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September 3, 2021
Crete is the largest of the Greek islands, which means there is a whole lot of beachy coastline to enjoy. Not only are the beaches in Crete plentiful, but they are also striking, diverse and ideal for all kinds of beachgoers – be that families, windsurfers or those looking for a peaceful digital detox.
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.
If you thought pink beaches were reserved for far-flung destinations such as Indonesia or Australia, get ready for a pleasant surprise. Much closer to home (and often during early summer), you’ll find crushed pastel pink shells washed up in the sand on Crete’s Elafonissi Beach.
In contrast to the bright turquoise water lapping around the beach’s sandbars, the pink colour is beautiful. 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.
On Crete’s far northwestern peninsula, beautiful Balos Beach is named after the aquamarine lagoon that surrounds it. 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.
For a lazier day, settle down and watch the boats drifting in and out of the lagoon as you nibble on a picnic from one of the beach stalls.
The Megalopotamos 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 cliff side to the river mouth, you’ll be rewarded with white sandy shores and a wonderfully unspoilt little bay that looks out across the sea for as far as the eye can see.
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. A must-see while you’re in the area is the impressive Preveli Monastery, which is perched on the clifftop, overlooking the sea.
Head to Falassarna and you’ll find not one but five of Crete’s best sandy beaches.
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, as well as a couple of tavernas too. 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-hand 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 also 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 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 unspoilt, 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 completely unspoilt. 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, hence the nickname, ‘sweet waters’.
Equally sweet will be the drink you earn after your trek. Buy it from Glyka Nera’s one 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, perhaps with a wander into the village for lunch.
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 dusk and you’ll be treated to a beautiful sunset, which should round up a magical day on the beach.
One of the few shores in Crete that truly are only accessible by boat, the Chryssi Island beaches are found off the southeast coast, surrounding a tiny uninhabited islet. Take a 25-minute boat ride from Ierapatra and you’ll find yourself on Chryssi’s flat, white sandy shores, which stretch for less than 15km (9.3 miles) all the way around.
Once you’ve moored up and found dry land, settle in for a blissful day pretending you’re shipwrecked on a paradise island – albeit with a picnic and a good book or two.
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