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Looking at Rethymno, a Charming Town in Crete

Last updated on April 15, 2024

When I visited Crete, seeing towns like Chania and Rethymno were high on my bucket list since I’d heard great things about them. Chania was cute but I didn’t think it was as charming as Rethymno. Here’s my rundown on this seaside city and why I fell for it.

Rethymno

A Brief History of Rethymno

What is now Rethymno was probably inhabited by the Minoans and the Romans in ancient times, but its more popular history started in the 16th century when the Venetians used the port here and built a fort to protect the city. Much of the architecture standing today still reflects that period. The Turkish also ruled the city for three centuries, which you can also see in the Islamic architecture still standing.

Rethymno’s heyday was during the Venetian period and it never really financially recovered after all these centuries. Even though it was partially destroyed during the war, it is still very much a step back in time several centuries and certainly a most beautiful place to visit in Crete.

Things to Do in Rethymno

The Old Town is rather small but filled with charm. You don’t need much time to walk around and see a selection of beautiful churches, quiet streets and magnificent doorways that look as if they’ve been there for centuries. I think the gates and the doorways were my favorite part. I loved looking at the intricate woodwork a lot of structures have.

Rethymno Rethymno

Some highlights to see include the Porta Guora which is one of the original Venetian gates. I love that you can still see some of the painted color on the gate – though I’m not sure if it dates back to the 16th century.

Rethymno Rethymno

There is also the beautiful Rimondi Fountain which is a rather unique looking 17th century fountain in a neo-Roman style. It’s definitely not a super well preserved fountain but it’s still gorgeous.

Rethymno Rethymno

Rethymno

This is by Mikrasiaton Square which is honestly not that nice looking, but it’s a huge square you’ll probably stumble upon one way or the other. If you like street art, there’s a bit here and some graffiti that’s quite interesting.

Rethymno Rethymno

Rethymno

But of course, the main attraction of Rethymno is the huge Venetian Fortress that dominates the landscape and looks over the beautiful blue sea. This is the 16th century fortress mentioned in the city’s history. The fortress is a ruin but you can still visit inside if you want to have a peek.

The Church of Four Martyrs is said to look very beautiful on the inside but it was closed when I was there. What I noticed about Greece is that a lot of their churches are closed to visitors. I’m guessing it’s because they don’t want their church to become a mere tourist attraction. But certainly do put it on your list in case you happen upon the church’s open doors.

Rethymno

A place you might want to consider is Rethymno Beach. There’s also a lovely stone beach roughly across the street from the bus station, up towards the fortress. We came from Santorini which has beautiful clear waters but it’s a bit hard to tell because the sand is black. In Crete, you can see all the marine life and the fish and seaweed between the rocks, and this is my perfect version of a beach. My trip was rushed and I hadn’t even though to bring my swimsuit, but I waded into the waters anyway and it was the definition of perfect relaxation. (Especially since it was 100 degrees out.)

So let my error of judgment be a tip for you: make time to spend at the beach in Crete, whether it’s at Rethymno or somewhere else. Because it is so beautiful!

Rethymno Rethymno

Rethymno Rethymno

If you want to walk around the Old Town, I definitely recommend a few hours. I had about three hours which was rushed. I did it on a combined trip with Chania and even though it’s doable to see both in a day, they were both bigger than I was anticipating so my trip was quite rushed. (Chania is quite large!) If you have the time, I’d recommend giving each a full day to enjoy.

Rethymno Rethymno

Rethymno Rethymno

I have to admit that Rethymno is a bit rough around the edges. You’ll notice lots of graffiti, places that at least look abandoned, etc. So I can see why people would prefer Chania. But Rethymno still has that nice laid-back, small local vibe I particularly liked, while Chania is a bit more touristy and a much bigger place. It has a bit of a rustic charm despite being a city.

Rethymno Rethymno

Crete has a wonderful bus system called KTEL that you can use to easily get around the island. This is a great option for people who don’t want to drive. But, if you can drive, I recommend that. The Cretian countryside is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen. The orange hills filled with olive trees and pink flowers, spotted with goats running about – it was so beautiful. I just wanted to stop in a lot of places and if you have a car, you’ll have that luxury.

Rethymno Rethymno

I obviously recommend a stop in Rethymno. I’ve heard you should skip it for Chania but as I mentioned several times, I liked the rough edges Rethymno has to offer and it’s no less short on history and charming streets. So whether you can just pass through, as I did, or have more time to really feel the pulse of the place, Rethymno is worth giving a chance.

Have you ever been to Rethymno? What did you think of it? Did you like it less than Chania?

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Rethymno, Crete Rethymno, Crete

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About the Author
My name's Lilly and I'm a Baltimore-based travel blogger with a focus on art and history. I work full time and manage to get in several trips a year. Learn more about me.

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