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Chania in Crete

Steeped in history, awash with beautiful architecture and bathed in warm sunshine for much of the year, Chania is a must-do for anyone who wants to see more of Crete than just the hotel pool and the local nightlife.

The second largest city on the beautiful Greek island of Crete, Chania attracts a real mixed-bag of visitors that ranges from culture vultures to party lovers. The wealth of interesting and varied restaurants in the city makes Chania a hit with foodie types, whilst the proximity to many of Crete's top sites and cultural attractions makes it a popular base for exploring the rest of the island. The city is neatly divided into two parts, known as the New Town and the Old Town. The latter is home to the city's most dramatic sights and the bulk of the tourist attractions, whilst the former is the place to head for necessities such as banks and supermarkets as well as shopping malls, cinemas, internet cafes and the like.

The city itself does not boast much by the way of beaches, but there are scores of stunning stretches of sand to be found within the vicinity and visitors hiring a car on their holiday in Chania will find it is easy to beach-hop around the area, taking in everything from secluded spots of sand to extensive beaches popular with families. It is also easy to arrange boat trips from Chania's picturesque harbour to the Paradise islands that dot the clear Mediterranean waters nearby and most boat trips will include swimming and sunbathing time.

Chania city itself is home to more than enough sites and activities to keep boredom at bay, but visitors who wish to explore the wider region will find a lush inland landscape studded with fruit and olive groves and home to picture-perfect villages where time appears to have stood still for centuries. Along the coast, tiny fishing hamlets and untouched beaches are a delight for anyone who enjoys being off the tourist track and offers a tangible sense of discovering the 'real Crete' as opposed to the tourist hotspots.

Taking in the sights of Chania is easily done, as the majority of the sites of interest are clustered around the historic centre of the town, close to the Venetian harbour - a postcard image of the city. Handsome historic buildings, narrow and winding cobbled streets and colourful fruit and vegetable markets make the old town a pleasant place to walk around and the beautiful churches provide a cooling respite from the beating sun. Cafes and bars line the streets and squares, whilst specialist stores selling local produce ranging from handicrafts to cheeses, olives and cured meats are great spots to pick up gifts (for someone else or even for yourself!)

Chania's Old Town calls to mind world-famous cities such as Florence and Venice, but as yet has escaped the overwhelming tourist influx that can make stolling around these Italian beauty spots something of a trial during peak tourist season.

Although Chania is not, as yet, spoiled by tourism, it certainly receives its fair share of foreign visitors each year and there is a good tourism infrastructure in place. The city is home to plenty of good accommodation options and has something to suit everybody from bargain-hunting backpackers and students to business travellers and honeymooning couples.

The historic centre houses some charming family run guest houses, the most basic of which feature simple rooms and shared bathrooms, whilst the most luxurious feature lush gardens, swimming pools and high quality in room fixtures and fittings. Larger resort hotels can be found on the outskirts of the town and those without beach access almost always have their own pools. For anyone heading to Chania between June and September, make sure that your room is airconditioned before making that booking - the stifling summer heat will make a good night's sleep impossible without it!

For those who are happy to go without sleep, Chania does offer some decent nightlife options. Whilst it does not have the same 'party hard' reputation of many Greek holiday destinations, it does boast plenty of late night bars and a handful of nightclubs where nightowls can shake it until dawn.

Whilst many visitors to Chania will choose to make their base within the limits of the city itself, beach lovers may be wiser to look to the many resort towns that surround the city. Clean waters and soft sands all hold real appeal for beach lovers and there are decent public transport links to Chania city. Chania is also an ideal base for exploring other dramatic sites in the region, such as the breathtaking Samaria Gorge and the sheer White Mountains that line the coast of Crete. Chania is a perfect spot for anyone with a passion for outdoor adventure and exploring and the cooler spring and autumn months are the perfect times for mountain hikes, whilst pony trekking is a pleasant way to see the beautiful region during the heat of summer.

Chania is served by charter flights from the UK and those prepared to be flexible with dates will find there are some good deals to be found on low season flights.