Just when you think you’ve heard enough about the island of Crete, get ready to hear some more. Chania is the second largest of Crete’s main cities, and the 9th largest in Greece. It has a population of over 100,000 people, and many tourists go there, especially in the summer. Whilst Heraklion airport is larger, Chania airport has expanded rapidly in the past few years, and you can now get direct flights there from many places in the UK. Chania is on the north coast of Crete, like most other major cities, and it’s connected to both Heraklion and Rethymno by the Ethniki Odos, or “National Road”. Like Rethymno and Heraklion, the area around it shares the name of the city, and Chania Prefecture is the westernmost district of Crete.
That’s all boring government stuff, but what can you actually do there? Lots of things! The most famous location in Chania is the Venetian harbour, which was built when the Venetians owned Crete between 1200 and the mid-1600s. Today, the Venetian harbour is used for smaller boats like fishing boats, but mainly for tourist boats doing short cruises along the seafront. The promenade has lots of shops, restaurants and bars, but the harbour is also an important cultural centre, as you can see the old mosque that was used in the Ottoman era (mid-1600s to the 1800s).
The harbour is a large part of the old town, which used to focus around the trade that came from the harbour. In the old town, you’ll find lots of winding streets, steps, colourful buildings and charming little stone paths. There are lots of rooms for rent here, but this is where you’ll find some of the best restaurants and tavernas, even if you wander only a little off the main tourist track.
Also in the old town is a big set of old ramparts, which used to be used for defending the town. They aren’t that well preserved, and they are quite overgrown, but they are striking nonetheless. You can walk to the top of them, and get a good view of the city as well as the seaside. They’re a little bit of a pain, because you have to walk around them to get to certain parts of the old town!
The ramparts are where the west side of the old town ends, and the new town begins. As in many places in Greece, the buildings here were built in a hurry, so they aren’t very pretty. However, in the new town you will find the stadium, some nice city parks, and there’s lots of shopping to be done! The old marketplace also lies on the border between the old town and the new town, so if you’re looking for fresh fish, fruit, vegetables, and even some touristy items, then you’re sure to find them here.
A popular pastime in the Greek summertime is a visit to an outdoor cinema, and Chania has two close to the city centre – one close to the seafront, and one in the main city park. A trip to one of these is a wonderful way to spend a warm evening, and most films are in English, but with Greek subtitles, so you needn’t worry about understanding the film!
If you want to get out of town for a bit, then that’s easily possible, thanks to the big coach station in the modern part of town. In the summertime, you can catch buses to lots of scenic mountain villages, to the beaches, and to Crete’s other major towns. Buses in Crete are pretty cheap, and they’re very comfortable. You are just an hour and a half away from Europe’s most fantastic beach – Elafonisi. Chania is the perfect place to stay in Crete, if you are looking to get away from all the tourists who travel there to lie on the beach or spend their money in bars. Though hotels are a bit more expensive, there are lots of rooms for rent in guest houses, or maybe even stay in a hostel! That’s an exciting experience for everyone involved, not to mention Chania is one of Greece’s most beautiful cities.
Image: Alice Barnes-Brown