Chania and Rethymnon are two of the quaintest towns in Crete. Choosing whether Chania or Rethymnon is the best place to stay for your Crete vacation might be tricky though!
Chania or Rethymnon Crete
Crete, the largest island in Greece, and renowned for its diverse landscapes and historical sights, is home to many charming towns. Among them, Rethymnon and Chania often spark interest among travelers due to their unique features and attractions.
Choosing Chania or Rethymnon as your base in Crete does depend a lot on what you want to get up to when on vacation. Of course, you could always shortcut the decision process and spend a few days in both Chania and Rethymnon!
However, if you're planning to stay in just one place when on holiday in Crete, choosing between Chania and Rethymnon is no easy task.
Both towns are delightful to spend time in, and there are pros and cons to staying in Chania or Rethymnon.
I've visited both Chania and Rethymnon many times, and personally prefer Rethymnon. I found it to be a relatively more relaxed place, and Rethymnon's central location on the north coast of Crete makes getting to other parts of Crete a little easier.
That doesn't mean it's the perfect choice for everyone though.
Here then, is a look at Chania vs Rethymnon.
Is it easier to travel to Chania or Rethymnon?
One drawback to choosing Rethymnon as a city to stay in Crete, is that there is no nearby airport. In addition, the ferry port in Rethymnon currently only has ferry connections with Santorini, and that only twice a week.
Chania on the other hand has a seasonal international airport with additional flights from Athens every day during the summer. Chania also has a nearby ferry port with connections to Piraeus Port of Athens.
At a first glance, this makes it easier to travel to Chania than it is to Rethymnon. That said, you can just as easily travel to Chania and then take a taxi or bus from Chania to Rethymnon.
There is also one more way to get to Rethymnon, and that is to travel to Heraklion first. Heraklion is the capital city of Crete with a large international airport (more flights to choose from including Athens), and a ferry port with connections to Piraeus, the Cyclades and Dodecanese islands.
In fact, the drive from Heraklion Airport to Rethymnon takes almost exactly the same time. There are also plenty of taxi and bus options from Heraklion to Rethymnon.
So, if you don't mind the additional hour travel time and added expense, Rethymnon actually has more options of how to get there.
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Does Chania or Rethymno have more hotels to choose from?
This is pretty much a draw. Both towns have a wide selection of accommodation, ranging from Mom and Pop BnBs to 5 star luxury resorts.
From my experience, Rethymnon has slightly more and better hotels to choose from. This is because of the beach resort area next door to the town (more about the beaches in a bit!).
I might be generalising a bit, but Chania has a lot more boutique hotels, whereas Rethymnon has more luxury ones.
You should note that while you can find properties on AirBnB, they typically offer poor value for money. Properties listed on AirBnB are often also listed on Booking for much cheaper rates – and there's no weird cleaning charge either.
Is there more to do in Chania or Rethymnon?
If you are on holiday in Crete for a week or more, you'll not want to spend all your time in either place. Especially when there is so much more of Crete to see!
Still, you want there to be enough things to do to keep you occupied when not on the beach, or taking various day trips and excursions in Crete.
Happily, both towns have plenty to see and do. Chania probably edges out Rethymnon based solely on the excellent Chania Archaeological Museum. If you are not that much into museums though, you will find both towns interesting.
Rethymnon and Chania are Venetian port towns, with fortifications, nice waterfronts, plenty of places to eat and shop, and interesting historic centers.
The reason I preferred Rethymnon to Chania was that there is a decent sized student population in Rethymnon which means there's something to do all year around. Chania on the other hand becomes a little like a ghost town in the off season.
Does Chania or Rethymnon have better beaches?
There's no real competition here. Rethymnon has a gorgeous, long stretch of sandy beach that goes on for about 10kms. It is a little too populated by sunbeds and umbrellas for my taste, but most holidaymakers to Crete seem fine with renting sunbeds and umbrellas for the day.
In fact, because of this beach area, you could really consider Rethymnon as two places. The first is the historic center surrounded by the new-build city. The second, is the beach resort area. If you stayed in the beach resort, you might not even feel the need to see any more of the town or rest of Crete!
While Chania does have a couple of nearby beaches, they are not in the same league as Rethymnon's. If beaches are an important part of your vacation, you'll probably prefer to stay in Rethymnon.
Best Day Trips from Each Town
One of the most popular places to visit in Crete is Knossos in Heraklion. This is much easier done from Rethymnon (about an hour 15 minutes away) than from Chania (twice that time).
Due to its more central location, you can pretty much take every possible day trip from Rethymnon that you can from Chania. In addition, you can more easily get to Heraklion and Knossos from Rethymnon, as well as the south of the island to places like Matala.
Take a look at some of the possible day trips here:
If taking excursions from either Rethymnon or Chania is a priority during your holiday in Crete, Rethymnon might just be a little bit of a better place to stay than Chania.
In conclusion, both Chania and Rethymno have a lot to offer. Overall though, Rethymno is probably the better of the two destinations if you plan to stay for more than a couple of days.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the top attractions to visit in Rethymnon?
Ranging from the Venetian Fortezza to the Old Town, there are numerous attractions to see in Rethymnon. Don't forget to visit the Venetian harbor and the Archaeological Museum.
Is Chania or Rethymnon better for beach holidays?
If you prefer long sandy beaches and beach resorts, Rethymnon is the ideal destination, boasting a gorgeous stretch of soft sand beach that extends for about 10 kilometers.
What are some popular day trips from Rethymnon?
Popular day trips include visiting the historic site of Knossos in Heraklion or the southern part of the island, such as Matala. You can also visit the Samaria Gorge on a day trip from Rethymnon, although it is quite a long day.
What is better for off-season travel, Rethymno or Chania?
It really depends on what you are looking for. Rethymnon has a decent sized student population, so it might have more activities and things to do in the off-season compared to Chania. However, Chania also has its own charm and may offer a more quiet and relaxed atmosphere during the off-season.
Dave is a travel writer from the UK who's been living in and writing about Greece since 2015. As well as writing these insights into whether Chania or Rethymno is the better place to stay when on vacation in Crete, he's also written hundreds of other travel blog posts about destinations in Greece. Follow Dave on social media for travel inspiration from Greece and beyond: