If you ask London-based photographer Stefanos Manoleas to tell you about his original hometown, he’ll give such a glowing review that you’ll feel convinced to add the locale to your bucket list. Given that Stefanos grew up in Rethymno, the third-largest city on the Greek island of Crete, his high praise is entirely justified — as is your overpowering urge to buy a ticket to a city that you’ve only just heard of.

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 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. Ready for a virtual tour of the city?

Old Town

Many cities claim a centuries-old past, but Rethymno dates all the way back to the Minoans, who settled in the area three and a half thousand years ago. Later on in the city’s history, the Venetians and Ottomans conquered Rethymno, and thanks to their influence, Rethymno’s magic is now more medieval than Minoan.

If you spend enough time 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 a small hill, dominating 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 actually 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 don’t forget to make your way toward the large stone dome to prowl around one of the last surviving structures.

For many travelers, an entire afternoon at the Fortezza is worth the entire trip to Rethymno. Remember to bring your camera as you walk along the outer walls and venture into 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: the beaches located to the east of the Old Town are bordered by large hotels and resorts, so they’re usually a bit crowded. Head west for more isolated strips of sand, or venture just 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’re bound to enjoy soaking in the views, especially at sunset.

Planning Your Visit

Rethymno’s travel season is fairly long; according to Stefanos, tourists flock to the city all the way from mid-March to mid-November. The peak season occurs between mid-July and late August, but Stefanos recommends visiting in mid-June. At this time of year, the temperatures usually reach about 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius), so you can plan on experiencing great beach weather throughout your stay, while avoiding the thick crowds that late-summer visitors will encounter.

After spending most of his life in Rethymno, Stefanos has quite a few favorite haunts, and he’s more than happy to leave you with a suggestion or two. For delicious food and gorgeous views, he recommends dining at Prima Plora, while his go-to bars are Nafpigio and KAI Seaside Flavours. He also told us that nothing beats brunch at Vivliothiki, and that he loves the food and cocktails at Ali Vafi’s Garden, a beautiful spot nestled in the Old Town.

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 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