The Old Town of Chania is considered as one of the most alluring and fascinating parts of Crete and the Mediterranean. Here, after revealing the top things to do in Chania, we will let you in on the old town's best-kept secrets and offer you a local’s insight into its arresting beauty and heritage.
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A walk through its picturesque alleys, filled with beautiful local shops, showcases the different cultures that have left their mark on the island over time. Stretching behind the old Venetian harbor of Chania, offering a phenomenal spot for romantic walks and dinners to both visitors and locals, Chania’s Old Town still holds the Venetian aura and aesthetic.
Walk along the picture-perfect old Venetian harbour and the Neoria (Dockyards)
The old venetian harbour of Chania - credits: Patryk_Kosmider/Depositphotos.com
When thinking about the old town of Chania, the picture of the quay right by the sea, filled with cosy cafes, delicious bakeries, traditional restaurants and popping bars is the first thing that comes to mind. Arguably the most active part of the town, the old Venetian harbour of Chania stands out from most charming seaside regions, due to its extraordinary history, apparent in its many monuments that date back to the Venetian, Ottoman and Egyptian times. The harbor was built by the Venetians between 1320 and 1356 and became a critical base for the Venetian fleet, in addition to being one of the most valuable economic centers of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. In the 16th century, the harbor became front and central to the reinforcement of Chania against the Turkish threat. Its decline came much later, around the early 20th century, due to the inability of larger boats to reach the pier, resulting in the port of Suda taking the reins of commercial traffic. While walking along the harbor, you can’t help but come across Neoria, the stone, long narrow buildings built for repairing and building Venetian ships. Following the waterfront constructed in the 20th century, they are solely a historical attraction, loosing their access to the sea. In the past, they have been used as a christian school, a theater, a public hospital and the town hall. Today, however, they have become a vibrant, cosmopolitan beauty spot of the city with bars, taverns and Cafés opening up in Neoria square.
Admire the lighthouse of Chania’s old port
The old port of Chania - credits: creti.co
While you are in the old port of Chania you can’t miss the imposing figure of the lighthouse on its edge, one of the oldest lighthouses found in the world today. The Egyptian lighthouse was built by the Venetians around 1595 - 1601, but later took its final form by the Egyptians around 1839. The lighthouse was restored in 2006, when it was given the tower-like shape of the Venetian period it still holds today. The architecture of the tower is impressive, with it being divided in three very distinctive parts: the octagonal base, the main part with its sixteen sides and the circular top. Built on a stone base and reaching an impressive 21m in height, the lighthouse is a true feast for the eyes, especially at nighttime, when the whole structure gets lit up. Walk by the sea and continue onto the pier that will lead you close to the lighthouse, opposite to the fortress of "Firkas", where you will have the opportunity to enjoy a breathtaking view of the harbour, the old town and the White Mountains. Unfortunately, the lighthouse is not functional today and entrance to the tower is prohibited, however it still is a sight you don’t want to miss!
Visit the Firkas Fortress
Firkas Fortress, Chania, Crete - credits: https://chaniatourism.com/
Built in 1629 as a shield for the harbour by the Venetians, the 'Firkas' fortress now hosts the Maritime Museum of Crete. There, you can find a wide variety of nautical objects and findings, including models of ships, nautical tools, paintings and authentic photographs, among others, dating from the Bronze Age up to today. The fortress of ‘Firka’, which in Turkish translates to ‘a military division’, was used as the headquarters of the Turkish army in the region of Chania.The cultural significance of the fortress is highlighted by the fact that the Union of Crete with Greece in 1913 was celebrated within its walls. That’s when the Turkish flag was proudly replaced by the Greek flag, where it stands ever since. Apart from its historic and cultural value, Firkas Fortress offers the perfect spot for people to enjoy the magnificent, complete view of the Venetian harbour of Chania, delivering to the Instagram-ready visitors photos bloggers would lust after.
