48 Hours in Rethymno
The city of Rethymno offers discerning visitors a Cretan experience like no other. Chic, elegant, arty and sophisticated, these are just a few of the delights to savour.
Start a visit to the Old Town here beside an iconic Venetian landmark. Next door the Cafe Galero is a good place for that pre-walk coffee and to work out your bearings. From here the quarter’s many delights are close by. Walking these alleyways is a fascinating journey through time – charming lanes punctuated by beautiful ancient doorways. Look out for the wooden balconies (sahnisia) of former Ottoman residences.
The Fabulous Fortezza
Head to Rethymno’s biggest landmark, the Fortezza, (open daily 08:00 – 19.45), with its stunning views of the old quarter and the coasts east and west. Walking amongst the pines and along the ancient fortress walls is exhilarating. The domed Sultan Ibrahim mosque from Ottoman times is a beautiful space, and a regular venue for music performances because of its great acoustics.
Travel in Time
Continue your history fix at the Archaeological Museum of Rethymno (Open Mon-Sat 10:00-18:00, Agios Frangiskou, off Ethnikis Antistaseos) with its gorgeous exhibits from Neolithic to Roman times. The nearby Historical and Folk Museum (Vernardou 30, open Mon-Sat 10:00-15:00) has a great collection showing the rural life of Rethymno from the 17th century.
You’ll probably want to save the serious gastronomy for after sunset, so a light bite near the ancient gateway Porta Guora, also known as Megali Porta, is a good call. The unassuming cafe bakery Gaias Gefseis (Ethnikis Antistaseos 15) is cool for savoury baguettes and traditional cakes and biscuits. Not far away Sweet Cup (Dimokratias 6), is chic and cozy with beautiful cakes to match its pretty decor.
Life’s a Beach
Rethymno is the only city in Crete with its own seemingly endless beach stretching into the heart of town. While away the afternoon at one of the many chilled beach clubs. Thrill-seekers should check out Popeye Sports with its water sports from aqua paragliding to jet-skis.
Back in the Old Town, three streets, Ethnikis Antistaseos and Arkadiou, and Souliou the alley that connects them has some of the best shops in town. Fine designer jewelers, fashion accessories, traditional embroidery and traditional food products – they’re all here.
Aperitif with a View
Climb the steps to an idyllic perch on the eastern edge of the Fortezza rock to reach Thalassographia (Kefalogiannidon 33). Amazing views of the Venetian Harbour and the coast from tables set on cliff-side terraces.
Rethymno boasts some of the best restaurants in Crete. Check out Rethymno restaurants: 8 of the Best featured in the Syntopia Blog. Gastronauts won’t be disappointed with Old Town favourites like the romantic Avli and the fun informality of the eateries on bustling Odos Vernardou with its mezedopoleia – pavement cafes serving tasty tapas-style dishes. To Rakodikeio (Vernardou 7) and Asikiko (Vernardou 13) are recommended. Cavo (Akrotiriou 13) just out of town at the water’s edge is stylish.
Kick up your Heels
End the night at party cafe/night club Nafpigio (Arkadiou 254) for good vibes and the best dance music in town. The party goes on until 3am on Saturday nights.
Visit the fish market
Start your day early at the marina to watch an ancient custom. Here’s where Rethymno’s fleet of tiny fishing boats unload their overnight catches and stalls at the water’s edge sell direct to the locals.
Walk the Rethymno Riviera
The palm-lined promenade between the marina and the Venetian Port is home to some of Rethymno’s coolest lounge cafes. Indulge in a coffee at the classy Livingroom (5 Sofokli Venizelou) with its lush velvet decor and mirrored walls. Fraoules nearby with its neon and chandeliers is chilled with a nice ambience.
Set Sail to Pirate Caves
A handful of operators based in the marina offer boat trips along the Rethymno coast. Join Dolphin Cruises’ daily trip eastwards heads to vast caverns once used by pirates and the Camarola Arch, a remarkable rock formation. Tickets from the kiosk at the marina’s entrance.
A Little Lunch
For a light bite the roof garden of the Hotel Brascos (Moatsou kai Daskalaki 1) is a hidden gem. Off the beaten track and perched on one of the city’s tallest buildings, it’s a vantage point that offers amazing and unique views of the Old Town. Good club sandwiches and similar cafe fare. For street food, sample a legendary Rethymno institution at Nikos‘ souvlaki shop (Arkadiou 70), and choose from mouthwatering gyros, chicken or pork kebabs roasted over charcoal flames with piping hot pita bread.
Craft and Creativity
There’s no shortage of artisan retailers offering hand-made leather items in Rethymno’s Old Town, but Spantis at Koroneou 9 is unique. Owner Yannis uses unprocessed leather to create stunning bags, belts and wallets that are colourful, contemporary and fun.
Savour culinary craftsmanship at the bakery workshop of Yiorgos Hatziparaskos (Vernardou 30) – one of the last traditional filo pastry makers in Greece. Working with his son Paraskevas, watch in wonder as they whirl the dough into a giant bubble before stretching it lovingly by hand over a giant worktop. To witness the truly exquisite, call in at the workshop of lyra maker Manolis Stagakis at Giannari 45, a master maker of Crete’s iconic musical instrument and purveyor to the island’s top professional musicians.
For amazing home-made (goats’ milk) ice creams Meli is aRethymno gastronomic institution known largely by the locals. A host of ice-cream shops are to be found Rethymno’s beach road but Meli outshines them all. Relax at a table of their largest outlet at Sofokli Venizelou 7, or grab a cornet at their smaller shop by the Rimondi Fountain.
Catch a Movie
Two movie theatres offer cinephiles the latest releases at Cine Apollon in the Old Town (Mesologiou 18) and the two-screen Cineland at Emmanouil Portaliou 3-5. Open air movies are the quintessential Greek summer experience and Rethymno’s Asteria Open Air Cinema (Ioannou Melissinou 18) has screenings at 21.00 and 23.00.
Night Owls Nest
For a late-night tipple with delicious finger foods, head to very chilled Rewine wine bar at Tsagari 25-27. Open until 2am, it’s one of Rethymno’s most sophisticated night spots with fine local varieties and vintages from across Greece and beyond. Great cocktails too.