If you’re planning to knock off all the fun things to do in Crete, renting a car is a great option. Car rentals in Crete give you the freedom and flexibility to travel how and when you want, but also allows you to visit parts of this fantastic country that are difficult to reach. We’ve rented a car in Greece a few times and absolutely love being able to do what we want when we want.
Public transport can only get you so far and there are so many fabulous Crete beaches to explore and mountainside towns to see. But what do you need to know if you’re thinking of renting a car in Crete?
Car Rental Crete Tips
What Do You Need to Rent a Car in Crete?
To rent a car in Crete you need a standard International drivers license (A valid US license works). If your license is not in English or Greek, have a translation just in case. You also should be prepared to hand over your passport. An International Drivers Permit is not mandatory but doesn’t hurt to have in case it is asked for.
Most car rental companies on Crete will require you to be 21 and to have held a license in your home country for a year. If you are under 25 you may face additional charges. It’s best to make sure to read all the fine print of your booking before you get to Crete.
You Need a Credit Card to Rent a Car in Crete
You cannot pay for your Greek rental car with cash, so plan on throwing down your credit card for the charges. If you have a US credit card many will carry car insurance on them so you don’t have to pay excess charges. More on that later.
Expect a Hold Charge on Your Credit Card
The other reason you need a credit card is because of the excess charge – or hold a charge. Every single one of our forty or so rental cars has put a hold on our credit card for the rental period. Holds can range anywhere from a few hundred euros to €1000+ in some countries. The “excess charge” as it is called is typically stated in your reservation details, but it is easy to miss.
We are aware that they must put this hold on our card, but it can be a huge shocker if you are unsuspecting and end up over your credit limit on your credit card. These excess charges are for scenarios where you disappear with the car and are never seen again, or get in a crash and refuse to pay. Stuff like that.
Car Rental Insurance in Greece
Do you need to add on car insurance to your rental? Many Greek car rental companies will try and convince you to add it on, and if you want to be safe and have peace of mind, it’s not a terrible idea, but I’m going to be honest – we never do.
Why don’t we add on car insurance? As mentioned above, if you have a US credit card, or equivalent in another country, it’s possible you already have CDW (collision damage waiver) insurance for rental car coverage and don’t know it!
It’s worth it to check your documentation and call your credit card to find out. It’s even worth considering signing up for a new credit card that does offer this so you don’t have to pay for ridiculous car rental insurance.
Bringing me to my next point – credit cards with primary rental insurance. The Chase Sapphire Reserve is my favorite travel credit card for many reasons, but the primary rental insurance is one of its best perks (including Priority Pass membership). When you put your car hire on your Chase Sapphire Reserve card you get primary rental car coverage around the world up to $75,000.
That works out great for us since we are nomadic and don’t have a car or home. Car rental companies in Greece and around the world are notorious for scaring customers and upsell all their insurance packages. You need to make sure if you need it or not before falling victim to their trap. Call your credit card company and always find out before you get to Greece.
If you don’t have a credit card that covers rental car insurance, it may be worth adding it on to your package. That way if there is an accident you won’t be stuck paying for a car hire out of pocket.
The Cost of a Car Rental Crete
It’s now so easy to compare rental car prices online, you’ll find most of the big rental car companies have rates that end up being pretty close to one another; they keep an eye on the competitor’s prices, so they remain competitive themselves. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do a little shopping around.
Be careful when looking online, as rental companies have the tendency to use tricks to make prices look lower than they actually are. The main way they do this is by using a ‘from’ price, with the actual amount you’ll pay only revealed when you’re further into the booking process and they reckon you won’t bother giving up and going elsewhere. Another trick they have is to show the price excluding tax, which means you’ll have something in the region of a further 20% to add to the headline price on show.
Needless to say, the cost of a smaller car will be lower than renting a larger one. The fewer add-ons (extra drivers, GPS, etc.) you require, the cheaper it will be too. I also find that it’s general the small, no name companies that will try and rip you off in their fine print – so make sure and read all the details before booking!
My favorites to look at are:
- RentalCars.com: Provides comparisons for car rentals in Europe.
- AutoEurope: I can often find deals here for car rentals in Europe.
- Discover Car Hire: Searches rental car prices around the globe.
Booking a Rental Car in Crete
These days, it’s really easy to book a rental car in Greece before you arrive in the country. We think the benefits of doing this are huge. Not only are you ‘guaranteed’ the vehicle you’ve opted for, reducing stress levels, but you’ll be charged less for renting that same vehicle simply because you’ve pre-booked. Walking up and trying to book a car is one of the worst things you can do for your wallet.
