Agia Galini is 61 km southeast of Rethymno and 68 km southwest of Heraklion, about midway along the south coast of Crete.
Agia Galini, with its strange but apt name (meaning "Saint Serenity", or "Holy Peace"), is a small, labyrinthine village built in the shape of an amphitheatre and surrounded by three mountains: Asideroto, Kedros and Psiloritis. It opens out into a pretty, picturesque harbour which is particularly busy in summer.
The small old houses of the village seem squashed by the larger apartments springing up in the area and the hotels in Agia Galini, built in an effort to accommodate rising numbers of visitors.
Agia Galini is a famous resort with a good beach, one of the first tourist resorts in Crete.
The small harbour of Agia Galini, right in front of the village, provides a safe haven for the pleasure yachts and sailing boats that cluster here every summer. For lovers of the sea, Agia Galini, partly due to its name, is a favourite destination or a peaceful stop for some fish and supplies.
What makes Agia Galini unique is the amphitheatrical layout of its houses on the hill, offering a wonderful view of the harbour and the Bay of Messara. The view of the village from the harbour is equally lovely, especially at dusk and at night.
The first impression one has on entering Agia Galini is that this is a very hospitable village, or tourist resort if you prefer. If you wander a little further along the narrow streets of Agia Galini you will see the old village houses, and if you chat awhile with one of the older inhabitants they will tell you a bit about the closed fishing community, the small village of about 500 people that existed here 40 years ago, when tourism was not yet part of local life and when Greek or foreign visitors to the island came here to see an untouched, authentic place on their way to Heraklion or Rethymno.
How to get to Agia Galini
By bus from Rethymno or Heraklion. There are regular buses to Agia Galini in both summer and winter.
By car from Heraklion Airport.
Take the National Road west, i.e. towards the city of Heraklion, and keep going until the exit to Mires. On leaving the National Road continue towards Phaistos, Tymbaki and Kokkinos Pyrgos. 500 metres after Tymbaki, the road splits in two: the left-hand fork leads to Kokkinos Pyrgos, while the right-hand fork continues to Agia Galini. Agia Galini is about 1.5 hours’ drive from Heraklion.
By car from Chania Airport or Rethymno.From Chania Airport it is about 45 minutes’ drive to Rethymno. From Rethymno, continue towards Spili and Agia Galini. It will take you about an hour to drive from Rethymno to Agia Galini.
What you will find in Agia Galini
Agia Galini is well-organised tourist destination and everything is very close together. You can get there by car or bus. The KTEL bus stop is in the village itself, next to the church and a few hundred metres from the harbour. The tiny village streets have no names, so it’s best to make note of a few landmarks to orient oneself or to agree to meet by; the church with the bus stop is an obvious one.
On Eleftheriou Venizelou Street is the post office, the main bakery, a doctor’s surgery and a few car and motorbike rental shops.
Very near the post office you’ll find a currency exchange and a cashpoint machine. Make sure you withdraw money in good time so you don’t find yourself with empty pockets over the weekend - there are only two cashpoints in Agia Galini and they may run out quickly. The other cashpoint is near the bus stop.
There is also an internet café by the bus stop, although a stroll through the village streets will convince you that there are many cafeterias with wi-fi in the area.
In the narrow street parallel to Venizelou Street are the shops of Agia Galini, and you may be surprised to find how many jewellery shops are clustered together in such a small area. There are also tourist bureaux on the same street, offering local information.
The locals quaintly call the next street “taverna street” for obvious reasons. It is one of the most picturesque streets in Agia Galini and you will certainly pass by here.
Near the harbour there are various public telephone booths operated by phonecards, a friendly bookshop with Greek and English books, and, on the harbour street near the post office, Le Shop Kalliopi, which sells Greek and foreign newspapers and magazines.
Behind the bus stop you will find a laundry, while directly opposite is a large, well-stocked pharmacy with medicines, face cream and anything else locals or visitors might want. There are also many minimarkets scattered around the area, selling essential items and anything else you can imagine, from tourist goods to swimsuits.
For those arriving by boat, the harbour of Agia Galini is a safe haven with water and fuel supplies, while some of the cafeterias sell large bags of ice.
