Although it’s the farthest south of all the places in the home of tzatziki and moussaka, there are actually oodles of Greek islands to visit from Crete. That’s largely down to the fact that it’s pretty big – 600,000 people live here permanently. But it’s also because Crete is a major tourist draw, with thousands of people looking to string together island-hopping trips that include its stunning bays, rustic towns, and ancient monuments.
This guide lists a full 11 potential isles that you can get to from the old home of the Minoan civilization. Some will be just a stone’s throw offshore, so you can do them before a night out on the Malia Strip or an evening of dakos in Chania. Others will be further afield, requiring a ferry from the port at Heraklion to take you north into the heart of the Aegean Sea.
The good news is that there’s a whole variety of different Greek islands to visit from Crete. They could be small and totally unknown, offering glimpses of strange castles come leper colonies. Or, they might be buzzing vacation hotspots, with award-winning beaches, pumping nightlife, and deluxe villas studding their hills. Let’s go…
Tiny little Pseira rises from the heart of the Gulf of Mirabello, just off the coast of Mochlos town in eastern Crete. However, it’s not quite the same as the beach-heavy resort towns of the region that surrounds it. Instead of sunbathing and snorkeling, this one’s known for its rich Minoan history.
According to the Penn Museum, the isle was once home to “a prosperous village with over 80 buildings at its greatest size”. It’s thought to have been inhabited since sometime in the fourth millennium BC until sometime around 1,500 BC. That means humans may well have been living on Pseira as long as 6,000 years ago!
The island was first excavated by American archaeologist Richard Seager back in 1907. He discovered the remnants of an old harbor on the south coast. Visitors today can see uncovered rough-stone buildings there, clustering above natural ports for ancient fishing boats.
The real challenge will be getting to Pseira. There are no regular commercial ferries heading across from the main island of Crete. We’d say the best way to go is on a guided sea kayaking tour. It won’t be easy – the crossing is over two miles against strong north winds. But the reward is a glimpse at the primeval island without the crowds!
According to Greek myth, a colossal lizard once attacked the island of Crete, forcing Zeus to turn it into Dia. It seems fitting, then, that the island is home to many creatures. In fact, it’s down to its unique biodiversity that this island is now a part of the Natura 2000, the European protection scheme for outstanding areas.
So, what is there to see? From the Iberian rabbit (oryctolagus) to the mightily winged Eleonora’s falcon, there are oodles on the land and in the air. Then you get the rich marine life. That includes groups of charming Mediterranean monk seals, along with regular sea turtles to boot.
Most people choose to visit Dia as part of a dedicated snorkeling or scuba diving trip. They leave daily throughout the high season months from the Cretan capital of Heraklion. Taking five hours in all, they spend most of their time exploring the clear blue waters that surround Dia.
Mochlos is the name for both a village and an islet, which you’ll find right on the cusp of the Mirabello Gulf some 22 miles east of Agios Nikolaos. The island was once a part of Crete, but a destructive earthquake in ancient times severed its land link, leaving a 200-meter strait of clear Aegean water between coast and coast.
Like Pseira before it, Mochlos is famed for its deep and rich history. Many of the treasures were unearthed in the early 20th century by the prolific American Archaeologist R. B. Seager. He found the traces of an entire Minoan town, resplendent golden jewelry, antique vases – the list goes on. Today, only the much-more-modern white chapel of Saint Nicholas still stands but visitors can come to see the ruins of the older houses and tombs.
There are regular boats linking Crete to Mochlos island. They take around five minutes in all. We’d say be sure to take some time to explore the village of Mochlos, too. It’s a charming and off-the-beaten-path location with tavernas that open onto pebble coves serving grill-sizzled octopus straight off the boat.
You can freely hop to the isle of Spinalonga on any number of regular taxi boats from the villages of Plaka, Elounda and Agios Nikolaos in the northeast. What awaits is one of the most immersive Greek islands to visit from Crete, hands down…
Topped by a centuries-old citadel, the isle has been a leper colony and a salt farm in its long life. Today, it’s completely deserted, offering a glimpse into a haunting past, not to mention some seriously stunning pebble coves.
The main thing you’ll notice is the soaring tower of the Spinalonga Fortress. It’s now under consideration to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its history reaches back to the 16th century and the Venetian rule of Crete, although the Ottomans conquered the castle after a hard-fought siege in the 1700s.
Most of your day on Spinalonga will be about exploring the old turrets and bulwarks of the fortaleza. But you can also delve into the intriguing collections of the Museum of Spinalonga or seek out the small coves that dot the shoreline (though swimming’s not a great idea because of the strong northerly currents).
A rare ferry link in the summer connects the port of Heraklion to the long, finger-like isle of Karpathos. It’s a member of the Dodecanese chain, but not really like any others in the area. Off the beaten track and steeped in tradition, it’s one for those who are after a glimpse of more rustic, undeveloped Greece.
The highlights here include the time-stood-still village of Olympos, a mountain town with pastel-painted churches and sun-baked plazas wedged between dusty ridges. Meanwhile, there are some gorgeous beaches, like Apella Beach (a pebble cove under high cliffs), and Kyra Panagia (a swimming haven with pearly blue waters).
On top of all that, Karpathos happens to be the kite surfing and windsurfing mecca of the eastern Aegean. It’s even host to international competitions, which mainly take place on the sporty beach of Afiartis on the far southern cape.
Elafonisi continues to draw hordes of beach lovers to the south coast of Crete. It’s a special place thanks to its unique isthmus beaches, which come dashed with strange pink sand. They lend the whole place a sort of Bermuda-Carib feel, especially when you factor in the uber-clear waters of the Libyan Sea that wash through this corner of the Med.
