Travel Destinations

Monday, September 7, 2015

Chania: A Harbor Town on Greece’s Island of Crete

Chania and Snow Covered Mountains Things to Do in Chania Crete

Crete is Greece’s largest island and, therefore, has a number of cities and towns from which to choose.  Our trip to Crete was actually a last minute add-on to our off-road trip through Central Greece with Tripology Adventures.  A friend of ours told us his favorite Greek islands were Santorini and Crete, and he won me over with his description of the beautiful town of Chania, a quaint old fishing village with a gorgeous Venetian harbor.  Chania not only makes a great home base from which to explore Crete, there are also a number of things to do in Chania itself.  The Venetian quarter of Chania is chockfull of tourist attractions along with a mixture of Venetian and Turkish architecture.

Places to Visit in Chania on an Old Town Walk

Venetian Harbor and Lighthouse

Harbor and Lighthouse Things to Do in Chania Crete

Every town has a trademark uniquely its own, and Chania’s is its Venetian lighthouse.  The harbor was built by the Venetians in the 1300s.  While the harbor was originally built for commerce and pirate control, it is now used for mooring fishing boats.  The lighthouse was built at the entrance by the Venetians but was restored by the Egyptians in the early 1800s.  The lighthouse provides a fantastic foreground for Chania sunsets.

Exhibition of Ancient Naval Architecture (Shipyard MORO)

Minoa Maritime Museum of Crete Things to Do in Chania Crete

The Exhibition of Ancient Naval Architecture (Shipyard MORO) is part of the Maritime Museum of Crete and is housed in one of the converted Venetian shipyards.  The most important object on display here is the Minoa, a replica of a Minoan period ship from the 15th century B.C. which was built to sail from Crete to Athens for the 2004 Olympics.  The project was part of the Experimental Naval Archeological program and the ship was painstakingly built using tools and materials of the period.

Church of Agios Nikolaos

Church of Agios Nikolaos Things to Do in Chania Crete

The Church of Agios Nikolaos is an example of a Venetian Catholic church that was originally built with a bell tower but later had a minaret added during Turkish rule when the church was turned into a mosque.  The inside of the church is dominated by a huge bronze chandelier.


Agora Things to Do in Chania Crete

The Agora is Chania’s marketplace for fresh seafood, produce, and cheese, but there are also stalls selling souvenirs and tchotchkes.  Since the area surrounding this cross-shaped elevated building is filled with shops and outdoor stalls, it would be easy to miss if you didn’t know what you were looking for.  We had to laugh when the gentleman who helped us with our rental car told us about the market and said, “It’s over 100 years old.  That’s old for you guys, right?”  While Chania’s agora isn’t one of the oldest in Greece by far, for us Americans a market continuously running for over 100 years is quite a sight.  In 1980 the market was declared a protected monument by the Ministry of Culture.

Agora Fish Stall Things to Do in Chania Crete

While we love visiting markets, I sometimes feel uncomfortable strolling through, snapping pictures and not buying anything.  After all, what in the world are we going to do with a whole fish?  As we shyly admired the seafood on display, a gentleman who owned one of the seafood stalls came out to us and basically said, I know you’re tourists and not here to buy anything, but please come in with me and see what we have.  He showed us all the different types of fish he had for sale, explained what they were, and even showed us what he had in the back and in the refrigerator.  Even though he knew he wasn’t going to make a penny from us, he was proud to show us what he had and we were happy to admire.

The definition for the Greek word agora is a public open space used for assemblies and markets.  Now Chania’s agora has spread past the building into the streets surrounding, which are filled with shops and stalls where you can fill your need to shop.

Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Chania

Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Chania Things to Do in Chania Crete

The Greek Orthodox Cathedral, also called the Church of Trimartiri, is located on the Plateia Mitropoleos.  This church was built in the mid-1800s on the site of a Venetian church which was converted by the Ottoman Turks into a soap factory.  An icon of the Virgin Mary was saved in the soap factory.  When the factory went out of business, the owner gave the land to the city again and a church was rebuilt.  The church is now filled with icons, including that original one of the Virgin Mary.  The church has three aisle, which is why it is also known as Trimartiri.

Mosque of Kioutsouk Hassan or Giali Tzamisi

The Mosque of Kioutsouk Hassan or Giali Tzamisi is the oldest Muslim building in Crete.  Venetian rule ended in Chania when the Ottoman Turks invaded.  Catholic churches were converted into mosques and new mosques were constructed.  Giali Tzamisi means the mosque of the seaside, as it was built right along the water.  Part of the mosque was destroyed by the Nazis during World War II and the building now serves as an exhibition hall.

