Get your agenda ready because we’re about to fill it with some of the best things to do and see in Chania, Crete – and sunbathing or swimming is just a small part of it!
Best of all, the experiences we’re proposing are most enjoyed away from the bustle, flurry, and heat of the peak summer months.
Table of Contents
- Time Travel in the Medieval Old Town
- Be Awe-Struck in Aptera
- Head to the Balos Lagoon and Phalasarna
- Go Village – Hopping
- Discover an Unexpected Wine-Making Tradition
- Try the Irresistible Cretan Flavors: A Paradise of Unforgettable Tastes
- Head to Some of the Best Beaches in Chania on a Boat Trip
- Visit Elafonisi (deer island), a Small Islet that Sometimes Isn’t an Island
Time Travel in the Medieval Old Town
Top of our list of the best things to do in Chania is a tour of the Chania Old Town and Venetian Harbour. There’s something mystical about Chania’s Old Town and its Harbour. Not just because it feels like a cultural mosaic from the Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, Hellenistic and Ottoman periods, but because it’s just as alive today as it was in the past. Imagine yourself on the “Kasteli” district which is located on the hill above the harbour viewing the city and the White Mountains.
The whole town – including all the little alleyways and the Ottoman and Jewish quarters – is a spectacular area to walk and meet. And when you’re done, find yourself a restaurant that does traditional Cretan food – just so your travel clock gets the full experience.
Crete – The feeling of being lost in time and geography with months and years hazily sparkling ahead in a prospect of inconjecturable magic.Patrick Leigh Fermor, English writer and scholar
Be Awe-Struck in Aptera
The first thing you should do when you get to Chania is head into the archaeological site of Aptera – one of the most significant city-states of Crete- and up to the ancient theatre which is located at the southernmost side of the site, looking towards the White Mountains. It’s an undoubted must-see of Chania, not just because of all the history but because of the spectacular views that can offer.
Head to the Balos Lagoon and Phalasarna
The bizarre greens and blues and sweeping sandbanks of Balos beach are what first catch the eye, but it’s worth exploring once you’re here. The plant life is perfectly adapted to the westernmost point of Crete and the snorkelling – especially where the lagoon becomes deeper – is magical. Behind the rocks, in the boundaries of the lagoon, the water gets deeper and colder. The wider area of Balos and Gramvousa is a significantly important breeding and resting site for rare and threatened species of flora and fauna and it is protected by the “Natura 2000” network.
Nevertheless, please tread carefully and help preserve this exceptional but endangered nature. And while we’re on the subject of natural escapes, near the Balos is the popular beach of Phalasarna, which apart from its beautiful sandy beach one can visit the ancient Phalasarna, a well-organized city-state founded by Dorians around the 7th century BC. What many do not know is that this beautiful beach was once an ancient port that Skylax described as one of the most artificial ports in the world.
Go Village – Hopping
Village-hopping will likely be the least expected of your holiday activities in Chania. Vamos is located in Apokoronas area and is one of the liveliest and most beautiful villages in Chania Beyond the shops and tavernas of the main square, you can visit a winery nearby and there’s also an exceptional traditional cheese factory. The 13th-century chapel of the Virgin Mary and the Karydi Monastery, with an arched olive oil press, are also well worth a visit. Every July, Vamos organizes the largest Jazz Festival in Crete.
You’ll enjoy the stone houses, paved streets and churches, and especially the super-traditional Cretan coffee shops of Gavalohori. There’s an interesting Folk Museum – with local costumes, old coins, weapons, and traditional items of daily use – and a local Women’s Cooperative has a shop that keeps old crafts alive, such as kopaneli, a form of lace needling with Byzantine roots.
To the north, there’s Gavalohori village. You’ll enjoy the stone houses, paved streets and churches, and especially the super-traditional Cretan coffee shops around the lovely square. Do not miss a visit to the Folk Museum – with local costumes, old coins, weapons, and traditional items of daily use. To finish the day, and if you’re looking for a coastal village head down to Kalives for plenty of eating options.
Discover an Unexpected Wine-Making Tradition
After seeing the vineyards on the foothills of the White Mountains, you’ll be interested to know that wine-making in Chania goes back to the Minoan era. There are numerous wineries you can visit, offering wine-tasting experiences where you’ll learn about the indigenous Romeiko grape (the most common native variety grown in western Crete) and Kotsifali, Mantilari and Liatiko for (reds), and white varieties such as Vilana and Vidiano, Cabernet, Syrah and Merlot.
Three of Chania’s more celebrated labels have Protected Origin of Designation status. If you can coincide your visit with the late-summer grape harvest, so much the better.
Try the Irresistible Cretan Flavors: A Paradise of Unforgettable Tastes
Cretans use food as an expression of their generosity. After all, all that greenery produces an abundance of great local produce – especially olive oil, cheese and tomatoes, as well as other vegetables and many types of wheat, wild herbs and greens.
High up in your list of foodie things to do in Chania should be trying Dakos a light meal that has a base of soaked dried bread or barley rusk, and on top of it chopped tomatoes, mizithra (or crumbled feta) cheese, capers, olives and oregano.
Kalitsounia are one of the best delicacies you can taste in Chania. They are essentially small sweet cheese pastries, that are made with soft mizithra cheese. Along with the cheese, most times they also have local herbs, like spinach or mint.
And then there’s the gamopilafo, which means “wedding risotto” in Greek. Gamopilafo is a dish that was traditionally served in weddings and symbolizes the deep roots of the couple and fertility, and it is connected with the Greek Orthodox wedding traditions.
Head to Some of the Best Beaches in Chania on a Boat Trip
A perfect and promising way to explore the beautiful coastal scenery of Chania is by boat. If there’s a gift you should give yourself, head to the beautiful port of Kissamos, or Chania Old Harbour and hire a boat with a skipper for the day. All the way down the coast to the Libyan Sea are some of the best beaches in Crete.
Take a full-day boat cruise from the Kissamos Port to see one of the most amazing places in Europe. Visit the Venetian Castle on Gramvousa Island and then swim in the crystal-clear waters of the fabulous Balos Lagoon. Follow a local insider all the way from Chania town to Sfakia and visit some of the best beaches on Chania’s south coast, accessible only to those in the know. Discover the beaches of Iligas, Glyka Nera (sweet water), Loutro village, Likos, Finikas, and Marmara.
Visit Elafonisi (deer island), a Small Islet that Sometimes Isn’t an Island
Last on our bucket list of things to do in Chania is to head to Elafonisi, at the southernmost tip of Chania. Elafonissi is actually a small islet separated from the Cretan shore by a lovely, warm, and shallow lagoon not more than a meter deep. By winter it’s an island and by summer a peninsula, connected by a fringe of sand.
The sand in Elafonissi is a glistening pink hue that changes in intensity depending on the weather, the tide, and the condition of the water. It is always some shade of pink, however, with a velvety, smooth texture that makes the sand feel unique.
Either way, it’s a wind- and kite-surfers heaven. But don’t worry if you’re not a surfer. You can swim on both sides of the beach. Something for everyone… just like Chania itself.