Chania (also known as Hania or Xania) lies in the western part of Crete, and is located where the Minoan city of Kydonia once was. With lovely beaches to the west, mountain peaks to the south, an enclosed harbour and an old town was mainly built by the Venetians, it is no wonder that the second largest town is Crete is considered among the most beautiful in all of Greece.
The old town consists mainly of colorful buildings constructed by the Venetians from the 13th century forward. Then the Turks conquered the town in 1645 and held it until 1898, and left mosques, public baths and fountains as the most evident evidence of their occupation. While the area was bombed during World War II, the area is still considered the most beautiful urban area in Crete. The entire harbour front comes alive in the evening, with lights reflecting in the water and a bustle of locals and tourists eating at the restaurants.
The Mosque of Janissaries is located on the eastern side of the inner harbour, and often has art exhibitions. It is the oldest Ottoman building in town, built in 1645.
The hill behind the mosque and inner harbour was the first inhabited area of Hania, since it was easily defended. The name comes from a Byzantine fortress that once stood here. The Venetians and Turks also used it as the center of their towns. If you walk up the hill, you can see that several parts of the area are being excavated. Archeologists believe there was once a Minoan palace here, similar to the one in Knossos. This belief comes from the find of the outline of a large building, as well as clay tablets with Minoan linear script.
The larger new town is where most of the locals live and work. While nowhere near as heavy with tourist attractions as the old town, it has some nice public gardens, and the square of Platía Eleftherías, with a statue of Venizelos. It also has more of the regular stores you’d expect in a city, and not just souvenir shops.
The Archeological Museum, located in the 16-century church of San Francisco, shows artifacts left from the Neolithic to the Roman era, including Minoan pottery, coffins and inscribed tablets. From the classical Greek and Roman eras you can see sculptures and mosaics. While much of this is everyday items from the lives of common people, they are well worth a visit. In the garden outisde, notice the fountain, built by the Turks when they converted the church into a mosque.
The Naval Museum is housed in the bastion at the outer harbour. It contains a mix of everything naval, from seashells, through model ships, marine instruments and a reconstruction of a destroyer bridge, to an exhibition of the Battle of Crete.
If you pass through the main gate, you can visit the small naval garrison, and climb the Firkas, the seaward fortifications where the Greek flag was raised for the first time on Crete in 1913.
The Byzantine and Post Byzantine Collection of Chania is located in the church of San Salvatore, west of the fortress, and covers a period from early Christianity to the end of the Venetian occupation. Its exhibits are small items such as icons, sculpture, jewellery and coins, including an icon of Saint George slaying the dragon.
Cretan House Folklore Museum has traditional crafts, such as weavings, tapestries and other artefacts. It is all contained in a copy of a traditional Cretan house, which can make it pretty packed with visitors. The museum also sells tapestries and cloths.
Restaurants and nightlife
Chania has a large selection of cafes and restaurants, but as with most popular sights, going outside the most crowded areas will get you better quality and lower prices, but the view from the harbour might be worth a few extra euros.
If you want to party all night long, the most popular places are Platanias and Agia Marina, west of Chania. But there are of course places in Chania proper for that as well, mostly around the harbour area.
Chania has the best shopping on Crete, with both souvenir shops and craft stores, the latter often run by local craftsmen. The street of Halidhon is shopping area number one in Chania. It lies on the border between the old and the new town. Nearby Skrydlof is well known for its leather shops, and the central municipal market sells fresh food of every kind.
The city beach at Nea Hora is just a ten minute walk west from the harbour. It’s clean and sheltered, but very crowded. If you contine west for twenty minutes, you’ll reach Ayii Apostoli, with nice yellow sand, near the town’s camp site.
Even further west is Hrissit Akti, the so called Golden Beach, which is popular with the locals and near the apartment area. Further on is a long stretch known as Oasis Beach, which is often crwoded, until you reach Kalamaki, where there’s a bus going back to the town centre.
The White Mountains and Samaria Gorge
To the south of Chania lie the beautiful White Mountains, Lefka Ori.
Up on the Omalos plateau is also where The Samaria Gorge begins. The second biggest tourist attraction in Greece is a 16 kilometer long gorge that runs all the way south to the Libyan Sea. An ancient river has dug out the spectacular natural wonder, in places only 4 meters wide and with almost vertical walls 400 meters high.
How to get there
There are daily ferries and catamarans between Piraeus outside Athens, and Souda harbour, located 8 km southeast of Chania. Buses run regularly between Souda and Chania.
Chania has an airport 15 km east of town, on the Akrotiri Peninsula. In addition to domestic flights, some international airlines also fly to Chania, especially during summer. While a bus connection exists between the airport and town, it’s pretty sketchy, so you’re probably better off taking a taxi.
The bus station in Chania offers several daily departures east to Rethymno and Heraklion, and far fewer to nearby villages.