By Aliki Panagakou
I have been living in Chania, Crete for the past six years, though originally from Athens, and I'm guilty as charged: I love it here!
As I stroll around the town of Chania, I admire its remarkable architecture -a magnificent lighthouse in the port, churches and houses in the Old Town, all reminding me of the city's multicultural identity; in fact, I often feel I have entered a time capsule, which takes me back to ancient times, through the Byzantine era and Venetian occupation, to Turkish rule and -tada!- lands me back to today in a modern vibrant town with rich entertainment and cultural offerings.
One thing I can tell you about Chania is that it's impossible to pick only a handful of random things to do, whether you are visiting solo, with your friends, with kids or on a romantic getaway. After struggling for years to draft a useful travel guide for my friends visiting Chania on their holidays in Crete, I have decided to gather 'pen and paper' and list here -for them and for you- my personal favourites; things that satisfy all the senses and make me personally feel very happy to live in Chania.
So, like Julie Andrews singing 'My Favourite Things' in The Sound of Music, here are a few of my favourite things to do in the summer, in Chania.
#1 Stroll around the picturesque alleys of the Old Town
Chania Old Town is a maze of colorful paved pedestrian streets filled with welcoming little shops for visitors to explore. Tattoo parlors, traditional tavernas, souvenir shops, cafés and bars set against a homey background.
Tip: You should definitely try a Valrhona chocolate dessert at 'Sketi Glyka' on Isodion street and a cool sangria at its neighboring 'Ababa Bar', a point of reference thanks to its artistic scenery!
#2 Enjoy a sunset dinner in the Tabakaria area
The Tabakaria area used to be a small industrial center of leather tanneries. Although this area has been mostly abandoned, there are still a couple of operational tanneries worth visiting during the day.
Tip: Enjoy a sunset dinner in this area at the 'Thalassino Ageri' fish restaurant. The whole setting is as pretty as a painted picture.
#3 Go out at night on Daliani Street
If you're wondering what to do in Chania in the evenings, then head to Daliani Street to hang out with the locals. The area is heavily frequented by people of all ages since it offers a variety of restaurants and bars that suit all tastes and budgets.
Tip: Try a vegan cocktail at the fully blossomed courtyard of 'Kibar' (aka 'To Monastiri tou Karolou' which is a 16th century Venetian monastery, and its name literally translates to 'Charles' Monastery'). If you're hungry and want to get away from the crowds, escape to a secluded restaurant just behind Daliani Street called 'The Well of the Turk' where you can enjoy a romantic dinner with ethnic touches (the 'vegetarian mousaka' is my personal favourite!)
#4 Walk to the old port's Lighthouse
Dominating the entrance of the old harbor, this 21 meter tall lighthouse is a good reason for a bit of walking! The sea breeze, the great views and the mystique of the old buildings create the ideal setting for a romantic, relaxing walk; probably one of the best things to do on a date in Chania!
Tip: Grab a bottle of Cretan wine from 'Miden Agan' in Daskalogianni Street and enjoy it while wathcing the sunset by the lighthouse.
#5 Explore the unique Splatzia area – Old Town
Explore the old Turkish neighborhood of Chania's old town, an area which in recent years has transformed from a quiet district to a vibrant, cool and sophisticated hangout. In the main square, called '1821' (taking its name from the local revolt in 1821 against the Turks), lies an ancient sycamore tree whose refreshing shade turns the 'piazza' into a perfect spot for a Greek coffee break during the day. There you will also spot one of the most significant churches of Chania, 'Agios Nikolaos', hosting both a bell tower AND a minaret, demonstrating the multicultural character of this town.
Tip: Although I mentioned coffee, I encourage you to try the home made meatballs at the kafenio (aka 'café') of 'Bourbos' on the main square. If you are not a meat lover, try the stuffed cuttlefish with feta cheese (delicious!). Another great choice to enjoy homemade traditional Greek food is at the 'Kouzina E.P.E' on vibrant Daskalogianni Street, offering a variety of fresh dishes on display (and where you can also get your meal to take-away; thumbs up!)
#6 Travel back in time at Top Chana district – Old Port
Top Chaná (or Topanás) is the area where the Christian aristocrats were settled during the Ottoman era. The district's narrow alleys and imposing Venetian buildings make it the ideal place for a romantic walk, which will take you back in time.
Tip: On Aggelou and Theotokopoulou Streets, two of the most photographed streets in Chania, you can browse the high quality jewelry shops and buy a nice souvenir or even a handmade rug from Mr. Kostas kilim place. If you get hungry (again!), you should not miss the all time classic 'Tamam' restaurant.
