Chania is a beautiful town in Crete, which is an island of Greece. The island is fairly big and offers long coastlines with sandy beaches, beautiful mountain ranges towards the centre of the island, farmlands, wildlife and ruins to remind of its rich history. It is favoured location to holiday, especially for the Scandinavians and German. You can see the island filled with tourists from April to October walking leisurely pavements among cats that are napping either in stores or on the streets, which the island is full of.
Tourism is the islands main income followed by farming, and both of these occupations employ a big number of the island’s population. However, unemployment is still strongly prevalent, especially among the millennials. There is no proper benefit system and the government is not working to encourage people to get work. Nevertheless, the island does not really see any crime and the atmosphere is quite relaxed all around.
Greece has a history of corrupt politicians and the people do not trust them, therefore try to avoid paying taxes in many cases. However, that is part of the problem as there is no money then to support the country. On the island, you might see many different ways the companies avoid paying taxes. Sometimes they do not provide you with a receipt at all and most tourists don’t dare to question this practice. Some might give you a receipt for half of your meal and write the rest by hand on a piece of receipt paper. Some receipts look like receipts, but might not be. To make sure you help contribute to the local economy you can check your receipt for the following VAT number.
Most of the food you’ll eat in Crete is made out of local produce; either locally grown fruits and vegetables, freshly fished seafood or locally grown meat. Crete is famous for its healthy diet and it’s locally grown olives and olive oil, as well as cheese such as myzithra, which is delicious! Organic farming is a growing practice and you can find several farms which offer you a glimpse of organic farm life and an organic meal, however, these are mostly out of town.
Seafood is very common in Crete and every morning or even during the day you could see fishermen on their small boats sailing out to fish and then sell their gain to local people and restaurants and then sell the rest on the markets. During the day and especially evening you can see individuals fishing quietly in the harbour.
Wine is the most common accompaniment for meals. Most restaurants will offer house wine made by themselves, but there are many wineries in Crete as well, in addition to few beer breweries. Venetian harbour is full of restaurants that offer various cuisines, however, I found them to be too touristy for my taste and rather ventured to the narrow streets of the Old Town to find a place to eat. We were lucky enough to have a taste of home-made food as well as try a couple of great restaurants:
- I would definitely recommend Tamam with their great selection of greek food with some delicious vegetarian dishes, their greek salad was massive and filled me for several hours! I wasn’t the only one who loved the restaurant, as we walked past it every day several times, we noticed it was almost always full and during the evening time, it was difficult to get a table if you hadn’t booked one in advance. Tamam pride themselves on sourcing high-quality food from local farmers and their workforce which is loyal and some even reach their retirement age by working in their restaurant, which is a great thing to hear from a company in Greece! You can get a good meal with drinks for two for around 25-30 euros.
- Semiramis had a beautiful traditional Greek setting and a quiet location with great greek food selection. This is mostly an outdoor restaurant, but on a cooler weather, they have a tarp that covers the dining area. Semiramis also prides themselves on sourcing their food from local farmers, but also for their entertainment during the evenings with local bands playing Cretan music. You can get a good meal with drinks for two for around 30-35 euros.
- Tsalikis is a taverna under the hotel Melanis and is a bit outside the city centre area but alongside a beautiful beach. It is a seafood restaurant located in the perfect place to look at the absolutely gorgeous sunset. We sat looking at the sunset for over an hour whilst the ocean hum next to us quietly making the evening feel very calm and serene. They offer absolutely massive portions of food which are meant to be shared and they offer a big variety of fresh seafood. The owner of the restaurant is very friendly and the atmosphere in the taverna is quite relaxed. You can get a good meal with drinks for two for around 20-25 euros.
- Kormoranos cafe situated just off the Venetian harbour on Theotokopoulou was my favourite place to get my breakfast. They offered various local pastries, greek yoghurt with local fruits and honey, as well as omelettes and sandwiches. Greek coffee was served in nearly every cafe, but Kormoranos was one of the only ones that also served Cretan mountain tea, which is delicious! You could also get fresh juice and local deserts. The service was very friendly and the street quiet with a view to the sea.
Cretans continue the tradition of pottery making, weaving, needlework, woodcarving and leatherwork, which you can see in many shops around the island. However, to recognise the products made by Cretan’s or sourced from Taiwan or China to be sold to tourists can be tricky, as everything is marketed as handmade. I saw many leather sandal shops selling their sandals for 20 euros and commenting on how they were handmade, which might be true but doesn’t sound like ethically or artisan made products. Most artisans had their shop alongside their workshop, which is one way to recognise local artisans, also the price was a good way to recognise what was made in Crete. Many tourist shops offered cheap touristy products, to be fair that is what most tourists would buy and that is how the shop owners would make the money. Whereas artisan stores or boutiques were a bit more hidden but offered beautiful treasures with definitely higher prices.
Theotokopoulou had a few beautiful little boutiques with artisan made pottery, jewellery and other items, as well as design-led shops. Although, I would visit the street because of its charm. It is quiet and beautiful!
Kondilaki was a street full of touristy shops, artisan stores, a couple of ethical stores as well as a couple of restaurants. I really like the Elephant Store and a couple of other stores right next to it, the names of which unfortunately I don’t remember any more.
I loved the shop Memorabilia with its design-led and very clever products, which was situated on Episkopou Chrisanthou.
