The third-largest city in Crete with a population of about 25,000, Rethymnon is in some ways like a scaled-down version of Chania, with its harbour, strong Venetian and Turkish influences, and strong traditional culture. Like its neighbour along the coast to the west, Rethymnon also goes by several variations on its name, such as Rethymno and Rethimnon.
Restaurants Line the Venetian Harbour
The original name of the town was actually Rithymna, and it is known to have been occupied since Minoan times. There are no palatial Minoan remains but there are many from the Greco-Roman period when it was already a busy trading centre and port. During the 16th century Venetian rule it boomed, attaining a reputation for art and scholarship that it retains to this day.
The Venetian Fortress
It was a busy time architecturally too, and the Venetian fortress, which is such a dominant feature of the town, was built in the 1570s to defend against pirate attack and also with one prescient eye on the increasing dominance of the Turks. The strength of the fortress was short-lived, as the Turks conquered it in 1645 after a siege that lasted for 23 days.
The Fortetsa, as it is called, is said to be the biggest Venetian fortress ever built and is still in quite good condition, revealing inside the remains of some administrative buildings, a barracks, cisterns, the church of St Catherine and the Sultan Ibrahim Mosque. It is even big enough to contain a small theatre, used for performances in summer. The views from the huge ramparts over coast and town are worth the visit alone.
The Archaeological Museum
Opposite the entrance to the Fortetsa is the former prison, which now houses the Archaeological Museum. The conversion has been well done and the displays are arranged in rooms around a light, central atrium. Although the city itself is not rich in Minoan remains, the surrounding area certainly is and the museum has an excellent collection of them, including a fascinating and large selection of painted burial chests known as larnakes. There is also a good range of statuary, especially from the Greco-Roman period when Rethymnon was a prospering outpost.
The Old Town
The Old Town
To the south of the Archaeological Museum is the old part of the town, with numerous structures of historical interest which seem a long way removed from the jostle of foreign visitors in the harbour tavernas and stretched out along the town beaches. But there is bustle in the old town too, notably around the Rimondi Fountain, which stands at one end of a busy main street surrounded by cafes and shops. The fountain was built in 1629 by the Venetian governor (allegedly jealous of the Morosini Fountain in Iraklion), with waterspouts in the shape of the lions’ heads that are emblematic of Venice. Close by is an even older building, the 16th century loggia, built by the Venetians as a marketplace.
(c) Google Maps
The Venetian Harbour
The Venetian Harbour
Near here is the little Venetian harbour, only able to take the smaller boats and the local fishermen, with the bigger inter-island and Piraeus ferries forced to moor outside. It’s in the Venetian harbour that the fishermen can be found mending their nets, and in the mornings selling their catch from the night before. At the harbour too is another notable Venetian legacy, the 16th century lighthouse. By night here the scene is transformed, as all the world comes here to see and be seen, to eat and drink the night away.
Watch out for Brink's craft beers while you're on Crete, and maybe tour the brewery as we did.
The Arkadi Monastery
An essential trip out of town is 24km (15 miles) to the southeast where, in a truly spectacular setting at the head of a gorge and surrounded by groves of fruit trees, stands the monastery of Moni Arkadi. A monastery has stood on this site since the 5th century, with what we see today dating mostly from the 16th century when the Venetians restored the buildings including the audaciously ornate double-naved church which is the site's most impressive feature. We've listed it as one of the best things to see on Crete, and if you want to learn more visit our page about Arkadi Monastery.
Where to Stay in Rethymnon
Some other Crete pages
Crete (Kriti) is the largest Greek island and its main attractions include the Minoan Palace of Knossos, the Samarian Gorge, Chania and Rethymnon.
The largest of the Greek islands, Crete has four ENUESCO sites, which are Sitia, Psiloritis, Asterousia, and the Gorge of Samaria.
The Dalabelos Estate offers luxury eco-tourism accommodation on Crete in the hills near Rethymnon with its own farm, vineyard and olive groves.
Crete’s wildlife and landscape are two of the island’s attractions, including gorges for hiking, rare raptors like the lammergeier, wildcats and ancient trees.
Ancient Gournia is a Minoan archaeological site between Agios Nikolaos and Sitia in Eastern Crete where the visitor can see evidence of a maze of back streets.
The best things to do on Crete and top things to see include the Samaria Gorge, the Minoan Palaces at Knossos and Phaistos, the towns of Chania and Rethymnon.
Crete festivals and events include Carnival Easter, Whitsun, Christmas, many other religious feast days and public holidays.
Greece Travel Secrets suggests where to stay in Eastern Crete with our favourite hotels in Zakros, Elounds, Sitia, Agios Nikolaos, Istron Bay, Myrtos, Neapolis.
Greece Travel Secrets’ potted guide to Eastern Crete and why you should consider it for a holiday, including seeing Agios Nikolaos, Sitia, Vai Beach and Zakros.
How to see eastern Crete in five days, with its beaches, Minoan palaces, timeless villages, unique churches and mountain and coastal scenery.
Greece Travel Secrets discovers Sitia, the main town in eastern Crete, with its relaxing waterfront, inexpensive hotels, good food, and nearby ancient sites.
Greece Travel Secrets recommends where to eat in Eastern Crete including restaurants and tavernas in Elounda, Agios Nikolaos, Sitia, and Kato Zakros.
Greece Travel Secrets visits Visual Arts Crete who offer accommodation and run art courses at their home and studio in the village of Kastellos near Rethymnon.
Chania is the main city in Western Crete with a lovely setting and a beautiful harbour as well as several museums.
Greece Travel Secrets visits the Crete Botanical Gardens near Chania and finds a wonderland of colourful plants, trees, and flowers filling a lovely valley.
Crete's capital and largest city is Irakleio, also called Iraklion or Heraklion, a large and busy place with good restaurants, museums and historical buildings.
Driving on Crete is the best way to see Greece’s biggest island and here is our driving advice and some information about Greek driving regulations.
These shopping tips for Crete include advice on buying souvenirs like ceramics, icons, jewellery, leather, weavings, wood carvings, and food and drink.
Malia on the north coast of Crete is renowned for its nightlife and beaches but also has the Minoan Palace of Malia, one of Crete's many archaeological sites.
Greece Travel Secrets page on Phaistos or Faistos, the site of one of the finest Minoan palaces on Crete and is where the mysterious Phaistos Disc was found.
Sir Arthur Evans is the archaeologist famous for the excavations he made at the royal palace of Knossos on Crete.
Visiting Knossos near Iraklion is one of the best things to do on Crete, and this page has a history of the site with visitor information.
What was daily life as a Minoan like on Crete, living in palaces like the ones at Knossos, Malia, Phaistos, and Zakros, and what were their religious beliefs?
Is someone from Crete a Greek or a Cretan? They are both, of course, but most will tell you that they are Cretan first and Greek second.
Driving central Crete in three days gives you time to see the highlights including the Minoan palaces at Knossos and Phaistos, the beaches and the Diktean Cave.
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