If, for whatever reason, you are unable to pre-book, don’t worry! Rental agencies rarely run out of vehicles (and if they do, you can just pop next door to a competitor). However, it might mean there’s less choice – something worth bearing in mind if you have specific requirements, such as an automatic.
You’ll also be charged a higher rate for exactly the same vehicle, and you’ll end up spending more time at the desk of the rental company rather than enjoying the start of your vacation. I always warn people to book at least 24 hours in advance for a car rental. You can see all my additional tips on renting a car abroad here.
Where to Pick Up Your Rental Car in Crete
If you’re flying straight into Crete it’s best to rent your car at the airport. Either Heraklion Airport (HER) or Chania Airport (CHQ) have car rental choices. Renting your car at the airport saves you time if you are flying on and off the island. It’s also easy to rent a car in Heraklion and always nice to fly into a destination and pick up a car rather than going into Heraklion city center.
An airport pick up is by far the best place to pick up your vehicle because it saves you the time and expense of having to get into the city center without your own transport (and probably some heavy luggage too). Even if there is an airport surcharge from the rental agency, it can still be worth it to rent from there.
That being said Heraklion city center also has rental car offices as well as the Ferry Wharfs. This is a good option for those who take the ferry in and don’t need to go to the airport.
Opt for a Return Rental
One way rentals almost always cost more, even if it’s in the same city. To save money you should try and pick up and drop off your car at the same location.
Choose the Right Crete Rental Car
You’re going to want to opt for a smaller car when renting a car in Crete. Why’s that? Greek roads are narrow, and you’ll see most of the cars are tiny too.
In some places routes even narrow down to a single twisting lane for both directions of traffic. In this case, you’ll find ‘passing places’ in which to pass each other.
Another thing you should consider when deciding on what rental car type to opt for is how many people and how much luggage you’ll have. Two-door cars are great for getting about (and really easy to park) but don’t offer much leg room in the back if those seats are going to be used, and obviously also have less space in the trunk for luggage.
It’s best to keep in mind your needs with Greek car rentals. Families of three or four might have a hard time fitting themselves and all their hardside luggage in a small car.
Finally, you’ll have the option of a manual or automatic transmission vehicle. Manuals are by far the most common vehicles driven in Greece – it’s where Cameron was forced to learn and drive stick. You’ll have a more extensive choice if you’re happy to drive a manual car on Crete.
They also tend to be cheaper to rent as a result. However, if you’re not happy driving a manual transmission and shifting gears yourself, automatics are available too. Just make sure you make this preference absolutely clear when booking because each car lot only have a few automatic available.
Fuel Choices on Crete
When picking up your rental car in Greece you need to know what type of fuel your car requires. Diesel and Unleaded are not interchangeable. Often on rental cars there will be a sticker near the gas cap to remind you of the fuel type.
You need to return your rental car with the same amount of fuel you were given. Don’t show up with less as the rental car agency will charge you to fill it back up at an astronomical rate.
Gas stations can be few and far between on Crete and many do not stay open at all hours. Unless you’re in Heraklion don’t plan on filling up at midnight.
Gas is really expensive in Greece. At the time of writing it’s about €1.63 per liter. Both gas and diesel are sold by the liter, and gas stations are generally self-service. You may have a problem paying with credit cards around Crete, so make sure you have cash on you to pay for gas.
GPS is brilliant for when you’re driving along unknown roads, there’s no doubt about it in our opinion. Having a GPS kit (generally referred to as Satellite Navigation or SatNav) focus on the navigation means you can concentrate on driving without having to read every road sign you pass.
Navigation systems are also useful because they can provide alternative routes, should they be needed, to take you around congestion hotspots. The most modern versions will give you some indication of the road’s speed limit too – measured in miles per hour just like in the US.
That’s not to say you need to get the GPS add-on with a rental car. If you have a cell phone with a local SIM contract, you’ll be able to access the data network, which means you can use smartphone navigation apps such as Google Maps.
Alternatively, if you don’t have a local SIM contract and don’t want to spend lots of cash on international roaming, you can download a Google Map to your phone when you are in WiFi. If you forget to do this, you might have to wait until you get to your hotel and use their WiFi to download a map.
It is not permitted to use a cell phone when driving in Greece to make calls or send/receive SMS text messages. You can use your smartphone for navigation purposes, but it must be hands-free only (such as safely stowed on the windscreen), and you must not program navigation while the vehicle’s engine is running. However, if I’m being honest, you’ll see many Greeks driving erratically and police are few and far between.
