Spili, Crete: Complete Guide by a Local

Spili Crete

This picturesque village in Rethymnon is halfway between the northern coast and the southern Libyan Sea. Spili is a popular place where visitors love to stop for a break while driving on the island.

Its most famous spot is the scenic Venetian Fountain, which features a long row of identical lion heads from which constant spring mountain water flows. Eager to discover more? This post tells you everything you should know before you visit Spili Crete.

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Tips to Discover the Village of Spili Crete

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Essential Things to Know about Spili

Spili Crete
Spili, Crete.

Right in the heart of the region of Rethymnon, Spili is a small mountain village that, every year, attracts dozens of visitors curious to discover its most unique characteristic, a Venetian fountain made with an original series of lion heads from where there’s a constant water flow that comes from the local springs.

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Spili village.

However, the village is also a great place to stay and spend a few days if you’re eager to visit the southern beaches of Rethymnon while it’s also close enough to the northern coast.

The village has limited accommodation, good places to eat, and a few interesting shops selling local souvenirs.

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Spili, the main square.

The name Spili comes from the Greek word for cave. This is because it takes its current name from the several caves found in the area.

On the northwestern side of the village, the most remarkable cave is known as Peristere and, according to a local legend, an image of the virgin once appeared on the surface of a rock inside this cave.

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Spili village.

Spili had a key role during the revolution against the Ottoman Empire, like many other mountain villages on the island. Spilian rebels started a battle that defeated the Turks in the region.

Where is Spili

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Rethymnon-Spili (Google Maps 2023).

As we mentioned, Spili is a mountain village in the Rethymno region of Crete. It’s in the central part of the island, approximately 30 kilometers southeast of Rethymnon town, and it stands at 430 meters and offering spectacular sea views of the surrounding countryside.

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Spili village.

What makes its landscape quite unique is that Spili is nestled in the foothills of Mount Vorizi, surrounded by lush countryside and scenic landscapes.

Spili is a gateway to several natural attractions and traditional villages in the area, thus being a popular destination for visitors seeking an off-the-beaten-path experience.

How to Get There

Best places to visit in Crete by car
Road in Crete.

The most convenient way to reach Spili from Rethymnon is by car. The distance between the two towns is approximately 30 kilometers, and the drive takes about 40 minutes.

You can follow the National Road E75 south from Rethymnon and then take the exit for Spili. The road is well-signposted and offers scenic views of the Cretan mountains.

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Spili village.

Bus services are available between Rethymnon and Spili. The KTEL bus company operates regular routes connecting Rethymno-Agia Galini, and buses depart from the Rethymnon bus station near the Fortezza.

The journey takes around 60 minutes, depending on the traffic and the bus schedule. Check out the current schedule here.

It’s also possible to get to Spili by taxi. However, even when the service can be practical and direct, it will be more expensive than buses or driving your own car.

Best Things to Do in Spili, Crete

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The most famous sight in Spili.

There are a few things you can enjoy doing in Spili. Let’s start by stating the most obvious one!

Lions Fountain of Spili

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Spili fountain.

As you have probably guessed, this is the village’s most famous landmark and attraction. The unique monument is in the central square of Spili, known as Plateia Kefalovrissi.

This decorative stone fountain adorned with 25 lion heads that spout water into a central basin is an iconic symbol of Spili and has historical importance.

The water flows at a regular and constant temperature and,comes from a spring above the town. And yes, you can drink the cold, refreshing water!

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Me during a stop in Spili on our way from Chania to Matala.

The fountain is quite old; it was built during the Venetian period, around the sixteenth century, and served as a vital water source for the local community.

Today, it continues to provide fresh mountain spring water to locals and visitors alike.

The Lion Fountain is also an artistic masterpiece. The identical lion heads are sculpted in stone, while the flowing water creates a constant, refreshing sound that adds a touch of charm to the shaded seating areas around the fountain.

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Main fountain in Spili.

When visiting Spili, take some time to check out the Lion Fountain and appreciate its architectural details. Before getting back on the road, you can also fill your water bottle with cool mountain spring water.

Sip a Cup of Coffee at Plateia Kefalovrisi

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Spili village.

The square around the Lion Fountain is also lined with cafes, taverns, and shops, creating a lively atmosphere. It is a popular meeting point for locals and visitors, particularly during the warmer months.

Many tourists traveling around the mountains often stop at Spili for a refreshing drink, a break from driving, and a few photos by the fountain.

