Lying in the far south of the Aegean Sea, mountainous Crete is the largest of the Greek Islands. As such, Crete’s beaches range from small, rocky coves to long sweeps of golden sand lapped by sparkling aquamarine water.
Add into the mix archaeological sites, sleepy fishing ports, silvery olive groves, and some wonderful hiking, and you have the recipe for a perfect visit that combines the possibilities of history, culture, food, and beach time.
Here are 14 of the best beaches in Crete to discover.
Nea Chora, Chania
Nea Chora, which means “new town”, is one of a couple of urban beaches in the beautiful old Venetian port town of Chania.
Granted, you won’t find mountains and gorges here, which is typical of much of the scenery around western Crete. However, Nea Chora is perfect if you’ve spent the day wandering the atmospheric alleyways of the town and admiring the elegant Venetian Harbor and just want to cool off.
Nea Chora is only 15 minutes or so on foot from the old center and has soft sand, clear water, and a long string of restaurants and cafés to enjoy. There are beach chairs and umbrellas available to rent, too.
Koum Kapi, Chania
Koum Kapi is another city beach on the eastern side of the Venetian Harbor by the ancient city walls. A long strip of sand is backed by a promenade lined with cafés and tavernas. Many of the old houses have been tastefully renovated.
Back in the 19th century, this was the Bedouin neighborhood of Chania, where formerly enslaved immigrants from Africa lived in tents and huts. Nowadays, it’s far more gentrified and is a popular beach among city-dwelling locals.
The name comes from the Turkish Kum Kapisi, which means “Sand Gate” and refers to the nearby gate in the old city walls. The water is warm and shallow for swimming here, and the beach is sandy. Come early in the morning and you’ll see locals taking a pre-breakfast dip.
Seitan Limania, Akrotiri Peninsula
You need to be adventurous to tackle the steep, rocky goat track down to this extraordinary little beach on the Akrotiri Peninsula. The trip is worth it for the sheer drama of the scenery.
The name means “devil’s harbor”, referring to the currents that swirl around the entrance to a zigzag-shaped gorge.
The tiny beach itself, at the end of the gorge, is hemmed in by towering cliffs. The only way down is on foot, so bring suitable footwear.
Because the cliffs are so high and the gorge so narrow, the beach is often in shade, which can be a blessing on a hot day.
Sun lovers stake out perches on the rocks above to catch some rays. Bring your own supplies as there’s nothing here and you will need drinking water.
Three headlands jut out into the sea at this pretty spot to the west of Chania, each protecting a curve of golden sand.
The beaches here are sheltered and the sea floor gently sloping, which makes this an easy day trip for families. This is arguably the most scenic spot for swimming and sunbathing if you’re based in Chania and don’t want to travel too far.
The seaside village of Agii Apostoli is what the Greeks call an “organized” beach area, which means there are watersports, beach volleyball, umbrellas, and tavernas, as well as facilities for wheelchair users.
Balos Beach, near Kissamos
Located some 40 miles northwest of Chania, Balos Beach is one of the best beaches in Greece. Getting here requires commitment, as the last part of the journey involves bumping along a dirt track and then hiking down a trail.
The preferable alternative is to take an hour-long boat ride from Kissamos, itself a 40-minute drive from Chania. The rewards are great; pale golden sand fringes an exquisite turquoise bay backed by rugged mountains. A spit connects the main beach to a craggy headland.
The water is shallow and warm, making this a great day out for families. The beach has had royal patronage, too; Prince Charles and Princess Diana came here on their honeymoon.
Elafonisi Beach, near Gialos
This beautiful swath of pink-golden sand—which gets its color from tiny crustacean shells—and aquamarine water is one of the most magical of Crete’s beaches.
It’s quite a long journey from Chania, around an hour and a half by road. Getting there is part of the fun, as the twisting road leads you through rustic Crete villages and mountain scenery.
The whole beach is a nature reserve, with several rare plants thriving here, including the fragrant pancratium lily, sea daffodils, and juniper. Elafonisi is actually a peninsula, the end sometimes cut off by shallow water, which you can wade across.
Beach chairs are available on the main beach but aren’t allowed on the “island” end, so there’s more of a sense of remoteness. You may even see the tracks of loggerhead turtles in the sand, as this is one of their few remaining nesting grounds in the Mediterranean.
Some of the smaller coves on the peninsula are clothing-optional.
If you want a break from this pink sand beach, there’s a small town nearby, Chrysokalitissa. Here, you can visit the 17th-century Monastery of the Virgin Mary, perched on a rock, to see how the monks live.
Stavros Beach, near Chania
Located at the northernmost edge of the Akrotiri Peninsula, just 10 miles from Chania, Stavros is a wild, peaceful beach that curves around a sandy cove. The cove is essentially a sheltered lagoon, protected from the northerly winds, and sheltered by rocky Greek mountains.
There are beach chairs and umbrellas at one end of the beach, while a jetty means that local fishermen land their catch here, ensuring the freshest possible fish at the local tavernas.
