8 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Réthymnon
In a beautiful locale at the base of the Psilorítis mountain range, about halfway up the island's north coast, Réthymnon is the third largest town on Crete after Heraklion and Chania. The periods of Venetian and Turkish occupation have left their indelible mark on the Old Town, which is a pleasure to explore on foot and is filled with Venetian mansions and churches, several small Turkish-era mosques, and a 16th-century fortress.
Today, the town is also home to a university, and the local student population keeps the eateries and galleries of the old town busy throughout the year. It also serves as a gateway for things to do around the island, including outdoor activities — take a hike to the top of Psiloritis (also known as Mount Ida), which is the second highest mountain in Greece, or spend an afternoon at a hidden beach like Prevali, some 35 kilometers to the south of town. Plan your visit with our list of the top things to do in Réthymnon.
See also: Where to Stay in Réthymnon
1. Old Town
Wandering the cobbled streets of Réthymnon's car-free old town takes you back through the centuries. Laid out on a grid system, the mix of architectural styles reflects the town's history, so you'll see attractions such as the 16th-century Venetian loggia, the 17th-century Rimondi Fountain with water gushing from the mouths of three stone lions, a towering Ottoman minaret from 1890, a smattering of contemporary graffiti, and modern day cafés and restaurants full of students. Sometimes styles are combined — lovely pastel-colored Venetian-era town houses have wooden balconies added by the Turks. Today, the most touristy area is the old harbor, rimmed with pricey seafood restaurants, which is especially enchanting in the evening.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Réthymnon
By the 16th century, the Ottoman Turks were fast advancing into Europe. Between 1573 and 1580, the Venetians built this enormous fortress, completed with sturdy bastions, to protect the island against Turkish invasion and also as a place where locals could take shelter, should the Turks take the town.
Perched atop Paleokastro hill, immediately west of the old harbor, it affords marvelous views over Réthymnon's old town and out to sea. On the highest point, note the mosque, originally a church, but converted into an Islamic place of worship by the Turks when they eventually conquered the town in 1646. There's also a small open-air theater, which hosts concerts in summer.
3. Arkadi Monastery
The Orthodox Church played an important role in liberating Greece from Turkish occupation. Set amid the rural foothills of Psiloritis (Mount Idi), 23 kilometers southeast of Réthymnon, this fortress-like 16th-century monastery is surrounded by high stone walls. Today, it's a wonderfully peaceful place, with a delightful Baroque church and a rose garden, but it has not always been so.
In 1866, the monastery became the central meeting place for Cretan revolutionaries, with the Abbot as chairman. During an uprising against the Turks, some 900 locals (mainly women and children), who had taken refuge here, chose to blow themselves up rather than surrender. Outside the monastery, their skulls are displayed in glass cabinets as a haunting monument to their bravery.
While the coast is very hot and crowded during summer, a short drive into the mountains brings you to peaceful rural villages where time has stopped. Lying 27 kilometers southwest of Réthymnon, Argyroupoli is especially cool and fresh due to countless small waterfalls rising from underground springs.
Nestled amid lush greenery and trees, Argyroupoli has a rich history dating back to Roman times — it was also much loved by the Venetians, and later became the center of Cretan resistance against the Turks. Today, it is particularly known for its excellent tavernas specializing in roast lamb, with open-air dining on stone terraces under the trees and close to the waterfalls.
5. Preveli Beach
Some of Crete's most beautiful beaches are on the remote south coast extending to the Libyan Sea. Hidden away below Preveli Monastery, which is 36 kilometers south of Réthymnon, this fine pebble beach lies at the mouth of a river and is backed by a lush palm grove. Visiting this beach is one of the top things to do in the area.
If you walk up the gorge, through the palms, you'll find a small waterfall. The beach itself is quite difficult to reach, with a narrow, rocky path leading along the coast from the car park and then a long flight of steps. A small taverna on the beach sells snacks and rents sun-loungers.
6. Preveli Monastery
On Crete's isolated south coast, built into a remote hillside overlooking the Libyan Sea, Preveli Monastery lies 36 kilometers south of Réthymnon and is only accessible via a winding road through the mountains. Dating from the 17th-century, the monastery features a church and a small museum displaying icons and ecclesiastical paraphernalia.
Outside stands a Memorial for Peace and Resistance, erected in 2002. During the Battle of Crete, in 1941, the monks at Preveli gave supplies and shelter to the Allies. The monument is composed of a large headstone, with an unusual statue of a priest (holding a machine gun) and a soldier (one of the Allies) standing to each side. From here, you have absolutely stunning views down onto the sea.
Official site: http://www.preveli.org/files/moni/enindex.htm
7. Hike Psiloritis
Rising 2,456 meters, Psiloritis (also known as Mount Ida) is the highest mountain on Crete and the second highest in Greece, after Olympus. The mountain is sacred to Greek mythology and Zeus, the king of the gods, was supposedly born here.
Various adventure sports agencies arrange one-day tours from Réthymnon and Heraklion. Most take you to a decent starting point and then begin a hike through the dramatic, rocky landscape, following a clearly marked path to the summit, which is crowned by the Chapel of the Holy Cross.
It normally takes three or four hours to reach the top, and you'll need to be reasonably fit, wear good walking boots, and bring plenty of water. The view from the summit is breathtaking and overlooks the entire island.
8. Historical and Folk Art Museum of Réthymnon
For insight into how the islanders once lived, tourists should visit this small museum in a typical 17th-century Venetian town house with an internal courtyard garden. Displayed in five rooms, the collection includes beautiful textiles, including woven fabrics, embroidery, and lacework, as well as pottery, baskets, weapons, coins, photographs, and maps. There are also mock-ups of traditional craftsmen's workshops and businesses, such as a blacksmith's, potter's, weaver's, and baker's.
Address: M. Vernardou 28-30, 74100 Réthymnon, Crete
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Réthymnon
- Half-Day Tour: Réthymnon makes a great base for exploring Crete, with a number of tour options departing from the city. For a Polaris ATV adventure into the mountains and countryside, check out the four-hour Polaris buggy safari. The experience takes you up mountains, across shallow rivers, and through gorges to give you a taste for Crete's wild side. Along the way, you'll also drive through medieval villages and stop for coffee on the shores of a lake. The experience departs twice a day and offers pickup from city center hotels.
Where to Stay in Réthymnon for Sightseeing
- Luxury Hotels: Rimondi Boutique Hotel is one of the top boutique luxury properties in town. Look for it inside a Venetian building with elegant decor, lovely courtyard pools, a delicious free breakfast, and a spa with a hammam. The Caramel Grecotel Boutique Resort is another luxury option just steps from the beach and offers a mix of rooms, suites, and villas. Also check out the Bellagio Boutique Hotel for a lovely upmarket stay. The architecture and decor is charming.
- Mid-Range and Budget Hotels: Casa Vitae Hotel is a wonderful mid-range boutique choice. It has a beautiful courtyard, generous free breakfast, fish pond, and stone walls. Also look at Pepi Boutique Hotel for affordable rates, a plunge pool, beautiful garden area, and kitchenettes — great for families. For a budget hotel, try the family-run Hotel Axos, just a short taxi ride from the city, with an inviting pool area and options for self catering.
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