Theriso Gorge - accessible only by car
Beautiful scenery in the Theriso gorge – only accessible by car

Some people are put off by driving in a foreign country, maybe on the other side of the road!, but Crete is better than most Mediterranean countries.  Here are some tips, gleaned from 10 years of living and driving here!

Using the National Road

Ethniki - the National road - essential for driving a hire car in Crete
Ethniki – the National road

Stretching right across the island from Sitia in the east, to Kissamos in the west is the Ethniki, the National road “VOAK” .  Its Greek road 90, European E75 – but neither of these appear on the island! Driving a hire car in Crete its inevitable that you use this road. It makes for easy access to all areas in the north, and from various parts there are a number of reasonable roads to the south.  Bear in mind tho that Crete is a big island which is 300km from end to end. Typically will take 5h to drive.

Cretan slow lane

The Cretans typically expect this hard shoulder to be used as the slow lane.   Where safe to do so, its good to move at least a bit over the nearside line onto the hard shoulder, so that the speedy merchants can overtake.  But be careful, the shoulder disappears when its expensive to maintain (eg on bridges), so be prepared to move back out into your lane. 

Hard shoulders count as lanes in Crete
Hard shoulders count as lanes in Crete

The National road now has quite some stretches of dual carriageway. But mostly it is nominally two lane with hard shoulders on each side.

Dual Carriageway around Rethymno
Dual Carriageway around Rethymno

Various stretches will have double solid white lines, or with a broken line on one side, indicating overtaking is permitted. Do understand that no one takes any notice of these!

Double white lines near Souda - there to be ignored when you are driving a hire car in Crete!
Double white lines near Souda – there to be ignored

Speed Cameras

Do watch out for the speed cameras (which after many years may now actually be working!).  The normal limit is 80ish (variously 90 or 100), but on some junctions there are speed limits of 60 (the signs are often a bit hard to spot, so keep your eyes peeled) – this is where the cameras usually are.  You normally get a radar sign warning beforehand (in Greek but with a symbol you will recognise)!

Speed camera - look out for it when you are driving a hire car in Crete
Speed Camera – beware!

Mind the gap!

When you are on a single carriageway road with parked cars, do not assume that because the parked car is obstructing the other side of the road, that oncoming cars will give way to you.  Cretans generally adopt a “first come” approach, and if they get to the gap first, they will go thru it!  And Cretan buses and coaches always have priority, whatever the situation!


Which way to Chania? - signs can be confusing!
Which way to Chania?

Most junctions on Cretan roads have signs showing directions.  Often this will be to the nearest large town rather than the next village, but if you have Google maps on your phone, or use the excellent green MAKAS 400 series road maps (check road maps/greece/islands/crete), you will be fine.  One thing to remember when driving a hire car in Crete is that tho the junction will have signage of each direction, it may not be visible from each.  So if necessary getting out and looking at each direction may help!

Getting out of the car to see the signs...
Getting out of the car to see the signs?

Driving in town

Driving in Chania is a bit more of an challenge, but one which, after you’ve braved it a few times and know your way around, you’ll enjoy.  The traffic can be pretty dense, and the two wheeled motorists are a nightmare, weaving in and out of traffic, leaving millimetres of space, often on the phone, never paying attention.  Check out our Chania blog for parking just outside the old town – convenient to walk into, but avoiding the worst of the traffic.

The Joys of Off Road – once you have your own car!

The joys or off road in Crete
The joys or off road in Crete

Many of the out of the way places are accessible by dirt track.  Usually provide a reasonable surface, tho they can go over solid rock and have stones carried over from water courses in the winter.  Hire cars are not usually insured for damage and accidents on these, so you shouldn’t really drive on them – be warned!  Its another reason to buy your own! But there are some great sights to see from them, and they give easy access to some special places!!

Hiring your car

When you come to Crete for holidays before you buy and when you first come to live you will want to hire a car. Here are some tips which we have gathered from 8 years of hiring cars for guests to the villa. We are not going to go into the merits of any of the myriads of hire car companies offering cars in Crete.  A few things to consider tho. 

Unusually some providers include fully comprehensive insurance ? CDW with no excess, no liability for glass and tyres, as well as second driver insurance.  Check this against the more normal CDW with excess and liability for glass and tyres (a real hazard for the sort of conditions we have here in Crete). 

Also be careful that the provider meets you at the airport, and doesn?t expect you to walk to his site (which with cases down an ill lit road looking for the car hire site at midnight won?t be much fun!).

Check on pick up

Once you get to the car do check your vehicle before driving away.  Particularly important is to check the windscreen wipers (they do get perished in the constant sunshine) and washer fluid.  Although you?re (hopefully!) not likely to encounter rain, you will need to clean your windscreen from dust and dirt.  Also have them show you the spare wheel, to make sure its (a) there, and (b) inflated.  Punctures are common in Crete, and you will bless this action if you have need of the spare!  The cars get pretty heavy use during the summer, so do check lights, and state of tyres.

Some suppliers have an empty/empty fuel policy. In which case make sure you have at least enough petrol to get to the nearest station (particularly if picking up at night).

Taking a break off road!
Taking a break off road!

Don’t let all this put you off!

Driving a hire car in Crete probably sounds a bit intimidating, but its better than it sounds.  Driving speeds are generally not fast, the traffic is not that dense, and over half of it will be tourists like you used to be! 

Don’t be in too much of a hurry, calm any macho tendencies you may have – leave that to the Cretan men – drive defensively and you’ll be fine!

Panokosmos, the luxury of a top class hotel, the intimacy of a private villa, the atmosphere of staying with friends
You may want to chill out after a busy day in Chania…

More about living in Crete

There is much more in our blogs. These show things to do in Crete, whether it be walking a gorge, hiking in the foothills of the White Mountains, or taking a drive to see the sites.  Chania is a great town to visit, particularly to go to the street markets, and of course you’ll want to get the benefits of the Cretan diet – be it the yoghurt and cheese, or the olive oil.

This Dream Villa

Villa from the south with the entrance to Souda bay just visible in the background

And if you would like to live in a place where you can see these, here is just the place. This is a dream villa which we designed and built 10 years ago and now reluctantly are ready to sell and move on. Its in the Apokoronas, in the west of the island, 35min drive from Chania, 50min from the international airport. 

Sunrise over the sea from the rooftop terrace – the view from your bed