From the ancient ruins of Knossos and the mythical Mount Ida; from the Venetian Harbors and bustling old towns; from the beautiful sandy beaches to the tasty and relaxed taverns, Crete is a paradise in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.
In fact, it tops our list for our favorite Greek islands. But where should you stay when you go? Don’t worry — this guide provides our unique take on the five most unique locations on the island.
The Best Places to Stay in Crete
Crete is a fully functioning island, the size of a small state, with more than one important city. The five locations presented in our guide are just one part of the island: there’s much, much more.
Regardless, our top picks for the best places to stay in Crete include:
- Chania: Definitely the most tourist-friendly place on Crete because of its versatility that covers history, beaches, restaurants, bars, and a wide range of accommodations.
- Heraklion: The capital of Crete, it’s the perfect choice for lovers of history and art since it’s full of museums and in close proximity to Knossos, Europe’s oldest city.
- Rethymnon: The third largest city on Crete, located very close to the legendary Mount Ida, it presents a bustling old town and sandy, sunny beaches.
- Agios Nikolaos: The most family-friendly place on the island, with some of the most beautiful beaches.
- Matala: A small village with an interesting hippie vibe, perfect for budget travelers due to some of the cheapest accommodations on Crete.
Where to Stay in Crete: Best Areas & Hotels
Crete is a magnet for thousands of tourists from all over the world. Used to being visited during the whole year, it offers a wide range of accommodation in almost every town and village.
If you’re looking for luxury and upscale five-star hotels, stay close to some of the major cities, like Chania, Heraklion, or Rethymnon. Agios Nikolaos may offer some interesting options too, but the opulence is mainly located in the first three cities presented in our guide.
Mid-range and budget options can be found everywhere — from Chania to Matala. But the most suitable place for saving some money is definitely Matala, with Agios Nikolaos next in line.
Chania is the place from which we start our adventure to Crete. Located on the western part of the island, it’s the second largest city on Crete, after the capital Heraklion, with a population of nearly 56,000 people (the municipality area is double that size).
Chania is a strong magnet for tourists, mostly because of its nice beaches, ancient Old Town, and the scenic Venetian harbor.
Namely, the first thing you should know is that the city is divided between the Old and the New Town — the first one stretching back to Neolithic times.
Some parts of the New Town are almost 300 years old as well! The core of the Old Town, where you’ll spend most of your time, is Eleftherios Venizelos Square, named after a famous Greek politician.
From here, you can visit all the museums, the religious objects (Muslim, Jewish, and Christian), and the picturesque harbor.
The harbor was built by the Venetians in the 14th century to boost their commercial activities and to protect the city from invasions and pirates. Today, it is the most beautiful, most visited, and most photographed place in Chania.
Aside from the Venetian architecture that still holds its beauty like a spring flower, there’s the Lighthouse of Chania, which can be seen from everywhere.
Then, there’s the Maritime Museum of Crete, which tells the naval and military history of the island. Chania is more than its ancient landmarks. It has superb beaches too, for those who prefer a more regular vacation that includes swimming and relaxing on the sea.
Also, the restaurant, bar, and club options do not disappoint in any regard — especially on the intricate streets of the Old Town. Finally, the accommodation options in both parts of Chania are quite numerous.
You can find anything here — from very cheap two-star hotels to super-luxurious five-star accommodations located in old Venetian buildings. Chania has it all.
Chania Budget Hotels
- Hotel Ideon is a two-star hotel located just 100 meters from Nea Chora Beach and 15 minutes by foot from the picturesque Venetian harbor. The hotel offers free Wi-Fi, free parking, provides an airport shuttle, has an on-site bar, and serves a tasty breakfast.
- Ellinis Hotel is located in the center of Chania, and it’s another decent and very cheap two-star hotel. Every room has a TV, fridge, and private bathroom. It offers free Wi-Fi and parking and serves an appetizing breakfast.
Chania Mid-Range Hotels
- Bozzali Deluxe Hotel is a decent and not very expensive three-star hotel with a good location. Every room is furnished with a TV, a private bathroom, and a wardrobe, and the hotel also has a patio, a sun terrace, and free Wi-Fi throughout the premises.
- Kriti Hotel is a three-star hotel that offers — among other things — an outdoor pool, free Wi-Fi, parking, and a bar on the premises. There’s also an airport shuttle at your disposal, and the hotel is equipped with facilities for disabled people. The place is particularly suitable for couples.
Chania Luxury Hotels
- Casa Delfino Hotel & Spa is a very expensive, luxurious, old five-star hotel located in the center of Chania’s Old Town, in a Venetian mansion from the 17th century. But everything inside is up to date and modern, and the hotel has a bar and a spa and wellness center where you can relax.
