DAY 01 09:00
When people talk about the beauty of Hania, they really mean the beauty of its Old Town; whether you’ve chosen to seek accommodations within its fortified walls or not, any visit to the city should start here. So grab a cold, caffeinated drink to go, like Greeks do, and set off!
Tourists usually head straight for the picturesque Venetian harbor and, despite the crowds, so should you, but only as a start, and only so you can walk to the Egyptian lighthouse, which enjoys a panoramic view of the harbor. Standing there, you can imagine that it’s long ago, and you’ve just sailed your ship to this magic spot on the island, intent on conquering it and settling for good.
DAY 01 11:00
Venice of the East
Traces of conquerors, and of the Venetians in particular, can still be seen across town, especially in Topanas. It’s to this district that the city no doubt owes its moniker “the Venice of the East.” It’s definitely worth losing yourself in the cobblestone alleys with their picturesque archways.
Seek out the streets of Theofanous and Moschon with their elegant “palazzi” to get a sense of how the city was during the Venetian period. Explore atmospheric Angelou Street, and stroll down charming Theotokopoulou Street, where you’ll find the one time gunpowder magazine (the building with the red shutters) after which the Ottomans chose to name the district; the term “tophane,” which evolved into “Topanas” in Greek, means “armory” in Turkish.
DAY 01 13:00
Lunch and Souvenirs
For lunch, try Tamam (49 Zampeliou, Tel. (+30) 28210.960.80) – housed in a former public baths – but get there early, as the place is always busy! It serves dishes with Eastern influences, as well as delicious Cretan delicacies.
Then, set out for some souvenir shopping. At Canea (45 Zampeliou), the Old Town’s landmarks decorate everything from T-shirts to tote bags; at Carmela (7 Angelou), the ceramicist/owner sells pottery and jewelry created using Byzantine or ancient Greek techniques. The wares here are veritable works of art!
DAY 01 17:00
The Archaeological Museum of Hania (28 Halidon, Tel. (+30) 28210.903.34) may be somewhat old-fashioned in the way it displays its artifacts, but it’s definitely worth a visit, even if only to admire its building (the Venetian Church of St Francis) and enjoy its pretty garden.
For an outdoor history lesson, head to Kastelli Hill, where the center of the Minoan city of Kydonia (on which the Venetians built Canea, i.e., Hania) was located. Visit the excavation of the prehistoric settlement on Kanevaro Street and then check out some of the area’s remaining Venetian edifices, before heading up Aghiou Markou for a hidden gem: the courtyard of a neoclassical building that once housed the headquarters of Prince George of Greece, High Commissioner of Crete. Known as “the Balcony of Hania,” it offers the best views of the harbor and the glorious sunset.
DAY 01 21:00
In the evenings, you’re cordially invited to drop by the port which, with its illuminated lighthouse, looks like the setting for a huge party. Join the hundreds of tourists and locals strolling on the esplanade, or opt for one of the many cultural events taking place either near or inside famous landmarks: Greek folk dance performances around the back of Yali Tzamisi (the oldest surviving mosque in town), exhibitions inside the Grand Arsenal (the largest of the 15th-century neoria, or dockyards, of the port), concerts at Firkas Fortress, and more.
For dinner, locals and visitors alike swear by the restaurant Salis (3 Akti Enoseos, Tel. (+30) 28210.437.00); it’s famed for its creative cuisine, its unusual shellfish combinations and the emphasis it places on wine. Try their taramosalata (fish roe dip) made with traditional Greek bottarga, the carpaccio of octopus, or the clams with spinach and rice.
For a nightcap, pop in at the locals’ favorite all-day café-bar Bohème (26-28 Halidon) with its hacienda-style courtyard, right next to the Archaeological Museum.
Gavdos: This pristine little island, Europe’s southernmost point, is a stop for migratory birds and a breeding ground for seals and sea turtles.
Samaria Gorge: An 18km hike through wild beauty takes you to the village of Aghia Roumeli on the shores of the Libyan Sea.
DAY 02 08:00
A rising star
Start your second day in town in the eastern district of Splantzia, the city center under Ottoman rule. This area was once synonymous with urban neglect, but in recent years many of its old houses have been restored and new businesses have sprung up, turning it into the most interesting district in the entire town. The old plane tree on Splantzia Square (aka 1821 Square) witnessed brutal hangings during the Ottoman occupation, but today it’s just an attractive part of the scenery during a morning coffee stop at any of the establishments that share its shade.
