12 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Chania
On the north coast in western Crete, this is one of Greece's most beautiful towns. The cobbled streets are filled with shops selling clothes, ceramics, and local artworks, and the city is a favorite destination for holidaying Greeks in August. Chania is a wonderful place to lose yourself in its charms for an afternoon that could easily stretch into an evening dinner at a romantic restaurant overlooking the Venetian harbour.
This site has been inhabited since the Bronze Age, when the Minoans founded the ancient city-state of Kydonia here almost 5,000 years ago. However, Chania gained its present layout in the 13th century under the Venetians (1204-1645), who fortified it and made it the island's capital. In 1971, the island's capital was moved to Heraklion.
Learn more about the city and things to do with our list of the top attractions in Chania.
See also: Where to Stay in Chania
1. Old Port
Dating from the 14th century, the old harbour is ringed by a promenade lined with seafood eateries and cafés; it buzzes with visitors in summer, and is totally enchanting by night.
As you wander to the east of the old harbour, you'll pass by the small mosque, erected by the Ottoman Turks after they took Chania in 1645. Today it serves as a small art gallery. Beyond the mosque, stand the arsenals, where the Venetians repaired their galleys, and a yachting marina.
This entire stretch of coast is protected by a breakwater, and on its tip stands a lighthouse-it was designed by an Egyptian architect in 1839 and is strangely reminiscent of a minaret. On the point across the water from the lighthouse stands the Maritime Museum and the Firkas Fortress.
2. Old Town
One of the best things to do in Chania is wander through the maze of narrow, pedestrian-only streets in the historic old town. An architectural style jumps out at you around every corner. Shops lining the streets and stairways sell souvenirs, and cute restaurants and cafés are tucked into shady patios.
As you walk around, you'll come across four distinct areas, each with its own look and feel: Kastelli is hilly and quite old with very narrow, twisty walkways. If you come across a group of tourists, it's often too tight to pass. Topanas is just back from the old port and has narrow roadways. The Jewish District is easily identified by its wider streets. The Splantzia District has the greatest number of outdoor cafés and restaurants, mostly located around a huge plane tree in front of the Church of St. Nicolas.
3. Walk the Seawall to the Lighthouse
One of the best views of the old port and Chania's old town can be found by taking a pleasant stroll along the Venetian seawall to the 19th-century lighthouse. The walk takes about 15 minutes one way, at a leisurely pace. This walk will also take you by some of the main sights in the old port, including the Yiali Tzami mosque and the Venetian arsenals.
You can see the lighthouse from everywhere along the harbour. Follow the seawall all the way along until you come to the start of the breakwater, leading to the lighthouse. From here, you can either take a lower walkway or upper walkway. The upper path looks like the easiest, but quickly becomes narrower and then very rough and uneven. It's best to take the lower walkway. Beyond the first set of stairs, there is no easy way to get down from the upper walkway.
Although the lighthouse is not open to visitors, you can still climb the set of stairs to the first level at the base for views back to the city and out to sea.
4. Maritime Museum of Crete
This museum, at the tip of land across the channel from the lighthouse, traces Crete's centuries-old relationship with the sea, from the Minoans, through the Byzantine, Venetian, and Turkish periods, to arrive at the German invasion of the island during WWII.
Spread over two floors, the collection includes video presentations, amazing models of ships, paintings, photos, and nautical equipment. You'll find it at the western corner of the old harbour in a lovely red building constructed by the Venetians and used as a prison.
Note that at the Moro dock, in one of the Venetian arsenals east of the old harbour, you can also see the Minoa, a reconstructed 15th-century-BC Minoan ship.
Address: Fort Firkas, Akti Koundourioti, 73136 Chania, Crete
Official site: http://mar-mus-crete.gr/en/the-museum/
5. Archaeological Museum of Chania
Chania's history dates back millennia to somewhere around 2200 BC, when the Minoans founded the ancient city-state of Kydonia on this same spot. Housed in the Gothic Church of San Francesco, a light and airy vaulted space (built by the Venetians and later used as a mosque by Turks), this museum holds archeological finds from western Crete dating from Neolithic times through to the Roman era.
