Hello, and welcome to our ultimate guide on visiting two of the most stunning locations on the island of Crete, Balos Beach and Gramvousa island. In this guide, we’ll be providing you with all the information you need to know; from details about the areas, how to get there and our top tips for visiting. We hope you enjoy and find it useful. 😊
Welcome to the land of turquoise water…
If you’re looking for a bit of peace and tranquillity away from the busy tourist towns, and love crystal clear warm water, then a trip to Balos Beach and Gramvousa should be high up on your ‘to do’ list.
Balos is known to be the most photographed beach in Crete and is famous for its crystal blue waters and it’s wild natural beauty. You can easily spend a full day here relaxing in the Cretan sun and wading the warm water with the little fish.
It’s not all about Balos Lagoon, as Gramvousa is another place that’s definitely worth visiting. Located a few miles north from Balos by boat, this remote island is famous for its Venetian fortress and turquoise blue water. There’s also an old shipwreck, which provides dramatic coastal scenery and is the perfect place to snorkel.
Now, that’s our short introduction to these remote but popular destinations, let’s dive right into the finer details to help you plan your own visit.
Why should I visit Balos Beach and Gramvousa?
As you may have read already, Balos Beach is widely regarded as being one of the best places to visit in Crete. Combine that with the lesser visited Gramvousa, and you’ll have a destination that’ll most likely be the highlight of your trip to Crete. Here are the highlights and exactly why you should visit:
- Clear, crystal blue waters that are pleasantly warm for you to go for a swim, even in the cooler months.
- Stunning natural scenery at Balos Lagoon. Long sandy beaches surrounded a central lagoon and it’s like nothing you’ll have ever seen before.
- You’ll get to see the beautiful Venetian fortress in Gramvousa, which has stunning panoramic views of the island. It’s a bit of a trek, but completely worth it for those views.
How to get to Balos Beach and Gramvousa
There are two ways to get to Balos Beach – by car, or by boat. Each has its benefits (as we’ll share below), but if you want to explore Gramvousa, the only way to do so is by boat.
We personally opted for the boat option, as we found it the most convenient, but we also wanted to see the island of Gramvousa. After boarding the ferry from Kissamos port, it then took around 1 hour 30 minutes to get to our first stop, Balos Lagoon, and then another 20 minutes to get to Gramvousa.
We went with Cretan Daily Cruises and paid 20 euros per person. This is the main boat that travels to Balos Beach and Gramvousa, and it was extremely big, with a capacity of around 800 passengers. They had both a lower, middle and top deck with plenty of seating. The ferry had several restaurants and stalls that served hot and cold food, cold beverages, and snacks too.
Whilst this is the main and most cost effective boat trip for exploring Balos and Gramvousa, if you’d prefer less crowds, you may wish to opt for a smaller, private boat tour. This is a lot more expensive, but worth doing if you don’t mind the extra cost.
Here’s the itinerary of the Balos and Gramvousa boat tour we did:
- Departs Kissamos Port at 10am – free parking is available at the port
- Sails 1.5 hrs to Balos Beach
- 2.5 hours to explore Balos and relax on the beach
- Lunch on the boat (extra cost)
- 10 minute boat trip to Gramvousa
- 1 hour to explore Gramvousa beach, fortress and bay
- 1 hr 20 min trip back to Kissamos port for disembarkation
Our top tips for the Balos Gramvousa cruise:
- When we visited, the ferry was extremely busy, so we recommend arriving at least 30 minutes before the ferry departs, so you can get yourself a good seat.
- As the boat arrives in each destination, make sure you’re one of the first in the queue to leave. You’ll be one of the first off the boat this way and can secure a sun lounger before they fill up. You’ll also avoid the large queues to disembark.
- Head back to the boat at least half an hour before departing Balos. You’ll find that there’s a lot less queues for lunch.
Other boat tour options:
If you’re looking to visit both Balos Lagoon and Gramvousa on a boat tour, then you might want to consider some of the tour providers below. If you book an early boat tour, you’ll get to enjoy the stunning beach locations for a couple of hours before the crowds arrive from the ferry boat. For a more intimate Balos Beach and Gramvousa excursion, we recommend checking out Seaze the Day Boat Tours.
If you’re looking to splash out on a more unique and personal tour, then you can hire a boat for the day (with a skipper). This is a good option for a large group (of around 9 people). You can beat the crowds of people and be free to arrive and leave whenever you like!
The other way to get to Balos Beach is by car. You can hire a car or book a private transfer to drop you off and pick you up. The main benefit of hiring a car to visit Balos is that you can arrive as early as you wish or stay as late as you wish, ensuring that you skip the huge crowds that arrive from the daily ferry boat. Arrive before 11am or after 2pm in the afternoon for a quieter experience.
The downside of getting here by car is that you can only visit Balos Beach – Gramvousa is only accessible by boat. The road here also isn’t the best. Expect 2 miles of slow driving on a gravel path, in which car hire insurance doesn’t cover you for if any damage is caused to the car.
Many people opt to visit Balos by car and parking is available a short hike up from the beach. It’s affordable and gives you the freedom to arrive and depart as you please. Entry to the Balos road costs a couple of euros and is payable in cash only.
The top things to do at Balos Beach
Balos Beach is a beautiful collection of beaches that surrounds a central lagoon. As such a vast area to explore (or simply relax), here are the top things to do whilst you’re there.
Explore the lagoon
The highlight of any Balos Beach visit is wading and bathing in its shallow, crystal clear waters. Everyone has seen a beach, but not many beach areas have such a mesmerising lagoon alongside them. The water is just over a metre high at its deepest end and most of it is much shallower. Consequently, it heats up quick in the hot Greek sun and quickly becomes a warm temperature. Lie down and bathe, go for a walk and take some of your best holiday snaps!
