Chania is a place that steals your heart. Pretty beaches, a unique mix of architecture, narrow pebbled alleyways, charming villages, a buzzing city- it’s the perfect combination of old-world meets new.
I’m very fortunate to have close friends who live here (shout out to the Tsagrakis family) and in true Cretan hospitality, they always go out of their way to ensure we have an amazing experience in their hometown, taking us to the best places to swim, eat and drink, as well as giving us a real taste of the rich history and culture. Here, I’ve put together our all-time favourites for when you visit.
Getting There & Getting Around
The flight to Chania from Athens is around one hour, otherwise, you can take a ferry. There is one ferry line that takes 6.5 hours, or you can do an overnight which is roughly nine hours. Now depending on how much of the island you would like to see, I strongly recommend you hire a car to visit the beaches, villages, and historical spots.
Where to Stay
If you would like to be close to restaurants and nightlife, I suggest you stay around the Old Town, Venetian Port or the New Town. If you prefer a relaxed vibe and somewhere close to the mountains and sea try Kissamos, Paleochora, and Sfakia. For those wanting to be footsteps away from the beach, I recommend Marathi and Loutraki, in the Akrotiri area.
Where to sleep
If you would like to stay in the heart of the Old Venetian Harbour, Cretan Renaissance, Domus Renier, or Casa Delfinio all offer stunning views of the Old Port and the Lighthouse. For a modern city vibe, base yourself in the new town and try Samaria Hotel. And if you prefer apartment living, check into Casa Ntore Luxury Apartments or Trianon. For something closer to the water, there is Domes Zeen, Ammos Hotel and Marathi Villas.
Where to eat
For authentic flavours head to Evgonia, don’t expect fancy décor but you will taste amazing-grilled fish. Ta Chalkina at the Port offers the complete Cretan experience- from great views, to live music and traditional cuisine. Tamam in the Old Town serves traditional dishes in a rustic setting. In Kaliviani village, which is on your way to or from Gramvousa Islet you will find Gramvousa Taverna, which offers magnificent food and views. Taverna Mpourakis in Kounoupidiana is for meat lovers, and its specialty is Xoirino Kotsi (pork hog), which is baked for hours. Nea Chora is a wonderful waterfront location filled with traditional fish taverns, which are popular with the locals and they include Akrogiali, Volakas, and Achilleas. For more modern cuisine and stylish decor try Pallas and Mon.Es- where you will be blown away by the food and ambiance.
Yes, you can try Bougatsa all over Greece, but you can’t find Bougatsa Iordani anywhere else but here, as this famous pastry is made using fresh Cretan Mizithra and has been a local fave since 1924. If you are looking for the best dessert make your way over to Koukouvagia which has been named Greece’s best dessert shop on many occasions, and for a good reason, as here you can feast on their famous Zoumero (a fluffy chocolate cake) as well as Lemonopita (lemon cake), Mosaiko (chocolate biscuit cake), Mille Feuille, Milopita (apple pie), Karidopita (walnut cake) and the view is sensational. And if you are a crepe lover (like me) head to Roxanis and taste one of the best Nutella and Banana crepes (you’re welcome.)
Catch the sunset at the harbourside bar Pallas, and enjoy spectacular views of the Lighthouse as you sip on local wine. If you want to chill with the stylish locals, make your way over to Sinagogi, which boasts chic and rustic decor and is located in the ruins of the old Jewish synagogue. For a pre-dinner drink or late night cocktail, try Fagotto Jazz Bar, one of the oldest bars in Crete.