There’s extra drama thanks to the rugged backdrop of the high White Mountains. They tower over to the north, gazing down towards the series of small lagoons and dunes that roll out to form the patchwork of shoreline that is Elafonisi island.
The good news is that you won’t have to catch a boat to Elafonisi. You will need a coach or a car to get there first, as it’s sat on the far south-western edge of the island. Then, it’s just about wading through the narrow sea channel that cuts between the two shorelines. The beaches closer to the coast are usually the busiest but walk a little and you can often find space to yourself.
Beyond the southern shore of the region of Chania, the diminutive island of Gavdos is about as small as small-island life can get. Here, just 85 locals collect their own wellwater and stick to an off-grid system. It’s the southernmost point in Europe, sat just 160 miles from the coast of North Africa – closer to Libya than to Athens.
Life on Gavdos is about escaping the Rat Race. The main port is the main center. It links to the towns of Paleochora, Sougia, Hora Sfakion, and Agia Roumeli over on Crete by irregular boat connections. It’s home to a couple of simple seafood tavernas, and there’s just a speckling of truly remote guesthouses where you’ll wake to empty vistas of crumpled hills and cypress scrub.
The geography is pure drama from start to finish. The north coast is a whole world apart from the south coast. The first comes dashed by horseshoe beaches backed by gnarled acacia trees and cacti. The south is almost all sheer-cut cliffs bashed by unforgiving waves. The capes there make for some seriously awesome hiking, and there’s a strange monument marking the end of the continent to see!
Chrissi is where the Cretan archipelago does its best impression of the Caribbean. Washed by the balmy Lybian Sea some 10 miles south of the port of Ierapetra in eastern Crete, the isle is a true stunner. The north shore is where the money shots are at, thanks to wisps of pink-tinged beaches with the same coral-crush dusting that gives Elafonisi its famous red hue.
Most people will actually stay along the short stretch that links up Golden Beach and Agios Nikolaos Beach. They are both sandy and both lapped by light waves of clear turquoise blue. They are also both within easy walking distance of the main port and offer stunning views back north to Crete’s wild mountain ranges.
It might be worth packing the walking shoes for your jaunt here, too. The whole island is navigable on foot and comes dotted with gnarled trees and sandy paths. The reward for those who go rambling will be visions of the dark-sanded Vlychadia Beach and several totally deserted coves on the south coast.
Check the map of the Aegean Sea at the very north-western tip of Crete. See that speckling of tiny islets? Together they are known as the Dionysades and the largest of the bunch is Dragonada. It’s no more than 1.6 miles across from its farthest two points, so isn’t really the best choice for that next pitstop on an island-hopping tour. However, it’s a fun destination for those with their own boat looking to explore the hidden nooks and crannies of Crete.
And you will need your own vessel to get across since there are no public ferry services. The best place to anchor is the natural harbor-cove on the south coast. Pull in and you’ll see the handsome Chapel of Saint Anthony standing next to the sole building on the island.
From there, a dirt walking trail connects to a tiny cove further north but that’s as far as it goes. To explore more, you’ll need to go off track. Some will stick to the sea, though, since Dragonada is known for its uber-clear waters and fish-teeming snorkeling spots.
Mykonos is abuzz with life from May until August. It’s one of the Aegean’s most iconic R&R spots, with oodles of beach hotels, jet-setter yachts, and a chic nightlife to match. If you’re keen to see and be seen, then there’s good news: A direct slow ferry and even fast hydrofoil ferries link Heraklion to Mykonos for much of the high season.
They can take between four and eight hours in all, since the journey is a pretty long one across the whole south Aegean Sea. You’ll arrive into lovely Mykonos Town, a chora of whitewashed cottages that’s topped by the famous Mykonos Windmills.
From there, you have choices. Will you head to the south coast for sleepless nights of partying on the sands in Super Paradise Beach? Will you stick to the town to enjoy the honeymoon vibes and LGBTQ+ bars of Little Venice? Or, will it be the east of the island, which is altogether more untouched and quiet?
No list of the of top Greek islands to visit from Crete could possibly be complete without at least a nod to what’s almost certainly the most popular island-hopping destination in the Aegean. Cue Santorini…
A dramatic isle that’s actually the crest of an old volcano, it’s the closest of the Cyclades to the port of Heraklion. There are now regular ferries going between the two in the summer months, taking between four and six hours in total.
It’s a trip you won’t regret. Santorini offers some of the most amazing sunset shows on the planet. The villages of Oia and Fira are well-equipped to make the most of them, too. They come dotted with luxurious cave hotels that have infinity pools on the cliffsides, or charming tavernas where you’ll dine on Greek cuisine as the sun dips.
Daytime adventures on Santorini are usually about boat trips into the Caldera, lazing on Red Beach, or exploring the ancient ruins of Akrotiri. What’s more, this is the perfect next stepping stone for continuing your travels, what with Milos, Ios, Mykonos, and a whole host of other islands within close proximity!
So, what are the best Greek islands to visit from Crete?
There are oodles of Greek islands to visit from Crete. They range from far-flung spots like Santorini to enchanting islets on the doorstep like Spinalonga. The first sort could be that next pitstop on a cross-Aegean island hop. The ones close to Crete itself are great for daytrips to see something a little different.
It’s possible to get to many of the top Greek islands to visit from Crete by yourself – Elafonisi only requires a car, for example. However, you might need to book tours or ferries in advance if you want to travel to the likes of Mochlos, Gavdos or Santorini, so be sure to check that ahead of time.