The square, always busy with travelers and residents, is the natural meeting point in the village and a lively place to spend some time during your visit.

Discover the Folk Museum of Spili

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Spili Folklore Museum.

The museum features a small exhibit of local historical items tucked away above the village.

You will see unique objects belonging to the traditional Cretan culture and history, mostly from the village. The place is easy to reach if you follow the signs on the main square.

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Spili village.

Take at least an hour to explore this collection of textiles and work utensils, traditional costumes, and household items that offer insights into the local heritage.

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Spili village.

If you have time to spare, you can also visit the Ecclesiastical Museum of Spili, near the main square.

Visit the Church of Agios Pavlos

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Main church in the village.

Saint Paul’s Church is one of the several Orthodox churches you can visit in Spili, and it’s also the main cathedral. It’s located only steps from the main square, so it’s pretty easy to access.

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Spili Village.

Since Spili is a Bishop’s Seat, you can visit more than 15 churches in Spili. Some of the most famous are Agios Georgios, Metamorfosi of Sotiras, and Agioi Theodoroi.

Discover the Local Crafts

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Spili village.

Folkloric art is at its best in many Cretan villages. In the Amari Valley area, you can admire unique weaving traditions in Spili and nearby villages like Anogia and Zoniana).

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Ceramics made in Spili.

Many shops on the village’s main square sell traditional folklore crafts, including colorful ceramics, another popular art in the Rethymnon region.

Taste the Tsikoudia Made in Spili Village

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Local tsikoudia.

Every village in Crete made its own batch of tsikoudia at the end of the annual grape harvest. And -of course- every village in Crete claims to distillate the best tsikoudia on the island!

Are we confident that Spili makes the best raki in Crete? Of course, we are not, but how could we argue if we don’t try it first?

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Spili, the main square.

Head to a local kafenio or taverna and enjoy a glass of Spilian raki to decide whether the local tsikoudia is up to your standards!

Explore the Charming Alleys

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Alley in Spili.

Although there is not much to do in Spili, the charming little village is a jewel to explore.

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Souvenir shops in Spili.

Get lost walking along the many alleys to discover the typical architecture of our mountains, the ancient stone houses, some of them still bearing traditional Turkish balconies made of wood.

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Spili village.

Engage in conversation with the locals and relax while you spend a day or more visiting the picturesque cobblestone streets in the village. Around every corner, there will be a new landscape to surprise you!

Day Trips and Excursions from Spili, Crete

Since Spili is centrally located in the Rethymno region, the village is an excellent base for exploring the surrounding area and discovering exciting places on the southern and northern coasts.

Here are some notable places to visit near Spili.

Patsos Gorge

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Patsos Gorge.

Only 8 kilometers from Spili, the family-friendly gorge of Patsos is a fantastic day trip near the village. Once you’ve parked your car at the gorge’s entrance, start your hike following the marked trail, which will take you through a lush landscape of vegetation, rocky formations, and a small river.

Even if the hike is pretty easy, don’t rush and take your time to appreciate the scenery and enjoy the tranquility of the surroundings.

Along the hike, you will have the chance to visit Agios Antonios Cave, a significant religious site with a small chapel inside it.

Suppose you still have free time after hiking the gorge. In that case, you might also want to consider exploring the gorgeous villages that spread through the Valley of Amari and admire the breathtaking landscape and the imposing shape of Mount Psiloritis, the highest peak on the island.

Plakias

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Plakias.

A superb beach and a traditional village are part of this trip to Plakias, making it an ideal seaside day trip to Spili.

Located about 30 kilometers southwest of Spili, Plakias’ most distinctive trait is the long sandy beach with crystal-clear waters and beautiful surrounding landscapes.

In Plakias, you can enjoy a range of activities. The village is one of the most popular places on the island to practice snorkeling and scuba diving. Those interested in hiking can take advantage of two incredible gorges in the area, Kotsifou and Kourtaliotiko.

Finally, you can join boat trips from Plakias to explore the breathtaking Preveli Beach.

Preveli Beach

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Preveli Beach.

The gorgeous palm tree beach of Preveli is about 20 kilometers south of Spili, making it an easy day trip.

This stunning sandy beach with crystal-clear waters is famous for its Megalos Potamos, a river that flows from the mountains to meet the sea.

Besides being known for its incredible palm tree forest, the second biggest on the island after Vai Beach in Lasithi, the nearby Preveli Monastery is one of the most important landmarks on the island and is easy to visit from the beach.

Kournas Lake

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Lake Kournas.

