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20 Unspoilt Places To Explore In Crete For Travel Snobs

Crete is among the most famous Greek islands (along with Santorini, Corfu and Mykonos). However, Greece’s largest island has quickly developed a reputation as a party island, with crowds of revellers in the busier resorts looking for their next shot of ouzo. 

However, there are still many quieter, less commercialized resorts and villages to stay in. After spending many breaks on this beautiful island, here are my choices if you want a more authentic break…

1. Sissi

Sissi Crete

Sissi Crete beach

Suppose you think of a sleepy Greek fishing village. In that case, you probably have images of small boats bobbing in quartz waters, piles of multicoloured nets, and fishermen unloading their catch before nipping off to the Taverna for a cheeky ouzo. You don’t need to imagine, as you’ve just thought of Sissi! 

As about as non-commercial as it gets, in my experience, Sissi is everything you want from a pretty Mediterranean fishing village.

You won’t find parties and bars here, but a collection of authentic local eateries, a few small sandy beaches, and crystal-clear waters, too! For me, it was bliss!

My favourite highlights…

  • Spending the day at the idyllic Kalimera Kriti Beach, where the smooth waters are ideal for swimming.
  • Going for a scenic hike on the village’s trails for spectacular views of vineyards, olive groves and traditional villages.
  • Soaking up the charm of the winding roads and Insta-worthy colourful houses while wandering through the village.

Location: Sissi is located on the north coast of Crete, a 40-minute drive from Heraklion Airport.

My hotel choice – Grecotel Meli Palace

Grecotel Meli Palace

2. Elounda

Elounda Crete

Elounda beach crete

Offering plenty of five-star luxury, Elounda has beautiful resorts and classy hotels. It’s not perhaps as quaint and ‘locally authentic’ as some of the other places on this list, but what it lacks in tradition, it more than makes up for in swankiness and still manages to retain an air of what makes this island so charming!

Several celebrities (including Brad and Angelina in happier days!) have been spotted walking on its sandy shores, which, combined with its being a hotspot for European dignitaries, adds to its exclusive appeal.

It’s a bit of a trek from Chania airport, so I suggest flying to Heraklion if you’re going. There are numerous beaches to visit, and if they are a bit far or you want to go further afield, you can find hire cars for the standard rate as a bigger resort.

Fortunately, Elounda’s prices don’t have a Hollywood price tag, so I personally think it’s an excellent middle ground for those who don’t want utter isolation but still want to keep their break reasonably relaxed! 

My personal highlights…

  • Discovering the ancient ruins of the underwater town Olous with a snorkelling tour.
  • Taking a boat trip over to the famous Spinalonga Island for the beautiful views across the bay to Plaka and Elounda.
  • Enjoying dinner at one of the town’s favourite restaurants for fish and seafood specials, Kanali.

Location: Elounda is located in east Crete around an hour’s drive from Heraklion Airport.

My hotel choice – Domes of Elounda

Elounda Hotel Crete

3. Agios Nikolaos

Agios Nikolaos Crete

Agios Nikolaos Beach

Agios Nikolaos, Or just ‘Agios’ if you prefer, is a bustling town and a working port. It’s located just east of Heraklion, meaning it is easy to get to if you don’t want to spend too much time with pesky transfers.

The town isn’t strictly a ‘beach resort’, so there’s plenty to see and do besides basking.

There are churches tucked away in winding streets. The town is built around a beautiful lake for those who want to enjoy a waterside view without the sand (Lake Voulismeni). I recommend taking in the views while also dining in style in one of a multitude of lakeside restaurants! 

My personal highlights…

  • Strolling around the boutiques where I found unique handmade clothing, souvenirs and local produce.
  • Exploring the Mediterranean Sea differently with a semi-submarine tour.
  • Visiting the Cretan Olive Oil Farm to experience how the local olive oil, wine, raki and pottery are made.

Location: Agios Nikolaos is on the island’s east side, about a 50-minute drive from Heraklion Airport.

My hotel choice – Minos Palace Hotel & Suites

Hotel in Agios Nikolaos

4. Panormos

Panormos Beach Crete

Panormos Crete

Did somebody say wine? Panormos – a small and charming traditional Cretan fishing village located on the northern coast – has a few little extra bits that make it attractive and a winery, it also has guided tours and tasting as well making it an attractive proposition indeed.

