General Information on Chania
Chania is one of the four prefectures of Crete. Covering the westernmost quarter of the island, Chania attracts thousands of visitors every year. It borders with the prefecture of Rethymno to the east. The western part of Crete is washed by the Cretan Sea to the north, and the Mediterranean to the west and south. It is divided in 5 provinces: Apokoronas, Kissamos, Kydonia, Selino and Sfakia. Here is also the southernmost island in Europe, Gavdos.
The main part of the prefecture is occupied by Lefka Ori (White Mountains), where the famous gorge of Samaria lies. Moreover, it boasts endless stretches of coastline, inlets and islands of exotic beauty and sandy beaches tucked away at the foot of the mountains. Impenetrable gorges, secret caves, rivers and lush, green plains thickly covered with olive and citrus trees compose this unique place that charms every visitor.
The capital of the prefecture, Chania, is the second largest city in Crete and has preserved its traditional character more that any other city on the island. Around Kasteli and the harbour, many buildings and even entire areas from the Venetian and Turkish periods have been retained. In addition, the new part of the city was built according to a modern plan with wide streets, parks and fine buildings.
History of Chania
Based on archaeological findings, Chania lies on the ruins of an ancient town, possibly “Kydonia”. It was founded by Minos and was one of the three principal Cretan cities. Architectural remains that have been found date back to the early Minoan period (2200-1900 BC). During the latter Minoan period (1400-1100 BC), the city was very prosperous. Its products were famous in Knossos, Thera, even in Cyprus.
During the early 1st millennium BC, during the geometric and archaic periods, finds indicate that the city continued to be a powerful city-state, whose domain extended from Chania Bay to the foot of the White Mountains. In 26 BC, Romans declared war against Kydonia and Consul Concillus Metelus was ordered to seize it. The town flourished even during the Roman period, mainly because the Roman conquest put an end to civil wars. Kydonia developed in size so much that it can be easily compared to Chania in the early 20th century. The early Byzantine period (324-823 AD) was still prosperous for the city; in fact, Kydonia was chosen as episcopal seat, and was often mentioned in council records and ecclesiastical minutes until the 9th century AD.
The period 821-961 AD was a dark era for Kydonia. The Arabs conquered the whole island in 824. The consequences of the conquest were dire for the residents, who were subjected to a long and horrible period of slavery, resulting in the alienation of Crete from the Byzantine Empire. However, in 961, the Arabs were ousted by the Byzantines, who immediately tried to reestablish their authority and power on the island; all traces of Arab occupation were quickly removed, and the island defenses were fortified to avoid any further Arabian attempt. Thus, a fortress was built on top of the ancient walls, using building materials of ancient Kydonia. It is still regarded as a remarkable military accomplishment. In the first half of the 13th century, the Venetians managed to establish their sovereignty in the area of Chania.
After the siege of Constantinople by the Latins (1204 AD), Crete was given to Bonifacio, the Marquis de Monfera, who sold the island to Venetians for 100 silver coins. Venetians did not settle peacefully, however, as the locals fought hard against them. In 1252, the Venetians won, and Venetian colonists started to rebuild the city of Chania. The city was chosen as the rector seat (Administrator General) of the region and flourished into a significant commercial centre due to its fertile lands. The town and its port soon became the centre of a wealthy agricultural area with economical and political connections to Venice. In the middle of 16th century AD, the city fortifications were enhanced once more. Fortresses on the islets Thodorou, Souda and Gramboussa were built. Within the expanded city boundaries, the new city developed considerably.
In August 1645, the Ottomans seized Chania. A new state of affairs prevailed in the city; churches became mosques and new mosques were built; fortunes changed hands. The Ottomans were strongly influenced by local architecture, which they slightly altered by adding few functional and artistic elements.
In 1821, before the start of the Greek Revolution, the population of Chania amounted to 10,600 inhabitants, most of them Turks. In the middle of the 19th century, Chania turned into the administrative headquarters, and after the revolution of 1847, it became the capital of the autonomous Cretan State. The town assumed multinational character with the presence of Foreign Leagues, which had an impact on the economical, social and cultural life.
On 1 December 1913, in the presence of King Constantine and the leader of the Revolution of Therisso (1905) Eleftherios Venizelos, Crete became part of the Greek State. During World War II, violent battles took place on the outskirts of the town, and after a 10-day siege, Chania fell to German hands. The city was bombed and the old part was completely destroyed. During the German occupation, a strong resistance force was organised, classifying Chania as a leader of organised resistance in Greece.
