Chania — the second-largest city in Crete and one of the most beautiful in Greece — is on the northwest of the island. Well-known for the vibrant atmosphere and all the things to see, Chania is also home to a characteristic old town, symbol of its multicultural identity. Beautiful and romantic alleys add to the stunning views of the Venetian port and the lighthouse. If you are planning a trip to Chania, let me guide you through the 10 best things to do in Chania. Remember: When you visit Crete, there’s one place you must visit, that’s the Old Town of Chania, one of the prettiest cities in the Mediterranean.
- General Information About Chania
- 10 Best Things to Do in Chania (Old Town)
- Visit the Municipal Market
- Discover the Turkish District
- Check the local crafts
- Walk the alleys of the Venetian district
- Explore the Jewish district
- Enjoy the architecture of the Mosque of the Janissaries
- Spend the sunset hours in the New Marina
- Churches of the Old Town
- Discover the hidden archaeological treasures
- Choose an alternative tour to find more things to do in Chania’s old town
- MORE RESOURCES TO VISIT CHANIA AND THE REST OF CRETE
General Information About Chania
Where is Chania and how to get there
Chania is the second most important city of Crete and the main city of the western Prefecture of Chania. It’s located on the northern coast of the island. You can arrive in Chania by plane (International Airport of Chania CHQ), or by ferry (Port of Souda).
Reach Chania from the local airport
By car, it takes 20 to 25 minutes to get to the city center from the airport (15 km/9.3 miles). In the airport hall of arrivals, there are many rental car offices to choose from.
Another option is the taxi, which has a flat fare of 30.00 €.
By bus is a cheaper option but the ride might take about an hour. It will leave you in Chania Bus Station, in the city center. The bus service operates from 06.00 to 22.45. The ticket is 2.50 € and there are special fares for students, and people with a disability card. Buy your ticket with cash from vending machines or directly on the bus.
Reach the city of Chania from the port of Souda
Souda is located 6.5 km east of the city center. The night ferries departing from Piraeus arrive at about 6.00 – 6.30 every morning, departing to Athens at night.
In summer there are also daytime services.
At the exit of the port, you will find the station for the bus to Chania (6.5 km).
You can buy the ticket from the automatic machines (1.50 €) or directly on the bus (2.00€). You will reach Chania Bus Station in about 25 minutes.
Reach Chania from Heraklion (or Rethymnon)
If you land in Heraklion (International Airport of Heraklion), the best option is to rent a car.
You can also take the bus from the Central Bus Station (one-way ticket: 15.10 €), the trip lasts 2 hours and 45 minutes.
If you’re staying in the area of Rethymnon instead, the bus departs from Rethymno Bus Station. The ticket is 8.60 €, and the trip lasts about an hour. Buses depart every hour.
- You can check the bus company website and timetables to this and many other destinations on Crete.
- You can also rent a car and discover the whole island in complete freedom. Check this company to enjoy a 5% discount using my code.
10 Best Things to Do in Chania (Old Town)
Visit the Municipal Market
One of the best places where to get a real taste of the island gastronomic’s traditions is the Municipal Market. Locally known as the Dimotiki Agora, this large building houses some of the authentic staples of the Cretan diet.
The Municipal Market is the beating heart of the city, the place where both locals and visitors can sample and buy the key ingredients used to prepare the delicious Cretan dishes.
A few selected shops sell locally produced honey, cheese, bread and herbs, but also olive oil, snails, and fresh greens.
The market officially opened its gates to the public only three days after the unification of Crete with Greece (1913). And it is one of the most impressive markets in the Balkans.
Discover the Turkish District
Once you exit the Municipal Market from its back door, you will be stepping into the old town. This area is also divided into different quarters or neighborhoods.
Walking the pedestrian street Chatzimichali Daliani introduces you directly into the heart of the Turkish quarter, one of the best places to see in Chania. In fact, this street is probably a favorite place for locals when it comes to dining.
Dozens of restaurants line up small along this street every evening. They serve from the most traditional Cretan dishes to high-end fusion cuisine. Here, it’s possible to find the Minaret of Ahmet Aga, one of the two surviving minarets in town, and a remnant of the Ottoman rule.
Right in front of the Minaret, an old Venetian monastery of the sixteenth century has been restored. Now, it’s one of the coolest places to hang out. Known as Kibar or The Monastery of Karolo, you can have a glass of wine in the former patio of the monastery.
Going further, towards the east, the area known as Splantzia is also part of the Turkish neighborhood. The mysterious place portrays the several civilizations that once conquered and lived on the island.
