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Rethymnon is one of the most beautiful towns, not only in Crete but in Greece altogether. The Rethymnon old town with the colourful alleys, the Venetian port, the beautiful hotels and a wide range of restaurants make an ideal destination for your holidays. In this post, you will find the best things to do in Rethymnon, inside and outside the town. My grandmother comes from Rethymnon so I have been visiting the place all my life.
Things to Do in Rethymnon in Town
La Fortezza or Rethymno fortress
The Venetian Fortezza fortress can be found at the west side of the city, close to the new harbour. Being on the west makes it an ideal spot to watch the sunset. It was built on Paleokastro hill by the Venetians in 1573. It was built to protect the city of Rethymnon from the Turks.
As you enter the main gate you will see the ammunition depots, the building of the Commander and the building of the Counselor. Another important site includes the old church of St Nicholas that was turned into the mosque of Sultan Ibraim Han that now hosts cultural exhibitions.
Every summer the fortress hosts the Renaissance festival.
Sultan Ibrahim Han Mosque
Located within the Fortezza, and only open to the public for special occasions, the mosque was originally a Venetian cathedral, converted after the Ottomans took over Crete in 1646. Though the minaret on this mosque does not still stand, the 11-metre dome is an impressive sight which can be admired together with the other architecture located within the fortress.
The Venetian Harbour of Rethymnon
Around the Venetian harbour you can find many restaurants and cafes. It is a perfect place for a romantic dinner. At the end of the mole stands the lighthouse that was built on the 17th century by the Turks.
Built in the 1830s after the Ottoman ruler Sultan Mahmud II gave Crete to Muhammad Ali of Egypt and Sudan (Muhammad Ali Pasha), Rethymno’s lighthouse is the second largest Egyptian lighthouse still to exist not just in Crete, but in the whole of Greece. Though not operational, and entry is not permitted inside, you can admire the beauty of the lighthouse from the cafe’s and fish restaurants that line the old Venetian harbour.
The Venetian Loggia
Very close to the Venetian Harbour you can find the 16th century square building of the Venetian Loggia. It used to be the place where the Venetian officials and nobility used to meet to discuss important matters.
The Rimondi Fountain
It can be found in the centre of the city at Petychaki square. It was built-in 1626 by the Venetian governor Rimondi due to the lack of drinking water. The water runs from three lion heads into three basins.
The Historical – Folk Museum of Rethymno
The museum is housed in a 17th century Venetian house. It exhibits objects of traditional handicraft work and folklore art.
The Nerantze Mosque
During the Venetian times it used to be the church of Santa Maria. During the Turkish occupation it was turned into a Mosque. Nowadays it used for exhibitions and concerts.
Archaeological Museum of Rethymnon
Though small, the Archaeological Museum allows visitors to understand the history of Rethymno and its ancient surrounding sites from Neolithic times through the Minoan Age to Hellenistic and Roman times. See the helmet covered in teeth from a boar, Minoan godess figurines, and the coffin depicting a hunting scene along with jewellery, statues, pottery, coins, and more.
Located in the Metropolitan Church, this museum of religious objects used in the churches in and around Rethymno includes items such as icons, religious utensils, crosses, and clerical vestments dating back to 1816. Must-see items include a lithographic plate from 1866 which was used to print marriage certificates, a bell tower clock used from 1894-1986, and the unexpected collection of coins from the Cretan state dating from 1898-1913.
The Guora Gate
During the Venetian period it used to be the entrance to the town. Now it is the only part left from the old fortification wall. It can be found at the Four Martyrs square and leads to the main market street.
Baklava Workshop of Chatziparaschou
Step through one of the oldest Venetian doorways in Rethymno and enter the traditional family-run workshop of Chatziparaschou (Hatziparasxos). Father (aged 85) and son open the dough by hand by throwing it in the air, a traditional technique now mostly done by machines whilst the wife creates the finished baklava and kataifi which are for sale.
Stretching for 12km from the lighthouse out to the tourist resort of Skalera in the East, the popular Municipal Beach of Rethymno, though not the most picturesque beach on the island, has golden sand and is well organised with sunbeds, showers and watersports – Perfect for catching the rays without venturing far from your accommodation.
