Discover the Beauty of Heraklion, Crete: Top 11 Things to Do
The charming Greek island of Crete's capital, Heraklion, is a place where history, culture, and the natural world come together harmoniously. Heraklion has much to offer everyone, whether you enjoy history, the beach, or good food. We will take you on a tour of the enchanted city of Heraklion and its environs with this extensive guide, giving you a list of must-see locations and things to do that will make your trip genuinely unforgettable.
Exploring Heraklion's Rich History
1. Visit the Palace of Knossos
One of the most important archaeological sites in Europe is the Palace of Knossos, which is situated on the Greek island of Crete, not far from the city of Heraklion. During the Bronze Age, when the Minoan civilization flourished on Crete, this is the largest and best-preserved palace complex.
The complex and advanced Minoan civilization, called after the Greek mythological King Minos, flourished on the island of Crete between around 2700 and 1450 BC. The administrative, spiritual, and cultural hub of ancient civilization was the palace at Knossos. To get this amazing place book your day tour now Knossos Palace & Heraklion Tour
British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans made the first discovery of the palace and conducted some excavation work there in the early 20th century. He meticulously rebuilt a number of the site's features, which has caused some academics to disagree over how accurate the reconstruction is.
The palace complex is a maze-like building with several stories, a large number of rooms, courtyards, and striking murals that portray scenes from everyday life and religious rites. Its engineering achievements and architectural style were well ahead of their time.
The "Throne Room," which houses a stone seat thought to have once been King Minos' throne, is one of the palace's most famous attractions. The royal room is embellished with exquisite murals, one of which is the well-known "Dolphin Fresco."
Produce and other goods were kept in large clay jars known as "pithoi," which were located throughout the palace's storage halls.
The "Bull-Leaping Fresco," another well-known painting in the palace, shows acrobats doing breathtaking feats by jumping over charging bulls. The centrality of bull-related ceremonies in Minoan religious traditions is shown in this artwork.
Excavators discovered in Knossos specimens of a script called Linear A, which remains untranslated, contributing to the mystique surrounding the Minoan culture.
Around 1450 BC, the Minoan civilization suddenly and mysteriously collapsed, presumably as a result of a confluence of natural calamities and outside invasions.
How to get to Knossos from Heraklion?
To get to Knossos from Heraklion, you have a few transportation options. Knossos is an ancient archaeological site located just a few kilometers south of Heraklion on the Greek island of Crete.
Here are the most common ways to reach Knossos from Heraklion:
Bus: The most budget-friendly option is to take a local bus. The KTEL Heraklion-Lasithi bus line connects Heraklion with Knossos. Bus routes and schedules may change, so it's a good idea to check the latest information at the Heraklion bus station or online. The bus ride takes about 15-20 minutes.
Taxi: Taxis are readily available in Heraklion and are a convenient way to get to Knossos. It's a short ride, and taxis can drop you off near the entrance to the archaeological site.
Walking: If you're staying in Heraklion and enjoy walking, you can reach Knossos on foot. It's approximately a 20-30 minute walk from the city center to the archaeological site. Just follow the signs.
Bike Rental: Some tourists prefer renting bicycles to explore the area. This can be a fun and environmentally friendly way to get to Knossos and explore the surrounding areas at your own pace.
Guided Tours: Many tour operators such as Discover D1 in Heraklion offer guided tours to Knossos. This option can provide you with valuable historical and archaeological insights while taking care of transportation logistics.
Car Rental: If you have access to a car, you can easily drive from Heraklion to Knossos. The drive is short, and you can park at the archaeological site. Be sure to check if there are parking fees or restrictions.
2. Heraklion Archaeological Museum
Situated in the city of Heraklion, Crete, the Heraklion Archaeological Museum is one of the most significant and well-known museums in Greece. Its mission is to conserve and present the remarkable archeological discoveries from all around the island of Crete, highlighting the area's rich history and culture with a special emphasis on the Minoan civilization.
A vast collection of Minoan antiquities from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, including jewelry, statues, paintings, ceramics, and other priceless items, are kept in the museum.
One of the oldest and most developed civilizations in Europe, the Minoan civilization, is said to have originated in Crete. The museum provides a unique window into the customs, religious beliefs, and artistic accomplishments of this prehistoric society.
The most well-known Minoan archaeological site on Crete, the Palace of Knossos, is not far away, and many of the items on exhibit were taken from its excavation. Visitors can better appreciate the magnificence and intricacy of the Minoan palace complex thanks to these discoveries.
The museum's Phaistos Disc, an ancient clay disk with enigmatic hieroglyphic characters, is one of its most fascinating displays. Its meaning and function have not yet been completely understood, and it remains a mystery.
The museum holds a wide range of archaeological riches from different eras, such as displays from the Geometric, Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman periods, in addition to the Minoan relics.
