Crete is easy. There’s little you need to do to prepare for your trip to this glorious Greek island beyond making a few advance bookings. Packing is simple – and if you forget something, you can buy it there.
The island is safe. The local economy counts on tourists, and the Cretans – like most Greeks – are friendly and welcoming. In any business where tourists turn up (which even includes tiny family-run eateries high in the hills), someone will speak English. A little common sense and politeness will go a long way as you navigate the etiquette of the place.
Here’s all you need to know before you take your trip to Crete. (Lucky you.)
Reserve your rooms and rental cars (well) in advance
As travelers continue to make up for missed trips during the pandemic, Crete is a favorite destination. From April to October, the best places to stay at all price levels book up early. Don’t wait, expecting prices to fall. They won’t.
This is even more true for rental cars, thanks to the global car shortage. If you’re driving the entire time you’re on the island, shop around and reserve the best deal you can find. One exception: if you’ll just be hiring a car for the occasional day trip, you can wait until you’re on the island and then arrange for a day rental with a local outfit. (Keep in mind that this may be a friend of the hotel owner with a fleet of three Fiats.)
Know your season – and layer up
Images of sun-drenched beaches and balmy nights in cafes underpin Cretan tourism cliches. But outside of summer, it’s not always warm. Winter can be blustery, chilly and wet. Nights outside of July and August can be brisk. Bring layers.
Bring some cash
Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted for purchases large and small, and ATMs are common on Crete. But you might encounter offline machines or cash-only vendors, so we recommend carrying about €200 in cash in various smaller-euro denominations. Don’t be that person who hands the elderly ex-fisherman running the beach ferry a €50 note for a €5 fare.
Fill your phone with maps before you take the wheel
Many mapping apps allow you to download data in advance that you can then use for navigation when your phone is offline. This can be a lifeline when you’re at the junction of two unmarked roads deep in the mountains and you don’t know which way to turn.
Cover up in churches
Letting it (almost) all hang out is fine on many beaches (there are a few completely nude ones on the island) but when you’re stopping into Crete’s many historic, incense-filled churches, show some respect. Cover your shoulders, have shorts or a skirt that goes below the knees, and don’t enter barefoot.
Stay coolly stylish at night
Balmy nights call for airy, floaty duds – yet don’t expect to get into that cool cafe, top restaurant or heaving club with a singlet and short shorts. Longer shorts and dresses are good almost anywhere at night; a crisp designer T-shirt or something with a collar will work for men.
Cretans rarely go naked or topless on the beach
Island residents fully expect the clothes to fall away from their beach-loving visitors. Yet you should still exercise some discretion. Near town centers and along beach promenades, polite exposure maintains a shred of modesty. Elsewhere, women often go topless and designated nude areas abound. When in doubt, check out the prevailing fashion around you (or lack thereof).
Expect long and languid dinners
Crete has some of the best food in Mediterranean Europe. Meals are an event – and can extend over two or more very enjoyable hours. Friends share dishes large and small, which are served to the entire table, family style. On a busy summer evening, restaurants can get slammed and courses may meander out of the kitchen only after long gaps. Trying to hurry things along is bad form and the antithesis of a lovely, relaxed night out.
In contrast, lunch can be enjoyed fairly quickly at a cafe or savored for much longer, especially at a seaside taverna, where a shady table and fresh seafood meal is the ideal antidote to the scorchingly hot midday sun.
Be sure to tip – but don’t overtip
As an island with a huge tourism industry, Crete has more of a tipping culture than more un-touristed parts of Greece. In restaurants and cafes, 5% is a good median amount, with 10% very generous. Locals will round up to an even number in a restaurant (eg leave €35 for a tab of €33) or leave small change in a cafe.
Leaving some euros for your room cleaner is always appreciated. If someone helps you with your bags, €1 to €3 per bag is appropriate – unless it’s a taxi driver, in which case the bag handling fee is added to the fare. You only need to tip a taxi driver a couple of euros at most.
Pay the asked price
Outside of open-air markets, bargaining over prices is not the norm in Crete. Expect to pay the marked price in shops and galleries.
Feel free to drink the water
Tap water in Crete is safe to drink. Remember to refill your water bottles whenever you can, as it gets very hot in summer. You’ll need plenty of hydration for the beach, hiking trails, bus and car rides, and more.
Don’t stress about crime
Crete is a safe place to travel and you shouldn’t lose sleep over the risk of crime. As anywhere, though, common sense should always prevail: lock your doors, don’t leave valuables in the rental car and never leave your phone or other treasures unattended on the beach or at the cafe.
Frustrate the mosquitos
Mosquitos buzz about ceaselessly at dusk. If you like anti-bug sprays or balms, bring them with you – repellants can be surprisingly tough to find on Crete. Mosquito coils are widely available, as well as electric gizmos that plug into the wall of hotel rooms. But the efficacy of these methods is variable at best.