Shopping in Chania can be a special experience. One of the best things about Greece in general, and the island of Crete in particular, is how close you can get to the source of goods – the artisans and the craftsmen who carve, make leather goods, shape ceramics, and so on. And in food, how close we get to the source – the farmers who grow the produce, the winemakers, the shepherds and cheesemakers, and so on.
Even if you are not much of a shopper at home, you may find that shopping in Chania is a completely different experience – fun, satisfying, and – ultimately – culturally enlightening. It is a way to connect to community and culture – while also buying products with a uniquely Cretan personality.
The Markets of Chania
Nearly all cities and larger towns of Greece have central markets. These covered market halls are festive, almost chaotic places where the locals shop for their daily and weekly needs much as they have done in this part of the world for generations – indeed centuries. While today there are of course modern supermarkets in every neighbourhood of Greece, many people still enjoy doing their household shopping the old-fashioned way – at the covered markets and the weekly farmers’ markets (“laiki”).
Keep in mind, Greece is the land that gave us the word “agora” – more than merely a marketplace, the word is a whole concept – the place that the public gathers, to see and be seen, and – of course – to shop. A visit to the agora – the central market area of any town – is an essential, authentic Greek experience. And it is nowhere more fun than in Chania.
Even if you are staying outside of the center of Chania, we encourage you to rent a car in Chania in order to visit the renowned markets. Parking might be a challenge in the heart of Chania, but here’s our guide to the best parking spots in Chania.
Join the locals for some shopping at the following places:
The Central Market of Chania
The center of Chania has this beautiful covered market, which opened in 1913, when Crete was finally free of the Ottoman and joined the modern Greek state. This is the site of one of the bastions of the old Venetian walls. It was dismantled to fill in the moat (you can still see a lot of the moat in the western part of the town), and was the perfect central site for the new market.
The market is built in the shape of a cross, and some say it is modelled on the public market of Marseilles. The main entrance has most of the foods that you might want to take home with you – the cheeses, olives, honey, and so on.
The first store on your left as you enter is a bakery, where you can start your day with one of their traditional sweet cheese pies (“lychnarakia”), and buy some barley rusks (“paximadia”) for making “dakos” and Cretan salads.
Stores along this arm sell the traditional “tsakistes” – the “smashed” green olives of Crete that have been steeped in lemon. They also sell “throubes” – wrinkled leathery small black olives cured in salt and so delicious in tomato salads. Here you can also buy fine Cretan “Graviera” cheeses of goat’s milk, some with fragrant herbs. And there are the famous fresh cheeses, like “pichtogalo Chanion” – the “thick milk” of Chania – a PDO myzythra-style cheese.
There are also some stores selling dried herbs and wild mountain teas – a perfect edible souvenir and gift.
When you come to the center, you can go right for fresh meats, left for fish, or keep going straight.
The fish arm of the market – besides having gorgeous displays of the catch of the day on ice – has a few restaurants. This may seem like a strange place to eat, as they are crowded and small and noisy – but they cater to locals and therefore have excellent ready dishes in the display cases, and of course the freshest in little fish and other delights. The usual Mediterranean dining schedule is a late and long lunch – after 1:00 in the afternoon. But the market starts early in the morning, so lunch time is early here, too.
The arm that leads straight ahead to the back entrance is the more “touristy” arm of the market, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t nice. There are traditional goods here like soaps made of olive oil, more herbs, textiles, and so on.
Most of the stores in the Central Market of Chania start to close around 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon.
The Farmers’ Markets of Chania – “Laiki”
There are several weekly farmers’ markets in Chania in various neighborhoods. The largest one is on Saturdays around the city wall, but there are others, too – ask at your accommodation. This is one of the most fun activities in Chania. The Laiki is where everyone shops for vegetables and fruits – the quality is farm-fresh, sold by the proud farmers themselves. You’ll also see more cheeses, honey – the thyme honey of Crete is justifiably famous – and “tsikoudia (raki) – the classic spirit of Crete. There is even fresh-caught fish.
In the summer, be sure to look out for avocados. Many of Greece’s avocados are grown here and they are the delicious variety with dark, bumpy skin.
Go early to beat the heat – the market begins around 7:00 or 8:00, and starts closing up at around 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon in the summer.
The Traditional Artisans of Chania
If you leave the central market from the back and then walk left – to the west – you’ll come to an area with many shops selling leather goods – handbags, belts, wallets, and so on. These are centered around Skridlof street, and you’ll know it by the smell. These shops have been here for generations. You’ll notice their selections are very similar, but definitely comparison shop – prices vary, but are generally quite good. There are even leather sandal places, and shops where you can have your sandals custom-made.
Another very famous Cretan souvenir is an artisan-made knife. As with the leather goods, there is actually a special street for the knife craftsmen. Most are on Sifakas street – between the Central Market Hall and the harbor. This area is actually called the “macherakida” – “macheri” is “knife”. Knives in addition to being useful are also part of the traditional dress of Cretan men, making them a meaningful souvenir of Crete. For something special, you can buy a dagger whose handle is the horn of a goat. Such impressive daggers are often inscribed with a “mantinada” – the classic sing-song rhyming couplets of Crete.
(Tip: near Sifakas street is Splantzia Square and the Church of Agios Nikolaos – this is shady “plateia” is a popular hangout for locals and a fun place to stop for a coffee. Afterwards, you can get lost in the tangle of alleys of Splantzia, with their charming traditional buildings.)
Other local crafts include hand-painted ceramics – there are shops all over town, including near both the leather goods and the knives.
There are also streets near the back entrance of the central market selling household textiles – tablecloths and so on. There are examples of embroidery and very fine crochet work. However, many of these are machine made. Handmade goods will be more expensive. Assess the quality carefully. But a piece of Cretan embroidery in a traditional motif can make a lovely souvenir of your trip.
Enjoying the Markets of Chania
Shopping at these local markets, and especially the food markets, is a wonderful way to experience the culture of Crete. Have you visited any traditional markets on your travels?