The chronological arrangement of the museum's displays enables visitors to follow the historical evolution of Crete from prehistoric times to the Roman era.
Notable for its conservation and restoration work is the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. Its committed staff puts in endless effort to conserve and safeguard the historic items for upcoming generations.
The museum features state-of-the-art amenities, such as educational displays and audio tours, which improve visitor experience and provide exhibits important context.
The museum is widely accessible to both tourists and locals due to its ideal location in Heraklion's city center.
How much does it cost to get into Knossos?
Adult entrance to the Knossos archaeological site in Crete, Greece, cost about 15 euros.
3. Old Town of Heraklion
The Old Town of Heraklion is a quaint neighborhood in the city center where the past and contemporary collide. It is also referred to as the Historic Center or Kastro (castle). Its intriguing blend of Ottoman, Venetian, and modern elements is a reflection of the city's varied past.
Enormous Venetian walls encircle the Old Town; they were constructed in the sixteenth century to keep out invaders. The walls feature gates and bastions, such the well-known "Koules Fortress" near the former harbor entrance, and are in good condition.
During the Venetian era, the Loggia, a stunning Venetian edifice in the center of the Old Town, functioned as a gathering spot for the nobility. It is still regarded as a historical landmark and a work of architectural beauty today.
This lively square serves as a hub for gatherings and is crucial to Heraklion's social life. The Morosini Fountain, which has a statue of a lion spitting water from its jaws, is the inspiration behind the fountain's name.
Considered the first bishop of Crete, Saint Titus is honored in this magnificent church situated in the center of the Old Town. It is a significant Cretan religious site as well as a superb example of Venetian architecture.
There are several old structures in the Old Town, some with Venetian and Ottoman influences, that you will come across as you meander through its winding lanes. While some of these structures have undergone exquisite restorations, others still have their endearing old-world charm.
Shopping for traditional Cretan goods, such as regional specialties, souvenirs, handcrafted items, and unusual presents, is a terrific experience in the Old Town.
There are plenty of quaint cafés, classic tavernas, and eateries in the Old Town where you may savor real Cretan food and take in the local ambience.
Both locals and visitors congregate in this square. Surrounded by quaint buildings, it's a great place to people-watch.
The Old Town offers a fascinating blend of architectural types, hidden gems just waiting to be discovered, and an atmosphere that is both historical and cultural.
Remaining pieces of historic buildings and archeological sites that highlight the city's rich history can be found in the Old Town.
In addition to being a stunning architectural design, the Morosini Fountain has historical significance because, when under Venetian control, it supplied fresh water to the city.
Over the centuries, the fountain has undergone several renovations and restorations to preserve its beauty and historical value.
The Morosini Fountain has become an iconic symbol of Heraklion, and it is often featured in postcards, photos, and promotional materials representing the city.
The fountain serves as a popular meeting point for both locals and tourists. Its central location and historical significance make it a natural gathering spot for people exploring the city.
4. Morosini Fountain (Lion's Fountain)
Situated in the center of Heraklion, Crete, the Morosini Fountain—also referred to as the Lion's Fountain or the Lions Square Fountain—is a historically significant site. It is one of the most well-known and cherished icons of the city and a well-liked gathering place for both residents and visitors.
In 1628, Francesco Morosini, the ruler of Venice, built the fountain during that era. Giovanni Morosini, a Venetian architect, created the design, and efforts were made to enhance the city's water supply during its construction.
5. Koules Fortress
Koules Fortress, also known as Rocca a Mare or Castello del Molo, is a historic fortress located at the entrance of the old harbor in Heraklion, Crete. The fortress has played a significant role in the city's history and is one of the most iconic landmarks in Heraklion.
The fortress was originally built by the Republic of Venice in the early 16th century, between 1523 and 1540, during their occupation of Crete. It was part of the extensive fortifications constructed by the Venetians to protect the city from pirate attacks and invasions.
Koules Fortress is a massive, four-story structure with sturdy stone walls and bastions. It was strategically positioned to control the entrance to the old harbor and offer a clear view of any approaching ships or threats.
After the fall of the Venetian rule, the fortress was later taken over by the Ottoman Empire in 1669. During the Ottoman period, Koules was used as a prison and a storage facility for weapons and ammunition.
The name "Koules" is a variation of the Turkish word "Kule," which means "tower" or "fortress." Over the centuries, the fortress suffered from various damages due to wars and earthquakes. In the 20th century, restoration works were undertaken to preserve the structure and turn it into a cultural heritage site.
Today, Koules Fortress serves as a cultural venue and a popular tourist attraction. It hosts various events, exhibitions, and concerts, adding to the vibrant cultural scene of Heraklion.
Visitors can climb up to the top of the fortress to enjoy panoramic views of the city, the old harbor, and the Cretan Sea. It's an excellent spot for photography and appreciating the city's historical significance.
