Chania or Rethymnon: Which Cretan City You Should Visit

Chania or Rethymnon

You have decided to spend your holidays in Crete and are unsure where to go. You want to go to Chania, but you hear Rethymno is equally beautiful?

No idea what to choose between Chania or Rethymnon? Worry not!

This article will give you an answer! Keep reading to see which Cretan town is most worth visiting. 

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Which is the Best City to Visit in Crete?
Rethymnon or Chania?

Which Cretan City is Right for You?

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Rethymnon or Chania? You already know the final answer here will be subjective.

However, a clearer picture will emerge if we break down the question into specific areas. This article compares Chania and Rethymno in ten different aspects.

Getting There
(Chania Wins)

Chania or Rethymnon
Port of Souda, Chania.

The first step to consider for your visit to Crete is getting your ticket there.

As an island, Crete is not reachable by car. However, daily ferries and air routes directly connect hundreds of cities to the island.

And this is the case for both Chania and Rethymno.

In short, Chania is quicker to reach than Rethymno because of its location and international airport. There are daily flights that connect Athens to Chania, sometimes even twice per day.

As a result, getting a ticket to Chania is straightforward and fast no matter what time you land in Athens.

In addition, ferry lines with Piraeus, Peloponnese, and other Greek islands are in the north. 
On the other hand, Rethymno is a bit more difficult to reach.

Although ferry lines link some Cyclades with Rethymno, those routes are usually seasonal.

Moreover, the closest international airport is Heraklion, which is about an hour’s drive away. 

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Which City is Better for Hotels, Chania or Rethymnon?
(It’s a Tie)

Chania or Rethymnon
Rethymnon Harbor at Night.

Once you book your ticket, it is time to find where to stay. Although finding a place to stay on the spot is still possible, you will get a better deal if you make an online reservation beforehand.

And you will not be short of alternatives. Chania and Rethymnon offer various accommodation options, from budget studios to luxurious beach resorts. 

The accommodation range in Chania is vast, only in the center of town. You can find anything from convenient family rooms to exclusive boutique hotels in historic Venetian buildings.

Alternatively, you can get a suite at a seaside resort or rent an apartment in the city and save money. 

Similarly, Rethymno also features an extended list of accommodation options. Think of flats to rent, budget family hotels, seaside villas, beach resorts, or even inexpensive hotels. No matter your taste, Rethymno has the perfect stay for you.

And just like everywhere else, the sooner you book it, or the further away you get from the city center, the better the deal. 

City Beaches
(Rethymno Wins)

Chania or Rethymnon
City Beach in Rethymnon.

No matter how cozy or luxurious your stay in Crete is, you will be looking for the beach at no time, especially during the hot summer months.

After all, when your friend mentions Greece, your natural response is to think of beaches.

Thankfully, you don’t have to drive far to get to a long stretch of sand anywhere in Greece. That is especially true for Crete, including big towns like Chania and Rethymno.

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In Chania, you only have to walk a few hundred meters from the old town to swim in the clear waters of Nea Chora Beach.

Just adjacent to it, Golden Beach (Chrissi Akti) is an ideal spot if you prefer calm waters. A pine forest protects it from the strong north wind, and its clean shore and soft sand will reward even the most demanding visitor.

The situation in Rethymno is not too different. It is even better. Whereas you have to walk for quite some time to reach a beach in Chania, Rethymno’s beach is around the corner.

The long stretch of sand begins in the old city and ends 10 kilometers to the east.

Between the town and the end of the beach, you will come across hotels, restaurants, bars, and the overwhelming island vibe! 

Discover where to park in Chania.

The Old Town
(Chania Wins)

Chania Old Town.

Whereas the beach in Rethymno is grander and closer to the city, the old town of Chania is second to none. Its charm and architecture make it one of the most visited locations on the island.

It is also full of historical sites such as the Firkas Fortress, the Venetian harbor, and the Egyptian Lighthouse. Intermixed with older buildings, modern shops, cafés, and taverns create an idyllic setting to spend hours, if not days, exploring everything.

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On the other hand, Rethymnon’s old town is equally lovely but with a bit less charm. It is also smaller and more compact, which makes it ideal for a short walk.