Catholic Church St. Anthony of Padua
Built in 1897 to replace the former Catholic church at the fortezza which was converted to a mosque during Ottoman rule, the church of St. Anthony of Padua is small but beautiful with its neoclassical exterior and restored interior.
Cretan Lyra Museum and Workshop
Learn about the traditional Cretan musical instrument known as the lyra, see how one is made, and have a go at playing one at the family-run Stagakis Lyra Museum and workshop. This family have been making lyra’s for 3 generations and have created a permanent exhibition that combines the family’s 65 years of lyra making history.
Join a Food Tour
Eat and drink your way around Rethymno’s picturesque old town, dropping into samples the wares of the local food venues and street food stands, as you hear about the Byzantines, Venetians, and even pirates who have walked these cobbled streets before you. Learn about the Cretan diet as you sip coffee, wine and sample the delicious Cretan pastries, cheeses, olives and other local delicacies
Click here for more information and to book this food tour.
Stroll through the narrow roads of the old town
One of my favorite things when I am in a new place is to wander through its streets. especially when that particular town was declared as a protected historical monument and a traditional settlement. As you stroll through the alleys of the old town of Rethymnon you can see that many building have preserved the Venetian and Ottoman influence.
Things to Do Outside of Rethymno Town
If you are staying at Rethymnon town there are a lot of things you can see and do in the surrounding area. We hired a car from Heraklion as soon as we arrived so that we could explore a little more.
Here are some ideas on what you can see around Rethymno:
Visit the Argyroupoli village in Rethymnon
Argyroupoli village is located 21 km away from Rethymnon town. It is a traditional village very famous for its springs. It has a vast vegetation, small waterfalls and small springs. There are a lot of restaurants serving a very tasty lamb called “antikristo”. It took its name by the way it is cooked. You should definitely try it, it’s very tasty.
My favorite restaurant in the village is called Tavern Ancient Lappa. It serves traditional Cretan food in a beautifu garden.
Cretan Gastronomy Center
The Cretan Gastronomy Center in Argyroupoli is a wonderful place to indulge in Cretan cuisine, learning about the history of this famed Mediterranean diet as well as the techniques of how to cook and serve these delicious traditional dishes.
We were lucky enough to enjoy a cookery class with Aspasia and Mrs. Zambia, two lovely local ladies who helped us create some tasty dolmadakia (stuffed vine leaves) as well as giving us the chance to taste Cretan olive oil. Olives and olive oil have been a staple in Greek cuisine for centuries and it was amazing to learn about the harvest, the press and the taste of different oil.
Ancient Lappa and The Church of the Five Virgins
Lappa was a town in ancient Crete that is famed for The Church of the Holy Five Virgins that is carved into one of the many Roman tombs in the area. This religious and historical site has long been a place of pilgrimage for Christians, who came to seek blessing from the Five Virgins (Thekla, Marianna, Athena, Martha and Mary) during their lives in 330 AD. Today the site is simply an intriguing tourist attraction for those wanting to witness an ancient tomb and to explore the rugged landscape of ancient Lappa.
A Bygone tour of Crete with Urban Adventures
If you fancy diving into the depths of Cretan life and history, you can’t beat this incredible Bygone Crete tour by Urban Adventures. While the tour is full on (it’s 11 hours long) it really packs in everything from history and culture to nature, cuisine and biodiversity! If you’re short on time, this tour gives you all the highlights of the island in just one day, with a friendly, knowledgeable and interesting guide to keep you entertained. The trip comprises of different sections to ensure you are constantly learning and exploring.
We spent time walking and hiking through the Cretan countryside, visiting a traditional village, ancient olive groves, historical sites, and even did a wine tasting. Our guide Giannis really knew how to make the most of the island and took us to secluded spots for an off-the-beaten-path adventure.
Finally, we got the chance to get inside a traditional Greek kitchen, learned how to cook using local, organic produce. Cretan cuisine is very unique so this cooking class will be unlike anything you have experienced before. We then sat down with new friends and enjoyed a home-cooked meal.
For more information about this tour, you can check here.
The Poliou House in Crete offers you a taste of history and cuisine in one, with a traditional taverna doubling up as a folklore museum. Poliou House provides classic Cretan hospitality while also allowing you to discover the history and culture that the locals are so proud to share.
