Crete island is a popular summer destination in Greece, which is not surprising at all, considering all the stunning beaches it offers. But you only have a week or two to explore them all during your vacation, and there’s just too many. Ah, I know, life is not easy, and I understand the frustration. In addition, I’ll help you find the best beaches in Crete in this post, written after our own unforgettable beach holiday in Crete.
A gentle note: we spent our time in the western and southwestern regions of the island, so while I’ll mention some famous beaches from the east and southeast to make the list complete, I’ll also indicate that we don’t have personal experience about them. Because it’s important for us that the posts we write on this blog are based on our own experience.
So let’s see those beaches we fell for…
Balos Beach, the famous, postcard perfect one
Balos is the most famous beach in Crete, one that’s often voted as one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe. Indeed, it is. But it’s not so easily accessible. Located on the northwestern tip of Crete, out on the Gramvousa Peninsula, you can drive & hike or take a boat trip there.
We chose to drive and hike, because then we can really have a full day on Balos Beach, and we don’t like to be tied to a strict schedule, anyway. It turned out to be the perfect decision as we enjoyed the Balos Beach Trail just as much as the beach itself.
The drive to the trailhead doesn’t have a good reputation, and we see why, but we still don’t think that an experienced driver should be afraid of it. The last 8 kilometres on the Gramvousa Peninsula is a dirt road (with some asphalted sections), and it took about 30 minutes to drive. It’s okay to drive it with a normal car, but it takes a bit long, because you need to drive slowly on the bumpy road so that you don’t damage your car. It’s not too narrow for the most part, so no need to worry about oncoming traffic. However, keep an eye out for goats.
Once we reached the end of the road, there was a huge, free dirt parking lot. Not big enough for all the cars arriving during the day, but around 10 am we still got a spot. Then came the best part: the 1.3 kilometres scenic hike down to Balos Beach. It’s definitely not a flip-flop walk, so keep those for the beach, and wear proper hiking shoes, or at least sneakers.
As you can see in our pictures, there are two sandy bays on Balos. One of them is a shallow and completely sheltered lagoon. The exact depth depends on the tide, of course, but it can be so shallow that water doesn’t even reach an adult’s knees in most parts of the lagoon. So the water gets warmer, and it’s perfect for small kids to play, but it’s not suitable for swimming. The other bay, however, on the other side of the sand spit is deeper and less protected, and we liked swimming there.
Balos Beach definitely deserves the hype. It’s scenic, surrounded by mountains and sand dunes, and it offers crystal clear water that everyone can enjoy, even if they can’t swim. Couples (and photographers) will love its romantic scenery and colors, families will love the shallow lagoon and soft sand. Balos Beach truly looks the way most people imagine the perfect beach. It’s also a huge one, and can’t really get crowded. The only thing missing is natural shade as there are no trees or rock walls to give shade. But this is true for the majority of Greek beaches, so be prepared to protect yourselves against the sun.
Was Balos Beach our favorite? No, but only because Crete has so many fabulous beaches that we’re unable to pick one as a favorite. It was among our favorites though.
Be aware that Balos Beach can get windy. The fine sand is easily carried by the wind, it blinds you, gets into your eyes, mouth, ears… You can try to find another spot on the large beach that’s more protected. The bad news is that you can’t do much more, the good news is that wind can change throughout the day, so it won’t necessarily ruin your whole beach day.
|Essential beach info:|
Elafonisi Beach, “the pink sand beach”
Elafonisi is just as popular as Balos, and it’s easier to access. We could drive directly to the beach on a paved road. The shortest route from Chania goes through Topolia Gorge, so it’s quite a pretty drive. Busy, too. Calculate with a longer driving time if you’re not on the road early enough.
Fortunately, parking is unlikely to be an issue as the dirt parking lot by the beach is huge. Then it’s a short or a longer walk to the beach, depending on which area of Elafonisi you’d like to get to. Because Elafonisi is a giant sandy beach that’s often called “the pink sand beach of Crete” – a nickname that can easily disappoint.
The sand is not pink. Elafonisi won’t look like the over edited images of it on Instagram. It has some pink spots in the sand, but the effect is caused by the tiny pieces of pink shells carried out to the beach by the waves. Hence the amount of shell is different from time to time.
Actually, it’s not only Elafonisi that can get pinky, but other beaches in the area, as well. Like Balos Beach where we also saw pink spots. But it’s not the whole beach, and it’s not such a strong characteristic that one should call any of them “pink sand beach”.