Towns & Villages in Chania
Chania: Chania is the capital and the administrative, economic, commercial and communication centre of the homonymous prefecture. On the north coast of Crete, 70km west of Rethymno and 145km west of Heraklion, Chania is a beautiful town that has retained its traditional and authentic atmosphere, despite the growing tourismand the massive damages caused by World War II. The city is divided in many areas, including four quarters of the old city which include impressive buildings and narrow cobblestone alleys, adding a secretive and charming character. Next to the old harbour lies the old town, which was the core around which modern urban areas developed. It was enclosed in old Venetian fortifications that were built in 1538; only the eastern and western parts have survived.
Topanas is the aristocratic old quarter, in the western part of the city. Home to wealthy Christian families during the end of the Ottoman occupation, it boasts beautiful Venetian buildings.
Ovriaki is the Jewish quarter, south of Topanas, with the imposing Venetian church of Saint Francis.
Kastelli is located east of the harbour. This quarter has been inhabited since Neolithic times, when it was known as Kydonia. Kastelli is on a small hill right next to the waterfront and has always been ideal for a settlement due to its protected location, its proximity to the fertile valley in the south and the harbour. Nowadays, it is quiet, compared to the neighbouring areas.
Splantza was the Turkish area, east of Kastelli, near the shipyards of the Venetian harbour. This area is also largely untouched and very atmospheric. A plan for future touristic development is now under consideration.
If you decide to spent time in Chania, there are many interesting places to visit. The Turkish Baths, near the harbour, are housed in an impressive domed building. The Municipal Gardens, designed by Reouf Pasha in 1870 according to European models, are also worth visiting. In Zambelli street, one of the main streets of Chania, visitors can admire the imposing Venetian Palace with its heraldic emblem and Latin inscription. Visitors can also walk around the wonderful Municipal Market which was built in 1911 and is located in the centre of Chania.
The city offers many types of accommodations of various categories, numerous restaurants and traditional Greek taverns, tourist shops, bars and clubs.
Kissamos: Kissamos is a province in the northwestern part of the island. It is at the foot of the White Mountains, stretches over two barren peninsulas and fertile land, and has an impressive coastline. The main town is Kastelli-Kissamou (Kissamos). The city has a beautiful landscape, and offers a quiet beach with golden soft sand mixed with pebbles. The town is situated on the same site where the ancient city of Kissamos used to stand. This ancient city was the port of the town Polyrenia, the oldest Dorian city of Crete, located 7km south of Kissamos, and was the marine and commercial centre of Western Crete. Because of its wealth and location, the city of Kissamos was always well fortified; the walls of the city were built by the Venetians and parts can still be seen today. Various accommodations of all categories can be found in Kissamos as well as camping sites, excellent taverns frequented by the locals, bars and traditional cafes. With Kissamos as a starting point you may visit the archaeological sites of Falassarna, Polirrinia, the island of Gramvoussa, the beautiful gorges of Sirikari, Rokka and Topolia, the overlooking cave of Agia Sophia, the lagoon of Balos and the beautiful medieval villages of the area.
Sfakia: It is a beautiful, traditional, mountainous area in the Chania Prefecture. It is considered one of the few places in Greece that was never fully occupied by foreign powers. Sfakia is a wild and untouched region situated in the most mountainous area in Crete. The Sfakia region is crossed by many gorges running on a north-south direction. Many of them can be crossed, even by inexperienced hikers. The area still has endangered animals, like vultures, eagles and the wild Cretan goat. Moreover, the area has many beaches, less visited than the ones in the north. The capital of the region is Hora Sfakion and is located about 70km from Chania. The settlement is traditional and its calm atmosphere is only interrupted by the arrivals of hikers coming from the Samaria Gorge in small boats. A few traditional taverns are open on the seafront of Hora Sfakion, as well as plenty of humble accommodations.
Mournies: This small town is situated 4km south of Chania on a location inhabited since the Byzantine period. It is surrounded by many monastic dependencies and, due to that, many beautiful churches and monasteries can be visited in and around town. The settlement was named after the many mulberry trees (=mournies) in the village. Mournies is the seat of the same name municipality, which includes various other beautiful and traditional villages scattered in the area. Other than churches and monasteries, a main attraction of the town is a beautiful three-storey mansion named “Koukounara” in the southeast side. This building used to host emperors, kings, princes and queens and belonged to one of the few 17th century noble families of the area. However, this house is best known as the birthplace of one of the greatest politicians and statesmen of Greece, Eleftherios Venizelos. The mansion has an amazing garden full of flowered parterres, statues and fountains. Nowadays, it has been restored and houses one of the departments of the Greek Navy.
Platanias: This village is situated about 15km west of Chania and is the largest tourist resort of Western Crete. The village owes its name to the many plane trees, which stand on the shore of River Platanias, on which the settlement is located. Numerous restaurants, taverns, bars, nightclubs and tourist shops can be found here, as well as beautiful long sandy beaches with amazingly pristine waters. However, mass tourism has taken away much of the Cretan authentic atmosphere.