The house is filled with traditional furnishings, artwork, tools and trinkets, that give you a slice of life in Greece from the 1950s to the present day. To be honest, not much has changed and creating delicious Cretan dishes and welcoming new friends is what this family does best! Every Thursday night there is live music and traditional Greek dancing.
Village of Margarites
Margarites in Crete is a quaint mountain village that is surrounded by natural beauty. There are various tales as to why the village is called Margarites, so you’ll have to choose which one you believe. Perhaps you’ll enjoy the story of Margarita, the queen of Eleftherna who so loved the locale that she sold her jewellery to have a settlement built here in her honour.
Instead you might prefer the simplicity of the fact that the margaritas flower grows abundantly in the area. Or maybe you think the name comes from “magarika” (or magarikata) meaning “clay” during the Byzantine era, which makes sense as the village is famous for its pottery that has been produced here for years!
Whichever you choose you can’t deny that Margarites is a stunning destination, filled with character and history that is well worth a visit. Explore pottery workshops, village cafés and the range of local churches here including Renaissance church of Archangel Michael, Agios Ioannis and the monastery of Christ the Saviour and Agios Gedeon.
Visit the Arcadi Monastery
The Arcadiou Monastery is located 23 km away from the town of Rethymnon. It is one of the most important historic monuments in Crete. During the revolution of 1866-1869 a Cretan man called Giamboudakis decided to blast the powder keg instead of surrender when the monastery and the people hiding there were being besieged by the Turks.
The Preveli Monastery
The Preveli Monastery is located 37 km away from Rethymnon. It consists of two monasteries the Lower monastery (Kato Moni) which is abandoned but can still be visited and the Rear Monastery ( Piso Moni) that is still in operation. On-site there is also a museum. Very close to the Monastery is Preveli beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in South Crete with a Palm tree forest.
Visit Preveli Beach
Located at the end of Kourtaliotiko Gorge, down 100 steps from the car park (the view makes the treck worth it!) this beautiful beach is famous for its river that flows into the sea and its palm trees. Don’t just pack your bikini and flip-flops, take your trainers or hiking boots too so that you can explore this area of natural beauty before/after relaxing on the sand. If you’re not able to walk the 100 steps down from the car park, a boat leaves daily from Plakias during the Summer season.
Said to be the place where Zeus was raised, jump in your hire car and journey the 65.8km from Rethymno up into the mountains. Ideon Cave is located at an altitude of 1,495 metres on the Eastern face of Mt Psiloritis, Crete’s highest mountain. Though not as impressive in terms of geology as other caves such as Sfentoni, Ideon Cave is impressive for its mythology and history as it was a sacred site until Roman times with many artefacts unearthed from the chambers.
Wax Museum in Zoniana
Located 45km from Rethymno, the Wax Musuem in the picturesque mountain village of Zoniana contains more than 80 lifesize waxwork figures of Crete’s most historic figures. Guiding visitor’s through Crete’s history, the wax figures show Eleftherios Venizelos, the Cretan statesman who became prime minister of Greece, Nikos Kazantzakis the writer, El Greco the painter, and fighters from the Cretan Revolution. You’ll also find a large collection of coins and banknotes ranging from the Turkish Occupation and the Cretan State right through to the recent drachma.
Also in the village of Zoniana is a stunning UNESCO protected cave that you can visit with a tour guide. Walk through the colorfully illuminated cave chambers, home to 4 species of bat, enjoying the water basins and the natural rock formations with stalactites, stalagmites, ‘cave pearls’, and glistening calcium carbonate crystals.
Just 30km from Rethymno is a recently opened (2015) archeological site and museum. The birthplace of several notable poets, sculptors, and philosophers, the town of Ancient Eleftherna dates back to the 9th century BC and consists of ruins of a thriving Hellenistic settlement, Roman structures, a late Geometric cemetery, and an Early Christian basilica.
Hike Patsos Gorge
A place of cool, peaceful, tranquility sits 18km from Rethymno. Be sure to have your trainers or hiking boots on to fully explore here as you’ll be crossing quaint wooden bridges, climbing rickety wooden ladders, and scrambling over rocks to reach the hidden caves and waterfalls. If you only packed flip-flops you can still visit to admire the view from the start of the trail and see the church built into the rock face. Enjoy lunch at the taverna next to the entrance after your adventure!
