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How to spend one day in Rethymno, Crete

Street in Rethymno, Crete

On one of our final days in Crete, we took a drive to the northern coast of the island to visit Rethymno (or ‘Rethymnon’ – both spellings are correct!). Alongside being a holidaymaker hotspot for its resorts, it also has a charming old town and gorgeous sea views.

Rethymno is Crete’s third-largest city, with the island itself being the largest in the Greek archipelago. It was originally built during the Minoan period, with estimates of early occupation as far back as the 11th and 12th century BC. The city has a much-storied past, serving as a Venetian stronghold in the Middle Ages, being captured by the Turks in 1645, and, more recently, being captured by Germany during WWII.

With a population of around 34,000, it’s a thriving, living city with unmistakable traces of the past everywhere you look. Here’s how to spend 24 hours in Rethymno, including the top sights to see and places to visit!

The best things to do in Rethymno

Rethymno Old Town

Considered one of the most beautiful cities in Crete, Rethmno’s Old Town oozes Mediterranean charm. As you stroll the lively cobbled streets and tucked away alleys, you’ll encounter well-preserved Venetian and Ottoman buildings. Vibrant bars, restaurants and boutiques line the streets, alongside street markets and vendors of local crafts.

Venetian Fortezza Castle

This landmark site can be seen from all over the town, originally built in the 1500s by the Venetians to protect the citizens of Rethymno. Much of the star-shaped fortress was destroyed during WWII, but the remaining ruins have been well-preserved. Inside, you can explore the thick walls and bastions, as well as the Sultan Bin Ibrahim Mosque, with its impressive dome and mosaic ceiling. Fortezza also offers panoramic views over the surrounding town and out to sea.

Opening Times: 9am-sunset (opening hours are longer during peak summer visiting times than during the off-season)
Admission Price:
€4


Old Venetian Harbour of Rethymno

A sea wall dating back to the 13th century with an old Venetian lighthouse. Lined with fishing boats, I could easily imagine how pretty this place would look by night, with cafes and bars dotted around the edges – although the tourist-friendly restaurants here are on the more expensive side.

Rethymno Lighthouse

Perched on the Venetian Harbour’s old pier, Rethymno lighthouse was built in the 1830s when Crete was under Egyptian rule. The second-largest remaining Egyptian lighthouse in Crete, you can view the distinctive architecture of this 9m structure from the harbour, or walk along the pier to get a little closer.

St. Anthony’s of Padua

Across Rethymno you’ll find plenty of small churches similar to this one, but St. Anthony’s of Padua is one of the more popular spots to check out. St. Anthony is known as the patron saint of lost items – so if one of your flip-flops has mysteriously gone missing, a visit here might bring you a bit of luck in finding it…

Opening Times: 9am-4pm
Admission Price:
Free

Rimondi Venetian Fountains

Across Rethymno, you’ll find monuments and buildings that date back to the times of Venetian rule over the town. This elaborate public fountain is one of these spots, with Corinthian columns and three lions’ heads, from which water is dispersed. Above the Rimondi fountain, you’ll see the Rimondi family crest.

And yes – the water is still safe to drink, so bring a bottle!

Historical and Folklore Museum

Exhibits range from the 17th century to modern times, documenting arts and crafts in Crete, with a focus on art relating to folklore and for day-to-day living. Across five rooms, visitors can check out textile crafts, tools for basket knitting and embroidery, and trades such as horseshoe makers and coppersmiths.

Opening Times: 10am-2.30 (closed Sundays)
Admission Price:
€4

Neratze Mosque

This historical Ottoman-era mosque can be found in the centre of Rethymno’s Old Town. It was first built as a Christian church, converted into a mosque in 1657, and is now a music school, the Odeon of Rethymno. Worth poking your head into for the impressive, vaulted stone interior.

Mikrasiaton Square

Mikrasiaton Square, named after the settlers from Anatolia, is a popular hangout spot for locals. There wasn’t much going on when we swung by, but there’s some cool street art around the square, and it looked like a stage was being set up for some kind of upcoming concert or show.

Archaeological Museum of Rethymno

Originally founded in 1887, Rethymno’s Archaeological Museum features a collection of artefacts found in various caves, excavation sites and ancient ruins in the surrounding area. Exhibits range from the Neolithic to the Roman periods, with a vast array of items including jewellery, coins, tools, statues and ceramics.

Opening Times: 9am-5pm (closed Tuesdays)
Admission Price:
€4

Rethymno Municipal Gardens

Head just outside the Old Town through the Guora gate, and you’ll find Rethymno’s Municipal Gardens. Despite being surrounded by busy roads on all sides, it’s amazing how quiet and calm the gardens seemed, with tree-lined paths and rare plants.

Rethnymnon Beach

Exploring more of the streets and shops, we eventually got to the edge of the old town, where historic buildings become holiday apartments in the more resort-y part of Rethymno. Here, you’ll find Rethymnon Beach, offering 13km of golden sand and calm waters. There are plenty of cafes and bars along the waterfront to enjoy a drink or a bite to eat in.

OPTIONAL EXTRA: Arkadi Monastery

The Arkadi Monastery is located 25 minutes’ drive outside of Rethymno’s centre, but well worth a visit if you have time (and transport). This baroque style Orthodox monastery, perched on a hilltop, is impressive not only in its architectural mastery, but also it’s ability to endure. In 1866, it played a key role in defending local people from Ottoman conquerors during the  Cretan Revolution. It’s a fascinating site, with a museum and gallery dedicated to chronicling the monastery’s history, particularly through art.

