Heraklion, a city full of history, culture, and stunning natural beauty. Located on the northern coast of the island of Crete, Heraklion is the largest city on the island and a popular destination for travelers from all over the world. This guide will take you on a journey through the best things to do, see, and experience in Heraklion. From exploring ancient ruins and tasting traditional Cretan cuisine to soaking up the sun on stunning beaches and venturing on day trips to nearby destinations, Heraklion has something to offer every traveler. So, pack your bags and get ready to discover the magic of Heraklion.
- History of Heraklion
- Things to do in Heraklion, Crete
- Taste – Restaurants in Heraklion
- Nightlife in Heraklion
- Stay – Hotels in Heraklion
- Be Active – Outdoor Activities in Heraklion
- The Best Beaches in Heraklion
- How to get to Heraklion
- Transportation in Heraklion
- Day trips from Heraklion
- When to visit – Weather in Heraklion
History of Heraklion
Welcome to the fascinating city of Heraklion, where the past and present seamlessly blend together to create a unique and captivating atmosphere. From ancient ruins to modern buildings, this city has a rich history that is waiting to be explored.
Heraklion has a long and storied history that dates back to the Minoan civilization, one of the earliest recorded civilizations in Europe. The Minoans flourished on the island of Crete from around 2700 BC to 1450 BC and left behind a legacy of impressive architectural feats and artistic achievements. One of the most famous Minoan sites in Heraklion is the Palace of Knossos, which is believed to have been the center of Minoan civilization.
After the fall of the Minoans, Heraklion became a significant city-state in ancient Greece. It was known for its strategic location, which made it an important center for trade and commerce. Throughout the centuries, Heraklion was occupied by various civilizations, including the Byzantines, Venetians, and Ottomans, all of whom left their mark on the city.
During the Venetian period in the 13th century, Heraklion underwent a significant transformation. The city was fortified with massive walls and became a hub for arts and culture. The Venetians built many of the city’s most iconic landmarks, including the Koules Fortress and the Loggia. The Venetian influence can still be seen in Heraklion’s architecture and urban planning today.
In the 17th century, the Ottoman Empire captured Heraklion and ruled the city for the next 250 years. During this time, Heraklion became the capital of Crete, and the Ottomans built many significant structures, including the Morosini Fountain and the Bembo Fountain.
In the early 20th century, Crete gained independence from the Ottoman Empire, and Heraklion became part of the newly formed Greek state. Since then, Heraklion has continued to evolve into the thriving city that it is today while still preserving its rich history.
As you walk through the streets of Heraklion, you will see the influence of each of these civilizations in the city’s architecture, art, and culture. The city’s museums, including the Archaeological Museum and the Historical Museum of Crete, offer a glimpse into Heraklion’s past and are a must-visit for history buffs.
Things to do in Heraklion, Crete
Heraklion is a vibrant and captivating city that is teeming with fascinating experiences and unforgettable sights. From the ancient ruins of the Palace of Knossos to the bustling Central Market and the Venetian Walls that encircle the Old Town, the city is an endless source of excitement and adventure. The streets are alive with the sounds of chatter and music, and the air is filled with the aroma of traditional Cretan cuisine. There is truly something for everyone in this city, and you’ll find yourself drawn deeper into the island’s rich history and culture with every passing moment. So, grab your map, put on your walking shoes, and let’s explore the top things to do in Heraklion, Crete.
The Palace of Knossos is one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece and a must-visit for history enthusiasts. Located just a short drive from Heraklion, this ancient palace is believed to have been the center of Minoan civilization and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site is vast, and you can easily spend a few hours exploring the ruins and learning about the ancient Minoan culture. Don’t forget to visit the throne room and the frescoes, which are some of the best-preserved ancient artworks in the world.
Explore the Historical Museum of Crete, a fascinating museum that chronicles the island’s rich history. Visitors can learn about the island’s early history, the Ottoman and Venetian periods, and the Cretan resistance during World War II. The museum’s exhibits are well-curated, and you’ll find everything from ancient artifacts to paintings and photographs that document the island’s past.
