CRETE ISLAND - SHOPPING
The best shopping experiences in Crete are found in the island's lively markets, where you'll find rows of vendors selling fresh fruit, herbs, cheeses, honey nuts, raki and all kinds of other Greek specialties. Beyond local foods you can also pick up arts and crafts, cheap clothing and shoes at the markets – and if you enjoy bargaining, these are the places to do it since Greek sellers expect a little price haggling.Two Favorite Markets
Central Market on 1866 Street in Heraklion. It runs from the Meidani to Kornarou Square, and the street name refers to the three-year Cretan Revolt against the Turks that began in 1866.
Agora Market, where you'll find 80 stalls spread out in a cross-shaped indoor structure on Sofoklis Venizelos in Chania.
Cretan farmers bring their fresh produce to market in their trucks and often sell from the back of them. The fruits and vegetables are usually extremely fresh, very cheap and so tasty. Don't expect to see each separate stall selling a full range of fruits and vegetables, though. Often the farmer has only one crop to sell and so his stall will contain just courgettes or just tomatoes for example. The herb, cheese and honey stalls also sell wonderful local produce. You can taste before you buy too, and sample some of the best food you've ever had.
The markets open early in the morning till around 2:00pm and can get very busy with locals and tourists alike looking for bargains. The colorful and lively atmosphere the markets create make shopping fun and exciting.Bakery
You'll have to get up early in Crete to have the chance to buy from a wide range of bakery goods from the many bakers found here. Bread and pastry products make up a large part of the Cretan diet and soon disappear from the bakers shelves. Three times more bread is eaten in the traditional Crete diet than the diet eaten by the Americans, for example. You'll see many locals eating a 'cheese pie' or 'spinach pie' early in the morning on their way to work or school. The bread here is really tasty with many varieties on offer. And if it is a special occasion like Christmas, Easter or a Saint's Day, special bread is produced by the baker. This is normally sweetened and spiced with cinnamon. The smell coming from the bakeries is wonderful! The Cretans also produce a double baked bread known as Dakos. This hard rusk type bread is used as the main ingredient to Cretan Salad, along with fresh tomatoes, feta cheese and olive oil.What to Buy
Olive oil is central to Greek and Cretan cooking and is also the most important agricultural product on the island. If you are going to buy olive oil to bring back to your country make sure that it is of the best Extra Virgin quality and if possible buy it in metal containers so that it won't break inside your suitcase.
Honey is another important product of Crete. Here again, buy the best possible quality. Cretans consider thyme honey to be the best honey and it is also the most expensive. If at all possible buy your honey in a place where you can taste it, for example directly from a producer. If you can, buy it in plastic or metal containers to avoid breaking it on its way back.
Raki is a spirit distilled from what is left over from pressing grapes, so in fact it is more or less the same as Italian Grappa. Most restaurants will offer you raki at the end of your meal and you might become quite fond of it. It's possible to buy it (the best stuff is generally sold very cheaply in recycled plastic water bottles) but beware: it will not taste as nice back home as it does here in Crete and will probably end up languishing at the back of a cupboard (maybe keeping company to other drinks brought back from past holidays).
Crete has a wealth of wild herbs of the highest quality. They weigh next to nothing, don't break and are cheap so it's a good idea to stock up on thyme, rosemary, oregano and such. The Chania covered market has a few shops selling an excellent selection of herbs and spices.
A number of shops sell high quality local beauty products made with natural ingredients such as olive oil, avocado and Cretan herbs and essential oils.
You can find a huge choice of good quality (as well as a large choice of less good quality) jewelry in silver and gold especially in Chania and Rethymnon. Both towns have a multitude of jewelry shops and the intense competition keeps the prices fairly low. A lot of it is mass-produced (in Greece and abroad) but there are also a few shops with quality handmade or hand-picked items.
Crete has a very old tradition of pottery (over 5000 years really!) and there are many potters still practicing their skills on the island. The most famous place for pottery is the 'potter's village' of Margarites near Rethymnon but you can find potters, as well as shops selling pottery in most places. There is a lot of mass-produced stuff but also some high quality and original work, all at very competitive prices.
There are only two villages left in Crete where the traditional earthenware 'pithoi' are made. These enormous food storage jars have been made since Minoan times. Due to the dwindling demand for such items most potters started producing ceramic items for everyday use and are now forced to work almost exclusively for the tourist industry. You will find some good items, with the shiny dark blue glaze of Cretan ceramics. The glaze should be hard enough not to scratch under the blade of a knife.
The most famous place for buying leather goods in Crete is without doubt Chania's 'Leather Street.'
