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Heraklion is the biggest city on the island of Crete in Greece. Although at first sight, it isn’t as picturesque as Rethymnon and Chania after exploring it you will discover that there are a lot of things to do and see.
A Guide to the Best Things to Do and See in Heraklion
How to get to Heraklion Crete
By Air: Heraklion international airport “Nikos Kazantzakis” is located just 4km away from Heraklion city centre.
By ferry: Heraklion port is the biggest port in Crete. There is a daily connection from Heraklion Port to Piraeus port in Athens. Also from Heraklion port there is a connection to other Greek islands like Santorini. Also at the port arrive a lot of cruise ships. The port of Heraklion offers a lot of services like luggage storage lockers, wi-fi and check – in service for your flight.
How to get from and to The Airport in Heraklion Crete
The Greek island of Crete has numerous airports so it is important you know which one you are arriving into and where you want to go. If you wish to travel from the airport in Heraklion to the city centre, you have two options: bus or taxi. Your choice will depend on the number of travellers in your group, the amount of luggage you have, your budget and time frame. The bus is by far the cheapest option but takes more time than grabbing a taxi.
If you are travelling on a budget the public bus from Heraklion Airport is definitely the best option as the journey only costs 2 EUR, however, it does take between 20-35 minutes.
The bus cannot be caught from within airport grounds so you will need to walk a little way to reach the public bus stop. You’ll want to head out of the main terminal building, turn right and then follow the road around to the left until you reach the bus station. You’ll want to look out for buses with signs saying “IRAKLIO” or (ΗΡΑΚΛΕΙΟ) on the front as these will take you to the city centre (usually number 1 and 78).
Please note: you will need to pay the driver on the bus and they will only accept cash in Euros. Ticket Costs 2 EUR
For a quicker option, you might want to take a taxi from Heraklion Airport to the city centre as this takes just 10 minutes. Official airport taxis charge a flat fare of 20 EUR and they should be happy to drop you anywhere within the city centre.
Private Airport Transfer with Welcome Pick-Ups
Alternatively, you could book a cheaper taxi through Welcome Pick-Ups for just 16 EUR which includes up to four travellers and four pieces of luggage. This price stays the same whether you arrive during the day or at night.
The Best 22 Things to Do in Heraklion, Crete
1. The archaeological site of Knossos
The Palace of Knossos is situated 5 km away from the city of Heraklion. You can get to Knossos either by taxi (it is 20 minutes ride} or by taking the bus from the bus station next to the port. Look for the ticket office that says KNOSSOS.
The archaeological site of Knossos is considered on of the most important sites in Greece and the oldest city in Europe. The Minoan palace was constructed in 1.900 B.C. on the ruins of a neolithic settlement.
The Minoan civilization was at its peak between 1.700 B.C and 1.450 B.C and it was inhabited by 100.000 citizens.
The site was discovered by Minos Kalokairinos in 1878 and the excavations started in 1.900 A.D by the english archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans and his team.
It is one of the most impressive archaeological sites I have ever visited.
The archaeological site of Knossos is open daily from 8.00 am to 20.00 p.m in the summer months and from 8.00 am to 15.00 pm in the winter.
Ticket costs: Full: 15.00 € Reduced: 8.00 €
The ticket is also valid for the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion and is valid for 3 days.
You might also be interested in: The best places to stay in Crete.
2. The archaeological site of Phaistos
The palace of Phaistos was built around 2.000 A.D and it’s the second-largest palace in Crete after Knossos. It is located on a hill with beautiful views of the Messara plain and Psiloritis mountain. One of the most important findings was the disc of Phaistos that can be found at the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.
The site of Phaistos is 60 km away from Heraklion city. You can get there by public bus that you can take from the bus station next to the port.
Tickets for the archaeological site of Phaistos cost: Full 8 € and Reduced 4 €.
3. The archaeological museum of Heraklion
It is located at Heraklion city centre and is considered one of the most important museums in Greece. It houses artefacts from the Neolithic period to the Roman times. At the museum, you will see many findings from the archaeological sites of Phaistos and Knossos. It is one of the most interesting and beautiful museums I have seen and totally worth a visit.
Ticket costs: Full: 8.00 € Reduced: 5.00 €
There is also a combined ticket that is valid for the Archaeological Site of Knossos: Full: 15.00 € Reduced: 8.00 € and is valid for 3 days.