Many shops offered clothing that was printed locally and even more offered local beauty products made with locally grown olive oil. So far my favourite brand which I tried was BIOselect.
Most sustainable accommodation options would be based out of Chania in small villages where sustainable tourism is starting to grow with the village and farm experience see Vamos and Agreco. If you want to stay in town, however, there are some better options.
Airbnb – Renting other persons flat or a room in a flat is always a way to get to know the town as though you belong in it. You see better how people live there and you are providing a person with an income.
Villa – There are plenty of villa’s to be rented all around Chania. These are self-serving and if you book one that does not promise room service and cleaning every day the better option it is.
Small hotel – I had difficulty finding a hotel that had definitely sustainable credentials, but I had several hotels that were owned and run by a local person. The hotel is their life and they treat it in that way. They offer good service to their guests and by leaving a “do not disturb” sign on your door you make sure they won’t change your sheets and towels too often. Check Casa Veneta.
Before travelling to Crete we did our online research into Chania, what to see and about the public transport, but outside of sights that are meant for tourists, there was little information (or we just weren’t able to find any). Many tourists rent a car for the trip, which is fairly easy, as there are many car renting companies about and they will bring the car to you even to your hotel. However, there are quite a few problems with the car renting companies from some companies providing cars with broken parts or others charging your credit card additional amount a few months later. As this resulted in untrustful customers many car renting companies now offer to rent for cash which is very easy and straightforward. However, electric or hybrid cars were rare as there aren’t really any charging spots for them, although this may be changing in the future.
Chania is a fairly small city and you can walk nearly everywhere within it. There is a bus station in the centre of Chania where you get good information on bus journeys and buses leave around every 20 minutes to different popular locations, so there is no need for a car unless you want to travel at your own pace and into locations that are not as easy to reach with a bus. Bus fares are fairly cheap, the airport bus takes around 30 minutes and costs less than 5 euros per person, whereas a taxi from the airport to city centre is around 25 euros. In addition, drivers in Chania are fairly erratic with speedy driving and not always paying attention to the rules. We didn’t see any car crashes, but to a drivers eye, it was scary to think of driving among those drivers. So if you decide to take a car to drive in Chania be careful and make sure you follow the road rules.
WHAT TO DO
- Walk around the old town and Venetian harbour – Crete is an island full of history which can be seen in Chania pretty well. The island was occupied at various times by Romans, Ottomans, Venetians and the ancient Minoans. The city’s architecture and ruins still carry many signs of the ancient times alongside its modern culture. The whole city is relaxed and oozes you to take it easy and enjoy your life. You can find restaurants or cafe’s on almost any street in the old town, and gelato can be bought long until midnight. The Venetian harbour is gorgeous at night time, although I have to warn that every restaurant will try to talk you into having a drink or food at their establishment.
- Lighthouse – Lighthouse is one of the main attractions in Chania and can be seen from the Venetian harbour. If you want to see the harbour better have a walk to the Lighthouse, which is free but can take a while. You can see small fish in the water and the ocean humming on the other side. Just remember to wear comfortable shoes as the walk is longer than it looks and the road is not smooth, but it is a beautiful view!
- Ruins – There are ruins all around the city and going out of the city. Walking around the old town you can see a Mosque and old Harbour fortification. On the east side of the city in Souda, you can find Ancient Aptera and if you continue further towards Stilos you’ll find Archaeological sit of Azoires. On the south side of the western Crete there is the Ancient city of Lissos, and in Kissamos you can find an Ancient city of Polyrinia and Archaeological site of Polyrrhenia. There are many more if you search a bit online and each of them will show you a little part of the history of the island.
- Archeological Museum – There is one in most big cities of Crete, the one I visited was in Chania. It exhibited relics and findings of archaeological digs around the island and especially around Chania. It was filled with a lot of history and I was surprised at the detail of items people made 4000 years ago! It is also a great place to hide if it is starting to get too hot outside.
- Orthodox Cathedral – The main religion on the island is Orthodox and the island has orthodox churches dotted all around. Many of them really small, some really beautiful! The cathedral is right in the centre of the old town and is worth a visit to see the history and the beautiful building.
- Visit the Market – There is a market at least once a week on Minoos where you can find fresh vegetables, fruit, cheese and other food ingredients.
- Go to the Beach – There are several beaches in Chania, the famous tourist beach is Nea Chora, which is not too far from the city centre and has a bunch of cafes and restaurants right at its side. Koum Kapi beach is on the other side of the old town and close to the Market. It is a beautiful beach, but very small. There are also Kladissos, Aptera, Chrissi Akti, Agioi Apostoloi and Agii Apostoloi.
- Botanical Gardens – Build out of aches of the 2003 devastating fire, stand botanical gardens right at the root of the White Mountains. It offers a beautiful trek in nature, relaxing with local and foreign plants.
- Boat trips and Watersports – There are several different boat trips available for tourists who want to see the ocean from a glass bottom boat, or go to a near small beach to go snorkelling, diving or just swimming. Paraglyding trips are offered at some of the beaches as well as luxury boat rides. Please be considerate of the wildlife!
- Stargazing – The island of Crete is great for stargazing. If you are not in a centre of a city there is much less light pollution and you are able to see the star constellations with a naked eye. Did you know, most of the constellations we know today come from the ancient Greeks, so where better to learn stories about them whilst looking at the beautiful Universe? Check trips here.
I hope you got as excited about this charming little city as I am!