Driving in Greece, as any Aussie who has done it will tell you, is different. I thought I’d lay out a few basics of what to expect, mainly pertaining to Crete.
How to park: Pull up, switch your engine off, alight from your car; it’s that simple. Doesn’t matter where. Any signs or regulations may be ignored, however, if you happen to be double or triple parked, it is considered polite to switch your emergency blinkers on.
Overtaking: Only in the event of you being in a one lane village should you not overtake; there’s probably not quite enough room, though, judging from all the side panel dings we noted, many have tried. While driving along a two lane highway with two unbroken lines down the middle it is normal to overtake; I know, I did it while someone was overtaking a bus from the opposite direction. Hey, it worked for me.
Road Directional Signs: The place you are going to doesn’t have a sign on the roadside. It is (a) nonexistent; (b) covered by spring growth; (c) the arrow has been vandalized; (d) it’s only in traditional Greek which you don’t understand; (e) it’s tucked out of sight just down the road you were supposed to turn down.
Road Maps: They are not up-to-date; silly you for thinking that. Towns that you expect to be on your right may be on your left. The spelling on the map does not correspond to the spelling on the road signs. (It was not uncommon for the English version to be spelt three different ways.)
Main Roads: Just because you’re experiencing wide two-lane bliss momentarily doesn’t mean it won’t be a tangled, cobbled one lane mess in the next village around the corner.
Pedestrians: Ignore them, they expect it, even when they’re in the middle of a marked crossing. The exception is Greek mammas dressed in black in villages. They may walk out in front of you with their back turned; it’s a sort of dare.
Speed Limits: There are limits; hey, why didn’t somebody tell me what those signs were? Besides, had I obeyed them I would have been run over, didn’t want to risk that.
Road Work Signs: They have road work signs? Someone forgot to tell them they’re in the storeroom.
Care Whilst Driving: You mean you haven’t tried driving along with your arm loosely swinging out the window or actively phoning a friend? If it’s good enough for the police, then it’s good enough for you!
Country Roads: Around every corner there’s a tractor, a very slow scooter, a herd of sheep or an unexpected nasty bump.
Many of the above contributed to our worst day whilst heading south into the mountains on our first day in Crete. Signage was appallingly bad and our out-of-date map contributed to our being lost for 2-3 hours, arriving at Festos (according to the signs – Phaestos or Phaistos according to our guide book and maps) apparently too late to visit as it shut at 3 p.m.
By the time we reached Matala on the southern coast there was only time for a late lunch overlooking this pretty beach with the unusual headland dotted with caves that had been used for Roman burials and, later, accommodation for cave dwellers. Just over the hill is Komos, reputedly Crete’s whitest beach (Australia has nothing to worry about) with an enticing Bunga Bunga bar, an interesting Minoan site and little else.
On the way home we found Festos was actually open till eight so we stopped at had a look at this spectacularly sited Minoan town before finding the speedy way home, chopping three hours off our morning journey, much to Lorraine’s pleasure.
We drove about 1000 km on the eastern part of Crete in a Peugeot 107, thank you Sixt. The roads were overall rather good, even the small ones. Sometimes there was suddenly a clearly new surface. None the less, sometimes there are holes in or rocks on the road. The main route in the north is very fine, until Agros Nicolaos. Then it becomes smaller and more curvy. The views, on the other hand, become better and better. The road to Sitia is one of the most beautiful ones i have ever driven, lined with flowering Oleanders and Brem. And fine views.
The Cretan drivers give space to be overtaken, so we also slowed down when there were - incidendental - suicidal drivers at our back. On the highway, the right lane is used by motorbikes and slow traffic, even when there are two lanes in the same direction.
I must say I have read a lot upon this subject before I have decided to go to Crete by car. However everything I have read was extremely exagerrated. Of course I live in a pretty jungle traffic city, Bucharest, nevertheless everything I have read about Cretan driving is not completely true. Of course, if you are used to the over-polite driving style of Vienna or any other quiet town you might find Crete crazy:)
Bear in mind that the Cretans will drive faster than you, the tourist. First of all, most of the times the roads have many curves and little opportunities to pass. Second of all, the Cretans will not have as much interest as you in seing the landscape, therefore they will be in much more of a hurry than you are.
However most of the main roads are wide enough for 3 cars, so if anybody will try to pass you, just signal to the right slow down a bit and allow him/her to pass. That is what everybody does here and I have seen nobody having a problem with this. Also most of the main roads have good asphalt. however bear in mind that remote destinations might be much more difficult to reach and suitable only for stronger cars or jeeps.
