The Greek Islands are notorious for their Hollywood good looks, peacock-coloured waters and Caribbean-style sands. Crete's 650 miles of coastline are no exception, with Blue Flags doled out by the dozen and lagoon-like landscapes upping the wow factor. Whether you're after wild coves, buzzing bays or taverna-lined towns – you'll be smitten before your toes touch the sand. It's time to slow down and relax on the best beaches in Crete.
As the go-to spot for sun-seekers who like their space, Crete's mammoth size makes it a magnet for holidaymakers who like to mix it up. From Chania's spectacular sunsets to the stylish and elegant seafronts of Elounda, Greece's largest island is all about good times and tan lines. Families will appreciate the baby-soft sand and shallow waters, while watersport enthusiasts can dive into aquatic adventures from dusk 'til dawn.
Perfect for: Bucket lists, day trippers, families, couples
Kicking things off with the cream of the crop, exotic Elafonissi is a one-of-a-kind place to unwind. Bewitching even the hardest to please beach lovers – rolling dunes, pink-hued sands and aquamarine waters are heavenly hallmarks of the protected peninsula. Hands down one of Crete's most instagrammable sights, the no-filter necessary views are pure magic. Mother Nature has most definitely been working overtime on this one!
The beach's infamous rosy colour comes courtesy of thousands of crushed shells, and is millennia in the making. Proof that all good things are worth waiting for, these stunning shores are sure to spark your wanderlust. Ideal for couples craving a romantic backdrop to their beach day, or families on the hunt for kid-friendly paddling conditions – Elafonissi is an all-rounder. Etched in the hearts of travellers the world over, there's few who could resist a stint on these pink sands. Including a group of endangered loggerhead sea turtles who seek refuge on the little islet…
Between wildflowers and sunloungers, sand-seekers can beeline for the beach day that best suits them. For the full-on castaway experience, wade through the warm waters and set up camp in the classified nature reserve. Here you'll be able to get to grips with the island of Elafonissi and its repertoire of rare plants. On the flip side, sticking to the mainland makes things convenient and is often first choice for parents. Two small bars, umbrellas, sunloungers, toilets and lifeguards are just enough to keep your clan comfortable.
Oh, and did we mention the sand is pink?
Perfect for: Bucket lists, day trippers, families, couples
Bucket lists won't know what's hit them when holidaymakers discover the breathtaking scenes at Balos! A strong contender to take Crete's best beach crown, the pinch-me perfect lagoon is a genuine piece of Greek Island paradise and biggest rival to Elafonissi. Poster child and most photographed spot of the lot, it's almost impossible to overemphasise the seductive beauty you'll find here. Turquoise tides and powder-white sands are among some of its trademarks, not to mention the wild, desert-island vibe.
Sitting pretty in the middle of a nature reserve, Balos is a hiking destination like no other. The trails give walkers a bird's eye view of the cinematic scenes, accessorised with sandy strips, rocky headlands and iconic Cap Tigani peninsula. The best bit? After a day of exploration, you can unwind in the bath-like waters of the lagoon. Proof that nature really does soothe the soles.
Nestled neatly in the island's northwest corner, the swoon worthy spot is 90 minutes from the town of Chania. Accessible by boat or car, a lot of travellers prefer the ease of a day-cruise from Kissamos to keep things as carefree as possible. Not only is it the simplest way to reach Balos, it treats you to views over the jaw-dropping coastline from the water. Undeniably one of Crete's worst-kept secrets, if you'd rather beat the crowds you'll need a car. Jump behind the wheel and drive the dirt road from Kaliviani along the Cape of Gramvousa, arriving before the clock strikes midday means you'll be able to score some time to yourself…
Perfect for: Watersport enthusiasts, families, couples
A match made in heaven for day trip devotees, the fairy tale coastline of Falassarna is a true Mediterranean masterpiece. Often praised in the same breath as Elafonissi and Balos, the third western wonder completes the heavenly hat trick. Split into a few separate sections, the main beach sprawls out for over a kilometre, with another lengthy bay sitting alongside for good measure. Further from Falassarna's central hub are a series of cute little coves and quiet, secluded spots – ideal for the 'get away from it all' beach-goer.
Easiest to access of the three sandy sisters and blessed with the most amenities, things take care of themselves here. Named for the nearby harbour town of Phalasarna, history buffs are in for a treat with relics of ancient rule dotted along the dreamy coast. Watersports aficionados are in luck too, thanks to the abundance of ways to hit the waves. From wet and wild banana boat rides to sea kayaking and stand up paddleboarding – splashtastic experiences are just waiting to be shared!
Perfect for: Bucket lists, glitz & glamour, couples
Welcome to one of the most luxurious places to lay down your towel. Elounda is all about the holiday high-life, where rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous is part and parcel of a stay in this coveted corner of Crete. As cosmopolitan as they come, the resort's chic style oozes down to the shores of the Blue Flag beach that bears the same name. Here you'll discover scenes that wouldn't look out of place in a Greek odyssey…
Seducing holidaymakers like sailors to the siren's song, Elounda's beaches are a series of quaint coves that gift travellers with the sensation of having side-stepped real life. Meticulously maintained and immaculately organised, you'll find all the bells and whistles to satisfy your A-list aspirations. The most popular sandy spots are found east of Elounda, where warm waters pool in the tranquil lagoon of Korfos. Feast your eyes on brooding mountains, iconic stone-structured windmills and panoramic views of the entire peninsula. The icing on the already impressive cake comes in the form of Spinalonga Island, which sits seductively in Mirabello Bay. Now abandoned, it's a popular place to explore on a lazy afternoon.
Perfect for: Day trippers, nature lovers, couples
Just as much of a celebrity in the Greek beach stakes, Vai is a 'must' that you cannot miss. Boasting the largest natural palm forest in all of Europe, you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd somehow landed in the Caribbean! Over 5000 tropical trees back onto the blissful bay, carpeting the land in emerald tones that pop against the fine white sands of Vai itself. Once the stage for a Bounty television commercial, the beach skyrocketed to stardom in the 70s and is a reoccurring feature on most traveller's to-do lists. Suited and booted with all the creature comforts you'd expect from such sought-after shores, the Blue Flag beauty barely has to lift a finger when it comes to Vai-ing for visitor's affections.
Perfect for: Bucket lists, day trippers, families, watersport enthusiasts
A relatively fresh face on the Cretan beach scene, Plakias has no trouble pulling tourists to its picturesque shores. Surrounded by majestic mountains and lapped by the Lybian Sea, this one-time fishing hamlet has transformed itself into a holiday honeypot of back-to-nature adventures. Much quieter than the buzzing beaches on the northern shore, families favour the wide-open spaces, gently sloping sands and picturesque promenade for their stint of sun, sea and splash. Boasting some of the most dramatic landscapes of the lot, Plakias is a by-product of two gorgeous gorges – Selia and Kourtaliiotiko. Culminating in a crescent-shaped bay, the beach is near mystical in its ability to slow down time…
Good times roll in as regularly as the waves with outdoor enthusiasts spoilt for choice. All kinds of activities are on offer, from conquering the steep rock face at the eastern end to exploring the underwater world with the aid of an on-site diving school. Kitesurfers can take advantage of the wonderful water conditions, where strong breezes whip the waves into action! Back on dry land, a whole host of traditional tavernas and beach-side bars are the perfect place to end the day.
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