Take a stroll through the Old Town. The Old Town of Heraklion is a maze of narrow streets, alleys, and squares that are home to some of the city’s most impressive architecture. Be sure to visit the Venetian Loggia, which was once the meeting place for the city’s nobility, and the impressive Morosini Fountain. The old town is also home to many cafes, restaurants, and shops selling traditional Cretan products such as olive oil, honey, and herbs.
Visit the Archaeological Museum, one of the most important museums in Greece and home to a vast collection of artifacts from the Minoan civilization. Highlights include the Phaistos Disc, a mysterious object that has yet to be fully deciphered, and the Bull’s Head Rhyton, an intricately carved vessel in the shape of a bull’s head. The museum is well-organized, and you’ll find everything from pottery and jewelry to statues and frescoes.
Shop at the Central Market, a bustling and colorful market that sells everything from fresh produce and seafood to handmade crafts and souvenirs. Be sure to stop by the market’s meat and cheese stalls to sample some of the local delicacies. The market is also a great place to mingle with the locals and experience the city’s vibrant atmosphere.
Visit the Natural History Museum, a great place to learn about the island’s flora and fauna. The museum’s exhibits include a collection of dinosaur fossils, a replica of a traditional Cretan village, and an aquarium that showcases the island’s marine life. The museum is interactive, and visitors of all ages will enjoy the hands-on exhibits and displays.
Take a walk along the Venetian Walls. The Venetian Walls is a series of fortifications that surround the Old Town of Heraklion. Visitors can take a leisurely walk along the walls and enjoy stunning views of the city and the sea. The walls date back to the 16th century and are a testament to the city’s rich history and culture.
These are just a few of the many things to see and do in Heraklion, Crete. Whether you are interested in history, culture, food, or shopping, there is something for everyone in this vibrant city. Speaking of food, let’s dive into the restaurant scene in Heraklion and explore some of the best dining options available to locals and tourists alike.
Taste – Restaurants in Heraklion
If you are a food lover, then Heraklion is the perfect destination for you. With a rich culinary history that draws from the freshest local ingredients, the city is home to some of the best restaurants in Greece. From traditional tavernas to chic bistros, you’ll find a wide variety of dining options that will tantalize your taste buds and leave you craving for more.
One of the most popular dishes in Heraklion is the Dakos salad, made with barley rusks, fresh tomatoes, feta cheese, and olive oil. It’s a refreshing and healthy option that is perfect for the warm Cretan weather. If you’re looking for something more filling, try the classic Cretan dish of lamb with stamnagathi, a type of wild greens that grow only on the island. The meat is slow-cooked to perfection, and the greens add a unique flavor that you won’t find anywhere else.
For a taste of authentic Cretan cuisine, head to Kritamon. This charming restaurant is located in Archanes village and specializes in traditional dishes made with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. The restaurant’s cozy interior and warm, welcoming atmosphere make it the perfect place to enjoy a leisurely meal with friends and family.
Seafood lovers will be in paradise in Heraklion, with an abundance of fresh catches from the Mediterranean Sea. Octopus is a popular choice, either grilled or cooked in a rich tomato-based stew. Another must-try seafood dish is the classic Cretan fish soup, made with a variety of fish, vegetables, and herbs.
If you’re looking for an upscale dining experience, check out Peskesi. This elegant restaurant is known for its refined take on traditional Cretan cuisine, with dishes like grilled octopus with fava beans, “chochlioi boubouristoi”, and homemade pasta with goat cheese and truffle oil. The menu changes seasonally to take advantage of the freshest local ingredients, and the restaurant’s romantic atmosphere and attentive service make it a popular choice for special occasions.
For a more casual dining experience, head to Bakaliko Crete. This cozy deli and cafe is in Archanes village and serves up delicious homemade sandwiches, salads, and pastries made with locally-sourced ingredients. The menu changes daily, but you can expect to find dishes like chicken with lemon and herbs, spinach and feta pie, and fresh fruit tarts. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly, with a cozy interior and a sunny outdoor terrace.
When it comes to dessert, Heraklion has plenty to offer. Loukoumades, deep-fried dough balls soaked in honey syrup, are a beloved Greek treat that is popular throughout the country. In Heraklion, you’ll find a unique twist on the classic dessert with the addition of local cheeses, such as mizithra or anthotyro. For something lighter, try the traditional spoon sweets made from a variety of fruits, nuts, and herbs.
