We recently spent two weeks island hopping through Greece, and it was as magical and amazing as you would expect. Blue water, delicious cuisine, and gorgeous landscapes full of white buildings set the stage for a fun and family-friendly adventure.

Our trip covered three different islands, and the final island of the trip was the one that shocked us the most.

Crete

The island is huge and filled with rugged mountains, wide stretches of olive and citrus groves, quaint small towns, gorges and canyons, and epic beaches that blew our minds with their beauty. We had no idea that scenery like this could be found in Europe.

Balos Beach: A Slice of Paradise

Balos Beach, Crete
Balos Beach, Crete

We chose to stay on the western side of the island, mainly because we found a great hotel deal at a beautiful resort (more on that below). We had about 5 days on the island. Honestly, this is not enough time to explore everything, and we wish we had at least 10 days or more. But we had 5 days, so our focus was on the western side of Crete.

Balos Beach, Crete
Balos Beach, Crete

After exploring our hotel, our first stop was Balos Beach, a place that looked like it was straight out of a postcard. It’s located on the northwestern end of the island. The journey to Balos was an adventure in itself, involving a scenic drive along the coast on a dirt-road, and a hike down to the beach from the parking area (you’ll need to pay a few Euros to get into the park area). But the effort was more than worth it. The shallow turquoise waters and the powdery white sand were absolutely mesmerizing. We spent hours wading in the warm, shallow waters, enjoying the sun, and taking in the stunning views of the surrounding mountains. The sand bars form a large, natural swimming pool while the surrounding waters are shallow enough for swimming and snorkeling. It was one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever seen.

Elafonissi Beach: Watersports and Stunning Scenery

Elafonissi Beach, Crete
Elafonissi Beach, Crete

Next, we made our way to Elafonissi Beach, another gem on Crete’s western coast. Known for its pink sand and clear waters, Elafonissi offered a perfect mix of relaxation and adventure. We watched some very skilled people take part in kite surfing, which looked both exhilarating and challenging. The beach was also great for other watersports like paddleboarding and snorkeling. The scenery was simply breathtaking, with the contrasting colors of the sand and sea creating a picture-perfect backdrop. Most of the water was shallow enough to just wade across to the nearby island or look for critters in the sand.

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Kourtaliotiko Gorge: A Hiker’s Dream

One of the most surprising and memorable experiences was our hike down into Kourtaliotiko Gorge. The hike down into the gorge was beautiful, with narrow pathways and towering cliffs on either side. At the bottom of the path after passing a small church, we came to an area where you can swim into a narrow canyon which has the feel of a cave. Inside are a series of waterfalls that create an absolutely gorgeous environment. The water was waist deep and crystal clear (but very cold), and the light streamed in from above and sparkled in the mist from the falls. Even though there was a decent crowd here, it felt like a hidden paradise, untouched and wild. If you want to do this hike, there’s a small parking area on the main road through the gorge here.

Kourtaliotiko Gorge, Crete
The entry pool into the waterfall cave of Kourtaliotiko Gorge

Kalypso Beach: Snorkeling in a Hidden Cove

Next, we ventured to the southern shore for lunch and a dip in the sea at Kalypso Beach. Nestled between cliffs, this narrow cove offered excellent snorkeling and cliff diving opportunities. The underwater life was surprisingly vibrant here, with colorful fish and interesting rock formations. The clear waters made for perfect visibility, and we spent a few hours exploring the underwater world.

Kalypso Beach, Crete
Kalypso Beach is more of a cove than a beach, but it’s still gorgeous!

The dramatic cliffs surrounding the cove added to the sense of adventure and seclusion. Next to the swimming area is a stairwell leading up to the top of the cliff. You’ll find great views here along with a hiking trail that leads east to the next beach and town area, about 20 minutes on foot.

