Travel Guide: Rethymno, Crete, Greece.
Rethymno sits on the northern coast of Crete almost halfway in distance between the islands two major airports at Heraklion and Chania. With beautiful long sandy beaches and the historical town with it's restaurants, bars and nightlife the town offers a 'best of both worlds' scenario affording long warm summer beach days and evenings of dining, shopping and strolling the atmospheric town. Rethymno's university is also one of the major education institutions on the island and makes for a young and artistic vibe to the town's stunning narrow Venetian alleys and streets. Rethymno provides a balance in a holiday destination that delivers for couples seeking artistic vibrancy and families alike and our guides aims to help you plan your trip to this lovely resort.
Driving times from Chania or Heraklion International airports are both around an hour so when choosing where to land you can take your pick based on the cheapest or most convenient flight you can find for your break. If you are looking for a calmer and less chaotic airport experience then Chania is a more modern, better laid out and quieter option compared to the high season hoards at Heraklion so that might be a consideration, and once landed if your not on a package holiday coach transfer car hire is very reasonable if you use a local company on the island and the drive is mostly on National Road 90 to the town. A taxi from Chania or Heraklion airport will cost between 80 and 100 euro to reach your destination in Rethymno and is worth booking in advance of arrival, but if you do decide to take a taxi from the stand outside the airport our advice is to always agree a fixed price before getting into the car.
Where to Stay
Because Rethymno caters for a wide range of tastes and desires its important to do you research on what type of holiday you're seeking before booking your accommodation in Rethymno. The long, wide sandy beach that stretches to the East of the main town is over 3km long and at it's far reaches is mainly populated by big all inclusive resorts and from those the trip to town is a short taxi ride. The town's Venetian streets and alleys have numerous lodgings in a charismatic setting and if your desire is to check out the town's history, shopping, gastronomy and bars then this could be for you. Our personal advice would be to opt for the best of both worlds and seek out a hotel that affords a stunning beach front location to enjoy the sound of the sea and that incredible view whilst being within a kilometre of the centre of town so all it has to offer is only a short pleasant seafront stroll away.
Whilst many flock to seaside destinations all over Crete to sun worship and take a drink and a cooling dip in the sea don't discount Rethymno as not being suitable for this type of holiday because of it's town status. Of the larger towns in Crete Rethymno's beach for me is the best and is a genuine 'resort' destination. The beach is soft sand that is manicured early each morning by the local council's tractors that sift and cleanse the beach each day and it's wide and long too so it doesn't become overcrowded. Rethymno Beach affords beautiful long walks paddling in the ocean for as far as the eye can see. Just behind the beach is a long road that is dotted with hotels, cafes, shops, restaurants and bars so finding a cocktail or a beer is easily done or if it's a spot of lunch or a supermarket for some sun cream it's all within easy reach. The atmosphere in Rethymno for me is a perfect balance between having all that you could want or need but without feeling heavily commercialised and I really like this aspect of the town, and this beach in itself (even without the beautiful town on your doorstep) is a superb resort to make your holiday base.
Many locals from other parts of the island of Crete chose Rethymno as a short break destination and wandering the town it's immediately obvious why as it's packed with history, tradition and exudes a feeling of intrigue. As you wander the narrow alleys and streets it has an air of an unfolding adventure of discovery as each corner turned seems to deliver something to gaze at and explore. Rethymno has a lot of history throughout it's central area and both the Venetian and Ottoman past are in plentiful supply even in the most unexpected places, and the old Venetian harbour is as atmospheric place to wander or dine as you'll find anywhere in the world, and amongst all of this fascinating historical culture lies a town that provides excellent shopping opportunities, a huge selection of restaurants with sea front views or beautiful outdoor terraces and partly because of the towns university population a large selection of cool bars to watch the world go by from. There's watering holes to sit talk and enjoy a long cool drink to those with DJ's and live music late into the night. The 'louder' side of nightlife is not overbearing so don't panic if you're not the type that enjoys the bustle of gyrating youngsters and another great positive about Rethymno is that because it's a living breathing town that has a large population all year round when you are enjoying the towns sights and sounds you're doing that along with the local residents and visiting Cretans in an equal mix with tourists which for me makes the town a far more authentic experience opposed to a resort that only largely opens for the holiday season.
