How to plan a Crete family vacation!

Living in a monochromatic lacklustre urban environment of Jerusalem filled with cars, people and a tension so thick it is palpable, we have a rather constant yearning for the next escape. Little did we know when we planned our week-long Crete family vacation, what an elixir it would turn out to be.

From mountains to gorges and beaches to ancient ports that dot the island, Crete offers something for every family. Whether you are a hiker, rock climber, swimmer, history buff, wine connoisseur or foodie, you can experience it all on this island.

Crete Family Vacation
This one week itinerary takes in the mountains and beaches of Crete

 

Children are welcomed wherever you go and there’s so much for kids of all ages to see and do. Here’s our one-week Crete itinerary with kids.

This post has more ideas on things to do in Crete with kids. If you’re looking for places to stay, here are some family-friendly villas on the island and some family-friendly hotels.

If you’re travelling elsewhere in Greece then take a look at this post on discovering the best ancient sites on the mainland and exploring Mykonos with kids.

Guest post and photos by: Sarah Wikenczy Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate and commercial links. For more information see our disclosure policy.

 

A family holiday in Crete

Crete Family Vacation
Green valleys and mountains of Crete

 

We flew into Heraklion (Iraklio) and rented a car to take us to our first pit stop some 45kms south and a world away. A small village called Zaros in the slopes of Mount Psilortis, the highest mountain in Crete. The drive was easy enough following the car rental map and thankfully all signs are transliterated.

The drive was a bit longer than expected but we didn’t mind much since we were soaking in the abundance of green everywhere and watching the snow-capped mountains shift with each turn in the road which made for some unexpected and lovely scenery along small windy roads.

Our first port of call was the town of Zaros.

 

Zaros

Crete with kids
Crete is a fun place to cycle with kids

 

We stayed at Elonas Traditional Cottages in Zaros (see below) and the owner has designed a very detailed practical map that helps you plan your stay.

The map is really quite extraordinary because on one side it highlights day trips to four different parts of the island with suggested spots to visit. On the other is a detailed local map of trails to hike or bike in the mountains. No other research required.

The owner provides very helpful inputs on the suggested itineraries to help determine which are appropriate for biking to which areas are currently unsafe because trails are washed away. Additionally, he has placed colored stakes along the trails so that you can find your way.

 

Crete Family Vacation
Mountain biking in Crete with kids

 

With that map in hand we were off each morning after a delicious breakfast for a long hike returning in time for a relaxing lunch and small rest before heading off again on a late afternoon bike ride sampling another route in the mountains. Each trail was different from the next but all equally beautiful; we’re sure we enjoyed some of the best hikes in Crete!

The scenery ranged from olive groves to open vistas to lakes and rock filled river beds. Ancient monasteries along the way serve as points of reference on a given trail and there are lots and lots of goats with whom you share the trails.

The evenings came to an end with a delicious dinner made up of local seasonal ingredients topped off with a dessert and a shot of local raki on the house which we soon learned is the tradition in all Cretan restaurants. Needless to say, sleep came easily after days like this.

 

Crete Family Vacation
Eleonas Traditional Cottages

Elonas Traditional Cottages in Zaros

There are a number of small inns around Zaros but we opted for Elonas Traditional Cottages in the slope rising beyond the village. Eleonas is a terrific find on Crete for kids and the owner is on site making you feel right at home.

The cottages are designed to cater to different sized families and as we are three we had a smaller room with one large and small bed, a fireplace and large Jacuzzi tub which came in handy on chilly evenings. The cottages are scattered about the property and there is a shared pool which looked lovely but a bit too cool in the season for us.

 

Crete Family Vacation
Eleonas Traditional Cottages

 

In addition, there are many amenities on site for an active family in Crete. For those visiting Crete with a toddler, there is a small contained playground just outside the restaurant and café area as well as an indoor playroom upstairs from the restaurant.

For the slightly older lot, there is a kid-sized football (soccer) pitch, a trampoline and best of all (at least for this family) mountain bikes (and helmets) to accommodate all family sizes and needs! There is a family farm on site too if one is interested one morning to go feed the animals including rabbits, turkey, goats, chickens and birds.

 

Matala Beach

Crete Family Vacation
The sea at Agiofarago Gorge 

 

One rainy morning, we decided to have a drive and visit the southern part of the island where we stopped at Matala beach for lunch.