To fully immerse yourself in the Cretan dining experience, head to the Central Market, where you’ll find an array of local products, including cheeses, olives, honey, and wine. You can also enjoy a meal at one of the market’s traditional tavernas, where you’ll be treated to freshly prepared dishes using ingredients sourced directly from the market stalls.
Overall, dining in Heraklion is an experience like no other. The rich flavors, fresh ingredients, and warm hospitality will leave you with unforgettable memories of your trip to Crete. So, don’t be afraid to explore and try something new – you never know what delicious culinary delights await you around every corner.
Nightlife in Heraklion
Heraklion may be known for its historical sites and beautiful beaches, but the city’s nightlife scene is just as impressive. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing night out sipping cocktails by the sea or an energetic evening dancing the night away, Heraklion has something for everyone.
One of the best places to start your night is in the heart of the old town. The narrow streets and alleyways are lined with bars and cafes, many of which spill out onto the sidewalks and offer the perfect spot for people-watching. Grab a seat at one of the many outdoor terraces and enjoy a refreshing drink as the sun sets over the city.
For a more lively atmosphere, head to the waterfront area overlooking the Koules Fortress. This area is home to several popular bars and clubs that attract a mix of locals and tourists. Dance the night away to live music or DJs, or simply enjoy the bustling atmosphere as you stroll along the waterfront.
If you’re looking for a more upscale experience, head to one of the city’s many rooftop bars. These chic venues offer stunning views of the city and the sea and are the perfect place to enjoy a sophisticated cocktail with friends or a loved one. Sip a refreshing mojito or indulge in a decadent glass of champagne as you take in the panoramic views of the city below.
If you’re looking for something more cultural, Heraklion has a range of theaters and performance venues that host a variety of events throughout the year. The Nikos Kazantzakis Garden Theater hosts outdoor shows during the summer months. For a unique experience, head to the Labyrinth Musical Workshop, a music school and cultural center that offers traditional Cretan music performances, as well as classes and workshops for visitors who want to learn more about this fascinating musical tradition.
Another popular spot for nightlife is the seaside suburb of Ammoudara, just a short drive from the city center. Here you’ll find a long sandy beach lined with bars and cafes that stay open late into the night. Enjoy a drink with your feet in the sand, or dance to the latest hits in one of the beachfront clubs.
Finally, for a more relaxed evening, head to the quaint village of Archanes, just a short drive from Heraklion. This charming village is home to several traditional tavernas that serve up delicious local cuisine, as well as a range of wine bars and cafes that offer a more low-key atmosphere.
Stay – Hotels in Heraklion
When it comes to finding the perfect place to stay in Heraklion, you’re in luck. The city boasts a wide range of accommodation options, from budget-friendly hostels to luxury hotels with all the amenities.
But for a truly unique experience, we recommend checking out some of Heraklion’s boutique hotels. These charming and often family-run establishments offer a more personalized and intimate stay, with unique decor and attention to detail that you won’t find in larger chain hotels.
Whether you’re looking for a cozy room in a historic building, a modern apartment with all the latest amenities, or a stunning seaside villa with panoramic views, Heraklion’s boutique hotels have something to offer. From the moment you step inside, you’ll feel right at home, with friendly staff and comfortable surroundings that are sure to make your stay unforgettable.
If you’re considering staying at a boutique hotel in Heraklion, the DOM Boutique Hotel is an excellent choice. Nestled in the bustling heart of the city, this unique hotel offers a one-of-a-kind experience that is sure to leave a lasting impression on even the most discerning of travelers. From the moment you step foot inside, you’ll be struck by the hotel’s exquisite interior and top-notch service. Whether you’re seeking a relaxing retreat or a productive business trip, the DOM Boutique Hotel has you covered.
Savor the locally-sourced flavors of Cretan cuisine at the hotel’s spacious dining area, or unwind with a signature cocktail at the bar. And when it’s time to retire for the night, you’ll be greeted by a luxurious and eco-conscious room, complete with cutting-edge amenities and stunning views. With so much to see, do, and experience, a stay at the DOM Boutique Hotel is an unforgettable journey that you won’t want to miss.
