14 Top-Rated Beaches on Crete
The beaches on Crete are some of the best in Greece. Soft, golden sands and crystal clear waters create the idyllic settings that draw many vacationers to the island. Crete has a mix of pebble beaches and sand beaches, so it is important to do your research before planning a beach vacation and also consider the type of experience you are looking for. Each has its own look and feel, but regardless of the kind of beachgoer you are, you'll find something to your liking.
The beautiful beaches on the north coast tend to be busier and are often backed by restaurants and shops. On the remote south coast, facing the Lybian Sea, is the famous Matala beach and some incredible stretches of sand in very dramatic settings, at the base of cliff walls. Vai, located in the wild and rugged east end of the island, is a little out of the way but worth the trip, and on the west side of Crete is Elafonissi, where crushed shells give the beach a unique pink hue.
If you are looking for a beach town to relax for a week, or if you want an escape from the crowds and tourist shops, you can find it here. Begin by having a read through our list of the best beaches on Crete.
1. Elafonissi Beach
Elafonissi is a spectacular beach, located a couple of hours' drive from the popular tourist city of Chania. This famous white and pink sand beach is noted for the pink crushed seashells that line the shore, giving it a slight tinge of rose color that contrasts beautifully with the turquoise glow of the sea.
Divided by a narrow strip of sand are two shallow lagoons, ideal for wading and floating about. The sand here is soft, unlike many of the pebble beaches so common in the Mediterranean Sea.
Be forewarned that it can be extremely windy at Elafonissi, so be sure to check the wind forecast prior to going to ensure you are able to enjoy your day. If you are a kiteboarder or windsurfer, this is the place to go. Steady winds make for ideal conditions to rip across the shallow water. A kite school provides lessons for those wanting to take up this high adrenaline sport.
2. Balos Beach
If you've been looking at postcards as you wander the shopping districts, you'll likely have seen a photo of Balos. The array of greens and blues as you look down on the beach is unforgettable. Best reached by boat from Kissamos port, Balos is a wild beach on the northwestern peninsula of Crete. Similar in nature to Elafonissi, the beach is connected to an offshore island resulting in shallow lagoons and calm waters.
Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana visited this beach with their private yacht, and once you arrive, you'll see why they stopped by. Beautiful, soft, white sand and impossibly clear turquoise water draw you into this small slice of paradise.
If you are up for a bit of an adventure and don't mind a 25-minute walk down to the beach (and back up), consider driving. This will allow you to set your own timetable and avoid the crowds that arrive on the frequent boats. The road is gravel part of the way and can be a bit rough, although the local government is working on improving the situation.
3. Voulisma Beach
Just a short drive from Agios Nikolaos, Voulisima Beach is one of the most spectacular beaches on Mirabello Bay, if not the entire north coast. A long curving stretch of sand with towering cliffs in behind set in a wide bay will have you whipping out your camera. The light blond sand combined with the clear water makes for a spectacular shade of turquoise.
This is a perfect place for swimming, even if you are not a strong swimmer. The water is warm and shallow well out into the bay.
One of the best features of the beach is that it is virtually undeveloped; no tavernas or shops line the shore, and the highway is up and out of sight. All that you'll see is the sun, sand, and sea. A restaurant above the beach provides service to visitors on the beach, so you never even have to leave your lounge chair.
Water sports are available in one area and include Jet Ski rentals and large inflatables. The beach is easily accessed off the main highway, and free parking is available in the gravel lots. A longish set of stairs leads down to the beach from the parking area. A lifeguard is on duty during the peak season.
4. Vai Beach (Palm Beach)
You may think you are driving to the end of the world as you make the trek to Vai but it will be worth the effort. Set at the very easternmost area of Crete, this beach has one of Europe's largest palm groves, reputed to have over 5,000 trees.
Only "discovered" in the mid 1970s when a Bounty chocolate bar television commercial was shot here, the beach is completely undeveloped; the only exceptions are sun beds and umbrellas. Clear water, soft sand, and unending views out over the sea will make the long journey worthwhile.
You can choose to sit out in the sun on the main beach or find your perfect spot underneath one of the palm trees farther back.
The beaches of Falasarna have all the same things going for them as their famous counterparts of Elafonisi and Balos, minus the crowds and the difficulty in getting here. Only about an hour from Chania and reached via good roads, the beaches of Falasarna are wide and sandy with aquamarine blue waters.
