This vast ancient site lies on the northwest coast of Crete, an easy excursion from the seaside town of Chania or a day trip from Heraklion or Rethymnon. Surrounded by olive groves and sleepy rural villages like Maheri and Arhanes, Ancient Aptera is one of the most important archaeological sites on Crete but largely flies under the tourist radar. Excavation began on the site in the mid-19th century, and work continues still today to slowly unearth the remains of an aqueduct, cisterns, public baths, temples, graves, houses, palaces, and a small hillside theater dating from Minoan, Greek, and Roman times, all encircled by the city’s ancient walls that stretch for 2.5 miles (4 kilometers).
Things to know before you go
- The Ancient Aptera archaeological site is a must for ancient history buffs, though the countryside in this area is a popular walking and hiking destination for its views over the White Mountains.
- There is little to no shade and midday temperatures can soar at the site, so be sure to wear a hat and sunblock when visiting.
- While visiting the site, stop by the Itzedin Fortress at the far western end, built by the Turks in 1866-69 to crush the Cretan Revolution. It offers sweeping views over the bay.
- The site does not have paved pathways and is scattered over rather rough terrain, so is not easy to navigate with a wheelchair.
How to get there
There is no public transportation to Ancient Aptera, so you can either drive from one of the island’s towns, taking highway E75 to the town of Aptera and following signage to the site, or hire a taxi. Alternatively, book a private driving tour of the island’s highlights to reach the ruins hassle-free.
When to get there
The ruins are open daily except for Mondays, and offer a quiet respite from the crowds at the island’s more famous sights during the high-season summer months. Keep in mind that there is little shade inside the site, so visit in the cooler hours of early morning or late afternoon to avoid the worst of the midday heat and sun.
The Charming Seaside Town of Rethymno
Further along the coastline of Crete to the west of Chania, the historic town of Rethymno is considered one of the most beautiful on the island and can be easily paired with a stop at Ancient Aptera. Highlights include the colorful houses in the old town, historic port, and Venetian Fortress.