Chania, with its pretty beaches, a unique mix of architecture, narrow pebbled alleyways, charming villages, and buzzing town- is the perfect place to experience a lively city where the old-world meets new. Having visited several times, here is our Complete Travel Guide to Chania.
Getting There & Getting Around
The flight to Chania from Athens is around one hour, otherwise, you can catch a ferry. There is a direct ferry line that takes around 6.5 hours, or you can do an overnight trip, which is roughly 9 hours. Depending on how much of the island you would like to see, we strongly recommend hiring a car, which allows you the flexibility to visit the many beaches, villages, and historical spots around town.
Where to Stay
If you like being close to restaurants and nightlife, we suggest you stay around the Old Town, Venetian Port, or the New Town. If you prefer a more relaxed vibe and being somewhere close to nature (mountains or sea) try Kissamos, Paleochora, or Sfakia. For those wanting to be footsteps away from the beach, we highly recommend Marathi and Loutraki, in the Akrotiri area.
Where to sleep
For a great 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 famous Lighthouse. For more of a city vibe, base yourself around the New Town and try Samaria Hotel. If you prefer apartment living, check into Casa Ntore Luxury Apartments or Trianon. And for something closer to the water, we recommend Domes Zeen, Ammos Hotel, and Marathi Villas.
Where to eat
For authentic flavours head to Evgonia– don’t expect fancy décor but the food is amazing (we recommend the grilled fish). Ta Chalkina at the Port offers the complete Cretan experience- great views, live music, and traditional cuisine. Tamam in the Old Town is where you can experience local dishes served in a rustic setting. Further across town at Kaliviani village, you will find Gramvousa Taverna, which offers magnificent food and gorgeous views. Taverna Mpourakis in Kounoupidiana is a local favourite and their specialty is Xoirino Kotsi (pork hog), which is baked for hours. Nea Chora is a waterfront location lined with traditional fish taverns- our favourites include Akrogiali, Volakas, and Achilleas. For modern cuisine and stylish decor try Pallas and Mon.Es- great food and ambiance.
Yes, you can try Bougatsa all over Greece, but you can’t find Bougatsa Iordani anywhere else. This famous pastry- made using fresh Cretan Mizithra (ricotta) – has been a local favourite since 1924. If you are looking for a variety of sweets, make your way over to Koukouvagia which has been named Greece’s best dessert shop on many occasions- and for a good reason! Here you can try the famous Zoumero (a fluffy chocolate cake) as well as Lemonopita (lemon cake), Mosaiko (chocolate biscuit cake), Mille Feuille, Milopita (apple pie), Karidopita (walnut cake)- plus the view is spectacular. Lastly, if you love crepes (like us) head to Roxanis and try the classic Nutella and Banana!
For great local wine and spectacular views of the sunset, head over to the harbourside bar, Pallas. You will catch most of the locals over at Sinagogi- a chic and rustic spot hidden away in the ruins of the old Jewish synagogue. And for a pre-dinner drink or a late-night cocktail, try Fagotto Jazz Bar, one of Crete’s oldest bars.
Local Delicacies and Dishes
Achinous (sea urchins) may be rare to find at your average restaurant but here they appear on most menus. Gamopilafo is a traditional wedding rice dish and is likened to a deluxe risotto prepared in a rich meat broth. Saligaria Tiganita (fried snails) is a local favourite and served as an appetizer. Stamnagathis (local wild greens) are boiled and served with a dash of olive oil and lemon juice. The famous Cretan Dakos is a rye dusk topped with juicy grated tomatoes and crumbled feta (can be eaten any time of the day). Kaltsounia are delicious Cretan cheese pies, and Arni me Stamnagathi is a lamb dish, where the meat is sautéed in hot olive oil, 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 that is distilled from grapes and served in every Cretan taverna and kafeneio (not for the faint-hearted).
Seitan Limani offers magical views and pristine waters- it’s a bit of a hike to get there as you need to walk down steep steps- but definitely worth it. For a morning swim and a great Freddo (cold coffee) head to Loutraki Beach, where you will find lots of sunbeds. Marathi is perfect for families and it’s where the locals go. Also good for those with young kids are Falasarna and Stavros Beach (where Zorba the Greek was filmed). Balos Lagoon, Elafonisi, and Gramvousa Islet are by far Chania’s most photographed beaches- you can’t leave Chania until you have been to at least one. While Golden Beach with its golden sand and clear, calm waters also deserves a visit.
Walking through the charming Old Town (while taking in the magnificent sites) allows visitors to discover the Venetian, Byzantine, and Ottoman influences. Chania has an impressive Archaeological Museum, a Naval Museum, Folklore Museum, and several others that are all as significant as each other. Then make your way over to Prophet Ilias, where you will find the Tombs of Eleftherios Venizelos, a famous politician who was Prime Minister of Greece- no less than 7 times! Here you will also get panoramic views of Chania, as well as the chance to go inside the local chapel. On the other side of town, check out the Municipal Garden, which was designed in 1870- here you can get up close to the historical 1927 Clock Tower. You can also enjoy coffee or tea at the famous Café Kipos, which is a member of the European Association of Historical Cafés. And while you are at it, catch a film at the nearby open-air cinema!
Chania is home to many sacred and historical monasteries that are well known. The most frequently visited is Agia Triada Tzagarolon, which was built in the 17th century by two monks. The Gouvernetou Monastery was designated as a preserved monument in 1900, while the abandoned Monastery of Aghios Ioannis is said to be the most ancient monastery of Crete (dating back to the 6th- 7th centuries).
Where to shop
For small boutiques filled with handmade jewellery, sandals, ceramics, and other great gift ideas head to the Old Town and stroll through the beautiful alleyways to find a range of stores catering to all tastes. If you are after fast fashion such as Zara, H&M, or other local chain stores- make your way across to the new part of town where you will find all the latest shoes, clothes, and accessories. If you prefer to take home some tasty Cretan treats- check out the local markets in the Agora, where you will discover the freshest home-grown food and delicacies.
Can’t leave until… you have brunch at Ginger Concept, and lunch at Dounias in Drakona, where all the dishes are farm-to-table and created by owner/chef Stelio Trilykaris, who prepares it all using traditional cookware and a wood-fired oven. For some adventure, hike the 16km-long Samaria Gorge- one of Europe’s longest canyons- but try to get there early morning to avoid the crowds. For a unique cultural experience visit artist Manousos Chalkiadakis, who transforms clay into stunning vases, boats, and balloons. His studio is located in a small village and the hospitable artist will also take you next door to see 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- where you’ll find a range of wooden art pieces. Last but not least, you should listen to live Cretan music and join in on some local dancing, which will be one of the most memorable experiences!