Are you trying to weigh up Crete vs Corfu? It’s not going to be easy. We actually love both of these Greek islands. Each has plenty of sun, paradisiacal beaches, and enchanting towns that tumble down from the mountains to meet the gleaming Mediterranean. To be honest, you can’t go wrong holidaying in either.
But there’s no hiding that the fact that Crete and Corfu have considerable differences. For starters, they’re more than 340 miles apart, at almost opposite ends of Greece; one in the north, the other as far south as you can go before hopping onto Africa. More than that, they’re completely different sizes – Crete could fit nearly 16 Corfus onto its landmass, and it reigns as the largest of all the Greek islands overall.
In this guide to Crete vs Corfu, we’ll dive into all the things that make these popular spots so unique. From the lagoons of north Crete to the olive groves of Corfu, we’ll whisk you away to the sun-splashed seas of southern Europe to help you decide which place is better for you in the coming season…
Crete vs Corfu: The general vibe
Ask any mainland Greek about the Cretans (the people of Crete) and they’ll usually roll their eyes and say it’s like a different country down there. That’s how the locals of the nation’s largest island like it. They’re fiercely independent and different; proud of their history and culture. That shows, too. Towns like Chania and Rethymno display curious architecture that’s got a taste of North Africa and the Venetian trading empire about it, while the food and the drink is inspired by the hardy mountain heritage and the rugged terrain. Basically, this isn’t quintessential Greece and that’s the point!
Corfu is much closer to the Greek dream you’ve been sold by the travel brochures. That’s not to say it’s better – that all depends on what you’re after. However, it does have the azure seas, the pine-backed coves, the pebble beaches, and the lazy marina towns filled with bobbing fishing boats. Actually, it’s been famed for its natural beauty since ancient times. One downside of that is there are now large tracts (mainly on the south coast) given over to huge tourist developments. But pockets of pretty coves, lush valleys, and cypress forests still abound too.
Crete vs Corfu: Beaches
Now here’s an important one: Beaches.
Let’s tackle Crete first. This long sliver of an island has 650 miles of coastline on three different seas. If that sounds like somewhere where the beaches would be wonderful, that’s because it most certainly is. Iconic sands like the Balos Lagoon dominate the north – it’s a great swirl of white powder wisped through the Med under huge coastal cliffs. To the south is Elafonisi, a tidal island beset by strange pink sands on the Libyan Sea. Other areas are all rock coves for snorkelers or palm-fringed oasis beaches like Preveli and Finikas.
Corfu’s beaches are way more accessible than Crete’s. That’s mainly down to size, with just a couple of miles separating the east and west coastlines at the narrowest point. The best way to divide them up is by north and south, though. Down the bottom around Kavos and Gardeno are the resort-style beaches – think yellow sands and clean, soft seas with sunbeds galore. Up north are the far more remote areas where you can hunt untouched Corfu, like Acharavi and the rugged coves of Peroulades for the snorkelers. For us, the stars of the show are still Paleokastritsa and lovely Agios Georgios.
Winner: Corfu, but probably only just
Crete vs Corfu: Ease of travel
There’s good news: Corfu and Crete are two of the easiest-to-reach Greek islands out there. Both have their own airport (airports in the case of Crete) and both have major port areas that are serviced by ferries going all over the region.
Corfu International Airport (Aerolimenas Kerkiras Ioannis Kapodistria) is located just south of Corfu town. It’s served by a number of low-cost carriers that run mainly seasonal routes all throughout Europe. Ferries to Corfu come in regularly from Igoumenitsa and Patras, but you can also catch boats direct from Italy for a real adventure. On top of that, Corfu is much smaller than Crete, so a rental car can take you from tip to toe in under two hours.
Crete should be easier to fly into. That’s because it has two international airports – one in Chania and one in Heraklion. Together they handle countless budget and premium connections throughout the summer, but also enjoy regular links to Athens in the winter months. Ferries to Crete come in from the popular Cyclades islands (Santorini, Mykonos) and Athens. The main reason Corfu wins out here is because of the sheer size of Crete. It’s not a bite-sized isle and has a rugged backbone of mountains, so getting from A to B once you’re on the ground won’t be such a cinch.
Crete vs Corfu: Hotels
It’s almost pointless putting this section here. You’re not going to want for hotels on either of these islands. Booking.com shows that Corfu has over 3,000 properties in the mix. They run the gamut from family-friendly resorts like the all-inclusive Akron Seascape Resort to the uber-luxurious honeymoon hotel of Ikos Dassia. You can also find some lovely Greek bed and breakfasts, like charming Luca Mare.