Visit Spili Village
Known for its Venetian Lion Fountains, the mouths of 19 carved lion heads spouting out natural mineral water carried from the mountain springs into a long trough, the picturesque village of Spili is well-worth exploring en route to Preveli Beach. The water is so clean and pure you can drink from the fountain – Take some empty water bottles with you to fill as the locals do!
Horseback Riding On Plakias Beach
Visit the fishing village of Plakias, located on the South Coast 30km from Rethymno and enjoy horseriding on the beach with Plakias Horse Riding Center aka Alianthos Crete Horse Riding who also do horse rides on the remote Damnoni and Amoudi beaches plus inland mountain trecks. Whether you’re an experienced rider or have never been on a horse before, are a solo traveler or a family with young kids, there’s a horse or pony suitable for you.
* If you don’t have a hire car you can also look into horse riding on Georgiopolis Beach which is closer and more easily accessible via public transport from Rethymno.
Half-Day Quad Safari
Head up into the mountains and enjoy off-roading along the scenic hidden farmer’s tracks with views to take your breath away. You’ll be driving through shallow water at some points and through impressive canyons en route to 2 picturesque villages which you’ll have the chance to briefly explore.
Click here for more information and to book this half-day quad safari.
One of the top highlights of Crete, hike through the impressive yet challenging national park of Samaria Gorge, one of the longest gorges in Europe. Starting at Omalos in the White Mountains where your bus leaves you early in the morning (pickup time usually being 5.30-6.30am) you’ll hike 16km down through the gorge coming out at the coastal village of Agia Roumeli where you’ll travel by boat to meet your coach at Chora Sfakion. Though challenging, hiking boots a must, the stunning views, rock formations, and rare flora and fauna make it well worth the effort.
Click here for more information and to book your day trip to Samaria Gorge.
Day Trip to Elafonisi Beach
The island’s famous pink sand beach (actual a series of beaches) is over 3 hours away from Rethymno making this a very long day trip but, the lagoon really is beautiful so you might think the long journey worth it. Cross the shallow waters of the lagoon following the footpaths through the protected sand dunes and lay your towel in the soft white sand with the turquoise stretching out before you. Though the pink sand is not as pink as the Photoshopped images would make you believe, if you like the sound of a tropical beach in Europe, Elafonisi provides.
Click here for more information and to book your day trip to Elafonisi Beach.
Imbros Gorge day trip
The second-longest gorge in Crete, Imbros Gorge is ideal for those who are unsure if they’re fit enough to hike Samaria Gorge as it’s half the length at 8km long yet still features stunning scenery and rock formations. After the hike, the trip takes you to Chora Sfakion where you can relax and swim in the Libyan Sea.
Click here for more information and to book your day trip to Imbros Gorge
Day trip to Santorini
From Rethymnon port you can do a day trip to the island of Santorini. Santorini is one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Although it is better to spend some days there, a day trip is a good idea if your time is limited.
Where to Stay in Rethymnon, Crete
Recommended accommodation inside Rethymno Town:
Veneto Boutique Hotel: In the heart of Rethymnon’s old town is the Veneto Boutique Hotel, in a 14th century, restored Venetian building with original features and boutique furnishings that complement the historic building. The hotel is minutes from the old town shops and restaurants as well as a four-minute walk from the beach. However, if guests choose to dine at the hotel, they can select wines from the expansive cellar and enjoy traditional Cretan cuisine from the local chefs. Check the latest prices and book Veneto Boutique Hotel.
Rimondi Boutique Hotel: The nearby Rimondi Boutique Hotel is a luxurious hotel housed in two separate buildings with a large pool and courtyard in between. Suites here are equipped with air conditioning, a mini bar, free wifi, and a modern bathroom with deluxe amenities. Rimondi Boutique Hotel also has a small spa for guests. Check the latest prices and book Rimondi Boutique Hotel.
Bellagio Luxury Boutique Hotel: The Bellagio Luxury Boutique Hotel is a small, family-run hotel in a beautiful Renaissance building in the heart of the old town. With only five suites, the hotel is a great place for couples because it is intimate yet in the middle of everything. Rooms have plush bedding, comfortable bathrobes, and small seating areas. Check the latest prices and book Bellagio Luxury Boutique Hotel.
