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Bask in the essence of Greece’s most famous island—Crete. Travel to the city of Rethimno (also written Rethymo or Rethymnon) on the island’s north coast, where you’ll be whisked away into Greek history. Wander the old town’s labyrinth of alleys whispering tales of forgotten eras. See landmarks built by the different civilizations that ruled over the city throughout history. Dwell in waterfront settings full of idyllic beaches, shops, eateries, and more.

Visit Rethimno to see one of the notable sites for the Australian’s defending Crete against German invasion during WWII. This Rethimno Travel Guide highlights what makes this city a must-visit spot for anyone visiting Crete.

By Julia Hammond

Getting Around Rethimno

Rethimno sits on the Greek Island of Crete. It’s only accessible by air or sea. The most common way to get to Rethimno is by booking a flight to one of the major airports on the island: Chania International Airport (CHQ) and Heraklion International Airport (HER). They are approximately 67km and 80km from Rethimno, respectively. Car rentals are available at the airports. For the scenic route, take a two-hour ferry from Santorini.

One of the best ways to get around Rethimno is on foot. It’s preferred for exploring popular areas like Old Town, which has narrow pedestrian alleys, or the promenade at the Venetian Harbour. Ride-share options are unavailable on the island of Crete, so you must rely on local taxis and public transport to get around if you don’t have a car rental.

Things to Do

Get lost in Old Town’s charming alleys

Turn back the clock hands and discover the Rethimno of yesteryear. Dating back to the 13th century, this historic part of town feels like it’s been frozen in time. Get lost on an Old Town walking tour in these narrow stone-paved alleyways while sightseeing landmarks, admiring unaged abodes, shopping, and dining.

Rethimno Old Town. Wikimedia.

Once you pass through Porta Guora, the original gateway to the Old Town, you’ll see why it’s one of the best things to do in Rethimno for tourists. Visitors get the authentic Greek welcome while maneuvering past souvenir shops and eateries lining Ethnikis Antistaseos Street. Sneak onto Soulious Street to escape the bustle and shop for charming jewellery and other gifts. The Venetian piazza-style Petychakis Square maintains its reputation as a social hub with Cretan cafes and the famous Rimondi Fountain. Water has been flowing from these three lion heads since 1626! The towering Neratze Mosque Minaret towers 27 meters high to remind us of the enduring influence of the Ottoman occupation of Crete—one of many landmarks remaining from this period.

There are tons of old doors, flower-bearing trees, and colourful building facades to take some great travel photos in this area.

Past and Present of the Fortezza of Rethimno

The Australians defending Rethimno from German invasion is only a piece of this destination’s rich history. The Venetian Fortezza looms over the city as a sign of historic times. Visitors can walk the grounds to see the remaining structures and experience the cultural arts of today.

Rethimno Venetian Fortezza. Wikimedia.

It’s hard to imagine you’re looking at fortified walls that have stood since Venetians first built them in the late 1500s. It was built to protect Rethimno from Ottoman invasion. The irony is that the Ottomans ultimately captured it during the Ottoman-Venetian wars and newer Ottoman-influenced structures erected within its walls. The Cathedral of Saint Nicholas is a great example. It was repurposed as the Mosque of Sultan Ibrahim and still has its decorative dome inside. The remnants of the Governor’s House were also overtaken as residences for Ottoman officials.

While most of the fortezza is a trip down memory lane, the Theatre of Erofili keeps its heritage thriving with live cultural events. It frequently hosts theatre performances, dance recitals, and concerts that are a must-see while visiting Rethimno.

The view from the fortress walls offers one of the best panoramic views of Rethimno and the Mediterranean Sea.

Spend time at the Old Venetian Harbour

The quaint Venetian Harbour is always lively at any time of day. From morning to night, you have an excuse to spend a few hours at one of Rethimno’s most popular tourist spots.

Enjoy the quiet mornings strolling the promenade. See small fishing boats bobbing in the harbour en route to the Rethimno Lighthouse. It’s a 9-metre-tall structure built by the Egyptians during their rule over Crete in the 1800s. When the afternoon heat arrives, settle down at one of the waterfront restaurants for seafood and traditional Greek dishes. It’s a front-row seat to people watching other tourists exploring the promenade. Evenings are busy with revellers awaiting one of the best sunset views in Rethimno at the harbour. At night, glowing lights from the cocktail bars and restaurants beckon visitors to indulge.

Rethimno Lighthouse. Wikimedia.

Plan a day at the beach

What’s a Greek Island Getaway without visiting the beach? Greece’s best beaches sit around the island’s 1,046-metre coastline. It’s the third-largest Greek Island, with hundreds of beaches to choose from. You’re in luck because Rethimno is located near a few of the island’s top beaches.