The museum displays a wealth of Minoan ceramics, painted burial urns, gold jewelry, and clay tablets with inscriptions. Other notable exhibits include peculiar clay figurines of bird-faced women, votive ceramic bulls, a third-century Roman mosaic floor, and an impressive marble bust of Roman Emperor Hadrian.
Address: 21 Halidon Street, 73136 Chania, Crete
Official site: http://chaniamuseum.culture.gr/en/
6. Botanic Park & Gardens of Crete
With its warm, sunny climate and rich, fertile soils, Crete grows olives and grapes, and even farms tropical fruits, such as avocados and bananas. In this carefully tended park, at the foot of the White Mountains, a meandering two-kilometer path takes you through a garden planted with exotic flowers and fruit trees from all over the world, with everything clearly labeled.
Shady spots with benches amid fragrant herbs such as sage, mint, and thyme offer places to relax and escape the sun. You can borrow a walking stick and hat at the entrance, and a free bottle of water is included with the ticket. There is also a café-restaurant serving traditional Cretan dishes prepared from the park's own seasonal products.
The Botanic Park is accessible by bus from Chania and is a must for plant lovers.
Address: Fournes, 18 kilometers southwest of Chania, Crete
Official site: www.botanical-park.com
7. The Monasteries of Akrotiri Peninsula
The rocky peninsula of Akrotiri, 10 kilometers east of Chania, is home to three monasteries. Agia Triada, founded in 1612, is set amid meticulously tended olive groves and orange orchards, and centers on a cloistered courtyard and a lovely church-you can buy olive oil made by the monks.
A short drive away stands the fortress-like Gouverneto, founded in 1537. Even if the monastery is closed, the location is beautiful. From here, a footpath leads past Arkoudiospilia (Bear Cave), down 140 steps to Katholiko, an abandoned sixth-century monastery, built into a cliff face.
After seeing the monasteries, head for Stavros Bay for a swim at the sandy beach where Anthony Quinn danced in the 1964 film Zorba the Greek.
Crete's most spectacular beaches are often the hardest to reach, and Balos is certainly one of them. Excursion boats depart from Kissamos (40 kilometers west of Chania), but it's more fun to hire a vehicle, preferably a 4WD jeep, and visit independently.
You'll need to negotiate a challenging, seven-kilometer, rough track, running along Gramvousa Peninsula-be sure to go slowly and carefully. The local municipality is working on improving the road, but at the moment, the trip on the dirt road takes about 30 minutes. It's an adventure complete with steep drop-offs, goats, and lots of dust. A small fee is charged per person to use the road.
From the car park, hike down a steep footpath (20 minutes), to arrive at this enchanting white-sand beach, which extends to a stunning turquoise and emerald-green lagoon.
From here, you can wade through the knee-high sea to the tiny islet of Gramvousa, crowned by a 16th-century Venetian fort. The beach is blissful after 5pm, when the excursion boats leave, and you're at one with nature. Prince Charles and Princess Diana swam here during their honeymoon in 1981.
On Crete's isolated southwest coast, this stunning beach lies about a two-hour drive from Chania (73 kilometers). The colors here are amazing-the sand takes on pink hues in certain light as it is made up of tiny pieces of shells and coral, and the sea is turquoise-blue.
You can wade through ankle-deep water to an islet, which is a conservation area, being the last stop for birds migrating from Europe to Africa. Complete with sunbeds and umbrellas to hire plus a canteen for snacks, Elafonissi is ideal for families with kids due to the warm, shallow sea.
If you don't want to tackle this yourself, you can take an organized tour to Elafonisi from Chania, which includes transportation and stops at caves and a village along the way.
It can get very windy here, so be sure to check the forecast before heading out and perhaps consider another beach, unless you are looking to kiteboard or windsurf.
