Bargaining is acceptable in flea markets and markets, but elsewhere you are expected to pay the stated price.
Dangers & Annoyances
Crete is generally a safe, friendly and hospitable place and crime rates are much lower here than in other parts of southern Europe. Thefts, especially, are more likely to be committed by other tourists than locals. Still, as with anywhere, it pays to follow a few simple precautions to lower your risk of getting ripped off.
- Keep track of your possessions on public transport, in markets and other crowded areas. Do not leave luggage unattended in cars.
- Lock your rental car and hotel rooms. If the latter doesn’t lock properly, including windows, ask for your valuables to be locked in the hotel safe.
- Avoid dark streets and parks at night, particularly in the major cities.
If you need to report a theft or loss of passport, try to go to the tourist police in your area first, and then they will act as interpreters between you and the regular police.
Discounts and free admission are widely available for seniors, children and students, often without using a discount card, just ID.
Camping Card International (www.campingcardinternational.com) Up to 25% savings on camping fees and third-party liability insurance while in the campground.
European Youth Card (www.europeanyouthcard.org) Available for anyone up to the age of 30 (you don’t have to be a resident of Europe); provides discounts of up to 20% at sights, shops and for some transport.
International Student Identity Card (www.isic.org) Entitles the holder to half-price admission to museums and ancient sites, and discounts at some budget hotels and hostels. Available online or from travel agencies in Athens (none in Crete) or in your home country. Applicants require documents proving their student status, a passport photo and the fee.
Embassies & Consulates
The UK is the only country with a consulate in Crete (in Iraklio). Other countries are represented by their embassies in Athens.
210 870 4000
210 727 3400
210 339 1000
210 728 5111
210 723 2771
210 725 4900
210 726 3000
28102 24012 (Iraklio)
210 721 2951
Emergency & Important Numbers
To call any regular number in Greece, dial the full 10-digit number.
|Greece country code||30|
|International access code||00|
|Police/tourist police||100 / 171|
|Roadside assistance (ELPA)||104|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Entering Crete is usually a very straightforward procedure. If arriving from any of the Schengen countries (ie EU member states plus Iceland, Norway and Switzerland), passports are rarely given more than a cursory glance, but customs and police may be interested in what you are carrying. EU citizens may also enter Greece on a national identity card. Visitors from outside the EU may require a visa. This must be checked with consular authorities before you arrive.
There are no longer duty restrictions within the EU. Upon entering the country from outside the EU, customs inspection is usually cursory for foreign tourists and a verbal declaration is generally all that is required. Random searches are still occasionally made for drugs. Import regulations for medicines are strict; if you are taking medication, make sure you get a statement from your doctor before you leave home. It is illegal, for instance, to take codeine into Greece without an accompanying doctor’s certificate.
It’s strictly forbidden to export antiquities (anything more than 100 years old) without an export permit. This crime is second only to drug smuggling in the penalties imposed. It is an offence to remove even the smallest article from an archaeological site. The place to apply for an export permit is the Antique Dealers and Private Collections section of the Athens Archaeological Service website.
If you happen to be carrying more than €10,000 in cash, you must declare it.
Duty-free allowances (for adults) are:
- 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco
- 1L spirits
- 2L wine
- other goods up to the value of €430 (€150 for under 15 years)
Citizens of most Western countries can enter Crete without a visa; other nationals may need a Schengen Visa.
Generally not required for stays up to 90 days (or at all for EU nationals). Some nationalities need a Schengen Visa – check with the Greek embassy.
Greece is a Schengen Agreement nation and governed by those rules.
- EU & Schengen countries No visa required.
- Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand & USA No visa required for tourist visits of up to 90 days. For longer stays, contact your nearest Greek embassy or consulate and begin your application well in advance. Applications for a Schengen Visa must be filed with the embassy or consulate of the country that is your primary destination.
- Other countries Check with a Greek embassy or consulate.
- Eating & dining Meals are commonly laid in the middle of the table and shared. Always accept an offer of a drink as it’s a show of goodwill (unless it’s an unwanted advance). Don’t insist on paying if invited out; it insults your hosts. In restaurants, the pace of service might feel slow; dining is a drawn-out experience in Crete and it’s impolite to rush waitstaff.
- Photography If a sign says no photography, honour it. This goes for camera-phones and tablets, too. In churches, avoid using a flash or photographing the main altar, monks or nuns, which is considered taboo. At archaeological sites, you may be stopped from using a tripod which marks you as a professional and thereby requires special permissions.
