A holiday to Crete is not complete without a visit to one of the 3 major towns, Chania, Rethymnon or Heraklion, all of which are situated on the northern coast of the island. These towns all have large areas of modern buildings that are not particularly attractive, but they also each have an area known as “the old town” where the buildings are stunningly beautiful having been built centuries ago by different foreign invaders such as the Venetians and the Turks. Nothing can compare with a stroll around the harbour or down the narrow, bougainvillea lined alleys that comprise most of the old towns, particularly in Chania and Rethymnon. These streets were originally designed to be wide enough for 2 laden donkeys to pass by each other easily. Today there are a myriad of colourful gift shops, street markets and romantic open air tavernas which entice the many tourists who visit every year. The major towns, particularly Heraklion, also house the best archaeological museums on the island. The young and old alike will enjoy the festive atmosphere and the incredible beauty of Crete’s large towns. Chania Town is 25 minutes drive from Chania Airport, 2 hours from Heraklion Airport, 30 - 40 minutes from the Apokoronas area and 20 - 25 minutes from West of Chania. Rethymnon Town is just over 1 hour’s drive from either Chania or Heraklion Airports, 45 – 55 minutes from the Apokoronas area, and 1 hour and 10 minutes from West of Chania. Heraklion Town is 10 minutes drive from Heraklion Airport, 2 hours and 10 minutes from Chania Airport, 1 hour and 45 minutes to the Apokoronas area and 2 hours from West of Chania.
Chania is the capital city in the administrative district of the same name. It is the second largest city on Crete. The history of Chania is particularly interesting as the attention of Crete’s conquerors has always been focused here. Linear-B Tablets found in the ancient workshops indicate that Chania was the site of the Minoan city of Kydonia. Homer described West Crete as the home of the Kydonians. The name originated from their king, Kydon, who is sometimes said to be the son of Minos, and at other times said to be his grandson. It was not surprising that this strategically important island was coveted by nearby states, and there were many attempts to invade.
Until 1971 Chania was the capital of Crete and is reputed to be the oldest city in the world. Continually inhabited since Neolithic times, the city today has modern looking outskirts, and a stunningly beautiful “old town” which is a mix of Venetian and Turkish influences. Situated around the main harbour, and in the narrow back alleys, are many museums (including the impressive Naval Museum), tavernas, cafes, and gift shops selling handicrafts, textiles, jewellery and hand made ceramics. Visit 'Leather Lane' for outstanding hand made leather bargains. There is also the famous “cross shaped” covered market and the Saturday morning street market. “Modern” Chania has many supermarkets, and shops which tend to every need, as well as nightclubs and sporting facilities. Evenings spent strolling around Chania harbour, watching the sunset, and soaking in the friendly atmosphere, are a must for locals and tourists alike.
Heraklion has been the capital of Crete since 1971. It is the fifth largest city in Greece, with a population of approximately 155,000. It is a busy and very affluent place, ideal for a day visit for shopping and wandering through the streets and having lunch on the square by the famous Morosoni Fountain but not for staying overnight. Heraklion is of course most famous for the Knossos site and the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. The fabulous Minoan palace of Knossos, once the residence of the legendary King Minos, stands loftily on a hill on the outskirts of Heraklion. In it’s heyday it must have been an impressive sight, with its splendid architecture, monumental staircases and beautiful coloured frescoes. The Heraklion Archaeological Museum holds a wonderful collection of Minoan jewellery and artifacts, all relics of a highly artistic, creative and peaceful civilisation.
The 3rd largest city on the island, Rethymnon is a picturesque city with a scenic Venetian Harbour and a dominating Venetian fortress, certainly the largest on Crete and some say the largest built by Venetians anywhere. A wonderful view of the whole town is to be had from the fortress. The east side of Rethymnon has a long promenade and a vast stretch of sandy beach. (This is where the Thursday market is held). Rethymnon has a lovely Venetian area (the west side of the town) full of quaint back alleyways, lined with lovely shops and romantic restaurants. Many of the Old Venetian and Turkish houses are listed properties and have been restored. Old Rethymnon has a colourful mix of architecture and it still maintains its old aristocratic appearance dating from the 16th century. Today Rethymnon is once again a thriving town. The old Venetian harbour (lined with tavernas) lies adjacent to a much larger modern day port, which services ferries (including ones for a day trip to Santorini). The Archaeological museum is housed in an out building of the fort and has a lovely coin collection as well as collection of local finds from the Minoan, Greco-Roman, and Venetian periods. The carnival in February and the wine festival in July are just 2 of the wonderful events held in the town every year.