Chania is the westernmost of the four Prefectures on the island of Crete – the others being Rethymnon, Heraklion, and Lasithi. It is perhaps the most unspoiled region of the island, boasting beautiful mountains, often snow-capped through most of the year, plentiful forests, magnificent beaches, and the island’s only freshwater lakes. It also boasts the Samaria Gorge National Park, a breathtaking gorge in the White Mountains that is one of the island’s main tourist attractions.
Most of the population is scattered along the northern coast, although there are many remote mountain villages and a few small villages on the south coast. The capital and largest city of the Prefecture is Chania, a bustling city with both old and modern sections. The Old Town is the major draw. It is an ancient Old Town with twisting narrow lanes and alleys reserved primarily for pedestrians. There are numerous old stone villas and houses, many of which have been converted into boutique hotels, trendy restaurants and tavernas, music bars, and shops offering a wide variety of handcrafted items. Chania has one of the island's major airports, and is also an important port both for cruise ships and ferries.
Chania Old Town
There is a port and harbor section, which boasts impressive Venetian walls that protected the city’s old Firkas Fortress, a Venetian lighthouse, and an old Turkish mosque. Also in the harbor is the Maritime Museum housed in a beautiful Venetian building that was once part of the fortress complex. The museum showcases more than 2,500 items relating to the nautical heritage of the island, including ship models and artifacts found at the bottom of the sea. Its showpiece is a full-scale replica of an ancient Minoan ship dating to the 15th century BC.
Also in the Old Town is the Archeological Museum, with an impressive collection of artifacts from the Minoan, Roman, Venetian, and Turkish periods. This museum is housed in a spectacular building that was once a Catholic church. Also here is the Municipal Art Museum. While housed in a lovely old building, its interior is strikingly modern, with its three floors resembling a ship. The museum exhibits primarily modern (19th and 20th century) Greek and Cretan artists.
Other Chania Attractions
About a 15-minute walk from the harbor, and just on the edge of the Old Town, is the Central Market. This is set in a historic building as cavernous as a warehouse. It houses wall-to-wall stalls that include some vendors selling typical tourist souvenirs. But the fascinating parts of the market are the food stalls. There are shops selling traditional Cretan agricultural products – olive oil and olives, local honey, herbs, and wine. There are working food markets popular with locals – butchers, fishmongers, cheese sellers, and fresh produce. And there are eating places, often crammed with diners, where the food is prepared right in front of you from fresh local foods. You can visit the ornate Orthodox Cathedral, as well as other churches, including the old Synagogue. There are a number of fascinating archeological sites near the city. Also, it is about a 1.5 to two-hour drive to Heraklion, which also boasts an excellent Archeological Museum, and the incredible ruins of Knossos.
Chania Hotels and Lodging
Most tourists stay in the vicinity of the Old Town, which has numerous hotels, apartments, and rooms for rent. While the Old Town is easily explored on foot, it is hilly, with cobbled steps and inclines to be navigated. Most hotels are in very old buildings with several floors and no elevators. If you have difficulty walking, you should do careful research to ensure you have a hotel with an elevator or a room on the ground floor. Some of the hotels are not accessible by car, and you will have to lug your bags for two to four blocks.
Two typical boutique hotels are the Casa del Columbo and Casa Delfino. They are located next to each other, but have differences. Casa Delfino is a five-star property housed in an expansive Turkish villa, with a spa and roof terrace boasting magnificent views, as well as a beautiful inner courtyard. Suites are luxurious. There is no parking, but you can park your car next to hotel to offload luggage. Reception is open 24 hours. The Casa del Columbo is a three-star property set in a beautiful Venetian mansion. You will have to lug your bags two to four blocks on cobbled alleys with steps. The only harbor views are from rooms on the top floor – up 64 steps. Reception closes at 9:00 pm, and you will have a key to get in after that. Breakfast and free wifi are included at both properties.
There are some hotels right in the flat harbor area, where you can park, and which have elevators. You can also choose to stay in the more modern part of the city or in one of the many nearby villages and towns. There are apartments available for rent within town, and outside of town you will find a number of self-contained villas from one to five bedrooms and suitable for couples or small groups.