Akrotiri: The area of Akrotiri includes a peninsula northeast of Chania. Akrotiri is roughly circular in shape, connected to the rest of the island by a wide causeway between Chania and the town of Souda. The area is known to nature lovers as it has many interesting walking and hiking paths through wild gorges with amazing diversity, natural beauty and living traditions. With picturesque sandy beaches, all awarded with the Blue Flag, century-old monasteries and churches, monuments and impressive caves with rich lithological and archaeological interest, Akrotiri attracts many visitors every year.
Beaches in Chania
Around Chania, visitors may find numerous beaches with sand or pebbles, as well as plenty of deserted coves and lovely bays. Many of the beaches are located on the northern and southern coast of Crete. Here is a list with some of the most popular beaches. Many more can be found while exploring and are at least as wonderful as the ones listed below: Kalyves, Agioi Apostoloi, Drapanias, Georgioupoli, Germaniko Pouli, Kalatha, Stavlos, Halikia, Kolimbari, Maleme, Stavros, Tavronitis, Afratolakkoi, Sfinari, Omprogialos and many more.
Elafonissi: This is a small islet connected to Crete by a shallow reef that can be crossed when the sea is calm. The islet is situated on the southwest corner of Crete and can be reached by boat from Paleohora or by car from the village of Vathi. The islet is beautiful and has an amazing beach with pink coral sand and very shallow waters. Unfortunately, the beach is really crowded till 16:00 when tourist buses depart.
Falassarna: This is one of the best beaches of Crete, located in the fertile plains of the same name, near the village of Platanos. It has soft golden sand and incredible clean waters and has been voted several times as Best Beach of Greece. The view is astonishing and the sunsets are magical. A few accommodation facilities and taverns can be found in the surrounding area.
Mpalos: This is another amazing beach situated close to Kalyvianni village. The beach has white-pinkish sand, seashells and shallow, warm waters.
Glyka Nera: The name of this beach means Sweet Waters and it was named after the fresh water aquifers under the sand. The beach is situated between Sfakia and Loutro, on the southern coast of Crete, one hour away on foot.
Fragocastello: This area has three beautiful beaches. The first one, on the west side of the gulf, has pebbles and is organized. The second one, in front of the castle, is sandy with shallow waters, ideal for families. Finally, the third beach, named Orthi Ammos, lies 10 min on foot east of the castle. This is the most beautiful of the three with sand and crystal-clear waters.
Agia Marina & Platanias: These two sandy beaches are situated close to the city of Chania, about 10km away. They are both very popular, attract a lot of people and they have tourist facilities.
Sougia: This beach is situated in front of the homonymous village, on the southern coast of Crete, between Paleohora and Agia Roumeli. It is one of the best beaches of the island, 1200 metres long, so it can never get crowded. It is very well protected from winds and remains untouched by tourist facilities or buildings.
Paleohora beaches: The region of Paleohora has many beautiful beaches. On the west side of the area you can find Krios, a small pebbly organized beach, and Grammeno, a sandy beach with cedar trees. In front of the traditional settlement of Paleohora, you will find Pahia Ammos, which is the best beach in the area. It is long, with golden sand and clear waters, ideal for windsurfing on windy days. On the east side of the village there is also a less visited, pebbly organised beach.
Top Things to Do in Chania
1. The Samaria Gorge: The gorge of Samaria is located on the southern part of the Omalos plateau, in the National park of Samaria, in the White Mountains (Lefka Ori). It is one of Europe’s longest gorges, extending over 16km, and is one of the most visited places in Crete. The walk through the gorge is a unique experience, surrounded by a wonderful landscape and rare species of flora and fauna. One of the most impressive spots in the gorge is the very narrow passage near the end called “Portes” (=Gates). It is a fantastic spot with steep cliffs over 300 meters high. Moreover, halfway through the gorge you will come across the abandoned village of Samaria. The inhabitants of this village were relocated in 1962 when the gorge was declared a National Park. Old houses still exist, have been restored and serve as houses for the guards and a resting point for visitors. The gorge is generally open only from the beginning of May to the end of October but the best time to visit is spring, without the thousands of visitors; the weather is still cool and the vegetation is at its best. In winter, high tides make the gorge dangerous and impassable. To reach the gorge one has to go to Omalos, in the village of Xyloskalo, at an altitude of 1250 metres. The best way to come here is by public bus or in organised excursions. The walk through the National Park is 13km long but visitors have to walk an extra 3km to reach the village of Agia Roumeli, where buses and boats stop. The walk last about 3 to 4 hours and there are toilet facilities, water springs, medical care and helpful rangers along the path.
2. Ancient Kydonia: Kydonia was one of the most important cities of the Minoan period. Since 1966, systematic excavations are taking place and some of the most important finds are exhibited at the Archaeological Museum of Chania. The most important monuments of the site include the Minoan houses, on the central part of the ancient city, and the rock-cut chamber tombs.