- Places of worship If you plan to visit churches, carry a shawl or long sleeves and a long skirt or trousers to cover up in a show of respect.
- Body language If you feel you’re not getting a straight answer, you might need literacy in Cretan body language. ‘Yes’ is a swing of the head and ‘no’ is a curt raising of the head or eyebrows, often accompanied by a ‘ts’ click-of-the-tongue sound.
The church still plays a prominent role in shaping Cretans’ views, so homosexuality is generally frowned upon by many locals – especially outside major cities. It pays to be discreet.
- Although homosexuality is legal over the age of 17, Crete does not really have much of a gay, let alone lesbian, scene. There is no overtly gay nightlife and public displays of affection are frowned upon outside the cities.
- Hersonisos has the gay-owned and -oriented guesthouse Villa Ralfa (www.villaralfa.com). Many venues in Iraklio are quietly gay-friendly, as are relaxed resorts such as Paleohora and most nude beaches.
- The Spartacus International Gay Guide (www.spartacusworld.com/en), published by Bruno Gmünder (Berlin), is widely regarded as the leading authority on gay travel.
- The website www.gaygreece.gr has some information on cruising areas as well as gay-friendly bars and clubs.
- Popular international smartphone apps are also in use.
- Comprehensive travel insurance to cover theft, loss and medical problems is highly recommended.
- Some policies specifically exclude dangerous activities such as diving, motorcycling and even trekking; read the fine print.
- Check that the policy covers ambulances or an emergency flight home.
- Find out if your insurance plan makes payments directly to providers or reimburses you later.
- Paying for airline tickets or car hire with a credit card sometimes provides limited travel insurance – ask your credit-card company what it covers.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
- Most cafes and bars in towns and cities have free wi-fi. Many hotels also offer wi-fi access, though hot spots are often in the lobby rather than in your room.
- Many hotels have an internet corner for guests, often at no charge.
- There’s free municipal wi-fi in parts of Hania, Paleohora, Rethymno, Iraklio and Agios Nikolaos.
- Carry your passport with you at all times in case you’re stopped by the police and questioned. Greek citizens are presumed to have identification on them and the police expect much the same from foreign visitors.
- Greek drug laws are the strictest in Europe. Greek courts make no distinction between possession and pushing. Possession of even a small amount of marijuana is likely to land you in jail.
- If you’re arrested insist on an interpreter (διερμηνέας; the-lo dhi-ermi-nea) and/or a lawyer (δικηγόρος; the-lo dhi-ki-go-ro).
If you’re planning on doing extensive driving or hiking around Crete, a good map is essential. They are widely available in bookshops and tourist shops and cost around €8. Car hire agencies and hotels often distribute free maps but these are not always accurate.
Anavasi (www.anavasi.gr) Publishes excellent road and hiking maps, including three separate road maps covering Hania, Rethymno and Iraklio, and Lasithi at a scale of 1:100,000 and the comprehensive Crete Atlas at a scale of 1:50,000. Walking maps cover the Lefka Ori (Sfakia and Pahnes), Samaria/Sougia, Mt Psiloritis and Zakros-Vaï at a scale of 1:25,000.
Terrain (www.terrainmaps.gr) Tops for hiking maps, with good labelled distances. Offers western Crete, central Crete and Easter Crete maps at 1:100,000. Some maps are available as a smartphone app.
Harms (www.harms-ic-verlag.de) German publisher has 1:100,000 Kreta Touristikkarte maps covering the east (Der Osten) and west (Der Westen) of Crete.
Michelin (www.michelin.com) Single-sheet map of the entire island at 1:140,000.
Petrakis Editions Iraklio-based trekker Giorgos Petrakis produces trekking and road maps for each of the four prefectures at a scale of 1:100,000.
- Newspapers Greek current affairs available in the daily English-language edition of Kathimerini (www.ekathimerini.com), published as part of the International New York Times.
- DVDs Be aware that Greece is region code 2 when you buy DVDs to watch back home.
Currency in Crete is the euro (€), with seven notes (five, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500) and eight coins (one- and two- euro coins and one-, two-, five-, 10-, 20- and 50-cent coins).
ATMs widely available in cities, towns and larger villages. Visa and MasterCard accepted in cities and tourist centres, not in villages.
- The easiest, quickest and usually cheapest way to obtain cash is by using your debit (bank) card at an ATM linked to international networks such as Cirrus, Plus, Star and Maestro.
