Driving in Crete - Tips and Experiences
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Covered in the Article
- Crete - Island in Greece
- Driving Rules
- Practical Driving Tips
- Our Driving Experiences in Crete
- Route and Destination Recommendations
- Bottom Line
Crete - Island in Greece
Crete is the largest island in Greece. It has a pleasant Mediterranean climate even though summers may feel too hot for people from colder countries. The island has 305 sunny days in a year which has made it a popular holiday destination for Europeans. People from the UK, central Europe and Scandinavia travel every year to enjoy Crete's sun from early spring to late autumn. We visited the western parts of Crete in October 2021.
Crete is a large island with an extensive road network. There is only one highway, Greek National Road 90, which runs along its width from Kastelli Kissamos in the west to Sitia in the east. Driving from the west to the east takes about 5 hours so seeing the whole island in a 1-week trip is almost impossible. That gives a good reason to visit the island at least twice.
Even though road 90 is called a highway, it is quite narrow and the speed limit is relatively low. Some parts of the road have two lanes but elsewhere, the road looks like a regular road in the countryside. Smaller roads around the highway lead to Crete's attractions and villages. Crete is a mountainous island so zigzag roads are more than common when heading to destinations far from the coastline.
There is rarely much traffic outside Chania and Heraklion cities so driving in Crete is relaxed. The highway has a good surface but other roads may not be in perfect condition. On some roads, the single-lane section is a bit too narrow to enable overtaking without crossing over to the opposite side of the road. It is the habit to give space onto the hard shoulder to make passing easier. In the beginning, the habit feels unsafe because you need to cross the white closing line but slowly you will notice that it makes driving smooth in Crete.
In this guide, we concentre more on driving on the western parts of the island.
In Crete, you drive on the right side of the road.
You need a license issued from an EU country or an international driver's license. If you plan to hire a car, car hire companies may set extra terms. For example, they may have an age limit and expect enough driving experience from the driver.
Traffic Signs and Lights
There are not many traffic signs in Crete and road markings are bad. This isn't a big problem as the roads are quiet and easy to drive. However, we recommend being extra careful in intersections if you are unsure about the priority rules. It is better to slow down and make careful decisions.
Outside the cities, you will barely see traffic lights.
The speed limits in Crete are moderately low. In cities and built-up areas, you are allowed to drive 50 km/h. Outside the cities, the limit is 80 km/h. On the highway, it is possible to drive 90 km/h but a lower limit may be forced with a traffic sign.
It is important to follow the speed limits because the police are supervising traffic now and then and there are also automated speed radars.
You are not allowed to have more than 0.5 per mil of alcohol in your blood. We recommend not drinking at all while driving. Forget complimentary raki shots even though this habit is a great way to finish a delicious lunch and dinner.
Practical Driving Tips
We visited Crete in 2021. Below, we share tips based on what we learned ourselves.
Hiring a car
As the distances in Crete are long, we recommend hiring a car because it gives you freedom and saves time. It is still good to know that the island has a well-working public transportation network to reach the most popular destinations.
Since the car hire prices in Crete are moderately low, we recommend getting a car straight from the airport. This way, you do not need to pay for a transfer from the airport to the hotel and back. Almost all car hire companies have an office at the airport or they pick you up from the airport to their office nearby. Booking a car should still be made in advance to get the best rates.
All well-known international car hire companies are doing business in Crete but in addition, there are many local companies. We used Alma Car Hire which was an affordable but still a good choice. We found the company by comparing hire car prices and terms on Discover Cars.
After landing at Chania Airport, the car hire company called us and gave us detailed pickup instructions. 15 minutes later, a driver fetched us from the parking area of Chania Airport and drove us to the company's office which was only a few minutes away. At the office, we filled out the forms and inspected the car well. Everything was accomplished in one hour after landing.
We had booked a small economy car. The company gave us a Skoda Fabia which was in good condition but it had many scratches. It is always important to photograph the car well or buy full-covering insurance to avoid paying for existing damages. When we later returned the car, we were not asked anything about the scratches because we had documented them so well.
Navigating in Crete is easy. Just by following Google Maps instructions, you will find any place. Be prepared that Google Maps may lead you to small unpaved roads so we recommend checking the route suggestion before you start moving. Quite often, car hire companies do not allow driving on unpaved roads.
Parking in Crete is easy. Hotels have big parking areas that are usually free. In villages and attractions, you do not normally need to pay any fee. Parking areas are wide so no special parking skills are needed.
Parking in the cities may be a nightmare and it costs. We recommend not taking a hire car to Chania city because you may easily get scratched by the car and finding a free parking place takes a lot of time.
Finding a petrol station is simple because there are plenty of them on the island. Prices differ from station to station and we recommend comparing them on Fuelo. Almost all petrol stations are manned. You need to tell the staff how much fuel you want (litres or euros) and they will fill the tank on your behalf. Tipping is appreciated.
Remember to have enough fuel before going to the mountains.
