There are a lot of things we loved about Crete, the biggest island in Greece. The mountainous scenery. The scenic coastal villages. The stunning gorges. The food. The beer. Etc. Nonetheless, I think most people would agree that the amazing Crete beaches are the most memorable part of visiting this great island.
So, after spending 6 weeks exploring every nook, cranny and gorgeous stretch of sand, we have put together our full list the best Crete beaches. Many of which easily qualify among the best beaches in Greece.
Yes, this list is highly subjective. There are dozens more excellent beaches on Crete found all around the island and you can’t go wrong with most of them. But, in our opinion, these are the best beaches in Crete. The most unique, the most scenic, the most comfortable, the most organized.
And yes, they are ranked, starting with #12 and working our way down to #1. Once again, extremely subjective but, hey, it’s our list, our rankings. We know that not everyone (not anyone?) will agree and would love to hear your opinions about your favourite beaches on Crete that we have missed, or ranked unfairly, or wildly overrated.
Now, on to our list of the best beaches in Crete:
Best Crete Beaches Map
This map of all the best Crete beaches will help you plan your trip so you can see as many as you have time for.
Click the star to save this map to your Google Maps – then find it under Saved/Maps (mobile) or Your Places/Maps (desktop)
12. Pachia Ammos Beach
Known for: Soft sand, breezy days and the view across the Libyan Sea to Africa.
The name Pachia Ammos translates to “coarse sand” but compared with most of the pebbly beaches in Crete, this south coast favourite is practically powdery. Located just steps from the centre of the relaxed little town of Paleochora, Pachia Ammos faces directly into the breeze from North Africa. And, while it may get a bit windier than some of the more protected beaches up north, it also enjoys milder winters. A fair trade-off.
Plus, Paleochora is one of the fastest growing Crete beach resort towns and offers an impressive array of accommodation options and several outstanding restaurants.
Closest city: Chania 70 km / 1.25 hrs
Fun fact: There is a large rock on a hill at the end of the beach that looks vaguely like a horse’s head and is way more famous than it should be.
For all the details, see Paleochora: More Than Just 14 Great Beaches
11. Bali Beach
Known for: Being the best place to rent an apartment within a few minutes’ walk of the beach.
Nicely sheltered, with good sand and tremendous swimming, Bali Beach is understandably popular. It also just happens to be very close to both Rethymno and Heraklion, two of the main cities on Crete. Which is probably why so many people have chosen it for their luxurious holiday homes and comfortable rental apartments.
But even though its popularity can lead to summer crowds, it has also led to some of the best beach accommodation on the island, not to mention a wide range of delicious seafood restaurants and, as an added bonus, at least a dozen places to buy a floatie.
Closest city: Rethymno 30 km / 30 min
Fun fact: If you happen to let Google Maps lead you up a steep incline way past where the road (and common sense) ends to where you end up having to reverse carefully off a precipitous grassy ridge until you can eventually execute several painful three-point turns until you can finally retrace your steps to an actual road, well, at least know that you weren’t the first.
10. Voulisma Beach
Known for: Its shallow water and gentle sloping seabed that are perfect for families.
With actual white sand (not so common among the beaches of Crete), a nice gradual slope and pleasant natural surroundings, Voulisma Beach can feel a bit like a secluded hideaway even though it is right in the heart of everything and just a short drive from Agios Nikolaos.
Of course, it may not feel so secluded on a busy summer weekend, but if things get a bit hectic for you there are many more excellent beaches within easy walking distance in both directions. Mirabello Bay is filled with lovely, varied spots to catch some rays or go for a dip, all with terrific tavernas close by.
Closest city: Agios Nikolaos 15 km / 20 min
Fun fact: You wouldn’t think a group of grown men would be interested in frolicking on an inflatable banana but, boy, they proved me wrong.
For more info and best accommodation options, check out A Guide to Crete’s Gorgeous Voulisma Beach
9. Elounda Beach
Known for: Being just across the bay from the most famous former leper colony in Europe.