Three beaches are within walking distance from the cobbled stone street village. All of them are pretty shallow and nestled amongst some lovely local topography, allowing for some rather nice snorkelling experiences.

My favourite was Geropotamos Beach. To the west, there is a rather attractive stone arch; to the east, a freshwater river runs directly into the sea.

My favourite highlights…

  • Relaxing and rejuvenating with a treatment from Relaxika Massage Specialists and Spa.
  • Spending an afternoon at the Aqua Park in Marine Palace, which hosts some of the wildest water slides. 
  • Going on a cycling adventure by an E-bike tour with JoyRide.

Location: Panormos is located on the island’s North Coast, around a 50-minute drive from Heraklion Airport.

My hotel choice –  The Royal Senses Resort

Panormos hotel Crete

5. Plakias

Plakias Resort Crete

Plakias Crete

If you are looking for space, Plakias offers one of the most extensive beaches in Crete. What amazed me when I was in Crete was how quiet it was.

If you stay one or more nights, you don’t need to worry about thumping music or all-night parties. It’s super sedate. A ‘naturist’ beach is off to the east if it tickles your fancy. Beach balls aside, there is more to Plakias than sand and sunshine.

It is home to a substantial palm date forest, which is accessible by foot or by car. Walking through the forest is sublime, and the river that cuts through it is clean enough to swim in (we should hope so as it leads directly out onto Plakias Beach).

My favourite highlights…

  • Exploring the breathtaking palm groves and the gorge was a magnificent experience.
  • Catching the most photographed and vibrant sunset at The Plakias Dragon landmark, created from rock formations.
  • Slowing down and relax along the beach’s sandy shores.

Location: Plakias is on the south coast of the island, about an hour and 40 minutes’ drive from Heraklion Airport.

My hotel choice – NERĒA Boutique Hotel

Plakias Hotel Crete

6. Kato Zakros

Kato Zakros - unspoilt Crete

Kato Zakros Crete Beach

Located on the eastern side of the island of Crete, Kato Zakros is a bit out of the way but well worth the visit.

This is the land of Greek mythology, and I half expected Jason and his argonauts to pop over the horizon at any moment while we sat on the beach! Mythology aside, you can visit the ruins of the Minoan Zakros palace, which is a genuine archaeological site.

If commercial isn’t your thing, numerous guesthouses in the area offer their unique hospitality brand. Many have floral and fragrant herb gardens. With that and the relative peace, it’s an ideal spot on this beautiful island.

My favourite highlights…

  • Visiting the historic Minoan Palace of Zakros which was only discovered in the early 1960s, and has been kept in good condition.
  • Walking along the pretty E4 path to explore Gorge of the Dead, where I found several photo opportunities on the way.
  • Relaxing on the beaches which are famous for the clear waters, and seeing the small gardens surrounding them.

Located: Kato Zakros is on the island’s east coast, around a 3-hour journey from Heraklion airport.

My accommodation choice – Terra Minoika Boutique resort

Kato Zakros resort

7. Kalamaki

Kalamaki Beach Resort

Kalamaki Crete

Kalamaki is a relatively new town in Crete. It does have more of a purpose-built feel, but I would still recommend it as it’s not a loud and brash kind of place.

It’s a relaxed resort town (and compared to its busier neighbours!), and if you want a no-nonsense turn-up and to relax on the beach holiday, then I personally think this is a good choice!

The beach is large and a range of tavernas and shops offering food at a very reasonable price. It’s known for its calm waters, and for being a nesting site for endangered loggerhead sea turtles.

My favourite highlights…

  • Having fun at the Mini Golf course.
  • Taking an after-dinner stroll and checking out the entertainment along the main street in the evening.
  • Renting a pedal boat and exploring the sea.

Location: Kalamaki is located on the south coast of the island around an hour’s drive from Heraklion airport.

My self-catering accommodation choice – Golden Sun Resort

Golden Sun Resort - Adults Only

8. Sougia

Sougia Village Crete

Sougia Crete

Sougia is a small village located by the Libyan Sea. It can be a bit of a drive, especially from some more developed areas, but it was half the fun for me!

