Unique Experiences in Crete: Your Unforgettable Day Trip to Arkadi Monastery, Rethymnon


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A visit to Arkadi Monastery, in Rethymno, is an experience that shouldn’t miss on your Crete trip. A place so beautiful and yet so deeply marked by the Cretan struggle for freedom. Arkadi Monastery is a helpful instrument to understand Crete, as well as its people, character, and history.

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Travel Resources to Visit Arkadi Monastery

Arkadi Monastery

Be sure to book accommodation and tours in Crete ahead of time to ensure availability!

📍 Top tours in Crete:
Full-day Samaria Gorge trek (#1 tour in Crete!)
Boat cruise to Balos Lagoon & Gramvousa (another top-selling tour!)
Boat Trip to Spinalonga with swim stop (most popular in Agios!)
Ticket to Knossos Archaeological Site (top tour in Heraklion)
Day trip to Elafonisi (a must in Chania!)

🛌 Top picks for places to stay in Crete:
Lyttos Beach (top beachfront hotel in Hersonissos)
SanSal Boutique Hotel (in Chania old town with a pool!)
Grecotel Lux Me White Palace (the best resort in Rethymnon)

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General Information About Moni Arkadi

The Holy Monastery of Arkadi in Rethymno is one of those places that I strongly recommend you include in your Rethymno itinerary even if it’s a short one.

The monastery has long been an integral part of Crete’s history and fights for freedom. Located in the Rethymnon region, it is one of the key historic sites you can visit on the island

How to Get to Arkadi Monastery from Rethymnon

Map Rethymno Moni Arkadi
From Rethymno to Arkadi Monastery – Google Maps 2023.

By car: Those staying in or near Rethymno should get on the Main National Road and drive in the direction of Heraklion (East) for no more than 6 km until the exit Tsesme-Platania (or Adelianos Kampos).

Once there, switch to the Old National Road and drive for 16 km more, until reaching the monastery, the whole drive is from 30 to 45 minutes. There’s a large parking lot (free) at the entrance of the monastery.

By bus: Buses to Arkadi Monastery depart from Rethymno’s Public Bus Station, 2-3 times a day. The trip lasts about 40 minutes. You can visit the website and check the schedules here.

>> This guide with tips for driving in Crete is an essential read. It includes info about renting a car, overtaking on the highway, and more suggestions for a perfect road trip on the island.

Which car rental service is the best to choose?

If you want to rent a car for your trip and look for the best service, I am here to help you! Consider choosing Discover Cars, an international car rental booking service present worldwide. This way, you will find the best car for your trip wherever you are!

How to Get to Moni Arkadi From Chania

Arkadi Monastery
From Chania (La Canea in the map) to Arkadi Monastery. – Google Maps 2023.

It’s very easy to reach the Arkadi Monastery in Rethymno both from Chania and Heraklion.

In general, the roads are not difficult and the mountain landscape when accessing the site is breathtaking. Plan plenty of photography stops!

Arkadi Monastery

It will take you about one hour and a half to reach the monastery from Chania, always take into account that if you’re driving during the high season, roads might be trafficked and therefore you might need some extra time.

Besides, being Arkadi such an important religious place on the island, it’s common for it to be crowded not just in July and August.

How to Get to Arkadi Monastery From Heraklion

Arkadi Monastery
From Heraklion to Arkadi – Google Maps 2023.

Another beautiful road trip, that might take you approximately one and a half hours on the coastal road. If you have time to explore a bit more, try discovering some mountain villages on your way.

Stopping in villages such as Anogeia, Axos, or Zoniana can be a good idea.

You might also want to check out the best rental homes in Rethymnon.

Opening Hours: April – October: 9.00-18.00 | November – March: 9.00-16.00
Entrance fee: 3.00 € (full ticket), free for local citizens.

The Turkish Occupation of Crete and Arkadi

Arkadi Monastery Rethymno, Crete

By the end of 1648, most of Crete was under Ottoman control. A conquest followed by incredible destruction.

They looted buildings and churches which were later converted into mosques.

The destructive rage of the conquerors didn’t stop there, targeting roads, houses, and local businesses.

Monastery of Arkadi gardens
The courtyard of Arkadi Monastery, fruit trees, and flowers.

Many islanders escaped avoiding execution or imprisonment, while others fled to the mountains.

Ottoman rulers and settlers forced the shrinking Christian population into further misery and despair, imposing high taxes and confiscating lands.

Back church in Arkadi Monastery
The back of the church.

The local uprising took place on several occasions but they were inevitably followed by strict countermeasures and oppression.

You might also want to read about The Most Beautiful Monasteries in Crete.

