0Driving & vehicle rental in Crete

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.

Car rental

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.

Conventions

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.

Parking

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.

Other options

Bicycles

Bicycles are avail­able for hire in Crete and can be a good way of doing short dis­tance jour­neys.

Taxis

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

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.

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