As we sat under the covered balcony waiting for the rain to pass and observing the coast, we noted the perfectly aligned caves surrounding part of the beach. According to our waiter, the caves were ancient tombs but people later used them as shelter to stay at the beach. Apparently, the beach was discovered as a holiday destination in the 60s when discovered by Joni Mitchell, Dylan and the likes who camped out in the caves. One can only imagine the scene back then.

After lunch, the rains let up and we decided to hike the Agiofarago gorge from the hill top down to the sea, a pleasant hike and in the warmer season ideal for a swim. There were a number of rock climbers there as well making use of the jagged but straight ascents up.

 

Chania Port

Crete Family Vacation
Chania Port

 

After four excellent days with Eleonas as our base, we headed to the northwest side of Crete for a beach excursion in the few remaining days near the ancient Venetian port of Chania.

As we left Zaros, we traveled through the small mountain roads of Mount Psiloritis admiring what we thought would be the end of our hilly vistas only to discover as we began the drive across the coastal highway, that there was an even larger mountain range called the Lefka Ori (the White Mountains) on the other side of the island. Yet another unexpected and incredible backdrop as we drove along.

In Chania, we decided on a small boutique hotel called Ammos about 5km outside the main port area right on the beach. The selling point in advance was the heated pool and that the particular beach area was in a sheltered bay which provided for calm and warmer waters, a good combination for children swimming.

 

Crete Family Vacation
Ammos Hotel in Chania, Crete

 

The hotel was a small series of white washed buildings trimmed in sea blue nestled in a little neighbourhood of residences, small hotels and guest houses. The owners of this hotel have not missed a detail around the property. Everything there is well thought out and it shows. A very cozy, welcoming and also child friendly find.

On the property there is a play center / kids club with a child minder on site every day during dedicated hours. The main lobby area is adjacent to the dining area creating a big comfy hang out spot where one can have a drink and snack before dinner enjoying a game or reading through the suggested nearby activities.

 

Crete Family Vacation
Hiking in Crete

 

We managed a couple more hikes nearby including a breathtaking hike to an ancient chapel ensconced in a mountain side overlooking the sea on a peninsula northeast of Chania port. However, we spent most of our remaining few days in the port of Chania due to the inclement weather.

The old Venetian port is intriguing with its rich sordid history. There are a gamut of restaurants, hotels and shops along the old cobblestone paths and it makes for a pleasant place to stroll and enjoy the atmosphere.

On our itinerary were the sandy beaches of Elafonissi on the southwest side of the island and the Samaria Gorge directly south from Chania port. Unfortunately the wind storms prevented the beach visit and the rains had washed away the roads near the gorge preventing any hikes. Next time.

 

Crete and kids – why you’ll love it

Crete Family Vacation
Beautiful Crete

 

The beautiful scenery 365 degrees regardless of where you position yourself on the island. The combination of snow-capped mountains, green hillsides, rocky terrains, sea views and beaches creates infinite opportunities for outdoor adventure.

The delicious Cretan meals. Every morning started with the thickest creamiest yogurt drizzled with the local honey or fresh strawberries that left me wondering how I will ever eat regular yogurt again.

Lunches and dinners of local fare including delectable lamb, goat and fish especially the smoked trout from the mountain lakes. Also, not to be missed is pairing these meals with the local Cretan wine.

The warm atmosphere and friendly people. When one reads the history of the island and the recurrent theme of conquer and occupy, it is amazing how welcoming the Cretans are to their visitors.

 

3 Things you should definitely do in Crete

Crete Family Vacation
You should definitely go cycling when you go on a family holiday to Crete

 

1. Rent a car, stay at least a week and plan an itinerary that includes a couple different pit stops on the island. While often nice to stay in one spot on short holidays especially with children, Crete is not the spot to do it. There is too much beauty and it shouldn’t be missed. For deals, take a look at Rental Center Crete.

