Heraklion is the best place to stay in Crete for most first-time visitors to the island, but Chania does have some upsides.
When choosing between Chania or Heraklion as a place to stay in Crete, you really need to ask what is it you want to see in Crete.
Where is better – Chania or Heraklion?
If you're planning to spend a week or so visiting the Greek island of Crete, deciding which part of the island to stay is going to take some thought.
While some people might want to stay in 2 or even 3 different places in Crete, others prefer to base themselves in one place and explore from there.
Chania or Heraklion become two obvious choices when looking where to stay in Crete. However, I think the choice is less between whether Chania or Heraklion is the best town to stay in, and more what parts of Crete do you want to see?
Chania is a great place to see most of Western Crete. Heraklion is perfect for exploring the east and south of Crete.
By staying in either place you are effectively limiting what you can see on the other side of the island. Why is that, you ask?
Crete is Big
What people underestimate though, is that this is on roads not of the quality you may be used to. Rather than a relaxing drive, it would be a tiring one, especially on the way back.
For example, if you chose to stay in Chania, rented a car, and decided to visit Knossos Palace in Heraklion, you'd be looking at over 4 hours driving on the round trip. Factor in the heat in Crete, and how tiring sightseeing can be in high temperatures, and you might end up with quite an exhausting day.
The Chania to Heraklion bus takes even longer than driving yourself – about 2 hours and 40 minutes one way. Forget about taxis – they are going to cost you over 200 Euros!
This is why I would recommend choosing between staying in Chania or Heraklion based just exploring what there is to see in the surrounding region of each place.
Heraklion is better than Chania for first time visitors
On a personal level, I far prefer Chania over Heraklion. However for people planning to visit Crete for the first time, Heraklion might just edge Chania out as the best area to stay.
The east and south of Crete have many highlights and attractions, and these can be easily seen on day trips from Heraklion.
Knossos palace is the classic example of this. If you really want to visit Knossos in Crete, you'd be better of staying in Heraklion. Other highlights you can reach from Heraklion include Spinalonga, Matala beach, and even Vai Beach.
That's not to write Chania off completely. If hiking the Samaria Gorge is high on your list of things to do in Crete, you'd be better of staying in Chania. The same goes for if Elafonisi Beach is a priority.
Is Chania or Heraklion easier to get to?
Another deciding factor in deciding if Chania or Heraklion is better to stay at, could be how to get there in the first place.
Both cities have international airports and a ferry port. That doesn't make them equal though.
Heraklion has far more international flight connections, and daily flights to Athens. The ferry port connects Crete with the Dodecanese islands and Cyclades islands. This makes it easier to visit Heraklion and potentially plan a Greek island hopping trip.
Chania's flights are more limited in nature. The international flights connect fewer UK and European destinations. The flights between Athens and Chania tend to be on smaller planes, and the ferry port currently only connects with Piraeus Port in Athens.
You'd have to check if Chania or Heraklion is easier for you to get to from your own country. Generally speaking though, Heraklion has more transport options.
Which is nicer, Chania or Heraklion?
I think that Chania is way nicer than Heraklion, and don't think many people would argue against that.
While both cities have historic centers, Chania has a small town feel. Heraklion looks and feels like a big city. Even standing in the Old Town center of Heraklion, you can't escape the feeling that it is surrounded by a modern urban sprawl of concrete buildings.
Old Town Chania on the other hand feels more compact, and even though there is a more modern city backing it up, it never seems quite as overwhelming.
Keep in mind that both cities suffer from tourist numbers in the high season months of July and August, thanks in large part to cruise ship passengers.
To a certain extent, most people expect this with Heraklion. It can come as a surprise to people who built up expectations of Chania being a quaint and quiet town though that it is far from it in the summer. (OK, maybe it's still quaint!).
Related: Where to stay in Heraklion
Is there more to do in Heraklion or Chania?
There's heaps more things to do in Heraklion than there is in Chania. Visiting Knossos and the Heraklion Archaeological Museum can take up the better part of a day just by themselves, and that's before you walk around the historical sites and Venetian Walls.
One place that interested me more than I thought it would in Heraklion was the Natural History Museum of Crete. If you've got kids, the dinosaur displays and earthquake simulator are a must!
Chania town does have plenty to see and do as well. The Old Venetian Port area and harbour are wonderful places to take a stroll. The Archaeological Museum of Chania, just outside of the historic area, is also worth spending a few hours in.
On balance though, there's more to see and do in Heraklion compared to Chania, which is only logical given how much bigger Heraklion is than Chania.
Does Chania or Heraklion have better beaches?
No one would suggest going to either city specifically for a beach holiday. Still, it's nice to go to a nearby beach no matter where you stay!
Both cities have nearby beaches you can enjoy, requiring either a long walk, bus or taxi to reach.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which city is larger, Chania or Heraklion?
Heraklion is significantly larger than Chania. As a result, there are more things to do in Heraklion, such as visiting Knossos and the Heraklion Archaeological Museum.
Are the beaches better in Chania or Heraklion?
Neither city is specifically known for their beaches. However, both Chania and Heraklion have nearby beaches that visitors can enjoy. Famous beaches like Elafonissi and Vai can be visited as day trips from Chania and Heraklion.
Which city is nicer, Chania or Heraklion
While subjective, many people tend to think that Chania has a more appealing small-town feel compared to the larger, more urban feel of Heraklion.
For someone planning to visit Crete for the first time, should they stay in Chania or Heraklion?
For first-time visitors, staying in Heraklion might be more beneficial as it allows for easier access to some of the main attractions such as Knossos palace, Spinalonga, Matala beach, and Vai Beach.
Dave is a travel writer from the UK who's been living in and writing about Greece since 2015. As well as writing this travel comparison of Chania vs Heraklion, he's also written hundreds of other travel blog posts about Crete and destinations in Greece. Follow Dave on social media for travel inspiration from Greece and beyond: