Heraklion town in Crete: A buzzing seaside city bridging the gap between yesterday and today, the capital of Crete has a plethora of holiday experiences to offer.
Even though Heraklion Town is bustling, its history is still reflected in the townscapes! Strolling around the picturesque town of Heraklion Crete, you’ll see a beautiful Venetian harbor, a fortress, several fountains, a busy shopping center, and many squares. You’ll also find many Heraklion hotels, restaurants, bars and taverns- basically whatever you need to be entertained during your holidays in Heraklion.
Heraklion is a multifaceted seaside city and a major urban centre. Come and discover the many world-renowned attractions it has to offer. The Heraklion of yesterday: the Venetian harbour and walls, ideal for a nostalgic walk through history. And the vibrant city of today: city squares and pedestrian walkways filled with a youthful energy, raki (the local drink), ouzo, gourmet restaurants and luxury hotels.
Where is Heraklion
Located between Rethymno and Lasithi, on the eastern side of Crete, Heraklion is the most popular region in Crete and also one of the most beautiful ones. What’s more, the Heraklion region is where the capital of Crete, Heraklion Town, is located.
Along with these, a number of excellent museums and one of the largest aquariums in Europe. Just beyond the city limits, explore the vaunted Knossos, one of the most significant sights on the island and in Greece: the most important centre of the Minoan civilisation, the palace of King Minos and the home of the myth of the Minotaur.
How to Get to Heraklion
Travel to Heraklion, Greece: Since Heraklion is the capital of Crete, it is one of the most frequently-visited locations on the whole island! Apart from being a big city center, Heraklion boasts numerous impressive sights and historical landmarks, like the Minoan Palace of Knossos. On this page, you will find out in which ways you can reach and explore this unique place!
Ferries to Heraklion
You can easily reach Heraklion from Athens by ferry, since there is a daily connection with Piraeus port, all year round. The trip lasts from 6 to 8 hours. During summer, you can also reach some islands of Cyclades and Dodecanese from the port of Heraklion, like Santorini, with which Heraklion is connected on a daily basis. Once per week, Heraklion is linked by ferry with Mykonos, Paros and Milos, while three times per week Heraklion is connected with Karpathos, Kassos and Rhodes.
Flights to Heraklion
Heraklion International Airport “Nikos Kazantzakis” is the second busiest airport in Greece. All year round, it receives flights from Athens, Thessaloniki and Larnaka, while during summer it also receives flights from many countries around Europe. The flight time from Athens to Heraklion is about 45 minutes.
Upon your arrival, it is a nice idea to take a taxi for your transfer, since the airport is located in the region of Nea Alikarnassos, 5 km away from the Town centre.
Things to do in Heraklion
There are many chances for alternative things to do Heraklion, apart from beach holidays. Diving is a popular activity in Heraklion, particularly in resorts on the northern side of the island, like Hersonissos, Malia, Agia Pelagia, and Gouves. The seabed of Heraklion has interesting flora and fauna and many ancient wrecks.
Also, the strong winds that blow frequently in summer provide great chances for windsurfing. There are some windsurfing centers in Heraklion that rent equipment and offer courses for all levels. Another popular activity is hiking, particularly in spring and autumn when the weather is not so hot. Hiking trails in Heraklion cross impressive gorges, villages, ancient sites and end in secluded beaches.
Sightseeing in Heraklion
The region of Heraklion on the eastern side of Crete has many developed tourist resorts, including Matala, Malia, and Hersonissos. Heraklion Town is actually the largest town in Crete and serves as the main transportation hub for the island, with a busy port and an international airport. The region of Heraklion has much interesting sightseeing to visit, including the archaeological sites of Knossos, Gortyn, and Phaestos, the Fortress of Heraklion Town and various monasteries. Cretaquarium is also a very fun place to visit, especially for children.
Heraklion: a seaside city, full of life and history
The historic Candia, the city of Heraklion with its Venetian port is a modern capital with dozens of options in culture, accommodation, dining and entertainment. It is a city where you can enjoy the pleasures of today and the beauty of yesterday. Walk and enjoy the sights, like the impressive church of Agios Titos in the square, originally built by Byzantine emperor Nikephorus Phocas in 961.
Admire the Armeria (armory) next to St Titus, and The Loggia (City Hall) with its 82 metopes and beautiful arcades. Directly across it you’ll find the lively Morosini (Leondaria) square with its lions’ head fountain. Moving on to Eleftherias Square is an impressive building housing the Prefecture of Heraklion and the Law Courts.
The Venetians on the pier
At the entrance of Heraklion’s Venetian harbour, the Koules Fortress (also known as Castello Del Molo or Rocca al Mare) gazes proudly out to sea. It was built by the Venetians and took its final form between the years of 1523-1540. It has been repaired several times and during Ottoman rule it served as a prison. Across the harbour the Venetian shipyards make for a romantic backdrop.
The walls of the old city: the threshold between past and present
Walking along the walls, you will see how beautiful this city looks from this vantage point. You’ll pause in small shady parks and admire the genius of the famous Venetian architect, Michele Sanmicheli, who designed the walls and bastions more than 400 years ago. The Venetian walls demarcating today’s old town, an impressive feat of engineering, made Heraklion the best-fortified city in the Mediterranean.