Inspect Your Car Rental in Crete
Often, the rental car agent will ask if you’d like them to show you around the vehicle or whether you’re happy to do it yourself. You absolutely need to go over your Greek rental car before driving off the lot. If they don’t show you around, do a thorough inspection yourself and note anything and everything.
The agent will generally start with the outside of the vehicle, pointing out any bumps or scratches that already exist, make sure all the damages are noted. This will also assure you of the roadworthiness of the vehicle.
On the inside of the vehicle, make sure that before you leave the parking bay, you know how to operate the headlights, indicator lights, and hazard lights. You should also know the location of the windscreen wipers, as well as the horn. Make sure you know how to alter the position of the driver’s seat, how the parking brake works (is it a traditional manual one you pull up, or a newer electronic one), and how to engage reverse gear (which often requires you to push a button of some sort first). They will also help you set up the GPS if you’ve opted for one.
Remember that if you’re not happy with anything you see, you should insist on an alternative vehicle. If you find cigarette burns, broken mirrors, or windshield cracks these need to be noted before you leave the parking lot. Otherwise, you could be charged for the damages once you return the rental.
Distances and Speeds on Crete
Distances and speeds are measured in kilometers in Greece. The speed limit is usually signposted on each new stretch of road or change in speed. In the cities the speed limit is usually slow at 50 km/hr. Open roads speed up to 80km/hr and highways are usually 100 km/hr, but make sure to keep your eyes on the signs.
In Greece, vehicles drive on the right side of the way. The passing lane is the middle lane.
It’s worth noting that speed limits are limits, not targets; only drive as fast as feels safe. I found the Cretian locals, to drive insanely fast and careless on scary roads. Don’t follow their lead and try and stay out of their way.
Driving in Crete
If it’s your first time driving in a foreign country, Crete may make your head spin. Drivers drive fast and carelessly, the roads are winding, and the roads are slippery and full of potholes.
That being said if you take the necessary precautions you’ll have an enjoyable time driving in Crete. A few things to remember:
- Always be aware of everything going on around you.
- Be alert for rockslides and rocks in the road.
- Watch out for people driving on the wrong side of the road – I’m serious!
- Many roads have a shoulder lane and if you are driving slow you should (and are expected) to drive in it. This allows for those fast drivers to pass you. You’ll get a lot of angry stares and honks if you don’t! If you aren’t practicing this unspoken rule, you’ll catch on soon. Drivers behind you will soon start to flash their lights at you as well signaling for you to move over.
- Look both ways before crossing the road. Just because a light turns red doesn’t mean a driver is going to stop.
- Watch out for goats, sheeps, and pigs in the middle of the mountain roads.
- Many of the roads in Crete are hairpin bends on mountain roads. The scariest one we drove on was down to Stefanou Beach. Take these roads slow. The GPS usually doesn’t accommodate to these roads, which can mean travel times take longer.
- Wear your seatbelt! This should go without saying, but wear your seatbelt at all times.
Scooters and Mopeds on Crete
It’s important to watch out for locals and tourists driving scooters and mopeds around Crete. A motorbike is a very popular way to drive around Crete and you’ll find them everywhere. Remember they should be treated with the same respect that you treat a car. The mopeds drive a bit erratically so don’t be surprised if they suddenly pull out in front of you!
Should You Rent a Car in Crete?
You have two options to get around Crete. A moped or a rental car. Public transport is not great on the island and you’ll need something to get to all the awesome beaches and towns. Although people drove a bit crazy, a rental car is the best way to get around. We were able to make the most out of our time in Crete and see so much! I highly recommend having one!
What to Pack for Greece?
Spending a summer on one of the many Greek islands? Lucky you. You may be wondering just what to pack for Greece. The islands are beautiful, swarming with history, and are populated with some of the friendliest people in the world.
Travel Water Bottle
However, we also love filtered water bottles in areas we’re uncertain of the water supply. Read more about our favorite water bottles for travel in our post.
We love to take a guidebook with us on trips as it’s not nice to always be attached to a screen.
These were great to have! Greece has a plethora of hiking trails to secluded beaches so we like to pack a pair of hiking sandals. They offer underfoot protection but can take an impromptu dip in the ocean.
Remember that Greece uses the Europlug. Make sure you find a good adapter to keep your personal electronics charged. Otherwise, you may be paying for a cheap one once you land.