Rethymno or Rethimno combines rarely united features: the old town's charm and history, with proximity to a long sandy beach.
Explore one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Greece, and search for your fairy-tale romance in Rethymno.
Instead, it has a provincial air; it's a place that moves slowly (although has a lively atmosphere), a very romantic place, and the most important preserves much of its Venetian and Turkish appearance.
Rethymno’s timeless attractions and diverse landscapes, city architecture, museums, archaeological sites, endless sandy beaches, and escapes to nearby villages will reward you with a rich cultural yet relaxed experience all year round.
Rethimno offers cultural pride and natural beauty.
Venetian fortification works mingle harmonically with orthodox and catholic churches, mosques, majestic mansions of Venetian architecture, arches, and cobbled paths which create a magical atmosphere, reminiscence of the city’s turbulent –yet glorious– past.
Rethymno is the only city in Crete that is built on a cape, and more specifically, “on the boundary between calmness and fierceness,” as the location is eloquently described by local writer Pantelis Prevelakis.
There are two sides to Rethymno offering two styles of visit: the endless big beach hotel strip that stretches from the east end of Rethymno, lapping up the coastal "villages" of Perivolia, Platanias, Adelianos Kambos, Pigianos Kambos, Sfakaki, Stavromenos and Skaleta - and - the Rethymno that allows you the character of the old town with its mix of architecture and history, cultural influences and styles ranging from Venetian to Ottoman empire.
We present the second and more romantic choice - leaving the all-inclusive beach and booze tours to others.
The best time to explore the city is very early in the morning when the light is perfect and the tranquility a sheer delight. The cool air of morning is also propitious for making your way up to the Venetian citadel, the Fortezza. When it was built (1573-1580), on the hill once occupied by ancient Rithymna, it was the largest fortress on Crete. High up on the battlements, you will feel the salty breeze from the Sea of Crete; you can walk along the old defensive trenches, between the towers, bastions and gates, among the solitary palm trees. Here, too, is the Erofyli open-air theater, which hosts the celebrated Renaissance Festival every summer.
The Venetian harbor
Rethymno's harbor area is a fine place for a coffee at one of the cafes and perhaps you will chance to eat there, just for the atmosphere. Lookout from the harbor edge at the state of the buildings and seeing the abuse of this historic area you may be disappointed - perhaps you should suggest a renovation or two!
But not to worry, there is much else to see and enjoy, no shortage of other places of great character to stroll, stop in cafes, eat, and generally enjoy the enormous amount Rethymno offers you.
The Fortress dominates the city and makes Rethymno very photogenic, its pedestrian streets below, strewn with charming old buildings. Venetian influences abound and the minarets and domed mosques remind of the Turkish influence long gone.
Numerous shops for souvenirs (with many local products now available), trendy fashion, or imaginative jewelry...the old and the modern combine to make a colorful and buzzing town.
Venturing outside the town, some days you will visit dramatic gorges, monasteries, time-trodden villages with ancient churches, the south coast Libyan sea, spectacular mountains of Psiloritis and the Lefka Ori (White Mountains).
For Rethymno provides you with an advantageous pivotal point on the island, allowing you to range across the center of Crete and have enough to discover for weeks!
During their 436-year rule, the Venetians turned Rethymno into one of the most important cities on the island and created its strong association with the Renaissance. They set up some splendid public buildings, churches and mansions, and they founded schools and literary societies, bringing a slice of European culture to Crete. Indeed, it is said that the Academy of the Vivi, established by Francesco Barozzi in 1562, was the first manifestation of organized cultural life on the island.
Later in 1646, Rethymno passed to the Ottomans. The churches became mosques, while Ottoman trelliswork, wooden bay windows, and covered balconies appeared above the elaborately carved entrances of the mansions. Contact with the rest of Europe was severed, but the general appearance of Rethymno did not change dramatically.
Luckily, what one still senses today when strolling through the enchanting labyrinth of the Old Town is primarily the Venetian legacy.
How to get there
- Rethymno's convenient aspect is that it is nearly equidistant from both main airports, Chania and Heraklion - meaning many more flight options (you can fly into either airport, whichever suits you). Flight tickets can be bought in advance for almost all flights via our partner website.
