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Five Islands to visit off the Crete coast

Updated on January 27, 2016
Carolina Crete profile image

Carolina lives on the Greek island of Crete, has published a guide book, and runs a website about living in Crete.

Five Islets off Crete

The island of Crete is the largest of the Greek Islands, and the fifth largest Island in the Mediterranean, covering 8336 square kilometers. The Capital City of Crete, Heraklion, has a population of 137,000 inhabitants and is the fifth largest City in all of Greece.

So Crete as a whole has little in common with the much smaller Greek islands, apart from the fantastic beaches and coves; it doesn't generally have the small Greek Island 'feel'. Just off the Crete mainland, however, lie a number of small islets which offer beautiful beaches with just a hint of tourism and rocky coves steeped in history.

Gavdos Island

A beach on Gavdos Island
A beach on Gavdos Island

See video of Gavdos Island

Gavdos island lies in the Libyan Sea off the south west coast of Crete, 45 kilometers from mainland Crete, and is the most southerly point in Europe. The island is around 10 square miles in size and is inhabited by just 45 people year round, but that number swells in the summer months when regular boats to and from Sfakia, Paleochora and Sougia on the Crete mainland, ferry day trippers and campers to the island. There is no mass tourism here and few conveniences. Just beautiful beaches (with the occasional taverna) and pine forests.

Boats run daily, Sfakia to Gavdos, from May to October, weather permitting.Also between Paleochora-Gavdos and Sougia-Gavdos.

Read more: The Med's Forgotten Island - BBC article

Initiative for a 'Green' Gavdos

Gramvoussa Island & Balos Lagoon

Gramvoussa & Balos / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Gramvoussa & Balos / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Gramvoussa Island lies just off the far North western tip of Crete, very close to mainland Crete, which is separated by the stunning Balos lagoon. Gramvoussa Island is home to a Venetian Castle, built on a rocky hilltop facing North and surrounded by a wall of 272m. The panoramic view is breathtaking. Below the castle is a fine sandy beach. There are no facilities or tavernas on this small islet.

Boat trips run daily from Kastelli (Kissamos) to Gramvousa Island, with a journey time of approximately 45 minutes. After a short stay on Gramvoussa Island the excursion boats anchor at the amazing Balos lagoon, with it's beautiful white sand and crystal clear aquamarine sea.

Chrissi Island

Chrissi Island / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Chrissi Island / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Chrissi Island (the 'Golden' Island), also known as Gaidouronisi ('Donkey Island'), lies to the southeast of Crete, 8 miles from the shore of Ierapetra. This uninhabited island, 5km long, approximately 1km in width and mostly flat, is known for its unspoilt beauty, sandy beaches, volcanic rock and small cedar forest. The west of the island has Minoan remains, Roman graves and the well preserved 13th century chapel of St. Nikolaos.

Boat trips run daily from Ierapetra to Chrissi Island in the summer months between May and October, and the journey time is around 50 minutes. It is forbidden to camp on the island and there are no rooms available. There is just one taverna, at Vougiou Mati, in the south of the island where the boat stops.



The small island of Spinalonga lies off the North East coast of Crete, just a short distance from Plaka and Elounda. The islet sits in the middle of the Bay in the Gulf of Mirabello and was used as a fortress by the Venetians to protect the Bay. The Fortress dominates the North face of the island.

From 1903 until as recently as 1957 the island of Spinalonga was a leper colony, where lepers from all over Greece were shipped to live in isolation on the island. The suffering of the lepers who inhabited Spinalonga was immortalised in Victoria Hislop’s bestselling book ‘The Island’. A Greek mini series of the book 'The Island' (Το Νισι) was filmed οn Spinalonga in 2010 for Greek Mega TV.

Today the island in uninhabited, but can be visited by a short boat trip from Plaka, Elounda or Agios Nikolaos. There is a footpath around the island, which takes you through the small deserted street of Spinalonga, with it's stone and concrete dwellings, around the fortifications and past the church and cemetery.

Souda Island

Souda Island
Souda Island

Souda Island is a small islet which sits near the mouth of Souda Bay in Chania, Crete. Souda Bay is the largest natural harbour in Europe, it stretches to 15km in length and is around 3km wide.

