Most travellers arrive in Crete by air, often with a change in Athens. Travellers from North America need to connect via a European gateway city such as Paris, Amsterdam or Frankfurt and sometimes again in Athens. To reach Crete by air from other Greek islands also requires a change in Athens, except for some flights operated by Crete-based airline Sky Express.
Airports & Airlines
Iraklio’s Nikos Kazantzakis Heraklion International Airport is Crete’s busiest airport, although Hania is convenient for travellers heading to western Crete. The small airport in Sitia only receives a handful of domestic and summertime charter flights from northern Europe.
Between May and October, European low-cost carriers easyJet and Ryanair operate direct flights to Crete, mostly from the UK, Germany, Poland, Sweden and Italy. Ryanair also runs domestic flights to Iraklio from Athens and from Hania to Thessaloniki.
Aegean Airlines Greece's largest carrier has year-round flights between Athens and Iraklio, Hania and Sitia. From Iraklio it also flies to several other European destinations, including Paris, Berlin and Moscow (some seasonally). In 2013, Aegean merged with Olympic Air (www.olympicair.com), but flights operate under both brands.
Sky Express This Iraklio-based airline serves 32 destinations, mostly within Greece, including Athens, Corfu, Mytilini (Lesvos), Rhodes, Kos, Samos, Chios, Karpathos and Volos. From Sitia it flies to 10 destinations, including Alexandroupolis, Rhodes and Preveza.
Astra Airlines This tiny Thessaloniki-based airline has flights from Thessaloniki to Iraklio and Sitia and seasonal services to Munich, Tel Aviv and Stockholm.
Departure tax is included in the price of a ticket.
Hard-core overlanders with plenty of time can cobble together a long-distance bus trip to Athens, which usually requires at least one change in an eastern European city, such as Bratislava, Budapest or Belgrade. From there, a ferry will take you to Crete. The journey takes at least two days and is usually more expensive than flying. A helpful website is www.rome2rio.com.
Car & Motorcycle
From most European countries, travelling to Crete by car takes several days and thus only makes sense for extended stays. The fastest way is to hop on a ferry from Italy. A high-speed ferry trip from Venice to Patra needs about 31 hours, or 16 hours from Bari. From Patra it's a further 200km drive south to Piraeus (near Athens), where you can catch another ferry to Iraklio, Sitia or Hania.
It's possible to drive to Athens via Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria and North Macedonia, but the savings are not huge and are far outweighed by the distance involved.
A sample itinerary from London would see you catching the Eurostar to Paris, the TGV to Milan and, from there, a coastal train to Bari, where you can pick up an overnight ferry to Patra. From there, catch the train to Athens and hop on a ferry to Crete in Piraeus. Overland enthusiasts can also reach Athens on a fascinating rail route through the Balkan peninsula, passing through Croatia, Serbia and North Macedonia.
The excellent website www.seat61.com has comprehensive details.
Crete is well served by ferry, with at least one daily departure from Piraeus (near Athens) to Iraklio and Hania year-round and several per day in summer. There are also ports in Sita in the east and Kissamos in the west, which have slow-ferry routes. Timetables change from season to season and are not announced until just prior to the season due to competition for route licences. Services are considerably curtailed from November to April. Ferries are subject to delays and cancellations at short notice due to bad weather, strikes or mechanical problems.
Ferry Routes to & from Crete
Ferries fan out across the Mediterranean from four ports in Crete, all on the north coast. The busiest is in Iraklio, from where Anek Lines has daily boats to Piraeus and travels to Santorini, the Cycladic islands of Milos and Anafi as well as Kasos, Karpathos, Halki and Rhodes in the Dodecanese. Golden Star (www.goldenstarferries.gr) serves Santorini and Mykonos, while Sea Jets (www.seajets.gr) steers towards Mykonos, Paros, Naxos, Ios and Santorini. Minoan Lines (www.minoan.gr) runs a daily ferry from Iraklio to Piraeus, which is also served daily by Anek from Hania and weekly from Sitia. From the latter, Anek subsidiary Aegeon Pelagos travels to various islands in the Cyclades and the Dodecanese. From Kissamos in the far west, there's direct service to Kythira and Gythio provided by Triton Ferries.
All ferry companies adjust routes and services according to seasonal demand. For current routes, timetables and fares – and to book tickets – consult the companies' websites or go to www.gtp.gr, www.openseas.gr, www.ferries.gr or www.greekferries.gr.
Anek Lines (www.anek.gr) Main ferry to/from Piraeus; ferries out of Sitia are operated by affiliated Aegeon Pelagos Sea Lines.
Golden Star (http://goldenstarferries.gr) Ferries to/from Cyclades.
Minoan Lines (www.minoan.gr) High-speed luxury ferries to/from Piraeus.
Sea Jets (www.seajets.gr) High-speed catamarans to/from Cyclades.
Triton Ferries (www.tritonferries.gr) Ferries linking Kissamos with Gythio and Kythira.
- During high season, or if you’re bringing a car, book well in advance, especially for overnight and high-speed catamaran services.
- Tickets are best purchased online, either directly from the ferry company or through a booking engine such as www.greekferries.gr or www.ferries.gr.
- If a service is cancelled, you can transfer your ticket to the next available service with that company.
- Prices are determined by the distance and the class, which ranges from deck class to double-berth outside cabins.
- Children, students and seniors usually qualify for discounts ranging from 10% to 50%. Children under the age of five often travel free.
Although yachting is a popular way to explore the Greek islands, Crete is a long way from other islands and does not have a huge yachting industry. The sailing season lasts from April until October; however, between July and September the meltemi (dry northerly) winds can ground you regularly.