Chania Travel Guide - Island of Crete - Greece
One of the most beautiful areas of Crete is the Chania county. It is situated on the west side of the island and is the greenest one. It has pristine beaches, beautiful landscape and nature like the Samaria Gorge and the White Mountains (Lefka Ori), a picturesque town with a Venetian port and lovely villages like Sfakia and Loutro.
THE CITY OF CHANIA
The City of Chania is the capital of the Municipality and the second largest city of Crete, built over the ruins of the Minoan city Kydonia. Its area is 12.56 square kilometers with a population of 53.910 inhabitants (population census 2011). The city has two major gates: the airport in Akrotiri and Souda harbor, which is the biggest natural harbor of the Mediterranean. The city of Chania constitutes a crossroad of civilizations and continents with a long history, natural beauty, unique architecture and rich tradition. The main characteristic of the city is the Venetian port of the old city with the Egyptian lighthouse that has survived for many centuries and attracts the eye of residents and visitors.
Your first stop upon arriving in the region should be to the Old Town of Chania. Easily one of the most beautiful towns in all of Greece, Chania is a mix of Cretan, Venetian, and Ottoman influences. It is composed of maze-like, cobbled lanes and the narrow alleys are sprinkled with beautiful Venetian buildings, elaborate churches, shops filled with traditional Greek products, and delicious tavernas serving up the epitome of Greek gastronomy. The old town’s main square is called 1821 (also known as Splantzia), named after the year locals revolted against the Turks. Agios Nikolaos Church is there, too, the only church that features both a bell tower and a minaret – another proof of the diverse conquerors of Chania. The Jewish quarter ("Evraiki" or "Ovraiki") was located at the north-west of the Old Town, behind the harbor and within the borders of Topanas. The whole Topanas area is generally very picturesque, with many narrow alleys and old charming buildings, some of which have been restored as hotels, restaurants, shops and bars. This makes it a lively and colorful place especially during the warm period (April-October). In the winter, it still remains a center of activities (especially for nightlife) but in a more quiet and atmospheric way. Part of the marine area of Halepa is called Tabakaria, where a unique architectural complex of old leather processing houses is situated. The district of Koum Kapi (the Venetians had first named it "Sabbionara", which means "the Gate of the Sand", the same as "Koum Kapi") situated beyond the walls at the eastern part of the old town, was also one of the first places to be inhabited outside the fortification walls. Initially, it was home for the "Halikoutes", a group of bedouins from North Africa who had actually settled there since the last years of the Turkish occupation. Nowadays it is a developing area with many trendy cafes, bars and restaurants on its picturesque beach. And if you feel like watching the town from high above, you could always go to Koukouvaya Cafe, to have a cup of coffee along with one of the many delicious desserts and enjoy the beautiful view of Chania Town (you will find it at the Venizelos Graves). Moreover, there are many historical sites, monuments and museums you can visit in Chania city. For more information about Chania Town, as well as maps and tour guide app of Chania, you can visit Chania's Municipality page: https://www.chaniatourism.com/the-city-of-chania/chania-maps.html and https://www.chaniatourism.com/the-city-of-chania/chania-tour-guide-app.html .
The Samaria Gorge is also in the prefecture of Chania in southwest Crete. It was created by a small river running between the White Mountains and Mt. Volakias. There are a number of other gorges in the White Mountains. While some say that the gorge is 18 km long, this distance refers to the distance between the settlement of Omalos on the northern side of the plateau and the village of Agia Roumeli. In fact, the gorge is 16 km long, starting at an altitude of 1,250m at the northern entrance, and ending at the shores of the Libyan Sea in Agia Roumeli. The walk through Samaria National Park is 13 km long, but you have to walk another three km to Agia Roumeli from the park exit, making the hike 16 km. The most famous part of the gorge is the stretch known as the Iron Gates, where the sides of the gorge close in to a width of only four meters and soar up to a height of 500 m.
The gorge became a national park in 1962, particularly as a refuge for the rare kri-kri (Cretan goat), which is largely restricted to the park and an island just off the shore of Agia Marina. There are several other endemic species in the gorge and surrounding area, as well as many other species of flowers and birds.
The village of Samaria lies just inside the gorge. It was finally abandoned by the last remaining inhabitants in 1962 to make way for the park. The village and the gorge take their names from the village's ancient church, Ossia Maria (Saint Mary).
A "must" for visitors to Crete is to complete the walk down the gorge from the Omalos plateau to Agia Roumeli on the Libyan Sea, at which point tourists sail to the nearby village of Hora Sfakion and catch a coach back to Chania. The walk takes 4-7 hours and can be strenuous, especially at the height of summer.
Local tourist operators provide organized tours to the Gorge. These include bus transportation from your hotel to the entrance (near Omalos village), and the bus will be waiting for you to disembark the ferry in Sfakia (Hora Sfakeon) to take you back. If you are on your own, you can make a one-day round trip from Chania or from Sougia or Paleochora (which is also a beautiful village with a large sandy beach and exquisite crystal clear water) . Note that the morning buses from Sougia and Paleochora do not operate on Sunday. The ferries leave Agia Roumeli to Chora Sfakeon (East-bound) and to Sogia/Paleochora (West-bound) at 18:00.
There also exists a "lazy way" - from Agia Roumeli to the Iron Gates (more or less an hour of non-challenging terrain) and back.
- Visits to the National park are allowed from May 1 to October 15.
- Park visiting hours are 07:00 to 15:00 daily. From 15:00 to sunset, visitors are allowed to walk a distance of only two km within the park, either from Xyloskalo or from Agia Roumeli.