- Chania Flair Deluxe Boutique Hotel is a very luxurious five-star hotel located in the neighborhood called Nea Chora. It has both a restaurant and a bar on the premises, as well as a spa and wellness center. Just keep in mind that the hotel is only available for adults.
No conversation about Crete can be complete without going on and on about Heraklion, the capital and the administrative center of the island.
The fourth largest city in Greece is mostly famous for its proximity to Knossos, the ancient capital of the Minoan civilization. But, throughout its history, it’s constantly been the center of Mediterranean art and culture.
Let’s start with Knossos, which is located only around three miles from the center of the city. Without exaggerating too much, it’s considered as one of the most important archeological landmarks in the world.
The palaces, artifacts, paintings, pictographs, and scripts, as well as the legends about King Minos, the Minotaur, and Theseus have stimulated Western imagination for more than two millennia.
Considering the importance of Knossos, it’s no surprise that Heraklion is crowded with museums, which obviously sprout out like mushrooms on every corner.
Here’s a short list of the most important ones:
- Heraklion Archaeological Museum
- The Natural History Museum of Crete
- Historical Museum of Crete
- Kotsanas Museum
- Museum of Cretan Ethnology
That being said, the city itself is a piece of art and history. Starting from the Old Venetian Harbor (not as pretty as the one in Chania, but still very important), there are also numerous churches and Venetian buildings — like the Loggia and the Morosini Fountain.
People who, before everything else, are looking for culture and history will think that they’ve reached paradise. Both the hotel options and the restaurants in Heraklion are great.
You can find everything — from cheap budget hotels to luxurious Venetian palaces to stay in. Aside from the Greek and Mediterranean restaurants, there are a lot of wineries as well since Crete is famous for its wine.
Heraklion Budget Hotels
- Athinaiko Hotel is a very cheap but quite decent hotel located in the heart of Heraklion, also close to the port. It offers free parking and free Wi-Fi, a 24-hour front desk, a bar on the premises, and very good breakfast. The hotel is very suitable for couples.
- Kronos Hotel is another two-star hotel that comes at a low price, located around 200 kilometers from the city center, and around 700 from Heraklion’s port. Again, it’s particularly suitable for couples and offers free parking, free Wi-Fi, and nice breakfast.
Heraklion Mid-Range Hotels
- City Life Hotel is a two-star hotel with a great location, around 200 meters from Heraklion’s harbor. The whole hotel has free Wi-Fi and air conditioning, and there’s a bar on the premises for refreshments. Free Wi-Fi, free parking, and exceptional breakfast are also available.
- Iraklion Hotel is another centrally-located, decent three-star hotel in Heraklion that offers the usual things expected from a mid-range option. It has nicely furnished rooms, free Wi-Fi and parking, a 24-hour front desk, and very tasty breakfast.
Heraklion Luxury Hotels
- GDM Megaron, Historical Monument Hotel is a five-star luxury hotel built in 1925 and classified as a national monument. Aside from the 58 beautifully decorated rooms, it offers an outdoor swimming pool, an on-site bar and restaurant, a fitness center, and exceptional breakfast.
- Aquila Atlantis Hotel is another upscale five-star hotel with a great location, just 200 meters from the archeological museums. It has an outdoor swimming pool and a great view of the port and the sea. It offers sumptuously furnished rooms, a spa and wellness center, and a bar and restaurant on the premises.
Located between Chania and Heraklion lies the charming town of Rethymnon. With a population of around 34,000, it’s the third largest city on Crete and the third most interesting for tourists.
Once again a product of the Minoan civilization, it also offers one of the most preserved Medieval cities on the Mediterranean, with a lot of beautiful Venetian architecture, sandy beaches, and stunning mountain ranges.
The fun starts at the Rethymnon Old Town, which is an interesting combination — like the whole of Crete — of Venetian and Ottoman influences, with the Old Venetian Harbour (sounds familiar?) as one of its most picturesque places.
But the two most important landmarks, symbolizing the two cultural streams conveniently enough, are the Venetian Fortezza from the 16th century and the Neratze Mosque from the 17th century.
However, the fun doesn’t end once you leave Old Town — quite the contrary. Rethymno Beach is great, but there’s also Spilies Beach and Damoni Beach, both scenic and heavenly in their own right.
They offer plenty of opportunities for relaxing and various water-related activities. On the outskirts of the city, you’ll find Biotopoi Nature Park, a gorgeous bio-diverse area.
The biggest attraction in that sphere, however, is the famous Mount Ida, where — according to the legend — the infant Greek god Zeus spent his early childhood, hidden from the Titans.