Chania has long been famous for its leather handicrafts, mainly its tough traditional Cretan boots. The shoemaker street Skridlof, off Halidon Street has now grown into a tourist leather bazaar. The quality of the work on offer has declined, but it may be said in fairness that you can still find good quality work at good prices (lots of competition!) and even some real bargains around the end of the tourist season. Apart from the stalls some more upmarket leather shops have also opened in the 'Leather Lane' as well as elsewhere, and you can find some good bags, belts and other leather items at very keen prices.
It is still possible to have boots made-to-measure but not during the tourist season as they are far too busy producing the standard stuff: sandals, belts, leather bags etc. If you can find a shoemaker willing to make you a pair of boots expect to have to wait at least a week for the work to be done.
Needlework is an old traditional craft fast getting replaced with mass-produced items. But you can still find hand-made embroidery and lace if you search for it.
The komboloi or worry beads is a string of beads manipulated with one or two hands and used to pass time in Greek culture (fast getting replaced by mobile phones in younger generations). Unlike the similar prayer beads used in many religious traditions worry beads have no religious or ceremonial purpose. Komboloi can make nice souvenirs and presents. You can find them cheaply made of simple beads but there are also some serious antique collector items made from amber and other precious materials.
With millions of olive trees growing in Crete it is no surprise that you will find shops selling items made of olive wood such as serving spoons, small bowls and small chopping boards. Anything a little larger will quickly command high prices as it is a lot more difficult to produce.
Crete has a rich tradition of (religious) icons painting. You can buy them in shops, but it is often more interesting (and quite a bit cheaper) to purchase them directly from an icon painter. Note that old icons may only be exported with special permission.
Knives were very important items for the Cretans, not only to use, but also to display as status symbols and show your ability to defend yourself. There are several traditional knife shops left in Chania, some surprisingly not yet discovered by mainstream tourism. A few of these shops are located on Sifaka Street, along the Byzantine fortication of the Old Town.
Not so long ago almost every household had its loom, but nowadays weavers have almost entirely disappeared. There is one very good shop in Chania (with Crete's only male weaver) as well as a few more shops in Axos and Anogeia (in central Crete, South of Rethymnon).
Carpets and Kelims
This type of work is more common in Central Crete but there are a few good shops in the Topanas area of the old town of Chania where you can find good quality items.
Shopping hours are a somewhat complicated matter in Greece as they vary according to the type of business. The list below covers the main areas, but bear in mind that this is subject to sudden arbitrary and often incomprehensible changes in the law.
Shops open around 9:00am and close around 1:30pm or 2:00pm Monday to Saturday. On Tuesday, Thursday and Friday they are also open from around 6:00pm to 9:00pm. Always closed on Sundays and holidays.
Generally the hours between 2:00pm and 5:30pm are dedicated to lunch and the sacred afternoon siesta, especially in the hot summer. Tourist shops may stay open, so do many kiosks, all the supermarkets, main post offices and telephone offices.
Apart from kiosks, sweet shops, florists and many tourist shops everything is closed on Sundays.
Generally open throughout the day until evening Monday to Saturday. Only very few are open after 10:00 pm. On Sundays and holidays some are open and some are closed so you may have to drive a bit before you find an open one.
The main post offices are open Monday to Friday from 8:00am to 8:00pm and Saturday 8:00am to 2:00 pm. Other post offices will generally be open from 8:00am to 2:00pm only from Monday through Friday.
Pharmacies keep normal shop hours Monday to Friday. They are closed on Saturdays. If you need a chemist on closing days or at night you can see which one is open (there are generally a few in larger towns) in the list displayed in the window of every pharmacy. The list is in Greek however. The best solution is probably to take a taxi to the nearest one. An alternative is to find the open pharmacy online (for Chania only).
There is almost always a kiosk open somewhere, night and day, at least in the cities. Kiosks selling everything from food and snacks to cigarettes and postcards and many of these are open 24 hours a day. Peripteros are the little kiosks you find next to the road all over Crete (and Greece). They seem to be open all hours and despite their small size seem to sell everything. These 'Tardis' like establishments sell items such as phone cards, stamps, batteries, cigarettes and sweets and chocolate.
Tourist shops are not requested by law to keep normal shop hours so the opening times vary widely. They will often stay open later in the evening (11:00 pm) and will also open on Sundays. This applies to the tourist season only.
Road Side Stalls
There are many road side stalls dotted along the roads of Crete selling fruits and vegetables. These are usually manned by farmers selling their own produce. Many a bargain can be had from one of these stalls and you are guaranteed the freshest of produce with farmers selling same-day picked goods.