Rethymno Revealed: Why It’s Crete’s Must-Visit Destination

by | Sep 23, 2023

Is Rethymno, Crete's best-kept secret? Experience a fusion of history, culture, and untouched beauty. Discover why it might just be your next unforgettable Mediterranean escape.

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From Cobbled Streets to Azure Beaches: The Call of Rethymno. Venture into a realm where the rhythmic whispers of the Mediterranean meet the grandeur of Venetian epochs. Rethymno, a luminous beacon nestled along Crete’s northern shoreline, is a tapestry woven with threads of rich culture, deep-seated history, and pristine natural beauty. From the echoes of laughter at its ancient harbour to the timeless tales of its traditional hamlets, Rethymno is a living ode to Crete’s unyielding charisma and splendour. In this enclave of wonder, every alley, every wave, and every sunset holds an invitation to a journey, not just of sight, but of soulful discovery. Whether your heart yearns for tranquillity, the embrace of nature, or a dive into cultural depths, Rethymno awaits to enrapture your senses.

Rethymno is Worth the Visit: Embarking on Unique Experiences

Nestled on Crete’s enchanting northern coast, Rethymno beckons travellers with its distinctive charm and a plethora of experiences. Far beyond its famed beaches kissed by golden sunlight and the wafting aroma from bustling coffee shops, Rethymno holds a tapestry of stories, myths, and traditions that have weathered the sands of time. For the curious wanderer, this Cretan town offers more than just scenic vistas; it offers a journey into its very soul.

As dusk descends and the town bathes in the soft glow of street lamps, Rethymno’s heart begins to beat in the rhythm of its residents. The cobbled stone alleys, illuminated in a soft amber, come alive with laughter, chatter, and the footsteps of those eager to soak in the town’s nocturnal beauty. These pathways, woven with dreams and history, are adorned with splashes of vibrant colours from blooming flowers, hanging vines, and vivid bougainvillaea. Each turn holds a promise, each corner a secret, beckoning visitors to lose themselves in the town’s embrace.

The town of Rethymno in Crete

The town of Rethymno in Crete

Within these enchanting lanes, one can stumble upon a myriad of establishments, each echoing the town’s eclectic spirit. Cosy cafés invite guests with the promise of rich Cretan coffee, while the melodies from dance clubs and the hum of conversation from bustling bars resonate with the town’s vibrant energy. The Old Town, in particular, is a labyrinth of narrow streets, where shadows play hide and seek under the shelter of overhanging flora. Here, the past melds seamlessly with the present, creating a harmonious blend of history and contemporary life.

For gourmets and gastronomes, Rethymno serves a banquet of flavours. The town’s culinary repertoire boasts an array of Cretan delicacies and traditional Greek dishes, each prepared with fresh local ingredients and a dash of love. Whether you’re savouring a plate of moussaka under a starlit sky or relishing fresh seafood by the harbour, the town ensures that every meal is a celebration.

Cretan Bay, Photo by Victor Martinez

Cretan Bay, Photo by Victor Martinez

And for those who find solace by the sea, Rethymno offers a delightful conundrum. Will you be a beach bum, lounging on the sandy shores with a book in hand, or perhaps a yacht bum, drifting on the cerulean waves, with the wind guiding your course? The choice, in this captivating town, is wonderfully yours.

Read More: Enchanting Allure of Calpe: A Mediterranean Paradise

In essence, Rethymno is not just a destination; it’s an experience, a narrative waiting to be explored, cherished, and remembered.

For the Love of Old Town: Journeying Through Time Amidst Cobbled Alleys and Timeless Edifices

The Old Town of Rethymno stands as a testament to history’s ever-evolving tapestry. A seamless blend of Venetian grace and Ottoman grandeur, this part of the town captures the essence of times gone by while embracing the vibrancy of the present. For the discerning traveller and history enthusiast, it offers an unparalleled journey through winding paths, hidden treasures, and monumental tales.

Venture deeper into the heart of the Old Town, and one is immediately greeted by ancient edifices from the Venetian epoch. Their doorways and arches, masterfully crafted from mellow stones, stand proudly, reminiscent of an era when artistry and architecture walked hand in hand. These structures often open into secluded courtyards, each a hushed sanctuary away from the town’s vivaciousness, inviting visitors to pause and breathe in their tranquillity.