- Ferries sail into Rethymno from Athens port (Pireas) daily. The ferries are overnight sailings, take a cabin for comfortable travel. By ferry, you can travel overnight from Athens (Piraeus port) and arrive in the center of Rethymno - well, you will only have a few hundred meters/yards to go to reach your centuries-old building, your hotel in the historic old town. Ferry tickets can be bought in advance for all ferries via our partner website.
- Of course, if you are renting a car on arrival, you can drive to your chosen destination at will!
- In addition, there are frequent buses connecting Rethymno with other towns and villages. See bus schedules.
- Book your taxi transfer online easily and safely from Chania or Heraklion airport or port to any location via our partner website.
Parking in town: At the port (limited), near the marina at the ferry landing (large). The old town streets are kept for pedestrians only and cars will always need to be parked away from your hotel if you stay within the area.
Where to stay
In the heart of the old town:
- Veneto Historic Boutique Hotel -Suites is a unique place to stay and a special experience.
- Set amidst the Renaissance Venetian architecture of Rethymnon Old Town, Rimondi Boutique Hotels is located in a narrow, quiet alley along Rethymno’s charming old town, adjacent to its most important monuments, such as the Fortezza (the Venetian Fort), the Loggia, Rimondi Fountain, and the Church of St. Francis.
- Mythos Suites Boutique Hotel, is one of the best small charming hotels in Venetian Rethymnon, a superb boutique hotel of 15 stunning rooms and suites with character, built at an ideal location close to downtown in Rethymno, next to the Old Venetian port.
- Hotel Leo with just 8 rooms in the centre of picturesque Rethimno, housed in a historical two story preservable building. It is used to be the mansion of a local nobleman of the Venetian period and is dated back in 1450. Nowadays, it is the landmark of architectural with the time passing by, Cretan, Venetian and Turkish elements.
Our suggested hotels outside Rethymno and within easy access:
Abelos Villa: 2 stone-built houses sharing a large pool, in rural Roustika village, 18 km from Rethymno.
Kastellos Village: old house in small village with atmosphere, 18 km from Rethymno.
Villa Kynthia: small inn in Panormos, 22 km from Rethymno.
What to see & do
- Explore the waterfront and streets just behind the Old Venetian Port.
- Walk along the harbour wall to the Venetian lighthouse.
- The Fortezza (fortress) was built by the Venetians (1573) to protect the city. Not only are walls, church and the remains of its buildings of interest, the views from it to the town are a great way to start planning your tour of the town. There are also sweeping sea views. Open daily.
- Archaeological museum at the entrance to the fortress. Open daily 08.30 to 15.00. Closed Mondays. Very small but with some interesting (and big!) exhibits from Neolithic to Roman times. Includes Archaic and early Christian finds from Eleftherna and Minoan finds from Armeni and Monastiraki sites. A wonderful clay larnax is visible as you enter. Also don't miss the Minoan goddess figurine.
- The Venetian Loggia, dating back to the 16th century, a splendid Palladian-style architectural masterpiece where the city’s nobles once convened. Used as the archaeological museum's shop. (Books, models, jigsaw puzzles and cards). Open Monday to Friday 08.00-15.00.
- A short walk in a westerly direction along Konstantinou Paleologou Street will bring you to the Rimondi Fountain (1626), which supplied Rethymno with cool water from Mt Vrysinas. This is the top rendezvous point in the Old Town and, while you are waiting for your loved one, you can admire the fluted columns with Corinthian capitals and the lion-head spouts.
- Heading south along Ethnikis Antistaseos, a shopping street that ends at the imposing Porta Guora (“Great Gate”), you will pass two of the city’s landmarks.
- The first is the well-preserved Neratze Mosque, with its three domes and 27m-tall minaret. The impressive building was originally the katholikon (main church) of an Augustinian monastery; it was turned into a mosque in 1657 and renamed in honor of Gazi Hüseyin Pasha, who had taken the city. Today, it is also known as the Odeon of Rethymno and hosts concerts (Tel. (+30) 28313.413.01).
- The second is the striking 16th-century Church of St Francis, which today houses the Archaeological Museum of Rethymno (Open Tue-Sun 10:00-18:00), which has a relatively small but important collection of finds, from stone age tools dating back 130,000 years to a gold coin minted in 1646 during the rule of Doge Francesco Molin. Directly behind is wide-open Mikrasiaton Square, one of the most attractive contemporary urban planning interventions in the medieval settlement.
