Chania city is considered one of the most beautiful Mediterranean cities and a visit should be near the top of any list of things to see whilst in western Crete. It is a busy town with a cosmopolitan atmosphere and a beautiful Venetian harbour with characteristic pretty narrow streets, plentiful tavernas, cafes and shops and also has many other interesting aspects to make your visit interesting and entertaining. Built on the ruins of ancient Kydonia, it has seen and survived many invaders and occupations, all whom have left their mark Chania on façades, forts, walls, antiquities, monasteries, churches and mosques.
You can easily spend a morning or even a full day wandering the streets in the harbour area of
Chania and you may also want to consider taking the kids on a boat ride on one of the boats which make regular trips from the harbour.
At the western side of the harbour is the Naval Museum which houses an exhibition of the battle of Crete and also an exhibition of shells. Kids will love to see how many they can identify and learn about the ones they can’t.
Behind the museum is Theotokopoulou Street, a picturesque street with many small shops and old Venetian houses. The top of Theotokopoulou leads in to Zambeliou Street where at no. 61 you’ll find Michaelis, the owner of the Roka workshop, where he produces traditional carpets and weavings, and at no. 46 you’ll find Margarita, the icon painter.
Leading off Zambeliou Street is Kondilaki Street which is the part of the old Jewish neighbourhood and just off Kondilaki Street there is the entrance to the Etz Hayyim Synagogue. Interestingly for children to learn is that the synagogue had fallen into total disrepair after everything of value was taken or destroyed by the Nazis and the day after it was raided 269 members of the Jewish community were arrested and held at Agia jail ready to be shipped to Auschwitz. Tragically, on the morning of June 9, 1944, shortly after the departure from Heraklion to Pireus, just a few hours in to the journey on the ageing steamship ‘Tanais’, a British submarine launched 2 torpedoes, thereby sinking the vessel, killing all on board. You can see a monument in their memory showing a reaching hand which is not far past the naval museum as you leave the harbour. The synagogue has since been restored and is on the World Monuments Fund list of 100 endangered monuments. Not even the Parthenon has achieved this status. However, early 2010 saw damage by arson and many archives were destroyed.
At the end of Zambeliou you’ll come to Halidon Street which runs down from the right. Up this street is the Archaeological Museum so if you don’t make it to the museum Heraklion at least the kids will not miss out on the chance to see original Minoan pieces. Just a few metres further up is the Roman Catholic Church. Let’s see if the kids can spot any differences to their church at home. They will love the small courtyard that the church stands in.
Next to the Catholic Church there is a small Folklore Museum which is open most of the day in the summer months – kids will love this. It is an old traditional house with displays depicting Cretan life and textiles. Ask the kids to see how many kinds of machinery they can spot.
Opposite the Archaeological Museum is the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Isodion and continuing towards the top of Halidon Street there is a busy street off to the left which is called Skridlof or ‘Leather Lane’ as it is commonly known, famous for leather shops, handmade boots, and bags etc., jewellery shops.
Continue along ‘leather lane’ and after a couple of hundred metres you’ll come to indoor market or ‘Agora’. Let’s see how many fish the kids can identify at the fishmongers. Won’t they just love the perfumed gift wrapped soaps made from olive oil that they can buy to take home for their friends.
If you continue a little further past the back steps of the market you see the Turkish Minaret. Can the kids manage to take a full length photo?
At the bottom of Halidon Street, turning right, you’ll come on to Sifaka Street, also known as ‘Knife Street’. This is the street where, for hundreds of years, there has been a trade for handmade knives. Ask the kids to count as many knives as they can (there are thousands!).
Walking to the right round the harbour, you’ll see the old Turkish mosque (only open occasionally for exhibitions) and right in front you can find a horse and carriage ready to take you on a ride round the harbour. How exciting is that! Further round the harbour you’ll see where private boats and fishing boats are moored. Ask the kids to see how many kinds of boats they can identify!
There are some good fish restaurants in this part of the harbour and the freshly caught sardines are a real treat. Tell the kids to look in to the sea by the water’s edge and see hundreds of small fish – but be careful not to stand too near the edge!
Best season to visit