After a 45-kilometer drive west of Spili along the northern coast, Lake Kournas is the only freshwater lake in Crete and one of the region’s best natural landscapes.

The lake is surrounded by mountains and greenery, offering a tranquil setting for a leisurely walk, a pedal boat ride, or a picnic. If you prefer, several traditional taverns by the lake serve tasty bites.

Alternatively, check out the many souvenir shops along the road leading to the lake.

>> Explore the area further with this full-day trip to Kournas Lake Argyroupoli from Rethymno.

Rethymnon Old Town

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Rethymnon town.

If you’re staying in Spili, a morning trip to the Old Town of Rethymnon is a great idea. The city of Rethymnon, also the region’s capital, is a relatively short drive from Spili.

This gorgeous old town is a picturesque maze of narrow streets lined with Venetian and Ottoman-era buildings, shops, taverns, and cafes. In town, don’t miss the impressive Fortezza and the beautiful Venetian Harbor.

Where to Eat in Spili, Crete

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The main square in Spili.

Traditional tavernas, grills, and old-time coffee houses won’t miss during your trips through the mountains in Rethymnon.
Spili won’t be any different.

Check out these places to eat in Spili:

  • Fabricafe is a small restaurant in the village serving local dishes, pizza, and a good selection of coffee. This is an ideal location for breakfast.
  • Platia Cafe-Grill is a popular place to have a bite in the main square of Spili.
  • To Sideradiko is one of the best places for local dishes in Spili. It has excellent reviews and affordable prices.
  • Taverna Maria & Kostas is located a couple of hundred meters before the main square in Spili. This traditional Greek restaurant serves a reasonably priced menu.

Craving traditional pastries? Try the local bakeries to taste delicious sweets and savory pies, including cheese tiropita, spanakopita, and bougatsa.

Where to Stay in Spili

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Spili village.

When looking for a place to stay in Spili, you should consider the kind of accommodation available in the village and the surrounding area.

The southern coast of Rethymnon offers easy access to Spili and is a valid alternative if you don’t find accommodation in Spili.

The village is relatively tiny, and accommodation options are pretty limited. When looking for a place to stay, consider the following alternatives.

Traditional Homes and Guesthouses

There are several traditional homes in Spili offering a more authentic experience. These accommodations are often located in restored historic buildings and offer comfortable rooms, local decor, and warm hospitality.

Family-Run Apartments

Another option is to stay in family-run apartments or studios. They provide a more independent experience and often come with kitchenettes or fully equipped kitchens. They are ideal for travelers looking for a self-catering option that guarantees flexibility.

Rural Retreats and Villas

Spili is surrounded by beautiful countryside, making it a great destination for those seeking a rural retreat. You can find accommodations such as villas or cottages on the outskirts of the village, offering privacy and tranquility.

Nearby Resorts and Hotels

If you prefer a more comprehensive range of amenities, you may consider staying in one of the nearby coastal resorts or hotels. The beaches of Plakias or Agia Galini are within driving distance from Spili and offer various accommodation options, from luxury resorts to budget-friendly hotels.

When choosing a place to stay in Spili, always consider whether you’ll drive to the area. Staying close to Rethymnon’s attractions or amenities can make a massive difference if you wish to explore the whole region. Remember always to compare prices before booking.

Are you visiting Spili this season?

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More resources to enhance your Crete adventure

Start by checking this guide to plan a trip to Crete. Remember to explore the articles on prices in Crete, common mistakes to avoid, and helpful insider secrets. This comprehensive Crete packing list ensures you have everything you need.

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 Rethymnon or Chania, I’ve got detailed guides to help you make the most of your time.

Suggested accommodation in Rethymnon

More useful travel resources

  • Check out all the digital travel guides I’ve specifically written about Crete. They are affordable and practical to check from your mobile.
  • Find convenient ferry tickets with Ferryhopper.
  • Welcome Pickups offers a convenient pre-paid airport transfer service.
  • To book adventures, tours, and cultural experiences, I always recommend Get Your Guide.

Pin this Guide to Explore the Village of Spili in Crete!

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About me:

Gabi Ancarola | The Tiny Book

Gabi Ancarola

I have lived in Chania, Crete, since 2016. As a local, I have an intimate knowledge of the Crete. I host culinary and concierge tours and experiences in Crete and write about the island for several travel media. During the last five years, I have helped many travelers plan the perfect holiday in Crete. I co-authored DK Eyewitness Top 10 Crete and had more glasses of frappe than any regular person could ever handle.

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