Known for its champagne-tinted shoreline and Tiffany Blue waters, Rethimno is a true beach paradise. The best beaches near Rethimno are:

  • Rethimno Beach
  • Preveli Beach
  • Elafonissi Beach

Rent a beachside lounger, lay your blanket in the sand, and take in the beautiful Mediterranean scenery. The clear waters are inviting for a day of water fun. Swimming, snorkelling, and scuba diving are all popular here. You can also find boat tours.

Balos Lagoon, one of the most famous beaches in Crete. Wikimedia.

Bonus: If you’re up for a drive, it’s approximately two hours to reach Balos Lagoon, one of the most famous beaches in Crete!

Explore Museums and Archaeological Sites

Rethimno is a haven for history hunters. It’s a piece of living history while exploring areas like the Old Town and the Venetian Fortezza. However, there’s even more to the story waiting to be revealed in archive collections and artifacts. Take a trip down the rabbit hole of history when visiting the many museums and archaeological sites near Rethimno.

Add these museums to your itinerary:

Approximately 26 kilometres from Rethimno sits one of Crete’s most important archaeological sites. The Ancient Eleutherna Site helps tell the story of early civilization on the island. The onsite museum exhibits excavated artifacts from the Byzantine, Sub-Neolithic, and other periods. Artifacts from the East show evidence of early trade, and precious metals reveal the wealth of this ancient city.

Outdoor Adventures

The beach isn’t the only way to enjoy the idyllic Mediterranean climate. Mornings are the best time to get outside for hiking and sightseeing.

Do you want to see an island waterfall? Hike the Kourtaliotiko Gorge to witness the picturesque Kourtaliotiko Waterfall. The Kourtaliotiko River flows through the mountains before reaching the 25-foot drop into the gorge. It’s a 4.5-mile hike starting near Prevail Beach. Cool down from your hike by going for a swim at the foot of the waterfall.

Challenge yourself with one of Crete’s challenging hikes in the Samaria Gorge National Park, the sole national park on the island. The Samaria Gorge hike is a 16-kilometre trek from the White Mountains to the Libyan Sea. It’s a half-day hike full of scenic views and spotting native Cretan flora.

Samariá Gorge. Wikipedia.

Dining and Accommodation

Dining isn’t just for nourishment in Crete—it’s a pastime. Get ready for late night dinners starting after 8pm. And hope you’re not in a rush because a proper meal typically lasts a few hours—most of it is dedicated to friendly chatter at the table.

The true pleasure of dining in Rethimno is enjoying breezy tavernas and stumbling upon hidden gems tucked in the quiet alleys. Sit on the covered patio of VATANIA Taverna meze bar and nibble on small plates with views of the Mediterranean Sea. Overlook the Venetian Harbour while eating at Achinos Rethimno. Make reservations for a prime seat at Prima Plora to gaze at the Venetian Fortezza over contemporary Greek recipes. Wander Old Town’s alleys to find To Parastratima. Sit at one of the alley-side tables and taste Cretan heritage in every bite.

Many accommodations have as much history as the city itself. Experience what it’s like to stay in historic mansions or see modern renovations to Venetian buildings. Make Old Town your home base for easy access to the local attractions. Retreat to waterfront properties for views of the Mediterranean Sea right from your bed. Check out these top recommended hotels in Rethimno:

Bonus: for a fun local experience, check out the Greek Philo Pastry Shop in Old Town. Its owner, Giorgos Hatziparaschos, is the last traditional pastry maker. He displays his skills for tourist crowds by stretching the Philo dough as large as a table! You can purchase pastries and syrup to take home.

The best time to visit Rethimno

Are you looking for the best time for your next Greek Island vacation? Rethimno’s Mediterranean climate is the perfect year-round weather to enjoy your trip.

Summer is the most popular time to visit Rethimno. It’s the hottest time of year in Crete, with temperatures averaging between 30-32°C. Do all your sightseeing earlier in the day, then head to the beach to cool off in the Greek heat. Since Summer is the peak tourist season, the shoulder seasons are favourites for a more leisurely experience in Rethimno.

Plan your trip around popular festivals and events happening annually in Rethimno. Make your winter escape to the Greek Isles for the Rethimno Carnival, one of the largest carnival celebrations in Greece. Learn about Venetian culture during the Renaissance Festival, which features performances at the historic Venetian Fortezza. Read about the desperate fighting of the Australian troops who were stationed around Rethimno, fighting off the German invasion in May 1941.

Podcasts about Australians in the Mediterranean during WW2

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