As you traverse the coast road with steep hills and lush greenery, the scenery gives views that will take your breath away. Once you’ve driven (carefully) to the town, you’ll find a laid-back vibe and easy-going atmosphere synonymous with most of the lesser-known spots on the island.

If you want a bit of light culture, there is a church (Agios Panteleimon) on the Western side of the village; it has a gorgeous mosaic floor and is not commercial in any way (if you want to see it, you’ll have to go to the kiosk on Sougia beach and ask for the key yourself…seriously)!

My favourite highlights…

  • Discovering peaceful scenery walking through the beautiful Agia Irini Gorge.
  • Visiting the secluded beach and enjoying a swim in the calm and quiet bay.

Location: Sougia is on the island’s South-West coast, about a 3-hour, 20-minute drive from Heraklion airport.

My accommodation choice – Monastery Estate Retreat

Sougia Hotel Crete

9. Falassarna Beach

Falasarna beach - best places to visit in Crete

Falassarna beach Crete

Despite its small size, Falassarna is a popular spot and has a reputation for being one of the best beaches on the island. The beaches in this area are sandy, clean, and stretch as far as the eye can see!

However, there is also an ecological interest – Falassarna is part of the Natura 2000 network due to the area’s extensive flora and fauna.

It’s vulnerable to high winds – but on the other hand, this makes it ideal for surfers. Falassarna Beach has won prizes for being the most beautiful beach in Crete and is always one of the top ten beaches in Europe, with its wonderful, fine white sand and warm, crystal-clear water.

My favourite highlights…

  • Experiencing a paragliding ride overlooking the coast and admiring the island differently.
  • Going on a cruise over to the beautiful Balos Lagoon filled with blue and green water before heading to the historic site of Gramvousa.
  • Taking a surf lesson and have some fun out on the ocean riding the waves whilst looking back over the stunning coastline.

Location: Falassarna is on the island’s west coast, around a two-hour, forty-minute drive from Heraklion airport.

10. Triopetra Beach

Triopetra beach

Triopetra Beach - places to visit in Crete

Siderotas mountain, olive groves, and, of course, the seafront surround Triopetra. The area is named after the three majestic rocks that rise out of the ocean at the peninsula’s edge.

Small Triopetra (or Koumado) is the smaller of the two beaches. It is more of an enclosed, sandy, and rocky bay. 

Are you bored of sunning yourself? You can always visit the fantastic chapel of Prophet Elias. Meanwhile, the area’s main beach, West Triopetra or Chatzi, is characterised by beautiful coarse sand that casts unusual colours across the beach and water.

It is famous for its never-ending stretch of sand, fabulous sunsets, and peaceful atmosphere.

My favourite highlights…

  • Admiring the breathtaking rock formations along the coast.
  • Going snorkelling along the shallow waters and discovering the wonderful underwater world.
  • Having a picnic on the sandy beach.

Location: It’s located south of the island, around a two-hour drive from Heraklion airport.

11. Elafonisi Lagoon

Elafonisi Lagoon Crete

Elafonisi Lagoon Crete

This natural beauty spot is an absolute pearl, but you’ve got to time it right. Up until fairly recently, Elafonisi was one of Crete’s best-kept secrets. Unfortunately, social media selfie-lovers have a firm grasp of it, so it can get hectic in the high seasons.

However, don’t let that put you off. Go in the shoulder months, and you’ll be rewarded with a day trip to remember.

The lagoon itself is an island that can be reached by paddling out to it. When you get there, don’t expect anything in the way of amenities (it’s actually a nature reserve and is treated accordingly).

Suppose you’ve braved the paddle (or walked over the sandbar leading to the island). In that case, you’ll be rewarded with water that is the temperature of bathwater, soft pink sand (particular to this area only), and pictures that you’ll treasure…Prizes were awarded for spotting a sea turtle…and deducted for duckface Instagram posts…enjoy!

My favourite highlights…

  • Relaxing on the unique and idyllic pink sands surrounded by crystal-clear lagoon waters.
  • Enjoying the magnificent scenery surrounding the beach.
  • Taking a hike across the lagoon and through the dunes and discovering the hidden gems.