The town of Rethymno, Photo by Marcel Hoberg on Unsplash

The town of Rethymno, Photo by Marcel Hoberg on Unsplash

The Old Town’s architectural legacy doesn’t end there. Behold the magnificence of 16th-century buildings, their facades whispering tales of maritime voyages, courtly intrigues, and cultural exchanges. Dominating the skyline are Byzantine churches, their spires reaching for the heavens, juxtaposed beautifully with grand Venetian mansions that speak of opulence and ambition. Rustic old doors and imposing stone gateways beckon the curious, each threshold promising a story, each entrance an invitation to history’s dance.

As you navigate these serpentine paths, the town’s soul reveals itself not just through sights but also scents. The tantalizing aroma of freshly baked spanakopita wafts through the air, a culinary ode to Crete’s rich gastronomic heritage. Olive trees, guardians of Rethymno’s many squares, watch silently as locals and tourists alike find solace under their shade.

The town of Rethymno, Photo by iSAW Company on Unsplash

The town of Rethymno, Photo by iSAW Company on Unsplash

To truly imbibe the spirit of the Old Town, one must take to its streets on foot. A leisurely walkabout is not just a means to navigate but also to connect, to feel the town’s heartbeat, and to soak in its essence. For those who seek a modern twist to their historical exploration, why not embark on a Segway tour? Glide through history with ease, making memories along the way.

And for those who wish to carry a piece of Rethymno back home, the Old Town’s many shops offer an array of keepsakes. From finely crafted pottery, fragrant Cretan herbs, golden honey, and aromatic oils to artisan crafts and intricate lacework, there’s a memento for every traveller.

In Rethymno’s Old Town, history isn’t confined to textbooks; it lives, breathes, and thrives in every nook and cranny. It’s an ever-present companion, waiting to share its tales with those eager to listen.

Indulge in the Coffee Culture of Crete: Sips that Unfold Stories and Traditions

In Crete, coffee is more than a mere drink. It’s a cherished ritual, a medium of stories shared and heard, and a fragrant brew that opens a window to the island’s very essence. The coffee culture here paints a vivid tapestry, seamlessly blending tradition with modernity, making each sip an experience, each pause a memory.

Amidst the narrow cobbled streets and historic facades of Rethymno lies an array of charming cafes, each a realm of its own. Galero, with its vibrant ambience, beckons visitors with the promise of warmth and lively chatter. Dive deeper into the town’s heart, and you’ll discover Meli Melo. Tucked away in a quaint alley, this cosy café offers a refuge to savour local pastries, aromatic coffee, and the simple joys of a Crete morning. Halikouti, exuding authenticity with its traditional aura, serves as a testament to Crete’s age-old coffee traditions.

Charming cafes in Rethymno, Photo by Matthieu Oger on Unsplash

Charming cafes in Rethymno, Photo by Matthieu Oger on Unsplash

Yet, as one moves amidst the town, modernity and tradition strike a harmonious chord. The trendy ambience of Bankery stands as a testament to this blend. With its chic interiors and lounge music, it offers a contemporary take on the island’s rich coffee heritage. Similarly, Barrio The Neighbourhood Café is where you can immerse in local vibes, observing life’s ebb and flow as locals congregate, converse, and celebrate life’s little moments. And if tranquillity is what you seek, the verdant environs of Le Jardin in Rethymnon’s Municipal Garden offer the perfect backdrop. Not to be missed, Niktari’s Bakery stands as a testament to Crete’s culinary wonders, a place where tradition takes the form of delectable treats and brews.

In Crete, to enjoy coffee is to participate in a ritual, an ode to times when life moved slower, and every sip was savoured. The Ellinikó, the traditional Greek coffee, stands tall in this ritualistic dance. Its preparation in a diminutive pot known as ‘briki’ is an art form, a process watched with bated breath till the brew is perfect.

Yet, the soul of Crete’s coffee culture truly thrives in its traditional cafés, the local kafeneio. Steeped in history, these spaces echo with tales of yore, conversations of the present, and dreams of the future.

In Rethymno and Crete at large, coffee isn’t just consumed; it’s lived. Every cup, every café, every corner tells a tale, inviting you to be a part of its narrative, one sip at a time.

