THINGS TO DO IN CHANIA
Chania, Crete is one of the most beautiful cities in Greece. It’s situated in the west of the island of Crete, in a stunning location on the north coast. The narrow medieval streets and houses of Chania old town are up there with the most essential things to do in Crete. Chania port is one of the most picturesque harbours in the Mediterranean. This is a place that deserves a few days of anyone’s time.
We found there were so many things to do in Chania that we had to stay a week to see it all. Chania town is packed with so many fascinating corners and back streets, but there are also many Chania day trips available. These include the famous Samaria Gorge hike and tours from Chania around the province to some sublime Chania beaches.
We’ve focused on enchanting Chania city for now, as there’s such a choice of what to do in Chania.
- 1 OUR PICK OF THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN CHANIA – THE VENETIAN HARBOUR WALK
- 2 WANDERING OLD TOWN CHANIA
- 3 DINNER AT THE WELL OF THE TURK RESTAURANT
- 4 EATING OUT ON CHANIA HARBOUR
- 5 MUSEUM OF THE GREEK NATIONAL FOOTBALL TEAM
- 6 FIRKA FORTRESS AND MARITIME MUSEUM OF CRETE
- 7 GREEK ORTHODOX CATHEDRAL
- 8 SUBMARINE TRIP UNDER CHANIA HARBOUR
- 9 KOUM KAPI BEACH
- 10 THE AGORA – CHANIA MARKET
- 11 SHOP AT THE SPONGE BOAT ON THE VENETIAN HARBOUR
- 12 MUNICIPAL GARDEN AND CAFÉ KIPOS
- 13 MOSQUE OF THE JANISSARIES
- 14 COFFEE ON SPLANZIA SQUARE
- 15 PORK & BEEF WILD
- 16 KASTELLI
- 17 ANCIENT KYDONIA
- 18 THE GRAND ARSENAL
OUR PICK OF THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN CHANIA – THE VENETIAN HARBOUR WALK
You almost need to go out to sea to appreciate the magnificence of Chania’s setting. The outer harbour wall leads from the Venetian harbour, in the east of the town, to the lighthouse at the entrance to the old port. Keep looking on your left: around 300 metres along, you’ll enjoy one of the best things to see in Crete.
Across the water, the tower and minaret of Agios Nikolaos church taper skywards above the medieval Venetian warehouses on the harbour front. The mind-meltingly beautiful White Mountains, which rise to over 2400 metres in height, rise behind them and the city. When people say that Chania is one of the best places in Crete to visit, this is why.
WANDERING OLD TOWN CHANIA
One of our favourite Chania things to do is exploring the Old Town. There are several districts, all of which are quite small and close to each other. The Splantzia area was once settled by the Turks, and is a warren of pedestrian-only alleyways, with medieval houses of all shapes and sizes huddled together. The area to the immediate west of the harbour was once the merchants’ quarter, and this is full of hilly cobbled streets and hidden alleyways.
The most touristed part of the Old Town is the area to the south of the harbour. This is full of restaurants and souvenir shops. The area to the west of the harbour is more hilly, with a few lovely stepped streets.
DINNER AT THE WELL OF THE TURK RESTAURANT
One of the best Chania restaurants in Chania turned out to be right on our doorstep. The Well of the Turk serves a mixture of Greek, Middle Eastern and Moroccan cuisine, and as we love all three, our curiosity was immediately piqued. They have some amazing dishes, including shish kebab with an avocado and orange salad. The setting is special too, in the narrow alleyway of the Splantzia district of the Old Town, with bougainvillea hanging down the mustard yellow walls.
EATING OUT ON CHANIA HARBOUR
Much of the Chania nightlife is centred around the bars and restaurants around the harbour. They occupy a continuous strip around the old port in the western part of the harbour, with others spread out along the eastern part of the Venetian harbour.
We spent a couple of evenings at Barbarossa having a drink and watching the magical sunset behind the lighthouse and distant mountains Easily one of the best things to do in Crete. Make sure you spend at least one evening around the harbour, as seeing Chania by night is sublime.
As for restaurants in Chania harbour, we can recommend the seafood at the Neoria Fish Tavern, and at Christianna, around the corner close to Koum Kapi beach.
MUSEUM OF THE GREEK NATIONAL FOOTBALL TEAM
This is the most unusual Chania museum, a big change from the archaeological variety you usually find. I’m not sure why it’s in Chania, but it’s the one museum in the world dedicated to the Greek national football team.
It’s mainly full of football memorabilia including signed shirts of various players, and videos of Greece football matches. It’s well worth visiting for football fans, especially long-suffering romantics who dream of success that never comes. Not one single soul on this planet gave Greece a chance of getting past the first stage of the Euro 2004 tournament. They ended up winning the whole thing. There is always hope!
FIRKA FORTRESS AND MARITIME MUSEUM OF CRETE
If you’re wondering what to do in Chania Crete if the weather’s not good, look no further. The Maritime Museum of Crete is one of the best Chania attractions whatever the weather, and the exhibitions here could easily absorb you for a few hours.
It’s even one of the best Crete tourist attractions. It covers an enormous range of subjects, from traditional Greek boat building to the history and exploits of the Greek Navy. Some of the buildings used to show the exhibitions, including the stout Firka fortress and Moro shipbuilding sites are magnificent.
