Travel Guide: Driving the Island: Crete, Greece.

When visiting Crete sometimes people like to find a spot to their taste and stay put but if you are on the island for any length of time the lure of some of Europe's most notable historical sites along with the endless beaches and pretty towns will probably lure you at least once to venture beyond your resort.

A road map of the island of Crete, Greece. Our driving the island guide to taking to the Cretan roads
Road map of Crete, Greece

Crete is a large island (160 miles or 260 km in length) and if you are thinking of venturing further afield hiring car is the most viable option for your exploration.

Fortunately car hire on Crete is relatively cheap especially if you avoid the major international rental agencies and opt for a local business. If you (like me) like to go prepared then car hire comparison sites prior to your trip seem to offer the best value these days but the local rental agencies offer a personal service that can be invaluable when driving the island.

If you choose to hire a car for the duration of your stay both the local and international agencies will either have a desk at the two major airports on Crete (Heraklion and Chania) or will send a representative to the airport to meet you with a name card at the arrival hall. You'll need a means of paying a deposit such as a credit card and you driving license of course! Some agents will also require another form of ID such as your passport or another credit / debit card to confirm your identity. The transaction shouldn't take more than 20 minutes and for me this is a great way to holiday on the island as not only will you have your own personal transport from the airport to your accommodation but in addition you will also have transport whenever you want to venture out.

It's just a short walk from the terminal at Nikos Kazantzakis International Airport in Heraklion, Crete, Greece to the car hire collection point. Avis, Hertz, Europecar and all the major rental companies can be found here.
Car Hire Heraklion International Airport, Crete, Greece

The first thing to remember when deciding to travel around Crete is that the island is big! For example if you are along the stretch of coast to the East of Heraklion and want to venture to Rethymno (a stunning Venetian town) the drive will take over 2 hours. For Chania you can add another 1.5 hours, and if you decide to travel South to see the caves and former hippy colony of Matala then you've got a couple of hours also. The farther reaching trips such as to the stunning beaches of Elafonisi in the Southwest or to Vai with it's palms in the far East will take several hours and an overnight stay should be considered to avoid a long a tiring day.

Driving itself in Crete is on the right of the road (important for Brits to remember!) and if you are going any distance at all then you will almost certainly have to navigate the Greek National Road 90. Also signposted as the E75 (due to it's European route status) the highway runs along the northern coast of Crete from Kissamos in the West to Sitia in the East passing the major towns of Chania, Rethymno, Heraklion and Agios Nikolaos along the way. And whilst National Road 90 is a Greek highway only the bypasses of Chania, Rethymno and Heraklion and motorway standard whilst the rest is largely single lane with a hard shoulder. There is an upgrading of the National Road ongoing (for many years) that has added some better stretches like the piece of road passing Hersonissos and Malia toward Agios Nikolaos but largely it's single lane and you'll be expected to drive in the hard shoulder in order for other more speedy motorists to pass. At night this can be an 'experience' as faster cars come up behind and will flash you to move over and if you spend any length of time navigating the National Road you will see some hair raising driving! Largely if you are safe and observant you'll be fine and in over 20 years of driving the road I've had no significant issue other than my heart in my mouth here and there along the way. One thing to note is the condition of the National Road which has been deteriorating in more recent times as the financial crisis in Greece has bit. Watch the surface as you travel to avoid any potential damage to your rental vehicle.

The Greek National Road 90 is the main highway or motorway on the island of Crete and runs almost the entire width of the island along the northern coast linking the major cities and towns of Heraklion, Rethymno, Chania and Sitia.