Rethymno combines rarely united features: the old town’s charm and history, with proximity to a long sandy beach.
You can enjoy arriving by ferry and be «right there» close to the centre of the Old Town, just a 5 minute walk away (newly built harbours on many Greek islands are now far from the center, removing the romance of arriving IN the place you are visiting!).
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.
Before leaving the beach, we should mention that there are other visitors – the turtles. Turtles are regular visitors along the beaches of Rethymno and return between June and August to lay their eggs each year.
The Venetian harbour…
Rethymno’s harbour 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. Look out from the harbour 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 jewellery…the old and the modern combine to make a colourful 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 centre of Crete and have enough to discover for weeks!
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).
Ferries sail into Rethymno from Athens port (Pireas) daily. The ferries are overnight sailings, take a cabin for comfortable travel.
By car, we strongly recommend approaching Rethymno along the coast taking the western-most exit from the New National Road at Atsipopoulo/Rethymno – this gets you directly to the port and the old town.
There are frequent buses connecting Rethymno with other towns and villages.
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.
What to see/do
Explore the waterfront and streets just behind. 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.
Archaeological museum at the entrance to the fortress. 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. Used as the archaeological museum’s shop. (Books, models, jigsaw puzzles and cards).
This is a good landmark as a meeting/rendezvous place.
Folklore & history museum on Vernardou 30. Housed in a restored Venetian building with an interior courtyard. Eight halls with collections that include textile and basket weaving, embroidery & lace, costumes, ceramics, historic photographs and maps, weapons and coins. Over 5.000 items dating from the 17th to the 20th century are displayed.
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.
The Rimondi fountain, with the pleasing cafe «Galero» to sit at right next to it – which also has internet access, as many cafes do in the centre of Rethymno.
Souliou street – much jewellery and 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 jewellery, pottery and many other different items.
Laiki (open market) on Thursday mornings is beside the marina towards the beach. Or small laiki Saturday by Iroon Polytechniou square – just before the main bus station.
Carnival: every late February/early March strange and colourful 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.
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. The Monastery (nunnery) is very recently restored. Restoration started in 1989. Its origin is 927 AD. The shop offers – with 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.
Other visits: Armeni minoan site, Argyroupoli (ancient Lappa) where the sound of water from springs cascades through this refreshing, taverna-laden village. Eleftherna, Axos, Zominthos archaeological sites. Amongst the significantly enjoyable, old and historic villages: Episkopi, Spili, Amari (valley), Monastiraki, Anogia.
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!).
Extensive beaches stretch east of Rethymno itself – some with scattered large hotels alongside, or cafes or…just beach.