Crete is the largest island in Greece and is a beachgoer’s delight thanks to its long sunny days and large coastline with lots of options when it comes to beaches. You’ll find everything from quiet secluded spots to those outfitted with chairs, umbrellas and other amenities, family-friendly beaches and more. Since we were staying at a villa in the center of Crete, the island was ours to explore. One day we decided to venture down south in search of some less crowded beaches away from the large towns in the north, perfect for lounging and soaking up the Cretan sun. We couldn’t have been more right. Here are 3 spots that I would return to in a heartbeat.
1. Matala Beach
Description: This sand and pebble beach is distinguished by tall rocky cliffs with caves that were once likely used as Roman tombs and later inhabited by hippies in the 60s and 70s. The caves envelop Matala Beach to create a natural harbor around the clear blue-green water and can be visited for 3 euros (or you can swim around to reach them). The beach is well-organized with rows of chairs and big straw umbrellas, perfect for lounging after taking a dip in the warm water. Nearby in the small town of Matala you’ll find a handful of souvenir shops, cafes, tavernas and hotels. Matala Beach is also Blue Flag-certified, meaning that it meets certain criteria in areas like cleanliness and safety.
Location: 34.99404, 24.74972
How to get there: Drive (1.25 hours from Heraklion by car) or public bus (from Heraklion station B via Mires and Phaistos)
Costs: Parking 2 euros, chair rental 2 euros each
Amenities: Chairs and umbrellas for rent, restrooms, showers, snack bar, mini-market adjacent to parking lot to purchase water, food, towels and other beach gear
Helpful hints: Plan to arrive early in the day to beat the crowds. Also, while there are no official nude beaches in Crete you may see “discrete nudists” at Matala Beach.
2. Red Beach
Description: A short hike from Matala, a day at the Red Beach is definitely worth the extra effort. Look for a small sign in the town pointing toward the beach, which will lead you up a rocky path to a gate at the top of the hill (be sure to close it behind you so the goats don’t get out – yes, you read that correctly). As you descend down upon the beach, pause to take in the colorful view: off-white cliffs diving into the blue-green water and reddish-brown sand from which it gets its name. The Red Beach is not organized, sans maybe a few umbrellas and chairs if you get there early, and the only real amenity is Yanni’s Bar, a makeshift stone shack where (presumably) Yanni serves mojitos, frappés and other cold drinks alongside his rugged sidekick goat. Greek paradise found.
Location: 34.98589, 24.74949
How to get there: Hike (20 minutes from Matala Beach, see above) or boat (from the Matala harbor, ask at one of the restaurants)
Amenities: Chairs and umbrellas (limited), restrooms (TBD), snack bar
Helpful hints: Make sure you have good sturdy shoes (no flip flops) since the path to the Red Beach is relatively steep with loose rocks. The beach is more secluded, which translates into a more laid back vibe and potentially more nudism.
3. Agiofarago Beach
Description: The most remote of the beaches described here, Agiofarago Beach requires a bit of a hike in exchange for its breathtaking scenery. GPS will be your friend as you drive through the village of Sivas and past the Odigitria Monastery. There will be signs for Agiofarago as the paved road turns to a rough and narrow dirt road before finally reaching a parking lot (you can also park on the side of the road along the way if the lot is full). From here it’s about a half hour hike through gorge, framed by dramatic cliffs on both sides (keep an eye out for the small red and white church of Agios Antonios on your left). Then like curtains parting the cliffs open to reveal the smooth pebble sand and deep blue water of the southernmost part of Crete. With only a handful of other beachgoers, it’s the perfect spot to enjoy the last golden rays of the day.
Location: 34.9255, 24.77838
How to get there: Drive and hike (1.5 hours from Heraklion by car plus 30 minutes on foot through the gorge) or boat (from Matala harbor)
Helpful hints: Accessing Agiofarago Beach also requires good sturdy shoes, and you should make sure that you leave enough time to hike back to the parking lot before dark. And for what it’s worth, I also read that you shouldn’t park under any trees since the goats may climb on your car to reach the leaves.
ON THE MAP