14 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Rethymnon
Rethymnon is a pleasant surprise for most travelers. While Chania gets most of the attention, Rethymon's beautiful Old Town, with its Venetian fortress and protected harbor, makes it a standout destination but draws less tourists.
In a stunning location at the base of the Psilorítis mountain range, about halfway up the island's north coast, Rethymnon is the third largest town on Crete after Heraklion and Chania. As you drive along the expressway, you'll easily identify the town from its imposing fortress on the waterfront.
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 the 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 day tripping to 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 Rethymnon.
See also: Where to Stay in Réthymnon
1. Wander the Old Town
Wandering the cobbled streets of Rethymnon's car-free old town takes you back through the centuries. 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 flowing from the mouths of three stone lions, and a towering Ottoman minaret from 1890. Sometimes styles are combined – lovely pastel-colored Venetian-era town houses have wooden balconies added by the Turks.
Getting lost in the narrow streets is half the fun of visiting this town. Chances are you'll find a cute café or restaurant, either in the streets or along the waterfront, and settle in for a bit of people watching.
If you are looking for the perfect souvenir from your trip to Crete, this is the place to find it. Unique, funky, and fun shops sell items that range from designer clothes to fridge magnets.
If you have your own car, the best place to park and access the old town is down near the ferry terminal, where you'll find a large parking lot with very reasonable rates.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Réthymnon
2. Dine on the Old Venetian Harbor
As you wander through the old town, chances are you'll end up at the Venetian Harbor. This is one of the most beguiling areas of the entire town. Calm, crystal-clear water; small boats tied up; and schools of fish always looking for a handout make for a postcard perfect setting.
Surrounding the harbor is a wonderful assortment of restaurants serving traditional Cretan cuisine. At night, the area is tastefully lit and a perfect spot for a romantic dinner with the warm gentle breezes of the Mediterranean blowing in.
On the far side of the harbor stands a 13th-century breakwater, and at the far end is a 17th-century lighthouse.
3. See the Rimondi Fountain
Hidden deep within the old city is the beautiful Rimondi Fountain. Water pours from the mouths of three lions framed by ancient Corinthian columns. The fountain dates from the early 17th century.
This fountain once supplied the entire drinking water supply for the city during Venetian times, and today the water is potable, so fill up your water bottle from an ancient source and continue your explorations.
The fountain is set in Platanou square, a shady spot surrounded by shops and an open-air café. The alleyways in behind will eventually lead you to the fortress on the hill above.
4. Explore Fortezza
By the 16th century, the Ottoman Turks were fast advancing into Europe, and the Venetians were getting worried. So, in order to prepare between 1573 and 1580, the Venetians built this enormous fortress, complete 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.
It's worth finding your way to the fortress; perched atop Paleokastro hill, immediately west of the old harbor, it affords marvelous views over Rethymnon'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.
5. Archaeological Museum of Rethymnon
This small museum holds a variety of historical treasures from the city and surrounding area. Well worth a quick stop, you'll see items from Neolithic, Roman, and Minoan times. Also on display is a collection of jewelry and coins, along with Roman statues.
The museum is located in the maze of alleyways near the western edge of the Old Town near a set of Minoan ruins.
The admission fee is very modest, and display panels have descriptions in multiple languages.
Official site: http://www.archmuseumreth.gr/
6. Historical & Folk Art Museum of Rethymnon
For insight into how the islanders once lived, plan a visit to this small museum housed in a typical 17th-century Venetian town home, complete 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.
In addition, you'll find 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 Rethymnon, Crete
7. Neratze Mosque
Found near the center of town and easily recognized by its 27-meter-high minaret, is the Neratze Mosque, dating from 1600. No longer functioning as a religious building, it now hosts musical concerts. It is not open for tours, but be sure to have a look at the main doorway as you walk by.
Out front is a large courtyard, and around the side, you'll find pleasant cafés in the shadow of the walls where you can grab a cold drink or a bite to eat.
8. Porta Guora
Located at the south end of the old town, this is the only remaining structure from the 16th-century walls. Arching over the narrow street below, this landmark is an ideal place to start your visit to the old town.
If you continue straight down this main road, you'll pass by some of the highlights of the old town, including the Rimondi Fountain. As you leave the old town via the gate, you'll come to the lovely Municipal Gardens on your right side. If you have young children with some energy to burn off, an excellent playground is located here.
Porta Guora also goes by the name of Great Gate of Reythmnon.
9. Soak Up the Sun and Scene on Rethymnon Beach
If you've had your fill of history, culture, and shopping, and want to just flop out on the sand and relax, Rethymnon Beach is the place for you. The section just a short stroll from the Old Town is part of a 13-kilometer-long beach that extends east along the coast.
The beach is a lovely place to visit for those who love the water, sun, and sand. Everything you need for a good time is here: beach umbrellas, lounges, shallow warm water, and incredible people watching.
If you are traveling with children, this is a fun family thing to do when visiting Rethymnon. Kids can play all day in the water and sand underneath the watchful eyes of the on-site lifeguards. If you are part of a younger set and looking for a livelier scene, several beach clubs are located along this stretch, featuring pools and music.
Take a stroll along the seashore and soak up the atmosphere, or settle in under your umbrella and get your nose into the latest bestseller. Should you work up an appetite, restaurants line the main street, Eleftherio Venizelou, just back from the beach. Situated along the beach are public showers, changerooms, and restrooms.
10. 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 Rethymnon, 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.
11. Day Trip to Preveli Beach
Some of Crete's most beautiful beaches are on the remote south coast looking out on the Libyan Sea. Hidden away below Preveli Monastery, which is 36 kilometers south of Rethymnon, 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. There is nothing here, so come prepared with your own lunch and umbrella.
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.
You have to walk down to the beach from the parking area high above, which takes about 15 to 20 minutes. If you don't feel like expending the energy to hike down, there are beautiful views over the beach from the area just beyond the back of the parking lot.
12. Enjoy the Views from the Preveli Monastery
On Crete's isolated south coast, built into a remote hillside overlooking the Libyan Sea, Preveli Monastery lies 36 kilometers south of Rethymnon 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.
The drive to the monestary offers beautiful views over the south coast. You can combine a trip here with a stop at nearby Preveli Beach.
Official site: http://www.preveli.org/files/moni/enindex.htm
13. Cool Off in Argyroupoli
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 Rethymnon, the mountain town of 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.
14. Hike Mount 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 Rethymnon 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.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Rethymnon
- Half-Day Tour: Rethymnon 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 Rethymnon for Sightseeing
- 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 & 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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More on Crete: If you want to explore more of Crete's historic cities, consider visiting Chania or Agios Nikolaos, both of which have lovely harbors, historic sites, and good hotels and tourist facilities. Another city worth spending some time in is Heraklion. Although it doesn't have the same incredible beaches, it has a lively town center with restaurants and shops found along a seemingly endless number of pedestrian streets.
Athens: Like Rethymnon, Athens is deeply rooted in ancient history and mythology. Check out our article on the Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Athens, which covers what can't be missed in the Greek capital city.