For most visitors, if you want to see much of the island, driving a hire car in Crete is a must. 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.
Hiring your car
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).
Using 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 – Βόρειος Οδικός Άξονας Κρήτης” . 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.
The National road now has quite some stretches of dual carriageway. But mostly it is nominally two lane with hard shoulders on each side.
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!
Do watch out for the speed cameras (which after 5 years, are now apparently 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)!
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!
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!
Driving in town
We would suggest you don’t drive in towns, at least not in the normal working hours. 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.
Storm Damage from Last Winter
You may have read the huge amount of damage caused by the heavy rains and resulting flooding in the winter of 2018-9. This has affected some roads, but almost all have been repaired or alternative routes created.
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! But there are some great sights to see from them, and they give easy access to some special places!!
Don’t let all this put you off!
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!
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!
You will need a car to get to Panokosmos, but the peace, quiet and relaxation will more than make up for the hassle!
Lots more to see and do…
In any case for your holiday in Crete you might like to look at our blogs which show things to do in Crete, whether it be walking a gorge, hiking in the foothills of the WhiteMountains, 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.