Is Elafonisi worth a visit then? We think so, but not for the pink sand. It’s a beautiful sandy beach, not as scenic as Balos Beach, but it has soft sand, turquoise bays and sand dunes. It consists of two large bays separated by a sand spit. One of them is a very shallow lagoon that families with small kids will enjoy, the other slowly gets deep, and it’s suitable for swimming, too.
There’s a third bay called Elafonisi Wild Beach that’s located behind the sand dunes on the opposing island (which is accessible on foot at low tide). It’s the least busy area, but it’s a long walk to get there from the parking lot.
|Essential beach info:|
Falassarna Beach, the one with the finest white sand
Falassarna has soft sand and crystal Caribbean-like water. Nothing special, just the average Greek beach? Actually, the sand is special. It’s the finest sand we’ve seen on any Cretan beach. Also, Falassarna Beach is one of the longest beaches we’ve seen there.
The main beach is 1 km long, and there are several more sandy bays next to it. Thousands of people visit it every day during the summer, yet we didn’t need to photoshop anyone out from our shots. It doesn’t look and feel crowded.
The water gets deep evenly, but quite soon, and it can get windy on the beach. Falassarna was the only beach where we found rentable deck chairs surrounded by a protective fence against the sand. We gladly used them as our morning there was extremely windy, and it was quite irritating to sit or eat on the beach while you get buried beneath the sand. Our beach tent didn’t help much, but the fences around the deck chairs did.
|Essential beach info:|
Seitan Limania Beach, the azure beauty
Instagram is full of the perfectly azure shades of Seitan Limania Beach, and it’s also located close to Chania on the Akrotiri Peninsula, so you bet it’s incredibly popular! Since it’s a small pebbly cove, it’s one of those few beaches that can get crowded – and it does, especially in July and August. Luckily, no one wants to get up too early on a Cretan vacation, so arriving around 10 am is still fine to find parking and free space on Seitan Limania Beach.
The drive there is fine. The last section is a series of hairpin curves, but the road is paved and not too narrow (unless cars park on the side, because the parking is full), and the views are great.
The view you get from the parking lot is motivating enough to take the steep path down to Seitan Limania:
The path is just a few hundred meters, but you need proper shoes to do it, it’s dangerous in flip-flops (and you’ll also hate it). It takes you down in a narrow canyon that doesn’t end at the beach but continues in the water. Swimming to the end of the canyon is one of the best things we’ve done in Crete! We even ventured further to the nearby coves, because the sea was calm enough.
The water is really that incredible shade of azure, and it’s thanks to the white pebbles on the bottom. The color reminded us of Navagio Beach, the gem of Zakynthos, and we loved Seitan Limania just as much.
Even though it’s the least family-friendly beach we could imagine (steep access, immediately deep water, barely any shade), all of us enjoyed it, including Tomi. He didn’t get tired running in and out of the waves, playing with the pebbles and being taken to the nearby water cave that we could actually reach by walking in the water.
|Essential beach info:|
Preveli Beach, the exotic one with the palm forest
Preveli Beach is located in southwest Crete, and it seemed to be so out of nowhere that we were surprised how good the road was all the way there. Sometimes a bit steep, sometimes a bit narrow, but it’s paved, and it’s in a good condition. Moreover, it goes through Kourtaliotiko Gorge, and it’s worth stopping at the viewpoints to admire the gorge.
We accessed Preveli Beach from the direction of Preveli Monastery, but there’s another way: from the east. Either way you need to do a bit of hiking. We chose the upper access point, west of the beach, because the path from there down to Preveli Beach is astonishing! It’s very short, not even 1 kilometre, and it’s basically a long series of stone stairs. But it offers several impressive viewpoints of Preveli Beach and its palm forest on the way, so we didn’t mind sweating a bit on that hot July day.
Then we arrived at the beach. Preveli Beach is an unorganized beach, with only a restaurant offering food and drinks. It’s sandy-pebbly, the water gets immediately deep, and there are some exciting rock formations and coves at the eastern edge of the beach. All this makes it ideal for swimmers and snorkelers.
However, what made Preveli truly stand out to us is what’s behind it: Preveli Gorge and the palm forest! The hike down to the beach is fascinating, but the walk in the palm canyon is truly exotic, something we haven’t expected in Crete. Does this scene make you think of Crete, really? 😀
It might not be typical, yet authentically Cretan. The Preveli palm forest is one of the only three forests of the endemic Cretan date palm called Phoenix theophrastii.
