It boasts a rich history dating back to the Minoan period. With its well-preserved Venetian and Ottoman architecture, narrow cobblestone streets, and picturesque harbour, Rethymno offers every traveller an intoxicating mix of experiences. It is a city of many flavours, figuratively and literally, with a thriving culinary scene as diverse as its history.
The Old Town of Rethymno is a maze of narrow, winding alleys where you can find a history and culture treasure trove. The Venetian influence is evident in the city’s architecture, with buildings like the 16th-century Rimondi Fountain and the Loggia, a stunning example of Renaissance architecture.
The Venetian Fortress, or Fortezza, stands guard over the city, offering a glimpse into the past and a spectacular panoramic view of the modern city and harbour.
In stark contrast to Venetian influence, Rethymno’s Ottoman history is equally captivating. The Neratze Mosque, once a Venetian church, was converted into a mosque during the Ottoman period. Today, it serves as the Municipal Odeon, hosting concerts and cultural events. The Kara Mousa Pasha Mosque near the Venetian harbour is another example of Ottoman architecture and a reminder of the city’s diverse past.
Rethymno Old Harbour
Lined with colourful fishing boats, the city’s harbour is a lovely afternoon or evening spot. Here, you can enjoy fresh seafood at one of the many waterfront tavernas or sip a cocktail at a trendy bar. The iconic 17th-century lighthouse, perched on the harbour’s edge, is a testament to the city’s maritime history and offers a beautiful backdrop for a stroll along the waterfront.
One key factor that makes Rethymnon a charming city is its delectable culinary scene. Crete is known for its traditional Mediterranean cuisine, which focuses on fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, and Rethymnon is no exception. The city is famous for its sweet treats, with many pastry shops offering a selection of mouth-watering delights. One local favourite is “loukoumades,” deep-fried dough balls soaked in honey and sprinkled with cinnamon and walnuts.
Another popular sweet treat in Rethymno is “bougatsa,” a flaky pastry filled with sweet custard, cheese, or minced meat. For a truly unique experience, visit a traditional kafeneio (coffee house) and savour a robust Greek coffee accompanied by a piece of bougatsa. The city also boasts a thriving food market, where you can sample local cheeses, olive oil, and fresh produce.
Rethymno is a feast for the senses and a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. The city is surrounded by pristine beaches, such as the popular Episkopi and Bali beaches, where visitors can enjoy crystal-clear waters and various water sports.
In addition to its natural beauty, Rethymno is home to numerous cultural events and festivals throughout the year. The annual Renaissance Festival, held in the summer, celebrates the city’s Venetian heritage with theatrical performances, concerts, and art exhibitions. The Carnival of Rethymno, one of Crete’s most famous carnivals, takes place in February and is a vibrant celebration of music, dance, and colourful costumes, drawing visitors from around the world.
If you’re interested in exploring the city’s rich past, the Archaeological Museum of Rethymno is a must-visit destination. Housed in a historic Venetian building, the museum showcases artefacts from the Minoan, Roman, Byzantine, and Venetian periods, offering a fascinating glimpse into the city’s long and varied history. The Historical and Folk Art Museum in a restored Venetian mansion provides insights into the island’s traditional crafts, customs, and daily life.
Trip Outside Rethymno
For a more spiritual experience, the Arkadi Monastery, situated about 23 kilometres southeast of Rethymno, symbolises Cretan resistance against the Ottoman Empire. The historic monastery is an important religious site and a testament to the resilience and determination of the Cretan people.
Feel free to venture off the beaten path when exploring Rethymno. The city’s narrow alleys are home to hidden gems, including small art galleries, boutique shops, and intimate restaurants. A leisurely walk around the city will reveal surprises, from vibrant street art to friendly cats sunbathing on the warm cobblestones.
As night falls, Rethymno’s nightlife comes alive with traditional tavernas, lively bars, and trendy clubs. For a more relaxed evening, visit a local ouzeri and sample the island’s signature spirit, raki, alongside a selection of meze and small plates of local delicacies. Rethymno is also known for its thriving live music scene, with many venues hosting traditional Cretan musicians, dancers, and contemporary Greek and international artists.
Rethymno is a university city that offers a unique blend of history, culture, natural beauty, and culinary delights. Whether exploring the enchanting Old Town, basking in the sun on a sandy beach, or savouring a delicious treat from a local pastry shop, Rethymno will leave you with memories to last a lifetime. It’s irresistible charm and warm hospitality makes it a destination that should be noticed when visiting the island of Crete.