About Chania Harbour
The jewel of West Crete, Chania, is acknowledged as one of the prettiest Mediterranean cities. Chania’s Venetian Harbour is arguably the best-recognized site of West Crete; the harbour’s construction began in 1320 and took decades. Its primary function was to serve as a commercial maritime centre and a base used by the Venetian navy to shield ship fleets from the pirates in that area. Today, Chania Harbour is as much an important historical landmark as a crowd-pulling tourist attraction.
The Harbour and its nearby maze of by-lanes filled with characterful cafes and shops make it the ideal place for a walk. The Greek, Ottoman and Venetian architecture styles are all reflected here in this harbour in a harmonious blend. Many lovers of architecture come here to admire the most striking symbol of Venetian splendour on a Greek island.
Several bars, eateries, cafes and shops on the Chania Harbor give this place an eclectic look. The lighthouse at the Chania Harbor is a fantastic spot on this beautiful island to enjoy a Grecian sunset.
What makes Chania Harbor Special?
The vintage architecture that dots the Old Town of Chania intensifies around its historic harbour and contrasts pleasantly with the cosmopolitan vibe of the rest of the town. Since Chania is perched atop the ruins of ancient Kydonia and has survived scores of occupations like the Venetian, and Ottoman, there are marks of different cultures on its antique shops, walls, forts, houses, mosques and churches that characterize the harbour area. The White Mountains framing the harbour give it an ethereal look.
Why is it known as an Old Venetian Harbour?
The Venetians built the harbour between 1320 to 1356 AD during the Crete occupation and it developed into a critical trade hub of the Mediterranean. This is why it still retains the name of “Old Venetian Harbor”. Many parts of the harbour have undergone restoration like the Firika Fortress, the Lighthouse and their refurbishments represent different chequered periods of the history of Crete.
Exploring the alleys of Chania harbour
The winding bylanes near Chania Harbour make for interesting cultural exploration and amazing photography. The Jewish Quarter and the Topanas area are the prettiest areas to explore and they are right behind the Western part of the Harbor. After the Turkish occupation in 1645, the Greek Christians and Jews relocated to the western part of the old town near the Firkas Fortress while the Eastern part was lived in by the Turks.
The Christians lived in the Topanas area (the name signifies bombs for canons) and Theotokopoulou Street (behind the Naval Museum) which was the prime area filled with elaborate Venetian residences. To the east of this street, there is still a well-marked Jewish area enclosed by Portou Street, Halidon Street, Zambeliou Street and Kondylaki Street. The latter was (and is still) a prominent commercial street where prominent members of the Jewish community lived. The Jewish streets in particular are filled with restaurants, boutique hotels and shops of a staggering variety
Theotokopoulou Street in particular is beautiful with some shops and an ancient Venetian strip. The beginning of this street also connects to Zambeliou Street where the number 61 store is worth a look. You will find the Roka workshop here with Michaelis creating wondrous weavings and carpets. The number 46 store sports amazing paintings made by Margarita, who is like a local icon.
From Zambeliou Street, you can walk into Kondylaki Street which is an excellent example of a Jewish neighbourhood. Near Kondylaki Street, there is the gate to Etz Hayyim Synagogue. This beautiful structure was completely destroyed by the Nazis. The Synagogue is now beautifully restored and is featured in the World Monument Fund List of 100 endangered monuments.
Nearby, you will also find the photogenic Talo Square. There is a monument erected near the Square that features a reaching hand and a sinking ship. This famous statue was unveiled in 1990 by Sculptress Antonia in honour of the ill-fated shipwreck that sunk in December 1966. History says that almost 269 Jewish community members (inhabitants of the Agia Jail) were killed by torpedoes launched by a British submarine as they were trying to flee by ship.
The Talos Square faces the San Salvatore Bastion near the Firkas Fortress. The bastion is named after the 15th-century San Salvatore Convent. Currently, it contains the Post Byzantine and Byzantine collection of Chania and you can pay it a visit by entering the Old Town through Theotokopoulou Street… the erstwhile haunt of the rich Greek Orthodox.
Make sure you stop on Moschon Street to admire the beautiful entrance of the Renier Mansion… the palazzo of a super-rich Cretan-Venetian family. There is a spectacular gate with Latin signage and the family emblem. Walk a little more and you will reach the Zambeliou Street of the Jewish Quarter which features an ancient Turkish Hammam that has now been converted into a Turkish restaurant.