Elounda Beach, also known as Paralia Schisma (for typically Greek reasons), is one of the most popular beaches in Crete, and is especially known for its high-end luxury resorts. However, there is nothing stopping us normals from visiting as well.
Elounda features a magnificent crescent of sand, calm water in a protected bay and, obviously, more excellent seafood tavernas than you can shake a selfie-stick at. Oh, and what’s that about a leper colony, you ask? Well, as it happens, that rather photogenic hump of land sitting right in your line of sight across the bay is Spinalonga Island, one of the most controversial leper colonies in Europe up until 1957. It is also the star of a best-selling novel and popular Greek television series, and cheap, frequent boats can take you across to explore.
Closest city: Agios Nikolaos 10 km / 15 min
Fun fact: Thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, today just 1 in 10 Spinalonga visitors die of leprosy.
For more ideas, check out 10 Reasons to Visit Elounda, Crete
8. Matala Beach
Known for: Being the beach where the most famous hippies in the world came to live in caves in the 1970’s.
Back during the Flower Power days, the beaches of Crete began drawing hippies from all over the world to their quiet beauty and relaxed atmosphere. Matala Beach was among the first and most iconic, with the free love and bare feet crowd immediately intrigued by the accepting atmosphere and spectacular collection of caves carved into the sandstone hills next to the beach.
Well, a few hundred semi-communes and a few dozen celebrity sightings later, local government shut it all down, sending the peaceniks in search of alternatives in other parts of the island. Today, however, all has been forgiven and Matala Beach has regained much of its alternative vibe, featuring numerous art galleries, craft shops and racks of comfortable clothing. And, of course, the ancient caves and stunning bay are just as attractive as they’ve always been.
Closest city: Heraklion 65 km / 1 hr
Fun fact: Joni Mitchell is from my hometown and actually wrote a song about Matala Beach, yet she won’t return my messages. What’s do you think that’s about?
For more details, see Matala Beach: Crete’s Original Hippie Village
7. Falasarna Beach
Known for: Being one of the biggest beaches on Crete and having the best sunsets.
Many of the beaches on this list are tucked into rocky little bays or are crowded up against the ocean by flourishging palm forests. Not Falasarna. If you are looking for a traditional beach – long and wide, sandy and open, with plenty of room to park, swim or just relax, well, Falasarna Beach is the place.
But it’s not just huge. There are still impressive hills at either end, a dramatic plateau backing the beach and excellent wind-surfing when the ocean breezes kick up, not to mention some fabulous seafood tavernas. And because it faces directly west, Falasarna is probably the best beach on Crete for watching the sunset.
Closest city: Chania 50 km / 1 hr
Fun fact: Poseidon’s Throne is an ancient stone chair sitting next to the road like a forgotten lawn chair after a fireworks display. Dazzling.
To find out more, go to Falasarna Beach: Guide to Crete’s Best Sunset Beach
6. Seitan Limania
Known for: Its dramatic, narrow gorge funnelling the sea down to a tiny, photogenic beach.
In some ways, less a beach than a scenic canyon and adventurous hike, Seitan Limania still attracts sun worshippers looking to get their tan on in a very unique setting. Not far from the bustling city of Chania, there are outstanding views down into the canyon from right next to the parking area.
As long as you are relatively mobile, though, it is worth tackling the steep 10-minute hike down to the bottom where you can enjoy views back up the gorge or along the narrow canyon out to sea. There isn’t any sand, only a small patch of pebbles, but nimble types can clamber up and down the rocks for different photo angles. Keep in mind, the sun only makes it down to the bottom for a few hours in the middle of the day.
Closest city: Chania 20 km / 30 min
Fun fact: Seitan Limania means “watch your step, tourist” in Greek. Unless that guy was messing with me.
Find out how to visit at Seitan Limania: Guide to Crete’s Most Unique Beach
5. Vai Beach
Known for: Being backed by a lush valley that is home to the largest palm forest in Europe.
Another of the original hippie beaches of Crete, placid Vai Beach is tucked away at the far eastern tip of the island and features an extraordinary palm forest. It also just happens to be surrounded by quiet, peaceful coves, Minoan archaeological sites and small, traditional Cretan villages.
