Whether you’re looking to track down a spot to enjoy away from the crowds – or just want to skip your way through the best beaches in Crete, a stellar sand recommendation always goes down well. And Crete’s beaches have far more to offer than you might expect. Diverse coastal havens on this island come with shady palms, pink-hued sands, remote and tricky to access gorgeousness and bays so picturesque the Crete tourism board just can’t stop plugging them at every chance they get. We’ve got the lowdown on the beaches to swim on, strip off in and sashay on.
To explore Europe’s largest natural palm forest
Not what you were expecting from Crete’s beaches? This island has plenty more up its sandy sleeves. For now though, let’s talk palms. Vai beach is backed by the largest natural palm forest in Europe – which is as impressive as it sounds. Looking like it’s been lifted straight from a Caribbean idyll, Vai’s Phoenix Theophrasti trees provide an endemic tree canopy that doubles as handy shade for beachgoers and a home for the Cretan marten. Not here to spot wildlife? Pop yourself on a sunlounger and enjoy the views. Windsurfing and jetsking provide something to watch on the shimmering horizon.
Orbzii tip: As the area’s protected to keep the forest flourishing, facilities are limited. That said, don’t miss the chance to nibble on Cretan cuisine cooked in the only on–site restaurant. The food’s whipped up by the local monastery, which is much more bountiful than it might sound.
For a snap to get your Insta-likes soaring
There’s no need to slap on crazy filters when you grab a scenic shot of the shoreline at Elafonisi. The coral-pink sands do all the heavy lifting for you. Guaranteed to pull in instalikes and comments on your socials, the beach here is a photographer’s dream. Granted it gets a little busy because of the wow factor, but more secluded spots can be found the further you stray from the car park. The real Elfonisi is the island across the shallow lagoon, tread carefully if you wade through the waters. The island is packed with rare plants and gets the occasional swim-by from a loggerhead turtle.
To surf Crete’s waves
Consistent and reliable waves in Crete are pretty thin on the ground – especially in summer. Thankfully, the team at Surf Island keep an eye on the surf forecast, so you don’t have to. To grab a lesson, join them at one of their surf stations in Falasama, Kalamaki or Elafonisi. Of those three, Falasarna beach to the west is likely to be your favourite. The sandy sea bed makes it ideal for beginners to try – and fail, as many times as necessary to get on a board. And, when the surf’s up, this is a surfer’s paradise. The wide beach means there’s few crowding issues and even the smallest swell provides a practice ground for newbies. And, if the waves just aren’t showing up, Surf Island can pop you on a SUP instead.
Orbzii tip: Surf Island can get you windsurfing here too – but if you’re really into aerial work above the waves, skip along to Ammoudara. The winds are pretty intense so bring your a-game.
To snorkel with Crete’s sea life
Those who’ve never been within poking distance of a snorkel and flippers will all too often point you towards any of Crete’s beaches with a sandy bottom and clear waters. A rookie mistake. Yes, you can snorkel there just fine, but you’ll likely see little more than your shadow on the sea floor. For abundant sea life, you need rocks and habitat. Just the kind of ruggedly handsome sea floor you’ll find at Skinaria. Sitting happily on the coastline, west of Preveli, Skinaria has cracking visibility – when conditions are right. Expect to peer down up to 40m in places – putting it right among Crete’s top scuba diving spots too. Facilities are a tad thin on the ground – but the nearby taverna can tide you over until you reach more cosmopolitan eats.
For something a little bit different
If the location wasn’t so stunning, Sweetwater Beach would be nothing more than a footnote in a things to do in Crete guide. But do consider the hike here. There’s more to do than peer at some underground spring water meeting the sea. The eye-pleasing turquoise hues that greet you when you arrive are worth the walk alone. But before you rush headlong into those twinkling waters, keep this in mind. Every day cool, sweet, freshwater flows into the ocean – makes the shallows a tad nippy. Of course, you can still swim, but brace yourself for something a notch or two above refreshing. And you other options? Down a tipple in the tavern, laze on the sunloungers and thank the travel gods you found out about one of the best beaches in Crete.
To see what all the fuss is about…
There’s an unwritten rule that says, you simply can’t talk about the best beaches in Crete without mentioning Balos. And, we can see why. Slapped across every Crete travel brochure, web page and postcard, it’s the island’s temptress. This remote spot woos you at first sight with promises of pristine sands, castaway vibes and sea colours Farrow & Ball would put on their shade chart in a heartbeat. So does it live up to the hype? Yes… and, no. Remote it may be, but that doesn’t stop intrepid beach-seekers tracking it down. If you go expecting to share your ideal beach with others, you’ll do just fine. Do pack a sandwich and everything you might need for your perfect day. There’s nought but sand and sea life at this one.
One to skip?
Rarely do we shy away from adventure, but some beaches just might not be worth the hassle. And, we’d rather steer you away from an over-hyped and crowded spot than see you struggle to find a place for your beach towel. On Crete, we’d say skip the lightening bolt shaped Seitan Limania beach. Yes, the topography is pretty stunning. But there’s barely space to perch on the thin strip of sand beneath the steep craggy rocks. Maybe swing by for a peer down at the crowded beach below – and perhaps an insta-snap or selfie. But schlepping down the steep path to the sands below? No thanks.
Wild and remote
There’s a decidedly devil may care attitude to clothing on some of the island’s beaches. And, Agiofaraggo beach is no exception. It doesn’t feature in the official list of nudist beaches in Crete, but the clothes come off, all the same. The appeal for naturists presumably lies in the beach’s remote and hard to access shoreline. Your only way in is by boat or by hike – and in Crete’s searing summer, a little leg work isn’t always appealing. But if you’re ok with seeing folk in the buff – and you like your shores wild and free from commercialisation, try the walk along the Agiofaraggo canyon – or zip in by boat.
Every destination has its Goldilocks beach, where location, facilities and space on the sands please all. On Crete, that’s Plakias Beach. The wide and sweeping bay has a flat beach that gives plenty of space for everyone to enjoy their little slice of Crete shoreline. At the eastern end of the sands, there’s a clothing optional vibe, whereas the central part of the beach attracts those looking to be close to the clutch of shops and restaurants catering to their every beach whim. Sun loungers pepper the shoreline nicely – but still allow plenty of room for an impromptu kick around or beach volleyball sesh. Best of all, the cliffs that flank the beach don’t darken the sand with shade – but do keep some of the winds at bay.
Orbzii tip: Plakias’ sand and pebble mix isn’t for everyone. Luckily, if you head towards the eastern end of the beach you’ll find the sand and pebble ratio forever in your favour.