Crete ups the ante with a whopping 8,000+ places to stay. Yep, from the party pads of Danelis Studios & Apartments down in hedonistic Malia (more on that later) to the escape-from-it-all Enagron Ecotourism Village up in the central mountains, there’s some serious variety in what you can pick on Crete’s largest island. The most popular places overall remain the resort strips west of Chania and the east coast past Heraklion.
Winner: Crete – 8,000 hotels!
Crete vs Corfu: Weather
It’s hard to knock the weather on either Crete or Corfu. This is Greece, remember! One thing to note is that Corfu is much further north than its compadre, which means the season isn’t quite as long. We’ve traveled to Corfu in October and had some days of rain. Once, we even had a pretty hefty Medicane (a Mediterranean storm) sweep through. Those are the exception, but the weather tends to get chilly and rainy around late autumn here, and things don’t properly warm up until the end of May.
In Crete it’s a little different. So far south – Africa is a mere 204 miles away – the air is dry, and the mercury tends to stay high for much of the year. In fact, we’d say that the early spring and the late fall months are some of the very best in Crete, so it’s a good option if you’re looking to travel out of the main season (when things are much cheaper!). The midsummer can get scorching. Like, seriously hot! 104-110 F degrees is possible, and you get strong, blustery winds coming over from the Maghreb that aren’t the nicest.
Winner: Draw (basically, go for Crete in spring and fall, and Corfu for the midsummer)
Crete vs Corfu: Nightlife
Both Crete and Corfu have something to offer the hardcore partiers. In Crete, that comes with the pumping 18-30s resort of Malia. It’s about 30 minutes’ drive west of Heraklion (taxi transfers are about €50), where it spreads along its own bay with a rocky headland jutting out in front. The main action is centered on The Strip. That’s a run of lively bars that start going at around 5pm and don’t wind up until sunup. Check out Havana, Lush and Apollo for some of the biggest names. Nightlife in Crete isn’t limited to Malia, though. We personally love the chilled vibes of Chania town, where tavernas beckon down the bougainvillea-strewn side streets and microbreweries occupy old Ottoman buildings.
The name of the game of the nightlife scene over on Corfu is unquestionably Kavos. Just a mention of the name evokes images of wild evenings in the shot bars and the foam parties. It’s a proper 18-30s destination, with all the pub crawls and karaoke bars you could want. Look for the resort at the very far south end of the island, around 45 minutes’ drive from the airport.
Crete vs Corfu: Food
Food is always close to the top of the list when it comes to things to consider about that Greek holiday. Thankfully, neither Corfu nor Crete will disappoint. Corfu actually takes a lot of influence from Italy and the Balkans, which are both right on the doorstep. Dishes like the stoufado beef stew and the peppery sofrito join with sweet brioche breads and tomato-topped fish casseroles to pretty sum up the freshness and simplicity of Mediterranean cooking.
Crete is known for having its own unique kitchen. It swaps out the traditional tourist food that you get on islands like Santorini and follows the age-old cooking techniques of its own people. Mainstay dishes include the horta highland greens (they’re bitter but come served with sharp, fresh lemons straight off the tree) and the crispy dakos (a sort of Cretan pizza with white cheese). Crete also has wonderful olive oil – some of the olive trees are said to be more than 2,000 years old!
Winner: Crete, just because it’s so unique!
Crete vs Corfu: Things to do
If you come a-searching for heard-earned R&R, neither of these islands will disappoint. The south-coast beaches of Corfu, from Santa Barbara to Gardeno, offer sunbeds and cocktail bars and calm Adriatic waters. It’s never going to be a chore. The same goes for the resort areas of Crete. Look for them mainly on the north coast in the Chania Prefecture and near Malia and Heraklion.
For something a touch more adventurous, Crete can offer the soaring mountains of the Lefka Ori and the rugged Samaria Gorge. Some say the latter is one of the best hikes in all of Greece, as it wiggles through a UNESCO World Heritage Site where mountain goats are your only company. Corfu also has hiking and outdoors pursuits. The star there is probably the famous Corfu Trail, which links up the remote west coast and clocks up 93 miles in length.
And that’s not the end of it. There’s also wine tasting, olive oil tasting, farm stays, scenic drives, watersports – the list goes on. You won’t get bored whichever island you pick.
Corfu vs Crete isn’t an easy one to decide. Yes, these islands are both sunny and both have beaches and both offer a unique glimpse at Greek life. But they’re very, very different. In fact, they’re just about as different as it’s possible to get between a duo of Greek islands. We’d sum it up by saying Crete is better for outdoors adventures and hiking, for out-of-season vacations, and for foodies. Corfu is more classically idyllic, has more family beaches, and is easier to travel to.