Maritime Museum of Crete

The other part of the Maritime Museum of Crete is at the entrance of the port of Chania in the FIRKAS Fortress.  The fortress was built by the Venetians as both a guard and a prison.  As with everything else, it was later taken over by the Turks.  The museum walks visitors through the various periods of Crete’s history including the prehistoric, classical, and Byzantine periods and the Balkan Wars.  The fortress is where the Greek flag was raised in 1913 after the Balkan Wars when Crete celebrated their independence from Turkey and union with Greece.

Streets of Chania

Venetian Quarter Things to Do in Chania Crete

One of my least favorite cliché travel sayings is “get lost in the back streets of . . .,” so I’m not going to tell you to get lost in the back streets of Chania.  However, the zig-zagging labyrinth of cobblestone streets winding through Venetian and Turkish architecture are a big part of Chania’s charm and definitely worth taking the time to explore.  The Venetian quarter is a small, manageable area, and there are plenty of street signs, so it’s pretty easy to find yourself if you do get a little lost.

Places to Eat in Chania


Anchovies and Stamnagathi Chrisostomos Places to Eat in Chania Crete

Our absolute favorite restaurant in Chania was Chrisostomos, just a short walk from our hotel.  Both our hotel and the gentleman from our Chania car rental company suggested this restaurant and their suggestions were spot on. 

Chrisostomos serves traditional Cretan food, but they put a modern spin on their food.  You can get the traditional Greek foods like saganaki and Greek salad and moussaka, but the items we had mixed traditional local ingredients with flavors that would fit in at any fine dining restaurant around the world.

Chrisostomos Salad Places to Eat in Chania Crete

We started with the Chrisostomos salad, a welcome deviation from the daily Greek salad.  This flavorful salad is made with stamnagathi, a leafy green similar to chicory that mainly grows on the island of Crete, lettuce, green onion, dill, dry anthotyros cheese, walnuts, pomegranate seeds, Cretan dakos, and sweet and sour dressing.  We also had anchovies baked in a wood oven with tomato, green pepper, and onion in an olive oil and white wine sauce, with a side of more stamnagathi.

Giouvetsi Chrisostomos Places to Eat in Chania Crete

My entrée of choice was a special for the evening call giouvetsi.  Giouvetsi is a classic Greek baked dish, this one made with chicken and kritharaki (a Greek rice-shaped pasta) baked in tomato sauce and served with gruyere cheese on top.

Raki and Loukoumades Chrisostomos Places to Eat in Chania Crete

What made this meal even more fabulous was the price.  Our two appetizers, two entrees, and bottle of wine cost us about 50 euros, and then our meal was not only completed with the standard complimentary bottle of raki, but also a plate of sticky sweet loukoumades. 

Ta Neoria

Sunset Things to Do in Chania Crete

Like many places in the world, you can either have good food or you can have a good view.  However, it is possible to find a good restaurant along Chania’s harbor and have both.  Ta Neoria was recommended as a restaurant with a view that also serves good food by both our hotel and the restaurant at which we dined in the Splantzia neighborhood.  While the restaurants along the harbor are touristy, Ta Neoria seemed to be a restaurant that was also frequented by the locals in addition to the tourists.  Ta Neoria was also conveniently located just a few doors down from our hotel.

Octopus and Squid Ta Neoria Places to Eat in Chania Crete

We started with a Cretan salad, similar to Greek salad as it has tomato, cucumber, green pepper, olives, and onion, but a little different with the addition of Cretan rusk (kind of like croutons), cooked potato, and crumbled mizithra cheese instead of the chunk of feta.  Since it was our last night on the island of Crete, we enjoyed some seafood, including octopus and squid.  As is custom, our meal was completed with a bottle of raki and a selection of desserts.

Splantzia Neighborhood

Splantzia Neighborhood Places to Eat in Chania Crete

We were told that the Splantzia neighborhood, especially along Kallinikou Sarpaki, was where the locals go to dine, and when we walked through the web of cobblestone streets in the area it certainly appeared to be true.  We grabbed an outdoor table at one of the many restaurants along the street as there wasn’t one restaurant that was recommended over any other.  Be aware that restaurants in this area don’t serve seafood, which I found very surprising for a seaside town on an island.  Apparently if you want seafood, you stay along the harbor.  I think one of the reasons may be that the Greek waters are overfished, so seafood is actually quite expensive in Greece, even on the islands, and the restaurants in this area were selling good but inexpensive food.


