The old town of Chania is perched on Crete’s North-Western Coast and it is around 145 kilometres away from Heraklion. Dotted by serpentine lanes and filled with colourful taverns and curio shops and surprisingly chic restaurants, the Old Town is the best place for a long walk. There are enough attractions here to keep you hooked forever but it’s best to explore this dazzlingly confusing place one area at a time.
There are some distinctly different areas of the old town, The Evraiki District or the Jewish Quarter, Topanas District or the Christian Quarter, the Splantzia District or the Turkish District, and the Old Venetian Harbour, each offering a separate cultural experience.
You can go through this Viator webpage and find numerous tours of the old town of Chania including many excellent walking tours.
Evraiki (Formerly Jewish Quarter)
The Jewish Quarter/ Evraiki district stands to the North West in the old town of Chania. It was addressed as the Jewish ghetto in the Venetian period. After the 1645 Turkish invasion, the Jewish community constructed their own neighbourhood behind the harbour. In fact, the resilient Jews of the Island were direct spectators of the Roman, Arab, Byzantine, Ottoman, and Venetian occupations. By 1941 there were only 300 Jews here… all huddled in this region?
The principal Jewish street known as Kondylaki initiates from the port and stretches to the south walls of the city.
Chalidon Street is one of the densest Chania Old Town streets and a notable stop here is the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption.
Right across the road, there is the pretty blue-domed Roman Catholic Church and the Folklore Museum of Chania.
The resurrected 14th-century Monastery of St Francis which hosts the Archaeological Museum of Chania is also an important stop on Chalidon Street; look out for some fine pottery and clay statues besides Minoan sarcophagi.
The Stivanadika or the street boasting of authentic leather items (especially boots) is a good shopping stop here.
Do not miss a visit to one of Crete’s oldest places of worship, the Kal Kadosh Etz Hayyim Synagogue; it’s the only remaining Jewish place of worship dating back to the Middle Ages. The interiors have conventional layouts of the Romaniotes and there are double courtyards containing the tombs of four rabbis. The Bet Shalom synagogue was destroyed during the Cretan Battle.
The West side of Chania old town has the beautiful Topanas district. This was a safe haven for Christians during the Ottoman invasion. Topanas translated into cannons and an old building in this area was used to store ammunition.
Theotokopoulou Street is the main artery of this area and it is lined on both sides with hotels and Airbnb’s over a large range of aesthetics and budgets. To see the most gorgeous, under-advertised Venetian architecture, stroll into Angelou Street with lovely mansions dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries.
Most houses in this zone retain a Venetian architectural flair but some gave the Ottoman influence too with the hai-arti (Harem room). This is a projecting wood façade that is on the first/second floor of the structures. Their purpose was presumably to stop the men on the ground from looking up at the ladies upstairs!!
The Museum of Byzantine and Post Byzantine Art (formerly the San Salvatore Church) is a must-visit place on this side of the town. The Firkas Fortress is also nearby and so is the striking red building hosting the Maritime Museum of Crete. You can get a fantastic view of the Old Venetian Port from this side of town and is probably the best place to click some Panorama pictures.
The Old Venetian Harbor with its famous lighthouse, Firka fortress, bars and restaurants and sunset points also falls under the Chania Old town. There is the famous Küçük Hasan Mosque/ Yiali Tzamisi Mosque; Crete’s oldest Islamic structure (1645). It is also known as the Mosque of the Janissaries…as only the Turkish law keeper soldiers (Janissaries) used to pray here. You will recognize the distinct central dome flanked by four smaller ones from postcards of Crete.
Move a little away from the East end of the Venetian harbour and there is the Koum Kapi beach (the nearest swimming area to the old town). There is a beautiful seafront with great bars and views.
The west side of the old Venetian port contains the Grand Arsenal. This historic building signified the end of the Venetian arsenals dockyards. The 17 vaulted buildings were constructed to build and repair ship masts and sails. Many changes were made to the building, such as a second floor replacing the barrelled roof during the Turkish occupation.
The building became a school, hospital, theatre and the Chania City Hall between 1872 to 1941 before being almost razed to the ground by the 1941 German attack. Thankfully, the Centre of Architecture of the Mediterranean in Chania restored the Grand Arsenal. Currently, the Centre of Mediterranean Architecture organizes critical cultural events, international shows and art exhibits linked to architecture here.
If history intrigues you then the Kasteli district of the Chania Old Town should be your first stop. This is the oldest district of the old town and was once the administrative hub of the city, perched on a tiny hill overlooking the old harbour. It was constructed inside the first Byzantine walls and the Venetian walls but the Second World War destroyed much of its glorious heritage.
The top of the Kasteli hills naturally offers a sweeping view of the lighthouse and the harbour. Once on the hill, you will easily understand why this was a premium place to settle as it offers good views of potential encroachers/ invaders and made access challenging. La Maison Ottomane is at the centre showcasing the remnants of 6000 years of continuous habitation; the ruins of a 1400 BC multi-story Minoan Settlement.