Our Driving Experiences in Crete
We had a hire car for seven days. It was practical to have the car already at the airport and return it to the same location. We visited the following places: Maleme, Kissamos, Falasarna Beach, Maleme Bulevard, Chania City, Elafonissi, Lake Kournas, Platanias and Argyroupoli.
In October, there was not much traffic on the roads so driving was peaceful. We got quickly used to intersections and priority rules. There were not many traffic lights except in the city centre and crowded tourist locations. The road surface was not always good so it was important to avoid the biggest holes and keep the speed low enough. During the nighttime, not all cars had their headlights on so extra caution was needed. The roads got also really dark since there are not many lights.
Driving on curvy mountain roads was relaxing under the sunshine, but the roads became quite challenging after the dark set in. As the mountains are unpopulated areas, it was dark there even with good headlights on. It was not easy to see what lies behind curves so slow driving was necessary.
Crete is a large island which makes driving times long. If you are lucky, the destination is around the highway so you can reach it fast but otherwise, driving a short distance may easily take an hour. We didn't see many police cars but there are speed radars. Following traffic rules is always recommended.
Route and Destination Recommendations
We list a few of our recommendations on what to see by a hire car in Crete. Because Crete is a beautiful sunny island, it is always a good idea to stop when passing a nice viewpoint or village. For example, on our way to Elafonissi, we stopped to buy local products from a stall in the middle of the mountains.
Elafonissi Beach is maybe the most well-known beach in Crete. If you are coming from the north side of the island you need to pass the mountains. Driving in the mountains during the light hours is a pleasant experience but we recommend returning before it gets dark. It is dark and windy in mountains at night.
Majority of travellers stay on the northern side of the island. To reach Elafonissi from there, you need to drive on the highway to Kissamos and then pass the mountains from north to south. In the Elefonissa area, parking is free.
Elafonissi Beach is beautiful but often crowded. Why not visit a more peaceful Kedrodasos Beach less than 10 minutes driving away?
Falasarna Beach is a wide sand beach at the northwest corner of Crete. This beach is a perfect place for casual swimming and enjoying the beach life.
To reach Falasarna from Chania, you need to drive on the highway to Kissamos and then half an hour more on scenic mountain roads. The roads are in good condition and easy to drive. You will easily find free parking places at Falasarna.
The beautiful Lake Kournas is the only lake with fresh water in Crete. It is just 4km away from Georgioupolis. This small lake is well-known for its fresh and bright water. Many people hire a pedal boat and the luckiest of them will see turtles. The water is clean and bright. The lake is also suitable for swimming though the beach is not perfect. The relaxing and beautiful landscape is ideal for nature lovers.
You can reach Lake Kournas by driving along the highway from Chania to Georgioupolis and continuing a few kilometres more to the lake. The route is simple to drive but there are speed cameras on the way. There are a few parking areas at the lake but not all of them are free.
Springs of Argyroupoli
Argyroupoli is a village in the municipality of Lappa. Besides the rich architecture and history, Argyroupoli is also a nature destination. Abundant springs feed fountains and nourish mighty plain trees. The air feels fresh and the sound of flowing water creates a perfect environment to unwind. Argyroupoli is a perfect place to enjoy a delicious Greek lunch in the middle of the spring.
Argyroupoli can be reached from Chania by driving on the highway towards Rethymno and turning up to the mountains at Episkopi Beach. This route is one of the easiest in Crete. Parking is free.
Balos Beach on the far northwest corner of Crete is one of the most picturesque locales in the entire Mediterranean. Unfortunately, there is no paved road so it is important to confirm with your car hire company that it allows driving there. For example, we were not allowed to drive to the destination.
Balos Beach can be reached by driving on the highway from Chania to Kissamos Port and letting Google Maps guide you to the destination. The last kilometres of the road is unpaved. There are not many cars so parking is free.
- Is driving easy in Crete?
- Driving outside the cities is not challenging. Normal driving skills are enough.
- What kind of license do I need in Crete?
- An EU driving license is enough. Other people may need an international driving license.
- What is the alcohol limit?
- It is 0.5 per mil but we advise you not to drink at all while driving.
- Are there mountain roads in Crete?
- Yes, there are many of them. We recommend passing mountains only during the daytime.
- What are the speed limits in Crete?
- In urban areas, 50 km/h, and on the highway 90 km/h. Lower limits may apply so follow the traffic signs.
- Is parking challenging in Crete?
- Parking outside the cities is surprisingly easy and it is usually free.
- Where to head by car?
- Why not drive to Falasarna or Elafonissi beaches, Lake Kournas or Maleme village?
- Where to hire a car?
- We recommend comparing hire cars on Discover Cars.
We have hired a car and driven in many holiday destinations. Driving in Crete is more relaxed and simpler than in many similar places. That is why we recommend active travellers hire a car to see more.
It is important to book a car in advance and complete all the steps of the hiring process carefully. Learning the basics of the local traffic rules is also advised. Like in every new destination, you need also to plan your driving routes well. With good planning and preparations, driving in Crete is a relaxed experience.
Have you hired a car in Crete? Share your experiences below.