The whole area exudes a foreign flair very different from the typical Greek standards of the town.
If you are interested in seeing the Turkish quarter in detail, join my private tour of Chania. I will show you the most beautiful hidden alleys and artisan shops. We can also go beer tasting or wine tasting, and enjoy an authentic Cretan food sampling. Check my Experiences page for more details and to book a private walk in town!
Don’t forget to read my full guide to the Best 10 Things to Do in Splantzia, in Chania to find information about some of the most beautiful churches, bookstores, and bars of the area.
Check the local crafts
Stivanadika, the road of the boots
Kidlof Street is also known as the leather lane. It used to be the home of shoemakers, specially stivania, or Cretan boots. Only a few boot artisans still remain on this street, some of them have been crafting leather products for more than sixty years.
Here, the smell of leather is pungent and attractive. In some of these old workshops, it is possible to buy made-to-measure, hand-made boots.
These boots are worn especially in rural areas paired with wide baggy trousers known as vraka and the idiosyncratic sariki, a black fringed head-scarf. The brown boot was the one commonly used for work. The black one is common in Lasithi, Rethymno, and Heraklion. Chania, instead, is known for its white boots.
Maxairadika, the street of the knives
Also known as the Street of the Knives, Sfakia street is one of the best places for a night walk.
It has a relaxed atmosphere, tiny cafés full of color serve delicious local dishes.
Few workshops produce and sell the Cretan traditional knife, which has always had primary importance for Cretans.
In the past, Cretan men would carry two knives on their waist. One of them for their food, but another and most important one, to defend himself.
These knives, which boast unique handles made of horn or wood, and a blade often with a Cretan poem or song engraved on it (in Greek μαντινάδα, mantinada). An inscription that usually celebrates the beauty of the Cretan landscape.
Walk the alleys of the Venetian district
The Venetian neighborhood of the Old Town in Chania is one of the most picturesque areas. It has been steadily requalified thanks to the initiative of several hotels and shops. These private investors have turned the district into one of the best areas if you’d like to get a real sense of what Chania used to be during the Venetian occupation times.
Angelou Street, the heart of the Venetian neighborhood
This narrow street features some fine examples of the Venetian mansions characteristic of the XVI and XVII centuries. Most houses in the area retain a Venetian architectural style.
However, the Ottoman influence is present in some of the buildings with the characteristic hai-arti (or Harem room). This was a projecting wooden facade, usually on the first or second floor of the building, added to the Venetian buildings during the Turkish occupation.
If you’d like to read some of the most fascinating legends and stories behind the walls of these buildings, don’t miss the best 10 historical buildings in Chania’s old town. Now elegant boutique hotels, these mansions hide really intense memories that just a few locals really know.
The Venetian district used to be the most distinguished part of the old town, home to the houses and palazzi of the most important Venetian rulers.
Many of these mansions have been recently transformed into stunning boutique hotels, retaining the original characteristics of their architecture.
The Venetian harbor
The eastern basin of the harbor was designed for boat building and repairs. Imported goods were unloaded on the west basin and then transported by donkey to warehouses.
The Venetian Navy built Chania’s harbor between 1320 and 1643, despite the fact that this location was not particularly suitable due to its exposure to the strong north winds.
By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the importance of the harbor diminished as large ships began to use the deep, natural harbor in Souda Bay.
Today, the Old Venetian Port of Chania is lined up with interesting culinary proposals, ranging from traditional Greek taverns to sophisticated Cretan cuisine.
Among the favorite, there’s Lithos, which serves Mediterranean and Greek dishes, and La Bodega, at the very end of the harbor, with a unique wine list. However, if you’re looking to get away from the touristic port, the best places to eat in Chania are on its hidden alleys.
Firka fortress and the Maritime museum
Firka Fortress stands proud in one of the ends of the Venetian waterfront. Part of it is now home to the Maritime Museum of Crete.
The main complex dates back to 1620. The museum is located at the very entrance of the fortress and is the second oldest Maritime Museum in Greece.
The Museum has an interesting collection related to the Battle of Crete (1941) and a permanent exhibition of traditional shipbuilding.
Ticket prices vary from €2 to 4€, and visiting hours can be found on the website of the Maritime Museum of Crete.
Firka fortress has the typical layout of Roman forts, with two levels of rooms and a central courtyard. Despite the traces that the centuries gone by had left on the building, details of finely carved arches and walls are still visible. The doorway still features the Venetian winged-lion of St. Mark.
