Nowadays most visitors seem to come to Crete directly by plane, especially by charter. There are however a number of other options.
Charter flights from Europe are quite numerous from
some time in April until the end of October. There are a lot more
flights to Heraklion than to Chania, making them often cheaper (and
not as heavily booked) as flights to Chania.
Bear in mind that charter flights are not always cheaper than scheduled flights (especially with children who rarely get a price reduction) and that they give you far less flexibility in choosing your travel dates. They give you of course the convenience of a direct flight with no stopover in Athens.
Chania airport has recently become a hub airport for Ryan Air and that has added a lot of new destinations.
Almost all scheduled international flights transit through Athens where you must take a scheduled domestic flight to Chania or Heraklion. These are quite frequent (around 6 to 8 times a day to Chania and more to Heraklion).
Athens is a large congested city with a high level of air pollution. It also offers some superb museums and renowned archaeological sites and is worth a stopover, at least once. You can continue your journey from Athens to Crete by plane or ferryboat from Piraeus. Athens airport offers good public transport connections to the city center as well as to the port of Piraeus.
There is a regular ferryboat service from the port
of Piraeus to Heraklion and Chania. Ships depart every evening
around 8.00 or 8.30 (times vary a little depending on the season)
and arrive very early morning (generally between 5.00 or 6.00 am). The ships are
quite modern, cheaper than flying and can be quite romantic (if
they are not too crowded). Avoid weekends and especially the beginning
and end of holidays.
If you want a cabin it is often safer to book in advance.
The main company is Anek lines a company created in the 60s by Cretans who wanted better and safer service to and from the mainland of Greece. It runs daily between Piraeus, Chania and Heraklion (and less frequently to Rethymnon). Another company, Minoan Lines sails every day to Heraklion. Rethymnon Lines run ferries to Rethymnon in the summer.
A word of caution: in winter (but at other times too) the sea is often stormy and it is not unusual for the ferries to be delayed, sometimes for days, until the storm passes. If you must return by a specific date go by air - planes can fly in much worse weather conditions and are only grounded when winds reach gale forces
Several shipping companies connect Italy (Trieste, Ancona, Bari, Brindisi) with the mainland of Greece (Patras and Igoumenitsa). The fastest service to Patras is provided by SuperFast Ferries. It is slightly more expensive than other companies. It is preferable to book your passage in advance in the summer season.
ANEN Lines run a service connecting the South Peloponnese (Gythion, Neapolis or Kalamata) to Kastelli (45 km west of Chania). Timetables are rather erratic (and very difficult to find) but it is an option if you want to spend time on the Peloponnese or simply avoid Athens.
From April to October you can also get boats from Santorini (and other Cycladic islands) to Heraklion and Agios Nikolaos.
Traveling to Greece overland has virtually stopped since the disintegration of former Yugoslavia. The alternative through Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria takes so long that it is not worth thinking about unless you want to visit these countries. The only option if you want to come by car or bike is by ferry from Italy.
Taxis to Chania cost around Euro 25 (2013 prices including a small airport surcharge). Check-in time is about 60 min. for domestic flights and between 2 hours and 90 min. for charters.
The airport of Heraklion is situated about 4 km from
the city centre. There is a regular bus service to the city
centre as well as taxis (insist on the driver turning the meter
If you arrive in Heraklion and wish to proceed immediately to Chania or Rethymnon you must go to the KTEL bus stop in the city. Heraklion has several terminals so make sure that you tell the taxi driver where you are planning to take the bus to. Buses leave every hour during the day and the trip to Chania takes a little over 2½ hours. There are no buses after 8.30 pm (or a little later in the summer) and your only alternative is a taxi, costing about Euro 150. It seems expensive but it is a 140 km journey. Try to share with others.
Souda harbour is situated 7 km to the East of Chania. There
is a regular city bus service. If you arrive very early by ferry
from Piraeus you will need to take a taxi or go have a coffee in
one of the cafés situated just outside the harbour enclosure to
wait for the day to start.
If you arrive by ferry in Heraklion or Rethymnon you will arrive in the centre of town.