Driving in Crete
Crete is a wonderful place to drive or ride - there is no more varied or scenic set of routes and roads than those traversing the island.
Do not let these tips put you off driving here - they are designed to condition you and show you how to drive in a more relaxed and of course, safe, manner.
The key is alertness - all the time. When you drive in Crete to your place to stay take it seriously - and be aware of everything going on around you, at all times. Also buy a good map with a scale of 1:200.000 or better.
Dry Roads are Slippery Roads
Problem: You could say that there is no such thing as a dry road in Crete. As a large part of the "surfaced" or "paved" roads in Crete needed re-paving several years ago, the amount of grip on many roads is far below what you may be used to. The road surfaces are generally very "polished" by use, especially at the most critical parts - on corners. Remedy: Allow longer stopping times and lower cornering speeds accordingly.
Quality of the road surface
The pothole, loose gravel, trenches and lost property, litter roads at any time anywhere and could take you by surprise. Remedy: Pay attention all the time, survey the road surface ahead. The "camber" or angle of roads is not always constructed to help you in bends and curves, be prepared.
Be alert for rocks which have fallen onto the road. Worst after rainfall, but wind, even goats scampering up hills or mountainsides cause rocks to be a hazard. Again be attentive and scan the road surface ahead.
Drive on the hard shoulder
On roads with a paved "shoulder" lane, it is customary (this is what people actually do and expect you to do) to use this part of the road to allow others to overtake or pass you , whether coming up from behind or if they are in the opposite lane getting past another car approaching you - just watch other (non-rental) car drivers and do the same. This is not in the rule book, but it is in the courtesy and survival book!
Red traffic signal/light
When "your" traffic signal turns green, don't try to be the first away from the lights, instead, just check that traffic that "should have" stopped at a red light, has done so - check and off you go.
We do not know of only ONE stretch of road in Crete where the speed limit is legally above 90 kilometres per hour (56mph) - and that is only 10 kilometres higher! Now you know!
Standing water and the previously mentioned old road surfaces mean allowing much more time to slow or stop and slower speeds than you may be used to for corners/winding roads.
One way streets
Watch for people driving or riding the wrong way! This happens mostly in towns.
Goats en route, pigs, piglets and sheep
Slow down and they will usually move out of the way - a shepherd herding his flock will normally try to move his animals out of the way, when he can do so - just wait and enjoy the spectacle.
Many adventurous great drives in Crete mean driving on tracks and unsurfaced roads. It's obvious - take it slowly; look out for the almost invisible (in certain light conditions) mesh gates. Open these and securely close them behind you.
Some of these roads are quite acceptable at low speeds, others become severely rutted after bad weather or just neglect.
Every map we've used is in part out of date - meaning that some of the roads marked as unsurfaced, are now surfaced. Ask at a village before the start of such a route if you wish to know; however, opinions given about the suitability of an unsurfaced road can vary enormously from your own once you try it!
Signals, the obvious, anything that makes sense: do not presume that someone will stop or keep to their side of the road to let you pass by "because it makes sense", drive defensively, meaning expect the least accommodating behaviour of other drivers and then leave room to be pleasantly surprised!
Use the car Horn/Flash lights
If it looks as if someone is about to pull out into your path as you are driving a quick but audible toot on the car horn/hooter is a good preventive measure. When passing/overtaking it's also a good idea to flash your headlights to the car in front unless they have made it clear they know you are there and are keeping over to help you get passed. (Know what's going on - and - let others know what you are doing).
If another driver flashes headlights at you, it most often means "I'm coming through". Two quick flashes of headlights from a driver coming towards you is normally a warning of an obstruction or police ahead.
Use headlights when they can't see you
It is a very good practice to turn on your headlights when the sun is shining in the eyes of drivers coming toward you. This assists drivers in seeing you, and may prevent some of the more impatient from passing a car when you are directly in their path, but invisible in the glare of the sun. Be seen!
Average journey times in Crete
Because of the tightly winding "hairpin" bends on mountain roads and others which are narrow or poorly surfaced, if you are estimating the travel time between two points based on the distance you should use an average speed of 40-50 km (25-30 miles) per hour. The average speed will be higher on parts of the new National road, but even lower on some others - for example roads out of Paleochora, Lentas, Xerokambos to name a few.
Read all of the above and then proceed!
Ready to drive?
To see what you want, when you like, at a pace that suits you.... you might wish to rent a car!
See also our: Crete car rental website