The Venetians occupied the area in 1207 and they fortified Souda Island between 1570 and 1573, in order to protect the area from Ottoman raiders and pirates. In 1571 an Ottoman military force landed at Souda and caused major destruction in Chania area, however the Venetians managed to hold on to the strategic islands within Souda Bay until 1715, over thirty years after the fall of Crete to the Ottomans.

In more recent years Souda island has been used as a military installation as it sits directly opposite the NATO navy base in Souda Bay. It was opened up to the public in 2007 and short guided tours are available around the island in the summer months. Note that there are no beaches as such on Souda Island and only escorted tour walks are allowed.

Souda Island is only accessible via escorted tours to the island, bookable via local travel agents as part of a day trip around Souda Bay.

Souda island is pine covered and has a Venetian fortress. It featured in the James Bond film "For Your Eyes Only", where scenes of the boat chase were filmed.


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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Interesting look at who can afford what. The phtoos are very nice of the three gates. I just realized they are all set in stone walls. It is a nice post. I enjoyed my look and visit.I wanted to thank you for visiting one of my blogs and for the comment you made about the ambient lighting on the mellow wood of another time, in Bear's Mill. I did respond there to your comment with the following comment..."Inside old buildings is a challenge sometimes and the Canon digital camera I use is pretty good about capturing what is there. As you noted, ambient light makes the perspective seem more alive and it helps if the focus is right too." Thanks for your visit.

    • Carolina Crete profile imageAUTHOR

      Carolina Crete 

      5 years ago from Crete, Greece

      Harry, Kalydon is the ancient name for Spinalonga, and it is an island., you cannot go there by car! See the local 'Kalydon Community' page which refers to the island as Spinalonga, as it is now (well) known :

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      On the picture is NOT Spinalonga, but Kalidon.

      Spinalonga is not an island; you can go there by car.

      Please don´t forget Gavdopoulis

    • profile image

      Claire Red Robot Media 

      7 years ago

      Wow, I've often looked at Souda Island and wondered if it was possible to get there somehow. Amazing post - thanks!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      We're going to Crete in september and want to visit Spinalonga and Gramvousa finally.

    • Carolina Crete profile imageAUTHOR

      Carolina Crete 

      8 years ago from Crete, Greece

      At last a boat for Gavdos! The problem seems to be solved for 2011, see

    • Carolina Crete profile imageAUTHOR

      Carolina Crete 

      9 years ago from Crete, Greece

      Oriste, that's right but there are still ways to get there, like

      ANENDYK have a new ferry which complies with the safety rules, but the harbours at Sfakia & Gavdos are currently not deep enough for them so work needs to be done. Watch this space.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Carolina, I think it's worth mentioning that there are problems reaching Gavdos since last summer (I tried to get there but couldn't). ANENDYK is no longer allowed to service that ferry line due to EU regulations and ANENDYK's unwillingness to comply to them. Anybody planning on visiting Gavdos should take into account that the situation is not likely to be resolved for the coming season. This article (in Greek) confirms this:

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Sounds a wonderful island, we will have to make the effort to visit Gavdos when we're back in Crete, probably in September. The trouble is there are so many nice places that we've found already in Crete, it's difficult to pull yourself away from them to look for new ones :)

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Great hub! I plan to visit Gavdos this summer, I've already been to Balos and Chrissi and love them. Didn't know that one can visit Spinalonga and I had no idea about the Souda island, so thank you for the info. There is also Koufonissi in south east of Crete but I don't know much about it either.

    • Carolina Crete profile imageAUTHOR

      Carolina Crete 

      9 years ago from Crete, Greece

      The 'best beach in the world' is surely subjective, De Greek. I certainly haven't visited them all to make that judgement!

      No, you cannot buy on Spinalonga Island, the island belongs to the government.

    • De Greek profile image

      De Greek 

      9 years ago from UK

      According to"Globe Treker" Gavdos island hs the best beach in the world... Is that true?

      Is it possible to buy a place to live on Spinalonga please?

      I reearching in preparation of moving to Greece when my son goes to university . Many thanks for this :-)

    • lchris7 profile image


      10 years ago

      I like islands and history. This hub has both. Crete is rich in the history of the Romans and the Greeks and served as battlegrounds and fortresses of many of the armies of the Hellenic period.

    • Carolina Crete profile imageAUTHOR

      Carolina Crete 

      10 years ago from Crete, Greece

      I live here Magic Bus ;)

    • profile image

      Magic Bus 

      10 years ago

      Oh you make me feel "Homesick". Don't you just miss the place?????


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