3. The Archaeological Museum of Chania: The museum is housed in the Venetian Church of St. Francis in Chania. During the Turkish occupation, this building was the mosque of Yussuf Pasha, while later, it was used as a cinema or a storehouse for military equipment. Its collections include important finds from the Neolithic, Minoan and Roman periods. The most important part of the exhibition is a collection of vases and weapons from the Minoan necropolis, a collection of early Geometric pottery and Hellenistic statues, a collection of Classical and Hellenistic figurines, and glass vessels from Greco-Roman times. Apart from the permanent exhibition, the museum houses temporary exhibitions during certain local events, as well as music concerts.
4. Frangokastello: This is one of the trademarks of Crete and one of the most visited places. Situated along the coast, on an arid plain, it is surrounded by beautiful and verdant mountains. The Fortress was built in 1371, in order to protect the nearby bay from pirates. It was barely used during the Venetian occupation, and on the eve of the Turkish attack, it was actually abandoned. In 1882, Cretan rebels occupied the fortress and during the siege that followed, its towers were destroyed. It is a Venetian fortress of rectangular shape, and there is a tower on each side. Over the gate, you can see a relief depicting the lion of St. Marcus and the Venetian crowns. The buildings inside and the battlements were constructed during the Ottoman occupation. According to tradition, during the second half of May and if the weather permits, shadows of the fallen Cretan warriors seem to march towards the fortress. The locals call them Drosoulites. Some excellent restaurants can be found around the castle as well as many accommodations. A superb sandy beach with clear shallow waters lies in front of the castle.
5. Aptera: This city was founded in the Geometric period, although the city is mentioned in the Linear B tables found at Knossos. It reached its peak in the Hellenistic period, with intense commercial and political activity. In the Roman period, the town had a more rural character. It was destroyed by an earthquake in the 7th century AD. In the 12th century, the Monastery of St. John the Baptist was founded here. Today, the most important monuments of the site are the Roman cisterns, graves from the Geometric-Roman periods, the fortification wall (preserved to a length of almost 4km), byzantine buildings, part of a Roman bouleuterion, the Monastery of St. John the Baptist and Turkish fortresses built in 1866-1869.
6. The Old City of Chania: While in Chania, take some time and visit the Old City. It has impressive buildings and narrow cobblestone alleys, adding a secretive and charming character. The old town is situated next to the old harbour and is the matrix around which the modern city developed.
7. Elafonissos: A day trip to the small islet of Elafonissos is one of the best experiences visitors will have. The islet, on the southwest corner of Crete, is connected to the rest of the island by a shallow reef that can be crossed when the sea is calm. The name of the islet means the Island of Deer and is a pure paradise with a wonderful beach with pink coral sand and crystalline waters.
8. Gavdos: This is the southernmost Greek island, located south of Crete. The island is only 27km² and there is a very small number of year-round residents; tourist services are basic. However, in the summer, the total number of people on the island can surpass 3,500, most of them campers. Gavdos has some very beautiful beaches with sand and crystal clear waters.
How to Reach Chania
Air: Chania has an international airport with scheduled flights all year round and many charter flights serving Europe during the summer season. There are several flights daily to/from Athens and Thessaloniki, with Aegean Airlines and Olympic Airways.
Ferries: Ferries from/to Chania dock at Souda, about 7km east of town. There is at least one ferry daily for the 10-hour trip to/from Piraeus.
Getting Around in Chania
To/from Airport: Buses and taxis.
Bus: Local buses from the port of Souda leave outside the food market. Buses to the western beaches leave from Square 1866. From the central bus station at Chania, buses depart to most villages of the Chania Prefecture. There is one bus daily to Elafonisi (2 hours), two to Falasarna (1½ hours), three to Hora Sfakion (2 hours), half-hourly to Iraklio (2 ½ hours), forteen to Kastelli-Kissamos (1 hour), four to Lakki (1 hour), Omalos (1 hour) and Paleohora (2 hours). Also there is a half-hourly service to Rethymno (1 hour), one to Sougia (2 hours) and six to Stavros (30 min).
Weather in Chania
The climate of Crete is the mildest of Greece and possibly of Europe. It is a temperate Mediterranean climate with hot and dry summers moderated by northern winds, and mild, rainy winters in the plains. In the mountains of Crete, winters are quite harsh and it snows from January to the end of February. Autumn is the mildest season in Crete because the temperatures are often higher than in spring and lower than in summer time.
Because the island is very mountainous, weather changes can be sudden and the mountains, creating a barrier, are the cause of different weather conditions in northern and southern Crete.
Top 10 Destinations in Chania
All Destinations in Chania
Map of Chania