The five beaches that make up this area are large, and you'll have no trouble finding a patch of sand, or if you prefer, you can rent a chair and umbrella. Near one end of the beach, a rocky inlet has a small swimming area well worth checking out.
The prevailing wind here is from the west and onshore, so the waves can get quite large.
On your way to or from Falasarna, be sure to check out the ruins of the ancient Minoan harbor a few kilometers inland from the beach.
The view down to Preveli Beach with the deep blue Libyan Sea in the background is nothing short of spectacular. Just a glimpse will make you think that the steep descent down a stone walkway will be worth the effort-and you will be right. If you aren't up for the walk, you can always take a boat from Plakias.
The beach is set between two steep hills and has a freshwater stream flowing through the center. Just back from the beach, you'll find palm trees, which creates the feeling of a green oasis in an otherwise dry area. There are no chairs or umbrellas for rent here, so come prepared.
The water is clear, but note that the beach is made up of pebbles. The walk up and down is not to be underestimated. It is rocky, and in some areas stone stairs are in place. Sturdy walking shoes are recommended, and be sure to keep some water in reserve, as going back up in the blazing afternoon sun can be sweaty work.
If you have your own car, just follow the signs to the Preveli Monastery, as you get close, the road splits to the left down to a large carpark on the top of a hill. The trail down starts from here. If you are only interested in a glimpse from above, walk to the top end of the parking area and just beyond for views down over the beach.
7. Plakias Beach
The delightful beach at Plakias is a long, wide crescent set in a large bay. Located along the south coast, it faces south, towards Africa, offering long days of sunshine that you don't always find on the north coast, particularly at beaches surrounded by cliff walls. The waves here tend to be quite small, as the prevailing wind is offshore.
Umbrellas and chairs can be rented at multiple areas along the beach. If you like a beach with a lively atmosphere backed by restaurants and shops, stay to the middle or western side.
If you are looking for peace and tranquility with a few small beach restaurants serving drinks and snacks only, head to the eastern end. The far east end of the beach is clothing optional. Umbrellas and sun beds are for rent no matter which area you choose.
The beach is sandier the farther east you go, and the sheer cliff wall and rugged peninsula extending out into the ocean make for great photos.
Another popular beach along this coast is Agia Galini, about 35 minutes from Matala. This is a little less busy and worth a visit if you want to get away from the crowds at Matala. If you are traveling from Matala to Plakias, you can easily stop at Agia Galini along the way.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Plakias
This is one of the most popular tourist beaches on the south coast of Crete. Set in an inlet facing the Libyan Sea, the beach at Matala is famous for the caves at one end of the shore, which were inhabited by hippies in the 1960s, including singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell. The hippies are long gone, but the allure of what drew them here remains. You can visit the caves for a small fee.
The long and wide beach here is made up of small pebbles and soft sand. Umbrellas and beach chairs run the full length of the beach, but you are welcome to set up your own equipment. Matala is also a great spot for snorkeling.
Matala is a popular day trip from Heraklion. The road over the mountains between Heraklion and Matala is incredibly scenic, and the drive takes a little over an hour.
The left side of the bay is made up of numerous restaurants perched on the higher ground offering fantastic views. In behind them is a street lined with shops selling all kinds of clothing and souvenirs.
Parking here can be tricky. There is one small lot immediately behind the beach, and it fills up fast. Street parking is available back from the beach.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Matala
9. The Beaches of Agios Nikolaos
If you are looking for a beautiful beach in a vibrant town setting, where you can walk out of your hotel or apartment in the city center and go for a morning swim, or dine looking out over a beach at sunset, Agios Nikolaos is just the spot.
The most accessible beach is Kitroplateia Beach. The view from this beach, across Mirabello Bay to the soaring mountains on the opposite shore is unbelievable. Palapas and beach chairs look out over turquoise and stunning blue water, and behind are numerous restaurants. This beach is within easy walking distance of Agios Nikolaos' lovely port and lake areas.
Walkable but farther out from the action of the city center is Almyros Beach. This is actually a much nicer beach, with soft golden sand and the same outstanding views across the bay. However, it is more removed from the town and has only limited facilities where you can buy snacks. It's quieter but still generally packed on nice days. Many people drive the five minutes to the beach, rather than walk.