Walk till the end of Zambeliou street and you will reach Halidon Street which is located on the right. The Archaeological Museum is located here and a little distance away there is the Roman Catholic Church with its beautiful courtyard. Right next to the church is a tiny Folklore Museum that remains open most days in the summer. This is a conventional house with different displays demonstrating Cretan textiles and lifestyle. The textile machinery on display can be interesting to examine.
If you take a right turn at the end of Halidon Street, you will reach Sifaka Street or Knife Street. This street sports an endless variety of handmade knives. It is rather overwhelming to see so many sizes, shapes and textures of knives and they can make for some good pictures.
The Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Isodion stands opposite the Archaeological Museum, look towards the left and you can see a somewhat crowded street named Skridlof or the Leather Lane. This is where you can go to buy authentic handmade leather bags, boots and jackets. This lane also has a couple of interesting jewellery shops.
Continue walking along Leather Lane and you will soon reach the 4000 sq. feet large Agora Market.
If you walk some distance past the back steps of the market, you can catch a glimpse of the picturesque Turkish Minaret. Try taking a picture of it from this angle and you will get commendable results.
If you walk to the right around the Harbor, there is an ancient Turkish Mosque that occasionally opens for exhibitions nowadays. It stands opposite the Arabian Lighthouse and is known as Mosque of Kioutsouk Hasan / Giali Tzamisi, the oldest Ottoman building in Crete. This 17th-century construct with a circular roof and impressive design was constructed after Crete and Chania City were occupied by the Ottoman Empire ending the Venetian rule.
Giali Tzamisi translates literally into ‘Mosque of the seaside’ in keeping with its picturesque setting. A portion of this construct was damaged by the Nazis during the Second World War and the building is now an exhibition hall. You cannot miss the massive square structure with a big dome and four arches. There are also six small domes but no minaret.
Right in front of the mosque, there are Buggies (horse-drawn carriages) to take you for a swirl around the Chania Harbour. Do not miss this experience!!
Watching the Sunset
The Old Venetian Harbor in Chania faces both the west and east. This allows it to offer beautiful sunset and sunrise views encompassing a sweeping view of the town and the enveloping ocean. Typically, one of the first images associated with Chania is a large pink and orange sunset-drenched harbour with the striking Egyptian lighthouse, Ottoman Mosque to the right and pastel-shaded heritage buildings flanking the left.
You can watch the sunset from any of the beautiful cafes dotting the Harbor (preferably choose one with a little elevation) or simply during an evening walk by the waterside.
Other attractions near Chania Harbor
The most visually striking structure at the entrance to Chania Harbor is the Arabian Lighthouse. This ancient lighthouse dates back to the Venetian time and had undergone restoration by the Egyptians in 1830. This is actually why the lighthouse is referred to as the Egyptian Lighthouse. For tourists as well as locals, the lighthouse is the best city landmark. Originally used as a protection tool against pirates, the lighthouse now moors fishing vessels.
A Sea Wall extends from the lighthouse on which it is possible to walk around the old Venetian Harbor. This sea wall shielded hundreds of ships. One of the important reasons was that the sea sand was caught inside the harbour causing intermittent excavation of the harbour’s bottom so that it is kept deep enough. The sea wall of Chania Harbor has an interesting café restaurant.
Like most of Chania’s architecture, the Lighthouse has design elements of the Venetians (it was built by them) and the Ottomans (restored by the Egyptians). You cannot get a better foreground for your “Sunset in Chania” pictures than this!!
The sea wall’s opposite side has the Neoria buildings, the largest of which is the Megalo Arsenali which hosts the Centre of Mediterranean Architecture. Neoria has a roof with a masterful personality so it is impossible not to notice them. The Neoria buildings were functioning as Shipyards. When pirates and Ottomans ransacked Chania, the Neoria buildings became storehouses containing gargantuan amounts of food supplies that could feed a whole city.
While strolling towards the other end of the Venetian Harbor to the western side, there are several old-school cars and cafes, however, the massive and well-known Firkas Fortress dominates the western side of the harbour entrance. This fortress was built in the Venetian era but after Crete was occupied by the Ottomans, Firkas served as a prison. It eventually became one of the most notorious prisons on Crete Island. The Maritime Museum of Chania is housed in the Firkas fortress and that’s an interesting place to spend an hour. Walk through different periods of the history of Crete encompassing the Balkan and the Byzantine wars, the prehistoric period and the classical era. Look out for the shipyard MORO or the exhibition of ancient naval architecture. There is a life-size copy of a 15th-century B.C. Minoan-era ship that was constructed for sailing to Athens from Crete for the 2004 Olympics. A colourful giant fish decks the exteriors of the ship and it makes for an impressive photo prop.
