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Kissamos: Gateway to Crete’s Most Famous Beaches

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Set on the shores of a tremendous bay formed by two prominent peninsulas (Gramvousa Peninsula and Rodopu Peninsula), Kissamos is the main urban centre in the far west of Crete. Of course, that doesn’t exactly make it a major metropolis or anything. It is still a pretty small place (around 5,000 people) but, being Crete and all, still has some great beaches right in town (with even better ones not far away) and everything you might look for in a place to base yourself. Accommodation options, grocery stores, restaurants, banks, etc.

Like many towns in Crete, Kissamos has an alias, also often called “Kastelli” or “Kastelli Kissamou” in reference to the former Venetian fortress that used to dominate the town (with bits and pieces still recognizable today). These days it relies on a combination of tourism and agriculture – the fertile surroundings are particularly known for wine and olive oil.

Beautiful Kissamos Crete from the hills above
Kissamos from the hills above

In addition to the handful of decent beaches, Kissamos has a nice oceanfront malecón, loads of great tavernas, a relatively traditional vibe and, best of all, is the perfect jumping off point for visiting the phenomenal beaches, ruins and natural scenery of Western Crete.

Kissamos Map

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Things to do in Kissamos Crete

While Kissamos doesn’t have a bunch of famous sites that jump out at you as a visitor, it only takes slightly more in-depth exploration to uncover several surprising highlights. All of which see only a fraction of the tourists that you’ll meet other places along the north coast.

Pick Your Favourite Kissamos Beach

Nonetheless, this is still Crete – every list has to start with the beaches, right?

Mavros Molos

The main beach in Kissamos, Mavros Molos (Black Jetty) boasts surprisingly soft sand and comfortably shallow water, making it popular with families. It has everything you might need for a day in the sun, including sunbeds, umbrellas, showers and lifeguards (in summer). There are even some trees providing additional shade.

Beach at Kissamos Crete

There are plenty of hotels close by, as well as a good selection of tavernas, cafés and restaurants.

Beach with palapa

On busy days you can continue on past the west end of the beach to find a quiet, rocky cove offering seclusion (and good snorkelling) and a quieter part of the beach that is sometimes referred to as Plaka Beach.

Beach in Kissamos Crete

Livadia Beach

The next most convenient Kissamos beach is the smaller Livadia Beach, stretching for around 2 km toward Peninsula Rodopos. The sand isn’t quite as fine as Mavros Molos and there tends to be more wind but fewer people. It isn’t as well-equipped, either, but there are still some good tavernas and a few spots where you can rent loungers and umbrellas.

Korfalonas Beach

A bit farther east yet you’ll find Korfalonas Beach, which is really quite similar to Livadia Beach but even quieter.

Beach in Kissamos Crete

People looking to avoid the summer crowds often choose to stay at Korfalonas Beach and just visit the other areas. If that describes you, Mesogios Beach Hotel is an excellent choice.

Kissamos hotel pool
Mesogios Beach Hotel on Korfalonas Beach

Viglia Beach

Heading the other direction from Kissamos, you’ll reach Viglia Beach around 3 km northwest of the city. The sand on this nice crescent beach is a bit coarser but the water is wonderfully clear. It starts on the far side of the harbour and stretches all the way to the village of Kaliviani.

Beach and ocean

Viglia Beach (also spelled Vigglia Beach) doesn’t have much in the way of services, although there are a few restaurants and hotels in the general area.

If you are a beach lover, you should also check out our list of The 12 Best Crete Beaches

Head to the Archaeological Museum of Kissamos

On Crete, you are never far from some ancient treasures. The Archaeological Museum of Kissamos is located on the main square of Kissamos, Stratigou Tzanakaki, and boasts an impressive collection of local discoveries from a wide range of historical eras.

Kissamos museum

Spread over two floors, downstairs you can see Minoan displays dating back as far as the 9th century BC (from Nopigia). Many of the best exhibitions are focused on the nearby cities of Polyrhhenia and Falassarna (that enjoyed their heydays between the 4th and 1st centuries BC) and the Roman period of the early days AD.

Meanwhile, the first floor focuses on excavations found right in Kissamos, including some exceptional mosaics, plus more items found in the tombs of Falassarna and Polyrhhenia.

