Planning a Trip
By Plane -- Aside from the many who now fly from European cities directly to Crete on charter/package tour flights, most visitors will take the 50-minute flight from Athens to Iraklion or Chania on Olympic Airways (tel. 210/926-9111; www.olympicairlines.com) or Aegean Airlines (tel. 801/112-0000; www.aegeanair.com) Fares vary greatly depending on time of year and time of day and so can run from 50€ ($65) to 130€ ($169) round-trip. Olympic also offers a few direct flights a week between Iraklion and Rhodes, and in high season the airline offers service between Athens and Sitia (in eastern Crete). Otherwise, flights between Crete and other points in Greece (such as Santorini, Mykonos, Thessaloniki) go through Athens. Reservations are a necessity in high season.
Iraklion's airport is about 5km (3 miles) east of the city, along the coast. Major car-rental companies have desks at the airport. A taxi to Iraklion costs about 15€ ($20); the public bus, 2€ ($2.60). To get back to the airport, you have the same two choices -- taxi or public bus no. 1. You can take either form of transport from Plateia Eleftheria (Liberty Sq.) or from other points along the way. Inquire in advance at your hotel about the closest stop.
By Boat -- Throughout the year, there is at least one ship per day (and as many as two or three in high season) from Piraeus to Iraklion, and other ships to Chania and Rethymnon. Most trips take about 10 hours but as of 2007 there is a "high speed" service from Piraeus to Chania that is supposed to cut the trip down to under 5 hours. Check online at www.ferries.gr. Less frequent ships link Crete to Rhodes (and Karpathos, Kassos, and Khalki, the islands between the two); to Santorini and some of the other Cycladic islands en route to or from Piraeus; and even to Thessaloniki and various Greek ports en route. In high season, occasional ships from Italy, Cyprus, and Israel put into Iraklion. And now catamarans operated by Hellenic Seaways link Iraklion with several Cycladic islands (Santorini, Ios, Paros, Naxos, and Mykonos); these run daily in high season, four times weekly other times; check online (www.greekislands.gr) or contact their Athens office (tel. 210/419-9000). For information on all ships, inquire at a travel agency, search online (www.gtp.gr), or contact Paleologos Agency (www.ferries.gr).
If you have arrived at Iraklion's harbor by ship, you'll most likely want to take a taxi up into the town, as it's a steep climb. Depending on where you want to go, the fare ranges from 4€ to 10€ ($5.20-$13). Or you can take a bus from the depot.
By Bus -- Visitors also come to Iraklion by public bus from other cities on the island. Where you arrive depends on where you've come from. Those arriving from points to the west, east, or southeast -- Chania or Rethymnon, for instance, or Ayios Nikolaos or Sitia to the east -- end up along the harbor. To get into the center of town, you must walk, take a taxi, or hop a public bus. The bus starts its route at the terminal where buses from the east and southeast stop; directly across the boulevard is the station for the Rethymnon-Chania buses. Visitors arriving from the south -- Phaestos, Matala, and other towns -- will end up at Chania Gate on the southwest edge of town; walking may not appeal to most people, but you can take a public bus or taxi.
The National Tourist Office is at 1 Xanthoudidou, opposite the Archaeological Museum (tel. 2810/228-225; fax 2810/226-020). Its hours are Monday through Friday 8am to 2:30pm. Quite frankly, the National Tourist service is so poor these days that you'd do better to contact one of the more reliable travel agencies in Iraklion: Creta Travel Bureau, 49B Dikeossinis (tel. 2810/300-610; fax 2810/223-749); or Arabatzoglou Travel, 30 25th Avgusto (tel. 2810/301-398; fax 2810/301-399).
By Bus -- You can see much of Crete by using the public bus system. The buses are cheap, relatively frequent, and connect to all but the most isolated locales. The downside: Remote destinations often have schedules that cater to locals, not tourists. The long-distance bus system is operated by KTEL, which serves all of Greece. Ask your travel agent or call tel. 2810/221-765 to find out more about KTEL buses to Rethymnon-Chania and points west. For buses to Ayios Nikolaos, Sitia, Ierapetra, and points east, call tel. 2810/245-019. For buses to Phaestos and other points south, call tel. 2810/255-965.