Go for a swim
Turquoise waters like this are best enjoyed away from the shore! Pick a beach that catches your eye and go for a swim. The water is refreshingly cool.
Explore the area on foot
If you’re eager to explore, put on some water shoes and trek the whole area. You’ll find some excellent viewpoints, rocky areas that lead out into the ocean and plenty of different types of scenery. Venture away from the tourists for a quieter Balos experience.
Relax on a sun lounger
Pull up a chair and umbrella as soon as you arrive and use it as your base for a few hours. It’s a more comfortable way of relaxing in the sun and you have shade when you need it. Alternatively, bring along a towel and simply lie on the sand.
Our Top tips for visiting Balos Lagoon:
- If you’re renting a car and planning on driving to Balos Lagoon, note that you won’t be covered on the insurance in case something happens. Be sure to consider other options ahead of time to make sure you feel comfortable
- If you do decide to drive there, you’ll need to park your car right at the top of the car park and will need to walk down to the lagoon, which will take around 30 minutes. Parking is free and the walk down is sharp but very scenic.
- We highly recommend purchasing a pair of water shoes. The beach is quite rocky and can be quite sharp (like all the beaches in Crete), so a pair of these shoes is a must.
- Sun lungers are available to rent at Balos Lagoon at a set (two sunbeds and a parasol) cost 15 euros for the day. If you’re looking to rent a lounger, be sure to arrive earlier in the morning to guarantee a bed.
- There aren’t many places for you to buy food and drink at Balos, so make sure you bring plenty of water and snacks if you’re planning on staying for the day. If you’re travelling by ferry, you’ll be able to buy meals, drinks and snacks on the boat.
The top things to do in Gramvousa
Gramvousa is the perfect combination destination to Balos Beach and can only be accessed by boat. Whether you’re visiting via the ferry or a private tour, the scenery of Gramvousa Bay from the fortress above will blow you away. Here are some of the best things to do during your time here:
Hike up to Gramvousa Fortress
If you want to see the best views of Gramvousa, you’re going to have to take the steep uphill hike to Gramvousa Fortress, which will take you around 15 – 20 minutes depending on how fast you walk. The fortress was built on a mountain between 1579 and 1584, it’s recognised as being one of the most impressive castles on the whole island. It can’t be missed! Admire the stunning views from the top and snap away as you create some unforgettable moments with your lens.
Discover the Gramvousa Shipwreck
The landmark of the area, which is instantly noticeable as you arrive, is the rusty remains of a ship that capsized in the bay. A ship called Motorship Dimitrios P was marooned here in 1968 after encountering stormy weather and straying off course, and its remains have since corroded. Take some cool photos as you gaze at the wreck from the nearby rocks or jump into the water for a closer view.
Snorkel in the bay
The enticing turquoise waters will be calling your name as soon as you arrive in Gramvousa. Jump off the small pier and enjoy swimming around discovering the local sea life. The highlight of all snorkelling at Gramvousa is seeing the shipwreck up close. Very cool!
Relax on the beach
You might want to spend some time in the baking Cretan sun, and there’s plenty of opportunity to do this on the beach. You’ll certainly want some rest after hiking up to the fortress! Find a spot in the shade under the palm trees or relax on the sand. There aren’t any sun loungers here so we recommend bringing your own beach towels with you.
Our top tips for visiting Gramvousa:
- Be sure to bring appropriate footwear, especially if you’re planning on walking up to see the Venetian castle. The trail is very rocky and unstable in some areas. Switch your flip flops for trainers.
- It can get quite busy in the summer months, especially with ferry and boat tours, so if you’re travelling alone, or even if you’re with a tour, try to get out early as possible for the best sunbathing and snorkelling spots.
- Don’t forget to bring food with you, as there aren’t many snack options on the beach. You’ll find the occasional food and drink stall but it’s best to be prepared.
When’s the best time to visit Balos Beach?
As with a lot of tourist destinations, the summer months can get quite busy. If travelling between July and September, we recommend avoiding weekends and opting for weekdays instead. As Crete boasts warm temperatures until November time, visiting in May-June, or September-October is the perfect time to visit Balos Beach. You’ll avoid the large crowds and the long queues (not to mention you’ll have a pick of the bunch when it comes to finding a sun lounger!).
That being said, you’ll still want to arrive at a decent time, even if you do end up visiting out of the peak holiday season. If you take the boat tour, you’ll arrive at Balos around midday, and then 3pm at Gramvousa. However, if you drive, we recommend arriving around 10am before the crowds of boat tours start to flock in.
How long shall I visit Balos Beach for?
If you’re joining an organised tour, or catching the ferry like we did, then you’ll be allocated a certain amount of time at Balos and Gramvousa. We spent 2.5 hours in Balos and then 1 hour in Gramvousa. It was plenty of time to explore the gorgeous destinations, as well as have enough time to lie in the sun.
If you’re looking to spend the full day at Balos, or Gramvousa, or even half a day at both, then this is possible through a private boat tour/hire, or by driving there yourself.
So there you have it, our complete guide on visiting Balos Beach and Gramvousa. We hope you enjoyed reading and found it useful. If you have any further questions, then feel free to drop a message in the comments below. We wish you a fabulous time exploring the island and hope you love it as much as we did! 😊
By RickyAuthor bio:
An adventurer at heart that loves anything outdoors. Beaches, mountains and amazing scenery is everything I love about travel! I also enjoy home comforts and need a nice place to relax and re-charge after every trip.