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Why you should go to Rethymno, Crete

Old Town Rethymno, Crete
The Old Town Rethymno

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Greek Island holidays are always a good idea and were top of the list for family getaways when the kids were young. I have memories of sunny, cloud-free days spent exploring Rhodes old town, dipping into warm turquoise seas around Corfu and of sleek dolphins slip-streaming the boat during a trip from Skiathos.

But that was a long time ago. Too long ago, and a day trip to Mykonos and Delos during a cruise got me thinking that it’s time I gave the Greek Islands some proper attention again.

So, we did. Me and Mr Jones spent a blissful week in Rethymno, aka Rethymnon. This ridiculously pretty Venetian town, with a long history, lies half-way between Chania and Heraklion on the Greek island of Crete. Since then we’ve also visited Ios and Santorini.

This picturesque town is the third largest on Greece’s biggest island and nestles between the Mediterranean Sea and the foothills of the White Mountains on the north coast of Crete. So what is there to see and do in Rethymno? Read on for my top picks…

Looking for somewhere to stay in Rethymno? Check rates and availability.

Why you should visit Rethymno, Crete

Rethymno (or Rethymnon) is everything a Greek town should be and more. It’s one of the best preserved medieval towns in Greece and one of the most beautiful towns in Crete.

Rethymno city was once a bastion of the Venetians who left a mighty legacy of beatuiful old buildings. The large Fortezza (fortress) guards Rethymnon from the top of an imposing headland of natural beauty.

The town was also ruled by Turks for a time so you’ll find a scattering of Ottoman domes and minarets peeping from behind 16th century buildings. There are also beautiful beaches nearby and opportunities for wine tasting and of course fabulous Cretan food.

Rethymno Fortezza, Crete

Where to stay in Rethymno

We stayed in a gorgeous beachfront suite around 15-minutes walk from the old town. Read my review of our accommodation in Rethymno.

Volakas Beachfront suites ooze authentic charm, the patio overlooks the beach and they’re just a short walk into Rethymno old town. Perfect for a self-catering stay in Rethymno.

Volakas Beachfront Suites, Rethymno, Crete
Volkaras Beachfront Suites, Rethymno

What to see and do in Rethymno

In the old town of Rethymno you’ll find a honeycomb of cobbled alleyways and narrow streets dappled with shade from overhanging vines and bougainvillea. They’re lined with cute cafes, shops selling local crafts and restaurants dishing up the best Cretan food and Greek dishes. One of the best things to do in Rethymno is to explore them.

Ancient buildings from Venetian times with doorways and arches set in mellow stone walls lead to enticing courtyards. The town is filled with historical sites and 16th century buildings, churches and olive trees line the pretty plazas.

There’s a stylish side to the town with contemporary restaurants, cafés, bars and some of the best hotels.

The newly developed part of town has a vast sandy beach which gently slopes into the sea. Lined with hotels and restaurants the main road stretches east for 22km to Panormo and has some of the best sandy beaches in the area. The contrast of new and old in Rethymno makes it a great place for both families and couples.

Looking for somewhere to stay in Rethymno? Check rates and availability.

Explore the Fortezza

The walled Venetian fortress is one of the best archaeological sites in the town. The fortress was built in 1573 high on Paleokastro hill overlooking Rethymno town. You’ll need at least two hours to explore its bastions, ramparts and underground munitions vaults.

The 16th-century fortress was built to protect what was once a small village, from pirates and Turkish invaders. On day-22 of the Turkish seige the fort was penetrated. The Turks turned the old church of St Nicholas into a mosque. Go inside to see the lovely dome and mihrab, a niche that points towards Mecca.

Looking for somewhere to stay in Rethymno? Check rates and availability.

The fort has panoramic views over the town and it’s the perfect spot to watch the sun set into the horizon. If you fancy a sundowner to go with your sunset you could bag a table at ‘Sunset Bar’ by the sea wall below the fort.

Where: Fortezza, Rethymno 741 00, Greece

When: June–September: daily from 8:00 hrs to 20:00 hrs. October–May: daily from 8:00 hrs to 17:00 hours. The fort charges a modest admission fee.

Looking for somewhere to stay in Rethymno? Check rates and availability.

Visit Rimondi Fountain

Rimondi Fountain, Rethymno

The Rimondi fountain can be found in Petychaki Square in the heart of Rethymno. It was built in 1626 by the city rector and Venetian Govenor (of the same name) to provide the people of the town with drinking water. Just one piece of evidence of the Venetian occupation amongst many in the town.