Wander Down Skalidi Street

Less formally historic but still interesting is classic Skalidi Street running directly through the middle of Kissamos small old town.

Quiet street in Kissamos Crete

Historically a trading area, today its traditional arched buildings are home to a modern version of the same, filled with restaurants, cafés and shops. In summer, it is pedestrian-only.

Find the Venetian Fountain

There aren’t a lot of well-preserved remains left in Kissamos, but this fabulous little fountain is well worth seeking out.

Entrance ot old fountain

Located just off Skalidi Street, the intricate design and traditional style are fascinating. There is also a very good chance the charming local cats will be hanging around greeting visitors.

Person petting car by fountain

See the Colourful Fishing Boats at the Old Port of Kastelli Kissamos

A kilometre or so northwest of town is the vibrant Old Port of Kastelli Kissamos. Not to be confused with the main port of Kissamos (which is merely fine and a little farther along the same road), the quaint little harbour and wildly colourful fishing boats of the Old Port are a photographer’s dream.

Bright fishing boats at Kissamos harbor

There are even a couple of good seafood tavernas there if you want to spend a bit more time.

Check Out the Remains of the Kissamos Fortress

Like many fortresses around Crete, Kastelli Fort has been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the centuries. The original fortress was built in the 13th century by Genoese pirate Enrico Pescatore as one of 15 similar castles. Not long after, the Venetians took Kissamos, holding it for centuries until the Turks arrived for their turn. Most of the ruins still standing today are from the Ottoman period.

Seek Out the Agios Ioannis Damialis Church and Hidden Beach

Tucked in between the two ports is the fascinating 10th century Ioannis Damialis church, a tiny little altar built into a shallow cave right off the main road. Also called Ioannis Prodromos Damialis church, or Saint John Damialis church, there is a small tunnel leading under the road to tiny, rocky cove known as Ntamiali Beach.

Cave church

A secret favourite of locals, there isn’t much there but the water is deep and clear, plus there’s a weird old swing you can take your chances on.

Hidden beach

Stop by the Parthenos Monastery

Founded in 1905, this relatively modern nunnery has been home to the first Urban School of Girls and first Deaf School on Crete. Located atop a hill right in town, it was extensively renovated in the 1960’s and features outstanding ocean views. It is still a working monastery where the nuns live and even grow their own produce.

Where to Stay: Best Kissamos Hotels

There is a wide range of Kissamos hotels to choose from ranging from directly on the beach to in the hills above.

Kissamos hotel pool

Maria Beach Hotel

This is the perfect choice if you are looking for a place on the beach that with self-catering kitchenettes. Maria Beach Hotel is a great choice on Mavros Molos beach while still being close to Kissamos old town. Hang out on one of the many loungers on the sand or deck, then try out the superb restaurant with views over the water.

Click here for Maria Beach Hotel prices

Aphrodite Beach Hotel

Aphrodite Beach Hotel is on the same beach as Maria Beach Hotel but has the added benefit of a pool to cool off in.

Kissamos Hotel pool

They also have loungers on the beach if you prefer to hang out seaside. Try to get one of the rooms with a stunning sea view.

Click here for Aphrodite Beach Hotel prices

Kissamos Hotel

Kissamos Hotel is a great budget choice that still has a pool. It is set a bit back from the sea but is still within easy walking distance. The friendly staff can help you get the most out of your stay.

Click here for Kissamos Hotel prices

Things to do Near Kissamos Greece

Some of the top attractions in Crete can be found within a short drive of Kissamos.

Head to Balos Beach

Up in the extreme northwestern corner of Crete, you’ll find Balos Beach, the most photographed beach in all of Crete. It can only be reached via rough dirt road or on a boat tour but is still well worth the journey for the spectacular viewpoints and beautiful turquoise water.

Man looking down at Balos Beach from viewpoint

What sets Balos Beach apart, however, is the narrow sandy isthmus connecting mainland Crete to tiny Cape Tigani. This isthmus divides the area into a warm, shallow lagoon on one side (south) and a relatively sheltered bay on the other (north).