You can explore the lush forest just behind the beach, then climb the tall rock outcropping at the south end for fantastic views of the beach and bay.
Closest city: Sitia 25 km / 30 min
Fun fact: Try to get there early before the queue gets too long at the “official kissing spot”.
For details about the best places to make out, see Vai Beach: Stunning Palm Forest and Ancient Ruins
You might also want to read Sitia: Guide to a Traditional Crete Beach Town
4. Sweet Water Beach
Known for: Stunning cliffs, shady palm trees and unbridled nudity.
Also called Paralia Glyka Nera because, well, that is how you say it in Greek, this tiny little beach has no road access and can only be reached by boat or on foot. It is a rough 30-minute hike from a roadside parking area near Sfakia and if you have time continue on about an hour to Loutro, one of the prettiest villages on Crete (and equally inaccessible by car).
Glyka Nera Beach is known for its freshwater springs, steep cliffs and a small forest that provides shade and scenery in equal measures. There is even a small floating taverna where you can eat, drink and recklessly throw yourself from a diving platform. Plus, it is considered one of the best nudist beaches in Crete.
Closest city: Chania 65 km / 1.25 hrs
Fun fact: Nudists love Sweet Water Beach because there are so many trees where they can hang their clothes.
To learn more about the coolest village on Crete, see Loutro: A Guide to Crete’s Most Stunning and Isolated Village
3. Elafonisi Beach
Known for: The pink sand lining an extraordinary isthmus.
Yes, you heard that right, pink sand. You can find little patches of it a few other places (Balos, Falasarna) but for the really pink stuff you have to go to amazing Elafonisi Beach. And even if that doesn’t seem like a good enough reason to take on the relatively long, winding drive all the way down to Elafonisi, rest assured, the views are pretty spectacular as well.
With soft, sandy beaches lining both sides of an exceptionally photogenic isthmus, shallow lagoons perfect for families and an island of sand dunes featuring a tall hill with an old church and expansive views, it isn’t surprising that Elafonisi Beach is considered one of the best beaches on Crete. Even by people who know far more about beaches than me.
Closest city: Chania 75 km / 1.5 hrs
Fun fact: If you walk out to the island (it’s connected to the mainland almost all the time) you can visit a cave where a lot of people were massacred. Does that sound like something you might be into?
You may also want to have a look at Elafonisi Beach: Is it Worth Visiting?
2. Preveli Beach
Known for: One of the best viewpoints on Crete that looks down on a gorge, river, palm forest and lagoon.
Given our penchant for seeking out the best viewpoints everywhere we go, it probably isn’t surprising that one of our top picks for the best Crete beaches just happens to also have one of the coolest viewpoints on the island.
Preveli Beach is, first of all, another former hippie hangout featuring an extensive palm forest, much like Vai Beach. What sets it apart, though, in our opinion, are the steep cliffs of the gorge leading down to the ocean and the tiny lagoon that divides the beach in half. Plus, there’s a public toilet, so it’s kind of win-win.
The best viewpoints are about a 10-minute walk along the cliffs from the main parking lot.
Closest city: Rethymno 35 km / 45 min
Fun fact: A sandy trail leads through the palm forest all the way back up the gorge until you reach some rocky rapids where, in our experience, you’ll probably get tired and turn around.
For more details, check out: Preveli Beach: How to See Crete’s Spectacular Palm Forest
1. Balos Beach
Known for: The most spectacular combination of beach, lagoon and cape in the Mediterranean.
Undisputedly the most beautiful beach in Crete! Okay, maybe that claim is very disputed – I mean, there are lots of great Crete beaches to choose from. But it is hard to argue that you will find any other stretch of sand as incredibly spectacular as Balos Beach. While the warm, shallow lagoon and soft sand (bits of which sort of look pink in the right light) and crystal clear water, Balos Beach is absolutely a lovely place to relax, recline and enjoy the fabulous Cretan weather.
