Basics. Hiring a car is very easy. You need a valid driving license written in the Roman alphabet. If it is in another alphabet (like Cyrllic or Chinese), you will need an International Driving License. The driving age in Greece is 18 for passenger cars and 16 for mopeds. Car hire companies may have different limits, so check first. When you pick up your vehicle, make sure to list all eligible drivers.
Supply & Locations. You will find a plethora of car hire outlets everywhere where there are tourists, including around airports and cruise/ferry ports. Towns, and even small villages, that cater to tourists will have readily accessible car hire outlets. Some of the larger hotels are apt to have a rental desk on site. Even small hotels can help you arrange a rental. There are some international outlets, such as Hertz and Avis, as well as many local companies. The majority of the local companies are reliable and reputable.
Prices. Prices vary from outlet to outlet, so it pays to research carefully. A very low price could indicate that VAT tax and insurance are not included, and then you are surprised at the extras on arrival. A high price may indicate far more insurance than you require. Most hotels will receive a commission for arranging car rental, and that will be added to your rate. Do online research before arrival; request rates from more than one company and be persistent in having all your questions answered to your satisfaction. You can, and should, pay for rental vehicles with a credit card.
Types of Vehicles. In addition to regular passenger cars, you can rent 4-wheel drive vehicles, dune buggies, larger "people movers" for groups of six to nine (including driver), full-sized motorcycles, scooters, and bicycles. There are also quads. These are like motorcycles with four wheels and can comfortably accommodate two people. Regular passenger cars are small, many with only two doors. If you are four adults, you will probably be more comfortable with a four-door. Luggage space is also limited, so plan accordingly.
Helmets, Seat Belts, Child Seats. There are helmet, seat belt, and child seat laws in Crete. Child seats are available, but the supply is limited. You should reserve yours in advance or bring your own if in doubt. Rental companies are required to have helmets available for all vehicles that require one.
At least half the local people ignore helmet laws, which is an interesting reflection of the Cretans' fierce independence and resistance to authority. You will see people riding motorcycles and other open vehicles with a helmet looped over one arm. This began when the law to "wear a helmet" was first introduced. When stopped, they pointed out that the law didn't specify where one had to wear it. Whether or not you can still get away with this probably depends on the mood of the police officer who stops you.
You will see at least half the visitors ignore helmet laws, which is an interesting reflection on tourists... The roads in Crete can be dangerous, especially to the uninitiated; quads and motorcycles can be unstable, especially for the inexperienced. Since most tourists are tooling around on their quads and motorcycles in bikinis and skimpy shorts while sightseeing and taking photographs, it is highly advisable to wear a helmet. The emergency rooms are filled with tourists with broken limbs and nasty scrapes all over their bodies. These will mend. A squashed skull is another story. Quads, bikes, and motorcycles do NOT come with personal injury insurance. Check with your home insurance carrier.
Moving & Parking Violations. There are random checkpoints where police will pull you over to check your papers. Without a helmet or proper paperwork, you will probably be ticketed. There are also laws against speeding, illegal passing, tailgating, etc., but these are not often pursued unless egregious right in front of a police officer. Ticket costs are high. If you are caught driving drunk, the penalties are steep. If you are involved in an accident while driving drunk, the penalties are even stiffer, and you are apt to be taken immediately to jail.
Parking is rather flexible, and illegal parking is rampant. In cities and larger towns, there are centrally located parking lots that are relatively inexpensive. It's advisable to use them. In smaller towns and villages, you can park just about anywhere, including on the sidewalk (if there is one) or even blocking another vehicle. If doing the latter, you should make sure your destination is within sight/sound of your car. When the blocked person needs to move, they will honk. There is ticketing for illegal parking (also expensive). In tourist towns, you should be aware and move your car if you see police ticketing. There are periodic "sweeps" of ticketing and towing in the crowded tourist towns when a business owner, bus or taxi driver complains.
Road Hazards. Driving in Crete, even on the main, modern east/west highway can be challenging. You must have your wits about you at all times. This is especially true if you come from a country that drives on the left. Drinking and driving and not paying attention can be very dangerous. All the charming roadside shrines you see everywhere were erected by family members to mark the spot where a loved one died.
Even on the main highway, there are long stretches of only two lanes that twist and turn. Even though there is only one "legal" lane in each direction, vehicles will pass in the face of oncoming traffic and on blind turns. You will see that almost all vehicles typically travel half in the breakdown lane and half in their own lane in order to create a "middle" lane for illegal passing - sometimes four lanes are created. Speeds are high. Big buses, long haul trucks, and taxis pull up close behind you and pass recklessly at breakneck speed very close to your vehicle.
Driving on the narrow roads up in the mountains is another challenge, presenting blind hairpin turns, sheer drop offs, and roads sometimes wide enough for only one vehicle. There are apt to be goats on the road, along with slow moving farm vehicles, and bicycles. The tiny lanes in small villages are the same, and driving through a tourist town at the height of the season requires all your attention. Do not expect to be yielded the right of way even at a traffic light, expect cars to stop at any given time and for scooters to pull out in front of you.
Having said this, driving is the very best way to see the island, presenting spectacular vistas everywhere. On roads that offer picturesque views, there are often pullout areas for photo stops, and a car gives you the flexibility to stop wherever you like.
Road Maps, Road Signs & Petrol Stations. There are very detailed road maps available a most of the petrol stations on the main highways. Virtually all hotels and car rental places will provide you with a good tourist map. Road signs on all the main roads are in both Greek and English. Generally, you will pass a Greek road sign and then the same one in English a few meters later. Many of the non-main roads will have signs in both Greek and English. Since the economic crisis, many petrol stations will not accept credit cards. Ask before filling the tank. All petrol stations are full-serve - you do not pump your own.
Crete has many ferry connections for example: You can go from Piraeus to Heraklion with Minoan Lines, to Chania with ANEK Lines or Hellenic Seaways.In the summer, there are daily catmarans (hydrofoils) from Heraklion to Santorini. The trip takes about 2.5 hours. Hellenic Seaways and SeaJets offer these sailings. You can also go to Crete by ferry from the Peloponnese (Gytheio) and Kythira island. This ferry lands on the west part of Crete, in Kissamos port.
The main ports in Greece that ferries come into are in Heraklion, Chania, Rethymno, Sitia, and Kastelli-Kassamos. Since there are no roads along the southwest coast there is a ferry line,with connections between Paleochora, Sougia, Agia Roumeli, Loutro and Hora Sfakion (Sfakia). There is also a connection with the islet of Gavdos, Europe's southernmost point (Cape Tripiti).
Ferries from/to Crete
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