Our money-saving tips in Crete will ensure that you can enjoy the island on a modest budget, despite its reputation for being a place to enjoy the good life. On the extreme southern end of Europe, it's doused in sun, warmed by African breezes, and ringed by seas that are as balmy as a bath. It's hardly a wonder that the island is among the favourite holidaying destinations in Greece, with more chic villas, boutique hotels, and sea-view cottages than you can imagine.

    Crete is also a top-drawer option for those on a tighter travel budget, with budget airlines now jetting into Heraklion and Chania. The main attractions of the island are surely its rugged nature, stunning coast, and loveable people. Those all come without a price tag, which means you should find stacks of things to do that don't break the bank.

    1

    Bike to Balos Lagoon

    Brave the country lane to Balos instead of doing an organised ferry trip

    The Balos Lagoon is a gorgeous inlet of white sand and turquoise water that cuts into the rugged Gramvousa Peninsula. Located on the far north-western side of the island, most tourists will visit on organised day tours via ferry but, to save some cash and push the leg muscles, you could go by bike instead.

    There's a rocky, zig-zagging path all the way from Kasteli Kissamos to the shallow lagoon waters of Balos. You can rent a bicycle for the whole day. The route begins by weaving through olive groves before joining the coast for challenging peaks and troughs. Expect sweeping views of the Med and encounters with bell-ringing goats along the way.

    Location: Kissamos 734 00, Greece

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    2

    Buy local

    Pull over at local stores to score cheap Cretan foods for less

    The Cretans themselves are proud of how self-sufficient their island is. They prize local ingredients and foods, whether that's the wild highland greens that grow on the ridges of the Lefka Ori or the cloudy olive oils made at the country presses.

    Thankfully, it's also easy to dodge the supermarket chains in these parts. You're likely to encounter roadside sellers and small local delicatessens as you drive. They tout all sorts of tempting goodies that should cost a fraction of what they do in larger shops. So, get ready to be overloaded with Greek honey, hand-picked chestnuts, and potent rakia (liqueur) of questionable origin.

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    3

    Eat in the mountains

    Discover bargain Cretan cuisine served in traditional highland villages

    It's no secret that the main tourist areas in Crete are on the coast. From Malia to Chania, the beaches of the north are laced with big hotels and holiday resorts. A sure way to save some euros is to leave them in the dust. Drive southwards to the mountains that rise like a phalanx in the middle of the island to discover rustic villages where accommodation costs can plummet.

    Of those, the time-stood-still hamlet of Argyroupolis is worth a stop. It's famed for its microclimate and avocado farms. Askifou is another, where age-old farmhouses converge on Sfakian fortresses. Further west is Kandanos, where the tavernas serve bitter Horta greens and mountain meats, all at wallet-friendly prices.

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    4

    Hit the beach

    Crete's most glorious beaches are all free of charge

    There's great news for beach bums because you won't have to pay a single penny for the joy of lazing on Crete's award-winning shores. What's more, sands are everywhere. You'll find somewhere to sun yourself and swim no matter if you're staying north, south, east or west.

    You might want to avoid places with paid sunbed rentals, just so you're not tempted to dip into the budget. Look for them in the far west, at the north end of wave-washed Falasarna and undiscovered Stomio Beach. Alternatively, go to Stavros for azure lagoon waters, or hunt for the hidden coves east of Almyrida to be totally on your own.

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    5

    Chania Old Town

    Get lost in a maze of white-painted cottages and flowery plazas

    Hugging a natural harbour on the edge of the Med, Chania is among the most attractive towns in Crete. It sits on the north-west side of the island, reigning as the capital of its very own prefecture. It's been there for centuries, with relics left over from the Byzantines, the Arabs and, most notably, the Venetians.

    The Old Town of Chania is where you'll want to head straight away. It's a labyrinth of winding lanes and shadowy alleys. Traditional Cretan tavernas and cute soap shops pop out from the corners while crumbling fortresses keep watch overhead. The harbour is another draw, with its stunning Venetian Lighthouse. The best part? It's all completely free to see and explore.

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    Location: Theotokopoulou 57, Chania 731 31, Greece

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    6

    Heraklion

    People watchers and café hoppers will love the historic heart of Heraklion

    Heraklion is the capital of Crete. A buzzing, bustling town, it sits on the northern shore at the intersection of the main 90 and 97 roadways. If you're staying within reach of the city, it's certainly worth a day trip.

    The heart of the action comes with Meramvellou street and the roads running off Nikiforou Foka Square. They're abuzz with open-air cafés and casual kebab joints, all of which are excellent spots for settling in for a morning of people watching. Meanwhile, there's more strolling to be done on the waterfront, where urban beaches and maritime museums collide.

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    Location: Heraklion, Greece

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    7

    Lefka Ori

    Pull on your boots – Crete's hiking trails are all free

    Also known as the White Mountains, the chain of the Lefka Ori dominate the heart of Crete. They rise to more than 2,400 metres above sea level with the summit of Pachnes, so it's not uncommon to see plumes of cloud and snow – yes, snow, in Crete – dusting the top.

    Intrepid adventurers can delve into the region of the Cretan highlands to enjoy all sorts of hiking trails. The challenging trek to the pinnacle of Mount Kastro is one for the pros. Alternatively, aim for the slightly easier-going path to the top of Pachnes itself, which moves through cypress forests and alpine meadows on its way to the summit.

    Location: Lefka Ori, Sfakia 730 11, Greece

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    8

    Lake Kournas

    Kick back by the side of Crete's largest freshwater lake

    Proof that Crete isn't all about saltwater, Lake Kournas beckons with cool mountain springs in a small crevice in the mountains. It's easy to reach, though not too well known. Just drive south from the town of Georgioupoli, navigating the bends in the road until you see signs for Limni Kourna.

    The place can be a whole day out. Spreading under rock-ribbed ridges, it's fringed by pebble beaches and sleepy tavernas. A mere €7 or so gets you a pedalo rental to whiz over the water itself. However, you can also hit any number of hiking trails that circle the lake to see the area for free.

    Location: Georgioupoli 730 07, Greece

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    9

    Stay south

    Rustic, remote, and wild southern Crete is a bargain-friendly place

    Southern Crete is cut off from the main hubbub of the island by a wall of high mountains, deep canyons, and cypress forests. That means it has managed to stay out of the limelight, at least compared to places like Chania, Heraklion and Malia.

    One of the results of not being such a popular holiday hub is that rental prices tend to be lower. Search for bargain stays in the likes of hip Palaiochora to pay less for a pad overlooking the Libyan Sea. Or go east to Frangokastello, where a Venetian castle gazes over an unbusy beachfront.

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    10

    Samaria Gorge

    A handful of euros to tread in one of the natural wonders of western Crete

    The Samaria Gorge is hailed as one of the great natural wonders of Greece. It carves straight through the limestone ridges of central-southern Crete to create a narrow passage in the rock. Most travellers opt to explore the World's Biosphere Reserve on an organised tour, but you can self-plan to save on the cost.

    That involves hopping on the bus to Omalos from Chania, completing the full length of the gorge – an amazing experience – and then returning to Chania via ferry and bus links. The total cost should be around €27 – far less than the full tour charge. It also means you can take the trip at your own pace, admiring the sheer-cut walls and meeting the kri-kri goats to your heart's content.

    Location: Sfakia 730 11, Greece

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    Joseph Francis | Contributing Writer

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