Crete’s second biggest city, is probably the most well know and picturesque. Chania, a Minoan settlement known to the Greeks as Kydonia, is famous for it’s Venetian Harbor photogenically. The capital of the provence of the same name, Chania is about as iconic a destination as you can imagine. Surrounded by a host of smaller villages and immeasurable natural beauty, the west of Crete’s gem of tourism deserves every accolade. Here’s a bucket list of things any visitor “must see” before leaving this magical Cretan getaway.
The Venetian Harbor
Chania’s beating heart, this is the place you’ve seen in 1000 panoramas. The central harbor, often symbolized by the lighthouse at the point of the port’s seawall, is surrounded by wonderful shops and sidewalk cafes along the promenade. It’s actually pretty rare to find a place of such natural beauty and magnificent architecture. A mixture of East and West cultures, the locals living their lives about this ancient port make it by far the most nostalgic place in Crete.The image above by my friend Jay Thomas, reflects an early Spring day looking at the lighthouse from the far side of the harbor.
Here you’ll find a wonderful array of collections including; models of ships, nautical instruments, paintings, historical photographs and war relics from the various ages of the city beginning in the Bronze Age. Of particular note, exhibits of the models of ancient ships, are especially magical for kids interested in history. Some models show shipbuilding practices, while others present more modern maritime subjects like the current Hellenic Navy’s warships, and etc. One full section of the museum is dedicated to the Nazi Germany invasion of Crete during World War II.
The museum is open daily from 9 in the morning, to 4 in the afternoon during peak tourism season. Admission is @2.50 for adults, and €1.50 for children over 6. Contact the museum via phone: +30 28210 91875
Municipal Art Gallery of Chania
Chania’s Municipal Art Gallery is another must see touristic attraction, your typical contemporary are space. The gallery today is a place for observing, protecting, and informing about locals and visitors about art in its various forms. This artisitc and cultural hub at the center of Chania, is both a welcome respite from the busy city center, and a collectivist space for seeing what local artists have wrought.
Currently at the gallery, “No Limits” is an exhibition of forty eight painters from all over the world. The exhibition is a productive artistic exchange of ideas, a contemporary view of the spirit of artistic expression. The curator, Athina Giannoulaki, welcomes visitors to contact the gallery at: +30 28210 92294 or on Facebook.
For a real taste of Cretan spirit, the Chania market is where the locals gather to dispense the best products from the sea and shore of this magnificent island. This municipal market in the center of Old Town is where the main fortifications once stood. It’s now a farmer/fisherman’s market where everyone from the local villagers to Chania vendors come to buy and sell goods.
The daily Chania Market or Agora, is a must for anyone visiting who wants to experience where the legendary “Creten diet” is derived. The ingredients are all here, fresh fish, meat and produce from all around, and there’s even a few tiny restaurants inside to taste the freshest of fresh dishes. “No visit”, as they say, would be complete without visiting here.
Chania Archaeological Museum
This museum exhibits pottery, carved stone objects, seal stones, sculptures, metalworks, gold jewelery and coins, all put in chronological order from neolithic times to modern times. Here visitors will find permanent exhibitions such as those displaying Minoan objects, along with revolving presentations of objects from all over Crete and the Mediterranean. The Chania Archaeological Museum houses in the in the former Venetian Monastery of Saint Francis. A couple of the more significant exhibits are; the clay sealing from Kasteli, near Chania, with a representation of a Minoan city and its patron deity. Dated to the second half of the 15th century B.C., plus a clay tablet inscribed in the still un-deciphered Linear A language dated to 1450 B.C.
The museum is open daily during peak season. Admission is €2 euro for adults, and €1 for children. You may contact the museum by phone at: +30 28210 – 90334, or Email: protocol@keepka. culture.gr
A short and picturesque drive from the Chania city center, this famous landmark is best known for its revolutionary nature. It’s here that the great Cretan revolutionaries (Hainis), Vassilis, Giannis and Stefanos Halis were born and grew up. Against the Turks, such people were instrumental in ridding the island of oppression. Later, the Venizelos movement in March 1905 saw Crete united with mainland Greece.
