Crete consists of four prefectures, Chania with Chania City as its capital, Rethymno with Rethymno City as its capital, Heraklion with Herakleion City as its capital and Lasithi with Agios Nikolaos City as its capital. With a rental car, all major cities of Crete are easily accessible through the North Road Axis (all of them lay on north side of the island).
Nobody visits Rethymno only once. This is best expressed by the lyrics of our favorite musician and songwriter, Giorgos Stavrianos: "Rethymno is not the city you go, it is the city you go back". Rethymno may be small (third largest city after Heraklion and Chania), but it has a huge heart. Here you will experience the famous Cretan hospitality in its most authentic form. Take it all in, it is the best in the world...
As in all Cretan cities, Rethymno is full of Venetian features. Until today, Rethymno has very a strong relationship with Venice, since it constitutes one of the best preserved Venetian cities in the Mediterranean. The landmark of the city is the Castle of Fortezza, which was built to protect Venetians from Ottoman navy attacks. Behind the castle, lays the Old Town of Rethymno, with numerous scenic alleys and memorials. Visit one of the several traditional coffee shops, get to meet the locals and make sure that you try the traditional Cretan cuisine. You will never forget the experience.
Heraklion is the largest city and "capital" of Crete but also one of the largest cities in Greece. Its airport and port are among the busiest in the country. What's more, the city is considered a powerful economical center not only in Crete but in the entire southeast Mediterranean.
Its original name was Handax given by the Saracens, the first conquerors of the region. The Saracens were also the ones who built it in 824 A.D.. In the centuries that followed, the city passed to the hands of Byzantine Empire then to Venetians.
Today, Heraklion offers a wide range of choices to the visitor, from sightseeing (do not miss the Archaeological Museum and Cretaquarium, one of the largest aquariums in the Mediterranean) to intense nightlife.
About 5 km southeast of Heraklion, lays Knossos Palace, the palace and the only preserved building of the brilliant Minoan Civilization, which prospered 2.000 years B.C. to be destroyed by two huge earthquakes.
Chania has been characterized as the "Venice of East". And this not by chance, since there are ample Venetian elements specifically in the Old Town and the port. But, the Venetian character is not the only thing that makes Chania one of the most beautiful cities in the Mediterranean. Renaissance, Byzantine, Ottoman and many contemporary features come together creating a cosmopolitan and at the same time Mediterranean flair.
In addition, Chania is the location where the ancient Minoan Civilization built "Kydonia", a very important city-state with boarders from the sea to Lefka Ori (White Mountains). Archaeological research in several districts has shown that the area was inhabited since the Neolithic Era.
Start your tour from the Old Town. Walk in the alleys and around the port and feel the energy of all the civilizations that lived there. Continue east to the beach of Koum kapi or Gate of Sand. All city's nightlife is located there. As you walk, you will see many small stores and coffee shops. Visit them to have a taste of the real Cretan tradition.
Agios Nikolaos (or simply Agios, as locals use to call it) is the smallest city of Crete but for some the most beautiful. The main characteristic of the city is Voulismeni Lake. It is a small lagoon, around which the entire city is built.
Many ancient legends reference Voulismeni Lake of Agios Nikolaos. But some contemporary ones as well, an urban legend says that this lake has not bottom or that it is linked underground with the volcano of Santorini (during the last upheaval, lake waters blew up). They also say that in the bottom of the lake there is German war equipment from the Second World War.
There is no way to know for sure whether these stories are real. What we do know is that the city of Agios Nikolaos owes most of its current beauty and charm to Voulismeni Lake.
If you do come to Agios Nikolaos, do not miss Spinaloga. It is the island where lepers were "exiled" in the past years – and this is definitely not a legend but a shocking reality. Today, the buildings and the houses where the lepers used to live in are considered archaeological sites. There are regular routes to and from the island from Elounda.