10. Day Trip to Hike the Samaria Gorge
Crete's mountains are cut by deep gorges, the longest of which is the 18-kilometer Samaria. It makes a challenging hike, which you can do independently or as part of an organized day trip from Chania. This is a one-way hike, so you need to consider transport back to your starting point before doing this hike. It can be complex, so a tour is your best option. Entrance to the gorge is at the village of Omalós, 42 kilometers south of Chania.
The path is steep and uneven at first, descending through dense pinewoods. Deep inside the rocky gorge, the footpath winds around large boulders, and at its narrowest point, the "Iron Gates" (Síderoportes), the Samaria is only four meters wide. Look out for kri kri, wild goats unique to Crete.
One of the great aspects of this hike is the fact that it is almost all down hill. The gorge opens out to the sea at the village of Ayía Rouméli, with a black-sand beach where you can swim at the end of your hike. From here, catch the ferry to Sfakia, then the bus back to Chania (75 kilometers).
11. Minoan's World 3D Museum
This is the perfect place for families with children to spend part of an afternoon. A unique and interesting introduction to the ancient history of Greece is provided in a manner that everyone can enjoy.
Interesting displays make for fun photo opportunities in the first part of the museum. Following that, you'll be treated to a 9D movie, where all your senses will be engaged.
This is the perfect place to escape the midday heat or the rare rainy day and learn a bit along the way.
Official site: https://minoansworld.com/english
12. Municipal Market
A pleasant diversion from the mainstream tourist attractions in Chania is the Municipal Market. Housed in a 4,000-square-meter structure built in 1911, you'll find sellers offering, vegetables, meats, and fish at the peak of its freshness. If you are on a self-catering vacation in or around Chania, this should be your first stop to stock up.
It's interesting to note that a majority of the items are grown on Crete. The island's unique climate and topography allow for the cultivation of a wide variety of produce throughout the year.
Some small, local restaurants are also located here along with other shops selling the standard tourist supplies.
Where to Stay in Chania for Sightseeing
The best place to stay in Chania is in the city center, in the old town, and preferably on, or with views of, the harbour and sea. Many hotels and apartments are tucked in the tiny and narrow streets just back from the harbour. They often appear from the street to be little more than a door with a stairway, but once inside, the rooms are often airy and offer ocean views.
- Luxury Hotels: La Maison Ottomane is a luxury boutique hotel in the old town. The Ottoman-style hotels features antique-filled rooms and Egyptian cotton sheets and comes with a delicious breakfast in a private garden. Casa Delfino Hotel & Spa has an enviable position just steps from the old port and has a spectacular rooftop patio. Prefer something small and intimate? Try the Domus Renier Boutique Hotel with only nine luxurious suites and rooms, most with harbour views.
- Mid-Range Hotels: The Porto Veneziano Hotel is set along the harbour front. It offers a breakfast buffet and is known for its friendly staff. The Samaria Hotel is set back a bit in the commercial center, but has a beautiful outdoor pool and contemporary decor. Housed in a 13th-century building, the family-run Palazzo Di Pietro is a good boutique option with only five wonderfully appointed apartments.
- Budget Hotels: The Casa Veneta has a good location in the old town and offers clean and comfortable rooms. Ideally located next to the charming Municipal Gardens and within walking distance of the attractions of the old town is the Avra City Hotel. If you prefer to be near the beach and day trip to the old town, the Yakinthos Hotel is just steps from the sand at Agii Apostoli beach, and it also has a large outdoor pool.
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Exploring Crete: Many people arrive, either by ferry or plane, through Heraklion. Although it's tempting to head out directly to other destinations, Heraklion has much to offer travelers, especially if you are not interested in beaches. It's close to Knossos, one of Crete's most important attractions, and the city offers the widest selection of shopping and dining on the island. Agios Nikolaos is another popular tourist destination, with an incredibly scenic location and beautiful beaches in the surrounding area.