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Crete is certainly a place of superlatives: not only is it the biggest of the Greek islands, but also, according to many travellers, the most beautiful. Home to several historical and mythical sites, and boasting the most diverse natural environment to be found anywhere in the country, it’s easy to see why Crete has become a world class destination. While the main towns have much to offer in the vein of tourism and entertainment, the hidden gems often lay in the scenic drives around the island, the opportunities for which there are plenty. All travellers need to do is hire a car from one of the island’s reputable agencies and off they go.
Who to Book With
Hertz, Sixt and Avis are just a few of the international rental companies in Crete but travellers will also find that a few local agencies like National Alamo and Rental Centre offer good services as well. Online bookings can be made with most of the agencies and are highly recommended. The offices of many companies can be found at the airport and at several locations around the city. For more detailed information on office locations, visitors should get in touch directly with the company.
Best time to go
Peak season in Crete is experienced during the summer months of July and August. During this time travellers should expect hot and humid conditions, but also sharp increases in the prices of accommodation, flights and car rental rates. This is, however, the best time to engage in some beach hopping and if bookings are made far in advance, travellers could still manage to catch some deals.
Need to Know Essentials
Forgetting the following documents when collecting your rental car is not the best of ideas:
- A photo ID, in the form of a national ID card or a valid passport
- Proof of payment and the credit card used to make the booking
- A valid driver’s licence for locals or an International Driver’s Permit for foreigners
Hiring a car in Crete is somewhat of a necessity. The public transport system is not very well developed and travellers wanting to get out of the main towns can really only achieve this with a hired car. While the quality of the roads in Crete is of a good standard, the same cannot be said for the quality of local drivers. On the highway especially, travellers should expect to be flashed into the slow lane and for stop signs to be ignored. Most of Crete is rural in nature so drivers also have to be on the lookout for farm animals that occasionally cross the road. Many an accident has been caused by a donkey or sheep straying from the herd.
Parking, especially in the urban areas of Crete, can be difficult to find. Most streets are no-parking zones and drivers face hefty fines if caught parking, especially in centres like Heraklion. The best option is to find a parking garage or a park-and-ride option. Most towns have them and travellers can pay either an hourly or daily rate. Towns on the island are not big at all and are small enough to be navigated by foot once a parking spot has been found.
The public transport system on Crete is not too extensive but there are more transport options here than on many of the other islands. Travellers have their choice of public bus, ferry and, of course, local taxi. Hiring a car is still advised, however, as many of the transport networks have limited operating hours and only travel to some parts of the island.
The local bus is operated by KTEL and is by far the most efficient and reliable mode of transport on the island. The buses travel all over the island and many drivers even make special stops in more remote areas if asked politely to do so. The most frequent services can be found in the north while the south lacks the road infrastructure to operate many services. Buses travelling the length of the island are rare, departing only a few times a day. Tickets can be bought from bus stations all over the island. The largest bus stations are found in Heraklion but other towns have smaller stations as well. Both regular services and long distance journeys can be purchased, with longer distances amounting to about €14 one way. Return tickets can also be purchased in advance and often passengers will receive a 10 per cent discount on the fare if it is purchased at the same time.
Taxis are a convenient way of getting around Crete but they are also much more expensive than other modes of transport. Taxis can either be flagged down in major towns or booked ahead of time with one of the island’s private companies. Such companies include Crete Taxi Services and Crete Taxi Transfers & Tours. Local taxis are metred but travellers should still make sure that the metre is turned on at the start of the journey. The tariff tends to increase after midnight.
A novel way of getting around the entire island during summer is by ferry. Winter often brings with it unfavourable weather conditions which halt the ferry services. There are many private ferry companies which offer day trips around the island, including Minoan Lines, Lane Lines and Anek Lines. Ferries can be taken at several ports on the island, the most popular of which are Chania, Heraklion and Sitia. Travellers have their choice of catamarans or normal ferry, both at different rates, of course.
Heraklion is known as the informal capital of Crete but once travellers peek outside of this lovely town’s boundaries they’ll see that the island has a great deal more to offer. From beautiful Sunday afternoon drives to small villages to appreciating some of the lesser known natural formations on the islands, there is enough to keep everyone busy.
Knossos - The most popular site on Crete, and where most visitors head to at least once during their stay. Located only 5 kilometres outside of Heraklion, to the south, this archaeological complex dates back to the Bronze Age. The complex is comprised of a large palace and its ancient surrounds, through which visitors are encouraged to roam.
Hora Sfakion - Many travellers get stuck in Heraklion without realising the multitude of other great towns and villages on the island, such as Hora Sfakion. Located in the southwest corner of the island, this fishing village is home to the famous Samaria Gorge. Visitors can explore the narrow cobbled alleys of the village and get a taste of adventure when heading to the jaw dropping gorge.
Spinalonga Island - There are also quite a few islets surrounding Crete to which a ferry can easily be taken. Spinalonga Island, in particular, holds a great deal of historical significance. The island was a former leper colony but has long since been abandoned. There are some great finds here, including a few original buildings from the period of isolation and also some stunning examples of Ottoman architecture, a remnant of the Turkish who once occupied the island.