Platanias Beach, near Chania
Sand-and-shingle Platanias Beach lies in front of the long stretch of Platanias village, about eight miles west of Chania. This is the perfect spot for anybody who enjoys a more lively beach scene, with beach chairs, umbrellas, watersports, and no shortage of bars and tavernas.
Shops in the village cater to all needs, from beach gear to summer fashions and some of the best souvenirs from Greece. There are quieter stretches of sand, too, if you want to get away from the hubbub of beach life.
Platanias can get windy when the strong Meltemi wind is in force as it’s exposed to the north, so check the weather forecast before setting off.
Gialiskari Beach, Paleochora
Gialiskari Beach is your reward at the end of a 90-minute road trip across the mountains if you’re coming from the Chania area. The beach is wide and sandy, with some pebbly areas. It’s framed by rocks at either end, forming the easternmost stretch of the Paleochora district.
In the 1970s, this was a hippie hangout; beach lovers would bring supplies from the village of Paleochora, walk the two-and-a-half-mile coastal trail, and camp out on the beach.
There’s a real sense of wildness here today, as you’re close to where the mountains plunge straight into the sea. The beach is, in fact, at the exit of the deep Anidri Gorge, one of Crete’s many hiking areas.
There are umbrellas to rent and one taverna, but other than that, facilities here are few and far between, which is all part of the appeal.
Falasarna Beach, Falasarna
About an hour from Chania to the south of Cape Gramvousa, Falassarna is actually a string of five beaches. It’s constantly praised as being one of the best beaches on Crete, thanks to its golden sand and the almost Caribbean turquoise hue of the water, concealing offshore rocks.
The beach is backed by low dunes, fragrant with wild thyme and sage. You can pick your stretch of sand; there’s the busier, central beach, with umbrellas, tavernas, and beach volleyball, and smaller coves where rocks just under the surface provide great viewing for snorkelers.
Take a break from sunbathing and walk to the northern end of the beach, where you can see the remains of the ancient port of Falasarna, founded in the seventh century B.C.
Because of an uplift in the land following a massive earthquake some 1,500 years ago, what’s left of the port is actually inland now.
Preveli Beach, Preveli
To reach lush Preveli Beach, one of the most beautiful in Crete, you’ll need to drive from Chania to the busy resort town of Rethymnon and head due south to the island’s southern shore; it’s about 90 minutes by road but worth it for the setting that awaits.
The beach is a spit of sand barring the mouth of the Kourtaliotis River, with a clear, emerald lagoon between the sand and a dreamy palm oasis. Dense vegetation lines the shore, creating a tropical feel on an otherwise somewhat arid coastline.
There’s little here, which is all part of the beach’s charm; just a small taverna for Greek salad and souvlaki.
You can snorkel off the rocks at one end of the spit, or put on your walking shoes and explore the gorge in the shade of the palms. The beach does get busy in high season, so arrive early.
Marathi Beach, Akrotiri Peninsula
Marathi is a small, protected cove at the mouth of Souda Bay, an easy ten miles from Chania town and worth seeking out if the Meltemi wind is blowing, as it’s suitably sheltered.
The sand is soft and the sea clear, which, added to gorgeous views of the White Mountains, explains the popularity of this spot.
There are actually two beaches here on either side of a tiny port. There are plenty of tavernas to try and beach chairs and umbrellas to rent.
If you want some exercise, you could swim the short distance to the tiny Paleosouda islet just offshore. The island is uninhabited, but you can wander through the stand of pine trees or watch divers exploring the steep dropoff to the west.
Loutraki Beach, Akrotiri Peninsula
Loutraki is another great beach option if you don’t want to stray too far from Chania; it’s less than half an hour’s drive. This is a small, sleepy cove, sheltered from the wind, and lined with trees.
There’s a café on the beach, as well as a villa complex with a beach bar and extensive lawns, should you prefer fragrant grass to sand.
For two beaches in one, combine a spell here with nearby Marathi, which has more facilities and watersport concessions.
Sougia Beach, Sougia
One of the longest beaches in western Crete, Sougia is a wide strip of pebbles on the south coast backed by scrub-covered hills and gorges.
There’s spectacular hiking around here, in the rocky, verdant Agia Irini Gorge and the Lissos Gorge.
You can also explore the Lissos archaeological site, one of the most important in Crete, dating back to Minoan times.
This remote spot is wonderfully atmospheric, with the remains of a Roman theater, an ancient temple, and rock-cut tombs to explore. You could well have the space to yourself, to a soundtrack of the gentle buzz of insects on the breeze.
The beach itself has a relaxed vibe; it was another popular hippie hangout in the 1970s and something of that feeling remains. The eastern side is clothing-optional, while the main stretch offers beach chairs and umbrellas, with plenty of cafés and tavernas for sustenance.
Are you ready to discover the beautiful shoreline of western Crete? Browse our luxury cruises to Chania and plan your next adventure to Greece.