Flanked by Corinithian columns the water flows from three lions’ heads into three basins. The Rimondi family crest can still be seen above the lion heads. The Rimondi Fountain is one of the most beautiful historic sites in Rethymno and it’s practical too. It was built to provide drinking water for local families and you can fill up your water bottle for free.

Where: Mavrokordatou Alexanrou, Rethymno 741 00, Greece

Check out more of Rethymno’s top sights and activities.

Eat overlooking the Venetian Harbour

The historic harbour opposite is lined with fish restaurants, waterside tavernas and cafés.

A walk past these, alongside the water, will have the owners inticing you in to eat or for a refreshing drink. The other restaurants in the town’s alleyways aren’t quite as pricey but the views of the Venetian port by the waterside and the fresh fish dishes are the best.

Looking for somewhere to stay in Rethymnon? Check rates and availability.

The Old Harbour at Rethymno, Crete

Take a look at the Lighthouse

Take a short walk past the colourful fishing boats and along the harbour wall to the honey coloured lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in the 1830s by the Egyptians after being handed Crete by the Turks during the Ottoman rule. Look closely at the top to see some intricate carved symbols.

The Lighthouse in Rethymno

Check out more of Rethymno’s top sights and activities.

Step through Porta Guora

Porta Guora, or the Great Gate of Rethymnon, is the only remaining structure from the 16th-century walls. Sitting at the south end of the town, step through the gate and into the narrow street beyond to start your explorations of Rethymno old town.

Where: Antistaseos ke Dimakopoulou, Rethymno 741 00, Greece

Wander the alleyways of Rethymnon Old Town

One of the best ways to explore any town historical centre is to just wander and soak up the atmosphere. As we strolled through the beautiful streets of the old town we saw Byzantine churches, Venetian mansions and some wonderfully rustic old doors and stone gateways.

Rethymno, Crete

Shop windows opened out onto the alleys where the smell of freshly baked spanakopita (pastry stuffed with spinach and feta cheese) and baklava tempted us more than once! Read about Crete’s best eats.

Take in the Old Town, Fortezza, Fountain and harbour in a segway tour of Rethymno.

Looking for somewhere to stay in Rethymno? Check rates and availability.

Kick Back on Rethymno Beach

Step beyond the long history of the Fortezza heading east and you’ll come to Rethymno Beach, a 13-kilometre stretch of gorgeous golden sandy beach.

The beach caters for everyone with parasols and sunbeds to hire and lifeguards to keep an eye on things. The beach has golden soft sand and is perfect for kids. Plenty of amenities are nearby including restaurants, bars and hotels but gets busy in high season.

There are a number of beach clubs with outdoor pools, hot tubs, restaurants and bars, along this stretch of coastline. Tourist facilities like public showers and changing room are nearby.

Check out Pretty Preveli Beach

If you’re looking for something a little more picturesque then head to the beautiful Beach of Preveli. This gorgeous little cove is one of the prettiest beaches in Crete where the Kourtaliotis River meets the Med. You’ll find it 46km from Rethymno on the south coast of Crete so you’ll need to take a bus journey or drive if you have a hire car. But it’s worth it.

Shop for Greek Souvenirs in Rethymno

Souliou street is one of the best places for souvenir shopping with lots of jewellery and artisan crafts. I bought a gorgeous beach dress in the linen shop. There’s a variety of local goods and handicrafts to buy including soaps and lotions made from olive oil, art and lace. You’ll also find pottery, Cretan herbs, honey and oils.

Where: Souliou Street, Rethymno 741 00, Greece

Churches in Rethymno

Not all the churches were white – we found this sunset coloured church on the road just outside the old town.

Neratze Mosque

Near the centre of Rethymno and the Rimondi Fountain you can’t fail to spot the 27-meter-high minaret of the Neratze Mosque. The building, which dates back to 1600, was once the Church of Santa Maria before being converted to a mosque during the Turkish occupation. Nowadays Neratze hosts the Agia Galini music conservatory with music lessons, recitals and concerts.

Where: Emmanoil Vernardoy 2, Rethymno 741 00, Greece

Go back in time at the Archaeological Museum of Rethymno

The Archaeological Museum of Rethymno might be a small museum but it contains a large collection of exhibits. The museum is located inside St Francis Church which was built in the Venetian period and is near to the Great Gate in the centre of the Old Town. 