- On the western side of the square you will find the celebrated Makry Steno (“Long Alley”), otherwise known as Nikiforou Foka Street. This is one of the most enchanting alleyways in Rethymno, with Venetian houses, stone fountains and the charming Church of Kyria ton Angelon (“Our Lady of the Angels”). Keep an eye out for the elegant stone lintels. Rethymno boasts over 700 such architectural gems, which often combine different architectural styles (Corinthian, Ionic, Doric, Composite) and are impressively decorated. A visit to an authentic Venetian palazzo is a must.
- One fine example, dating back to 1609, with a leafy inner courtyard and carved stone stairs, houses the Historical and Folklore Museum (28-30 Vernardou, Open Mon-Sat 10:00-15:00), where you can see, among others, a large collection of Cretan weapons and battle standards.
- Next door is a bakery where the baker keeps his ancient door open and is happy to show how he makes the traditional "fyllo" pastry leaves.
- The main minaret (Neratze mosque) is on Venardou street, though it is surrounded by a very hefty scaffolding structure for a while. Used currently as a music school (odeon).
- At the bottom of Arkadiou street (corner of Ougo str.), the Kara Musa Pasa mosque. See also the uptown minaret, Veli Pasa mosque, under some refurbishment. Up from the post office, near corner of Markellou and Andoulidaki streets.
- Souliou street - much jewelry and a large selection of English titles at its bookshop. If one street is to be the single place for gathering all the gifts you need to complete your shopping tasks this is it: gather herbs, cosmetics, books, a variety of jewelry, pottery and many other different items.
- The shop Raw Materials, by the Avli restaurant owners. An amazing array of products and produce from Crete and all over Greece. A great place to buy things for people who like cooking, food and wines.
- At the back is the wine cellar - the dramatic and large wine tasting room sees wine-tastings in progress every Tuesday. There are more than 460 Greek wines (labels) in the shop.
- Further down on Mesologgiou is the Apollon cinema which has fairly recent movies (if they are a foreign language they are shown in the original language with Greek subtitles).
- Laiki (open market) If you are in town on a Thursday or Saturday morning, you can check out the open-air market, called the Laiki, while those in town on Wednesday afternoon can visit the farmer’s market.
- Carnival: every late February/early March strange and colorful outfits, floats decorated in brash, bright and sometimes controversial themes, hordes of people, together create the Rethymno carnival. Known as the biggest of its kind in Crete. This is set on a holiday known as "Apokries" (the Greek Halloween). The big carnival parade is the climax of the celebration and great fun for adults and kids alike.
Outside Rethymno :
- For really sublime views over Rethymno and surrounding areas, including dramatic sea vistas, head uphill following signs to Agia Irini. On the way, after a little over a kilometer and a half, stop at a church above you on the right – there is a driveway up to it, though the gate for cars is often locked you can still walk up, see the church and enjoy this magnificent viewpoint.
- Continue on to Agia Irini monastery and a quiet, tranquil visit is there for you. Hours: 09.00-13.00 and 16.00-sunset daily. Ring bell only during those hours if you would like to visit. The Monastery (nunnery) is very recently restored. Restoration started in 1989. Its origin is 927 AD. The shop offers - with a loom in view - their own hand made linens and woven pieces, jams, cards, and hand-painted icons. The monastery is small and a place for a quiet visit.
- Two of the major monasteries of Crete and amongst its most sought and visited, Arkadi and Preveli monastery are medium distance outings.
- Mili Gorge. 7 km outside Rethymno, to the south, upon the hills, it is an idyllic one-day tour for those who like to walk in the country. A real paradise, a place of purifying harmony, beauty and peace, the splendour of nature. A walk to another world, unspoiled and uplifting, untouched from progress or tourism, in the green, between trees and plants, along little steams, under the songs and sounds of many kind of birds. Old and now deserted watermills, along the stream, were supplying Rethymno with flour during the last centuries, giving the name to the old and the new settlements. Taking Theotokopoulou street, passing from Evligias hill, with the pine tree forest, the road comes to the Nunnery of Agia Irini. It was founded in 981 and it is one of the oldest monasteries in Crete. It was completely destroyed by the Turks at 1896 and it was restored on 1989. 2 km after, there is the new village of Mili from where you can get down to Mili gorge and the old settlement. Taking the gorge to the end, it leads back to the coast of Rethymno.