- Within the park it is strictly prohibited to camp, stay overnight, light fires, or swim in the streams of the gorge.
BEST BEACHES OF CHANIA
Some of the most beautiful beaches of Crete are in Chania county. A sample of the best beaches of Chania can be found below:
Falassarna is a very popular seaside resort on the western coast of Crete, in the department of Chania in Livadi Bay. Falassarna is one of the most beautiful beaches in Crete. It is located 52 kilometers from Chania town and can be reached by car within one hour via the village of Platanos. It has a large sandy beach and all kinds of water-sports facilities, sun loungers, and parasols. The water has beautiful turquoise-like colors. There are some beach bars near the beach, as well as a small fishing harbor on the southern side. Beach parties are regularly organized at Falassarna beach, attracting thousands of young people from the surrounding area. The sunsets in Falassarna are spectacular.
The tropical Elafonisi beach is located near a small island of the same name, which is located opposite the village of Elafonisi. The island may be small, but the beach of Elafonisi is certainly not. Elafonisi is the second largest beach in western Crete, and from June onwards it looks like a tropical paradise beach. Elafonisi can be easily reached by car; you can also take the bus from Chania and Paleochora. You walk towards the first beach of Elafonisi. This beach is surrounded by six places where beach beds and umbrellas are available for rent. There are taverns here where you can eat and drink. The water at Elafonisi is so clear that you can see the bottom almost everywhere. It has to be noted, though, that it can get really crowded on high season, since it is very famous.
Balos Beach is located at the small peninsula of Imeri Gramvousa. It is a protected natural area, which guarantees the quality of the natural habitats of protected flora and fauna. You will find 400 different (sea) plants, nearly 100 protected or endangered bird species, wild donkeys, the green turtle and the Mediterranean sea lobe at Gramvousa. Balos Beach is a lagoon and is located in a bowl-shaped bay. The colors of the sea water in the shallow lagoon are exotic due to the green to azure color. Nearby is a 16th century Venetian fort on the cliffs worth visiting.
Glyka Nera beach is located on the south coast of Crete and its name means “sweet water beach” because of the freshwater sources on the beach. Not surprisingly that there are trees on this sweet water beach. Glyka Nera beach can only be reached on foot or by boat. There are hiking trails from both Chora Sfakion and Loutro village. Along the way are a few steep cliffs, bays and chapel. Take enough drinking water! Small ferry services go from and to the tavern at Glyka Nera beach from Loutro or Chora Sfakion.
This beautiful sandy beach is located in the southwest of Crete near Elafonisi. It is an option for peace seekers and naturists who want to avoid the crowds of the popular earlier mentioned Elafonisi. Kedrodasos can be reached by taking the exit to Sklavopoula on your left hand (just coming from the north) just before Elafonisi. The road becomes a wide path there and you follow more or less a straight line and keep right. The beach is indicated by yellow arrows. After passing several greenhouses, you take the second exit on the right. This road ends in a parking lot. Then you take the path down towards the coast. The walk takes about ten minutes.
Stavros beach is located on the north side of the Akrotiri peninsula east of Chania. It is a sandy beach in a round bay through which a river flows, and it is known because a part of the film “Zorba the Greek” was recorded there. One side is dominated by a high bare mountain. Next to the main beach, a bit further away, is another quieter beach. There are also the remains of an old city or old fortress carved into the rocks and an ancient Minoan cult cave that you can reach on foot.
Seitan Limania beach is a small bay near Chania on Crete. The beach is located in an S-shaped bay on the Akrotiri peninsula, not far from the international airport. It is about 22 kilometers from Chania city (about half hour time with a car). The road to Seitan Limania beach is good, but getting there is not easy. The descent to the beach from the parking lot is over the rocks. No paved path and it requires some climbing. There are no facilities on Seitan Limania beach, so remember to bring enough drinking water and food with you.
Aspri Limni (or "White Lake") is one of the weirdest beaches in Crete that few people know. The beach has fine white sand and rocks and is surrounded by sharp rocks, reminding of a small whitish lake inside the sea. Fortunately, the beach is unexploited by the tourist industry and remains an untouched paradise. There is no natural shade in the area. This small secret beach is located 500m west of Chrysoskalitissa monastery and 70km southwest of Chania city. Thousands of visitors are attracted by the nearby exotic Elafonissi lagoon, but actually, nobody has heard of this magnificent neighboring place.
Fragokastelo (i.e. the castle of the Franks) is one of the most famous beaches of Crete, famous for the local Venetian castle on the beautiful beach and the legendary ghosts of Drosoulites. It is located 13km east of Hora Sfakion, 80km southeast of Chania, in a small valley south of the White Mountains. The main beach of Frangokastelo is truly magnificent, with sand and shallow turquoise waters, ideal for children. It is poorly organized and is quite busy. The only problem you may encounter is the often irritating winds coming from South, transporting the sand with power. West of the main beach you will find the long beach Vatalos and its wetland, which is sandy and has pebbles and rocks in parts, making it ideal for snorkelling. Walking 300m east from the main beach for 10 minutes, you will find the magnificent beach of Orthi Ammos, famous for the large sand dunes.
Last but not least, Gavdos island is located in Chania county too, on the southwest of the island.
There are plenty of activities to do in Chania - and all over Crete. You can do diving and scuba diving, sailing, cycling, mountaineering and climbing, as well as riding, paragliding, flights with small airplanes and the water park of Limnoupolis (more info at https://www.chaniatourism.com/see-do/activities.html)