Beaches and Getaways in Rethymno: Embracing the Azure Embrace of Crete’s Coastline

Rethymno, with its golden sands and shimmering waters, is a beach lover’s idyllic haven. As the Mediterranean waves kiss the shores, they bring tales of ancient mariners, legendary deities, and secrets of sunken cities. Whether you’re seeking tranquillity, adventure, or simply a spot under the radiant Grecian sun, Rethymno’s beaches have a story for every wanderer.

The beaches along the northern expanse are a seamless blend of luxury and leisure. Punctuated with upscale hotels, sumptuous restaurants, and bustling cafeterias, these stretches of sand hum with life. The gentle rhythm of water sports centres adds an adrenaline rush, making them a hive of activity. Here, you can ride the waves, dance with the winds, or simply indulge in the culinary delights offered by the numerous seaside eateries.

The town of Rethymno in Crete, Photo by Corlijn

The town of Rethymno in Crete, Photo by Corlijn

In contrast, the southern shores of Rethymno are like untouched canvases of nature. Here, tourism treads lightly, preserving the pristine beauty of these hideaways. These beaches, undisturbed and tranquil, are sanctuaries for those in pursuit of solitude. Imagine a world where you’re accompanied only by the lullabies of waves and the whispers of ancient winds.

With over 21 distinctive beaches, Rethymno invites you to find a stretch of sand that resonates with your soul. For those drawn to untamed landscapes, Bali Beach, Plakias Beach, Triopetra Beach, and Agios Pavlos Beach offer rugged terrains, sculpted by the elements. Their wild beauty is an ode to nature’s artistry, a spectacle that is both humbling and awe-inspiring.


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Families flock to the inviting shores of Agia Galini Beach, Damnoni Beach, and Stauromenos Beach. Their gentle waves, ample amenities, and safe environs make them perfect for building sandcastles, chasing waves, and creating cherished memories.

Then there are the buzzing epicentres like Panormos Beach, Platanias Beach, and Adele Beach. Here, the vibrancy of Rethymno’s beach culture truly comes alive. These are realms of endless activities, pulsating music, and rhythmic dance, where every grain of sand seems to sway to the island’s joyful tunes.

The beaches of Rethymno, Crete

The beaches of Rethymno, Crete

Rethymno’s coastline is a symphony where each beach is a distinct note. Together, they create a melody that beckons travellers, promising them a dance of sun, sand, and serenity.

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The Places to Eat & What to Eat: A Culinary Odyssey through Rethymno’s Palette

Rethymno’s gastronomic canvas is painted with the vibrant hues of traditional Cretan flavours, intertwined with the whispers of history and a dash of modern flair. As you saunter through the city streets, each scent and aroma invites you into a world where culinary artistry and cultural legacy coalesce to offer an unparalleled dining experience.

Crete’s gastronomic heritage, honed over centuries, is a testament to its abundant natural wealth and the ingenious craftsmanship of its people. The island’s fertile soil and temperate climate have birthed a cuisine that sings of sun-ripened produce, fresh seafood, and aromatic herbs.

Scattered generously throughout the city are the charming tavernas, each a microcosm of Crete’s culinary world. These rustic eateries, often passed down through generations, are where traditional recipes come alive, dished out with generous portions of love and warmth. Nestled by the waterfront, the fish restaurants offer a fresh bounty from the azure seas, each dish telling tales of fishermen, age-old techniques, and the dance of the waves.

Outdoor restaurant in Rethymno, Crete, photo by Creatas Images

Outdoor restaurant in Rethymno, Crete, photo by Creatas Images

Delight your taste buds with Cretan kalitsoúnia, delicate sweet mini cheese pies that melt in your mouth, a symphony of creamy cheese and subtle sweetness. Relish the robust flavours of lamb paired perfectly with spiny chicory, a harmonious blend of textures and tastes. The dakos, a hardy Cretan bread, comes adorned with succulent tomatoes, soft mizithra cheese, and a generous drizzle of the finest Cretan oil, a mosaic of flavours that is both rustic and refined. For the adventurous soul, snails boubouristí, a unique preparation of popping fried snails, offers an explosion of taste. And as a sweet finale, lose yourself in the golden swirls of kserotigana, spiral pastries that are a delightful dance of crunch and honeyed sweetness.

