Unique Experiences in Crete: Trip to Arkadi Monastery, Rethymno

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

Greece - Crete - Arkadi Monastery

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Last-minute plans? Check these top picks

Getting there
Book your ferry tickets in advance at the lowest price, with no hidden fees or extra costs.

Where to stay in Crete
For a boutique experience, Casa Delfino in Chania or Avli in Rethymnon. Mrs. and Mr. White (affordable luxury) is a gorgeous resort near Chania. Budget? Check Archipelagos in Rethymnon. Hostel type? The best ones are So Young in Heraklion and Cocoon City in Chania.

Top-rated tours in Crete
Boat Cruise to Balos Lagoon from Kissamos (Bestselling tour from US$ 29.65).
Samaria Gorge Trek: Full-Day from Rethymno (Another best-seller, from US$ 36.73).
Day Trip to Elafonisi Island from Chania (From US$ 41).
Knossos Palace: E-Ticket & Audio Tour (Check Knossos at your own pace, from US$ 19.34).

Touring Crete by car?
I use both Discover Cars and Rentalcars.com to reach places where my old jalopy won’t take me.

Need cash?
I’m obsessed with Transferwise! The best online money transfer service: Ridiculously low fees to exchange currency and debit cards accepted all over Greece.

Are you covered?
It’s always better to have travel insurance. Check quotes on World Nomads.

Three items you need in Crete
Don’t forget your daypack for beach days and excursions. Add a good map, the Lonely Planet Guide, or get a copy of my own guide to West Crete!

Travel Resources to Visit Arkadi

General information to visit Moni Arkadi

The Holy Monastery of Arkadi in Rethymno is one of those places that I strongly recommend you to include in your Rethymno itinerary. The monastery has been for long an integral part of Crete’s history and fights for freedom.

The Holy Monastery of Arkadi, or also Moni Arkadi, is located in the regional unit of Rethymno.
Opening Hours: April – October: 9.00-18.00 | November – March: 9.00-16.00
Entrance fee: 3.00 € (full ticket), free for local citizens.

How to get to Arkadi Monastery

From Rethymno

Map Rethymno Moni Arkadi
From Rethymno to Arkadi Monastery – Google maps 2020.

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.

Check this guide to driving on Crete with tips about renting a car, overtaking on the highway, and more suggestions for a perfect road trip on the island.

From Chania

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 really breathtaking. Plan plenty of photography stops!

From Chania (La Canea in the map) to Arkadi Monastery. – Google maps 2020.

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.

From Heraklion

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. A stop in Anogeia, Axos or Zoniana are good ideas.

From Heraklion to Arkadi – Google maps 2020.

If you prefer the comfort of an organized tour, check this day trip from Chania or this other day trip from Rethymno, both of them include a visit to Arkadi Monastery.

Arkadi Monastery Rethymno, Crete

Where to stay in Rethymnon to visit Arkadi Monastery

Rethymnon Accommodation Resources

Staying in Rethymnon can be a great compromise in terms of distances for those who intend to visit more than just one region in Crete. Booking fees are in general convenient for the whole island, yes early booking will always guarantee a better deal. Hotels in the center of Rethymnon and in the old town sell out early. Don’t book your room last minute!
There are great places to stay in Rethymnon if you’re traveling with a limited budget (under €60 per day). One of the top picks is Kallithea Studios, where a studio starts at €50 per night!
– Mid-range options go from €50 to €150 per night. Archipelagos Hotel is one of my favorite places to stay, just steps away from the center of town. Prices start at €75 per night.
With a higher budget, from €117 per night, you can stay in the gorgeous Palazzo Vecchio Exclusive Residence.
– You can also check the best Airbnbs in Rethymnon if you click here.

>>Check the best Airbnbs in Rethymnon<<

The Turkish occupation of Crete and Arkadi

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

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

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

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

>>Read more about other monasteries in Crete<<

Back church in Arkadi Monastery
The back of the church.

>> These guided tours of Arkadi are super value for money<<

The history behind Arkadi Monastery

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.”

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

The Holocaust of Arkadi Monastery was a tragic symbol of the Cretan struggle for independence. Hundreds of women and children locked inside the gunpowder stores blowing it up and taking hundreds of Ottoman soldiers with them to the grave.

After years of struggles, 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 belonging to the Byzantine school and the Cretan Renaissance.

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.

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

Plan the visit: What to see in Arkadi Monastery, Rethymno

The church of 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 a 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.

Cells of monks in Monastery.
The cells.

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.

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 surrendering 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.

Arkadi Entrance
Entrance to the complex.

The importance of Arkadi Monastery in Crete’s history

It’s worth remembering that, despite the fact that 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 with the intention of supporting Crete in getting rid of Turkish domination.

Are you ready to explore Greece? It can be the trip of your lifetime. Get in touch if you need extra help to plan your itinerary. If you happen to also tour West Crete, check this guide. You’ll find detailed info about where to go, what to see, where to eat, and more!

Want more? Join my Private Facebook Group to connect with like-minded travelers who love Crete as much as you do!

Coming to Crete any time soon? These resources will help you organize the trip!

Start by reading these helpful tips to plan a trip to Crete, which covers details such as when it’s best to travel, what documents you need, or how to get a SIM card. Check family holidays in Crete if you travel with kids.

To visit Crete’s heavenly beaches, check my guide to the best beaches in Crete. Discover what region is best to stay or check what things you can do in Crete.

For updated information about the island, join my private group on Facebook, or get my West Crete Guide!

Finally, make sure you’ve got everything you for a hassle-free trip!

I never move around Crete without my Osprey backpack, a sturdy, light, roomy, and super comfortable travel partner I just love. To visit villages, sites, and museums instead, I carry this little crossbody bag.

When driving around, I pack my Crete Michelin map and my Nikon D7200. In Summer I also carry good sunscreen lotion, the sun on the island can be pretty aggressive.

Airfares to Crete can change from one airline to the other, make sure to compare prices with a powerful search engine. Planes are fast, but nothing like the romantic experience of traveling by sea in Greece. With Ferry Hopper, you can book your ferry tickets in advance at the lowest price.

If I need to book accommodation, I personally use different search engines. Booking.com
and Hotels.com are my go-to options.
Sometimes, the best way to make the most of your time on Crete is to join an organized tour. GetYourGuide has top-rated tours to save time and money. From cooking lessons to archaeological site tours, skip-the-line attractions, and airport transfer!

Do you have everything you need? Then you just have to get ready to discover Crete, Greece’s most beautiful island!

  • Check these posts for more information!

To read more about Crete’s fascinating past, check this article to discover the most stunning archaeological sites in Crete. There are also beautiful monasteries to visit on the island. Don’t miss this article about the island of Spinalonga, while in the same region there are many gorgeous villages to explore.

A trip to Crete is a good opportunity to learn more about Greek mythology, why not checking the Cave of Zeus or the fantastic seaside caves of Matala and the Minoan Palace of Phaistos. Finally, in the region of Rethymnon, a day trip to Arkadi Monastery will teach you tons about the Turkish occupation of the island.

Have you ever visited Arkadi Monastery?
Let me know in the comments below!

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Greece - Crete - Arkadi Monastery
Greece - Crete - Arkadi Monastery
Gabi Ancarola | The Tiny Book

About the Author

Hola! I’m Gabi. Welcome to The Tiny Book – Crete Travel Blog! I moved to Crete to explore the island all year round. I love taking pictures and driving on the mountain roads of Crete. I’m a beach freak and on this island I’ve found heaven on earth!

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