The walk along the magically green river in the Preveli Gorge is about 700 metres, and it’s flat all the way. Some people actually walk in the river, because it’s shallow enough for the most part, but surprisingly cold compared to the sea. We preferred walking on the path under the palm trees. It ends at a deeper pool, and it’s obviously not possible to continue the hike in the gorge after that. Take a dip, and then walk back to enjoy the beach!
|Essential beach info:|
Glyka Nera Beach, the dramatic one
Imagine a dramatic, 600 metres high rock wall towering above a beach with crystal clear blue waters. That’s Glyka Nera which means Sweetwater Beach in English. Spring water can be found just below the surface of the pebbles, hence the name. You can even drink it if you dig out a spot where it comes up.
Glyka Nera is accessible by hiking or by boat from Sfakia or Loutro. The coastal hike is only 1.2 kilometres and offers wonderful views! The only problem is parking. The trailhead is at the end of a hairpin curve, and there’s no parking lot. Cars parked by the side of the road, and that’s what we did, too, hoping we won’t get a scratch – or a parking fine. (We didn’t.)
The trail looked scary at first, because the terrain is dramatic, but it turned out to be easier than it looks. If you’re with a small child though, we’d recommend taking the boat. Csaba didn’t enjoy navigating among the rocks with Tomi. (Had we had our carrier backpack with us, it would have been no headache.) So on our way back, I took the boat to Sfakion with Tomi while Csaba hiked back solo.
Glyka Nera is a pebbly beach – and not a busy one. The water is usually calm, and it gets deep immediately. We liked swimming far into the sea, looking back and enjoying the view of the beach at the foot of the giant rock wall.
|Essential beach info:|
Kedrodasos Beach, the solitary beauty
Located only 10 minutes drive from popular Elafonisi, Kedrodasos is one of the least busy beaches we’ve encountered in Crete. It has the beauty of Elafonisi, but it’s all yours. Well, okay, you share it with a few fellow visitors – and some hippies who live in tents near the beach. Really, compared to the size of Kedrodasos Beach, it was almost deserted on the day we were there (and it was in July!).
Kedrodasos is actually a series of bays, some of them long and sandy, some have rocks, especially at the edges of the bays. It has turquoise waters, pretty mountain views and a unique natural setting with protected juniper trees and sand dunes. The water gets deep soon, and it can get windy, too, but it’s one of those beaches that offer even more than beauty: solitude.
|Essential beach info:|
Frangokastello Beach, the one with the castle
Frangokastello is a long, fine sandy beach which is special because a Venetian castle towers above it. Since it’s located in southwestern Crete, it never gets crowded. Most tourists have accommodation in the north (we did, too), and it’s quite a drive to get to the more remote, southern regions of the island. But then we got magical beaches that still made us feel like we visited out of high season, even though it was the end of July. Like Frangokastello Beach.
|Essential beach info:|
Kleidisi Beach, the scenic cove with a challenging access
Kleidisi is an incredibly scenic, pebbly cove, just like Seitan Limania, but there’s one huge difference: barely anyone knows about Kleidisi Beach, and most people rather choose more easily accessible beaches in the area.
It’s located in the southwest, not far from Plakias, and between Ammoudi and Mikro Ammoudi Beaches. We used the same dirt parking lot as people who arrived to Mikro Ammoudi Beach, but instead of the stairs that lead down there, we did some rock climbing. That’s one reason Kleidisi Beach is not crowded. It’s challenging to get down there, it’s not a steep walk, it’s a climb, though a short one, but you need your hands, too, and you need to jump down from the rocks at the end. Mikro Ammoudi Beach is similar in many ways, and you can easily access it, so we see why most people choose it over Kleidisi.
Why didn’t we? Because Mikro Ammoudi is a lovely, small beach, but Kleidisi is a unique, romantic cove. With barely any people, hah. Both are pebbly, and both have incredibly turquoise colors. And we’ve actually been to both, because we swam to Mikro Ammoudi Beach later. It’s that close, so yes, if you don’t like the climb, but want to see the cove, go to Mikro Ammoudi Beach, and swim to Kleidisi from there. In the other direction, we could also swim to Ammoudi Beach. It’s a bit longer, but the views between the two bays are fascinating!
|Essential beach info:|
Spilies Beach, the one with the caves
Spilies Beach reminded us of Algarve – and this is a huge compliment! The turquoise bay is tucked between low, eroded, orange rock walls, and caves can be found both in the water and on the beach. It’s located just off the highway from Heraklion to Rethymnon and Chania, and that’s how we found it, as we wanted to stop at a beach on our way to the airport on our last day.
