This prefecture nestled between Chania and Helaklio, will steal your hearts with its Renaissance appearance and its unique character. With a history that can be traced back to the Neolithic age, vast sandy beaches and the biggest mountains of the island. It delivers amazing experiences for all types of visitors. Below are only a few of the reasons why you should visit Rethymno:
What to see:
The old city of Rethymno is built around the Venetian Fortetza (meaning fortress.) Which is also one of the city’s landmarks, built in 1573. Nevertheless, the heart of the city is the old Venetian harbour. In the harbour old and the new elements are combined beautifully, embracing each other. By strolling around the city, you’ll have the opportunity to see the 13th century restored lighthouse, the Great Door, the Rimondi Fountain, the Ottoman Loutra and many other monuments and landmarks.
The Makri Steno, literally meaning “long alley” is one of the most picturesque streets of the old town. Around the area several souvenir shops pop up during the day, only to give their place to lively “rakadika” at night – a definite must visit!
But some real gems lie in the suburbs and villages of Rethymno. Arkadi Monastery, being one of them, it is an architectural and cultural monument. The holocaust of 1866 made this monastery the most well known in Crete and a symbol of true heroism. Close to Arkadi is Eleftherna, another must-visit site where history came to life with the help of the archaeological excavations. There you’ll be able to see one of the most ancient Cretan cities, along with some truly unique exhibits. If interested in digging deeper into history, the Palace Complex in Monastiraki (in Amari area) along with the late Minoan Cemetery in Armeni are also quite interesting places.
What to eat in Rethymno:
Cretan food, as part of the Mediterranean diet, is proven to be one of the best and healthiest in the world. Because of the Cretan geology, dishes vary from meat to fish to vegetarian, so there’s something different for every pallet. The city is full of restaurants and taverns, serving traditional Cretan dishes. Do not be afraid to try the small local taverns that you might find during your sightseeing adventures, usually, these serve the most authentic and tasty food.
If you are a meat lover, go for “gamopilafo”, a risotto-style dish with lamb & goat stock. “Apaki” is a super tasty starter made from pork smoked on herbs. For pescatarian dishes, grilled “tsipoura” (sea bream) or deep fried red mullets are some of the tastiest options. If you are into seafood, you’ll get “the sea on your plate” with the sea urchin salad. Vegetarian dishes are also famous in Crete. “Stamnagkathi tsigariasto” is a slightly bitter green, sautéed with leeks and onions, famous for its nutrients. “Kalitsounia” or “lychnarakia” are small tarts filled with soft goat cheese that melts in the mouth.
Remember to accompany all the above with generous amounts of “raki” (also called “tsikoudia”), the local Cretan spirit, usually produced in almost every family locally (alcohol degrees vary – but it’s always quite strong so drink with caution). And remember: If a local offers you “raki”, you have to drink it – it’s a big insult if you don’t!
Where to swim:
Most of the beaches are awarded a blue flag every year, so the options are endless. Spread along the north coast of the prefecture, you will find 13km of far-stretching sandy beaches (most of them organized). The beaches in Episkopi, Adelianos Kampos, Panormo and Bali are just a few of them. Do not forget also the main beach in Rethymno, fully organized and with many water sports to choose from. But my personal favourites all lie on the south side of Rethymno. There you can find the unique Preveli beach with the lagoon and the hundreds of palm trees, Agia Galini and Plakias beaches (all fully organized).
You should go without hesitation to Triopetra and Agios Pavlos, the scenery and the crystal water at both beaches are breathtaking. Some of the most remote beaches facing the Libyan sea are also the favourite choices of the locals: Damnoni, Ammoudi, Korakas, Kerame, are smaller beaches, with crystal clear waters and serenity. You can go to relax and unwind – there are no options for watersports there, but a day on the beach is a day well spent in any case.
Where to stay:
Rethymno may not be the biggest prefecture of Crete, but yet it’s quite “expanded” in terms of beaches and sightseeing. The best option would be to book a hotel close to the old town, but not downtown. Have in mind that no cars are allowed in the old town at night, so you might have a hard time returning to your hotel after a long night out. If you want to be in a walking distance from the centre, but still able to move around easily, prefer one of the numerous options along the main beach closer to Perivolia. If proximity to the best beaches is your thing, then the areas around Plakias and Agia Galini offer plentiful and nice accommodation options.
When to visit:
If you can stand the Mediterranean climate (hot and dry summers, with an average temperature of 30ο C.) Then from June till August is probably the best time to visit the city. If the very warm weather and the vivid nightlife is not your thing. Then April, May, September and October are the best months. You’ll be able to enjoy the amazing beaches and the warm Cretan hospitality. This will come without the hustle and bustle of the peak season.
Not to miss:
- For those who dare, “hochlioi” (snails, with rosemary or stew) is a must-try when in Rethymno.
- During your visit to Agios Pavlos beach do not miss the caves there.
- Preveli has one of the most well-known monasteries in Crete. You should combine a visit there along with your swim at the Preveli beach
- Depending on the period of your visit, Rethymno hosts many festivities: the Renaissance Festival in September, the Treasure Hunt along with the Carnival of Rethymno around February, the Wine Festival in June. In case you are visiting during these months, make sure to participate in these festivities – they are truly unique!
Still not convinced this is the right part of Crete? Why not check out our overview of the whole island.