4. The Koules Venetian Fortress
The Koules fortress is the symbol of Heraklion and it dominates the entrance of the Venetian port. A walk at the promenade that leads to the fortress is one of the most scenic walks at the town of Heraklion. Opposite the port you will see the old shipyards where the ships were repaired.
5. Venetian Walls of Heraklion
They were built by the Venetians in order to protect the city by the Turks. They were so strong that lasted the 21 year siege.
6. The Venetian Loggia
The Venetian Loggia of Heraklion was constructed in 1626 by Francesco Morosini. It was a meeting place for the nobles. Now it houses the town hall. Close to the Loggia, at the central square Francesco Morosini also built the Lions fountain which is now a meeting point for the locals. It was built to provide the locals with water.
7. Morosini Fountain at Lion’s Square
Lion’s Square is one of the most colourful parts of the old city. In the centre stands the Morosini Fountain which took more than a year to build and was completed in 1628. The water for the fountain was channelled via aqueduct from Mt Juktas which lies more than 15 kilometres away. The fountain features a high octagonal pedestal that is supported by four lions – which gave the square its name. The square is the perfect place to sit and relax with a coffee or ice cream and enjoy some ‘people watching’!
8. St Titos Church
Standing serenely in a large courtyard, this church has a troubled history. It is the oldest church on the island and was founded in 961AD and named after the first bishop of Crete. Over the centuries it was damaged by fire and earthquakes many times. It was completely rebuilt in 1856, when the island was ruled by the Ottomans, so it was designed as a mosque. In 1920, the minaret was pulled down and the building was converted to a Greek Orthodox church once more.
9. Head to the beaches
There are some lovely beaches to discover just outside Heraklion. Komos Beach is one of the longest on the island and is backed with sand dunes, whilst Ayia Pelagia is pebbly with the clearest water imaginable. Star Beach is very exotic looking as it is fringed by palm trees and offers good water sports and so does Gefyri Beach, which lies close to the harbor at Hersonissos.
Amoudara Beach has six kilometers of gorgeous sand and six Blue Flag areas. It is great for windsurfers, but if you are seeking peace and tranquillity, just walk further along the beach! Other beaches worth visiting are Agiofarago Beach and Malia Beach.
10. Check out the hippy resort at Matala
Situated 66 kilometers from Heraklion is the colorful resort of Matala in a sandy bay, surrounded by cliffs and with great views across to the islands of Paximadia. At the northern end of the bay, there is a series of man-made caves that date from the Neolithic period. During the 1960s, the caves were home to a hippy commune including the popular folk singer, Joni Mitchell.
11. Natural History Museum of Crete
Situated in an old power station, the Natural History Museum reveals the paleontology, mineralogy, and geology of the island and the zoology and botany of the Eastern Mediterranean, explaining that the island has several sophisticated ecosystems. In the ‘Living Museum,’ there are reptiles, insects, and fish, plus a ‘Seismic Table’ which explains what causes earthquakes in this region, how they are measured, and what they feel like.
12. Historical Museum of Crete
This elegant looking museum, tells the story of the island from the 4th century AD onwards using a fascinating collection of sculptures, frescos, jewelry, coins, and canons! There are excellent displays detailing the Battle of Crete during the Second World War (1941). There is also a 4m x 4m model of the city in Venetian times showing the four kilometers defensive wall that the Venetians built. The museum has on display, the only two original paintings on the island by the Cretan artist, ‘El Greco’.
13. El Greco museum in Fodele
This museum is dedicated to the Cretan painter, sculptor and architect Dominikos Theotokopoulos – better known as El Greco (1541-1614). it can be found in the small village of Fodele, which lies west of Heraklion. The museum is situated in the house close to the church, where the artist was born. The museum exhibits copies of El Greco’s paintings and a number of exhibits that he owned.
14. Gortyn archaeological site
Lying 45km south of Heraklion in the Messara valley is the major archaeological site of Gortyn. Gortyn was a strong and powerful city during the prehistoric and historic periods. The population of the city is thought to have been about 300,000 and the site has been remarkably well preserved. Gortyn is rich in mythology but is also linked with major figures in Christianity including the apostle Paul and the Holy Ten Martyrs.
15. AcquaPlus Waterpark
Enjoy plenty of fun at this amazing waterpark. AcquaPlus is situated 30 kilometers from Heraklion and just five from Hersonissos. The park is divided into two linked areas – one for adults and one for children. There are more than 50 different slides and games – including several extreme slides that will certainly give you a rush of adrenalin!