By Car & Moped -- A car gives you maximum flexibility in seeing the island. All the familiar car-rental agencies are available at the main centers of Crete, including the airports, and most travelers have their preferences. In Iraklion, aside from these, I recommend the locally owned Motor Club, 18 Plateia Agglon at the bottom of 25th Avgusto, overlooking the harbor (tel. 2810/222-408; www.motorclub.gr). If a moped or motorcycle looks tempting, be very sure you can control such a vehicle in chaotic urban traffic and on dangerous mountain roads (with few shoulders but lots of potholes and gravel). Try the Motor Club, above, for rentals.
By Taxi -- Taxis are reasonable if two or three people share a trip to a site; no place on Crete is more than a day's round-trip from Iraklion. Ask a travel agent to find you a driver who speaks at least rudimentary English; he can then serve as your guide as well. You might spend 100€ ($130) for three or four to tour of the city and Knossos but for a party of three or four it is well worth it.
By Boat -- Several excursion boats take day trips to offshore islands or to isolated beaches as well as to Santorini; inquire at a travel agency.
Biking on Crete -- In general, I am reluctant to encourage the casual visitor to Greece to rent and ride a bicycle -- whether it is to get around cities and towns or to set off for the countryside. In the former case, Greek drivers are not accustomed to bicycle riders and their driving habits make it extremely dangerous; in the latter case, the terrain is usually quite mountainous, roads are often not that well maintained, and there is little shoulder to ride on. That said, Crete has become a major attraction for serious bikers. Various specialized tour operators run bicycle tours on Crete -- extending over several days, doing a segment each day, with accommodations at each stop over; you could bring your own but these firms rent them. Some of these tours are described as requiring truly top-level conditioning, others are less demanding, but all involve a lot of hills! (And in summer, any activity can be quite draining.) If you want to pursue this, try Trekking Plan (www.cycling.gr) to learn about their offerings. Or www.peter-thomson.co.uk/crete/bicycles. If you are intent on renting on your own for some limited excursion, major tourist centers usually have some outfit that will rent a bike (usually a mountain bike); Trekking Plan in Chania (above) will rent for the short term; in Iraklion, try Blue Aegean Holidays (www.blueaegean.com) or MotoExress (www.motoexpress.gr). Note that many online sites that advertise bikes for rent are referring to motorbikes.
The official American Express agency is Adamis Travel Bureau, 23 25th Avgusto (tel. 2810/346-202; fax 2810/224-717). There are numerous banks and ATMs (as well as several currency-exchange machines) throughout the center of Iraklion, with many along 25th Avgusto. The British Consul is at 16 Papa Alexandrou, opposite the Archaeological Museum (tel. 2810/224-012); there is no American consulate in Iraklion. Venizelou Hospital (tel. 2810/237-502) is on Knossos Road. For general first-aid information, call tel. 2810/222-222. For Internet access, try the InSpot Cafe at 6 Korai or the Cyberpoint Cafe, 117 Paraskiyopoulou. Both open midmorning and close at midnight. The access fee at both is now about 4€ ($5.20) per hour.
The most convenient place to do laundry is at 25 Merebellou (behind the Archaeological Museum); its hours are Monday through Saturday from 9am to 9pm. You can leave luggage at the airport for 4€ ($5.20) per piece per day; most hotels will hold luggage for brief periods. The tourist police are at 10 Dikeossenis, on the main street linking 25th Avgusto to Plateia Eleftheria (tel. 2810/283-190); they are open daily from 7am to 11pm. The main post office (tel. 2810/289-995) is on Plateia Daskaloyiannis and is open daily from 7:30am to 8pm. The telephone office (OTE), 10 Minotaurou (far side of El Greco Park), is open daily from 6am to 11pm.