To see much of Crete you are likely to need a car or other vehicle to get around. There are buses and taxis on Crete but a private vehicle will be faster, more comfortable, and more cost effective than taxis. It is also possible to take your own car, or to hire other vehicles.
There are a huge number of car rental agencies on Crete, from small local businesses to the big multinational brands. Car hire costs vary significantly with a small car out of peak season available from £50 a week, to fancier vehicles in peak season costing several hundred pounds a week. Generally you will want to spend as little time in the car as possible so we recommend getting the most cost effective option available.
The Greeks drive in the right like the rest of Europe so if you are a UK driver used to driving on the left this will take a little getting used to. If you are inexperienced at driving on the other side of the road I recommend having another qualified driver in the passenger seat and asking them to try to be alert and to alert you if they think you’re getting it wrong.
The majority of hire vehicles are petrol rather than diesel, and are manual rather than automatic. To date, hybrid and electric vehicles are very rare on Crete. If you need a 6 or 7 seater you may find it cheaper to hire 2 small cars (assuming you have 2 people willing to drive) so it is always worth comparing the cost of these 2 options.
The vast majority of roads on Crete are now properly paved so you are unlikely to need an off-road capable vehicle unless you really want to explore off the beaten track. The most useful feature of an off-road capable vehicle in Crete is the higher ground clearance, rather than having all-wheel-drive so if you wish to hire an SUV I recommend avoiding 4WD vehicles that are really aimed at road users — instead get something like a Suzuki Jimny which is more basic in the interior but offers a good ground clearance.
To find car hire I recommend using the links on MoneySavingExpert to the comparison sites. Look out for agents which do not have collection points at your point of arrival (e.g. Heraklion Airport) as a shuttle bus to the car is probably the last thing you will want to have to do after you arrive. Also be aware that most deals do not include additional drivers, car seats, roof boxes, etc and that these will cost extra. Also note that whilst all deals include insurance, most of them have a very high excess that you would have to pay in the event of any damage to a vehicle. I always take a series of photos of the vehicle before setting off in it, and then again when returning the vehicle so the agents know you will challenge any false claims. I have never had to dispute any claims in Crete, although I have elsewhere in Europe. I see this as a 5 minute job that provide much peace of mind.
It is also possible to take our “excess cover” which means you don’t pay any excess. This is usually a very expensive extra so I don’t recommend getting it as part of your rental deal — instead you can get “excess insurance” from an independent provider. In the event of damage you would pay the excess to the car hire company and then reclaim the cost of the excess from the insurer back home. The cost of these policies is usually around £20-£30 and they provide peace of mind so they are worth considering. MoneySavingExpert has a section with information on this that I recommend.
Taking your own car on the ferry
There is a regular car ferry service to Crete from Piraeus (Athens harbour) so you can take your own car to Crete. If you are UK-based then bear in mind that it is a nearly 5,000 mile round trip but on the upside you do get to see some great parts of Europe on the way. I have done the drive twice, driving outbound by going east and then south (through Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, Serbia and Greece and a few other countries too) and returning along the Adriatic and across the Alps (e.g. via Albania, Croatia, Italy, and Germany amongst others). Shared 3 or 4‑ways the costs of doing so are very similar to the cost of flying and and hiring a car in peak season.
The nightferry from Athens to Crete (Piraeus to Heraklion) is very reasonable and typically costs around E400-500 for 1 car and an inside 4‑bed bunk. There is reasonably priced food and drink served onboard, the beds are reasonably comfortable, and a cabin includes a shower. There is also a daytime sailing which is cheapear but you will then use up a day of holiday on the ferry and will need an extra night of accommodation on land which probably makes the overall cost very similar so I recommend the night ferry if you can fit the timings. It is great arriving in Crete in the morning fresh and ready for a full day.
Crete, like any other country, has different conventions to your home country when it comes to road use. The Cretans are generally very courteous drivers, certainly much more so than typical UK drivers, but if you don’t understand the conventions you may mistakenly think otherwise. Here is a quick summary of some of the notable differences.
- If you are the front car at a red light, the car behind will likely beep you to let you know when the light turns green — they’re being helpful not rude
- Cretans love to beep to say hello to people, and to celebrate (e.g. a wedding procession), beeping is very rarely used for a negative reason
- Roundabouts (traffic circles) are pretty rare and all the different visitors on the island apply their own rules to them. The Cretans seem to adapted to this mayhem by adopting a first come first served approach. Approach with care.
- Cars have right of way at pedestrian crossings, unless an amber light is flashing.
- A raised open palm (usually used as a thank you in the UK) might be considered rude, don’t bother with it
Complete-Crete has a nice (and longer) article about these differences and some of the reasons for them.
Road-side parking is widespread in Crete, generally you can do as the locals do — i.e. park where-ever you see other people parking. There are some sections of clearway where you shouldn’t park which are clearly signed. The other key thing to be aware of is that in some places a system operates where you park on 1 side of the road only, and the correct side changes from month to month — one side of the road for even number months, and the other side for odd number months. This will be indicated with a I and an II with the standard red circle and diagonal showing which months are prohibited for that side.
Motorbikes & Quadbikes
It is possible to hire motorbikes and quadbikes on Crete. My advice is don’t. For short distances you would be better walking, and for longer trips a car is vastly safer. Crete doesn’t have the best record for road safety, and whilst things have significantly improved over the last decade a number of people are killed every year on quadbikes and motorbikes (e.g. 2018). ABTA has repeatedly (e.g. here and here) advised against quadbike and moped hire. By law you are required to wear a full set of safety gear but many people don’t because wearing a full set of leathers in 35C heat isn’t very nice. You also need to have a valid driving license to hire any motorised vehicle but I am aware of many cases where these rules have been ignored in the past by some rental agents. I have also heard many tales of scams involving quadbike hired to younger people in the more “party orientated” parts of the island (e.g. Malia) where the vehicle is late rmysteriously lost, stolen, or damaged, and the agency then demands large sums of money because the renter didn’t make sure they had proper paperwork and insurance for the rental. Quadbikes are also not permitted on the major national roads, which makes longer distance journeys on them much slower. My advice is to avoid all of these issues by hiring a proper car, with all the proper legal paperwork and license etc, from a legitimate agent. A car is safer, transports more people and luggage, and thanks to air conditioning is much more comfortable. A small car booked in advance is likely to work out better value than a quadbike booked after arrival.
Bicycles are available for hire in Crete and can be a good way of doing short distance journeys.
There are taxi’s widely available in Crete but the price can vary considerably. For occasional longer journeys a taxi can be a decent option but make sure the price is set beforehand.
Buses are the main form of public transport on Crete and are widely available. The quality has improved in the last decade or so and they are now air conditioned and reasonably comfortable.