Hotels, Restaurants and Entertainment in Agia Galini
Hotels and Apartments in Agia Galini you can find plenty, though the locals say that it’s difficult to find somewhere to stay in July and August unless you’ve booked well in advance. This is because many foreign tourists, mainly Scandinavians and Germans, come here every summer.
The hotels and apartments are scattered throughout Agia Galini, and perhaps the best place to start looking is the road into the village from Rethymno or Heraklion. This area is higher up and has the best view of the little harbour and the sea.
If you want something closer to the beach, there are hotels right behind both beaches; these are more organised and a bit more family-friendly.
There is also a campsite in Agia Galini, 1 km outside the village, east of the River Platys which runs through the area. You can also get to the campsite if you walk along the shore, just after the little bridge leading to the east beach.
You will certainly not starve in Agia Galini, as the place is full of restaurants and tavernas. Some of these are a bit touristy, but in the narrow alleys you will also find more traditional tavernas with home cooking. These are easy to recognise as they are smaller and more welcoming, and there will always be a local there enjoying his meze and a glass of tsikoudia (raki).
If you would rather have dinner with a view, on the rock above the harbour there are many restaurants with a stunning view of the Bay of Messara. It is said that many yachtsmen call in just to eat the fresh fish abundant in Agia Galini.
After supper, you can prepare your assault on the bars and cafeterias of Agia Galini. Belying its name, Agia Galini has a rather rich and noisy nightlife, though all the bars and nightclubs are clustered near the harbour at the end of the taverna street, so they don’t disturb people.
You will find clubs playing jazz, Eighties music and the latest international hits.
If you prefer something more traditional, some of the local tavernas play live Cretan music.
What to do in Agia Galini
The obvious thing to do in Agia Galini is relax and enjoy the swimming. The beaches at Agia Galini are not large and you must get your loungers early if you want a place at the front, by the sea. The bars and cafeterias also serve on the beach, so you will lack for nothing.
In any case, you do not need a car in Agia Galini unless you want to visit somewhere else, because everything is within easy walking distance. This by itself makes Agia Galini the ideal destination for people who want to relax and enjoy the sun and sea.
In the harbour there are many boats providing daytrips to the neighbouring islets and beaches. If you go for a walk round the harbour about 6 or 7 in the afternoon when most of them return, you will see they have put up signs with their routes and departure times.
One boat goes to the Paximadia, the twin islets in the Bay of Messara (the excursion ticket cost 20-25 euros in 2009), while others visit the beach at Preveli with its palm grove, Plakias, Agios Pavlos and even Matala.
Your meal is included in the price; this may be something cooked on the beach or a snack on board. There are also fishing boats that just take tourists to the beaches and back, without providing food or drinks.
At dusk you can go down to the jetty to see the sunset and the cave of Agia Galini, just outside the harbour.
You can visit the cave with its wild doves by small boat from the harbour.
Dolphin-watching excursions are organised in the area, as dolphins are plentiful here.
Ask for details at one of the tourist bureaux or the harbour. The days and times change depending on the season. The excursion lasts five hours and costs about 25-30 euros per person (2009 prices).
If you would like to explore the village of Agia Galini, you can see the Byzantine church of Panagia (the Virgin) by the village cemetery, just outside the village. Other interesting churches nearby are those of Panagia at Hordaki, 1 km from Agia Galini, and Agios Ioannis (St John) at Amari.
9 km west of Agia Galini is Agios Georgios, a quiet place with a pretty pebble beach. There is just one taverna there, whose owner serves his day’s catch.
About half an hour’s drive from Agia Galini is Agios Pavlos. You can get there by boat from Agia Galini or by car along the road to Saktouria.
The bay at Cape Melissa is beautiful and well worth visiting, especially on days when there are no strong northerlies blowing.
If, while walking around Agios Pavlos, you see people doing yoga on the beach, don’t be surprised - there is a yoga centre here for those who want to combine their holiday with oriental practices of this type.
If you would rather stay in Agia Galini without travelling away from it, there are many attractions to keep you there. It is a pretty and welcoming place, a gentle bay opening out in front of you as you walk down to the harbour.
And even if the area is not as untouched as it once was, it still retains enough of its charm and peacefulness, not losing them even at night, since the Agia Galini nightlife is restricted to specific spots where it does not disturb the other visitors.