Updated June 2, 2023
Published September 3, 2021
There’s a whole lot of brilliant, beachy coastline to enjoy on Crete, the largest of the Greek islands. Striking, diverse and ideal for all kinds of beachgoers – be that families, windsurfers or those looking for a peaceful digital detox – its beaches are some of the best in Greece.
From hidden coves with crystal clear water to sandy bays with shallow shores – and even those with soft pink sand – there’s so many beaches that you could easily fill your Crete holiday with a new one every day. To help you choose, we’ve narrowed down nine of the best below.
Think pink beaches are reserved for far-flung destinations such as Indonesia or Australia? Get ready for a pleasant surprise. Much closer to home, Crete’s Elafonissi Beach is a double take-inducing stretch sprinkled with crushed pastel pink shells that wash up on the sand.
When you’re not snapping Instagrammable photos, spend your day floating in the shallow lagoon water, sipping on a cold beer from one of the beach bars, and perhaps even trying your hand at windsurfing – because, fair warning, it can get windy here.
On Crete’s far northwestern peninsula, beautiful Balos Beach isn’t just one of the best beaches on the island, but in the world – at least according to Tripadvisor’s ‘best of the best’ awards. Swathes of chalk-white sandbars reach out into the water, creating a stunning beach that looks more like an idyllic Maldivian island than the Cretan coast.
You’ll need to take a boat (or hike along a track road from Kissamos) to reach the beach, but the picturesque scenery is absolutely worth the effort. When you arrive, stroll along the wide curve of sand to the large Tigani islet, and head up the rocks to enjoy panoramic views across the lagoon.
The Megalos Potamos River flows through a forest of bright green palms on its way down to Preveli Beach, where it meets the Libyan Sea. If you can handle the steep descent down the leafy cliffside to the river mouth, you’ll be rewarded with white sandy shores and a wonderfully unspoilt little bay that looks out across the sea.
You can hire pedalos and kayaks to explore inland along the river, which makes a fun alternative to the usual sea-based watersports, but otherwise the beach has little in the way of facilities. The impressive Preveli Monastery, which is perched on the clifftop overlooking the sea, is worth stopping by while you’re here.
Another crowd favourite, Falassarna Beach was ranked sixth in Europe for 2024 in Tripadvisor's awards. That this sandy stretch is made up of not one but five beaches might have something to do with it.
Across the interlinking beaches, there is always plenty of space to put down your towel, and you’ll find a few sun-loungers for hire. Compared to some of the other beaches on the island, there is much less development and the sand actually backs onto a bushy hillside, rather than a town or promenade. The beach also catches the last sun of the day, so if you stay late enough you can watch the burnt orange sun set into the glossy Mediterranean below.
Once the spiritual hangout of hippies and musicians, Matala Beach is famous largely for its sandstone caves, which flank the right side of the bay. These intricate caves are shrouded in spirituality and mythology, and are said to be the place Zeus once swam ashore – which perhaps explains why so many have been drawn here over the years.
Away from the caves, the beach itself is lovely, with wide pebbly sand and calm turquoise water. There are even a handful of tavernas lining the beach, so you can admire the caves and the sea views while you eat lunch.
Wander through Europe’s largest natural palm grove and when you emerge, you’ll find yourself on the golden sands of Vai Beach. Nicknamed Palm Beach because of the estimated 5,000 Cretan date palms that surround it, this little patch of paradise is almost entirely unspoiled, with just a few sun-loungers and umbrellas for hire.
Choose to bask in the sun and gaze out onto the brilliant blue sea, admiring the rock formations that protrude out from the calm surface. If the heat gets a little too much, find a shady spot underneath a palm and curl up with a good book.
Looking for a mini adventure? Lace up your trainers and make the trek along the European E4 trail from Loutro to Glyka Nera beach, in the south of the island. The walk takes around an hour and offers stunning coastal views, but the real showstopper is the beach itself.
Backed by towering sandstone cliffs the pebbly shore is small but perfectly formed, and it’s wonderfully pristine. Step into the gin-clear water and you’ll notice it's considerably colder than many of the other beaches in Crete – it’s actually fresh spring water, seeping up from under the pebbles and into the sea, giving it the nickname, ‘sweet waters’.
Equally sweet is the drink you’ll earn after your trek. Buy it from Glyka Nera’s beach bar, which sits over the water like a Maldivian beach bungalow.
Surrounding the quaint village of Agios Pavlos you’ll find a smattering of small, dune-backed beaches that make the perfect ‘escape from it all’ destination. There is very little to see and do here, but that’s part of the charm – it’s all about relaxing and enjoying the peace and quiet.
If you’re into snorkelling, there are also several little inlets between the rocky shoreline, which make a great spot to look for fish and shellfish. Stay until the sky burns orange at sunset.
One of the few shores in Crete that truly are only accessible by boat, uninhabited Chryssi Island is found off Crete’s southeast coast. Take a 25-minute boat ride from Ierapatra and you’ll find yourself on Chryssi’s flat, white sandy shores, which stretch for some 15km (9.3 miles) all the way around.
Most boats dock at Vougiou Mati Beach on the south of the island and just five minutes’ walk north is Golden Beach, which has sun-loungers and umbrellas for hire. The rest of the island has more of a castaway feel, so lace up your shoes and get walking to discover quieter stretches at Kataprosopo and Vages beaches.