Many travelers spend a few days on Crete, splitting their time between Chania in the west and Heraklion in the east. As you make your way from one region to the other, don't miss the chance to spend some time in the Rethymno, home to a famous monastery, a charming old town, and excellent restaurants. What to do, where to go, and what to see — especially if you only have 24 hours to spend? Follow this guide to find out.

Planning Your Day in Rethymno

Make the most of a single day in Rethymno by rising early and enjoying a traditional Cretan breakfast. You'll tour the famous Venetian fort and mosque first thing — especially wise in summer, when temperatures soar by midday — before enjoying a stroll through the charming old town. Stop into a phyllo workshop and pick up some homemade baklava. Then you'll break for a leisurely lunch in a lovely courtyard shaded with lemon and pomegranate trees. Enjoy an afternoon excursion outside the city to see the famous Arkadi Monastery, then head back to Rethymno to shop in the old town and enjoy drinks with a stunning view over the city. You'll end your quick tour with dinner in a local restaurant.

If you're interested in spending more time in the area, check out this article on How Many Days You Should Spend on Crete.

8 am: Begin with Coffee & the Venetian Fortezza

The Fortezza of Rethymno

Welcome to Rethymno! Start your day with a strong coffee and breakfast at one of the many cafés opposite the old Venetian Harbor. Visit Nuvel for a coffee with a great view of the lighthouse, or try Fraoules for a hearty breakfast. Then head to the imposing Fortezza, which dominates the hill above the harbor. It's one of the largest fortresses of the Venetian era. It was built on a hill called Paleokastro (meaning "old castle"), the site of an ancient acropolis.   

For most of the year, the Fortezza opens at 8 am. Especially in the summer, it's best to go on a tour early in the morning when the temperature is the coolest. Plan at least a couple of hours to walk through the site. As you stroll through the fortress, you can admire breathtaking views of the city and the coast while you learn about the monument's history. Note the mosque in the center of the Fortezza: it was built when Rethymno was captured by the Ottomans. The original Cathedral of St. Nicolas was converted into this mosque, but the rest of the fortress was pretty much left intact. 

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11 am: Stroll Through Old Town & Visit a Phyllo Workshop

Neratze Mosque (photo courtesy of Jason Choong)

Meander down through the narrow streets of the old town past the main church in town, St. Anthony's of Padua, and the beautiful Rimondi Venetian Fountains. Take a moment to imagine the locals collecting water from these fountains many hundreds of years ago. Next, you'll visit a family-run phyllo workshop that's been run by the same owners for over 70 years. Watch them making phyllo pastry by hand using traditional techniques. You can buy some of their homemade desserts (like baklava) on the premises, perfect for trying with coffee later. 

Your last stop before lunch is the Neratze Mosque. This mosque was originally constructed as a church by the Venetians. When Crete fell to the Turks in 1857, Gazi Hussein Pasha converted it into a mosque. This building is now used as a music conservatory — if you're lucky, there may be a performance held inside on the day of your visit.

12 pm: Lunch Under a Lemon Tree

Have lunch under the fragrant lemon trees (photo courtesy of Lemonokipos)

Just in time for lunch, you'll find yourself around the corner from some of the best restaurants in Rethymno. Take your pick from this list of best places to eat in town. One excellent choice is a leisurely lunch at Lemonokipos. Enjoy the scent of the citrus flowers as you walk in, then sample modern versions of traditional Cretan cuisine, including shrimp saganaki and roasted leg of goat. If you have room, the lemon tart is a perfect finish to the meal.  

2 pm: Visit the Arkadi Monastery

Facade of the Arkadi Monastery (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

After lunch, you'll head out of town to see the Arkadi Monastery. Built during the last Venetian period, the site is home to one of the finest Venetian churches in Crete. The monastery played an active role in the Cretan resistance to Ottoman rule during the Cretan revolt of 1866. Nearly a thousand people — mostly women and children — sought refuge in the monastery during three days of battle, and actively resisted the invading Turks. Although the Turks later set fire to the church in anger, its lovely facade of golden stones survived. Look for the ancient cypress tree just outside the refectory with a shell from the Turkish siege still embedded in its trunk. 

6 pm: Dinner & Drinks With Sunset Views

Drinks with a view (photo courtesy of The Roof Bar)

After returning to town, continue your exploration of the city by strolling along the waterfront. Do some shopping in the old town. Then, for the best sunset views, head to The Roof bar for a pre-dinner drink. Located on the top floor of a hotel, the place offers a wonderful view of the city and is a memorable place to watch the sunset. Then head to dinner at one of the city's many excellent restaurants to finish the day.

Have a little more time to spend on the island? Try this weeklong tour around Crete

Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Sep 8, 2021