Recommended hotel in Argyroupoli:
The Arcus Suites in Lappa, (Argyroupoli) Rethimno are filled with character and charm thanks to their old Venetian style, terracotta roofs and sympathetic renovations. Each suite features warm colours, plush furnishings and exposed stone walls. Some also feature arches, stone fireplaces and Jacuzzi bathtubs! The suites are well-equipped with comfortable living rooms and full kitchens. The complex is picture-perfect and with outdoor areas including pools, wood ovens, BBQs and plenty of seating you’ll have everything you need for a memorable stay.
Recommended Villas in Rethymno:
Amazing Villas in Crete
If you’re seeking a stylish villa for your trip to Crete, look no further than Amazing Villas. This company offers a range of spectacular properties each with traditional design, self-catering facilities and private pools. The villas are ideal for groups or large families, accommodating between six and eight guests in each. These stunning villas offer everything you need for a relaxing stay and are well located for exploring all the highlights of the island.
You might also be interested in: The best areas to stay in Crete.
Where to eat in Rethymnon town
What I love about Crete is the incredible food you can eat everywhere. The ingredients used most of the time are local and very tasty.
If you are wondering where to eat in Rethymnon town here are a few suggestions:
Avli restaurant: Is considered one of the best restaurants in town. The food and location are perfect but is a little expensive 50€ – 60€ per person. You can find it at Xanthoudidou 22
1600 Raki Ba Raki: It is a very nice modern restaurant with traditional cuisine located in a small alley in the old town. Prices 20€ per person. You can find it at Arambatzoglou 17
Prima Plora: It has a very nice view of the city and the sea. You have to try kritharoto with shrimps. The prices are normal 20€-25€ per person. You can find it at Akrotiriou 8
Vassili’s restaurant: It has recently opened near the Fortezza. Nice environment, good food and normal prices. You can find it Chimarras and Argiropoulon 27
How to get to Rethymno
Although Rethymno has a port that receives ferries from Santorini on certain days during the Summer season, most visitors will arrive into Chania or Heraklion either by plane or boat.
From Heraklion Airport
Heraklion airport is located in the East, 80km from Rethymno. To get to Rethymno from this airport using public transport visitors must first catch the bus into the city of Heraklion (20 minute journey time) and from there catch the intercity bus to Rethymno (journey time of 1hr 45mins). Note that the airport bus does not stop at the intercity bus station so it can be wise to get a taxi for the first leg of the journey. Alternatively, get a taxi for the whole journey to Rethymno, the journey is faster taking around 40minutes but the fare is approximately 100 euros.
From Heraklion Port
The port in Heraklion is the largest on the island with many ferries arriving through the day and night from Pireaus and the islands during Summer. The intercity bus station is within walking distance of the port but note the new location at Leof. Ikarou 9 as Google maps still shows the old bus station at Efessou 40. Buses run every hour during the Summer from 5.30am-11.30pm.
From Chania Port
Chania is located in the West, 65km from Rethymno. The port is not in the city centre as with Heraklion, it’s located at Souda Bay, 20minutes away from Chania city centre. A city bus runs from the port to Chania’s main bus station every 20 minutes from 6am-11pm (Summer months) allowing visitors to connect to the intercity bus which runs every hour between Chania and Rethymno, alternatively, there is a less frequent bus service direct to Rethymno from Souda Bay.
From Chania Airport
Chania airport also has public busses connecting to Chania bus station (20minute journey) where passengers can connect to the hourly Rethymno service. Less frequent busses also go direct to Rethymno from outside the terminal of Chania Airport. Busses are scheduled to suit the arrival and departure times with timetables usually updated 1-2 weeks in advance. Taxi’s are also readily available from Chania airport with a journey time of approximately 45minutes and a fare of approximately 90 euros.
How to get around Rethymno
The historic centre and adjoining seafront areas of Rethymno are small enough to explore on foot though there is a hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus if mobility is an issue for you and, of course, taxi’s are plentiful.
To explore outside of the town centre it’s best to rent a car so that you have the most freedom. Some places can be accessed by booking an excursion (Elafonissi, Samaria Gorge etc) whilst the villages are accessible by public bus (Spili, Plakias, Zoniana) though the bus timetables may not suit sightseeing, mostly aimed at locals leaving the village early morning and returning in the afternoon.
Need more inspiration? Why not check my posts:
Have you ever been to Rethymnon in Crete? What did you like the most?