When planning a trip to the Greek islands, many visitors will narrow their choices down to two of the biggest islands – Crete or Rhodes.
But which should you choose? Both islands offer amazing doses of history, beaches, food and culture, but there are some serious differences between the two.
Crete has its own rich tapestry of culture and traditions as Greece’s largest island, whilst Rhodes is steeped in medieval history, and is well set up for visitors to explore.
In general, Rhodes is a good choice for those who want to visit a smaller island with the main attractions located in a compact area. On the other hand, Crete is great for those looking for a large place to explore and who want to stick to a tighter budget.
However, in this article, we’ll dig deeper and help you find the right island to choose!
The capital and shining gem of the Dodecanese is the island of Rhodes. With a history dating back to antiquity, Rhodes happily embraces its ancient past, alongside medieval grandeur, and modern opulence. This island is a perfect blend of windy old-world streets, modern resorts and beautiful beaches.
During the summer months, Rhodes is well served by a variety of European airports. The international airport is about 30 minutes drive from Rhodes town; the largest settlement, capital and tourist hub of the island.
The port is located right outside the walls of Rhodes town, making it a great place to start a Dodecanese island-hopping trip. Ferries arriving from other destinations are few and far between, and given how distant Rhodes is from the rest of Greece, expect a ferry to Athens to be a long overnight affair taking around 15 hours. You can view ferry schedules here.
You won’t need a car inside any of the towns of Rhodes – in fact, the UNESCO-listed Rhodes town is pedestrianised, and even the new city outside the walls can be traversed on foot.
For exploring further afield, you have the choice of KTEL & RODA buses. RODA is centred around Rhodes town and the surrounding villages, whilst KTEL serves many long-distance destinations around the island.
You can find the main taxi rank at Mandraki harbour, where you’ll see price lists for many of the island’s destinations. As a solo traveller, taxis are expensive, but if you split the cost amongst 4 people, it is a good way to get around, and far quicker than using the public bus. You can also book private transfers in advance from the port or airport.
Remember, Rhodes is the 4th-largest Greek island. With this in mind, renting your own vehicle is a good idea in Rhodes (driving standards are better than in the Cycladic islands like Santorini, Mykonos, Paros, Milos or Naxos). You can browse Rentalcars.com to compare prices across providers.
Having your own vehicle is invaluable if you want to get off the beaten track to some of the inland villages, or to go to the butterfly reserve – but parking around Rhodes town is difficult.
When choosing between Rhodes vs Crete, it’s important to consider your budget. Rhodes is slightly more expensive than Crete – but both are still far more affordable than Mykonos or Santorini!
Rhodes’ economy is based around tourism, so many businesses seek to make their years’ worth of earnings for the nine months that tourists visit the island.
For transport, expect to pay a similar price to rent a vehicle on either island. Scooter rentals will start at approximately €25 per day.
Public transport will also cost a similar amount, but be aware that Rhodes is smaller than Crete, so the journey times, and price will be less.
Hotels in Rhodes can be quite expensive in the high season during the summer months – more than in Crete. There are fewer areas to stay to choose from, in general, and it can be harder to find more budger-friendly accommodation.
Food is more expensive in Rhodes, but you can still find a decent main course in Rhodes’ old town for anywhere between €10 – €15 and mezes for around €8 a dish.
Things to do in Rhodes
Rhodes is jam-packed with exciting things to do. It is full of interesting towns, beautiful beaches, rowdy nightlife and ancient sites.
A must for any trip to Rhodes is to explore the UNESCO-listed Rhodes town. This city was the home to the Knights of St John, who fortified the city with medieval fortifications.
Now it is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe, and the Street of the Knights, leading to the Grandmasters Palace is arguably the most beautiful medieval street in the world. If you love medieval history, this is something you should really keep in mind when choosing between Rhodes or Crete.
Lindos, in the southeast of the island, should be on every itinerary of Rhodes. A traditional village of white houses and windy streets all leading up to a magnificent acropolis filled with ruins which overlook the Aegean sea.
Rhodes is blessed with some beautiful natural sights. If you’re lucky enough to visit in July you should visit the Valley of the Butterflies. You’ll get entry to this magnificent walking trail, where thousands of butterflies come to breed in the summer months. It’s a steep uphill climb, and it gets busy during the day, so plan your day accordingly.
