Greece is the cradle of the “kafeneio” culture, which is still a way of life all over the country. Yesteryear, a kafeneio was a place where common folk met to engage in political debates, gossip, chat, play tavli (backgammon), drink Greek coffee, ouzo or raki, or just hang out and talk about politics with neighbors and peers.
The patrons of the traditional kafeneio were usually men – in some parts of Greece, mainly rural areas, they still are. As a result, these “old school” establishments have an old-timey charm. Nevertheless, modern kafenios welcome anyone who wants to have a good cup of coffee and a lovely time mingling with the locals. Here are five on Crete to inspire your kafeneio discovery journey.
1. Kafeneio O Tempelis
Tucked in a pedestrian area at Milatou 7 & Meramvellou 2 in the heart of Heraklion, Kafeneio O Tempelis is a fixture in the city’s social life. It gets busy late in the evening when many locals flock here for meze and drinks in a jovial atmosphere. The space is homey, unpretentious, and down-to-earth. Wooden tables and typical taverna/kafeneio chairs take over the street, stretching close to the neighboring tavernas and bars, enough to allow you to engage in conversations with their patrons too. The kafeneio serves excellent meze: try the dolmades, fried zucchini, sausages, meatballs, fava, and liver. The menu is extensive, and everything is cooked to perfection, the Cretan way.
2. Kafeneio O Lakkos
Kafeneio O Lakkos (Taxiarchou Markopoulou 41) is in a quiet little square in Lakkos, a historical district of Heraklion. In the early 1900s, this was the “red light” district, full of brothels and cheap tavernas. Soon after, Lakkos fell into disrepair, and the locals flocked slowly to better areas of Heraklion or the countryside. Finally, in the early 2000s, more than half of Lakkos was full of abandoned houses, ruins, and poorly maintained streets. But the Municipality of Heraklion decided to change things and revive the district. In 2015, visual artist Mathew Halpin founded the Lakkos Project in collaboration with the Municipality. Graffiti artists from all over the world were invited to participate, and today the district is beautified by their works. Kafeneio o Lakkos was one of the project’s supporters from the very beginning. Artists still come to Lakkos every summer, and it is not unusual to meet them at the kafeneio. You can go there for coffee, a cold beer, or meze. There’s plenty of shade if you decide to go for lunch.
3. Kafeneio Karampoutze
Kafeneio Karampoutze in Krousonas (Heraklion regional unit) is a historic eatery (established in 1966). It serves traditional Cretan cuisine made with local seasonal produce. The atmosphere is rustic, convivial, and cozy, reminiscent of a Cretan home. They have no menu, serving what’s fresh every day. Go for mountain-style meat dishes, fresh salads, and affordable drinks. Krousonas itself is a traditional Cretan village at the foothills of Mount Ida. Some of the main attractions here include the Museum of Traditional Instruments, and the Monastery of Agia Irini. The landscape surrounding the village is breathtaking.
4. To kafeneio ths Kaiths
In the Chania regional unit in a small seaside village called Kalami – some 10 kilometers west of Chania town, you will find To kafeneio ths Kaiths (Palaia Ethiki Odos). It is a traditional eatery by the sea, offering beguiling views of the Souda Bay. Sunsets here are magical – a romantic place, despite its simple decor. The kafeneio serves seafood, Cretan fare, coffee, and drinks, all reasonably priced. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly, making this kafeneio an ideal destination when you want to escape the busy tourist tavernas of Chania.
5. Kafeneio O Petres
Kafeneio O Petres in Saktouria, some 60 km south of Rethymnon city, opened in 2020. Still, you will not regret stopping here for lunch if you drive to Agios Pavlos or Triopetra Beach. They serve traditional Cretan meze made exclusively with fresh seasonal ingredients, coffee, and refreshments (house wine, beer, soda) – all at attractive prices. The kafenion has a lovely setting in the heart of the village. It is a small venue with indoor and outdoor tables and tasteful decor, preserving the tradition of the authentic Cretan kafeneio.
These five kafeneios are just some of the many opened all over the island. Although originally intended to serve mainly coffee and drinks, many of these establishments now offer small meze plates to satisfy the customers’ demand.