Off the southern coast of the European mainland lies Greece’s largest and most populous set of islands – the region known as Crete. Crete is not only the name of the region, but the name of the primary island the region revolves around.
A Greek island sounds idyllic, and Crete certainly is. Being on the Mediterranean Sea, your first thoughts of lovely weather, incredible food and many outdoorsy activities would be right on the money. These aspects make it a truly appealing place – both for locals and for expats.
What’s more, for an expat with comfortable funds, life in Crete can be very affordable.
Eating big Mediterranean meals by the sea sounds extremely indulgent, but not only is great food relatively affordable in Crete; it’s everywhere too. Due to Crete’s variety in microclimates, natural ingredients are never far away and as a result many of the abundant traditional tavernas and cafés across Crete use ingredients of incredible quality.
The olive oil, cheese and wine is top notch, meaning you’re much more likely to have a great meal than a bad one. According to CNN, Crete could even be the best place in Greece for food – period!
The weather differs depending whereabouts on the islands you go, but it definitely gets very hot in Crete. The huge amount of tourist locations means that a warm evening watching the sea with high quality food and wine is always affordable and doable, while exercising is inevitable due to all the walking routes, like the famous Samaria Gorge, and all the curious ruins you can visit close to many towns and villages.
Of course, there’s also the ever-pleasant Mediterranean Sea; which appeals to even the most hesitant swimmers and bathers with its far-from-bracing temperatures and calm, clear waters.
There’s plenty to do just enjoying the nature around Crete – and that doesn’t even touch on the tourist sights and festivals! So even though the food is incredible, you won’t have to worry too much about putting on weight.
Historically, Crete is strategically important due to its placement in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, and this is proven by the ruins and remains of different civilisations across the region. Despite this though, Crete is extremely safe and has been for quite a long time. In fact, it’s so safe that it’s not uncommon for locals to leave things unlocked. Hotel rooms often have limited locking mechanisms, and this could be the same for a property you potentially buy.
This may sound concerning and it’s worth keeping in mind but Crete does have a comparatively low crime rate. Crime is more likely to take place in urban areas and due caution is of course advised. It’s also worth noting that there are many high mountain roads without barriers or markings, so be on the alert when first traversing them.
Cretans are proud, and the region is the most independent in Greece. While they don’t love tourism and it may take time to feel like part of a community, the locals are very friendly. Crete’s primary economy is agriculture, rather than tourism, making it the most self-sustained economy in Greece. As a result, strong Cretan traditions persist and the region’s economy was able to weather the Greek economic crisis better than the mainland.
That said, the region was still badly hit by the economic crisis, and the repurcussions are still being felt.
Greek bureaucracy can be a pain for expats too. It’s not insurmountable, but be prepared for some complications if you intend to move in.
The region of Crete is one of the 13 regions of Greece, and is itself split into four regional units. Crete is also quite a considerably-sized island, so narrowing down where you want to settle can be tricky. Despite its size though, the population of the whole region is under 1million – at around 623,065 since 2011. Around 42% of the population live in main cities and towns, while around 45% live in more rural areas.
With both busier cities and peaceful, traditional villages, there’s a place in Crete to suit every taste – so we’ve put together a little overview of some of Crete’s most notable cities and regions to help kick-start your research into a potential new home!
Heraklion – Crete’s Capital
The fourth largest city in Greece and Crete’s administrative capital, Heraklion is a hugely popular destination. Not just for global tourists, but visitors from mainland Greece too. Heraklion is the name of Crete’s biggest city, but also the regional unit that the city is based in. Around a quarter of Crete’s population lives in Heraklion city’s urban area, and around a half of the whole island’s population lives throughout the regional unit.
Heraklion has had a complex history of occupation from different civilisations, and the connections at the city’s port are still highly important for both tourism and trade.
The city and region largely enjoy warm to hot Mediterranean weather, making the area’s many historical attractions pleasant to visit.