Where: 4 Agiou Fragiskou Street, Rethymno 741 00, Greece

When: Wednesday–Monday from 10:00 hrs to 18:00 hrs (closed Tuesdays)

Catch a Sunrise or a Sunset

Sunrise in Rethymno

We saw some fabulous sunsets in Rethymno but this shot is of the sunrise from the beach – I had this all to myself!

If you’re not an early riser then you might enjoy this Rethymno sunset cruise.

Looking for somewhere to stay in Rethymno? Check rates and availability.

Check out more of Rethymno’s top sights and activities with these tours and excursions…

Visit Mili Gorge

We didn’t feel like heading further afield as there was more than enough to keep us busy in Rethymno town. But there are local attractions nearby in the surrounding area if you want to explore a bit more. Mili Gorge is about 7 km outside Rethymno by car/taxi (or the red city tour bus) and perfect for a hike in unspoiled countryside. You’ll find a traditional village or two on the way.

The 4k walk will take you through olive groves and citrus trees, along steams which used to power the now deserted watermills (hence the name Gorge of Mills). There were once around 30 mills supplying the area with flour, a number of churches and there’s a tavern which has been renovated by one of the original owner’s descendants.

Take in the Old Town, Fortezza, Fountain and harbour on a segway tour of Rethymno.

Looking for somewhere to stay in Rethymnon? Check rates and availability.

Check out Arkadi Monastery

Arkadi Monastery, Rethymno
Arkadi Monastery, source, Flickr Creative Commons

The monstery is a beautiful historic building around 23 km south-east of Rethymno and was built in the 14th century. A Byzantine church stands in the centre of the complex.

The monastery is the most important in Crete due to a Turkish siege in 1866 where the Cretans refused to surrender and set fire to the gun powder store blowing up both themselves and the Turks. It seems the Cretans and the Turks have a colourful history.

Where: Arkadi 741 00, Greece

When: April–May: daily from 9 am to 5 pm. June–August: daily from 9 am to 8 pm. December–March: daily from 9 am to 4 pm

How: Buses go daily from Rethymnon 10:30 and 14:30 and return 12:00 and 16:00. Or you could take an e-bike tour to Arkadi monastery with lunch.

Take a day trip to Preveli Monastery

It’s worth getting a hire car and heading to Crete’s beautiful south coast and Preveli Monastery which lies 36 km south of the city of Rethymno.

The remote 17th century monastery is built into the rocky hillside overlooking the sea. The only way to reach it is by following a road that ribbons through the mountains lined with olive groves. The monastery has a small church and museum and a Memorial for Peace and Resistance.

During the German occupation in World War II the monks at Preveli Monastery provided shelter to over 5,000 allies who fought in the Battle of Crete. The monument has glorious views down over the Libyan the sea.

Preveli Beach is nearby so you could make a day of it and take a picnic and spend time enjoying the pretty cove. Do note that there are no facilities like sunbeds or parasols at Preveli Beach.

Book a day tour to Preveli Palm Beach and the south coast.

Ready to plan your trip to Rethymno?

Check out more of Rethymno’s top sights and activities.

Have you to been to the Greek islands? Do you have a favourite?

Pin it for later…

Keith

Tuesday 13th of July 2021

Rethymno is a must. Reserve a table in the (roofless) tower of the Castelo Taverna for a romantic evening dinner.

Steph

Wednesday 12th of June 2019

Lovely post - we are going next week - we’ve been before but it was over 20 years ago!

Suzanne Jones

Wednesday 12th of June 2019

I hope it hasn't changed too much! I'd love to go back :)

Frank

Tuesday 17th of July 2018

We go to Crete every summer (so much to see and enjoy) and Rethymno is a stay every other year. These pictures are beautiful.

Suzanne Jones

Tuesday 17th of July 2018

Thank you! I love the Greek islands - this was my first time in Crete and I’ll definitely be going back again. I love the Cretan food too!

Lisa (Travel Loving Family)

Sunday 7th of February 2016

This sounds like my sort of holiday:) The sunsets and food sound particularly appealing

Suzanne Jones

Monday 8th of February 2016

I'd be happy to drop everything and be back there right this minute!

Laura

Tuesday 18th of August 2015

I haven't visited Crete before but these beautiful images make me want to book plane tickets straight away! Gorgeous www.shehearts.net

Suzanne Jones

Tuesday 18th of August 2015

It was my first visit to the island and I loved it - hope you get to visit soon!