Crete or Kefalonia? Which Greek Island is Better to Visit?

Balos Beach on Crete, Greece
Photo credit by Eleni Afiontzi on Unsplash
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Choosing between Crete and Kefalonia is no easy task. One is the largest Greek island and the most southern, located at the very edge of the Aegean Sea. While the other sits just west of the mainland in the beautiful waters of the Ionian Sea. Both are known for their natural beauty, stunning beaches, and glorious climates. However, there are a few differences between them which might affect which one you fancy for a holiday. 

Crete is so large that it can sometimes not feel like an island at all. It has several vibrant cities, wild nightlife, and rich history, resulting in some incredible archeological sites. Kefalonia is smaller and more peaceful, with no real nightlife, but a location perfect for island hopping amidst its Ionian Fellows. 

We’ve laid out these key differences for you here along with their many similarities in the hopes that we can help you pick the Greek island that is right for you! 

Getting There And Around

A small white boat on the beautiful clear waters off Of Crete.
Photo by Elena Dimaki- on Unsplash

With two major airports, arriving in Crete is as easy as boarding a plane. However, as Greece’s most southern island, connections by boat take a little more effort. A ferry from Athens will take around 6 hours. And while there are direct ferries connecting Crete to historical Rhodes, romantic Santorini, or beautiful Karpathos, those journeys are not short. So Crete doesn’t make the best base if you want to spend your vacation touring the other beautiful islands of Greece. 

Getting to Kefalonia is just as easy, with an airport on the island and regular ferry links to the mainland taking 90 minutes. And, unlike Crete, it does make an excellent starting point for island-hopping, with several of the other Ionian islands only a couple of hours away. Visitors to Kefalonia can easily visit Zakynthos, Lefkada, or mythical Ithaca, home of Ulysses. 

And if you choose to spend your time on the island, you’ll also find it a little easier to negotiate and explore because, even though it is the largest of the Ionian Islands, it is only 780km², compared to Crete’s 8,450km².

Conclusion: Kefalonia is smaller and easier to explore than Crete and is better located for island hopping, so we’re giving it the win. 

Beaches

The beautiful Myrtos Beach in Kefalonia
Photo by Branko Besevic on Unsplash

The Greek Islands are known for their stunning beaches, and Crete does not disappoint. With its extensive coastline and over 300 beaches to choose from, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Will you visit Elafonissi with its gorgeous pink sand and aquamarine water, or take a boat to Balos with its famous lagoon? Will you windsurf at breezy Falassarna, or explore the caves at hippy favorite Matala? Maybe you’ll marvel at the freshwater river running through Preveli Beach or feel tropical at palm tree-fringed Vai. Pick a different beach every day; we doubt you’ll ever be disappointed. 

Kefalonia’s beaches are famous for their dazzlingly blue waters. The cobalt blue of the Ionian sea just cries out to be explored and many people choose to parasail over the coastline to best see it in all of its glory. Myrtos is Kefalonia’s most celebrated beach, known for the pure white of its pebbles and the dramatic pine tree-studded cliffs surrounding it. Or visitors can get a free spa session on Xi beach, where the orange sand holds clay renowned for its therapeutic properties. Or snorkel the waters around the Bay of Argostoli for a chance to encounter loggerhead turtles. 

Conclusion: An easy draw. From secret coves to vibrant resort-side stretches, both Crete and Kefalonia have stunning beaches to suit everyone’s vibe.

Natural Wonders

Melissani Lake is one of Greece's most beautiful natural wonders.
Photo by Branko Besevic on Unsplash

The stunning coastlines of these islands are not the only natural wonders worth exploring. It might surprise you to know that Crete is a mountainous island where snow-capped peaks are a common if unexpected, sight. Climb the 2500m high Mount Ida, then hike through Samaria Gorge, the largest gorge in Europe and one of Greece’s must-see sights. To avoid the crowds, walk the shorter, quieter, Imbros Gorge which runs parallel to Samiria and has equally beautiful views.  

Head underground to Psychro Cave, the birthplace of Zeus, then continue your mythological tour by swimming in Voulismeni Lake, where Athena once bathed. Or head to Kournos lake for some freshwater swimming and keep an eye out for wildlife in the surrounding greenery. 

Kefalonia’s Mount Ainos might not be as tall as Crete’s, but it is the only national park on a Greek island. Hike or drive to its 1600m summit, passing through groves of rare Kefalonian Pines. Catch a concert inside the stalagmite-filled Drogarati Cave, then visit Kefalonia’s most famous sight and one of the must-see natural wonders of Greece, Melissani Lake. This stunning lake sits 20m below the ground and is steeped in mythology and legend. 

Conclusion: Another draw. Mountains, caves, lakes, and wonders abound on both islands. 

Food And Wine

Both Crete and Kefalonia have reputations for culinary excellence
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Even within Greece, a country of culinary wonders, Crete has a reputation for excellence and some delicious signature dishes. Like Dakos, a crunchy rusk topped with fresh tomatoes and herbs, similar to bruschetta, and the endless varieties of Cretan cheeses made by almost every village. Head to a local market to sample as many as possible, then take a food tour into the hills and learn to gather the wild greens so prevalent in Cretan food. Visit a working olive grove to taste some of Greece’s finest olive oil or one of the wineries continuing the island’s 4000-year-old wine-making history. 