Museums and historical buildings such as Venetian and Turkish monuments remain firm to remind you of their past glory. 

The Old Town in Chania is more charming and a must-visit during your stay in Crete. Walk among its tiny alleyways, and you will be rewarded with unparalleled beauty. 

Rethymnon or Chania for Restaurants?
(Again… It’s a Tie!)

Cretan food

If walking through the old town opens your appetite, you should consider visiting a local tavern or restaurant.

Thankfully, no matter whether you are in Chania or Rethymnon, you are about to indulge yourself in a gastronomic trip you will never forget. 

Whether you are looking for a romantic dinner by the sea, a quick bite in the busy alleys, or a tasty meal in a traditional tavern, Chania has you covered.

And then, there is the fine dining cuisine and the many options you can choose from. The Five Restaurant and Salis are only two of Chania’s many prestigious and multi-awarded establishments.

With some research, you can never go wrong with a restaurant choice in Chania. 

The situation in Rethymno is similar. Local taverns have successfully merged the taste and meaning of traditional Cretan cuisine with the appeal and techniques of modern cooking. And the same applies to the restaurant’s setting, which is equally important.

You can dine at a fine restaurant by the sea, such as Prima Plora, or in a green yard like Avli, surrounded by plants and herbs.

Bars and Nightlife
(It’s hard to admit, but Rethymno Wins!)

Chania or Rethymnon

Once your stomach is full and your appetite is gone, it is time to digest everything with a cafe, cocktail, or a few shots of raki. There are also many must-visit bars in either Chania or Rethymnon.

Because Chania is a bit more touristic, there are more cafes and bars, especially during summer.

Whether looking for local wine, quality music, unique cocktails, or even shisha, Chania always has more than enough options.

Among other things, you do not want to miss a visit to the Sinagogi Open Air Bar, which, as the name suggests, is a roofless bar with a charming vibe and good music. It is ideal for a cocktail late in the afternoon or evening. 

Rethymno also has a selection of unique bars and nightlife choices. Being more of a university town and less touristy than Chania, it has a livelier music scene throughout the year.

Whether you’re after low-key live music to enjoy a romantic night or want to dance through the night, you do not have to walk far from the city center. 

Finding a place to dance until early morning is more difficult in Chania.

After all, the most popular clubs are a few kilometers to the west in Platanias and Agia Marina beach resorts.

Shopping Spree
(One More Tie)

Chania or Rethymnon
Colorful hats, Chania.

In addition to quality food and tasty cocktails, you may crave shopping therapy in Crete. Thankfully, both Chania and Rethymno have hundreds of shops where you can purchase anything from souvenirs to a whole new wardrobe.

Chania is the main shopping center in western Crete.

You will find numerous small shops as you stroll around its city center.

There is even a covered market named Agora with many specialized boutiques. The best part is that similar shops are clustered together, usually in lanes, to make shopping fun.

Think of Skridlof Street, a traditional leather workers’ lane with bargains on quality handmade goods. 

Rethymno is also full of specialized boutiques and shops, offering branded clothes, small ornaments for the house, books, jars with local food, cosmetics, and even original jewelry.

You name it, and the colorful street market of Rethymno has it.

There are even open-air bazaars every Thursday and Saturday morning where you can buy organic fruit and other local products, which are usually not found elsewhere.

Chania vs. Rethymnon Museums
(Chania Wins)

Chania or Rethymnon
Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Collection of Chania.

While shopping is essential to many, you may prefer to invest your time and money into acquiring knowledge and information about the place you are visiting.

And there is no better way to do that than visiting a local museum and exploring the history of your destination from close.

In short, Chania has more popular and prestigious museums than Rethymno.

Think of its Archaeological Museum, its vast array of prehistoric exhibits, the Maritime Museum, and its collection of ship models of all types and eras.

Specialty museums are also thriving in town. Whether it is about the Minoan world in 3D, folklore items from past decades, or even the Greek National Football team, there is a museum about it in Chania.

Although less in number and glamour, museums in Rethymno are not to be undervalued.

The city has a rich history, from the Paleolithic to Roman times. There is no better way to explore it than visiting its Archaeological Museum. Alternatively, if you are looking for something different, do not forget to admire how real the natural-size figures from the Wax Museum look. 