- Arkadi Monastery. Originally built in the 14th century and re-built in the 16th century, it is located in an attractive hill, 23 km south-east of Rethymno. In the center of the complex stands the Byzantine church. It is well known as one of the most important centers of the Cretan resistance against the Turkish occupation and a symbol of the fight for freedom. In November 1866 the Turks sent 15000 men to besiege the monastery. After two days siege and when the entrance was bombed by the Turkish canons, Cretans chose not to surrender and set fire to the store of gun powder, blowing themselves up. Shot and sword marks can be seen on the door, walls and the table inside the refectory. Monastery, ossuary and museum open daily. Buses from Rethymno: 06.00 (not on Saturday, Sunday), 10.30, 14.30. Return: 07.00 (not on Saturday, Sunday), 12.00, 16.00.
- Eleftherna. Some km after Arkadi monastery, it is the most important archaeological site in Rethymno and one of the most interesting current excavations being conducted by the Archaeological section of The university of Crete. Inhabited from the ancient years till the Byzantine era, it is the only site in Crete that can give valuable information to archaeologists in how a settlement developed during the years. There can be seen the ruins of dwelling complexes, sanctuaries, cemeteries, the ancient wall, the aqueduct, the huge cisterns and the bridges and an early Christian basilica. Eleftherna is not yet an organised archaeological site.
- Margarites village. Continuing from Eleftherna, a characteristic Cretan village with a long tradition in hand-made pottery. Buses: 06.30, 12.45 -not on weekends. Return: 07.15, 14.00.
- Panormo. Quiet fishing village and currently tourist resort, 19 km east of Rethymno, on the north coast. Taking the bus to Iraklion.
- Bali. 8 km after Panormo, the second main resort on the north coast of the prefecture, after the town of Rethymno. Very picturesque, with wonderful bays and port, it is built in the ancient site of Astali. Taking the bus to Iraklion.
- Melidoni village. The typical Cretan village, interesting for its cave, inhabited since the Neolithic years and a place of worship during the ancient times. During the Turkish occupation, 370 people were killed by Turks, inside the cave, after refusing to surrender peacefully. Interesting cave, with many stalactites and stalagmites. 140 m long, 6 chambers.
- Axos vilage. Small village, 44 km southeast of Rethymno, on Idi mountain, at the site of the ancient settlement of Axos, the refuge of the Minoans to be protected from the Dorian invasion. During the venetian occupation the population moved to Anogia. Many byzantine churches can be visited.
- Anogia village. One of the most famous Cretan villages for its tradition in the Cretan way of life and music. 8 km after Axos, it is a starting place for visiting the very impressive Idi (Psiloritis) mountain (2452 m), the cave of Ideon Adron, an ancient place of worship and where according to mythology Zeus grew up, the Nida plateau (1500m) and, during the winter, the ski center. Bus: 05.30, 14.30 - not on weekends. Return: 07.00, 16.00 - not on weekends.
- Zoniana Cave (Sfedoni). Beautiful cave, on the slopes of Psiloritis mountain, at an altitude of 630 m. It is 10 km west of Anogia, 52 km south of Rethymno. The cave has 14 chambers and covers an area of 3000 sq. m, but the walking route is only 270 m.
- Amari. The old country road from Rethymno to Agia Galini, passes from many picturesque characteristic Cretan villages and wonderful scenery. Prassies, Potamoi area, Thronos with the archaeological site of Sivritos, Pandanassa, Patsos and the wonderful gorge of Agios Antonios, Meronas, Amari, Ano Meros, Agios Ioannis, Fourfouras, Kouroutes could offer a very refreshing trip, away from the common tourist attractions. By renting a car.
- Argiroupoli. West and south of Rethymno, on the mountains, at the site of the ancient town of Lappa, which prospered during the Roman years. Before entering the village, on the right, the road turns to the sources of the Holy Power, where the springs of the mountains, running from everywhere, join in small waterfalls and powerful streams. The sound of the impetuous water, the greenery, and the freshness make this place a small oasis during the summer heat. From inside the village, a footpath 2 km long, brings to the site of the ancient Necropolis, with hundreds of tombs.