We've alluded to the town's incredible history and for anyone who's a keen enthusiast for seeing the past come alive then Rethymno is a treat. Walking around it can feel like stepping back literally into the past. There's a lot of wonderful buildings and historical sites in Rethymno and here's a flavour of what's on offer.
The Fortezza (fortress) overlooks the town as it is now from a hill (Paleokastro) at the Western end of the town. Built originally by the Venetians in the 1500's the citadel was captured by the Ottomans in 1646. In ancient Greek times this hill was an acropolis and during Venetian times was the administrative and military hub of the town. During the Ottoman invasion the people of the town took refuge within the Fortezza and right into the 20th century people lived within it's walls. Today the Fortezza provides a stunning setting to walk around and explore the Venetian and Ottoman history whilst getting a bird's eye view of Rethymno and its long beach to the East below.
The Rimondi Fountain sits right at the centre of Rethymno town in Petichaki Square and was built in the 1600s by the Venetian Governor that the fountain take it's name from. The fountain has 3 Lions heads and from their mouths spring waters flow.
The pretty Venetian Harbour in Rethymno comes complete with lighthouse and has a cozy atmosphere of times gone by. It almost feels like a pirate ship should throw down it's anchor at any moment or a Venetian trader could arrive with his wares from the far East to barter for local goods. The quayside is an idyllic spot to enjoy a meal or take a drink and people watch. The short walk along the old harbour wall to the lighthouse and back provides stunning photo opportunities both of the lighthouse & harbour itself and wider Rethymno especially in the cool evening breeze.
The Neratze Mosque with it's tall minaret is a reminder of the town's period of Ottoman rule. Originally a Venetian Church when the Ottomans took control of the town they converted the structure into mosque and the building dominates the Mikrasiaton Square.
The Porta Guora (Grand Gate) was the main entrance into the city through the old Venetian Walls and still stands to this day having been first built in the 1500's. At the top of Ethnikis Antistaseos Street you can walk through it just as they did in days gone by. Beyond it's enticing entrance lies some of the town's best shopping opportunities not to mention a snack or an ice cream along with some shade from the summer sun in Rethymno's narrow Venetian streets.
This is a just a brief taster of some of the historic joys of Rethymno and the endless alleys and Venetian houses will deliver you to many more tastes of the past.
Whatever you are tasting be in extravagant... simple... local... American... European or even Asian Rethymno has a huge selection of places to eat out in a wide variety of settings.
Rethymno delivers when it comes to food on every level right from a walk up fast food joint to a dress up sea view terrace it's all here amogst the promenade and bustling town of Retyhmno. Here we give you our guide to where to eat in and around Retymno Town.
Agrimia: Mavrokordatou Alexanrou 23, Rethymno 741 00, Greece
I love this taverna. Set right in the bustling heart of Rethymno this family run family orientated eatery is loved by tourists and locals in equal number. I've eaten here numerous times and witnessed locals in large groups and tourists enjoying the fayre. The menu is a mix of traditional local cuisine with well known Greek classic dishes. In addition there are more familiar western plates if the kids want something simple and on the subject of kids this beautiful taverna has a kids play room with toys and activities which means the children won't get bored at the table or worse want to steal your phone to watch Peppa Pig!!
Taverna Zisis: Leof. Machis Kritis 63, Rethymno 741 00, Greece
You'll have to wander a little out of the centre of town to enjoy the delights of Taverna Zisis but in our opinion it's absolutely worth it. Here you are going to find Cretan and Greek wholesome well priced and good quality food. It's not going to break the bank but you are going to eat local, well and in a true Cretan atmosphere.
Service is friendly and quick, and in the summer months you can sit outside on the very large patio area which also has a big playground for the kids with slide, swings etc.
This is local family dining at it's best with regional wines on offer along with local beers.
Kim Long Chinese Restaurant: Sofokli Venizelou 72, Rethymno 741 00, Greece
When the photos of crete team travel one of us always has a yearning for a Chinese so if there's the opportunity we give one a go. You know how it can be... The Chinese restaurants are just not the same as at home. Well we don't usually mention our Chinese dining exploits but this one is worth a mention. The owners are staff and welcoming, friendly and helpful and the food is superb. We particularly enjoyed the lemon chicken and the prices here won't break the bank either. If you enjoy a Chinese meal and are in town then check out this restaurant, you won't leave disappointed.