Opening Times: 9am-5pm (longer opening hours during high summer season)
Admission Price:
€43

Restaurants in Rethymno

Due to its booming tourist trade, Rethymno isn’t short of places to eat, with plenty of traditional Cretan cuisine on offer.

The restaurants along the seafront offer wonderful waterfront views, but we took a wander through the back streets of the old town instead, to find somewhere a little less…well. Touristy. We ended up being charmed by the streetside seating of Casa di Hari’s.

Absolutely starving, we were about to order large pizzas despite having no idea how big they’d be, when the neighbouring table received their HUGE pizzas. We asked the waitress, and it turns out that was a SMALL. So we ordered small, and they were still pretty massive. Very good, though.

Pizza at Casa di Hari’s.

We’d also been recommended Meli as a place to grab some ice cream, and I’m never one to turn down an ice cream recommendations. Meli has two locations in Rethymno, and we grabbed some tubs of their homemade goats’ milk ice cream to sit and enjoy in the nearby Square of the Unknown Soldier – named after a large statue at the centre. It was absolutely delicious – creamy and smooth, the perfect treat for the mid-afternoon sunshine.

More places to eat in Rethymno:

Mojo’s Burgers (£) – cheap and cheerful burger joint
Stella’s Kitchen (££) – homemade Greek dishes made to traditional recipes
Kapilo (££) – warm and welcoming spot on a tucked-away side street
Avli (£££) – Cretan fine dining in a 16th century Venetian villa

How to get to Rethymno

Rethymno is located on the north side of the island, slightly to the west but central enough to access from destinations across the island. It’s around one hour’s drive from both Chania and Heraklion, around 40 minutes from Plakias on the south coast. From Malia, it’ll take you around an hour and a half.

Buses to Rethymno

A direct local bus service runs from Chania to Rethymno every hour, taking around 1hr 15mins. The bus from Heraklion to Rethymno also runs hourly, taking just over an hour to complete the journey. Routes from the south coast and further away destinations are less regular.

Parking in Rethymno

There are four free parking lots and nine paid-for car parks – see them on a map here.

However, parking in the centre of Rethymno can be tricky, as the Old Town streets are hard to navigate, and the car parks (especially the free ones) are relatively small and fill up quickly. My advice would be to either arrive early, or find a spot just outside of town and take a short walk in.

After unsuccessful attempts and a fair bit of time trying not to run over the crowds/crash into walls in the tricky maze, we did the latter, and came just out of the old town and managed to find a quiet (free!) parking spot just outside of it.

Where to stay in Rethymno

The city has plenty of boutique hotels and affordable apartments to ensure you make the most of your 24 hours in Rethymno.

Rethymno Youth Hostel (£) – clean and comfortable dorms & social areas to meet other travellers
Pallazo Fortezza (££) – a well located, mid-range hotel at the base of the Venetian fort
Palazzino Di Corina (££) – rustic 4-star hotel with antique furniture and a small pool
Hammam Oriental Suites (££) – unique hotel set in a  former Ottoman Hammam building
Menta City (£££) – boutique hotel outside of the Old Town with a rooftop terrace
The Artemis Palace (£££) – grand hotel with pool & restaurant

Day trips from Rethymno

Rethymno is an ideal base for exploring more of the island of Create, thanks to its central location on the north coast. If you’re staying for more than one day in Rethymno and want to check out some of Crete’s other highlights with these day trips:

Samaria Gorge

In the heart of Crete’s White Mountains, hikers will be in their element with a visit to Samaria Gorge. The route can be challenging at points, but it’s well worth it for the views across the gorge, as well as the numerous Venetian buildings and ruins of prehistoric settlements you’ll encounter. The full hiking route ends in Agia Roumeli, a small coastal village on the south coast of the island.

Elafonsi Island

Take a day trip to this small island to encounter Crete’s most beautiful beach! Here, sparkling turquoise waters lap against eye-catching pink sand. Sometimes compared to the beaches of the Caribbean, enjoy paradise vibes in the Mediterranean sunshine.

Spili, Agia Galini, and Matala

Combine these three villages for the perfect day trip from Rethymno!

Spili is a traditional village in the Agios Vasileios region, with old-world charm amongst the picturesque Cretan countryside. On the south coast, discover Agia Galini’s authentic charm as you enjoy quaint streets and stunning harbour views. In Matala, explore the artificial caves that date back to Minoan times, and stretch out on the sandy shores.  

Chania

Looking to explore more Cretan city life? Chania is just an hour’s drive from Rethymno, and boasts a gorgeous 14th-century Venetian harbor lined with colourful buildings. Perched on a calm bay and surrounded by pristine beaches, it’s a beautiful place to spend a day exploring, relaxing, and enjoying delicious Cretan cuisine.

Heraklion

Crete’s capital is often referred to as ‘little Athens’, in part due to the enormous Palace of Knossos archaeological site on the city’s outskirts. Combining contemporary ways of life with historical roots, it’s a vibrant place to enjoy city life in Crete – including a lively nightlife scene.

Summary: Is Rethymno worth visiting?

If you’re looking for narrow streets teeming with history and lined with treasures, cute cafes and seaside restaurants, you’ll find it all here. Rethymno Old Town is particularly charming, with its maze of quiet alleyways and lively cobbled thoroughfares. You can easily spend a day here, and the surrounding area also offers a wealth of Cretan culture and history, just waiting to be explored.

More Crete:

Why you should visit Plakias
The best restaurants in Plakias

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