Chania, the second largest city of Crete lies along the north coast of the island, approximately 70 km west of Rethymno and 145 km west of Heraklion, capital of Crete. What today is known as the modern-day city of Chania was once known as the Minoan settlement that the Greeks called Kydonia, and appears to have been inhabited since the Neolithic era. We’ve compiled a detailed travel guide to Chania Old Town and Beyond, to help you make the best of your stay in this wonderful part of Crete.
Chania Old Town: History and Highlights
During the early Christian period under Byzantine rule (First Byzantine Period, 395–824 AD) and the rule of the Arabs, the name was changed to Al Hanim meaning “the Inn”. However when the Byzantine Empire retook the city in 961 AD the name was changed into Greek Chania.
The Venetian era began after the Fourth Crusade (1204) and the fall of Byzantium in the Hellenic area. The Venetian rule was initially strict and oppressive yet the relationship between the two slowly started to improve, intertwining the Cretan and Venetian cultures. The city’s name then became La Canea and fortifications were strengthened, giving Chania the form that it still has today. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, many priests, monks and artists took refuge in Crete, reinforcing the Byzantine religion and culture on the island. It is during that period that the city of Chania followed a blend of Byzantine, Venetian, and Classical Greek cultural elements. Many of the significant buildings of the town were built during this era.
Today the city of Chania is divided into two parts: the old town and the new city which is slightly larger in size. Truth be told, there has been a lot of talk about the beauty of the Chania’s Old Town, but once you have been there you will understand the reason why. The borders of the Chania Old Town are shaped by an old Venetian wall which has been mostly destroyed during World War II.
Wander Around the Picturesque Alleyways
Every corner of Chania Old Town will leave you spellbound. Walking along the labyrinth streets and alleys you will come across gorgeous architecture.
The central part of the old town is named Kasteli, located on a small hill facing the seafront. To the west end of Kasteli you will find the Old Town’s main square called the Eleftherios Venizelos Square, this is the heart of all the touristic activities in the area.
Next to this lies the Topanas district which is very picturesque, with many narrow alleys and old charming buildings, some of which have been restored as hotels, restaurants, shops and bars.
The very characteristic area of the Old Town is the harbour itself and this is where you will find the Chania Lighthouse and the Turkish Mosque Yiali Tzami which dominates the harbour and is now used for art exhibitions. Akti Tompazi, Akti Kountouriotou and Akti Enoseos all feature several historical buildings and a thriving nightlife.
Strolling along the Hadjimichali Daliani street you will come across the Minaret of Achmet Aga soaring above the Splantzia quarter. It is one of the two remaining minarets in Chania.
The Cultural Side of Chania
If you wish to explore this historical city even further there are several museums, art galleries and theatres to choose from. For example the Archeological Museum of Chania in Saint Francis Monastery, houses findings from different parts of the county and from several historical and prehistorical periods of the local history (Neolithic to Roman).
There is also the Folklore Museum, House of E. Venizelos, War Museum, Nautical Museum of Crete, Byzantine/Post-Byzantine Collection, Museum of Chemistry and a few more.
During the summer period a variety of cultural events take place on a daily basis, and if you are lucky you may get a glimpse of a theatrical play, concert or exhibition.
Souvenirs and Gift Shopping in Chania
Chania’s streets are filled with cute little boutiques and souvenir shops. If you are looking to buy some leather goods head over to the Stivanadika, the Leather Street of Chania where the shoemakers used to have their workshops.
You will find lots of charming gifts to take back home with you to your loved ones. Either necklaces, magnets or evil eye jewelry, there is plenty of choice for all tastes and budgets.
Visit Chania’s Covered Market
One of Chania’s jewels is the Municipality Market which is commonly referred to as the Agora. Modelled as the covered market of Marseille it was built between 1909 and 1913.
Today it is still a very much active area of town where sellers display a variety of goods from fresh fish, meat, cheeses, vegetables and other traditional products.
Recommended Tours of Chania
For those who enjoy discovering a destination with the locals, here are some tours which we tried and loved.
Bohemian Sunset Tour
On this 4 hour walking tour of Chania you will experience all things local. We met our Guide Giannis at the Municipality Market of Chania and followed him through the picture perfect alleyways and made it to the secret spot, just in time to watch the sunset over the Venetian Harbour. As we admired the gorgeously lit up sky, Giannis told us stories of the rules who passed through Chania.