- There are ATMs in almost every town large enough to support a bank, and in tourist areas. In rural areas, only larger towns have ATMs, so plan ahead, especially in the southwest. It pays to have a back-up.
- Cash is king in Crete, so always carry some with you and plan to pay cash almost everywhere. It’s also a good idea to set aside a small amount of euros as an emergency stash.
- Shopkeepers and small-business owners have a perennial problem with having any small change. If buying small items it is easier to tender coins or small-denomination notes.
- Big resorts and hotels accept credit cards, but family-owned properties rarely do. Ask. Likewise, upmarket shops and restaurants accept plastic but village tavernas and small shops almost never do.
- The main credit cards – MasterCard and Visa – are widely accepted. American Express and Diners Club are common in tourist areas only.
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
- Banks will exchange major currencies in cash or travellers cheques. Your passport is required to change travellers cheques, not always for cash.
- Post offices can exchange banknotes – not travellers cheques – and charge less commission than banks.
- Travel agencies and hotels often change money and travellers cheques at bank rates, but commission charges are higher.
- Automated foreign-exchange machines are sometimes available in major tourist areas. They take all the major European currencies, Australian and US dollars and Japanese yen, and are useful in an emergency, although they charge a hefty commission.
- Restaurants Usually service is included, but a small tip is customary if service was good. Round up the bill or leave 10%.
- Taxis Round up the fare by a couple of euros. There’s a small fee for handling bags; this is an official charge, not a tip.
- Bellhops Bellhops in hotels or stewards on ferries expect a small gratuity of €1 to €3.
The main reason to carry travellers cheques rather than cash is the protection they offer against theft. They are, however, becoming obsolete as more and more travellers opt to withdraw cash at ATMs as they go. American Express, Visa and Thomas Cook cheques are available in euros and are all widely accepted and have efficient replacement policies.
Cash is king in Crete. Most large towns have ATMs but they can be out of order for days at a time. It’s therefore wise (and necessary) to carry extra cash in a safe place like a money belt. You can usually use debit and credit cards (Visa and MasterCard) in cities and large resorts, but check. They are rarely accepted in small villages. American Express and Diners Club are accepted in larger tourist areas but unheard of elsewhere. (Note: card companies often put an automatic block on cards after the first withdrawal/charge abroad as an antifraud mechanism. To avoid this happening, inform your bank of your travel plans.)
- Museum and archaeological site opening hours depend on budgeting, ie if there’s enough cash to hire afternoon staff. It’s always good to check ahead, especially for afternoon visits. Most sites are closed on Monday.
- Periptera (kiosks) open from early morning until late at night and sell everything from bus tickets and cigarettes to condoms.
- Hours are generally reduced in winter
Opening hours vary throughout the year. The following are high-season opening hours; hours decrease significantly in the shoulder and low seasons, when many places shut completely.
Banks 8.30am–2.30pm Monday–Thursday, 8am–2pm Friday
Post Offices 7.30am–2pm Monday–Friday (rural); 7.30am–8pm Monday–Friday, 7.30am–2pm Saturday (urban)
Restaurants 11am–noon and 7pm–1am
Shops 9am–2pm Monday–Saturday and 5.30–8.30pm or 9pm Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; all day in summer in resorts
- Crete is a photographer’s dream. A good general resource is Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Photography.
- Never photograph a military installation or anything else signed forbidding photography.
- Flash photography is never allowed inside churches, and it’s taboo to photograph the main altar, icons, or during services.
- People generally don’t seem to mind being photographed in the context of an overall scene, but if you want a close-up shot, ask first. Same goes for video.
Tahydromia (post offices) are easily identifiable by the yellow signs outside. Normal postboxes are also yellow, with red boxes for express mail.
- To mail abroad, use yellow post boxes labelled exoteriko.
- Some tourist shops sell stamps, but with a 10% markup.
- Don’t wrap a parcel before sending it: post office staff may wish to inspect it.
Most banks, shops, post offices, public services, most museums and ancient sites close on public holidays. Greek national public holidays observed in Crete:
New Year’s Day 1 January
Epiphany 6 January
First Sunday in Lent February
Greek Independence Day 25 March
Good Friday March/April
(Orthodox) Easter Sunday 1 May 2016, 16 April 2017, 8 April 2018, 28 April 2019
May Day (Protomagia) 1 May
Whit Monday (Agiou Pnevmatos) 50 days after Easter Sunday
Feast of the Assumption 15 August
Ohi Day 28 October
Christmas Day 25 December
St Stephen’s Day 26 December
Several smoking bans have been instituted – and flaunted – over the years, but in September 2010 the government’s latest attempt went into effect. It’s the toughest yet, prohibiting tobacco advertising as well as smoking in all enclosed public spaces, including cafes, restaurants, nightclubs, offices, businesses and transport stations. At the time of writing, the law was again widely ignored, both by smokers and local police.