16. Kazantzakis Museum
Dedicated to the popular writer, thinker, and philosopher, Nikos Kazantzakis, the museum is situated in a collection of buildings overlooking the village square in Myrtia (also known as Varvaroi). The museum is dedicated to the life and works of this popular man. A visit to the museum begins with a 20 minute documentary in seven languages. Situated just 20 kilometers south of Heraklion, the museum is a popular excursion from the city.
It is considered to be one of the biggest aquariums in Europe. It is located 15km away from Heraklion city centre. Here you will discover a lot of species that live in the Mediterranean. Under each tank there is a description in 9 languages and you can also put your headphones on and discover a lot of information about the species you see.
The Aquarium is open from October until April from 9.30 until 17.00 and from May till September from 9.30 until 21.00
Tickets cost 9 € for the summer months and 6€ for the winter months. The entrance is free for children until the age of 4 and 6€ for children 5-17 years old.
Get off ‘the beaten track’ and spend a full eight hours discovering the Minoan path by Land Rover. Enjoy a barbecue lunch with local wine on the fertile Lassithi Plateau (840 meters) which is well known for its white-sailed water pumps and the cave where Zeus, the god of thunder was born. You see the mountain shelter used by local shepherds and numerous herds of goats. Afterward, the safari heads off-road into the mountains. There is the chance to learn about local handicrafts at the Lassinthos Eco Park and toast everyone’s health with a glass of local Raki – which is not unlike brandy!
This is a really interesting excursion that begins in Agios Nikolaos with time for shopping or a coffee. You will see Lake Voulismeni which is ‘the bottomless lake’ with plenty of legends. Jacques Cousteau has dived there several times trying to learn more about its mystery. Traveling on to the fishing village of Plaka, you will get great views of Spinalonga and Kolokitha islands.
From Plaka, there is a short boat trip over to Spinalonga, which for many years was a leper colony. There is an optional guided tour that tells the story of the island and the lepers who lived there. The excursion ends in Elounda, the former fishing village, now a popular holiday resort that was featured in the TV mini-series Who Pays The Ferryman? with its famous theme music by Yannis Markopoulos.
Enjoy a wonderful day exploring Santorini, one of the most romantic of the Greek Islands. You will be taken by high-speed catamaran from Heraklion to the island – the journey takes 2.5 hours. On your arrival, a luxury coach will take you sightseeing which will include the pretty town of Oia that is situated on the edge of the Caldera with its stunning views.
You will then hop on a boat for a trip around the famous Caldera – which was once a volcanic crater and you will be able to see the part that is famous for its sulfurous waters. Before you leave the island, there is the chance to relax on the black sands of Perissa and enjoy a swim, before beginning the journey back to Heraklion.
Jump aboard the boat in Ierapetra that is heading for the breathtakingly beautiful island of Chrissi. This rocky, volcanic and uninhabited island is surrounded by gorgeous sandy beaches with sand dunes and crystal clear water for swimming. If you prefer, you can head off on foot, to explore the island’s cedar woods and its untouched flora and fauna.
Head west to one of the most beautiful beaches in Crete. The journey to the fishing port of Kissamos, where your boat awaits, is along the north coast and there is time to enjoy a coffee in the village of Skaleta en route. On the boat trip, you may well spot dolphins or marine turtles swimming in the clear water.
The boat arrives at Gramvousa, which is also known as ‘Pirate Island’ as it was once a hideaway for rebels. This area is one of the most important hydro-biotopes in the eastern Mediterranean and you may well see some of the 100 bird and 400 plant species. There is also time to swim and relax on a gorgeous beach, before exploring the Balos lagoon.
Where to stay in Heraklion
GDM Megaron Historical Monument Hotel: This luxurious hotel was built in 1925 and is a listed building. Situated in the centre of Heraklion; it looks over the old Venetian harbour and has a wellness centre and gorgeous rooftop pool. The Megaron 5th Bar Restaurant has a stunning location and serves excellent modern Cretan cuisine. Click here for more information and to check the latest prices.
The Atrion Hotel: This elegant hotel is situated close to the city centre and the main promenade. The guest rooms are very comfortable and each has a balcony with views of the beautiful Mediterranean. The hotel has its own restaurant where you can enjoy traditional Cretan and international dishes. Click here for more information and to check the latest prices.
Have you ever been to Heraklion Crete?
What did you like?