So, Crete is another one of those places that just cannot be covered in a short time. We had 3 full days on the island, and I just wish we had had more. I mean, people spend a month on this island for vacation – contentedly. That’s how much there is to do.
But in our limited three days we had to be realistic and chose just one town to park our bags and explore.
So we chose Rethymno.
This cute little Venetian-Greek harbor town does a great job of balancing tourism with real life. It’s full of the classic souvenir-like places, but it’s markedly cheaper than other Greek destinations (co*santorini*ugh) and you get the feeling that actual people still live here. As if maybe not every corner of this sleepy town has turned into a tourist restaurant.
To get here, take the ferry or fly to Heraklion, Crete, (some ferries travel directly to Rethymno also) and then take a local green bus (about 7.50 Euros) through the mountains to Rethymno.
And as for what to do? Read on :)
1) Check out Rethymno Beach. The main beach of Rethymno (located to the east of the harbor) is huge, sandy, well-maintained, and full of shallow, warm, clear water. Perfect for spending the whole day in! It is heavily trafficked, though, so if you’re going in the peak season, prepare for crowds and rows of umbrellas. Each beach chair costs about 4.50 Euros, and nicely places you in the shade and above the hot sand (many with little wooden paths leading to showers, etc). There are even servers who come around offering food and drink (although it is a bit pricey! We ended up bringing snacks and only buying a couple cold drinks).
2) Walk along the harbor and check out the old lighthouse! The little harbor doesn’t offer too much, but a walk along the edge to the lighthouse takes very little time and sets you up for some pretty adorable views of the old town.
3) Go to the fortress. The Fortezza of Rethymno is definitely a main attraction. In the 1570s, the Venetians took over the city (from the Ottomans) and started to build a European/Moorish style citidel on the highest point of the city. The Ottomans came back (oops), and took over once more, using it as housing and general living until the mid 20th century. Really, until the 1960s, there were still houses on it! Now, it continues to undergo restoration and is open to the public. My tip? Go later in the day. It’s very exposed and hot midday, but in the evening there’s a great breeze and fantastic sunset views!
4) Eat at great restaurants like Raki Ba Raki or Taverna Kyria Maria! The food on Greece just keeps getting better and better. Kyria Maria, recommended from the one and only Lonely Planet, actually did live up to its reviews! Great food, great pricing, a pretty location, and some nice complimentary raki and watermelon to finish. But the best dining experience we had? This next one. The highlight of our entire trip was probably here, on Rethymno, at Raki Ba Raki. Recommended by a fellow hosteler, this tapas-style restaurant takes a modern twist on classic Greek dishes. Delicious food, a perfect location, and not touristy at all. This was a fabulous restaurant by any and all standards.
5) Take a couple day trips. Having a couple days in Rethymno is perfect. It only takes a day to see the town itself, but the town is well situated to visit some of the island’s more beautiful beaches and towns, like Elafonisi Beach or Palm Beach (more on this in a later post)! Go by bus or rent a car to see all these gorgeous areas. And the views in the mountains will make the rides to and from as great as the destinations!
6) Wander the town streets. And finally, Rethymno itself is full of adorable little pathways and perfumed overhanging flowers. A good way to pass those post-beach, pre-dinner hours is wandering around the city, getting lost in the alleys and maybe even buying a souvenir or two.
And if that’s not enough to get you planning a trip to Crete (and Rethymno), I don’t know what is!
P.S. Stay tuned for more Rethymno pictures, a look at where we stayed, and information on Palm Beach, as well as what to do in Heraklion :)