#7 Enjoy breakfast at the Alcanea café & wine bar - Old Port
On the west side of the Venetian port, right next to the landmark, red Maritime Museum, you will find the 'Alcanea café & wine bar'. This beautiful boutique hotel in Chania old port is housed in a historic building that dates back to the 18th century, when it used to be the office of Eleftherios Venizelos, a major political figure of the 20th century and a charismatic Greek leader. This cosy café offers -besides a great breakfast, great views of the port but is secluded enough to guarantee a relaxing breakfast with beautiful sea-view, away from the busy part of the port.
Tip: Try the special omelet with apaki (Cretan ham) for full flavor OR if you're into a healthier diet try 'the Alcanea healthy option'.
#8 Watch a movie at an outdoor cinema
This is one of most authentic and unique things to do in Greece in the summer and definitely one of my personal favorites! Lucky us, the town of Chania is home to two open air cinemas, the 'Attikon' located in the Halépa area usually showing blockbuster movies and 'Kipos' in the national garden, showing more cultural movies.
Tip: The movie program can be found in the local newspaper, Chaniotika Nea which you can purchase at any kiosk in town; you can also often check the schedule online here.
#9 Wander around town by bike
Undoubtedly, one of the most enjoyable, fun, cool and adventurous thing to do is to explore a town on a bike; so here we are prompting you to get one! Your bike can be used for short distances in town, but also for longer expeditions like to Nea Hora, the closest beach, for a swim if you feel like cooling off.
Tip: Renting a bike has never been easier in Chania; you can now instantly rent one of the municipal bikes available in town. If you do decide to ride up to Nea Hora for a swim, just in case you get hungry note down that my favorite taverna for fresh fish is the 'Akrogiali' located at the far end of the beach
#10 Check out the Maritime Museum of Crete – Old Port
One of the best things to do to truly understand the many historical periods that Chania has gone through is to visit the Maritime Museum of Crete, the imposing red building (mentioned a few lines above) located within the Firka Fortress.
Tip: Very close to the museum you will also find 'La Bodega', the ideal 'pitstop' to refuel from a day of wandering with a salad and a rich glass of Cretan wine from the restaurant's extensive Cretan wine list.
#11 Visit the Agora local food market
Built in the shape of a cross and designed after the local market in Marseilles, the Agora is the place where fresh local produce is being sold, literally a foodies' paradise. The Agora has been the main source point of herbs and spices, fruit and vegetables, even fresh fish since 1913 for both locals and visitors.
Tip: For an authentic, traditional Cretan Greek food experience try one of the tavernas located inside the market, serving food from the early morning hours (ideal after a night out!) till dusk.
#12 Sip a fancy cocktail at the Old Port
If you are after something more trendy and sophisticated look no further: book your spot either at 'Pallas' or its neighboring 'Nama' for some gourmet dining and/or cocktails with magnificent views of the Lighthouse and Old Harbor. Tip: Although both places offer a wide variety for you to choose from, I would personally recommend the Spicy Mango cocktail and the sea urchin pasta at the 'Pallas'; at 'Nama' you should definitely try one of the unique house barrel-aged cocktails maturing in wooden barrels AND the amberjack with fava bean puree!
#13 Chill out with an 'old-school' ice cream
When you're craving an ice cream, 'Delizia’ on Halidon Street is where you need to be; a gelateria with authentic Italian recipes and quality ingredients that will leave you 'cooler' and satisfied. If you want to know the best sellers, I'm giving them away: the panna cotta ice cream with blueberries, the cheesecake and the strawberry mascarpone!
Tip: Good news for the health conscious! Delizia also serves sugar-free flavors with stevia instead of sugar!
#14 Go shopping for souvenirs and gifts
My favorite gift shop in Chania is the 'Canea' on Zabeliou Street; gifts are inspired by the characteristic symbols of Chania and the extra convenience is that the store has something for everyone. With the Lighthouse coordinates as their logo, Canea's products follow the philosophy that beauty is hidden in simplicity, and I couldn't agree more... On the same street, you can also find quality olive tree and olive oil products' souvenirs.
Tip: If you're looking for a cool Greek souvenir head to the busy 'leather street' aka 'leather lane' or 'Stivanadika', where you will find the Cretan leather boots (called stivania) and leather sandals of your dreams among a huge variety of other leather products. For more ideas on what to bring home from your trip to Greece read our post here.
#15 Listen to live (Greek) music
Listening to live Cretan music is one of the most crazy things to do, but also definitely memorable! I suggest you either check out the 'Chalkina' in the Old Port and the 'Adespoto' in the Maheradika area, both featuring live performances almost every night. On a different note (!), on some occasions you can listen to Jazz sounds at 'Fagotto', and a variety of different music styles at 'Koutourouki' and 'Boheme'.
Tip: With the exception of the 'Fagotto', all of these places combine music with nibbles and loads of raki!
Are you already deaming of a holiday to lovely Crete?