Rhodes’ beauty is really most evident with its beaches – as an island it’s blessed with countless beaches which you must visit, and many are within easy distance of Rhodes town.
Most visitors will visit Elia beach, which is a pebbly beach within walking distance of Rhodes town. If you’re spending the day there, consider stopping in at the wonderful RONDA, a funky beach bar at the edge of the beach. You also organise a day cruise to visit here and some other beaches.
To the south of Faliraki, you’ll find the tiny Anthony Quinn Bay. Named after the Hollywood actor who filmed “The Guns of Navarone” in Rhodes. This beautiful rocky beach is blessed with lush green vegetation and emerald waters. This small beach has many sharp rocks in the water so might not be suitable for children.
But undoubtedly the best beach is Tsambika beach. It’s named for the church and pilgrimage site visited by couples struggling to conceive. The walk up to the church is strenuous, but the reward of the view of the incredible sandy bay is well worth it, and you’ll appreciate it even more once you climb back down and go for a swim in the beautiful calm waters below.
Where to Stay in Rhodes
Attiki Hotel – This cosy bed and breakfast is a wonderful base for mid-range travellers to this gorgeous island in Greece. Situated in Rhodes old town not too far from the beach, they have a number of wonderful rooms on offer and a great breakfast available each morning. Click here to check availability
Sperveri Boutique Hotel – This opulent boutique hotel located in Rhodes Town will make luxury travellers swoon. Poised close to all of the top attractions in Rhodes’ old town, they have a number of great rooms to choose from and countless amenities to ensure your stay is fantastic. Click here to check availability
Rodian Gallery Hotel Apartments – If you want the convenience of their own flat with the amenities of a hotel, then this is an excellent place to stay. There are a range of apartments ranging in size and an excellent location in Rhodes Town perfect for exploring all the island has to offer. Click here to check availability
STAY Hostel Rhodes – This highly-rated hostel in Rhodes town is perfect for budget and solo travellers. Voted the best hostel in Greece for four years in a row, they offer both dorms and private rooms on offer, excellent common areas and a great atmosphere. Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Rhodes hotels!
The biggest Greek Island and the 5th-largest Mediterranean island, Crete has a history and identity even bigger than its actual size! Ask a Greek their favourite island, and there’s a good chance they’ll say Crete – its diversity is unparalleled.
A serious difference between Crete and Rhodes is size – you can fit about 6 Rhodes into a single Crete.
Crete is huge, with a burgeoning population, but this isn’t a bad thing. Because the island is so big it has a great infrastructure and getting to other parts of Europe is easy from here.
Crete can easily be part of an island hopping trip incorporating Santorini and the Cycladic islands. Heraklion is only about two hours from Santorini on a fast boat. Heraklion is the transport hub for the island, with a large port and main airport located a stone’s throw from downtown Heraklion. You can view ferry schedules here.
Heraklion is a transport hub for buses within the island – buses are affordable, but aren’t a quick option as they stop absolutely everywhere! Buses connect major sights like Heraklion, Chania, Agios Nikolaos, and Rethymnon.
Another excellent place to stay, Chania is best situated for travelling around the west of Crete, there is another airport, as well as a smaller port. It’s also well-suited if you want to take a day trip to the pink island of Elafonisi.
Buses between Heraklion and Chania are cheap, reliable, and regular – so you can get between them easily. Taxis and private transfers are also available, although a little bit more expensive, they can be booked here.
Another option to get around the island is renting a scooter. It’s easy to pick these up from large towns like Chania. But remember Greek roads are notoriously dangerous. It’s important to take care when driving in Crete (even if the local Cretans don’t), and know your limits especially when it comes to alcohol and speed.
It’s also possible to rent a car, an option that is a little safer than scooters – plus you can travel much farther in less time. It’s worth remembering that Crete is huge. It really is worth having your own transport to get around the island and explore the parts public transport can’t take you.
If you are choosing between Crete or Rhodes, of course, money is a factor.
Whilst a part of the economy, Crete isn’t as reliant on tourism as Rhodes, and this is reflected in prices that are aimed more towards locals outside of the major tourist destinations.