Chania: A Journey through History

Our exploration of Crete wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to Chania. This historic town was a delight to explore, with its charming old town, Venetian harbor, and narrow streets lined with shops and cafes. We wandered through the bustling markets, visited historic sites, and enjoyed delicious meals at local tavernas. Chania’s mix of history, culture, and vibrant atmosphere made it one of my favorite stops.

Heraklion: Culinary Delights and Ancient Wonders

We spent some time in Heraklion on our last day before flying home. The town’s rich history is on display here, and we indulged in some of the best food we had on our trip. The old town was full of life, with bustling streets and historic buildings. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit the famous Knossos Palace, but plenty of tour options were available. I think the next time we come, we’ll spend more time in the central and eastern side of the island.

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Exploring Crete by Car

To truly experience Crete’s diverse landscapes and hidden gems, we decided to rent a car. After all, Crete is huge and the public transportation system is not enough to get you everywhere. A car gave us the freedom to explore at our own pace and visit some of the more remote locations that are harder to reach by public transport. And the prices were quite affordable, too! Driving through Crete’s scenic routes was an adventure in itself, with stunning views around every corner.

Our Resort: A Perfect Retreat

After our daily adventures, returning to our all-inclusive resort was pure bliss. We stayed at the Euphoria Resort (see prices here) in Kolymbari, about 30 minutes west of Chania. The resort was located right on the beach and featured a massive swimming pool where we could relax and unwind. It also had a kids pool area with large water slides and a water fortress. The all-you-can-eat buffet, the kids club, the endless ice cream, and our very comfortable room all ensured that we had a terrific time. The beachfront location allowed us to dip into the waves on the days that we weren’t exploring the rest of the island. The resort also offered a variety of organized activities and free drinks, making it the perfect base for our Cretan adventure.

Euphoria Resort, Crete
The epic pool at Euphoria Resort

Crete, A Destination Full of Surprises

Crete exceeded all my expectations and offered a perfect blend of adventure, relaxation, history, and culture. From the stunning beaches and gorges to the historic towns and delicious cuisine, every part of our trip here had something special to offer. Renting a car gave us the freedom to explore the island thoroughly, and our resort provided a luxurious retreat after our daily explorations. Crete is a destination that truly has it all, and I can’t wait to return to discover even more of its hidden treasures. You really need a week or more to see it all.

Naxos and Santorini

Naxos, Greece
Naxos, Greece

It wouldn’t be fair to the other islands to not mention them. They were also amazing destinations where we ate fantastic food, enjoyed the water, and saw beautiful sights. And it was also very easy to get around the island by ferry boat.

We spent a few nights in Naxos. We stayed on the Agios Prokopios beach about 20 minutes south of Naxos town at the Liana Beach Hotel (see prices here). The beach was gorgeous with clear, blue water. Naxos town itself is stunningly beautiful, too. White buildings spill down the hill and are full of shops and restaurants. Along our beach we found a variety of local restaurants with very affordable and delicious Greek food. We went on a hike up the hill at the north end of the beach which offered amazing views, and this was one of the best days of the trip. Overall, Naxos is highly recommended! (More hotel ideas here.)

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Palmariva Villas Hotel, Santorini
Palmariva Villas, Santorini

Santorini was the next stop, and it was also beautiful. Unfortunately, it’s quite touristy, but the crowds are justified because the scenery is so unique. There’s no other island quite like Santorini with its towns perched above the cliffs. Other than exploring the towns and views, we also took a day trip on a catamaran sailboat around the island. Swimming and snorkeling and lunch were on the agenda, and it was a fantastic day. To save money, we stayed in Fira, but in a less expensive hotel located a few blocks back from the cliff, as the hotels on the cliff side can be extremely expensive.

Our little hotel, Palmariva Villas (see prices here), had quaint scenery that was charming and made us feel like it was our home away from home. Each room had its own little hot tub, and it also had a full kitchen. The breakfast was hand delivered to our room and was full of delicious options. The staff was amazing, too!

All of these places were fantastic and epic for our trip through Greece, but Crete will always be the place that stays in my memories.

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