Don’t leave the area without first taking a look at the Church of Aghios Nikolaos, erected in 1320 as part of a Dominican monastery, then converted to a mosque, complete with minaret, during the Ottoman occupation. In 1918, twenty years after the end of that occupation, a Christian Orthodox-style bell tower was added, completing the look it maintains to this day. From the church, head into the neighborhood’s eastern backstreets to spot some beautiful old houses under renovation.
Falasarna, Elafonissi, Balos: Get ready to share your pictures; these incredible, postcard-perfect beaches are almost unbelievably beautiful.
Sfakia: Leather-booted, mustachioed and dressed in black, the men of Sfakia have a reputation as fierce defenders of their land and honor.
Kolymvari: The largest olive oil-producing region on the island exports its liquid treasure to 40 countries.
DAY 02 11:00
Venture outside the eastern city wall towards the Halepa district which, from the mid-19th century onward, developed into a glamorous aristocratic suburb. Central Venizelou Street was home to many of the consulates of the Great Powers – some of these have been turned into hotels – as well as private residences for rich merchants and prominent citizens of Hania.
Eleftherios Venizelos, the leader of the Cretan liberation movement and later the prime minister of Greece a number of times, lived here; his residence, built in 1880 and renovated in 1927, opened as a museum in 2015 (Tel. (+30) 28210.560.08, venizelos-foundation.gr).
Royalty also resided in Halepa; the neoclassical palace of Prince George, built in 1882 and located next to Venizelos’ mansion, is still standing and can be admired from the outside. Prince George was also responsible for the quirky, Russian-style Church of Saint Mary Magdalene, which he commissioned in honor of his sister Maria in 1901 (it was completed in 1903), during his time as high commissioner of Crete. It stands within a beautiful garden.
DAY 02 14:00
Tradition & Local Haunts
Coming back to the Old Town, check out the Municipal Market (69 Agoras Square) where locals do their daily shopping and where you can find Cretan souvenirs, both edible and non-edible, to take home. A stone’s throw from here is Skridlof Street with its leather-goods shops, including the few remaining stivanadika where old craftsmen still make stivania, traditional Cretan boots.
For lunch, evade the tourist crowds and opt for Splantzia and some of the locals’ haunts. Kouzina EPE (25 Daskalogianni, Tel. (+30) 28210.423.91) is an all-time favorite, serving more than a dozen different home-style dishes daily, plus their regular menu items. Further down the road, Maridaki (33 Daskalogianni, Tel. (+30) 28210.088.80) specializes in fish; it serves the best fish soup in the neighborhood, at a very reasonable price.
DAY 02 17:00
Strolls, sweets & knifes
The meandering streets west of Daskalogianni Street feature some fine examples of Ottoman architecture. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, stop by the charming little pastry shop Sketi Glika (18 Isodion), which will seduce you with its colorful rustic décor and its delectable desserts.
Sifaka Street with its traditional knife shops is just a few steps away, should you wish to purchase the ultimate Cretan souvenir: a knife with a small mantinada (couplet) engraved on its blade.
DAY 02 19:00
In the evenings, Splantzia Square is nearly as lively as the port, and just as festive. Grab a chair and don’t be surprised if you make some new friends. Kafeneio is a traditional café-eatery known for its meze (small dishes) and it’s a favorite among the locals.
Alternatively, head to one of the broader area’s most popular restaurants, The Well of the Turk (1-3 Kallinikou Sarpaki, Tel. (+30) 28210.545.47), with a charming courtyard and a real, working well, which serves delectable Mediterranean and Turkish-Moroccan dishes. Just across the street, the rather new but already popular restaurant Ginger Concept (36 Kallinikou Sarpaki, Tel. (+30) 28210.575.90) moves to Brazilian tunes and specializes in mix-and-match cuisine.
DAY 02 23:00
Check out café-bar Ride in Splantzia, the epitome of the neighborhood’s laid-back and alternative vibe, for some fine music and a great selection of artisanal beers; the bustling Hatzimichali Daliani Street on the district’s southern border for a taste of the local nightlife; or seek out Vazaki on the western steps of the Municipal Market. It serves fine cocktails and plays funk, soul and electro music, as well as Italo disco, tunes often offered up by visiting DJs who spin the decks from inside the establishment’s trademark feature, the front of an old Volkswagen Transporter.