. From Loutro, hop on a boat to explore some of the nearby secluded beaches – many are unspoilt, untouched, and unreachable by car. If you’re up for a bit more physical activity, consider a scenic hike to nearby beaches, or even back to the starting point of Hora Sfakion. This coastal trek, stretching along the breathtaking shoreline, will take you approximately 2.5 hours to complete.
Kick-start your journey by visiting the majestic Kourtaliotis waterfall. Located in the heart of the Kourtaliotis Gorge, just beneath the Saint Nicholas Kourtaliotis church, this breathtaking spectacle ranks among Crete’s most stunning attractions. The waterfall is tucked within the gorge’s narrowest, most shaded segment, its waters cascading like curtains down the cliff faces. Reaching this spectacular sight in Kourtaliotis involves a brisk, upstream swim. Even though a nearby bridge offers a view of the waterfall, it pales in comparison to the awe-inducing perspective you get when you’re up close.
Next, venture to the exquisite Preveli Beach. This picturesque haven is marked by a thriving Theophrastus palm tree grove along the Grand River banks, reminiscent of a tropical paradise. The river forms a 500m long lake before merging with the sea, providing a constant water supply. Embark on a tranquil walk beneath the leafy canopy along the river, take a refreshing dip in the gorge’s cool pools, and immerse yourself in this idyllic setting. Before heading back to your accommodations, make a pit stop at the unique Kalypso beach. Enclosed by rugged cliffs, this beach provides a unique seaside charm. This locale is also perfect for snorkelling and scuba diving, making it a true hidden treasure of Crete.
The northern coast of Crete harbours some hidden treasures among its rocky cliffs, particularly on the Akrotiri peninsula. You’ll find stunning beaches, significant historical sites, captivating monasteries, and a delightful winery, all waiting to be explored. Begin your journey at the Monastery of Agia Triada, a picturesque sanctuary founded in 1612, known for its wealth and meticulously maintained olive groves and vineyards. Venturing further along the winding, narrow roads, you’ll come across Gouvernetou Monastery, nestled between the sea, olive fields, and towering pine trees. A short trek from there takes you to the abandoned Monastery of Saint John the Hermit or the Katholiko, possibly the earliest monastic establishment in Crete, dating back to the 6th Century.
Take a detour to Seitan Limania, a hidden gem that gained internet fame in 2015 for its stunning beauty. However, it’s worth noting that the journey down to this quaint cove might be challenging in improper footwear and the beach can get crowded during peak seasons. If you fancy a longer seaside break, visit Stavros beach, a spot of significant historical and cultural interest, as it was the filming location for “Zorba the Greek”. Despite the passage of time and development, the beach retains its charm, complete with a taverna named after Zorba. As your day draws to a close, make your way to Venizelos Graves, the final resting place of two charismatic Greek politicians. Here, you can take in the panoramic vistas of old Chania city, especially captivating during sunset. To end your day on a sweet note, stop by the renowned Koukouvayia café for some delectable cakes and ice creams, as you continue to enjoy the breathtaking city views.
Consider spending a day in the charming city of Rethymno, Crete’s third-largest city which is just an hour’s drive from Chania. The narrow cobblestone streets of Old Rethymno, lined with a kaleidoscope of quaint shops, inviting cafes, and traditional taverns, beckon you for leisurely exploration.
Extend your journey to the historic Monastery of Arkadi, designated as a European Freedom Memorial by UNESCO. The monastery stands as a powerful emblem of the Cretan people’s struggle for independence, with its tragic 1866 battle ultimately leading to the island’s liberation in 1898. Round off your visit with a stop at the idyllic village of Margarites, celebrated for its pottery tradition, scenic bylanes, and well-preserved architecture. This village provides a perfect peek into Crete’s rich cultural heritage and history. Don’t forget to pick up some ceramic keepsakes to remember your trip by!
In wrapping up this exploration of road trip options from Chania, I genuinely hope that you’ve found inspiration for your upcoming adventures. Remember, these suggestions are meant to be flexible – feel free to customize these itineraries to suit your travel pace and preferences. I’ve designed these one-day trips with the intention of maximizing your experience, enabling you to take in all the remarkable sights and experiences each route offers within a single day. Whether you’re basking in the breathtaking views, exploring historical sites, or savoring delectable local cuisine, the true essence of Crete awaits your discovery. So gear up, hit the road, and let the enchanting journey unfold!
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