The Greek telephone service is maintained by the public corporation OTE (pronounced o-teh; Organismos Tilepikoinonion Ellados). Public telephones are ubiquitous but sometimes out of order, a result of the decline in demand with the proliferation of mobile phones. The phones are easy to operate, take phonecards, not coins, and can be used for local, long-distance and international calls. The ‘i’ at the top left of the push-button dialing panel brings up the operating instructions in English.
All phone numbers have 10 digits. Landline numbers start with ‘2’, mobile numbers start with ‘6’.
Local SIM cards can be used in European and Australian phones. Most other phones can be set to roaming. US/Canadian phones need to have a dual- or tri-band system.
- Mobile (cell) phones operate on GSM900/1800.
- Check with your service provider about roaming charges – charges for calls to a mobile phone from a landline or another mobile can be exorbitant.
- If you have an unlocked multiband phone, getting a prepaid SIM card with a local number might work out cheaper than using your own network. Cards are available from Greece’s three mobile phone service providers – Vodafone, Cosmote and Wind. These automatically revert to global roaming when you leave Greece. Top up cards are sold at supermarkets, kiosks and newsagents.
- Cosmote tends to have the best coverage in remote areas. All offer 3G connectivity.
- Use of a mobile phone while driving is prohibited, unless using a headset.
Calling Crete from abroad Dial your country’s international access code, then 30 (Greece’s country code) followed by the 10-digit local number.
Calling internationally from Crete Dial 00 (the international access code), the country code, and the local number.
Reverse-charge (collect) calls Dial the operator (domestic 129; international 139) to get the number in the country you wish to call.
- Public phones take OTE phonecards (telekarta), not coins. These cards are sold at kiosks, corner shops and tourist shops. A local call costs around €0.30 for three minutes.
- Don’t remove your card before you are told to do so or you could wipe out the remaining credit.
- You can also buy a range of prepaid international calling cards (hronokarta) with good rates. This involves dialling an access code, then punching in your card number. Cards come with instructions in Greek and English.
Clocks in Greece are set to Eastern Europe Time (GMT/UTC plus two hours). Daylight-saving time starts on the last Sunday in March and ends on the last Sunday in October.
- One peculiarity of the Greek plumbing system is that it can’t handle toilet paper as the pipes are too narrow and back up easily. Toilet paper, tampons etc should all be placed in the small bin provided.
- Very occasionally outside the big towns you might come across squat toilets in older houses, kafeneia (coffee houses) and public toilets.
- Public toilets are rare, except at airports and bus and train stations. Cafes are the best option, but you are expected to buy something for the privilege.
Municipal tourist offices are a mixed bag. Some are helpful, while others are staffed by not very knowledgeable or enthusiastic folks. Expect limited opening hours outside high season and only a smattering of free maps and brochures. Travel agencies often fill the void.
Travel with Children
Crete doesn’t cater to kids in the obvious ways other countries do; there’s often a scant supply of safety ropes in ancient ruins, and a lack of children’s menus and the spatial awareness not to smoke in their presence. But what Greeks embed in their children is a strong sense of social inclusion and spirit of adventure, while they will treat your own kids with kindness and genuine warmth. From your children’s first bite of calamari to their first snorkel or descent into a cave, Crete is a place they will never forget.
Best Regions for Kids
Iraklio City has the best kid-friendly museums in Crete.
- West & South Hania
The ideal active family area with glorious mountains and ‘desert island’ beaches.
Youngsters love Rethymno’s Venetian fortress and a romp along the lovely promenade.
- Eastern Lasithi
The lonely ancient sites of this region will spark young imaginations.
- Water City Enjoy the water fun park at Anopoli, southeast of Iraklio.
- Natural History Museum Visit the exciting children’s section in Iraklio’s imaginative museum.
- Agora Browse through Hania’s lively daily market.
- Cretaquarium Get up close and personal with magical sea creatures near Iraklio.
- Fortezza Explore Rethymno’s Venetian fortress.