The master craftsman Daedalus built the labyrinth for the mythical King Minos in order to isolate the Minotaur, a creature that was half man, half bull. Theseus, the son of the King of Athens, slew him and found his way out of the labyrinth with the help of Minos’ daughter, Ariadne. The most important centre of the Minoan civilisation and one of the most popular archaeological sites in Greece, it is just 5km from Heraklion.
It was the headquarters of King Minos and its complex architecture that gave birth to the myth of the labyrinth. Thanks to Sir Arthur Evans’ restoration (the archaeologist who excavated Knossos) it is now one of the most fascinating sites in Greece, where you can experience exactly what life was like inside the palace.
Admire the throne room, the heart of the palatial complex, which consists of the central court and the main chamber; the Processional Way decorated with frescoes, including the “Prince with the Lilies“; the Propylaea and the famous Bull’s Horns, one of the sacred symbols of Minoan religion. The royal apartments that consist of the hall of “Double Axes” and the “Apartments of the Queen” with its ‘’Dolphins’’ mural. The Palace of Knossos flourished during the Minoan period (2000-1350 BC) and was the most important socioeconomic and religious centre of Crete.
Archaeological Museum: a ‘panorama’ of Minoan Crete
This famous museum is considered one of the most important museums in Europe. The exhibits include representative samples from all periods of Cretan history, covering a span of 5,500 years. You will admire the frescoes of “the Bull Leaper”, the “Prince with the Lilies”, the “Monkey saffron collector”, the “Blue Ladies“, and especially “La Parisienne’’. The new wing of the museum opened in August 2013, with exhibits ranging from the Geometric, Archaic and Classical periods as well as the Roman era.
Cretaquarium: the wonders of the sea
Sharks, seahorses, jellyfish: you’ll be astonished by the Mediterranean marine world parading before your very eyes. Cretaquarium, which includes 60 tanks with 1.7 million litres of seawater, is one of the largest aquariums in Europe. The aquarium is home to more than 4,000 organisms. Crete knows how to surprise and amaze you!
A feast of flavours and pleasures
Enjoy dishes from the celebrated Cretan cuisine at one of the city’s many cafes, tavernas and restaurants, accompanied by traditional music, fine wines and tsikoudia (Crete’s famous firewater). Then move on to designer cafes, trendy bars, hip hangouts and pulsating dance clubs that stay open till dawn. The dining and entertainment options in Heraklion are infinite.
Beaches with character and charm
Take your pick: Ammoudara, a big beautiful beach just west of the city, completely organised with dozens of resorts. Tobruk, in the east, has lots of restaurants, hotels, and cafes. The Arena or Red Hani, a beach enjoyed by a young crowd, features hotels, shops, restaurants and beach bars playing music.
The Museum of Natural History: interactive fun for all ages
Under the auspices of the University of Crete, it consists of five departments – Zoological, Botanical, Anthropological, Geological-Paleontological and Mineralogical. The collections include samples from Greece and the Mediterranean in general.
Historical Museum: Crete ‘preserved in amber’
This impressive modern museum is housed in an elegant, 20th-century building. It has a diverse number of permanent exhibitions, including the Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Collection, the Numismatic Collection, the Ceramics and Sculpture section, the Nikos Kazantzakis rooms and the Ethnographic Collection.
In the heart of the city
The pedestrian Daedalus shopping street, full of designer stores, connects Lionadarakia and Eleftherias squares. Walking west from the lion fountain, you enter the wide pedestrian Handakos Street, saturated with more shops and cafes.
Eat & Drink in Heraklion
Places to eat and drink in Heraklion are found all around the prefecture, both in tourist resorts and in secluded villages. Heraklion Town is surely the place with most restaurants, cafes, bars, and clubs in the region. Many clubs are also found in the tourist places of Malia, Stalis, and Hersonissos, while the other tourist regions are more relaxing. Agia Pelagia, Matala, Lentas and other tourist places of Heraklion have more family atmosphere.
All along the northern and the southern coasts of the region, visitors will discover amazing Heraklion beaches to relax. Around the tourist resorts, Heraklion beaches are organized with plenty of hotels, traditional taverns, and watersports centers. However, many secluded bays are also found for total privacy and isolation, mostly on the southern coasts of Crete Greece, which is less tourist-developed. You will find below a list with the best beaches in Heraklion Crete.
Beaches of Heraklion
Where to stay in Heraklion
You will find below our selection with the best hotels in Heraklion.Want to see more? View all hotels in Heraklion.
Hotels in Heraklion range in type and facilities. Malia, Hersonissos, Gouves, and Stalis are the places to go if you are looking for vivid nightlife and beaches with many bars and clubs. For something more low-key but still very lively, Matala in the southern part of Heraklion is a great choice. Matala became famous in the hippie era of the 1960s and 1970s, but today it is a nice family destination.
For visitors with families or tourists who want to be close to the beachside, nice Heraklion hotels to stay are found in Agia Pelagia, Ammoudara, Gouves, and Kokkini Hani. These are lovely, well-organized beaches with many sea sports available.