A brief shopping guide for souvenirs and more
Start your shopping tour from the old market, a narrow pedestrian street where little shops are lined up, ending at the Turkish Sebil. This is one of the oldest markets in town where many people go for their everyday groceries and where you can also find souvenir shops, spice & herb shops, taverns and cafes.
If you want to buy mountain herbal tea, try those endemic ones to Crete: dittany (diktamo), known for its therapeutic and aphrodisiac qualities, malotira (Sideritis syriaca or "Cretan mountain tea"), and Cretan faskomilo (Mountain Sage).
In many shops you will find bottled raki, however, it will not be of the best quality… it is better to buy a bottle of homemade raki directly from producers (from taverns in villages, for example) or ask a Cretan friend to find you a bottle. If you don’t have a Cretan friend, make sure you make one!
If you are visiting during Christmas, try the locally made apaki (smoked meat from lean pork, marinated in pure wine vinegar) and village sausage. If you plan on taking them back home make sure they are well wrapped, otherwise your clothes will smell like smoked meat!
Continuing through the old market, you’ll certainly notice the dairy products. Whatever you buy from these dairy shops will be delicious. Try local cheeses such as graviera (made from sheep’s milk) white cheese (feta), myzithra (unpasteurized fresh cheese made with milk and whey from sheep and/or goats) or anthotiro (a variation of myzithra, usually harder in texture). If you plan on taking them back home ask the seller how long they will last outside the refrigerator. Graviera is always a safe choice and the most popular cheese of Crete! In dairy shops you will also find locally produced honey of excellent quality.
Buy a bottle of homemade raki directly from producers or ask a Cretan friend to find you a bottle. If you don’t have a Cretan friend, make sure you make one!
Reaching the end of the old market, your nose will lead you to the shops selling freshly ground coffee. So if you are a fan of Greek (aka Turkish) coffee, this is the place for you!
You can also find honey, herbs and olives at the Saturday open air market and buy them directly from producers.
Conventional souvenir shops are to be found everywhere in the old market, as well as in the pedestrian 25 of August Street (25ης Αυγούστου) that leads to the Venetian port, the commercial Dedalou Street (Δαιδάλου, starting across the Lions’ Square), and Idomeneos Street (Ιδομενέως). Typical souvenirs include Cretan head scarves (sariki), Cretan knifes, refrigerator magnets, miniatures, ceramics, t-shirts, and handcrafted table clothes. Most are not of the best quality and don’t be surprised if the Minotaur horns you bought were made in China!
If you turn onto Kosmon Street (Κόσμων) right next to a supermarket (harma) you will find a store selling traditional sweets of Sitia (try xerotigana, kaltsounia, or patouda). A bit further on you will also find two traditional shops selling Cretan knifes, in case you are interested. Spice shops are also found in the old market, as well as near the end of Dikeosinis Street (Δικαιοσύνης) and at the start of Kalokerinou Street (Καλοκαιρινού). Simply let the scents guide you!
If you are interested in Cretan culture, you can start with Cretan music (you will find a variety of Cretan albums in Korai Square) and then explore the editions of Cretan books in the Vikelea Library, sold in the kiosk on Androgeo Street (near Loggia); other interesting books are found in the Historical Museum. Furthermore, you can find English editions of books by Nikos Kazantzakis in most central bookstores and of course in the Nikos Kazantzakis Museum in the village of Myrtia (also available in other languages).
Another great idea for souvenir or gift to your friends are old maps of Venetian Crete (Candia) sold in central bookstores.
Finally, don’t forget to buy a good bottle of Cretan wine! Crete has a long tradition of wine production, dating back to the Minoan era. Local varieties (kotsifali, thrapsathiri, mantilari) are combined with other known varieties resulting in a wide selection of excellent quality wines. Look for them in wineries or specialized stores in the center of Heraklion.