Person walking on one of the best Crete beaches

You can drive from Kissamos to Balos Beach on a very rough road or take a cruise from Kissamos. The boats run between June to mid October and sometimes stop at Gramvousa Island as well.

You may also want to check out our Ultimate Guide to Balos Beach

Catch Some Rays at Falasarna Beach

This huge, wide and well-equipped beach isn’t far from Kissamos and it is considerably easier to reach than the more remote Balos Beach.

Loungers and umbrellas on Baby Beach Crete

There are ancient ruins, fantastic seafood tavernas and some of the best sunsets on Crete.

Falasarna Beach sunset

For all the details, see Falasarna Beach: Guide to Crete’s Best Sunset Beach

Go for a Hike at Sfinari Beach

Sfinari Beach is yet another outstanding little pebble beach featuring a couple of relaxed, friendly tavernas and some nicely tree-shaded areas. We can highly recommend a swim, a beer and lunch at Sunset Fish, although the other taverna looked very nice as well.

Beer at Sfinari beach

Before you get full and lazy, however, you should take on the hike up and over the hill to the extremely secluded Platanakia Beach. A trail heads up the hill from the south end of the Sfinari Beach, providing amazing views from the top before heading steeply down the other side.

The hike will probably take about an hour each way. It is not for those who really dislike steep, slippery paths, however.

See the Pink Sand at Elafonisi Beach

There are little patches of pink sand at both Balos Beach and Falasarna Beach but for the really colourful stuff you need to head down to beautiful Elafonisi Beach.

Turquoise water and the Elafonisi pink sand on one of the best Crete beaches

Nice isthmus, shallow lagoons, historic island and terrific views both at the beach and all along the drive down from Kissamos to Elafonisi. What’s not to like?

View from the road between Falasarna Beach and Sfinari Beach
Views on the coastal road from Kissamos to Elafonisi

For more info, check out Is Elafonisi Beach Worth Visiting?

Climb the Komolithi Sand Hills

These bizarre clay hoodoos found in a tiny village just off the main road between Kissamos and Paleochora will make you feel like you were suddenly transported to the Cappadocia region of Turkey.

Sand hills near Kissamos Crete

No, they aren’t quite as huge or dramatic as those famous monoliths, and they aren’t quite as obviously phallic, but they are pretty neat nonetheless. Easily worth the 5-minute detour off the highway. There is no signage or entrance fee and you can explore to your heart’s content.

Check out the Gonia Odigitria Monastery

Located about halfway to Chania, this 17th century monastery is built next to the original 14th century church (which now sits in the middle of the cemetery). Also called the Lady of the Angels Monastery of Gonia, it is famous for sheltering various rebel groups throughout history.

Monastery

Which, of course, means it has also been targeted for destruction by various rulers, the evidence of which is still noticeable in several areas (most obviously the cannonball that remains stuck in the east wall).

Monastery near Kissamos Crete

The huge Venetian walls make it look more like a fortress than a monastery but today there is a wide range of buildings to explore – museum, abbey, cellars and monk’s cells. There are also some modern facilities as well, including a gym, pool, school and court.

Visit the Ruins of Polyrrhenia

Just a short drive south from Kissamos are the ancient ruins of this important ancient city. At their peak around the 3rd century BC, the Polyrrhenians controlled the entire western portion of Crete and maintained most of their independence even through the Roman empire.

View from Polyrrhenia ruins

Today, you can explore the remains of houses and a village, along with a Roman aqueduct and then climb up to enjoy exceptional views from the ramparts of the old fortress and city walls. There is also a much newer, but still photogenic, little church.

Church at Polyrrhenia ruins

Drive Through Ennia Horia

The lush, mountainous section of scenic winding roads, traditional farms and chestnut groves south of Kissamos is known as Ennia Horia (Nine Villages). The villages in question are Topolia, Koutsomados, Vlatos, Elos, Pervolia, Papadiana, Amidagakofelli, Kambos and the lovingly restored Milia, any of which are worth a stop on your way to or from the south coast.

Restaurant overlooking gorge
Restaurant in Topolia overlooking the gorge

We stopped for snacks and drinks in Topolia and enjoyed some great appetizers and wonderful views of Topolia Gorge.

