The showdown of Kos vs Crete is a showdown between two very different islands in the Greek archipelago. Yes, there are similarities, but each is glaringly unique in its own way. The good news? You’ve come to precisely the right place to compare and contrast and decide which plate-spinning, sun-soaked holiday mecca is the option for you this year…
Yep, this guide will run through the ins and outs of both Crete and Kos. It will range from the otherworldly lagoons of Crete’s north-west coast to the postcard-worthy sand stretches of the Kos southern shoreline. It will hop from the glimmering White Mountains that scar the Cretan inland to the olive-dashed peaks of Mount Dikaios near Kos Town. We’ll also uncover the character of the isles, the cuisine, and the hotels you can choose from.
Ready? Let’s begin…
Kos vs Crete: The general vibe
Kos is an amazing place. It’s got lovely towns filled with bougainvillea-strewn tavernas and a unique blending of Turkish-Greek character, much of which is a leftover from the era of Ottoman rule on the island. There are some corners of the inland peaks that remain untouched and unchanged, but it’s still hard to shake the feeling that you’re in an out-and-out holiday destination here, especially if you travel in the high-season months between May and August.
Crete isn’t like that at all. Yes, there are places where you can’t escape the lobster-toned bodies of likeminded R&R seekers. But you’ll never be more than a short drive from an authentic Cretan escape. Notice we say ‘Cretan’, not ‘Greek’. This island is fiercely independent and different. There’s a seafaring heritage, a proud mountain character, and a hardiness about the people that’s simply unrivaled anywhere in the country.
Kos vs Crete: History
Kos has no shortage of impressive historical sites. There’s a wonderful ancient complex tucked right into the heart of Kos Town. That joins with a couple of Roman villas and a fantastic Roman theater to showcase thousands of years of human habitation. You can also explore castles that were built by the Knights Hospitaller, not to mention towns infused with elegant Ottoman-era architecture.
Then you’ve got Crete. It might be the most historic of all spots in the country aside from Athens and Delphi. As the onetime home of the mighty Minoan empire, it has relics that predate even the Hellenic buildings of the Parthenon. We’re talking the immersive palace site of Knossos and the adjoining artifacts of the Heraklion Archaeological Museum (one of the best in the country). Simply do not miss them.
Kos vs Crete: The beaches
There’s a bit of a difference in the geographies and climates of Crete and Kos. That has a knock-on effect on how the coastlines look on both islands.
Crete is distinctly raw and rugged, with sun-cracked bays that drop down from stony peaks to pebbly coves. There are sandy stretches, particularly around Rethymno and Chania on the north shore, but the sand is coarse and often hot to the touch. Where Crete excels is at places like the Balos Lagoon and Elafonisi. They’re not your run-of-the-mill Greek beach, but rather isthmus sand spits dashed by pink coral.
Kos has your more traditional island feel. That goes for the ever-popular south coast especially. That’s where beaches like Kefalos and absolutely lovely Agios Stefanos (our hands-down fav) make their home. You’re not without wilder coastline, though. You can always head to north Kos, which often looks more Canary Islands than Dodecanese, with bigger waves and undulating sand dunes.
Winner: Kos – it just has more sandy beaches
Kos vs Crete: Hotels
We’ll let the numbers do the talking here. Booking.com returns an estimated 373 hotels in Kos. That’s plenty, yep. But it is nada compared to the whopping 8,108 hotels that await in Crete. Basically, you’ll be spoiled for choice on the southernmost island, with all sorts of hotels both cheap and luxurious. Some of our favorites are the simple 3-star Irini Hotel, where we’ve stayed to explore the heart of Heraklion town, the Infinity Blue Boutique Hotel & Spa, close to the fine beaches of east Crete, and Star Beach Village & Water Park, which is a four-star pick for family travelers.
Kos isn’t without its great hotel choices. Within that 373 are establishments like the OKU Kos. That’s a jaw-dropping resort with some serious style. It fades into the sand dunes on the north shore with Balinese-style cabanas and a stunning swimming pool. The Kos Aktis Art Hotel is also worthy of a mention. We simply adore those glass-fronted balconies – the Aegean sometimes feels close enough to touch!
Kos vs Crete: Ease of travel
Both Crete and Kos have international airports, although Crete has two – one in Chania and one in Heraklion. Crete is also a major port destination for ferries crossing the heart of the Aegean Sea. You can typically come in from Santorini, Milos, Rhodes, Athens – you name it. Kos does have ferry links, but fewer. On the plus side, there are links to Turkey to balance that out.
Of course, traveling to the destination is only half the story. Getting around the island once you’re on it is also important for the more adventurous travelers out there. Having rented a car on Crete many a time, we can report that the roads aren’t the best. In fact, they are downright hair-raising at points. If you plan to venture into the White Mountains or the hidden beaches of West Crete, be sure to check the map properly and drive super slowly.
Kos isn’t as bad. It’s smaller and way easier to breeze from A to B. There are frequent bus links from main Kos Town to resorts like Kardamena (costing around just €3.50 per person), but it’s also easy to grab a taxi. More than that, the north coast has a lovely cycling route that links up villages like Tigaki and Marmari with the main city.
Kos vs Crete: Nightlife
Kos relies on Kardamena and Kos Town to do the entertaining after dark. They are by far the island’s most high-octane party resorts. Kos Town is generally the livelier of the two, mainly thanks to Bar Street and its array of 18-30s dance venues that will often defy the clock to go on to sunrise and beyond. Kardamena is only a little more relaxed but will also go into overdrive from May onwards.
Crete has a number of places with pretty epic nightlife. The most iconic of the bunch is the resort town of Malia. Just a touch east from the capital, it’s a cinch to reach from the main airport and boasts The Strip, a long run of sleepless cocktail and shot bars that mainly cater to British, Dutch, and German revelers in the summer months. Don’t discount a night out in Heraklion or Chania, though. Those places have lively tavernas that will have a more local feel but still plenty of ouzo and Cretan wine to keep you going.
Kos vs Crete: Food
The cuisine of the Dodecanese islands is seafood-heavy but also influenced a little by the east. That means a touch of Turkey in the smoky dips and the spice-topped salads of Kos. Mainly, though, the taverna menus here sell classic Greek mezze fare – think grilled octopus doused in lemon juice, fava bean paste, and fresh salads of tomatoes and olives. Yum.
Crete, as usual, likes to do things a little differently. In lieu of traditional Greek mainland and islander cooking, the folk here have their own array of dishes. They include the crispy dakos bread with its white-cheese topping, hard mizithra cheese dipped in wildflower honey, and handpicked highland greens known as horta that are bitter as can be until you squeeze a lemon on top. It’s one of our favorites.
Kos vs Crete: The verdict?
For us, there can only be one winner here: Crete. The largest island of all in Greece, it’s simply so unique and different that you could visit year after year and still find something new and exciting. The beaches are wild and jaw-dropping, the mountains invite hikers and trekkers, the towns are steeped in Venetian and pre-ancient pasts. You’ll love it.
That’s not to say that Kos doesn’t have its pulls. It most certainly does. It’s just that Kos is more your classic Greek holidaying destination. It’s a perfect pick if you want to crash on a white-sand beachfront or hit the bars for a couple of nights.