Aside the historic significance of Therisso, the gorge leading into the stronghold village is fabulous. Also, some of the most famous Cretan restaurants are in the tiny town. Be sure and partake of the real Cretan treasure, the meats islanders love above all else. I won’t give away the secret more, just trust me on this one. The 45 minute rise is well worth your time, if only for more fabulous food than you can possibly eat. I’ll say no more. This is the center of Cretan gastronomy and right down the road from this restaurant… Find your way here.
To the west of Chania down the coast road, and past Kissamos, the rocky shoreline of Crete’s outback beckon mightily. It’s here you’ll find some of the world’s most picturesque beaches, paradise in sand and sea, unlike any you’ve seen before. The famous lagoon of Balos, typically only accessible by boat, is the most photographed beach in the Europe. This is where Prince Charles and Princess Diana visited on their private yacht many years ago.
Famous for its turquoise waters, the wild natural beauty of this exotic place is actually reachable by car. That is if you’ve an adventurous spirit and nerves of steel. Not to mention a car of cast iron. If you prefer solitude, this is one of the best places on Crete to seek it, if for no other reason than inaccessibility. As you can see from the picture, this is one ideallic place on Earth.
By far my favorite beach, Phalasarna (or Falasarna) is at once an ancient city, and a rural bit of paradise with emerald seas. The whitest of the Cretan beaches we visited, the remote yet accessible seaside here is just pure magic. It’s not wonder the ancestors of the current Cretans settled this place. One can still see the visible remains of the city built here around 333 BC. Hundreds of yards of fortifications, imposing sandstone towers and bastions, and myriad structures protected this eons old town.
But the real jewels in Phalasarna’s crown are made up of pristine beaches dotting the landscape here. Not hotels clutter the landscape here, nor do any commercial doings you’d typically see. Up on the bluffs though, you’ll find several nice restaurants, bars, and some hidden drinking dens to divert your attention. Still, a beer on this beach is good enough libation for the beach comber in you. For the kite surfer, this is also one of the island’s best spots to enjoy that sport.
Samaria National Park opens to the public in April or May, weather permitting. The gorge, one of the most picturesque and magnificent natural attractions on Crete, is something of a challenge for the untried hiker. The largest gorge, in a land made up of them, Samaria is a pretty long drive from Chania city, but one outdoors people always manage. Hiking this wondrous Crete landscape, is something of a pilgrimage for many.
18 kilometers long, the gorge meanders in between the settlement of Omalos on the northern side of the plateau and the village of Agia Roumeli varying in altitude from 1250 meters down to sea level. The hiking trek takes adventurers to the shores of the Libyan sea in Agia Roumeli. The walk is actually not so rigorous, but the uneven ground bids one to be careful, none the less. There’s an entrance fee of €5 euro to enter the park (free to children under 15, half price to students). Park visiting hours are 07:00 to 15:00 daily. The Visit Greece website has some more good information about the gorge here.
Elafonisi and Getting There
Far to the south and west of Chania, the road to Elafonisi winds through some of the most beautiful and remote mountain terrain you’ve ever seen. Supposedly the most famous of Crete’s beaches, the shallow, clear water here is reason enough for sun-seekers to see this place. Kite surfing, the general beach bum nature of the place, it’s magical enough, all right. Day tripping here is a great diversion if you’re staying in Chania, but make sure you count on ALL day.
What’s even more appealing than the unique sand and surf here though, the surrounds of the west of Crete are magical in their own way. Winding roads up and around sheer drops, mountain goats clinging to the edges over your car, the sheep herders tending their flocks, this is the real Crete. For the sunbather, or the beer guzzling beach vollyball dude, this Elafonisi is good for all that and more too. In summer you will find sun beds tightly packed along the beach and hundreds of people enjoying the warm waters of the lagoon. We suggest enjoying the beach during the off season, April or November, on the good days.