Cheese pie in Kissamos restaurant
Traditional cheese pie

Explore the Agia Sofia Cave

This impressive spiritual cave was a surprising hidden gem for us. Not hidden in that it was hard to find, of course, as it is located right on the main road through Topolia Gorge between Paleochora and Kissamos. But hidden in that we hadn’t really heard anything about it before randomly decided to stop when we saw the sign.

Entrance of Agia Sofia Cave

We were very glad we did, though, because it is super cool, to use the technical term. The entrance is huge, providing more light than you normally get in a cave, and it is full of massive stalagmites and stalactites that you can wander around. There is also a small church just outside and a fascinating little shrine inside.

Some important archaeological discoveries were made in Agia Sofia cave, as well, including pottery from the Neolithic Age up to the Romans, plus an intriguing clay figurine dating back to the 4th century BC.

When to Visit: Kissamos Weather

Like most of Crete, Kissamos enjoys a very mild climate year-round thanks to the Mediterranean Sea. Summers vary from warm to extremely hot and there is almost no rain at this time. Most precipitation comes in the winter months, although that is still pretty minimal compared with many coastal cities.

Kissamos restaurant near church
Warm sunny days in November

Crete is one of the most southerly islands in Europe and compared to most of the continent the weather remains bearable all year, with the daily average temperature in Kissamos only dropping as far as 10 / 12 (low/high) in January, and you will see very few tourists between November and April.

All of the beach towns in Crete 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.

Kissamos History

Dating back to pre-Roman days as “Cisamon”, it had a good run all the way through the Roman period (with plenty of evidence left behind) and only started getting regularly destroyed after the Venetians turned it into a military base – Castel Chisamo. From then on it has also been known as Kastelli, up to and including the years it spent as a Byzantine fort.

It was significantly rebuilt in the 16th century, with a new fortress, church, barracks and prison all appearing during this time. Later, when Crete was fighting back against Turkish occupation, Kastelli was known as one of the key centres of the resistance. It further added to its warlike reputation by putting up a staunch fight against the Nazis in World War II.

How to Get to Kissamos Crete?

Kissamos is in west Crete in the Chania prefecture and has many ways to reach it.

By Boat

Kissamos port is a popular stop on many ferry lines to Athens and other Greek Islands.

Kassamos ferry
A Kissamos ferry

By Bus

There are regular buses running to and from Chania, as well as some less frequent services to beaches in the area.

By Car

Kissamos is located on the main highway from Chania and is easily reached by car. Public transportation in western Crete can be tedious so we highly recommend renting a car so you reach all the best spots such as Balos Beach, Falasarna Beach and Elafonisi Beach.

Kissamos car rental
Our tiny rental car for exploring the Kissamos beaches

Plus, it is nice to be able to set your own schedule. We find that Discover Cars usually has the best deals for car rentals in the area.

Driving Times to Falasarna, Crete

Polyrrehnia to Kissamos: 8 km / 15 min

Falasarna Beach to Kissamos: 15 km / 20 min

Agia Sofia Cave to Kissamos: 15 km / 20 min

Sfinari Beach to Kissamos: 20 km / 25 min

Chania to Kissamos: 35 km / 30 min

Balos Beach to Kissamos: 15 km / 40 min

Elafonisi Beach to Kissamos: 40 km / 1 hr

Paleochora to Kissamos: 45 km / 1 hr

Rethymno to Kissamos: 95 km / 1.25 hrs

Heraklion to Kissamos: 175 km / 2.25 hrs

Agios Nikolaos to Kissamos: 235 km / 3 hrs

Is Kissamos a good place to stay?

Yes, it is one of the most convenient places to base yourself in Crete. As you can see from the above list of driving times, there are numerous top attractions and beaches all within an hour or less. It is also less touristy than the larger centres along the north coast of Crete, with a more authentic feel and more affordable hotels and restaurants. Plus, it is the closest city to Balos Beach, probably the number one attraction on Crete.

Ocean and town

Kissamos Summary

It may not blow you away with famous ruins or Instagram hotels but underrated Kissamos still has plenty to offer the discerning tourist looking for a practical base and a more genuine experience. The locals aren’t as weary of tourists as in some of the other beach hotspots and you could spend several days exploring all the amazing sights within easy driving distance of Kissamos.

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