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.
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.
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 less major roads of Crete are hugely varied in nature. To the major resorts and towns (and most of the smaller ones) the roads are asphalt. Because of Crete's mountainous and hilly nature these roads are also quite often windy and keeping a steady pace is advised. Google maps works well on Crete (if you have the app on your phone and can type / understand Greek in a 'Greeklish' sense) and whilst when exploring the island you will never find anything but a friendly and warm welcome going 'off piste' requires care as there is little directional sense to the roads largely due to the mountains and in addition what might be a good quality asphalt road now might in a few km's soon become a rough dusty dirt track only suitable for a rugged 4x4.
I recall with humour leaving Elounda some years ago heading back for Hersonissos one evening and suggesting to my passengers that we took an alternative 'scenic' route past Plaka and up over the mountain toward home. Not only had I been naive in not having a lot of fuel in addition whilst meeting some most hospitable people along the way the journey took hours and despite hiring a Suzuki Jeep for our stay the little 4x4 struggled with some of the rock / rugged roads I would up using. I look back on it now with a smile but at the time the tension within the vehicle was palpable and this type of unplanned cross country adventure requires some planning on the island to avoid the sweaty low fuel and lost panic I was in for a while.
If you are visiting the major archaeological sites you will find largely good roads and parking when you arrive (although at Knossos many of the car parks and private and charge) and if you are going to the more famous beaches arriving earlier will avoid you having a parking headache when you get there. Like anywhere new when driving take your time, don't take risks show consideration for others and air on the side of caution. There are a few speed cameras on the National Road also so hurtling along might land you a fine anyway.
Enjoy Crete, get out and explore all that the island has to offer. You won't regret it!
Photos of Crete bring you our unbiased and honest guides to the island of Crete, Greece. We've had a connection to the island for over 30 years and we as called on our own personal experiences to bring you what we think is important and our opinions on how to get the best from your stay as we write guides about each and every aspect of visiting the largest of the Greek islands... Crete. We have a SHOP and we also offer PROPERTY CONSULTANCY & MANAGEMENT within Crete so don't forget to take a look and have a wander about the entire PHOTOS OF CRETE SITE. Thanks for reading.
(C) Copyright Simon Mcilvenna 2020