Also, the wider region around the city offers two Christian landmarks: the Monastery of Arkadi and the Holy Monastery of Preveli. The accommodations and the restaurants are without remarks.
Like Chania and Heraklion, this town offers plenty of hotels from two to five stars in varying price ranges. The restaurants are mainly seafood-based, having both Travelers’ Choice and Best of the Best selections.
Rethymnon Budget Hotels
- Eltina Hotel is a decent two-star hotel with an outdoor kids’ swimming pool. Located just 100 meters from the beach, and almost a mile from the center of Rethymnon, it’s a perfect place for a budget traveler. There’s free Wi-Fi and a cozy garden.
- Steris Elegant Beach Hotel & Apartments is a relatively cheap but gorgeous three-star hotel with an outdoor pool. The hotel is basically located on the beachfront, with easy access to the sea, a bar on the premises, and elegantly furnished rooms.
Rethymnon Mid-Range Hotels
- Menta City Boutique Hotel is a great three-star hotel with a great location and a nice outdoor pool. Every room has a big flat-screen TV, balcony or a terrace, and kitchenette. There’s also a gym, spa and wellness center, and bar on the premises of the hotel.
- Archipelagos Hotel is a three-star hotel located very close to the beach. It has two swimming pools on the premises, as well as a bar and restaurant too. Every day starts with a superb breakfast served in the hotel and with a fantastic view outside your window.
Rethymnon Luxury Hotels
- Atlantis Beach Hotel is an upscale five-star hotel with no less than two swimming pools. Located on the beachfront, it offers a spa and wellness center, a great restaurant on the premises as well as a bar, facilities for disabled people, and posh rooms.
- Grecotel Creta Palace is another very luxurious five-star hotel with two gorgeous swimming pools. It’s located right on the beach, and around five kilometers from Rethymnon’s center. There’s also a restaurant and a bar on the premises, and a spa and wellness center.
4. Agios Nikolaos
Somehow smaller than Rethymnon, with a population of around 27,000 people, Agios Nikolaos is a charming coastal city around 40 miles from the capital Heraklion.
Located on the eastern side of Crete, it’s famous for its beaches, monasteries, and the interesting Lake Voulismeni. Like most cities on the island, it’s quite ancient, with historical continuity since the Bronze Age.
It is relaxed and comfortable, and it presents a particularly nice choice for family-oriented trips. Let’s start with the most interesting phenomenon in Agios Nikolaos (which translates as Saint Nicholas, the famous saint), namely the so-called Lake Voulismeni.
In the past, it was a freshwater lake, but today, it’s connected to the sea, and it’s practically the lagoon of the city. According to legend, the Greek goddess of wisdom, warfare, and heroism, Athena, once bathed in it.
It’s located in the center of the city, surrounded by restaurants, and it offers some of the most beautiful views in Agios Nikolaos. Let’s continue with the beaches since there are a lot of them in or near the city.
Here’s a list of them, ordered according to their popularity:
- Voulisma Beach
- Ammoudi Beach
- Almyros Beach
- Ammos Beach
- Municipal Beach Kitroplatia
- Ammoudara Beach
You can also visit the Cretan Olive Oil Farm to the north of the center, where you can find out everything about olive oil making, wine, raki, or pottery.
Around 10 miles to the south of Agios Nikolaos lie the remains of Gournia, a 3,500-year-old town. Lastly, visit Panagias Keras Church or Monastery of Kremasta. The accommodation options are great; there’s no doubt about that.
There are plenty of hotels of every type, size, or price range — and some of them are quite affordable. The restaurants, as in all of Crete, are fabulous and mainly from the domain of traditional cuisine, Mediterranean food, and seafood.
Agios Nikolaos Budget Hotels
- Ikaros Art Hotel is a decent and quite cheap two-star hotel only around 150 meters from the Agios Nikolaos beach. Every room is equipped with a private bathroom, air conditioning, and a terrace. There’s also a bar on the premises of the hotel and a nice breakfast.
- Pergola Hotel is another two-star cheap hotel with a great location. Located just 100 meters from Agios Nikolaos’s downtown and 400 meters from its beach, it also offers free Wi-Fi and a nice breakfast every morning. The place is particularly suitable for couples.
Agios Nikolaos Mid-Range Hotels
- Naiades Marina Hotel is a three-star hotel located just 20 meters from Ammos Beach. The hotel boasts an outdoor pool, a spa and wellness center, a bar on the premises, multilingual staff, and a delicious continental breakfast. The rooms have private bathrooms and balconies.