Kydonia City is mentioned by Homer as a prosperous place and it was named after Emperor Kydon. Kydonia became extremely prosperous and rich during the Minoan period.
Kasteli’s principal artery is Kanevaro Street which dissects this region from the east to the west. The street was once lined with the stupendously ornate mansions of the super-rich…. the Premarin, Zangaroli and Da Molin noblesse. The Second World War air raids destroyed these beautiful structures.
You can however view the ruins of the excavation and there are vestiges of huge houses with spacious rooms, enamelled floors with circular structures, panelled walls, fireplaces, and ceramics of great quality and beauty. Local lore says that a yet-to-be-excavated Minoan palace lies under the Chania modern city.
The Agia Ekaterini Square was situated in the middle of Kanevaro Street where it hosted the Catholic Church of Santa Maria for centuries. There were various ancillary buildings surrounding the church including a monastery and these were destroyed during the 1941 German bombardment. The ruins look exceptionally beautiful around sunset.
Some of the important pieces of these mansions like the Zangroli mansion’s portals are stored at the Archeological Museum of Chania.
However, the archaeological area of the Minoan City of Kydonia has an intriguing mesh of ruins that have been unearthed by recent excavations. There are huge ruins that probably were villas of the late Neolithic period.
The best findings of the Minoan city are now hosted at the Archeological Museum of Chania located on Chalidon Street.
The Southeast fringes of the Old Town of Chania are the Splantzia district and it was known as the Turkish quarter during the Turkish occupation. The Plateia 1821 (formerly the Splantzia Square) was the core religious zone of Chania during the Turkish invasion. Naturally, there is an abundance of Turkish Christian fusion architecture here like the grand Church of Agios Nikolaus which has a minaret as well as a steeple.
The small yet exquisite Church of Agia Eirini is also worth a deep look. 1600 dated Catholic Church of San Rocco should be your next stop. Locals built this church for a saint who had the power to prevent the plague.
One of the best things you could do here is to walk down Chatzimichali Daliani Street to the core of the area where the Turks used to live. This is the best place in Old Town in terms of food. Every evening, scores of restaurants line up this street selling conventional Cretan food to high-end fusion food
Do not forget to take a picture of the Ahmet Aga Minaret here (it soars high over the neighbouring rooftops) that is the only survivor of the 1941 Nazi bombings.
Next to the minaret is Kibar: the Monastery of Karolos is a chic bar that has been remodelled from an old Venetian monastery. After you have the most atmospheric drink of your trip here, stroll down to the northern part of Splantzia to the Street of Knives (Maxeradika Street). Crete’s history is infused with the rich culture of knife making and you can still see local men (and women) wearing beautiful daggers (known as Foukari).
The main street here is Daskalogianni which teems with bakeries, chemist shops and grocers.
Splantzia is now the best place to café hop. Look for restaurants serving true blue Cretan food as well as fusion cuisine. Chatzimichali Daliani Street is the best place to go and check out the lively local (and un-touristy) nightlife scene of the Old Town. During the day, the street looks shockingly quiet.
Chania’s prettiest square (known as 1821 by the locals) or Splantzia Square is a great spot to sip some coffee and people watch. There is an old plane tree here with a tragic history… Bishop Despotakis and her clergy were hung here in the 1821 Turkish uprising.
Overall the Turkish/ Spanish Quarter exudes a very foreign aesthetic that is different from the conventional Greek vibes of Crete.
Shopping in Old Town of Chania
Steer clear of the generic stores, and shop local, unique items that are as exclusive as this place. Carry cash… cards do not work much here.
The Stivanadika (Jewish Quarter) is the best stop for buying original leather local Stivania (Crete shoes). This is still worn extensively in rural areas paired with large baggy pants (vraka) and the quirky fringed headscarf (sariki). Chania is especially known for its white boots while brown boots are normally known as work boots.
On Angelou Street, there is the Costa Carpet Shop that sells beautiful carpets and fabrics along with Turkish Kilns. You will also find antiquated bed covers in brilliant hues either with geometric patterns or hand-embroidered flowers.
Carmella’s is veritably an institution of Chania… a stylish collection of Modern Greek jewellery and black pottery.
Halidon Street has many attractive shops including jewellery, furs and Greek fashion apparel. You can also find perfumers, ateliers, shoemakers, exquisite handbag makers and an abundance of shops selling evil eye and worry beads.
Mesgiako (fringes of Splanzia) is known for fine designer handbag shops and jewellers. Nearby there is Tsouderon which connects to the Chania Public Market which is a historic building filled with the best cheese shops, bakeries, butchers and fresh olive oil sellers. There are handmade soaps, creams, lotions and unusual-looking vegetables and fruits (take photos even if you don’t buy them).
At the junction of the old town and new town there is the Agora Marketplace; a cool mall-like structure where you can pick up local cheese like mizithra and Cretan graviera.
