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Elafonissi picture in Crete
George Tsartsianidis / Getty Images

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  • Beaches Type
  • Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
4.2
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  • Value
    5.0
  • Facilities
    3.5
  • Atmosphere
    4.5

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Located in the southwest corner of Crete, Elafonissi beach sparkles with pink-tinted sand and crystal-clear Mediterranean waters. If you're feeling adventurous, you can wade across Elafonissi's shallow lagoon to a small, uninhabited island, home only to a historic lighthouse, a chapel and more than 100 native plant species. Recent travelers hail Elafonissi as one of the most beautiful beaches in Crete, if not in all of Greece.

However, Elafonissi's beauty comes with a few drawbacks. First, you must brave winding roads and harrowing mountain passes to get there. Once you arrive, your visions of pristine sandy stretches may be spoiled by the legions of tourists who have also made the trek, especially in the summer months. But never fear: You can avoid the throngs of visitors by venturing a little farther away from the parking lot. A short walk east or west and you will hit smaller yet more secluded shorelines bordered by a juniper forest. Another surefire way to beat the crowds is to visit in the off-season. From late October to April, you might just get the beach all to yourself.

You'll find Elafonissi beach about 45 miles southwest of Chania. During the high season (May to September) you can take a public bus from Paleochora or Chania to Elafonissi, but it only runs once a day. There's free parking available, so you may want to make the drive to the beach yourself. While there, take heed of the rules: Elafonissi is a protected nature reserve, so no umbrellas (besides the ones provided), fires, camping, littering or destroying plants. For more information about Elafonissi beach, check out Visit West Crete's website.

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#1 Rethymnon Old Town If you're in Rethymnon, then you shouldn't miss the opportunity to wander the narrow alleys of Old Town, a seaside neighborhood that dates back to the 11th century ... Read more » Romtomtom / Flickr

#2 Vai Beach (Palm Beach) Also known as Palm Beach, Vai Beach is mainly known for its stunning landscape. The beach is home to the largest palm grove in Europe with 4,500 palm trees ... Read more » Paul Mannix / Flickr

#3 Elafonissi Located in the southwest corner of Crete, Elafonissi beach sparkles with pink-tinted sand and crystal-clear Mediterranean waters. If you're feeling adventurous, you can wade across Elafonissi's shallow lagoon ... Read more » George Tsartsianidis / Getty Images

#4 The Palace of Knossos A labyrinth of massive columns and beautiful frescoes, the Palace of Knossos is a testament to the sophistication of the Minoan civilization that disappeared sometime in the 14th century. According ... Read more » Banet12 / Getty Images

#5 Samaria Gorge National Park Stretching for about 10 miles through southern Chania Prefecture's White Mountains, Samaria Gorge is thought to be one of the longest canyons in Europe. The gorge trail begins ... Read more » Panagiotis Karapanagiotis / Getty Images

#6 Historical Museum of Crete The Historical Museum of Crete, located in the capital city of Heraklion, chronicles Cretan life from early Byzantine times to the Modern period. If you're interested in the older ... Read more » tedbassman / Flickr

#7 Venetian Fortezza Built atop a hill in Rethymnon Old Town, the Fortezza (for-TED-za) stands as a symbol of Crete's tempestuous past. The Venetian ruling class, who oversaw the construction of the ... Read more » StockThings / Shutterstock

#8 Heraklion Archaeological Museum The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is a must-see in Crete — and all of Greece, even — for its extensive collection of Minoan art. Highlights include a mini-statue of a Snake ... Read more » Narisa&James / Flickr

#9 Cretaquarium Located approximately 9 miles east of Heraklion, the Cretaquarium is home to 2,000 sea animals and 200 different Mediterranean species. If you're an animal lover, traveling with kids ... Read more » Lourakis / Wikimedia

Rethymnon Old Town picture in Crete
Vai Beach picture in Crete
Elafonissi picture in Crete
Knossos picture in Crete
Samaria Gorge picture in Crete
Artifacts from Historical Museum of Crete picture in Crete
Venetian Fortezza picture in Crete
Heraklion Archaeological Museum picture in Crete
Cretaquarium picture in Crete
Rethymnon Old Town picture in Crete
Vai Beach picture in Crete
Elafonissi picture in Crete
Knossos picture in Crete
Samaria Gorge picture in Crete
Artifacts from Historical Museum of Crete picture in Crete
Venetian Fortezza picture in Crete
Heraklion Archaeological Museum picture in Crete
Cretaquarium picture in Crete

Rethymnon Old Town is filled with Venetian and Turkish architecture, beckoning to be observed and explored. Romtomtom / Flickr

Many agree that a visit to the palm forest and its beach, even though it's a big tourist destination, is worth sharing space with crowds.  Paul Mannix / Flickr

Elafonissi is famous for its pink sand, which is actually thousands of broken up pieces of colorful shells. George Tsartsianidis / Getty Images

The Palace of Knossos is an impressive reminder of the accomplishments of the Minoan civilization. Banet12 / Getty Images

At 10 miles long, Crete's Samaria Gorge is thought to be the longest canyon in Europe. Panagiotis Karapanagiotis / Getty Images

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The Venetian Fortezza, which towers over Rethymnon Old Town, was built in the late 16th century to protect Crete from Ottoman invasion (it failed). StockThings / Shutterstock

This museum is renowned for its extensive collection of Minoan art and it features a tablet whose symbols have yet to be deciphered. Narisa&James / Flickr

The Cretaquarium, about 11 miles east of Heraklion, displays thousands of underwater species. Lourakis / Wikimedia

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