The Best Beaches in Crete, Greece

Get a flavour of Crete with a visit to Preveli beach.
Get a flavour of Crete with a visit to Preveli beach. | © Eva Bocek / Alamy Stock Photo
Anna Kambourakis

Crete is famous for its brilliant beaches, but it can be hard to know where to start. So we’ve pulled together our favourites to make picking your spot a breeze. With more Blue Flag beaches than any other island in Greece, you’re never too far from a heart-stopping swathe of sand. From hippie hangouts to sunset-facing hideaways, we’ve done the hard work of flopping our towel down on hundreds of them, so you can cut to the chase and make the most of your time on this Mediterranean isle. Did you know – Culture Trip now does bookable, small-group trips? Pick from authentic, immersive Epic Trips, compact and action-packed Mini Trips and sparkling, expansive Sailing Trips.

Elafonissi

Elafonisi beach

With its flamingo-pink sands and luminous blue water, there’s something uniquely magical about Elafonissi Beach. Unfortunately, we’re not alone in thinking so. It’s a popular strip of sand, this one – and sunbeds get snapped up quickly. We’d strongly suggest getting there straight after breakfast (or even before, if you’re prepared to picnic) – not just so you can bag a lounger, but so you can get your money’s worth, as they cost around €9 (£8) for the day.

Spinalonga Beach

A visit to the fort on the island of Spinalonga is an essential day trip during your visit to Crete

This beach is as much about its translucent water as it is its unusual location and remarkable history. It fringes the island of Spinalonga, which has served as an ancient acropolis, a Venetian fortress, an Ottoman safe haven and a leprosy colony at various points over the centuries. Now uninhabited, you can explore the atmospheric ruins which remain – and afterwards, take in the views across Mirabello Bay to Elounda.

Balos Beach

Aerial view over the clear waters at Balos Beach and lagoon – a popular tourist attraction on the northwest coast of Crete, Greece

With its paddling pool-like lagoon and acres of blinding white sand, Balos beach always makes the list of most incredible beaches in the world. However, getting there is a bit tricky. There are two main routes: hiking on foot (about a 20-minute walk from the car park), or, if you’re in no rush, you can take a boat from nearby Kissamos. Our pick would be to walk and get there as early as possible, as the boats usually arrive around 11am, causing crowds to swell.

Matala Beach

“Today is Life, Tomorrow Never Comes” is the motto of this bohemian hippie hangout. With reggae music blasting from nearby bars, it’s a bit like Woodstock-by-the-Sea, which adds an element of dreamlike surrealness to the views of ancient cave dwellings bored out of the cliffside that flanks the beach. And what a beach it is, by the way – long, wide and as clean as a Japanese zen garden. Lost your mojo? You’re sure to relocate it here.

Red Beach

Although it’s known as a nudist beach in this part of Crete, the name comes not from an exhibition of sunburned body parts but from the colour of the sand – a vibrant terracotta red. Close to hippie haven Matala, it takes a half-hour hike across rugged yet attractive terrain to reach. You don’t have to strip off to fit in, but do bring your snorkel – the water is exceptionally clear, and the small beach bar does the best mojitos on the island.

Falasarna Beach

Falasarna beach, one of the most famous beaches of Crete located in the Kissamos province, at the northern edge of Crete’s western coast.

Located on the island’s west coast, Falasarna beach gives you a front-row seat to the most dramatic sunsets. But that comes later. First, you’ll want to hire a jet ski or boat from the watersports stall at the north end of the beach and go tear up the glittering turquoise water before coming back and drying off on one of the sunbeds. Bored of sunbathing? Explore the ruins of what once was a Roman city, just to the north of the beach.

Preveli Beach

Hiking down from the rocky hillside to this south coast beach, you could almost believe you’d stumbled upon a Saharan oasis. Here, the Kourtaliotiko River, shaded by a forest of palm trees, leads the way out to the sandy beach. Where the fresh water and the seawater meet, there’s a magical dance of currents on the surface. And if that wasn’t unusual enough, there’s a huge heart-shaped rock jutting out of the sea. It has to be seen to be believed, this one.

Kalamaki Beach

Traditional Seafront Taverna, Kalamaki, Iraklion Province, South Coast, Crete, Greece.

A favourite with local families, this laid-back beach is a must-visit while taking in the nearby ancient Minoan Palace of Phaistos (also a must). It ticks all the boxes parents – sunbeds, umbrellas, lifeguards and a changing area. There’s even a playground for the kids. There’s a cluster of excellent (and inexpensive) family-owned restaurants serving fresh seafood and traditional Greek dishes when it comes to refuelling. It’s an excellent all-rounder.

Not sorted your stay yet? Choose from the best luxury or best beach hotels in Crete, now bookable through Culture Trip. Explore more of what Greece’s biggest island has to offer by checking out its must-see sites or taking a look at the best things to see and do in the capital city of Heraklion. Finish the day off by sampling Cretan cuisine at one of the capital’s best restaurants.

This article is an update of one originally by Sarah Charles.

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