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


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.

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Last-minute plans for Crete?

Get there: Use Ferryhopper to book your tickets.
Stay: Find great accommodation deals on Booking.com.
Move around: Compare car rental prices with Discover Cars.
Tours: Check the most popular places on the island with GetYourGuide.

Read more: Pack the Lonely Planet Guide to Crete or get a copy of my digital guide to Chania.

Best Hotels in Rethymnon

Affordable: Ilian Beach and Summer Drem in Rethymnon Town.
Mid-range: Archipelagos Hotel in town or Veneto Boutique Hotel.
Luxury: Avli Lounge and Rimondi Boutique Hotel in the old town.
Check also Rethymnon Accommodation Guide and Rental Homes in Rethymnon.

Travel Resources to Visit Arkadi: General Information About 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 long been 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 Rethymnon

Map Rethymno Moni Arkadi
From Rethymno to Arkadi Monastery – Google maps 2021.

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.

How to Get to Moni Arkadi From Chania

From Chania (La Canea in the map) to Arkadi Monastery. – Google maps 2021.

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!

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

From Heraklion to Arkadi – Google maps 2021.

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.

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.

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, 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

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.”

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

Cells of monks in Monastery.
The cells.

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

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.

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.

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

Travel Plans for Crete?
More Resources to Organize Your Trip!

Start by heading right to my tips to plan a trip to Crete for in-depth details you need to know about Greece. You can also check my post to better know what to pack for a trip to the island or read this info to visit Crete with children!

Get in touch if you need extra help to plan your trip. If you want to tour West Crete, check my guide. Want more? Join my Private Facebook Group to connect with like-minded travelers who love Crete as much as you do!

Make Sure You’ve Got Everything For a Hassle-Free Vacation!

I never move around the islands without my Osprey backpack, a sturdy but light travel partner that I love. For short trips, I carry this little crossbody bag. If I drive, I pack my Nikon D7200 and a good travel guide: Lonely Planet’s Best of Greece & the Greek Islands.

When it comes to plane tickets, compare prices with a powerful search engine. However, nothing beats traveling by sea in Greece. With Ferry Hopper, you can book in advance at the lowest price.

For accommodation, I use Booking.com. Traveling to remote places is easier with Discover Cars. Other times, I join organized tours with GetYourGuide, which features anything from cooking lessons to airport transfer!

Are you coming to Crete any time soon?

Get in touch and let me know!

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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 writing for The Tiny Book and her other blogs.
She’s written for Greek Reporter, published three travel guides about Greece, and had more glasses of frappe than any regular person would be able to handle.

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