- Aqua World Meet rescued snakes, lizards and turtles at Hersonisos.
Crete for Kids
Crete has plenty of beaches to choose from, from sugar-fine sand to pebbles, and hidden coves to public stretches. Add to this coral-blue waters aglimmer with sunken ships to snorkel, and fun boat trips to be had, and you can see that H20 is going to be a big part of your Cretan adventure. But there are many other attractions that will also light their imaginations, from myriad ruins, to creepy caves, and ruined castles to ancient myths.
Greek tavernas are particularly kid-friendly. Some dishes that kids might grow to love include calamari (fried squid), tiropitakia (cheese parcels in filo pastry), dolmadhes (flavoured rice wrapped in vine leaves) and saganaki (fried cheese).
Nuts and dairy find their way into lots of Cretan dishes, so if your kids suffer from any severe allergies, ask someone to write this down clearly in Greek so you can show restaurant staff before you order.
Hikes, Bikes & Horses
Apart from the more strenuous gorge and mountain walks, such as the Samaria Gorge, there are numerous options to suit the family. The same goes for cycling, while most horse-riding outfits are excellent at tailoring sessions to all ages.
Museums & Attractions
Big resort-style hotels tend to open later in the year than independent accommodation, as late as June; however, they are generally more tailored to kids’ needs. Many hotels don’t charge for young children and will often provide you with a camp bed.
Accommodation is considerably cheaper in the off seasons, potentially quieter, and locals have more time to chat.
- Sunscreen – and plenty of it! – as well as hats, sunglasses and water bottles.
- Travel highchair (either deflatable booster seat or a cloth one that attaches to the back of a chair).
- Lightweight pop-up cot for babies.
- Medicine, inhalers etc along with prescriptions.
- Plastic cups and cutlery for little ones.
- Newborn’s car seat – unless you have pre-checked with the car rental agency, you’ll likely be disappointed.
- Portable change mat and hand sanitiser – nappy-changing facilities are rare.
- For toddlers not yet walking consider bringing a sturdy carrying backpack as strollers are a struggle in villages with steep cobbled streets.
If you come unstuck for baby monitors, car seats, bottle warmers etc don’t panic, My Baby In Greece rents, sells and will deliver all these items across Crete.
When to Go
For younger kids and toddlers it’s worth thinking about visiting in spring, early summer or autumn when the sun is not too strong and temperatures are pleasantly warm. June is probably the earliest your kids can swim in the sea; anytime before and the water is cold.
Crete is generally a safe pace to travel with children. The largest danger is heat stroke – remember Crete is blessed with a regular breeze so it’s easy to become over exposed to the sun without realising it. Be careful, too, at isolated beaches and coves that may have powerful offshore currents. And finally, always be mindful of youngsters at ancient sites, where there might be no safety fences or loose masonry.
There are doctor’s surgeries around the island, but for anything serious head to Venizelio hospital in Iraklio. If hiring a car, check for agencies that have child seats available and fit the seats yourself.
If mobility is a problem, visiting Crete will present serious challenges. Most hotels, ferries, museums and sites are not wheelchair accessible, and narrow streets, steep curbs and parked cars make getting around difficult. Newly built hotels are required to be more accessible to people with disabilities by having lifts and rooms with extra-wide doors and spacious bathrooms. People who have visual or hearing impairments are rarely catered to. Assume nothing.
Eria Resort in Maleme in western Crete is one of the few in Greece designed for travellers with disabilities. It caters for special needs and equipment and offers medical support and excursions and activities.
Find English-language tips on www.disabled.gr and www.greecetravel.com/handicapped.
Crete for Life (www.creteforlife.com) Recuperative holiday camp for disadvantaged kids near Ierapetra.
Global Volunteers (www.globalvolunteers.org) Teach conversational English to children in Gazi west of Iraklio.
Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece (www.archelon.gr) Includes monitoring programs.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & measures Greece uses the metric system for weights and measures.
- Crete is remarkably safe for women to explore, even for solo travellers. Going alone to cafes and restaurants is perfectly acceptable. This does not mean you should be lulled into complacency; bag-snatching and sexual harassment do occur.
- On beaches and in bars and nightclubs, solo women are likely to attract attention from men. Kamaki, the Greek word for men on the hunt for foreign women, translates as ‘fishing trident’.
- If you don’t want company, most men will respect a firm ‘no, thank you’. If you feel threatened, protesting loudly will often make the offender slink away or spur others to come to your defence.