But you won’t go hungry on Kefalonia either. This island has its own specialty dishes like their pies filled with spiced meat, spinach and mountain herbs, or salted cod. Try aromatic chicken cooked in a traditional clay tserepa, or Mantoles, caramelized almonds flavored with cinnamon. The island is also known as the premier producer of Robola wine, but its most famous export is thyme honey which you should try on sticky pastries or with yogurt for breakfast. 

Conclusion: A draw. Both Crete and Kefalonia offer all the beautiful elements of Greek cuisine plus many wonderful specialties of their own. 

History

The Palace of Knossos is one of Crete's most visited archeological sights.
Photo by Egor Myznik on Unsplash

If Greece was once the center of western civilization, then Crete was the center of that center. It was home to the Minoans, one of the oldest advanced civilizations, who left traces of their Bronze Age existence throughout the Island. Such as the Palace of Knossos, home of the labyrinth from the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Visit the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, where you’ll find bronze age sculptures, jewelry, pottery, and weapons alongside relics from the Roman and Venetian eras. Elsewhere you’ll find Venetian palaces, Roman fortresses, and Paleolithic ruins and should be sure to take a trip to Spinalonga. This islet just off of Crete has a fascinating history and was one of Europe’s last remaining leper colonies.

In Kefalonia, it was the Venetian era that left the most significant mark on the Island. Although many of the Venetian buildings were destroyed in an earthquake in 1953, enough remains to delight architecture enthusiasts. History lovers shouldn’t miss the Mycenaean Royal Tombs, only discovered in the 1990s. And should also be sure to visit the Monastery of Saint-Gerasimos for the story of an aristocrat who gave everything up to help heal people and became the patron saint of Kefalonia. 

Conclusion: Crete wins. Both islands have rich and fascinating histories, but Crete has a few more impressive sights.

Nightlife

Crete's got a much more lively nightlife scene than Kefalonia
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Crete is an island that knows how to party, and many people visit to do just that. The undisputed hub of the nightlife is Malia which draws thousands of tourists from all over Europe to enjoy hedonistic nights on its neon-lit, alcohol-fuelled party strip. But it’s not the only place to party, you’ll find more club-hubs in Elounda and Stalis and some excellent bars tucked into the pretty streets and tourist regions of Chania and Heraklion. For something more mellow, try quieter resort areas like Agios Nikolaos, where you can enjoy sunset drinks without the pressure to party till dawn.

Kefalonia is not known for its nightlife, certainly not to the same level as Crete. But it does have its own brand of relaxed, nighttime fun. It’s a place to sip excellent local wine at a late-night taverna playing traditional Greek music. Or to sample classic cocktails on the coast with stunning sunset views. Those looking for a little more buzz will find some lively bars in Sami, Skala, or Lassi and a couple of good clubs on the outskirts of Argostoli but should not expect the Ibiza-esque vibes of Malia. 

Conclusion: For thriving nightlife, it’s got to be Crete. 

Cities And Towns

Chania is a beautiful city
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It’s rare to find a city on a Greek island, but Crete is home to several. Heraklion, the capital and economic hub of the island, is a great place to stay if you want easy access to trips and activities or if you like a little urban buzz on your island vacation. Picturesque Chania is one of the most beautiful cities in Greece and home to a colorful old town and many artistic and cultural sights. Aristocratic Rethymno shows off 16th-century architecture while Sitia is a peaceful base perfect for exploring the East of the Island, and artistic Matala is known for its street art and hippy festivals. 

Kefalonia doesn’t have cities; it’s an island of fishing villages, resort towns, and working ports. Argostoli, the island’s capital, is a busy, modern town and a good place to stay if you’re looking for shops, bars, restaurants, and boat tours. The second biggest town, Lixouri, is a busy resort where you’ll find all the tourist amenities and beaches filled with sun loungers and parasols. 

But it’s the pretty little fishing port of Fiscardo that you should be sure to visit. This tiny town is where celebrities drop anchor when they visit, and it’s a beautiful and cosmopolitan spot. 

Conclusion: As much as we love Fiscardo, Crete wins for having actual cities and a wider variety of towns. 

Crete Or Kefalonia? The Conclusion

a beautiful Greek beach with stunning clear blue water.
Photo by Marina T on Unsplash

So as you can see, it’s 3:1 to Crete, but most of our categories ended in a draw. Both Crete and Kefalonia have so much to offer in terms of beauty, activities, sights, natural wonders, and culinary delights that there’s very little to pick between them. We genuinely believe that you could have a wonderful holiday on either of them and never be disappointed in your choice. 

There are endless opportunities for activities and entertainment on both islands, and hikers, bikers, nature lovers, sunbathers, snorkelers, history hunters, and foodies will be in their element on either island. 

But if we have to make a choice, we’d say that if it’s archeology, history, urban exploring, or nightlife that you’re after, you should make Crete your destination. But if you want a peaceful, smaller island that’s easier to explore and ideally located for island hopping, well, then it should be Kefalonia. 

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Anita is from Wales and has been a travel addict since her first trip to Australia ten years ago. Since then she's lived and worked in Oz, New Zealand and Canada, worked many ski seasons and travelled widely through South East Asia, Morocco, India and Europe. She's a nomad, freelance writer, foodie, compulsive reader, tea addict and animal lover.