A great spot to stay is Chania. There are plenty of local family-run guest houses in Chania’s old town that can be quite affordable. As with everywhere, there are cheaper, as well as far more luxury options available, and prices will adjust accordingly.
Remember, Crete is a year-round destination – choosing to visit outside of peak season could score you some great discounts.
Crete, like Rhodes, has a major package tourist industry, based around Hersonissos and Malia. These two towns are a short drive from Heraklion and offer sea, sun and sand at a very reasonable price for all the family.
If booking a family holiday on a budget, the small differences between the resorts on either island could help you settle the argument of Crete vs Rhodes.
Food is a little more expensive than on mainland Greece, but cheaper than the more glamorous islands like Santorini or Mykonos.
Things to do in Crete
Exploring the cobbled streets of Chania is an absolute treat for any visitor here. You are likely to find a new favourite coffee shop or bakery around every corner, beautiful buildings and churches, local artisans making time-honoured traditional products and friendly locals always willing to stop for a chat.
Crete is on the European hiking trail, this means that walkers can make their way over 10,000 kilometres across the entirety of Europe! Of course, we’re not saying you should do the whole thing, but there are some great sections that make for lovely short hikes.
Samaria Gorge is well known as an example of the best walks in Europe and for good reason. The rural hike takes you through the massive 16km gorge, it’s also a UNESCO site so well worth a visit whether you like hiking or not. You can book a tour here.
Crete is also a sun, sea and sand destination. You can’t escape its beach vibes as you travel around the picture-perfect coastline. In fact, its incredible beaches could make for a wonderful itinerary all on their own. Don’t miss our favorites while visiting the island; Falasarna, Balos and Elafonissi.
Another great spot to visit and stay a while is Agios Nikolaos. There’s plenty to do here, like snorkelling Olous, wandering old cobblestone towns, and visiting the local farms to learn about their methods of agriculture.
One of the very best things to do in Crete is to visit Spinalonga – once home to Greece’s major leper colony. Visitors can explore the town, shops and houses of the isolated community. Around 400 people lived here, but the island emptied when a cure was found for leprosy. Crete’s history is utterly fascinating.
It’s probably best known for the Minoans, known as the first civilisation of Europe. A few kilometres from Heraklion you’ll find the archaeological site of Knossos. Its most revered site is the room where the throne once sat along with its magnificent recreated frescoes.
Where to Stay in Crete
Casa Leone Hotel – This three-star hotel located in the centre of Chania is perfect for mid-range travellers to Crete. They have a myriad of comfortable and bright rooms available, a great location in the city centre and breakfast is served daily. Click here to see their availability
Artion Boutique by Enorme – Luxury travellers looking for a plush stay on Crete will love this cool boutique hotel in Heraklion. Perfectly situated for exploring all this Greek island has to offer, they have a host of beautiful rooms to choose from and breakfast is also available in the morning. Click here to see their availability
Pavo Art Hotel – Those looking for their own flat while visiting Crete will love this aparthotel in Heraklion. They combine the convenience of a private rental with the amenities of a hotel and there are a number of apartments on offer that are completely furnished with everything you may need. Click here to see their availability
Cocoon City Hostel – If you’re travelling on a tight budget, this hostel is a great choice for your island getaway. Located in the town of Chania, they offer both dorms and private rooms to choose from and good common areas that make it easy to meet other travellers. Click here to see their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Crete hotels!
Rhodes or Crete: The Verdict
So, the big question – which island should you choose?
Crete is a destination in its own right. It’s wonderfully set up for people who want to explore the remote corners of the island – with far-flung beaches, gorges and beautiful towns. It can also be the more budget-friendly of the two. When deciding between Rhodes or Crete for couples – I’d pick Crete.
Rhodes is much smaller, and yet still has plenty of excellent attractions. Rhodes town will make kids and adults alike feel like they’re in a fairytale, and the wide variety of beautiful beaches will easily keep families busy for a week. Best of all it’s all in a relatively compact area.
Whether you choose to visit Crete or Rhodes, you’re sure to fall in love with these beautiful Greek islands, filled with incredible beaches and interesting historical sites.
Are you trying to choose between Rhodes and Crete? Have any questions about either island? Let us know in the comments!