Trying to decide whether you should visit Chania or Heraklion on your trip to Crete? Both cities have advantages and similarities, but they are very different places. If you stay within Heraklion or Chania proper, you will have drastically different experiences. I love both cities, but you should pick the one that’s right for you. Here are twelve important points to help you decide whether to visit Heraklion or Chania.
Choose Chania for…
Here are four reasons to pick Chania over Heraklion.
…stunning lighthouse views
Crete has a lot of lighthouses (over a dozen!) by my two favorites are in Chania and Rethymnon. If you want to see a beautiful Venetian lighthouse, you should pick Chania. Sometimes the lighthouse is referred to as Egyptian because of the period of reconstruction. Make sure to visit at golden hour for the best light.
…charming city streets
Both cities have pretty corners, but Chania is more consistently pretty than Heraklion is. I know where to find the pretty spots in Heraklion, but in Chania, the town is gorgeous pretty much no matter where you are. If you want to spend hours wandering around a charming city, pick Chania.
A lot of Chania’s charm comes from its beautiful architecture, but another element is its beautiful storefronts. If you want to see buildings that pop with color (or perhaps…Instagram them) then pick Chania.
…day tripping to Seitan Limania beach
After spending weeks in Crete, I can confidently say that Seitan Limania beach is my absolute favorite Cretan beach. You have to do a bit of walking/climbing down the steep cliff sides to get to the bottom, but once you’re down there’s it’s absolutely stunning.
If you’re curious about how to visit Seitan Limania, check out our guide to visiting Seitan Limania from Chania.
Choose Heraklion for…
While Chania is the more charming of the two, there are a few reasons you should pick Heraklion over Chania.
…visiting the Palace of Knossos
If you’re interested in learning about Minoan history and culture, then you need to pick Heraklion. You can take a trip out to the Palace of Knossos and visit the archeology museum to see amazing artifacts from this period of Crete’s history.
…thought-provoking street art
Heraklion is more of a city than Chania, and that means that it has some city amenities that Chania does not. One of these is a thriving street art scene, centered around the historic Lakkos district. This former red-light area of Heraklion has been revitalized, with a self-guided walking tour of the area’s most important sites and an artist-in-residence program that produces amazing street art to appreciate.
…you like the quirky and mysterious
Chania is charming, but Heraklion is quirky. If you’re more likely to travel for Atlas Obscura than for Instagram, then Heraklion is the right place for you. For example, the city’s most famous fountain was built with a headless Roman statue at its center. If you like places like Pristina, Skopje, Thessaloniki, and Athen’s Exarchia neighborhood, then you will feel right at home in Heraklion.
…you love Greek literature
If you love Greek literature, then come to Heraklion to see the grave of Nikos Kazantzakis, the author of Zorba the Greek. His grave is high up on the city walls because when he died he was at odds with the Orthodox church which banned (and burned) his books.
He nearly won the Nobel Prize in Literature, barely losing out to Albert Camus. So if you’re a fan of great literature and you want to explore Greek literature further, pick Heraklion.
Choose Both for…
Whether you choose Chania or Heraklion, you can expect a warm Cretan welcome. There are a few things about the Cretan culture that make both of these cities fantastic places to visit. Here are four things you can count on whether Heraklion or Chania win you over.
…delicious Cretan cuisine
I love Cretan cuisine, which is similar to Greek cuisine. However, it has some dishes that all its own that you simply must have while on the island. I love dakos, kaltsounia, and they do absolute wonders with lamb.
…beautiful Venetian harbors
While I adore the lighthouse in Chania, if you want to spend time walking around beautiful Venetian harbors, you can choose Chania or Heraklion. They’re the highlight of both cities. While there are more restaurants and bars sitting on Chania’s harbor, Heraklion’s harbor is more peaceful with fewer tourists. They’re both a complete delight.
…great cafe culture
You can’t go one day in Crete without someone asking you to have a coffee. Whether you’re in Heraklion or Chania, you can expect to (and you should) spend hours whiling away your time in the beautiful and chill cafes of each city.
…all you can drink Raki
No matter which tavern or rakadiko you choose, prepare to be offered raki at the conclusion of your meal. Many places will give you an entire mini-carafe of the liquor, even you’re traveling solo. And then, should you be strong enough to finish it, happily offer you more. Basically, Crete is a giant all you can drink raki bar, and you can’t keep up.
Crete Travel Resources
Headed to Crete? We have some great travel resources to help you with your trip. First read our guide to planning a trip to Greece, which covers visas, budgets, vaccines, and much more. We also have a Balkan currency guide which explains how money works in Greece and local tipping customs.
If this will be one of your first trip to the Greek islands, check out our massive Greek Island hopping guide as well as our recommendations for where to go in Greece and when is the best time to visit.
We publish new content about the Balkans almost every day! For more information about traveling to Greece and the Balkans, bookmark our Greece and Balkan travel pages so you can find out what’s new before your trip.
Finally, Make Sure You Come to Crete with Travel Insurance
I’m sure you’re aware that getting travel insurance is a good idea for traveling in Greece, the Balkans, or anywhere in the world! Allison and I have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption.
While Crete is perfectly safe to travel around, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel, so it’s better to play it safe. The saying goes “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel” is true!
Stephanie has been living in and traveling around the Balkans for the past three years. She’s written for National Geographic Online, appeared on CNN Arabic and in the New York Times, and ridden more Balkan buses than is good for a person.