No Cretan meal is complete without a celebratory toast. Raise a glass of the potent raki, the island’s spirited drink, or sip on a velvety Cretan wine, each drop echoing the landscapes, the vineyards, and the passionate vintners of this Mediterranean gem.

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In Rethymno, dining isn’t just an act; it’s an immersion, a journey through the soul of Crete, one delicious morsel at a time.

Biking Around Rethymno: Journey Through Nature’s Palette on Two Wheels

Rethymno invites you to experience its breathtaking landscapes, not from behind the window of a car, but in the immersive, exhilarating way that only biking can offer. Under the radiant embrace of Crete’s sun, pedal your way through a myriad of scenic routes, each unravelling a different chapter of the region’s beauty.

Start amidst the grandeur of the White Mountains and the majestic Mt. Psiloreitis, where trails guide you to pristine beaches, legendary caves, and echoes of history in the form of ancient monasteries. For those seeking a dash of adrenaline, routes climbing the heights of Mt. Psiloreitis present a challenge, winding down through the dramatic Kourtaliotiko and Kotsyfou gorges, ultimately leading you to the tranquil isolation of southern beaches.

As you meander through paths enveloped by dense olive groves, the air is filled with the fragrant whispers of nature. These trails present picturesque moments at every turn, leading to vantage points where the expanse of Rethymno unfolds before your eyes in a breathtaking panorama.

With over 22 meticulously mapped routes, ranging from an accessible 25km to the more demanding stretches of 75km, there’s an adventure waiting for every cyclist, be it a novice or a seasoned rider. This isn’t merely a physical journey, but a communion with nature, history, and the very essence of Rethymno.

Best Places to Stay: Rethymno’s Premium Abodes for Every Traveler

In the heart of Rethymno, where history meets modernity, many accommodation options await the discerning traveller. The city is graced with an array of premium lodgings, each exuding its unique charm.

For those seeking an intimate connection with the sea, Atermono Boutique Resort & Spa offers stunning sea views coupled with private beach access. Meanwhile, Nautilux stands out with its sleek, contemporary design. Dive into luxury at the Grecotel Creta Palace, which boasts over ten restaurants and bars, ensuring a gastronomic delight at every corner, complemented by its serene private beach. Minos Mara Royal captures the essence of opulence, while the Antica Dimora, nestled in the heart of the Old Town, offers a taste of Rethymno’s rich history. And for those in pursuit of opulence paired with panoramic vistas, Grecotel Lux.Me White Palace stands as a testament to modern luxury.

Whether it’s the allure of boutique hotels or the expansive grandeur of beachfront resorts, Rethymno ensures a memorable stay, tailored to every traveller’s preference.

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Crete: The Jewel of the Mediterranean

Crete, the crown jewel among the Greek islands, beckons with its rich tapestry of golden sands, age-old ruins, and pulsating cities. As the largest island in Greece, Crete is a microcosm of the country’s most enchanting elements, all wrapped up in one unforgettable destination. Its Mediterranean climate, characterized by sun-soaked summers and gentle winters, positions Crete as an all-season haven for travellers. Every season, whether under the scorching sun or the gentle embrace of winter, offers a different facet of Crete’s undeniable charm.

The allure of Crete doesn’t stop at its landscapes. Its history, spanning millennia, has left behind remnants from various civilizations, from Minoan palaces to Venetian fortresses. And amidst all this, cities like Rethymno stand as vibrant testaments to the island’s multifaceted heritage, offering modern comforts while preserving age-old traditions.

Your Passage to Rethymno: Seamless Journeys to a Cretan Oasis

Embarking on a journey to Rethymno is as delightful as the destination itself. With multiple routes to choose from, reaching this Cretan treasure has never been easier. For those who favour the seas, boats regularly set sail from Piraeus, bringing travellers straight into the heart of Rethymno. Alternatively, those who prefer a quicker route can opt for a flight from Athens to Chania. Upon landing, a scenic 60 km drive through Crete’s picturesque landscapes leads directly to Rethymno.

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Whether it’s your first time or a return visit, Rethymno promises a mosaic of experiences. From its historic Old Town to its bustling coffee culture, from serene beaches to the tantalizing taste of Cretan cuisine, every moment here is poised to become a cherished memory. ◼

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© This article was first published online in Sept 2023 – World Travel Magazine.

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