The fortress is easily accessible from the city center of Heraklion, and it's a must-visit site for history enthusiasts and anyone interested in the island's past.
Is Heraklion Crete worth visiting?
Heraklion, Crete, has the ideal fusion of culture, history, scenic beauty, and delectable cuisine. Whatever your interests, history, food, adventure, or the beach—this enthralling city has something to offer everyone. It's a place that genuinely accommodates a variety of interests, thus going there is highly recommended.
Day Trips Beyond Heraklion with Discover D1
6. Samaria Gorge: A Nature Lover's Paradise
Use Heraklion as a base to explore other parts of Crete. Consider day trips to places like Rethymnon, Chania, or the Samaria Gorge Hiking Day Tour for a dose of stunning landscapes and traditional Cretan culture.
Take a trip to Knossos, an ancient archeological site that is easily accessible by car from Heraklion. Discover the fascinating remnants of the Minoan palace complex, providing a window into the illustrious past of the Minoan culture.
Travel west to the quaint village of Rethymnon, which is renowned for the impressive Fortezza Fortress, a picturesque port, and a well-preserved Venetian old town. Take pleasure in visiting its ancient landmarks and meandering through its small lanes.
Chania is yet another wonderful location on Crete's west coast. This stunning city is home to the outstanding Chania Archaeological Museum, a vibrant old town with traditional markets, and a Venetian harbor.
For those who love the outdoors, a day excursion to the Samaria Gorge is essential. This national park, which is situated in Crete's White Mountains, offers spectacular vistas as well as a strenuous climb through the gorgeous canyon.
Go east to Agios Nikolaos, a quaint seaside town. Take in the stunning views of Lake Voulismeni, unwind on the gorgeous beaches, and see the adjacent Gournia archeological site.
Visit the Lasithi Plateau, a verdant plain encircled by mountains, during a picturesque journey. Here, you may take in the tranquil countryside, tour historic villages, and view well-known windmills.
7. Spinalonga Island: A Leper Colony
Embark on Spinalonga Boat Trip from Heraklion, known for its Venetian fortress and its role as a leper colony in the early 20th century. It's an intriguing place with a unique history.
Go south to Matala hamlet, which is well-known for its caves and was once home to a hippy colony in the 1960s. The region is renowned for its gorgeous beaches and relaxed vibe.
Discover the charming community of Zaros, which is tucked away in the Mount Psiloritis foothills. Take in the stunning surroundings, embark on a hike, and sample the regional fare, which includes the well-known Zaros natural spring water.
These adjacent seaside communities have calm beaches and crystal-clear waters, making them the ideal places to swim and unwind.
What is the most beautiful street in Heraklion?
The most exquisite street in the city is Minoos Street, which is located in the center of Heraklion. It captures the essence of Heraklion unlike any other place thanks to its historical significance, breathtaking architecture, vibrant culture, and mouthwatering food. Walking down Minoos Street is like embarking on a cultural and historical voyage rather than just exploring a street.
Thus, if you ever find yourself in Heraklion, make sure to take advantage of the chance to stroll down the charming Minoos Street. It's both a colorful celebration of the city's current and a monument to its past.
How to get from Heraklion Airport to City Center?
Getting from Heraklion Airport (Nikos Kazantzakis International Airport) to the city center of Heraklion is relatively straightforward, and you have a few transportation options:
Taxi: Taxis are readily available at the airport, and they provide a convenient and quick way to reach the city center. The taxi stand is located just outside the terminal building. The journey to the city center typically takes around 15-20 minutes, depending on traffic conditions.
Bus: The public bus service, known as KTEL, operates a bus route between Heraklion Airport and the city center. Look for Bus Line 1, which is often referred to as the "Airport - City Center Express." Buses are generally well-maintained and air-conditioned. The journey to the city center takes approximately 20-30 minutes, and the bus stops at various central locations, including the main bus station (KTEL) in Heraklion.
Airport Shuttle: Some hotels in Heraklion offer shuttle services to and from the airport. Check with your accommodation to see if they provide this service.
Car Rental: If you've rented a car, you can easily drive from the airport to the city center. Follow the signs for Heraklion as you exit the airport. The drive typically takes around 15-20 minutes, depending on traffic.
Private Airport Transfer: You can arrange for a private airport transfer service in advance. Many companies provide this service, and it offers a convenient and comfortable option for transportation to your destination in the city center.
Walking: If your accommodation is within walking distance of the airport, and you have minimal luggage, you can choose to walk. The airport is approximately 3-4 kilometers away from the city center, and the walk will take around 30-40 minutes.
The Culinary Delights of Heraklion
Travelers are enthralled by Heraklion, Crete because of its fascinating history, gorgeous beaches, mouthwatering food, and lively culture. This city has something to offer everyone, regardless of your interest in history or adventure. For a genuinely unique experience, be sure to explore the historical treasures, relax on the stunning beaches, and engage with the local way of life.