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On our evening Bohemian Sunset 🌅 tour with @creteurbanadventures Giannis took us to the best spot to watch the sun set over the Venetian Harbor. The lighthouse was built by the Egyptians who ruled for a short while but boosted the local economy #passionforhospitality #passionforgreece Photo by @toddhata
On this tour you will get to taste local wine and food, learn all about the various Cretan grape varieties and discover some of the hidden gems which locals love. The tour can also be customised to meet any dietary needs. This is a small group tour of maximum 12 people. To book your experience contact Crete Urban Adventures.
Also check out this full day tour: Bygone Crete Tour with Crete Urban Adventures: The Gems of Rethymnon
Where to Eat in Chania Old Town
Palazzo Almare Restaurant
Sourmelis St 36-38, Chania Old Harbor
Situated along the old harbour’s promenade overlooking the Egyptian Lighthouse, the restaurant’s menu consists of Cretan and Mediterranean specialties. All dishes are prepared using locally sources, fresh produce and ingredients.
46 Hatzimihali Daliani Street
Housed in an old winery & distillery this small tavern serves the best traditional Greek food. It is open in the evenings for dinner and have a great wine list.
4 Akti Enoseos
Located in the Old Port of the city of Chania offering great sea view. It is a certified organic restaurant and the menu consists of traditional specialties as well as seafood and meat dishes.
63 Theotokopoulou street
A small but welcoming wine bar in the old town of Chania is known for its fantastic wine list of Greek and Cretan wines which can be enjoyed by the glass paired with delectable dishes. Open in the evenings.
49 Zampeliou Spyridonos
The restaurant has been around since 1982 and it’s name translates as all good from Arabic. Housed in a 1400 Venetian building which was once used as a public bath.
The menu serves a generous selection of traditional Greek dishes with some Eastern oriented influences. The restaurant is open from midday till midnight.
Pallas Bar Restaurant
15 Akti Topazi
Offering sweeping of the old harbour this modern, cozy restaurant and bar serves Mediterranean cuisine. Here you will find a selection of salads, pasta and risotto dishes, meat, fresh fish and sushi.
Where to Stay in Chania
Chania offers a large selection of accommodation options from small boutique hotels, to studios, apartments and resort hotels. Most of the accommodation inside the Chania Old Harbour is only accessible on foot, however for those seeking a beach holiday may opt for various accommodation options outside the town centre.
Top Hotel Chania
Top Hotel Chania is a lovely family run hotel, located in the area of Stalos, approximately a 10 minute drive from Chania Town. Overlooking the Cretan Sea and the White Mountains the main building features a selection of rooms and suites with private balconies. The outdoor pool is ideal for spending days lounging under the sun, while in the evening guests may enjoy spectacular sunsets and vistas.
Breakfast buffet is served near the pool area and consists of a selection of eggs, cold cuts and baked goods. There is also a playground for kids and a parking area. The hotel staff was very professional and the rooms were comfortable. Highly recommended for those seeking an affordable accommodation option in Chania.
Mr & Mrs White Crete Lounge Resort & Spa
Mr & Mrs White Crete Lounge Resort & Spa is one of Chania’s newest entries. Located in the area of Stavros the resort is centrally located from the island’s top attractions and only 10km from Chania International Airport. Accommodation options vary from Superior Rooms to Luxury Spa Suites with private pool and the Honeymoon Suite.
Guest staying at the hotel can enjoy the services of several dining & wining options as well as excellent spa facilities.
Chania’s Remarkable Beaches
Chania is not only famous for its extraordinary architecture and scenic surroundings, here you will also find some of the most popular beaches. Here is to name a few:
Balos lagoon is located approximately 56km northwest of Chania and 17km northwest of Kissamos. This is surely the most photographed beach in Crete.
You can get to Balos beach either by driving, which is not recommended with smaller cars. It is best advised to rent a Jeep as the dirt roads are quite rocky. We visited Balos in May and we rented jeeps for the day. We started our trip at 7am from Chania and got here before the crowds started getting in. The second way to get here is on an organised boat trip, however you will not see the beach from above. There are several organized trips which you can book, one starts from Kissamos which means that you will have to drive here on your own: Boat Cruise to Balos Lagoon & Gramvousa from Kissamos Port. Alternatively you can opt for the one with the hotel pick-up and drop-off: From Chania: Gramvousa Island and Balos Bay Full-Day Tour
Falassarna beach is located in the western part of Cape Gramvousa. At the northern end of the beach are the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Falassarna.
This beach has been awarded as the number one beach in Crete and one of the 10 best beaches in Europe. It is also one of the popular sunset spots in the summer. You can get here by car, there is ample parking space.