During the Ottoman domination, the Turkish used the building as a barrack (in fact, Firka means barrack in Ottoman Turkish) and then it was turned into a prison for Cretan liberation fighters. There is also a small observation tower on one corner of the fortress.
This is not only one of the best spots for a panoramic picture of the port and the lighthouse, but it’s also one of Crete’s most significant places.
Here, Prime Minister Venizelos raised for the first time the Greek flag on Crete, on December 1st, 1913. The ceremony marked the end of successive occupations of Crete.
The Venetian lighthouse of Chania
Also known as the Faros, one of the most characteristics sights of Chania is its lighthouse.
Considered the oldest existing lighthouse in Greece, and one of the oldest in the world, the Venetian Navy built the lantern to protect Chania’s harbor during the sixteenth century.
Also known by the name of the Egyptian Lighthouse, it isn’t strange that this lighthouse resembles a minaret. In the early nineteenth century, the lighthouse collapsed in a storm following years of neglect by the Turks.
Between 1824 and 1832, Egyptian soldiers stationed around the island redesigned and rebuilt the structure.
The foundations of the lighthouse lie on natural rocks and it reaches a height of 21 meters. During the Venetian rule, the purpose of the lantern was to serve as a protective bastion.
In the event of attacks, the Venetians would shut down the port with a chain that from the lighthouse, would reach the Firka fortress.
Explore the Jewish district
Kondylaki Street, which extends from the harbor-front to Agios Dimitrius’ bastion is a relatively wide alley.
The area, very near the Venetian district, is a clear testimony of Chania’s Jewish past, which for centuries occupied this area, also known as Zudecca.
Few visitors are aware of the importance that this community had during the different occupation eras of the island. As a matter of fact, the Jews of Crete were direct witnesses of the Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Venetian, and Ottoman occupations of Crete.
By the end of the 19th century and due to different political factors, the Jews of the island started to emigrate. In 1941 only the community of Chania still remained (they were about 300 people).
The Jews of Chania had two synagogues dating from the Middle Ages, unfortunately, the synagogue of Bet Shalom was lost during the Battle of Crete.
The second synagogue was Kal Kadosh Etz Hayyim. In May 1944, however, it closed its doors when the whole community of Chania was arrested by the Nazis.
It happened one morning and so quickly that there was no way to escape. They all perished on a ship on their way to the port of Piraeus. After long works of restoration, the synagogue re-opened its doors in 1999.
Today, a visit to the complex of Etz Hayyim. is an authentic ticket to the oldest part of town. The interior has the traditional layout of other Romaniote communities.
There are also two courtyards. One of them contains the tombs of four rabbis.
From May until October, it is open to visitors Monday to Thursday from 10.00 to 18.00. Fridays from 10:00 am to 15.00. For more information, visit the website of Etz Hayyim.
Enjoy the architecture of the Mosque of the Janissaries
The Mosque of the Janissaries (also Küçük Hasan Mosque – meaning “small”. And also Yiali Tzamisi Mosque – which means “seaside mosque”) is the oldest Islamic structure in Crete.
It was built on the foundations of an old Venetian church and was a place of prayer exclusive for the Janissaries, the Turkish soldiers stationed around the island to keep law and order.
Rather than being merely soldiers, the Janissaries were the Christian sons that the Ottomans captured in different conquered countries and converted into their faith.
This mosque dates back to 1645 and stands on one of the ends of the Venetian Harbor.
It has a very distinctive central dome, as well as four smaller domes ones of Neoclassical design.
For centuries, a fine minaret stood in one of the corners, alongside an enclosed courtyard with palm trees and a fountain.
However, the German bombing in 1941 left no traces of them.
Another interesting trace of the Ottoman past of the island can be found in the gardens of the Archaeological Museum (once Agios Fragiskos monastery and then Yosuf Pasha mosque). It’s an octagonal fountain with a pointed cap and finely carved reliefs. You can see it from the museum itself, or from the open dining space of Bohème, a trendy restaurant located on Halidon Street.
Spend the sunset hours in the New Marina
Walking towards the east, and leaving the mosque behind, it is possible to walk along one of the most vibrant Marinas in Greece, the Arsenali. Seven impressive Venetian dry-docks line the eastern basin of the harbor.
The buildings, originally seventeen, were built between 1461 and 1599. They would have one open entrance towards the sea, this way allowing ships to be pulled out from the water.
These long, vaulted arsenals housed the Eastern Mediterranean Venetian fleet and served to purposes of shipbuilding and ship repairs.