There is an open-air theatre with specific importance for Cretans as the first place of the Greek flag re-establishment in 1913. This was when Greece was reunited with Crete after hundreds of years of foreign rule.
The Church of Agios Nikolas is definitely worth a look as it is a unique structure. The building has a bell tower and also a minaret signifying the ancient symbiosis of Muslims and Christians. This church was actually transformed into a Mosque during the Ottoman occupation. Later it was again reconverted into a church but the Minaret still stands. The interiors have gleaming brass and pretty red-orange trimmings. You can light a candle, pray and soak up the ambience but photography is not allowed.
The church square dates back to 1821 and has a tragic story of the clergy being hung to death by the Turks during the time of their occupation. Currently, the square is a spot for local gatherings and can be interesting to spend some time here.
Restaurants & Cafes
There are many popular restaurants and cafes around Chania Harbor but these are some of our best choices.
Laganan (800 meters from the old Harbor) with its choice of seven kinds of fresh pasta and surprisingly low prices is arguably the best place in Crete to have Italian food. Try Caesar salad with garlic bread, Milanese risotto, Alfredo pasta, Florentine and Bolognese. The fast service and the convenient buzzer system that notifies customers as soon as the order is ready are great.
Address: Daskalogianni 69, Chania Town, Phone: +30 2821 114808
Perperas is the typical friendly Greek taverna with a laid-back atmosphere and very genuine staff who try hard to make the customer experience memorable. The menu is basically cheeses and meats but the unpretentious nature is part of the charm. The location is central but tucked away from the bustle of the harbour. Try the classic tzatziki and the pork with potatoes or maybe the shrimp fettuccini. The waiter (who may be the owner) will describe each dish in detail.
Address: Kapsokalivon 6, Chania Town, Phone: +30 2821 500057
Pork to Beef Wild is unadulterated sinful street food. The menu is delicious meat-based (pork, chicken and steak) and the Angus beef in a soft roll and Vegetable Pita is truly exceptional. Food is flavourful, portions are generous but the ambience will not suit leisurely conversations and romance. Plenty of cheap beer and house wine are on offer. The house pita is specially crafted by a local bakery and the house salad dressing has a totally unique orange zing to it!!
Address: Sifaka 69, Chania Town, Phone: +30 2821 053777
Mon.Es is where you go to have a fancy dinner on the Chania Harbor. This is a sophisticated 16th-century Venetian establishment ensconced inside a high-walled courtyard. Try the Octopus and the Sea bass or maybe the lamb shank. The caramelised pork belly and the wine list are impressive too. Food is not cheap here but definitely value for money. The restaurant can be a bit tricky to find as it is in a narrow alley.
Address: 4th Parodos Sarpaki Kallinikou, Phone: +30 2821 052129
Apart from these places, there are plenty of small un-named places that sell freshly picked sardines in stuffed/fried/ pickled forms. Enjoy these with a hearty glass of Raki.
Shopping Around Chania Harbour
The Agora (indoor market or the municipal market of Chania) featuring an interesting cross-shaped design and a highly intriguing aesthetic, is one of the best places to shop near the Harbor. There are almost 726 shops inside and window-shopping plus photography here is as much fun as shopping itself. A local Cretan speciality you can definitely pick up here is an olive wood knife… you can get one for around 15 Euros and that’s a lot cheaper than the prices at any Greek mainstream town.
There are an astounding number of fish… most of them freshly caught. This market has a lot of interesting things including lovely fragrant soaps made from local olive oil. Some other things you can pick up here are rokomelo, raki, Greek wine, souvlaki spices, local tea, loofahs and sponges, herbs, cheese, and olives. Look out for traditional Greek slippers with pointy toes. There is an amazing array of evil eye-shaped souvenirs… in fact, the Agora is the best place to tick off your souvenir shopping lists.
The stallholders are very friendly and open to bargaining. You will find an ATM machine inside. If you arrive early, then you can have a traditional Greek breakfast at the Kafenio.
For higher-end shopping visit the Xamam Clothes store on Chalidon Street and browse through the lovely ceramic artefacts on Flakatoras Ceramics on Zampeliou Street. The Elephant Store on Kondilaki 30 has unusual yet classy clothing lines while To Meli has some really amazing Cretan products (they hand out free samples too).
How to Reach Chania Harbour?
The Chania Venetian Harbour is located where the Old Town of Chania meets the sea. You can simply take a cab (20 minutes) or a bus (30 minutes) to the Harbour from the Chania airport.