Location: Elafonisi Lagoon is on the west coast of the Greek island of Crete, about a 3-hour, 20-minute drive from Heraklion Airport.

12. Plaka

Plaka Village Crete

Plaka Crete

I want to mention that you shouldn’t confuse your Plakas. There are two, one inhabited and built purely for ex-pats. The one we discussed is ideal if you’ve decided to stay in or near Agios, as it’s just around the bay.

Plaka has a lovely beach, especially if you don’t like sand getting everywhere, as it’s made from pebbles. Considering you are only down the road from one of Crete’s busiest towns, it’s quiet and relaxing.

You’ll find the standard Greek beachside fare if you want a halftime break. Nestled in its backstreets are many boutique-style shops selling handmade and not-so-handmade trinkets.

My favourite highlights…

  • Going for a swim in the crystal clear waters at Plaka Beach.
  • Waterskiing with Plaka Watersports.
  • Browsing the chic clothes, boutiques, and gift shops along the backstreets.

Location: Plaka is on the coast east of Crete, around an hour’s drive from Heraklion Airport.

My accommodation choice for Plaka – Sun and Sea Plus Resort

Plaka Aparthotel Crete

13. Glyka Nera

Glyka Nera Crete

Glyka Nera Beach Crete

Glyka Nera is one of the most beautiful beaches on the island, with deep blue water and fine white sand. There are two routes to the beach – by boat or, for the most extreme, a path from Chora Sfakion and another from Loutro.

These hikes can be strenuous and, at times, hair-raising, but they are well maintained. A tavern sells local nibbles, drinks, and sunbeds on the beach.

Due to the presence of cold spring water streams, the seawater can be chilly, even in summer, but the beach is stunning. If you arrive by boat, the route and views are spectacular! 

My highlights…

  • Discovering the incredible aerial viewpoints of the beach by following one of the hiking trails around the bay.
  • Spending the night camping under the shade of the tamarisk trees.

Location: Glyka Nera is located on the south coast of Crete, a 2 hour 30 minutes drive from Heraklion Airport.

My accommodation choice near Glyka Nera – Myrto Hotel

Near Glyka Nera Beach

14. Tripiti to Sougia Coastline

Tripiti Coastline Crete

The walk between these two areas is genuinely stunning. Thankfully, the path is marked with cairns to guide your route, as it is easy to get distracted by the views! Although elements of the walk can be tiring, it’s most definitely worth it.

Although the panorama can make you trigger happy with the camera, don’t ignore the beauty right beside you on the path – a Venetian fort, ancient churches, ancient cisterns, and the breath-taking remains of the ruined ancient town of Pikilassos, not to mention the beautiful flora and fauna that you encounter along the way, including lots of olive trees – resist the urge to pillage!

The walk can take up to two hours depending on ability, speed, and inclination; make sure you take time to soak up the beautiful views and atmosphere.

My favourite highlights…

  • Stopping and admiring the historical sites along the way.
  • Soaking up the gorgeous views overlooking beautiful turquoise waters.
  • Capturing Insta-worthy shots of the scenery along the trail.

Located: Sougia is on the Southwest Coast of Crete, a 3-hour and 20-minute drive from Heraklion Airport.

15. Myrtos Village

Myrtos village Crete

Myrtos village Crete

This tranquil, pristine, white-washed village full of traditional charm is in the island’s southeastern corner. The town has a rich history, including a museum that houses finds of Minoan archaeological importance.

It also has a handful of authentic taverns and a quiet sandy beach.

The beach of Myrtos is a hidden treasure that rarely gets crowded and provides a real opportunity to take a load off and truly relax. For those who love to explore, ruins all over the area dating from the Neolithic and Roman periods can be uncovered and discovered with a bit of tenacity. 

My highlights…

  • Spending the day at Myrtos Beach, which has a Blue Flag award and is one of the warmest beaches in Europe.
  • Learning about the architectural treasures around the area and the village’s history at the Myrtos Museum.
  • Taking a drive to Selakano Forest and exploring the charming trails filled with waterfalls.