Elafonisi beach is definitely one you shouldn’t miss. Located 76km west of Chania and 5km south of Chrysoskalitisa Monastery, in the southwesternmost point of Crete. This beach with its turquoise waters and white and pink sand will surely remind you of the Caribbean.
The beach belongs to the Natura 2000 network and is home to protected rare species. To get here from Chania will take you approximately 1 hr and 45 minutes. The waters are quite shallow and are ideal for families with children.
Day Trips from Chania
For those staying in Chania can also take the opportunity to explore the region. Here are some of the day trips which we enjoyed from Chania.
Situated in the heart of the Apokoronas peninsula, this traditional Cretan village is the capital of the Apokoronas region. Only with a few bakeries, traditional coffee shops —kafeneio and several tavernas, this quaint little village has managed to preserve its unique charm. Many of the buildings in the village are being restored to their former glory and we came across a few on our walk around Vamos.
We stopped for a delicious lunch at the Drapanos village which is approximately 16 minutes drive from Vamos. At Eleonora’s taverna (T. 0030 2825033836) we sampled a selection of traditional Cretan dishes which included snails, hochlioi bourbouristi — which are fried and doused in vinegar, dolmadakia, pork chops and a selection of salads and appetisers.
Stavros Stavroulakis, President of Apokoronas development company also took us on a drive towards the coast where the first Dive Park will be — the coastal area of Ormos Bros Gialos Bay, outside the protected Natura 2000 area.
The picturesque village of Loutro is one of the most remarkable villages of Crete. Located on the south coast of Chania, this small village can only be reached by boat or on foot. Named after the ancient baths found in the area, Loutro is located between Chora Sfakion and Agia Roumeli, just at the exit of the Samaria Gorge.
We drove to Chora Sfakion during our stay in Chania, which was approximately a 1 hr and 30 minute drive. We parked our car in Chora Sfakion and took the boat which does a stop at Loutro (20 minute boat ride).
Note: before planning you visit to Loutro make sure that the boats are operating. They may stop operating in case of high winds. The summer 2019 schedule for boats is as follows:
Sfakia – Loutro: 0930, 10:30, 12:00, 13:00, 14:00, 16:30 17:30 and 18:30
Loutro -Sfakia: 9:30, 11:30, 12:30, 13:30, 16:00, 17:00 and 18:15.
Loutro is mostly a summer destination and there are several cafes and restaurants which line its waterfront. The area is ideal for those seeking relaxation. There are only a few small hotels in Loutro. The village is also popular among hikers as many of the hiking trails pass by the village.
We spent a couple of hours enjoying the relaxing atmosphere of this unique village before we took a smaller boat back to Chora Sfakion.
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Loutro is such a magical place! This quaint little village lies on the south of Chania. To get here you can only go by boat or on foot! We drove to Sfakia @rental_center_crete and from there we took a boat which takes approximately 20 minutes. When you get here you feel like it’s a place where time just stands still. Look at the colour of the water! Gorgeous isn’t it? 💙 #passionforgreece #passionforhospitality 📷 @toddhata
On our way back from Loutro we drove to Therissos, which is located approximately 16 km from Chania and is something that one can add to their itinerary generally, regardless of the program.
Therissos is a delightful village which lies at the foothills of the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) and the drive through the gorge is spectacular. Along the way you will be greeted by many wild goats.
Therissos holds an important place in the history of Crete, not only was it the birthplace of Eleftherios Venizelos, but also the place where revolution against Prince George was declared. During the Revolution of 1821, 300 rebels fought hard to protect the village from the Ottoman invasion, and they succeeded. Today visitors coming to Therissos can visit the chapel of Agios Georgios, the former El. Venizelos headquarters and the National Antistaseos Museum. Last but not least the tavernas here are famous for their grilled meats, especially lamb chops.
How to get to Chania
Visitors travelling to Chania can get here by ferry boat or by airplane. Chania International Airport “Ioannis Daskalogiannis” connects with many major European destinations during the summer months.
There are direct flights connecting Athens and Chania and there are also direct flights from Chania to Thessaloniki with Ryanair.
The port of Chania is situated in the Souda area, 7 km southeast from Chania town and 15 km from the airport. There are regular Anek Superfast and Minoan Lines ferry boat connection between Chania and Piraeus in Athens.
We traveled to Chania with Blue Star Ferries and our tickets were arranged through Let’s Ferry. We left the port of Pireaus around 21:00 and arrived in Chania the next morning at 6:00 am. We were accommodated in cabins and had a good night sleep.
Our cars were arranged to be picked up directly from the port, and the representative of Rental Center Crete was waiting for us upon arrival.