Be Active – Outdoor Activities in Heraklion
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, Heraklion is the perfect destination for you. With its stunning natural beauty, rugged terrain, and endless sunshine, this city offers a wealth of outdoor activities for all ages and skill levels.
For starters, you can explore the city’s many hiking trails and nature reserves, such as the Samaria Gorge or the Psiloritis Natural Park. With breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, these trails offer a unique and unforgettable hiking experience.
If you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous, you can try your hand at rock climbing or canyoning. Heraklion’s rocky cliffs and deep gorges provide the perfect backdrop for these exciting activities, and there are plenty of guided tours and courses available for beginners and experts alike.
For water lovers, there are also plenty of opportunities to get out on the sea. You can go sea kayaking or paddleboarding along the beautiful coastline or take a snorkeling or scuba diving excursion to explore the fascinating underwater world of Heraklion.
If you prefer to stay on land, you can also rent a bike and explore the city and surrounding countryside at your own pace. With miles of scenic bike paths and quiet country roads, there’s no better way to experience the natural beauty of Heraklion.
And if you’re looking for a truly unique outdoor experience, why not try your hand at olive oil making? Heraklion is home to many traditional olive groves and farms, where you can learn the ancient art of olive oil production and even sample some of the delicious local varieties.
No matter what your interests or skill level, there’s something for everyone in Heraklion’s great outdoors. So get outside, soak up the sun, and experience all the natural beauty this city has to offer!
The Best Beaches in Heraklion
Heraklion is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Greece. Whether you’re seeking solitude or socialization, there’s a beach that fits the bill. With crystal clear waters, breathtaking scenery, and a host of water sports and activities, Heraklion’s beaches are not to be missed.
Starting from the closest to the city center, we have Ammoudara beach. With its golden sand and shallow waters, it’s an ideal spot for families with young children. Ammoudara is a long, well-organized beach with plenty of sunbeds, umbrellas, and beach bars.
Just a few kilometers away, you’ll find the popular beach of Agia Pelagia. Nestled in a bay surrounded by cliffs, it offers a stunning setting with turquoise waters and a relaxed atmosphere. The beach is ideal for swimming, snorkeling, and paddleboarding, while there are also many tavernas and cafes serving fresh seafood and local delicacies.
Further down the coast, we have the quieter and more secluded beaches of Lygaria and Mononaftis. These two small coves are hidden gems with crystal clear waters, ideal for snorkeling and diving. They are perfect for those who want to escape the crowds and enjoy the peace and quiet of nature.
If you’re looking for something more adventurous, head to the beach of Kokkini Ammos. Also known as Red Beach, it is named after the unique red sand and cliffs that surround it. This is a great place for hiking and exploring the surrounding area, while the strong winds make it an excellent spot for windsurfing and kiteboarding.
For a truly unique experience, head to Matala beach. Located on the southern coast of Heraklion, this beach is famous for its impressive cliff formations and caves. The beach was once a hippie paradise in the 1960s, and the caves were used as a shelter by the counterculture movement. Today, it’s a popular spot for swimming and sunbathing, with plenty of cafes and restaurants in the surrounding area.
Last but not least, we have the stunning beach of Preveli. Located approximately 35 kilometers from the city center, it is worth the journey to experience its breathtaking natural beauty. The beach is surrounded by palm trees and lush greenery, while the river that flows into the sea creates a stunning lagoon. This is a perfect spot for those who want to immerse themselves in nature and escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
How to get to Heraklion
Getting to Heraklion is easier than you might think. Whether you’re coming from within Greece or from abroad, there are plenty of options to choose from.
If you’re arriving by air, the Nikos Kazantzakis International Airport is located just 4 kilometers east of Heraklion city center. The airport is well-connected with several major airlines, providing easy access to the island. You can take a taxi or public transportation from the airport to reach your destination.
If you prefer to travel by sea, several ferry connections operate between Heraklion and Athens. The journey takes around 8 hours, but the views of the Aegean Sea and the surrounding islands make it well worth it.
