By Alex Kallimanis: There’s something magical about the second largest town on Greece’s biggest island. We’re frequently asked “where is your favorite place?” Chania, Crete ranks among our top destinations. There are a lot of beautiful places in the world, so the warmth and hospitality of locals helps a destination rise in the ranks in our book.
Chania is located on the northwest coast of Crete, which is the largest island in Greece. Its 14th-century Venetian harbor, narrow streets and lively waterfront restaurants are a wonderful backdrop to spend a few days. The harbor entrance features a 16th-century lighthouse with Venetian, Egyptian and Ottoman influences.
The former Venetian colony’s old town is dotted with pastel colored buildings and charming architecture. Lively tavernas feature some of the best food in Greece, with warm hospitality. It’s customary to receive complimentary dessert and a small carafe of raki (a distilled spirit made from grapes). The fusion of Venetian, Turkish, Egyptian and Greek influences make it heaven for artists and foodies.
If you arrive in Chania by rental car or bus from Crete’s capital of Heraklion (like we did), the 2 and 1/2 hour coastal drive is very picturesque. And once you set eyes on the Venetian Harbor, you’ll be struck by its charm and bounty of great hangouts. The center of the harbor is the old Venetian lighthouse, which dates back to 1585. As the harbor is heart shaped, it’s larger than it appears at first glance.
Stroll, eat, read, drink, return to your room and repeat. That’s a recipe for a perfect vacation in Chania, Crete. We spent days unwinding here and were truly touched by the warmth of the locals, who also know how to have a great time.
The Old Town of Chania, Crete
We stayed at a lovely five room apartment-hotel with a kitchenette, just steps from the Venetian Harbor. We wish we could have stayed at Dream Art Studios for months, rather than five nights. Fresh jam and a small carafe of raki on a tray were a welcome indicator of more hospitality to come. There are a lot of great guest house options in the old town of Chania, Crete. Read some TripAdvisor, Yelp and booking site reviews and support a small business. You’ll be glad you did.
The Old Town of Chania, Crete’s quaint laneways are filled with great restaurants, bars, cafes and shops. Many of the shops are owned by talented artists, which is a refreshing change from factory made trinket shops. We spoke extensively to the proprietor of a gift shop who sold hand crafted jewellery and souvenir tourist mementos. She spoke philosophically and diplomatically when discussing the Greek financial crisis. “We frequently change political parties in Greece. All that really changes is the dialogue. Change must come from within.”
Shopping: Reasons to Love Chania, Crete
A must in the Old Town is the Agora, the town’s large indoor market. This is the place to go to stock up on fresh olives, cheese, herbs and other local delicacies. If you’re inclined to cook in your room, you can also buy fresh meat and seafood here.
Among other things, Greeks make excellent hand creams with olive oil, chamomile, lavender and other natural ingredients. These make practical gifts for friends and family living in cold climates. We also highly recommend buying Greek oregano, thyme, honey and of course, extra virgin olive oil. The quality of these ingredients are as good as you’ll find anywhere in the world.
In addition to its old world charm, Chania also has a modern side. Step out of the Old Town, and you’ll find just about everything else you might want. Yes, there is an H&M, but have a look in the small shops first.
Cretan salads are as good as salads come. They feature myzithra cheese instead of feta. Myzithra is a deliciously soft and creamy sheep cheese. Piled generously on top of fresh tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, onions, croutons and dressed with high quality extra virgin olive oil, oregano and capers, it’s fantastic. We could eat Cretan salads every day for a month and not get tired of them. They’re also sensible because Greek dishes can be heavy. With a wonderful view of Chania’s Venetian Harbour and the lighthouse, the outside terrace at La Bodega is a great place to enjoy a delicious Cretan salad over drinks.
We ate at a casual psarotaverne (fish tavern) at the Agora. Our mixed platter of fresh calamari, sardines and shrimp were wonderful and inexpensive. Plan to have one of your lunches at the market.
There are so many awesome restaurants in Chania along the harbour and Old Town. Look for crowds of locals and live music. You’ll have a fun time over a delicious meal.
Virtually everything in Chania, Crete is a delight. Between fresh seafood, lamb, pasta and traditional Greek dishes, it is foodie heaven. Try the fresh grilled octopus too, it’s a local specialty that just melts in your mouth.
It’s nice to be able to walk around a town at night and feel safe. We frequently walked around some of Chania’s narrow laneways when they were desolate and never felt threatened. Bell also ran through the laneways by herself in the early morning and felt very safe. Touristy places where lots of locals are struggling in a tough economy often breeds a lot of crime. While crime happens everywhere, Chania is very safe by global standards.
Drinking, Dancing and an Awesome Nightlife
Nikos Kazantzakis was born in Crete and is famous for writing Zorba the Greek. Crete embodies the lively essence of Greece, with its own unique traditions and meals. Cretans know how to have a great time and that spirit is infectious. When we’re bogged down in city life, we daydream of returning to Chania, Crete…and just staying awhile.
Getting In and Out of Chania, Crete
Chania International Airport serves many European destinations with direct flights during the warmer months. You can also fly into Heraklion and rent a car or take a bus to Chania. In our case, we flew directly into Heraklion from Vienna, then caught a bus to Chania. We flew out of Greece from Chania to Sofia, Bulgaria via Athens.
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Planning to visit Crete and have questions?
You can leave a comment below or email me at [email protected] and I can assist. I’m a dual Greek and American citizen who’s traveled to Greece 10+ times. I’ve visited Crete 3 times and counting. You can also check out the Crete section on the official Greek tourism board’s page.
Alex Kallimanis is a UCF graduate who grew up in the Orlando, Florida area before living in destinations like Australia, the Netherlands, Ireland and east coast destinations like Boston and Washington, DC. As a travel journalist and travel consultant, I enjoy assisting readers with getting amazing experiences and value from their trips. I’ve visited 58 countries and counting.
I’m also a Greek citizen that has made 10+ trips to Greece. My wife of nearly 17 years, Bell, is an Australian scientist working in cancer research. We first met in a hostel in Brugge, Belgium while backpacking Europe solo after college. You can read more on that story in our about page if you’re interested.
I encourage you to browse some of the other destinations we’ve covered for helpful tips. I also share advice in our resources page that could save you thousands on travel costs!
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