I have attached below a very useful link I have found while browsing upon Crete roads.
Driving In and Out of Heraklion is something we can all live without, and even worse for those of us that drive on the left normaly. being stuck in the centre of town at 1800 is a bit of a nightmare i can tell you. it is very busy all day and especialy at rush hours and parking is certainly going to be a problem, if you have to drive in to town do it on a Sunday in fact a Sunday is the best day to visit as it is not busy when you are waliking around,
It is best to stop outside of Heraklion and i would recomend getting the Bus in to the City to visit it as the bus service is excellent and very reliable along the the coast and main inland roads.
Crete, similar to the whole of Greece, is a safe place and you should not expect many dangers here except for crazy drivers (read: all drivers). Don't mind the fact that Greek drivers use more horn than brakes - it's just a local custom.
In late October some Albanian people appear in Crete. They are looking for jobs and may sometimes be violent. No offence to my Albanian Visitors, I also used to work abroad and get... 'frustrated'...
Main highway that goes from east to west on the north coast is in very good condition and very scenic and offers lot of diversity considering it’s a highway. Smaller roads are in good condition as well and they were constantly repaired. Watch out for road works, as it usually isn’t very well marked - just a little sign on the road. And they don’t seem to stop the traffic if one of to rows is closed.
Cretans love to speed and due to that there is lots of deaths on the road. And car wrecks by the side of the road, especially in mountains, is not a rare sight….
One thing to keep in mind is to get home before dark. Sounds like over exaggeration but it gets very hard to drive as the nights are pitch-black and the roads seem to get more curves once the sun sets. One of the longest and hardest drives in my life was to get from Hania to Rethymno at midnight… and I’m used to Estonian winters…
(1) On the relatively new E75 highway that runs along the north coast there is one lane in each direction and a hard shoulder usually just as wide as the lane. Slower drivers are expected to drive on the shoulder and let other vehicles pass.
(2) On other roads, you are also expected to move over to the shoulder as far as possible to allow other vehicles to pass, even if the shoulder is very small.
(3) It is often difficult to tell just by looking at a map how challenging a road will be. Sometimes roads climb up steep mountains, while other routes nearby are not as difficult. Don't always assume a road will be good just because it's on your map.
(4) Speaking of maps, you need a good one. Chances are that the one you get from the rental company is either out of date or not very detailed or, as in my case, both). Good maps for around 6-10 Euros and can be found in many tourist shops.
(5) Just because a road seems like it's in good condition doesn't mean it will stay that way for your entire jouney. Nearly all the roads I travelled on had good spots and bad spots. Sometimes they were as nice and smooth as the E75, but then suddenly they would become narrow and be riddled with potholes.
(6) Cretan drivers use almost any opportunity to pass, even on curves or narrow roads.
(7) In the mountains, watch out for debris on the road from rockslides, which are common.
(8) Watch out for vehicles stopped right in the middle of your lane. Many farmers and goat/sheep herders simply stop their vehicles on the road and go about their business off in the countryside.
(9) Watch out for goats and sheep on the roads. I saw them all over the place.
(10) Avoid driving at night if possible, especially in the mountains. Besides, if you drive at night you'll miss all the beautiful scenery.
If you go to Elafonisi from Paleochora, you may pass through the little mountain village of Voutas depending on which route you take. Here, still a long way from Elafonisi, you'll see the tempting sign seen in this picture indicating a shortcut of just 17 km to the beach. Being the adventurer that I am, I decided to give it a try. One hour and fifteen minutes later, after driving over a horrible rocky road through steep mountains, I finally reached Elafonisi. That's right, it took one hour and fifteen minutes to drive 17 km. Actually it only took fifteen minutes to reach the mountain village of Sklavopoula, and then an entire hour for the last 11 km. We never saw a single living creature on that mountain road other than two dogs. No vehicles either. If our car had broken down it might have been days before anyone had found us. We were lucky and made it without any trouble, but take my advice and do NOT take this shortcut.
On the whole island there are quite tortuous and dangerous roads, very narrow so if you are going by car be careful and don't drive too fast. If you will hear the hooter it means that there is a bus or truck going and it is better to wait a bit till it goes over... anyway, it is nice to see all the country around but really .. be carefull.
The street in within the Island would be sometimes very small and the roadways are destroyed .
SO you have to drive in the MOUNTAINAREA CAREFULLY ---- R E A L L Y ---- !!!