For example, it’s difficult to mention Heraklion without bringing up the Heraklion Fortress – the Venetian Fortress surrounding the city harbour. The fortress is also used for shows including arts, music and plays – and there are many other historical museums and buildings to visit throughout the city too.
Of course, Heraklion is more than just history. As the capital of the best region in Greece for food, you can expect some extremely high quality restaurants.
Just near Heraklion city are the villages of Anogia and Archanes, widely seen as authentic areas that have still been little-touched by tourism.
Typical monthly cost to rent an apartment: £450
Chania – The Old Capital
The city of Chania is the capital of the Chania regional unit, and was Crete’s capital until Heraklion replaced it in 1971. The region covers the westernmost area of Crete, and the city is in the northwest of the island. Despite its history though, Chania contains many of Crete’s least spoilt areas and is perhaps the part of Crete best-known for nature.
The region is home to Samaria Gorge, a famous long walk that is loved by both tourists and locals, as well as the rare Cretan goat, ‘kri-kri’. Chania is a grear region for Crete’s endemic animals and plants in general.
Like Heraklion, the city of Chania has historical significance and has been occupied by many different civilisations up until the modern era. The city is split into two main parts; the old town and the larger modern city.
Chania’s old town is quieter and full of traditional buildings and narrow alleyways, but it’s still popular for its seafront and nightlife.
In comparison, Chania’s more modern side is more densely populated, with newer residential areas and services, as well as fantastic restaurants and bars. However, it still contains many historic places of interest too.
While rent is cheaper in Chania than Heraklion, groceries can be a fair bit pricier.
Typical monthly cost to rent an apartment: £415
Agios Nikolaos – Lasithi’s Jewel
Located in the regional unit of Lasithi, well on the eastern side of Crete’s main island, is Agios Nikolaos. A municipality as well as a town, Agios Nikolaos frequently decorates lists of Greece’s most beautiful and idyllic locations – but it has certainly become quite tourist-heavy.
It is well known as a tourist town and a hub for many nearby villages and farms, so you can expect a strong expat community and amazing food. The main attractions for visitors are, besides the food, the incredible beaches and waterfronts. There’s the famous lagoon, Lake Voulismeni, and memorable exhibitions and museums. It’s also very close to Voulisma beach, fondly nicknamed the ‘Golden Beach’.
Definitely worth mentioning is the agricultural coastal town of Ierapetra, a pleasant place south of Agios Nikolaos that lives off its own resources and is very ‘Cretan’ indeed. The town’s relaxed vibes and low prices make it a very enticing place to be, and it’s been known as one of the warmest towns in all of Europe. There’s also Elounda, a small town in the Agios Nikolaos municipality close to some of Crete’s best agricultural areas.
If a bustling town filled with amazing food, idyllic tourist activities and expats sounds like your kind of thing, Agios Nikolaos could be the destination for you.
Typical monthly cost to rent an apartment: £330
There’s already plenty here to get you going, but Crete is so packed with idyllic towns that there are some we just had mention. Hora Sfakion in the Chania region is a small town with just over 250 citizens. It’s sometimes seen as an antithesis to some of the more resort-heavy places in Chania, but its ferry and bus services make it a common passing through point for travellers looking to see the famous Samaria Gorge.
Then there’s Malia in Heraklion, widely known for being one of the best party towns in the whole of Crete – this is definitely one for the party animals with its amazing beaches and bars.
Lastly, one couldn’t forget Sitia in the Lasithi region, a large town with around 100,000 residents and one of the economic centres of Lasithi. As a town with many connections to major parts of east-Crete, it’s the perfect location for anyone who loves the convenience of easy travel to other major parts of Greece, thanks to its transport options and domestic airport.
It may be a little off the beaten path compared to some of Europe’s major cities, but Crete really has so many picturesque locales. Combine this with its comparatively cheap prices, and you’ll feel spoilt for choice!
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