If you’re looking for a laidback destination with fantastic food, warm and friendly locals, Instagram-worthy architecture and one of the best preserved medieval towns in Greece, then get yourself to beautiful Rethymnon, the third-largest town on Crete. And once you’re ready go, our local Crete tour guides know all the best things to see and do while you’re there.
Built in the late 16th century, the Venetian Fortezza is located high on Paleokastro Hill, in the northwest of Rethymnon. The historic structure is visible from every corner of town and offers panoramic views across the city. We recommend visiting early in the morning or at sunset to avoid the crowds and the heat. Today, the Fortezza Fortress is the most important monument in Rethymnon and a trademark of the city. The restored buildings host regular cultural events and exhibitions. Walk around for amazing views, especially around sunset!
If you’re hoping to do some shopping while visiting Rethymnon, one of your best bets is to pay a visit to Souliou Street. The street used to be home to shoemakers, but today this narrow, paved street is a shopper’s paradise. You can find any sort of souvenirs to take back home in the form of artisan crafts, jewellery, pottery and other locally made items perfect for gifting (or keeping — we’re not judging). Apart from shopping, take time to look around as it has many architectural gems. If you love taking photos of doorways and windows, this is the place to be.
The owners of Avli (a hotel and restaurant) have opened a traditional grocery shop, giving you even more opportunity to shop local. Avli Raw Materials has a large but carefully selected array of unique delicacies from all around Greece and particularly Crete. You can taste and buy virgin olive oil, exquisite wines, olives, herbs and beauty products, among other covetable products that make it easy to take the flavours of Crete back home with you.
If you want charm in spades, you should probably get yourself straight to the narrow alleys and maze-like streets of Old Town Rethymnon. The picturesque area encompasses the northern portion of Rethymnon, wrapping around the southern and eastern walls of the Venetian Fortezza. Venetian Renaissance architecture and Turkish influences are easy to spot, and the name of the game here is aimless exploring, snapping photos and stopping at cafés and tavernas to refuel. Speaking of refuelling, while you’re exploring the Old Town, it’s worth seeking out Ali Vafi’s Garden, a restaurant and bar located in a historical building. The entrance of this shop doesn’t reveal what’s behind its thick walls, but a small corridor leads to a secret garden brimming with trees and flowers. Visit after dark as the atmosphere of the place is unbeatable.
Take a EUR 3 bus ride to Arkadi Monastery, which is 23 kilometres from Rethymnon and located in one of the nicest areas on Crete. (Pssst! You can visit the monastery with a local guide on our Bygone Crete Adventure tour!) The monastery is built among olive trees, vineyards and trees next to a gorge. It is sacred to locals and has a long history; the monastery played a very important role in the Cretan resistance to the Ottomans during the Cretan revolt of 1866. The fortress-like building is in good condition and behind the walls you will find a church, cells for the monks, a museum and exhibition area. The present church was built in 1587, with the surrounding buildings added during the 1600s. By the 19th century it had become one of the most prosperous monasteries on the island. Even if you aren’t religious, you will love this short trip.
Crete is a remarkable mosaic of stunning gorges, rugged mountains and beautiful beaches. With Europe to the north, Asia to the east and Africa to the south, Crete has always been at the crossroads of civilisations, having been visited, conquered, and fought for, all while retaining its unique character and traditions. Explore the island on a locally led tour.