Local Delicacies and Dishes
Achinou (sea urchins) may be rare to find in your average restaurant but in Chania, they appear on most menus. Gamopilafo is a traditional wedding rice dish, that is like a deluxe risotto prepared in a rich meat broth. Saligaria Tiganita (fried snails) are a local favourite and are served as Mezedakia (appetizers). Stamnagathis are a type of greens, which are boiled and served with olive oil and lemon juice, it is a specific kind of Xorta (greens) that are grown locally. The famous Cretan Dakos is rye dusk topped with juicy grated tomatoes and crumbled feta, it is eaten here any time of the day and is on every menu. Kaltsounia is a delicious Cretan cheese pie and Arni me Stamnagathi is lamb with a wild green, where the meat is sautéed in hot olive oil and oregano, then served with either avgolemono (egg and lemon sauce) or a squeeze of lemon juice. If you love cheese, you should definitely try the local Graviera, Pichtogalo Chanion, which has AOC protection and Myzithra, a young Cretan whey cheese. Raki or Tsikoudia is a locally made Cretan Brandy. Distilled from grapes and served in every Cretan taverna and kafeneio, this traditional beverage is for hardcore drinkers.
Seitan Limani offers magical views and pristine water. It’s a bit of a hike to get there and you need to walk down quite a few steep steps but it’s definitely worth it. For a morning swim and for a great Freddo (cold coffee), go to Loutraki beach, with lots of sunbeds, you can sit back and relax all day. Marathi is an amazing beach for families and this is where you will find the locals. If you are looking for easy parking, shops close by, and somewhere kid-friendly, add Falasarna and Stavros Beach (where Zorba the Greek was filmed) to your list. Balos Lagoon, Elafonisi, and Gramvousa Islet are by far Chania’s most photographed and picturesque beaches and you shouldn’t leave Chania until you have been to at least one. Golden Beach has also often been voted one of the best in Chania, offering golden sand and clear, calm waters.
Just walking through the beautiful Old Town and taking in the magnificent sites will allow you to discover the Venetian, Byzantine, and Ottoman influence. Chania also has an impressive Archaeological Museum, a Naval Museum, Folklore Museum and several other museums that are worth a visit. Also make your way to Prophet Ilias where you will find the Tombs of Eleftherios Venizelos, seven times Prime Minister of Greece. Here you will also take in some of the most panoramic views of Chania, while also visiting the charming chapel. Also check out the Municipal Garden, which was designed in 1870 and you can see the fabulous clock, which was built in 1927. You can also enjoy a coffee or tea at the historical Café Kipos, which is also a member of the European association of historical cafés. While you are at it, you can also catch a film at the open-air cinema.
Chania has many sacred and historical monasteries that are well known and the most frequently visited are Agia Triada Tzagarolon, which was built in the 17th century by two monks. The Gouvernetou Monastery was designated as a preserved monument in 1900 and the abandoned Monastery of Aghios Ioannis, which is said to be the most ancient monastery of Crete (dating back to the 6th- 7th centuries) is also a must-see.
Where to shop
For small boutiques, jewellery, sandals, and great gifts head to the Old Town and walk through the beautiful alleyways with a range of stores that will cater to all tastes. If you are after Zara, H&M, Nike and more chain stores make your way to the new town where you will find all the latest fashion. Now for more specific products check out the local markets in the Agora, where you will discover the freshest local produce and delicacies-this is the place to grab some of your favourite Cretan products to take home.
Can’t leave until… you have brunch at Ginger Concept, lunch at Dounias in Drakona where everything served is farm to table and made by owner/chef Stelio Trilykaris who prepares it all using traditional cookware, wood stoves, and wood oven- there are no electric cooking appliances at this tavern. Visit the Lighthouse at the entrance of the old harbor for an amazing sea breeze and great views. Hike the 16km-long Samaria Gorge, one of Europe’s longest canyons, is a must-do, try get there early morning to avoid the crowds. Visit artist Manousos Chalkiadakis who transforms clay into stunning vases, boats, and balloons. His studio is in a small village and he will also take you next door to a 300-year-old house. You should then drive to the village of Maza and eat at Dris in the main square. Ask the owner to unlock the door to the tiny Byzantine chapel in front of his shop, which contains amazing 13th-century artifacts. Also, pay Manolis Tsouris a visit. This cool dude is the owner of a unique woodshop. Last but not least, you must listen to live Cretan music and join in on some local dancing, which will be one of your most memorable experiences! If you wander around the Old Port at night, you will find many taverns that turn into all-night music and dancing venues, just join in on the fun!