Location: Myrtos village is on the south coast of Crete, a one-hour and twenty-minute drive from Heraklion Airport.

16. Ligaria

Ligaria Beach Crete

Ligaria Crete

I loved Ligaria – a small and charming seaside village located on the north side of Crete – especially its lovely beach with the same name. It is postcard-perfect with steep, sandy-coloured rocks dropping directly into the sea in this horseshoe-shaped bay and crystal clear water.

The area is popular with locals, which should tell you something. As a result, the beachside cuisine in the local tavernas is to a pretty high standard.

It is slightly commercialised, but it’s not too bad if you like the occasional deep-fried or sugary treat delivered to your lounger whilst you catch the sun!

My favourite highlights…

  • Experiencing traditional Cretan dishes at Atatoah Taverna Liguria.
  • Going jet skiing! 
  • Visiting the fascinating Monastery of Panagia Deligara which is built on the ruins of the original monastery. 

Location: Ligaria is located on the north coast of Crete, around a 30-minute drive from Heraklion Airport.

17. HeraklionHeraklion Port - Crete Heraklion - Crete1

Heraklion is Crete’s capital and the largest city on the island. It is a port city with an urban vibe and a touch of nature.

No matter where you go, you will always find green spots. If you want to explore the local cuisine, there are many restaurants and fantastic coffee shops. The city has an airport, making it the number one spot to explore the area.

I’d also suggest catching a ferry to visit Santorini, Mykonos and other islands.

My personal highlights…

  • Visiting the outstanding Bronze Age city and Palace of Knossos.
  • Discovering the Heraklion Archaeological Museum and seeing the ancient displays.
  • Strolling around the vibrant Old Town and the scenic harbour filled with fishing boats.

Location: Heraklion is located on the north coast of Crete and is home to the island’s main airport.

18. Milatos 

Milatos Crete

Milatos Crete

If finding tucked-away coves and exploring craggy rocks appeals to you, then Milatos, a small quaint Crete village, maybe the place for you!

It lacks the sweeping white sand of some of our other suggestions but does not have the footfall, making it ideal for a day trip.

If you are a true adventurer, take your flashlight and head up to Milatos caves. It’s not particularly health and safety friendly, but if you are brave enough, you’ll be rewarded with a view of a hidden church built within the caves. Cool or what?

My personal highlights…

  • Exploring the Milatos Cave after walking up a scenic trail to the entrance. 
  • Indulging in great food and wine at Meltemi Taverna whilst watching a breathtaking sunset over the Mediterranean Sea.

19. Paleochora

Paleochora Crete

Paleochora Crete

Paleochora, a small town on a small peninsula in southwest Crete, is ideal if you want a bit of both. By that, I mean you want to indulge in chilling out and maybe have a good time in the evening.

There are some bars, but they are more likely to be full of civilised locals than your standard 18-30 gangs.

After a day at the (pebble) beach, you can step out in your Sunday best and pace up and down the walkway paralleling the seafront while wondering if you have time to look at the menu before the occupants accost you (I’m joking; they are lovely and generally friendly rather than pushy!).

My favourite highlights…

  • Going for a swim at Pachia Ammos Beach, known for being one of the best beaches along the South Coast.
  • Visiting the Paleochora Castle and seeing Instagrammable panoramic views over the town.
  • Dining al fresco along the Paleochaora Piazza.

20. Loutro Village

Loutro village Crete

Loutro village - unpsoilt places to visit in Crete Greece

When you land in the pretty, peaceful village of Loutro, you feel like you’ve stepped back in time! It’s a small village with several hotels and tavernas, shops and restaurants, and a church. Still, what Loutro lacks in modernity, it makes up for in nostalgia and panorama.

It is flanked by steep mountainsides, home to a sizable herd of goats (judging from the clinking of bells), and a tepid sea sheltered by a lush bay.

No roads lead here, and there are no nightclubs or nightlife. Visitors can detox from life and tackle long-awaited books, take walks along the stunning scenery, or eat, drink, and be merry.

My personal highlights…

  • Renting a boat and exploring the breathtaking southern coastline.
  • Visiting the historic Koules of Loutro fortress ruins.
  • Wandering around the town’s pretty streets and sampling the street food.

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