Discover the essential things to do in Heraklion Crete with this travel guide. Visit Knossos, walk along Venetian castle walls, try local food and more!
Heraklion in Crete
Heraklion is the largest city on the Greek island of Crete, and an entry point for most visitors to the island.
With a busy port connecting Heraklion with other parts of Greece, and an international airport, people arrive from all over the world on a daily basis to take their vacations in Crete.Whether you plan to base yourself in Heraklion for your entire vacation, or just want to spend a night or two before moving on to a road trip around Crete, there's plenty to see and do.
Here's my guide on what to see in Heraklion.
Things to see in Heraklion
The Palace of Knossos is the most famous archaeological site in Crete. Whilst no one really knows for sure, many believe that this palace is the one mentioned in the myth of the Minotaur. Some people even think that the palace is the labyrinth itself.
Knossos is a Minoan complex, a civilisation that pre-dated what we have come to know as the ancient Greeks. It was one of the most powerful and influential bronze age cultures, and had established trade routes throughout the Mediterranean.
Then, all of a sudden, the Minoan civilisation collapsed. The reason is unclear, with many suggesting natural disasters such as earthquakes. The memory of the civilisation slipped into myth and legend until Knossos was discovered in 1878.
Today, the archaeological site of Knossos in Crete is a controversial one. This is due to some reconstruction efforts which may have done more harm than good.
No visit to Heraklion would be complete without seeing Knossos and you should include it in your Heraklion sightseeing itinerary.
Find out more here about the Palace of Knossos.
2. Archaeological Museum of Heraklion
The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is one of the most important museums in Greece, if not Europe. It houses many of the artefacts found at Knossos and other Minoan sites in Crete.
If you decide to visit Knossos without a guide, I would suggest you visit the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion first. This way, you will get a better understanding of the civilisation.
Containing exhibits such as fertility Goddesses, symbolical axe heads, and colourful vases, one of the most curious pieces is the Phaistos Disc.
This circular object was found at the archaeological site of Phaistos, home of another Minoan palace. The disc appears to be covered in writing, which remains undecipherable to this day.
Opening times of the museum may vary depending on season. During the summer months, the archaeological museum is open from 08.00 – 20.00.
3. Explore Heraklion Old Town
The pedestrian streets inside the old town section of Heraklion are perfect for aimless wanderings. With boutique shops, local stores, and interesting architecture there's no better place to give your legs some exercise.
Surrounding the old town are the Venetian city walls. These too are worth accessing, as once at the top, you have amazing views down over the city and out onto the port.
One of the points of interest you may come across when walking the walls, is the tombstone of Nikos Kazantzakis. He was perhaps the most influential writer in Crete and even Greece, most famous for Zorba the Greek.
This page has more details on walking the walls in Heraklion.
4. Heraklion Fortress (Koules)
Koules is a Venetian Castle, of a type known as ‘a castle of the sea'. Built in the 16th century at the entrance to the old port, it formed part of the defensive network at Heraklion.
Today, the fortress has been restored and opened to the public. Climbing to the top, you will have some of the best views out over Heraklion.
5. Heraklion Market
The Heraklion central market is a bustling place, where you'll find fruit and veg sellers, butchers, fishmongers, olives, cheese, and a few random tourist stalls thrown in for good measure.
Whether you actually need to buy anything or not, you should visit here for a half hour or so as part of your Heraklion sightseeing itinerary.
Located 1866 Street, between the Meidani and Kornarou Square, this is a good place to get a feel for the authentic side of Cretan life. You'll also see why the food in Crete tastes so good!
6. Take a food tour in Heraklion
Talking of the food in Crete…
When people ask me what to do in Heraklion, I always recommend a food tour. I find that these are a great way to combine sightseeing, and taste the local cuisine.
There are a number of Heraklion tours you can choose from, ranging from group food tours to private food tours. Tickle your tastebuds, and join this Foodies Feast Tour in Heraklion.
Even if you don't take a food tour, at least make sure you sample some of the local delicacies on offer in Heraklion!
7. Check out the beaches in Heraklion
I've seen many guides on things to do in Heraklion feature beaches such as Matala. I'm really not sure why, as Matala is over an hour away by car! There are, however, closer beaches to Heraklion itself.
The best beaches near Heraklion include Ammoudara beach which is just 5 km away from Heraklion, and Palaiokastro beach 8 kms away. The latter is a good choice for families, as it's sheltered from northern winds and there are no beach bars pumping out loud music.
8. Boat trips from Heraklion
There's several choices of boat tours from Heraklion you might take. It's even possible to take a day tour to Santorini by boat, although I think that would make for a long day!
Here are some of the best boat trips from Heraklion:
Where to stay in Heraklion
There are a number of Heraklion hotels to choose from. Some of the most popular include:
Atrion Hotel Heraklion – Elegant accommodation positioned near the promenade, and just a short walk from Heraklion centre. Recommended for its great location. For more details, check here – Atrion Hotel Heraklion
Kastro Hotel Heraklion – Another hotel that is recommended for its excellent location and facilities, guests comment happily on the friendly staff and lovely breakfast. For more details, check here – Kastro Hotel Heraklion
Olympic Hotel Heraklion – Offering good value for money, the Olympic Hotel is located in the heart of the city at Kornarou Square. For more details, check here – Olympic Hotel Heraklion
El Greco Hotel Heraklion – With 90 rooms, this hotel is clean, functional, and good value for money. For more details, check here – El Greco Hotel Heraklion
Castello Hotel Heraklion – With open plan family rooms, the Castello could be a good choice for families looking for hotels in Heraklion. For more details, check here – Castello Hotel Heraklion
Atlantis Hotel Heraklion – The Aquila Atlantis Hotel is a lovely 5 star hotel in Heraklion, with a pool that has views our over the harbour. Ready to treat yourself? For more details, check here – Atlantis Hotel Heraklion
Irini Hotel Heraklion – Modern rooms, friendly staff, and a supermarket over the road make the Irini a good choice for couples. For more details, check here – Irini Hotel Heraklion
Astoria Hotel Heraklion – Located next to the archaeological museum in Heraklion, the Capsis Astoria is one of the most well known hotels in the city, and has a lovely rooftop pool. For more details, check here – Astoria Hotel Heraklion
Heraklion Map Showing Accommodation
Below, you can see a map of Heraklion Crete which shows other Heraklion hotels. Zoom in and out and select the hotels in Heraklion for more information on each one.
Heraklion airport to hotel
The two options for getting from Heraklion airport to your hotel are bus and taxi. For full details, check out my guide to Heraklion airport transfers.
Heraklion is a good base from which to take day trips to other parts of Greece. Here are some of the best day trips from Heraklion to choose from.
More Crete Travel Guides
You may find the following travel guides about Crete useful in your trip planning.
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The Best Things To Do In Heraklion
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