Activities to Do
(Chania Wins)

Chania or Rethymnon
The mosque of the Janissaries, Chania

If strolling around a museum is not your definition of fun, you may consider participating in any city activity. Because of its larger size and double population, Chania offers more things to do than Rethymno. 

To begin with, you can book a cruise and discover the nearby beaches and coves.

There are hundreds of sailing tour operators in Chania and its harbor. And then, there are many cooking lessons you can take and have a local teach you the secrets of the Cretan cruise.

Or grab a coffee and enjoy the Cretan weather in the Chania Botanical Park or its Public Gardens. Your choices are plenty!

Rethymno also has its fair share of activities. For one, cruises are also a thing, although fewer in number. If you prefer to stay in the city, track down all the historical monuments, including Rethymnon’s spectacular mosques, the spectacular gate of Porta Guora, the famous Rimondi Fountain, or the remarkable Venetian Loggia. 

Chania or Rethymnon for Road Trips?
(Rethymno Wins) 

Chania or Rethymnon
Kourtaliotiko Gorge, Rethymnon.

If the things to do in the city are not enough for you, you should consider a road trip to a nearby location for the day. Chania and Rethymno are the base for some of Crete’s most memorable day trips.

Only because of its more central location does Rethymno make for a better destination for day trips. But only for a margin.

After all, you can take many spectacular day trips from Chania. You can hike Samaria Gorge, the largest canyon in Europe, discover the pink sand beach of Elafonisi, or walk your way to Balos Lagoon and its white beach.

>> This daily cruise to Balos Beach is one of the best-seller excursions on the island, and it’s very affordable.

If that is not enough, you can admire the beauty of Lake Kournas and the hilly landscape around it, embark on an off-road safari in the mountains, or get a tour into the secrets of winemaking. Your choices are limitless.

The same applies to Rethymno. Because of its central location, many of the above sites are equally accessible from Rethymno.

In addition, if you are looking for an authentic experience of life in Crete, drive to the nearby village of Asteri.

Alternatively, you can visit Arkadi or Preveli Monastery and the incredible palm tree beach nearby, hike Patsos Gorge and Psiloritis, or explore the mountain villages of Amari and Thronos. And that is only the tip of the iceberg.  

Arkadi Monastery.

All in all, Chania appears to have the upper hand over Rethymno as a holiday destination. It is easier to reach, has a more charming old town, prestigious museums and many things to do.

On the other hand, the city beach is better in Rethymno, and the same goes for nightlife and day trips. Finally, accommodation, restaurants, and shopping are exceptional in either town.

Yet, this is only an opinion. Most probably, you will fall in love with both towns. Do not just take this at face value. Book your trip and see for yourself!

You will fall in love with Crete no matter which town you visit. And it will be only a matter of time until you come back. That is a guarantee. 
Chania or Rethymnon… Which one wins?

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More resources to enhance your Crete adventure

Start by checking out my guide to planning your trip to Crete, packed with helpful essential information. Explore the articles on prices in Crete, common mistakes to avoid, and insider secrets. You can also get one of the digital travel guides I’ve written about Crete. They are affordable and practical to check from your mobile.

When it’s time to plan, explore the best places to visit on Crete Island, discover my tours and activities, and be amazed at Crete’s incredible beaches. If you are exploring specific areas like Heraklion, Rethymnon, Lasithi, and Chania, I’ve got detailed guides to help you make the most of your time.

Suggested accommodation in Crete

No time to read all my accommodation guides? Check out these places to stay:

Chania or Rethymnon

Written by Dimitrios Tsevremes
Passionate about travel, spirituality, and sports, Dimi divides his time between Chania (Crete) and other countries. Writing is a way for him to express himself and his creativity. You can find out more about him and his work here.

Hey! Don’t Leave without Pinning! Pin this Comparison Guide between Chania and Rethymnon for Your Next Trip!

Chania or Rethymnon

About the author of this blog:

Gabi Ancarola | The Tiny Book

Gabi Ancarola

Gabi has been living in Crete for the last five years. Here, she juggles being a solo mom, hosting culinary tours in the summer, translating, and working as a tech advisor.
She’s written for the Greek Reporter, published two travel guides about Greece, and consumed more glasses of frappe than any regular person could handle.

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