But Spilies wasn’t just a quick beach stop, it became a favorite, and we spent half of our day there. We enjoyed the scenic pebbly bay, the clear water, swimming through the large cave – and finding natural shade under another cave on the beach.
|Essential beach info:|
Best family-friendly beaches in Crete
Are the beaches in Crete family-friendly? It depends on your criteria for family-friendliness. Many of them are sandy. Most of them offer no natural shade, though rentable umbrellas are available on the popular beaches. Majority of them have easy access. Some beaches offer shallow water, but some have immediately deep water, and you need to swim after taking a few steps into the water.
With our 2 years old Tomi we didn’t specifically look for family-friendly beaches. Our experience is that every beach is exciting for him, it’s us who need to be extremely careful and vigilant on beaches that are not typically safe for small kids, because the water is deep, the waves are strong or the rocks are sharp.
Even so, we found some beaches in Crete that we’d consider family-friendly. Like Elafonisi and Balos Beach that both have shallow lagoons where the water is warm, and it’s safe even for small kids to play in the water. (Though you can’t leave a 2-year-old alone, not even in such shallow water.) While Elafonisi is easy to access by car, the access to Balos is not particularly kid-friendly: a hike is required, and you definitely can’t do it with a stroller. But we did it with our little one who walked on his own almost all the way. If you don’t think you’re able to hike there, you can opt for the boat trip to Balos. Just be aware that you won’t have a full day on the beach when visiting by boat.
Falassarna Beach is also easily accessible by car, and it’s a long, sandy beach with water that gets deep evenly (at least not immediately after your third step).
Close to Chania, many beaches of the Akrotiri Peninsula can be ideal for families. We’ve been to Tersanas Beach which is a shallow, well protected and usually waveless sandy bay. Not as breathtaking as the ones already mentioned in this list, but you decide whether you look for scenery or kid-friendliness in the first place. We heard the same about Stavros Beach and Agios Onoufrios: they’re sandy, shallow and have calm waters.
Some of the sandy bays of Bali are also said to be well protected from the winds – in case you search for beaches on the north near Rethymno.
Families who prefer more remote beaches can opt for Damnoni Beach or Frangokastello Beach in the southwest.
Crete beaches without wind
Sandy beaches are not fun when it’s windy. Sea can also get rough. But which are the beaches that are less affected by winds? Not Balos, Falassarna, Elafonisi or Kedrodasos for sure, they’re known for the opposite.
But there are the kid-friendly beaches of the Akrotiri Peninsula: Tersanas Beach, Stavros Beach or Agios Onoufrios – they’re almost never hit by winds. Note the word almost. The wind can blow from anywhere, really, so there’s no choice that suits any day. Glyka Nera Beach and the bays of Loutro usually have calm waters. Sometimes not.
If it’s too windy on the beach, you better wait, because the wind can suddenly change. Or you can look for a nearby beach that faces another direction and might not be affected. (But then… keep in mind that the wind can change.)
The most popular beaches in east Crete
We haven’t been to the east of Crete. Having only a bit more than a week, we chose to explore the beaches of Chania and Rethymnon regions. Not that the eastern side of Crete didn’t look tempting. Matala Beach or the beaches of Xerokampos in the southeast, or Vai Beach with its palm forest and Voulisma Beach with shallow, turquoise water in the northeast. We wouldn’t say no to another week on the beautiful beaches of Crete.
Have you been? Which were your favorite beaches?
Disclosure: Please note that affiliate links are used in this post, and at no additional cost to you, we earn a commission if you make a purchase. If you are ready to book your trip and would like to support this website in some way, here’s your chance. Thank you! 🙂
200+ Travel Tips For Hungary
Get our free e-book and join the community!
Want to find a place for travel in your life? Want to find your happy places – and happy trails? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter where we share insider tips, updates and more. Get our e-book with all the tips you need before visiting Hungary as a first gift.
Travel tips and resources
It takes effort and careful planning to get the most out of your vacation days each year. We help you with complete travel itineraries, based on our own experiences. See them here!
- Flights: find the best flight deals with Skyscanner, Kayak and Google Flights. Save money: be flexible with your flight dates & fly with carry-on only.
- Accommodations: Find great hotel and apartment deals with flexible cancellation policy on Booking.com. Book hostels on Hostelworld.
- Car rentals: use RentalCars.com and Kayak to get the best rates on car rentals.
- Tours: Book guided tours with GetYourGuide, Viator and Civitatis.
Give travel experiences as a gift with Tinggly.
Traveling with kids?
We believe that travel is not only possible, but it’s fun with a kid, and helps strengthen our bonds through experiences and challenges that we get through together. Read our family travel tips and destination specific guides here!