If you ask Stefanos Manoleas how he feels about his hometown, he’ll give you a glowing review. And — given that he grew up in Rethymno, the third largest city on the Greek island of Crete — his high praise is entirely justified.
Rethymno may be a large town by Crete’s standards, but Stefanos notes that it’s small enough to feel like one big neighborhood, and it’s a very safe place. Between the cobblestones of the Old Town and the sparkling blue water of the Mediterranean, any traveler could find a reason to spend a weekend in Rethymno.
Many cities claim a centuries-old past, but Rethymno really does date all the way back to the Minoans, who settled in the area three and a half thousand years ago. Later, the Venetians and then the Ottomans, conquered the city and, thanks to their influence, Rethymno’s magic is now more medieval than Minoan.
After wandering down the Old Town’s narrow alleyways and cobbled streets, you’ll eventually find yourself at the Fortezza. This 16th-century Venetian fortress is perched on top of a small hill, so it dominates the city’s skyline, and the views from this vantage point are unbelievable. You’ll marvel at the deep blue color of the Mediterranean as you gaze over the Fortezza’s outer walls.
At one point, most of the city was built inside the fortress, although almost all of those old buildings were razed during World War II. The Sultan Bin Ibrahim Mosque still stands, so make your way toward the large stone dome to prowl around one of the last surviving structures.
For many travelers, spending an entire afternoon at the Fortezza is worth their time in Rethymno. Remember to bring your camera as you walk along the outer walls and through the inner corridors.
On the Water
Rethymno has about 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) of coastline, so the city’s beaches are another major attraction. A word to the wise — most of the beaches east of the Old Town are bordered by large hotels and resorts, so they’re always a bit crowded. Head west for more isolated strips of sand, or you could also venture outside of the city for even quieter beaches.
Stefanos also recommends visiting Rethymno’s old Venetian harbor, home to many cafés and a picturesque stone lighthouse. This is one of the most scenic parts of town, so you’ll enjoy soaking in the views!
Planning Your Visit
Tourists flock to Rethymno during more than half of the calendar year; according to Stefanos, they’re all over the city from mid-March until mid-November. The peak season occurs between mid-July and late August, so Stefanos recommends visiting in mid-June. At this time of year, temperatures usually reach about 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius), so you can plan on experiencing great beach weather throughout your stay, with none of the crowds late-summer visitors will experience.
After spending most of his life in Rethymno, Stefanos has quite a few haunts that he likes to frequent! For delicious food and gorgeous views, he recommends dining at Prima Plora, while his go-to places for a drink are Nafpigio, located near the harbor, and KAI Seaside Flavours, a beach bar. He says that nothing beats brunch at Vivliothiki, and he loves the food and cocktails at Ali Vafi’s Garden, a beautiful spot nestled in the Old Town.
Stefanos says that Rethymno is extremely safe and that travelers have nothing to fear from locals, who are are always happy to answer questions and give directions. What’s more, they’re often eager to make new drinking buddies and share a bottle of raki (also called tsikoudia) with visitors. Take it easy — Stefanos cautions that this grape-based brandy is very strong!
For more information about visiting the island, check out Stefanos’ recommendations for how to spend a weekend in Crete.
All photos by Stefanos Manoleas