A tiny pebble beach can also be found near the statue of Europa. Although it's small and has no real facilities or beach chairs and umbrellas, it's very protected and has a shower. People come here with small children.
The stunning Voulisma Beach listed above is only about a 15-minute drive from Agios Nikolaos, and is a great place to spend a day at the beach.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Agios Nikolaos
10. Souda Beach
Just 2.5 kilometers west from Plakias, Souda Beach is set in a wide cove with a steep rock wall at one end. The beach is quite protected from the wind and has a mix of gravel and sand. Two restaurants are located at the western end, and you can use their sun beds and umbrellas for free with a purchase.
This is a very quiet and low-key beach, perfect for truly unwinding. The water here is clear and generally calm, and the rocky shoreline at the end is a local hot spot for scuba diving and snorkeling.
If you are staying in Plakias, Souda beach is a beautiful walk along the coastal road. About halfway along at a sharp corner, stairs lead down to a secret pebble beach called Fotinari beach. This tiny cove has no services but is a great spot for a morning swim, and snorkeling here is excellent.
The delightful beach town of Georgioupolis is set on rolling terrain and, unlike many other beach towns, is green and lush. Massive trees are located throughout town, where you'll find delightful restaurants, shops, and cafés.
The beach runs all along the waterfront for approximately two kilometers. This long sandy beach is serviced with lifeguards, sunbeds, and umbrellas, and restaurants line the roadway just steps away.
The water here is generally wavy, however the seas are shallow and perfect for wading and for small children. Georgioupolis is a 15-minute drive from Chania and 30 minutes from Rethymnon. Should you wish to stay here, lots of options exist and tend to be quite reasonably priced.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Georgioupolis
12. Ammoudara Beach
If you are staying in Heraklion, make sure you don't miss out on visiting Ammoudara Beach. This seven-kilometer-long stretch of golden sand is only a five-minute drive from the Old City and the best beach in the area.
Owing to its incredible length, this is an ideal beach for those who enjoy beach walking. Sunbeds and umbrellas are available for rent.
This beach is windy most of the time, so it attracts a variety of wind sport enthusiasts, including kiteboarders and windsurfers. A kiteboarding school is located here should you wish to give the sport a try.
Parking and access are easy, restaurants and shops are nearby and have everything a beachgoer would need.
History and natural beauty combine at Frangokastello. Here, you'll find an ancient Venetian castle overlooking a beautiful sand beach and the impossibly blue Libyan Sea stretching southwards.
The beach is gently sloping, so it's an ideal location for a family with small children and makes for an ideal day trip from Chania. The trip takes about 80 minutes, but plan for more time, as the route passes through the spectacular Imbros gorge, and you will most likely find yourself stopping for photos.
Spend some time lounging in a chair and then wander up to the castle and take a look. As this is not an overly touristy place, you may actually have the place to yourself.
A limited number of chairs and umbrellas are available to rent, and a few restaurants serve fresh seafood and other traditional Greek dishes.
A short 300 meters down the beach, Orthi Ammos is a completely undeveloped beach where sand dunes descend into crystal clear waters. This hidden gem of a beach is well worth the short stroll. At one end, the Akti Cafe serves good food and offers great views down the coast.
14. Glyka Nera
For something completely different try Glyka Nera Beach. It is reached either by a 15-minute boat ride from Hora Sfakion or a stunning 30-minute walk down a coastal trail from the clifftops.
The beach, also known as Sweetwater Beach, is famous for the cold freshwater that seeps from between the pebbles and flows into the sea. As a result, the water here will be cooler than many of the other beaches you may have visited. The setting for the beach is stunning, with massive towering cliffs rising straight up from the back of the beach, and azure blue waters that seem to stretch to the horizon.
Despite the isolated nature of the beach, one small over-water taverna operates, providing food and cold drinks. The trailhead for the coastal hike down starts at the final bend in the road prior to the parking lot at Iligas Beach-keep an eye out for cars parked on the shoulders to locate the right spot.
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Exploring the Island of Crete: The main tourist centers on Crete are the cities of Chania, Agios Nikolaos, Rethymnon, and Heraklion. Each of these offers something a little different, but all are worth a visit. For a more complete look at the island, see our guide to the Top Attractions & Best Places to Visit on Crete.