Crete’s west is full of impressive sights, beautiful beaches and unique gorges. In this blog post, I’ll tell you everything you need to know for your holiday in Western Crete, or Chania.
Overview of sights, beaches & gorges in Western Crete:
- Chania – largest city in the west of Crete
- Balos Beach – a Carribean dream
- Elafonisi Beach – clear water & pink sand
- Samaria Gorge – longest gorge in Europe
- Imbros Gorge – impressive and a great alternative
- Rethymnon – cute town & Crete’s longest sandy beach
Crete is the largest island in Greece and 254 kilometres long. On a 1 to 2 week holiday you usually have to choose between one part of the island and the other: The more touristy east, which includes the capital Heraklion where most flights arrive, or the less touristy, slightly more unspoilt west with Chania, Crete’s second largest city. Each corner of Crete has great beaches, unique coastal landscapes and impressive gorges and hikes.
In the end, the stunning beaches of Balos & Elafonisi, the very charming city of Chania and the Samaria and Imbros gorges convinced me personally to visit the west of the island. Below are the highlights of Crete’s west.
1. Chania – the largest city in the west of Crete
The second largest city in Crete and the largest city in the west is Chania. Secretly, Chania is also the most beautiful city in Crete: a small harbour, many small winding alleys, fish restaurants on the water and cute little street cafés immediately enchant every visitor. That’s why a visit to Chania is also worthwhile in the low season or even in winter. You can feast for days on the wide range of gastronomic delights on offer. There is a wide variety, from typical Greek tavernas to modern, stylish restaurants with modern interpretations of Greek cuisine to street cafés and French-style boulangeries.
And of course you can shop your heart’s desire in Chania. You should quickly pass the tourist shops around the Venetian harbour to get to local designer shops with young labels and be inspired by Greek fashion. Great addresses are, for example, JustBrazil or Elephant Store. In addition, there are of course many big fashion chains, such as Zara, Pull&Bear & co.
Chania is worth at least a day trip during your Crete holiday, if not several days. There are also beaches in the immediate vicinity – either the city beaches of Nea Chora or Kladissos.
You can read more about Chania in my blog article about the best restaurants in Chania and the best beaches near Chania.
2. Balos Beach – a Caribbean bay
If you are on holiday in the west of Crete, you simply must make a trip to Balos Beach. The bay of Balos is known for its Caribbean flair, the extremely soft white sand and the turquoise sea, as well as the unique landscape.
The water of Balos Beach slopes very shallowly and is therefore very pleasant for swimming and also ideal for families with small children. A very special highlight of Balos Bay is the pink sand, which sometimes glows more and sometimes less pink. This pink touch is created by small pink stones, which come from millions of crushed shells and are mixed in with the sand. What a unique natural phenomenon.
The approach to Balos is very adventurous, because the last 8 km lead over an extremely bumpy gravel road on which an armada of goats sometimes gets in the way and simply does not want to leave the road. Once you have completed this gravel road in about 20 minutes, it is still a half-hour hike down to the bay. And now the only thing left to do is: enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!
Tip: In low season or very early in the morning, it is much quieter in the otherwise busy Balos Bay. Always take enough water and provisions with you, as there is nothing to buy there.
3. Elafonisi beach in western Crete – clear water & pink sand
Elafonisi beach is known for its incredibly clear waters and pristine surroundings. Although, like Balos Beach, it is a very popular tourist destination, it is still possible to find a quiet spot on the extensive Elafonisi Beach. It is best not to lie down on the sunbeds offered at the beginning of the beach, but to walk further back until you reach the unspoilt part of Elafonisi beach, where there are no sunbeds, umbrellas or restaurants. Here you can walk for about 1 kilometre and find a quiet spot. The pink sand is always noticeable. Similar to Balos Bay, small sections of Elafonisi beach shimmer because of the pink shell particles.
However, one must not imagine a really pink beach. The intensity is different in every season and can sometimes be stronger and sometimes barely noticeable. Unfortunately, pictures that show an intense pink beach are often just edited that way. Nevertheless, Elafonisi is a wonderful beach where you can experience Crete’s most beautiful nature.
Tip: Again, it pays to be early, switch to low season or walk all the way to the end of the beach, as Elafonisi beach is very popular with tourists and locals.
4. Samaria Gorge – the longest gorge in Europe
Apart from beaches and good food, Crete is also known for its gorges. The world-famous Samaria Gorge, also located in western Crete, is a true natural spectacle and is considered the longest gorge in Europe.
During a sweaty hike of several hours, you can walk through the gorge once in 13 kilometres.
It is important to know that the gorge can only be visited in spring and summer. It is closed from November to April. For this reason, I was unfortunately unable to do the hike myself. But there are countless other gorges on Crete, and especially in the west, for example the Imbros Gorge.
Tip: In high summer, the hike, which is often in the blazing sun, can be very strenuous. The early bird catches the worm!
5. Imbros Gorge – impressive crevices & a red rock gate
The Imbros Gorge is located in the southwest of Crete and is often offered as an alternative to the Samaria Gorge. The hike through Imbros Gorge is slightly shorter and easier, only 8 kilometres instead of 13, and can be easily mastered by the less experienced and families.
But the Imbros Gorge is no less spectacular than the Samaria Gorge. There are some narrow passages reminiscent of canyons in the USA, as well as a breathtaking red shining rock gate.
Just as in Samaria Gorge, taxi drivers wait at the end of Imbros Gorge to take hikers to the beginning of the gorge and their car. In winter, you have to walk to the centre of the village and you can ask a taverna owner there who can organise the return journey.
Tip: Most visitors walk the gorge downhill. However, if you are looking for a sporting challenge, you can also walk the 600 metres in altitude in the other direction, uphill.
6. Rethymnon – cute town & Crete’s longest sandy beach
Another worthwhile town in the west of Crete is Rethymno on the north coast. Although Rethymno is only half the size of Chania, it has a pleasant population of around 55,000. The big advantage over Chania is the extensive city beach, which is directly adjacent to the beautiful little old town. On a day trip to Rethymno, you can first do some sightseeing and visit the ruins of the Fortezza, for example, then stroll a little through the old town, wander through the alleyways and shops and continue to feast in the street cafés and beach restaurants. Or you can spend the hot summer afternoon on the town beach, which directly adjoins the Venetian harbour and measures 13 kilometres – this is the longest sandy beach in Crete!
Tip: Rethymno is not only worthwhile for a day trip, but also a beautiful place to spend your 1 to 2-week Crete holiday. Especially for those who not only appreciate a beach & a nice hotel, but also like to have a town with various gastronomic offers nearby.
I hope I could give you a good impression for your upcoming Crete holiday and convince you of the beautiful beaches of Balos and Elafonisi and motivate you to visit one of the impressive gorges, whether Samaria, Imbros or a completely different gorge in the west of Crete!