- Mistral Bay Hotel is a relatively cheap but great four-star hotel with a great location — just 80 kilometers from the beach, and practically in the center of Agios Nikolaos. It boasts a lot of things, like an outdoor pool, a fitness center, a bar and a restaurant on the premises.
Agios Nikolaos Luxury Hotels
- Minos Beach Art Hotel, a Member of Design Hotels is a very opulent and expensive five-star hotel that’s worth every penny. Located on the beachfront with a private beach on its premises, it also offers an outdoor swimming pool, a spa and wellness center, and a bar.
- Wyndham Grand Crete Mirabello Bay is another five-star hotel located on the beachfront and boasting a private beach. It has no less than three outdoor pools, a spa and wellness center, and a bar on the premises, as well as free airport shuttle services and facilities for disabled guests.
There’s an ancient Greek myth about yet another kidnapping action by Zeus, the king of the Greek gods. There was a Phonecian princess called Europa (obviously, Europe is named after her) that Zeus seduced and abducted in the form of a beautiful white bull.
The Cretan king Minos was their spawn, allegedly conceived on one of Matala’s beaches. We gave an ultra-short abridgment of this story so we can prove the point that even the smallest place on Crete is surrounded by myth and meaning.
Namely, Matala Beach, where the myth culminates, is the main attraction in this tiny village populated by 300 people.
Aside from the mythical significance, we are talking about one of the most beautiful beaches on the island, surrounded by rocks and cliffs on all sides, with a bunch of restaurants and cafes along the front.
Near the beach, you’ll find another attraction in the village, the Matala Caves. Going back to Neolithic times, they were places of worship and sacrifice.
They’ve been pagan, Christian, and neo-spiritual. Since the 1960s, the caves have been a favorite meeting place for a dynamic hippie crowd. Matala may be small, but its offer is quite rich.
There are a couple of beautiful churches you can visit, like the Church of Panagia, which is partly located in a cave, and Santa Parrocchia Dell’assunta, which is very small and very striking.
Thanks to the already-mentioned hippie culture, there are also a bunch of shops and cafes that you definitely should check out. Due to its small size, Matala is the cheapest place in our guide.
The prices of accommodation are significantly lower in comparison to Heraklion, Chania, or Rethymnon. That makes it a perfect choice for budget travelers.
Keep one thing in mind, though: there are no five-star hotels in Matala, and if you’re looking for something upscale, we recommend going to some of the other cities on our list.
Matala Budget Hotels
- Matala Hostel is a very cheap hostel with multilingual staff and surprisingly many amenities and services. For example, it has an outdoor pool, a garden, a terrace and a bar on the premises, as well as rooms with balconies, air conditioning, and private bathrooms.
- Hotel Coral Matala is a very nice and quite affordable two-star hotel with a great location — it’s around 500 meters from the city’s center and 600 meters from the beach. It offers private rooms with air conditioning, an outdoor swimming pool, free Wi-Fi, free parking, and a bar.
Matala Mid-Range Hotels
- Dimitris Villa Hotel is an unbelievably cheap three-star hotel with no less than two outdoor swimming pools on the premises. The hotel also offers free Wi-Fi, free parking, a bar and a restaurant on the premises, an airport shuttle, and a good breakfast every morning.
- Hotel Orama-Matala is another cheap but decent three-star hotel with a nice outdoor swimming pool. It offers free Wi-Fi, free parking, and a bar on the premises, as well as family rooms equipped with flat-screen TVs and fully equipped kitchens.
Matala Luxury Hotels
- Palazzo Greco is a great four-star hotel (there’s nothing higher than four stars in Matala) offering stunning views of both the Mediterranean Sea and the Mountain of Ideon. There are luxuriously furnished rooms painted blue or green (according to your preferences), a huge outdoor pool, and a bar on the premises.
- Stella Luxury Apartments is another great four-star accommodation located very close to the sea and only 300 meters from Agia Galini Beach. Every room has free Wi-Fi and air conditioning, as well as flat-screen TVs and private bathrooms with showers.
So, Where Should You Stay in Crete?
Like the mighty Theseus, we managed to find a coherent way out of the complicated travelers’ labyrinth called Crete. We checked out some of its most important cities and landmarks, and now it’s time to finish the story.
Let’s do a quick recap of the best places to stay on a trip to Crete:
|👫🏽 Most Tourist-Friendly||Chania|
|🏛️ Great for History Buffs||Heraklion|
|⛱️ Best for Relaxing on the Beach||Rethymnon|
|👪 Best for Families||Agios Nikolaos|
|💲 Most Budget-Friendly Area||Matala|
So, with so much to see and do and no bad place to stay, what are you waiting for — book a trip today and discover all that Crete has to offer!