We didn’t visit the Agora until our last day right before heading to the airport, so sadly didn’t realize it also had some tiny restaurants at which to dine.  Set amongst fresh seafood and produce, this is where I would like to eat in Chania next time.  The restaurants in the Chania Market include Pissas Restaurant, a seafood restaurant open 9:00-17:00, Stavros & Stamatis, a taverna serving traditional Cretan dishes starting at 4:00 in the morning, and Agapinis Restaurant, another traditional tavern open daily 4:00-16:00 and Sunday 4:00-9:00.

Places to Stay in Chania

Porto Veneziano Hotel Places to Stay Chania Crete

There are a number of Chania hotels, but during our research one of the hotels that appealed to us the most was Porto Veneziano Hotel.  Coincidentally, it turned out to be the same hotel our friend who had suggested Crete had stayed at with his wife to celebrate their wedding anniversary, though he hadn’t been able to remember the name.  Porto Veneziano Hotel is ideally located right on the Venetian harbor with a view of the lighthouse across the way.  Get a room with a balcony over the harbor and you will be presented with a stunning sunset every evening.

View from Balcony Porto Veneziano Hotel Places to Stay Chania Crete

Porto Veneziano Hotel’s rooms were recently renovated and are decorated in a way which matches its waterside location.  Rooms are simply adorned with white, navy blue, and light wood.  The rooms are on the small side, but never feel cramped.  Ours was a double sea view room, but there are some suites as well if you feel like you need more space.  

The bathrooms are also small, but space is utilized wisely so there is still room for an amply sized walk-in shower and there’s not only counter space beside the sink, there’s also a shelf below the sink so you can have all your toiletries in the bathroom.  The hotel also provides real hairdryers in the bathrooms, which is a pretty exciting amenity considering most hotels in Greece have hairdryers on the wall that look like a vacuum hose and work about as well.

Some other highly appreciated amenities in the rooms are full-length mirrors in the closet, a plethora of outlets for charging phones, camera batteries, etc., and Wi-Fi that works at all times anywhere in the room.  These might sound like standard amenities, but we stayed in some very nice hotels in Central Greece where we had to take turns with the outlets and walk down the hallway in pajamas to find a Wi-Fi signal.

Porto Veneziano Hotel Breakfast Places to Stay in Chania Crete

Porto Veneziano Hotel has a restaurant, bar, and breakfast room.  A pretty fantastic breakfast of a multitude of Greek pastries, yogurt, coffee, and fresh squeezed orange juice is offered every morning until noon.  If you don’t feel like going downstairs for breakfast, the hotel staff will even serve breakfast in your room for free.  One morning we were picked up for our Samaria Gorge hike before breakfast started, so instead the hotel packed us lunches to take with us on our hike, again for free.  If you feel like exploring Chania on two wheels, the hotel provides bicycles for guests to borrow.

Sunset from Porto Veneziano Chania Hotel Crete

I also have to mention the friendliness of the staff.  Before we even arrived, the hotel sent me a detailed email of things to do in Chania and the rest of Crete and places to eat in Chania.  During our stay everyone always had a smile at the ready.  When I asked about the best way to hike Samaria Gorge, they immediately offered to book us on an inexpensive tour, which meant no stress for us, and they took the time to explain everything we needed to know about the tour and our other options so we could make an educated choice.  They provided us with the packed lunch mentioned above, a service I had no idea the hotel offered.  When we were heading out for a drive to the beach, we were offered large beach towels to take with us.  When we walked into the hotel we were always greeted with a smile and a hello, and whenever we walked out we were also acknowledged and told to have a great day or a nice evening.  While I realize the front desk staff may have known we would be writing about the hotel, I witnessed this top level of customer service being given to other guests constantly as well.  There are certain hotels you visit in your lifetime which you look back upon fondly and wish you could visit over and over again.  Porto Veneziano Hotel is one of those hotels.

Chania Car Rental

You won’t need a rental car for Chania’s places of interest, but if you plan on getting out of town to visit some of the other sights of the island of Crete, you will need transportation.  We rented a car from AutoClub Car Rental, a Crete car rental company which rents cars out of the Chania airport but will also deliver your rental car anywhere on the island.  Porto Veneziano Hotel has a small private parking lot for guests to park free of charge.  If you can’t get one of those choice parking spots, there are public parking lots and street parking throughout town, including near Porto Veneziano Hotel.

Thank you to Porto Veneziano Hotel and AutoClub Car Rental for hosting our time in Crete and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are my own.

Travel the World: A guide to places of interest and things to do in Chania on Greece’s island of Crete including places to eat and places to stay.

Katherine Belarmino and Romeo Belarmino are the authors of Travel the World, a travel blog for the everyday working stiff. They work full-time in non-travel related jobs, but take every opportunity they can to travel the world during their limited vacation time.