The History Behind Arkadi Monastery

Gunpower storage room, rethymnno's moni Arkadi, Crete
Gunpowder storage room, no roof remaining.

The need for a revolution felt stronger and spread in the area. Arkadi was its soul. It became the center of the Cretan revolution.

Anger made the Ottomans vandalize the area, forcing the villagers to seek refuge behind the walls of the Monastery of Arkadi. 

Almost a thousand refugees, mostly women, and children underwent an Ottoman attack. Upon the request to surrender, their only reply was “We’d rather have war.”

Arkadi Monastery

The Holocaust of Arkadi Monastery was a tragic symbol of the Cretan struggle for independence.

Hundreds of women and children were locked inside the gunpowder store blowing it up and taking hundreds of Ottoman soldiers with them to the grave.

After years of struggle, the Ottoman forces were expelled in 1898 and the Cretan Republic was declared independent.

The union of Crete with Greece became a reality in 1913.

Tree with bullet in Moni Arkadi, Rethymno, Crete.
The famous tree with the bullet.

The walls of Arkadi enclose the cells belonging to the monks, a well-kept garden as well as the magnificent Baroque church with an impressive bell tower.

Inside, icons and paintings both belong to the Byzantine school and the Cretan Renaissance.

Bullet inside the tree in the monastery of Arkadi in Rethymno
The bullet is still in the log of the tree, Arkadi Monastery, Rethymno (Crete).

It’s also possible to visit the museum, where there are a lot of interesting exhibits related to Crete’s fight for independence. Also, pay a visit to the kitchen and the refectory.

Once outside, you can also take a look at the Ossuary containing the rest of some of the people that perished in this massacre.

Plan the Visit: What to See in Arkadi Monastery, Rethymno

Cells of monks in Monastery.
The cells.

These things should be on your list of places to see when visiting Arkadi…

The Church of Arkadi Monastery

Arkadi Monastery

Also known as Catholicon, the church stands in the central court of the monastery, and together with the whole complex, it is surrounded by a thick, fortified wall.

It was built in the 16th century with strong Baroque and Roman components, quite typical of the Cretan Renaissance.

The Museum of Moni Arkadi

The museum, which develops at different levels, includes a rich collection of Icons as well as manuscripts, books, and engravings. In the museum, it’s also possible to see a selection of impressive religious clothing.

The Refectory

The impressive space devoted to the monk’s meals dates back to 1687. Under its vaulted ceiling, it’s possible to see the old, original furniture still bearing the marks of the bullets and swords belonging to the Ottoman attacks.

From the refectory, you can reach the kitchen to admire the big oven and fireplace, as well as some pieces of pottery used to prepare the meals.

Arkadi Entrance
Entrance to the complex.

The Ossuary

The octagonal building that houses the ossuary is located outside the walls of the monastery, right in front of the parking lot. The site remembers those Cretans who chose to die rather than surrender to the Ottomans (1866).

In this small construction, dozens of skulls and other bones bear the marks of the battle made by the Turks. Finally, an inscription commemorating the massacre reads Nothing is more noble or glorious than dying for one’s country.

The Importance of Arkadi Monastery in Crete’s History

Arkadi Monastery

It’s worth remembering that, even though still many years had to go by until Crete would find itself free from the Ottoman rule, the massacre of Arkadi had remarkable importance.

Back in the day, in many European countries, different movements appeared intending to support Crete in getting rid of Turkish domination.
Have you ever visited Arkadi Monastery?

Best Organized Tour to Visit Arkadi Monastery

Arkadi Monastery
(Courtesy of Get Your Guide).

Although the road to Arkadi is quite straightforward from Rethymnon, you may not feel comfortable driving in Crete. However, it would be a pity to miss the visit.

For that reason, I’ve gathered below three of the best tours of Arkadi.

  • Private Trip Arkadi – Eleftherna – Margarites – Melidoni: This private tour is worth the price if you’re traveling in a group and can share the costs. It’s a whole-day trip that takes you to visit all of the most important landmarks in the Rethymnon area, and not just Arkadi. You will also visit the archaeological site of Eleftherna, the ceramic village of Margarites, and the impressive Melidoni Cave. This is a great value-for-money option.

Read more about Crete

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Pin This Dasy Trip Guide to Arkadi Monastery For Your Crete Adventures!

Arkadi Monastery

You might also want to read these posts about Crete’s regions:

About my blog:

Gabi Ancarola | The Tiny Book

Gabi Ancarola

I moved to Crete in 2016. During these years, I learned much about the island.
In Crete, I juggle being a solo mom, hosting culinary tours, and writing for several travel media.
I’ve written for Greek Reporter, published travel guides about Greece, co-authored DK Eyewitness Top 10 Crete, and had more glasses of frappe than any regular person could ever handle.

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