But where it really stands apart is from above. From either of the high viewpoints – the first just 5 minutes into the 20-minute downhill walk from the car park, the second from the towering hill of Cape Tigani on the north side of the beach – Balos Beach looks like something designed in a CGI studio (and not the loveable-but-bumbling-alien sort of CGI, either).
So, whether you tackle the slow, rough, goat-strewn road, then walk down, or join a comfortable and social boat tour out of Kissamos, your approach to this unique spectacle is sure to be memorable.
Closest city: Chania 50 km / 1.5 hrs
Fun fact: On the nearest slope of Cape Tigani there is a cute little church that serves as a convenient spot to change into your swimsuit. Unless that is religiously offensive, in which case I have no idea what you’re talking about.
You may also want to check out our Ultimate Guide to Balos Beach
Best Beaches on Crete: Honourable Mention
As you can see, when it comes to beaches Crete truly has embarrassment of riches. Which is why there were several more beautiful beaches of Crete that didn’t quite make our list but are still worth mentioning:
Agia Fotia Beach
Agios Pavlos Beach
Agia Galini Beach
Paralia Agii Apostoli Beach (near Chania).
Beaches on Crete Weather: When to Visit
Crete has a very mild climate year-round thanks to the surrounding Mediterranean Sea. Summers are warm, with almost no rain, perfect for enjoying the beach. Of course, the best Cretan beaches get very crowded in July and August so it is best to visit in the shoulder seasons if possible. May-June and September-October are perfect for good weather and fewer tourists. It will also be far less crowded early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
Even though most precipitation comes in the winter months, that is still pretty minimal compared with many coastal cities, and because Crete is one of the most southerly islands in Europe the weather stays pretty bearable even in winter. Even in January most days feature highs/lows of 12/10C. Which may not be sunbathing weather but it is definitely still nice enough to enjoy the scenery.
How to Get Around to all the Best Beaches in Crete
Public transportation on the island can be tedious so we highly recommend renting a car to reach all the best beaches in Crete. Plus, it is nice to be able to set your own schedule. We find that Discover Cars usually has the best deals in the area.
Crete’s best beaches have some sort of parking area nearby, although they certainly vary in both size and convenience. For example, at Vai Beach or Matala Beach you can drive almost right up to the sand, while at Balos Beach and Preveli Beach you’re looking at a fairly long trek down the hill (and even longer, and sweatier, back up).
Driving Times Between the Best Crete Beaches
Balos Beach to Falasarna Beach: 20 km / 1 hr (!)
Falasarna Beach to Elafonisi Beach: 50 km / 1.25 hrs
Elafonisi Beach to Pachia Ammos: 50 km / 1 hr
Seitan Limania to Bali Beach: 100 km / 1.5 hrs
Preveli Beach to Matala Beach: 65 km / 1.5 hrs
Elounda Beach to Voulisma Beach: 25 km / 25 min
Voulisma Beach to Vai Beach: 75 km / 1.5 hrs
Vai Beach to Elafonisi Beach: 360 km / 5.5 hrs
It also possible to visit the best beaches on Crete by bus but it will take much longer than driving and your schedule will be severely limited. Regular services run between all the main centres listed in the individual beach descriptions but from those cities to the actual beaches there are usually only a few local buses per day. We recommend checking the latest schedules on the KTEL website.
Best Beaches on Crete: Overview
Well, I promise you, that wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy to narrow it down to just 12, and it wasn’t easy to rank them in a specific order. Realistically, if we did this again next week the list would probably already look different. Although, for me, Balos Beach will definitely keep the number one spot – that was probably the easiest choice I made.
In addition, the other thing I am sure of is that every one of these best Crete beaches is worth visiting. Which ones end up as your personal favourites will depend on what you’re looking to experience. Scenery or solitude? Lovely sand or dramatic canyons? Leper colonies or hippie shops? Tough calls, all.
Anyway, hopefully this list provides some useful info for planning your trip, maybe helping you decide where to base yourself and how much time you need to allow to hit all of your personal picks for the best beaches on Crete. Happy hunting!
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