2. Stay for at least a week, there is so much to see and do!

3. Visit more than one place. From mountains to gorges and beaches to ancient ports that dot the island, Crete offers something for everyone

 

[author] [author_info] About the author: Sarah Wikenczy works for international organisations focusing on women’s rights in conflict-affected countries. Over the past 25 years she has lived in the US, Saudi Arabia, Kenya and India with stints in Guam, Guantanamo and Egypt. Sarah, with her husband and son, currently reside in Jerusalem. In between work days, Sarah is always happily planning the next family adventure and now seems to have an enthusiastic assistant in her son who has a knack for finding the best car rental deals.[/author_info] [/author]

33 thoughts on “How to plan a Crete family vacation!”

  1. I loved your post. I am Greek and have been visiting Crete since I was a child. You brought back many memories from my visits to the island. I am happy you enjoyed your holidays, Crete is blessed destination.

    1. Thank you so much! Sarah, who wrote the post, has done a wonderful job of capturing Crete. It sounds like a truly wonderful destination! Thanks again for your kind comments and we’re really glad that you enjoyed the post.

  2. Too bad the weather wasn’t at nice, but it looks like you made the very best of it! It has been quite a few years since I’ve been to Crete, but next time I want to try mountain biking 🙂 x Maaike

  3. Holiday Cauntries

    Hey this post is great! Every point you make is totally valid and true. THIS is the way to travel. Good job on this one.

  4. Crete has been on our to-travel-to list for a while now. It seems like there is an endless amount of things to do there, and it really looks like a great place to travel to with kids. Your food descriptions made me hungry! Beautiful images too!

    1. Thank you! All credit must go to our globetotting mum Sarah who shared her adventure with us. I have to say that I had never really thought about Crete for a family holiday but after reading about Sarah’s experience I am really keen to go! – Katja

  5. Great tip on Eleonas traditional cottages! We really like to hunt down the family-friendly places whenever possible as it bumps the possibility of the kids having playmates, (which always eases things for mom and dad a bit.) 😉 Great photos too! Glad to find your site! We’re traveling with 3 kids, including a special needs 4 year old who is logistically more like a toddler, so I look forward to learning many more travel tips as we get launched on our own adventure!

    1. I think both hotels we stayed in would definitely be appropriate for travelling with a child with special needs. Attentive staff and lots of child-friendly surroundings. Hope you get to check them out. Enjoy! – Sarah

  6. Oh my god, this post brought up a lot of childhood memories in me. My parents took my sister and I to Crete a couple of times when we were young and it was aways absolutely amazing. There is so much to do and see, I just love it and your post makes show that you and your family do so as well. Thanks for sharing!

  7. There’s so much history and gorgeous views in Greece! Ancient tombs as beach shelters? Only in Greece! It seems you found the perfect place for a fun family getaway.

  8. I haven’t visited Crete so thank you for sharing such a complete review. It looks so lovely and seems to have something for just about anyone.

  9. Wow, Eleonas looks like the perfect place to stay! I would love to have the map of things to do already drawn up for you with directions and everything – and the amenities seem to go above and beyond what you could reasonably expect. Bikes and a trampoline! That’s awesome.

  10. twoscotsabroad

    This looks like an exciting trip. You are right, that scenery is just outstanding and looks as if there is heaps to do for those who love the outside (or sitting by the pool!)

  11. Crete was one of the islands that we didn’t get a chance to see. It looks totally different than some of the other islands. My kids would of enjoyed riding their bikes around and hiking. It was very nice of the owner, where you stayed to leave maps and tell you what paths to take on the bike.

    1. Indeed, it was those simple actions and courtesies at the hotel that really made a difference to our stay. You should check them out on your next visit. We are definitely looking forward to a return! – Sarah

  12. I completely agree that it’s important to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city life and escape into nature once in a while! Crete is an awesome island, you guys did many more things than we did! It sounds like we’ll have to go back 🙂 I also totally agree that one needs to rent a car to properly explore this island.

    Cheers!

  13. Perfect article! I am originally from Crete (live in the US now) and I am always telling people that they have to be adventurous in Crete and rent a car. That is the best way to visit the island!

  14. I’ve just booked these hotels for my own holiday in April 2018, so glad to hear such favourable reviews! Would it be ok to link this post to something I’m writing on my blog about places to go at Eastertime?

  15. Barbara Vickers

    The hotel in Zaros looks perfect but requires a 4 night stay. Did you hear of any other similar places in the countryside? Thank you Barbara

    1. Hi Barbara, I’m sorry but I don’t know of any others like this. How long will you be in Crete for?

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