Hari’s Creperiê: Μεσολογγίου 8, Rethymno 741 00, Greece
So you've eaten your main meal the kids have been good or you have the taste for something sweet? Don't delay just head straight to Hari's for the biggest and best Crepes you have ever tasted. They do a huge selection of desserts too including some fabulous ice cream but the crepes.... wow! We'd advise one crepe for 2 of you as they are huge and if you are in town then don't miss out on the chance to experience these delightful desserts.
Bar B.Q.: Salaminos 12, Rethymno 741 00, Greece
So you're in town and your hungry but you don't want anything 'Flash Harry' you just want tasty good quality grub in a laid back casual come as you are atmosphere?
Bar B.Q. will deliver... This tasty grill is maybe not for vegetarians but if you like good quality meats from gyros to pancetta well seasoned and cooked to perfection with fries, salads and sauces on the side then this is as good as it gets. The food is reasonably priced and will leave you full and satisfied. You can grab a beer or a wine with your meal too and there's outdoor seating for that summer 'al fresco' munch. Take the kids and your grandma all are welcome here to eat and marvel at the altar of the best Bar B.Q. grilled meats.
Where to go around Rethymno
Rethymno beach and town has so much to offer that you'll fill a week in town without a sweat but if you're staying longer then you might want to spread your wings and go further afield to explore more of the island.
The following is not a definitive list but our recommendations for local days out with a car.
Monastery of Arkadi
Around 20km south of Rethymno is the Monastery of Arkadi.
The 16th century religious settlement had one of the most famous heroic stories of Cretan resistance played out within it's walls and the setting, stories and fact that this atmospheric place is still alive with religious activity makes the pretty drive up to Arkadi well worth it. You can explore the monastery it's history, church and religious significance and once you've taken in the history and atmosphere there's a cafe / taverna with a playground for the kids and breath-taking mountain views from it's terrace.
The ancient city of Eleutherna is a reletively modern discovery in Cretan anthological terms with excavations beginning in 1984 but what's being unearthed is shedding light on the Greek dark ages.
Around 25kms south of Rethymno the site has such significance that it's now got it's own brand new museum that houses the most significant finds from the sprawling site that largely inhabits a low lying spur of Mount Ida.
As the excavations continue settlement has been discovered from the 9th century BC onward and ranging through various civilisations and cultures. There is some evidence of a connection with the hero of the Trojan War Achilles amongst others. The former city state itself you can walk a path around and see the major ruins and sites in a few hours. The photos of Crete team recommend this authentic ancient Cretan and Greek historical experience and something more rustic and authentic than the manicured and heavily trodden Knossos.
So you're in Rethymno and want to take in the Cretan village by the sea atmosphere? Bali and it's numerous coves and a pretty little central village is a great option for a local day trip out. The mountainous surroundings of Bali make for a breath-taking backdrop to the area's 4 beaches set in sandy coves.
The bay of Bali's aspect makes the waters here almost always calm and there's a decent selection of places to eat a hearty lunch or grab a cool drink. Photos of Crete's favourite is 'Akrogiáli' set overlooking Limani Beach and the little port of Bali. The omelettes are suoerb for a late breakfast or brunch and the view is stunning.
We hope you've enjoyed reading our guide to Rethymno Town it's lovely wide beach and the surrounding area. In the Photos of Crete team's opinion Rethymno offers the most 'best of both worlds' and versatile something for everyone place to stay in Crete. Beach holiday.. tick, History buffs.. tick, Gastronomists.. tick, late night revellers.. tick.
The only sort of break seeker Rethymno might not suit is those who seek somewhere rustic, rural and quiet. Rethymno is a wonderful fusion of locals and seasonal interlopers but it's not somewhere you'll find tranquillity even if the wide and long beach has it' beautifully quiet spots.
Our tips to the best holiday: Find a hotel along the beach promenade within walking distance of town and enjoy all this wonderful place has to offer.
Photos of Crete bring you our unbiased and honest guides to the island of Crete, Greece. We've had a connection to the island for over 30 years and we as called on our own personal experiences to bring you what we think is important and our opinions on how to get the best from your stay as we write guides about each and every aspect of visiting the largest of the Greek islands... Crete. We have a SHOP and we also offer PROPERTY CONSULTANCY & MANAGEMENT within Crete so don't forget to take a look and have a wander about the entire PHOTOS OF CRETE SITE. Thanks for reading.
© Simon Mcilvenna 2020 Photos of Crete