Address: Akti Kountourioti, Old Harbour, Chania 731 31
Opening hours: Monday to Friday 8am-2pm
Contact info: (0030) 2821 040095
Appreciate Muslim architecture at Giali Tzamisi
Giali Tzamisi, Chania, Crete - credits: www.chaniatourism.com
The Giali Tzamisi which can be translated from Turkish to ‘The Seaside Mosque’, is the oldest Muslim building in Crete and the very first mosque built by the Ottomans in Crete. It was built in 1645 in honor of Kioutsouk Hassan Pasha, the first Turkish military commander of Chania. The mosque has a cubic structure covered by a large hemispherical dome that supports four ornate stone arches. On its west and north sides it is surrounded by a vaulted roof of six small domes. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the evacuation of the Turkish from the island in 1923, Giali Tzamisi was used off and on as a warehouse, archaeological museum, folk art museum, as well as the headquarters of the Greek Tourism Organization. Today it plays host to various cultural events and exhibitions. This brilliant example of Islamic art of the Renaissance was bombarded by the Nazis during World War II, when a large section of its southern side was ruined. According to findings of Chania’s archaeological service during maintenance, Giali Tzamisi was founded on the ruins of a small Venetian temple that was destroyed during the Turkish invasion in Chania. The historical building reflects the region’s rich heritage, while giving the opportunity for visitors to appreciate Muslim architecture from up close.
Discover the history of Chania’s Grand Arsenal
The Grand Arsenal, Chania, Crete - credits: https://chaniatourism.com//
During a walk along the Old Port of Chania, at the very end of the dockyards on the western side, lies the Grand Arsenal, standing out against the backdrop because of its beauty and dynamic energy. Built in the 1600’s but becoming functional in 1872, following the addition of a second floor, the Grand Arsenal has had many uses throughout the years, being home to the Christian School, theatrical performances, municipal hospital, and the City Hall of Chania, up until 1928. Similarly to many Greek and Cretan monuments, such as the aforementioned Giali Tzamissi, the Grand Arsenal was bombed by the Germans during the second World War, enduring severe destruction that deemed it useless. Thankfully, by the end of the 20th century, the Center of Architecture of the Mediterranean in Chania decided to restore and reconstruct the Grand Arsenal, an initiative that was eventually completed in 2002. Today the, once rugged, ruin has become an impressive venue for events and exhibitions. It functions as the Center for Architecture in the Mediterranean, hosting important Greek and international events in its premises, with a special emphasis on architecture.
Address: Defkalionos Street, Venetian Port of Chania
Opening hours: Monday to Friday 8am - 3pm
Contact info: (0030) 28210 40201
Explore the Municipal Market of Chania
The Municipal Market of Chania, Crete - credits: https://west-crete.com/
A trip to Chania wouldn’t be complete without you getting to familiarize yourselves with traditional Cretan products. The Municipal Market of Chania, also known as ‘Agora’ in Greek, offers just that. Built at the center of the city between 1909 and 1913, the year Crete was united with the rest of Greece, the market was designed to resemble the covered market of Marseilles, while it also holds a resemblance to an ancient Greek marketplace. Its cruciform shape covers 4000 square meters in a surrounding area of 17.200 square meters, constructed to fit an extensive amount of shops within its premises. The Municipal Market of Chania remains active, being the place one can find all kinds of local goods, from vegetables, fish, meat, herbs and spices, to Cretan products such as cheeses, olives, raki and more. Specifically, the eastern part of the market holds butcher shops, the western end holds fish shops and on the north and south ends one can find fruit and vegetables. During the high season months of summer, some shops of the market also sell tourist souvenirs. Additionally, in the market, a few cosy cafés offering local food can be found. Highlighting its financial and cultural importance, the official opening ceremony was performed by the Prime Minister of Greece, the world-famous Eleftherios Venizelos. During the German occupation, the market was used by German soldiers for the needs of the army. In 1980, the Municipal Market of Chania was declared a protected monument by the Ministry of Culture. If you want to further explore the Cretan cuisine in a fun and smart way, don't hesitate to embark on our Chania food and local goods tour!
Address: Pl.Agoras 69, Chania 731 32
Opening hours: Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays 8am- 2pm / Tuesdays and Thursdays 8am-9pm
Contact Info: (0030) 2821821721 /
Beautiful in its diversity, the Old Town of Chania retains a unique architectural value. Integrating both Ottoman and Venetian architecture, manifested on its narrow cobbled pathways and selection of astounding buildings, from Venetian mansions to Turkish mosques, the Old Town offers the optimum location for you to experience first-hand Crete’s culture and heritage.
If you feel like exploring the beauty of the island, don’t hesitate to book with us a tour around Chania. Whether you travel alone, with kids or as a couple, this part of Crete is brimming with culture, beauty and endless choices for the curious travelers !