GREEK ORTHODOX CATHEDRAL
Chania Cathedral is the most prominent church in Chania. The building dates from the 19th century, but its history goes back much further.
Under Turkish rule, the church that occupied the site was turned into a soap factory. The story goes that the Virgin Mary appeared to a local man, saying that she didn’t want her church to remain a soap factory. Soon afterwards, the son of the Turkish Pasha fell down a well. In desperation, the Pasha asked the Virgin to intervene to save his child, offering to return the building and land to the local Christian community. The boy was saved, and he kept his promise.
SUBMARINE TRIP UNDER CHANIA HARBOUR
Chania harbour is one of the most popular Crete sights, and you can now see what it looks like underwater. A red submarine runs trips around the harbour and beyond, giving you a unique view of the marine life below the surface.
Other popular Chania activities include boat trips along the coast. These vary from short excursions turtle spotting on board a glass-bottomed boat to half day trips from Chania along the coast of western Crete.
KOUM KAPI BEACH
Koum Kapi is the nearest thing there is to a Chania town beach. We passed by several times, and the beach strip was quite long, but mostly very narrow, with the emphasis very much on swimming rather than sunbathing.
There was very little sand, though it improved a little the further east you went. The area around the foundations of some rock pools had more sand, and there’s another small, apparently unnamed beach down a dirt track the other side of the headland. This hasn’t been developed at all and has lovely views across the bay to the Sabbionara rampart.
THE AGORA – CHANIA MARKET
The main market in Chania is housed in a large cross-shaped building at the southern end of the Old Town, just before you reach modern Chania.
We adore markets like this. They have everything from cafes and restaurants to fresh produce, butchers, cheesemakers and stalls selling Greek souvenirs. All under one long, wide roof. It’s the best Chania Crete shopping by far.
SHOP AT THE SPONGE BOAT ON THE VENETIAN HARBOUR
The sea sponge is one of the most remarkable animals on the planet. It lives on the sea bed, can survive for thousands of years, and has no brain or nervous system. They’re abundant in the sea around Crete, and you often find them in shops around the island.
However, we just loved the sponge boat on the Venetian harbour. It has hundreds of sponges of all shapes, shades and sizes, and is run by a lovely Greek fellow who looks like an old sea captain.
MUNICIPAL GARDEN AND CAFÉ KIPOS
The Municipal Garden isn’t part of the usual Chania sightseeing trail. It’s somewhere mostly frequented by locals, and it’s a wonderful place to visit, especially if you have kids. There’s a small zoo with Cretan mountain goats you can feed, and the biggest playground in Chania.
Kipos Café is the oldest Chania café, dating back to 1870. You can dine outside, or in the cooler weather indoors. It has a sumptuous late 19th century interior with chandeliers – very romantic and atmospheric.
MOSQUE OF THE JANISSARIES
The harbourside Mosque, with its distinctive domes, is one of the most familiar Chania sights. If you visit Chania, you’ll almost certainly see it from the outside. While we visited, it was being used as a venue for a temporary art exhibition. And a wonderful exhibition space it is too.
COFFEE ON SPLANZIA SQUARE
If you’re in town for a few days, be sure to add an evening at Splantzia to your Chania what to do list. The square, in the former Turkish part of the Old Town, is one of the best in Chania. At one ed, it’s overlooked by the towering church of Agios Nikolaos. Parts of it are shaded by trees, and most of the square is taken up in summer by tables and chairs from the different cafes and restaurants on the square. It is packed on summer evenings, full of locals and buzzing life.
PORK & BEEF WILD
We chanced upon Pork & Beef Wild while on the hunt for a post-midnight meal after arriving very late at our Chania accommodation. They serve various grilled meats, and we opted for chicken and chips at nearly 2am. We weren’t hallucinating from tiredness – this was some of the best chicken we had ever eaten. We had to return the following evening to make sure we hadn’t dreamt it. Outstanding – one of the best takeaway restaurants in Chania.
One of the great things about Chania is how the different layers of history have been preserved. It’s why it’s one of the best places to visit in Crete. The stretch of the Byzantine walls runs along Sifaka, a
block to the south of the Venetian harbour. These date from a time (between the 9th and 12th centuries) when Constantinople and the Eastern Roman Empire still held sway over much of the eastern Mediterranean.
Seeing the remnants of the ancient Minoan civilisation is an essential part of many people’s what do to in Crete list. Most head for the Palace at Knossos, to the south of Heraklion, the capital of Crete.
Chania also has some Minoan remains. It started out as the Minoan city state of Kydonia, and you can see some of the excavations at a covered site on Agia Ekaterini square. Much of the incredible artefacts that were unearthed are now on display in the Archaeological Museum of Chania.
THE GRAND ARSENAL
Several historic buildings along the Chania waterfront have been converted into temporary exhibition spaces. These include some of the old Venetian warehouses and the Grand Arsenal. The latter in particular is a brilliant venue, having found a beautiful new purpose after over 600 years.
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing the world for over 25 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times. His images are frequently used throughout the world by tourism bodies such as Visit Britain and Visit Wales.