Lay of the Land
Crete is over 150 miles from end to end, with a varied topography including mountains and high plateaus. The 8,057-foot Mount Ida stands at the island's center. Most residents and visitors stick to the north coast, at the center of which is Iraklio, Crete's largest city and main entry point. From here, a broad coastal highway takes you west to Rethymnon and Chania, or east to the luxury hotels on the Elounda Peninsula, just above Agios Nikolaos, and farther down the coast to Sitia, beyond which lie the palm trees of Vai Beach.
WHEN TO GO
Because Crete is farther south than the rest of Greece, and surrounded by a broader stretch of sea, the summer season lingers longer here than anywhere else in the country. This is a boon to visitors, because it allows them to avoid the hot, crowded months of July and August, and to stretch those idyllic Aegean days of September right through to the end of Octoberand turn May into the new June.
HOW TO GET THERE
If you are based in Europe, take advantage of the numerous direct charter flights to avoid the hassle of changing planes in Athens. Most Americans, though, will pass through that sometimes chaotic hub, with the option of flying on to Iraklio or the smaller Chania airport, in the west. (In the near future, the airport at Sitia will be upgraded and will become a useful entry point, too.) Both Olympic Airlines (www.olympicairlines.com) and Aegean Airlines (www.aegeanair.com) fly from Athens to Iraklio and Chania, taking 50 minutes and costing about $150 one way.
Arriving on Crete from Athens aboard a ferry boat is the classic, and most romantic, way to get there. Typically, the overnight journey departs from Piraeus (Athens' seaport neighbor) around eight in the evening and arrives at Iraklio around dawn. If you are willing to go deck class, it will cost around $40, with various sleeper arrangements available, too. For schedules, go to www.greekferries.gr. You can purchase tickets directly through a number of ferry companies; among the best for Crete connections are Minoan Lines (www.minoan.gr) and Anek Lines (www.anek.gr). The caveat is that schedules are often not posted until shortly before they take effect, and you are still usually required to pick up the tickets at a travel agency or ferry office in Greece after purchasing online. It is also possible to arrive on Crete by ferry via circuitous island-hopping routes from just about anywhere in the Aegean.
Buses connect most areas of interest to visitors. The 83 miles between Iraklio and Chania, for instance, takes three hours and costs about $17 (www.crete-buses.gr). If you are going to see much of the island, though, it is more convenient to rent a car. Most of the major companies are represented at the airports, with unlimited mileage rates beginning at $30$35 per day. Keep in mind that without an international driving permit, which has to be obtained before you leave the U.S., your insurance is invalid. Contact AAA at www.aaa.com for details on how to get a permit.
Greek National Tourism Organization (U.S.)
Tel: 212 421 5777
Tel: 30 2810 228203
Tel: 30 28310 29148
Tel: 30 28210 26426
Tel: 30 28410 22357
Tel: 30 28430 24955
You'll quickly discover that many Greek place names have a profusion of alternate spellings, evidence of outside influences on the language that date back to the ancient Romans. In English there is no "correct" way to spell these names, and you'll see variations even from one source. On the official Web site for the Greek National Tourism Organization, for instance, Crete's largest city, which could most literally be translated from Greek as Herakleion, is variously spelled Heraklion, Heraklio, and Iraklio. There will be no such confusion here, however, as we've consistently used the briefest form.View Greece Factsheet