- Kournas lake. 28 km on the west of Rethymno, 4 km from Georgioupolis, a very beautiful lake surrounded by The White Mountains. Should be visited for the wonderful scenery.
- Georgioupolis. Big village on the north coast, which grew to a tourist resort, during the last years. 24 km west of Rethymno. Here ends Mouselas river. Taking the bus to Hania. 4 km south, there is the picturesque village of Vrisses and 5 km west, the village of Vamos with a special interest in Cretan tradition.
- Petres. Long sandy beach, starting 12 km west of Rethymno, spreading until Georgioupolis. Taking the bus to Hania.
- Late Minoan Armeni cemetery. Taking the road to the south, 7 km from Rethymno and 2 km before Armeni village. The large burial site, with many rock chambers been excavated. Many of the findings, nature monument waterfalls of decorated earthenware, seals, jewelry and tools, are exposed at the Archaeological Museum of Hania. Bus: to Plakias or Agia Galini.On the south coast visit: Plakias, Rodakino, Schinaria, Preveli beach, Agia Galini, Agios Pavlos. Where inland leads out, the gorge of Prassano (from Prasses village), and where land leads inwards, the Melidoni and Sfendoni caves.
- See the only sizable lake in Crete, Lake Kournas, with eating places along its edge, and cafes above from which to gaze at the view. Enjoy the lake itself in a paddle boat (at last, some fun for the kids!).
Where to eat & drink
The treat of treats for both food and visual flair - authentic natural Cretan grown ingredients and steel-tech-traditional meets cavern & Venetian rock:
- Avli restaurant. Few restaurants offer the choice of different styles and decor in one place. You will find it hard to choose whether to sit at a table in the large dining hall, beneath ancient arches, walls lined with wine bottles, wrought iron trim and creative decor - versus - another very cozy area of the restaurant with white linen-covered tables. Part of the whole space is the "Enoteca" wine bar and in the center of the building is a beautiful courtyard ("Avli" means courtyard), where you can dine in the summer. Main courses are all mouthwatering, so your own choice must rule. We have to recommend the strawberry soup with cinnamon ice cream for dessert! Xanthoulidou 22 & Radamanthios 17. Reservations recommended. Open year-round.
- Veneto Restaurant, a unique and one of the most respected restaurants in Rethymnon Town which is certified by the Cretan Quality Agreement for the high quality and certified, pure, Cretan products, Greek creative tastes made of chosen products from the Cretan nature.
- After Tabakario, there is a small road leading down to the right. The places here afford great views across the sea to the fortress of Rethymno, offering good restaurants and charming cafes for a quieter (though these places can get busy) pace of being just outside central Rethymno. Taverna food is most appetizing at Prima Plora.
- Go all the way to the end for the ultimate seafront cafe experience. This last cafe on your right, Maistros, has a water's edge garden which makes a cappuccino or a whisky sour all the more enjoyable. Their restaurant serves a wide variety of tasty dishes specializing in seafood. It is very good.
- For a relaxing time and sustenance, we suggest a morning coffee at Cul de Sac (7 Titou Petychaki) or at Living Room (5 Eleftheriou Venizelou) with a sea view.
- For traditional small dishes and good raki at Manousos (35 Titou Petychaki).
- And for a late afternoon coffee or an aperitif at Fraoules (62 Eleftheriou Venizelou) and Cavo (13 Akrotiriou) for the sunset in a dazzling setting overlooking the sea.
Don’t leave without trying some local treats: sweet tarts and ice cream made from fresh sheep’s milk at Mona Lisa (36 Konstantinou Paleologou), crispy sourdough biscuits and barley rusks at the bakery Apostolakis-Artoza (9 Kapodistriou), small savory pies, and hand-shaped pastries at Sampson (3 Dimakopoulou) and delicious aniseed-flavored bread at Michalis Spanoudakis’ bakery (93 Nikiforou Foka).
Lastly, at grocery stores around the city, don’t hesitate to inquire about the region’s famous cheese products, such as Gasparakis graviera, the delectable and light Tzourmpakis goat cheese, Maris’ fresh myzithra and dry cottage cheese, and fresh, creamy cheese from Amarino. For tsikoudia (Cretan raki), honey, and exceptional extra virgin olive oil, visit the AgrecoFarm store on the coastal road (33-35 Sofokli Venizelou).
The reviews for the Rethymno