This new marina (Neoria) is now another favorite place for sunset gatherings and drinks by the sea. We recommend a dinner in Pallas famous for its modern atmosphere. The building dates back to 1830 and was the home to Ali Pasha, a ruler during the Ottoman occupation.
Salis, on the other side, combines one of the richest lists of wine in Greece and cutting edge gastronomy.
Churches of the Old Town
Plateia Mitropoleos is a square right in front of the Church of the Trimartyri and was built in the 1950s. The Church of the Trimartyri is a Greek Orthodox church as well as another of the landmarks of the city.
It dates back to the last decades of the 1800s and it was built-in on the site of a Venetian church which the Ottomans later converted into a soap factory.
Legend claims that the child of the factory owner, Mustapha Naili Pasha, fell into a well behind the church. In despair, his father prayed to the Virgin to save him. In answering his prayers the Virgin saved the child and the Pasha donated the site to the Christians, as well as the funds to build the church.
The church stands in one of the most popular streets in town, Halidon Street. Close to the square, an interesting building features eleven small hemispherical domes and a larger one on its roof.
It was one of public hamams the Ottomans built in town. There used to be a portico surrounding the structure which disappeared during the week-long German bombardment in 1941.
Across the street is possible to see the Folklore Museum of Chania, the Archaeological Museum of Chania and the Roman Catholic Church.
The church of Agios Nikolaos in Chania
In the Turkish district of Splantzia, the Church of Agios Nikolaos, once the main mosque in Chania, still has a minaret standing inside its structure. Not very far, another beautiful church to visit is the small chapel of Agia Eirini.
Discover the hidden archaeological treasures
The Archaeological Museum of Chania would be the right place to start exploring Chania’s ancient past, however, right a few meters from the Venetian harbor, there’s a hidden place you should visit. Agia Ekaterini square was located in the middle of Kanevaro Street. For centuries, it marked the site of the Dominican Catholic Church of Santa Maria. Moreover, there were also various ecclesiastical buildings surrounding the church, including a monastery.
The week-long German bombardment in 1941 flattened all structures in this area. The rubble was cleared away in the 1950s and out of it, pottery rests subsequently identified as Minoan which convinced archaeologists that this site was, in fact, Minoan Kydonia
Not far from the remains of Minoan Kydonia, you can visit the original settlement of the town. In the area of Kastelli, there are few remains of the ancient past.
Above all, the visit is worth at sunset to get the best view of the port and the lighthouse.
Choose an alternative tour to find more things to do in Chania’s old town
Finally, you can choose a tour. Being such a touristic city in Crete, there are endless tours to see the city. Probably one of the best ways to learn about Chania still remains the old technique of grabbing a map.
However, those preferring a more organized sightseeing activity will be easily overwhelmed.
One of the newest proposals to see the city is By Bike Tours. This company proposes eco-friendly and relaxed tours of the old town neighborhoods, with a relatively low fee. The price includes the use of a modern wooden electric bicycle (and a helmet) This basic route is rather easy, streets are mostly pedestrian and lasts about 20 minutes.
By Bike Tours also offer longer tours to nearby areas as well as coastal tours of the region. For more information about this activity, visit their website.
… Or come and let’s meet! I traveled to Crete every year for several years until I finally moved to Chania! In love with the traditions and the gastronomic culture of the island, I enjoy sharing my experiences. You can book from March to November.
I love to show visitors the most hidden gems of the old town while sampling some of the most delicious Cretan treats.
I will be excited to guide you through more than the 10 Best Things to do in Chania with my private tour A Taste of Crete.
This list of things to do in Chania is currently up to date, but to make it better, it needs your contribution! Have you ever been to Chania? What are the best things you enjoyed in town? Do let me know! I look forward to reading your comments or questions in the comments section below.
COMING TO CRETE?
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READ MORE ABOUT THE BEST PLACES TO SEE NEAR CHANIA
Finally, you might also want to read:
- 10 Best Things to Do in Splantzia, Chania
- Things to do in Tabakaria, Chania
- 10 Best Things to do in Rethymno
- 1, 2 or 3-day Itinerary of Heraklion
MORE RESOURCES TO VISIT CHANIA AND THE REST OF CRETE
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This article was first published in June 2017, and it was updated in June 2019.
About the author
Hola! I’m Gabi. I moved to Crete a few years ago to explore the island all year round. I love to backpack with my kids, taking pictures and driving around the mountain roads of Crete. I’m a beach freak and on this island, I’ve found heaven on earth!