Pick up some original wood-handled Cretan knives from Knife Street to take home as souvenirs… they are surprisingly affordable. Typically Cretans would carry two knives on their waist; one for food and the other for self-defence. The knives have unique handles crafted from wood/ horn and the blades have inscriptions of Cretan songs (often praising the land).
Another typical Cretan speciality is Greek wines which can be brought from Miden Agan (Daskalogianni Square). There are hundreds of blends (some home-produced) and the shop stocks lovely gourmet gift sets and sweets too.
Dining in Old Chania Town
Each district in the Old Town has its own flavour but here is the cream of the soup.
Kariatis is a chic restaurant literally fused to the old Kasteli wall next to the Venetian Harbour. They serve Japanese and Italian food with subtle Greek undertones. Their wine list is extensive with a wide selection of international and Greek labels.
Address: Katechaki 12, Old Harbour, Chania
Semiramis is the quintessential Greek tavern albeit a polished one. They have a gorgeous dining area flanked by lovely heritage houses on each side. You get to hear live music from 8 pm to midnight every day and eat traditional Greek food.
Address: Skoufon 8, Chania.
The Well of the Turk is in the Turkish Quarter and offers true blue oriental and Turkish cuisine. Apart from the highly photogenic blue and white furniture dotting the restaurant, the vegetarian options served here are a big draw.
Address: Sarpaki 1, Chania.
Avli ton Thavmaton (The Miracles’ Garden) in the Spanish Quarter is a distinctly un-touristy place always teeming with locals. When you do grab a seat, order a Tsikoudia first for cleansing your palette and then a platter of Cretan mezedes. You can get a well-rounded picture of Cretan gastronomic miracles here at a reasonable price!!
Address: V. Roussou 1, Splantzia, Chania.
In Splantzia, do not forget to check out the Glimadis Bakery for its amazing range of pastries and soufflés and the heavy yet superbly delicious souvlaki at Kosta. Also, look for Anna’s (Chania’s best Mezze café) on Chadzimichali Daliani.
The Knife Street has plenty of little taverns that sell various types of local beers. Adesposto (Sifaka Street) however offers an intimate romantic vibe and pleasant seating. Try their stamnagathi salad with local figs and cheese, sea salt sprinkled potato peels and an inventive array of mushrooms.
To Maridaki is the best place for a quick, fresh and affordable meal. The lunch menu changes daily and the super friendly staff will serve you a complimentary dessert after you polish off your food.
Address: Daskalogianni 33, Chania.
Ginger Concept is a tiny place laid in a residential area with lovely shaded nooks and an open seating area. Try doing dinner here and you will get a lesson in structuring your meal around the excellent wine available. The menu is light with a focus on fresh ingredients and it’s the best place in the Old Town for breakfast/ brunch.
Address: Sarpaki 36, Chania
Historic Hotels in Old Town of Chania
It’s recommended that you at least stay for a couple of days in the Old Town to soak in the atmosphere and look at all its attractions. Here are a few heritage places (no less than local stars) you could look at.
Casa Delfino Boutique Hotel boasts a long and romantic history of one of Crete’s most important families. The present owner (Margarita) is a sixth-generation family member preserving the interesting chapters of her family history.
Apart from incredible architecture, the hotel has a unique personalized concierge service, gorgeous terrace bar and spa.
Rate provided by Booking.com
Address: Theophanous 9, Old Town Chania
Serenissima Boutique Hotel is the sixth oldest building on the island and has a long history of multiple renovations. Constructed by a wealthy Venetian in 1550, it was passed on to a rich Turk later who introduced some changes in the building structure.
There is a traditional Turkish steam bath that the Ottoman houses were famous for and it’s the perfect place for relaxation. In fact, the entire concept of the hotel hinges on rest and relaxation right from the sumptuous bathrooms to the incredibly luxurious mattresses.
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Address: Skoufon 4, Old Town Chania, Venetian Quarter
Monastery Estate Venetian Harbour is a building that once in the 16th century used to be a castle of a Venetian noblesse before being occupied by a Turkish Aga along with his Harem till 1913. The location is spectacular, right near the seafront in the old harbour and very near the Ahmet Aga mosque. A walled patio, exquisite arches, Turkish bath and suites with beautiful views of Chania’s lovely skyline made of minarets, towers and fortifications are some of the exclusive features here.
The place was reconstructed leading to the discovery of some old Roman walls under the building. These date back to the 1st century AC and are displayed under a glass floor. The Monastery Estate has a lovely swimming pool and an award-winning restaurant (outdoor and indoor).
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Address: 40-42 4th Kallinikou Sarpaki Due, Old Harbour Chania
Ionas Boutique Hotel is in Splantzia and presents a great blend of the traditional and the modern. There is a uniquely designed clock at the entrance that will immediately make you want to take some photos.
The rooms are modern with comfortable facilities and are affordably priced. This lies in a pedestrian area and is yet within walking distance from the Venetian port as well as some of the best cafes and restaurants.
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Address: Sarpaki and Sorvolou, Old Town Chania.