Alternatively, you can take a bus or drive to Heraklion if you are already on the island of Crete. The island has a well-developed road network, and driving can be an enjoyable way to explore the countryside.
No matter how you choose to get to Heraklion, one thing is for sure – once you arrive, you’ll be greeted with warm hospitality, breathtaking landscapes, and a wealth of activities to enjoy.
Transportation in Heraklion
Getting around Heraklion is relatively easy, thanks to its efficient transportation system. The most popular and convenient way to explore the city is by public transportation, which includes buses and taxis.
Buses are a great option for budget-conscious travelers as they are affordable and connect most parts of the city. There are several bus lines, and the bus routes and schedules can be easily found online or at the main bus station in the city center. Taxis are also readily available and offer a more comfortable and convenient option, albeit at a higher price.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also rent a car or a motorbike to explore the island at your own pace. This option is great for those who want to venture beyond the city limits and explore the stunning Cretan countryside. Just make sure to have a valid driver’s license and insurance, and be prepared to drive on the right-hand side of the road!
Cycling is another option for exploring the city, and there are several bike rental companies around the city. This is a fun and eco-friendly way to see the city, and you can easily explore hidden alleyways and backstreets that you might not have discovered otherwise.
Day trips from Heraklion
Heraklion is an excellent base for exploring the beautiful island of Crete. There are several fascinating destinations within a short drive of the city that make for great day trips.
One of the most popular day trips from Heraklion is to the charming town of Agios Nikolaos. This small town is located on the eastern coast of the island, about an hour’s drive from Heraklion. It’s known for its picturesque harbor and beautiful beaches, as well as its lively atmosphere. Visitors can enjoy a stroll along the waterfront, indulge in some shopping, or relax on the sandy beaches.
Another great destination for a day trip is the traditional Cretan village of Archanes. Located about 15 kilometers south of Heraklion, Archanes is an excellent place to experience the local culture and traditions. Visitors can wander through the narrow streets and alleys, admire the traditional architecture, and visit the local market to sample some of the delicious local produce.
For nature lovers, a visit to the Lasithi Plateau is a must-do day trip from Heraklion. Located about an hour’s drive from the city, this beautiful plateau is surrounded by towering mountains and dotted with traditional windmills. Visitors can take a scenic drive through the plateau, stop to admire the stunning views, and enjoy a traditional Cretan meal at one of the local tavernas.
Another fascinating destination for a day trip is the ancient city of Gortyn. Located about 45 kilometers south of Heraklion, Gortyn is home to some of the most impressive ancient ruins on the island. Visitors can explore the remains of the Roman amphitheater, the Temple of Apollo, and the Agora, among other ancient sites.
Finally, no trip to Crete would be complete without a visit to the stunning Samaria Gorge. Located about 2 hours west of Heraklion, this beautiful natural wonder is one of the most popular hiking destinations on the island. The gorge is about 16 kilometers long and is home to a variety of plant and animal life, including the rare kri-kri goats. Visitors can take a guided tour or hike the gorge on their own, stopping to admire the breathtaking scenery along the way.
When to visit – Weather in Heraklion
Heraklion is a city that can be enjoyed all year round. The climate is generally mild, with long summers and mild winters, making it the perfect destination for those who want to escape the cold temperatures.
The summer months, from June to September, are the busiest and most popular times to visit Heraklion. The temperatures are high, with clear blue skies and little to no rain. This is the perfect time to hit the beach, enjoy outdoor activities and explore the city’s vibrant nightlife.
However, the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn, from April to May and October to November, respectively, are also great times to visit. The crowds are fewer, the weather is still pleasant, and the prices are lower. This is the perfect time to explore historic sites, indulge in local food, and enjoy the beautiful landscapes of the region.
Even during the winter months, from December to March, Heraklion has a lot to offer. The temperatures are cooler but not freezing, and the city takes on a different charm. The festive season brings with it a range of activities and events, and the local cuisine is at its best. This is the perfect time to enjoy the quieter side of the city and explore its cultural heritage.
No matter when you choose to visit Heraklion, there is always something to do, see, and experience. From its rich history to its vibrant culture, its stunning beaches to its delicious cuisine, Heraklion is a city that never disappoints.