Things to do in Heraklion – Crete

Greece is a world-famous travel destination, that is host to millions of tourists every year. One of the country’s most visited destinations is the island of Crete.

The main things to do in Heraklion include:

  • visit the past at the Heraklion Archeological Museum.
  • for history buffs check out Castello del Molo.
  • go church hopping visit Cathedral of St Minas and Agios Titos Church.
  • spend a few hours walking around the Old Venetian Harbour.

Crete is the largest island in Greece, and it is known for the great bravery its inhabitants have shown, during critical times of history, thus the name “Levedogenna” which, roughly, translates as “the place where the brave born”.

Heraklion, is one of the four main cities of the island, and is a place with a long and captivating story to “tell”. Over the “march of time” the city has been controlled by the Byzantines, Venetians and Ottomans before joining Greece in the early 20th century. Besides history, the city unravels so many beauties that leave its visitors astounded.

Must Do

Visit the ancient city of Knossos.

The ancient city of Knossos is a mixture of myth and reality. It was built about 9000 years ago by the Minoan civilization, which is considered the first advanced civilaziation in Europe. The city reached its zenith about 2000 BC, which is the time its main palace was built.

Knossos is fairly due to the many Greek mythological figures relative to the city, such as the Minotaur, King Minoas, Daedalus and Icarus, as well as the location of the Labyrinth.

While exploring the ruins of Knossos, you’ll learn about the city’s history and the famous myths surrounding it.You’ll, also have the chance to appreciate its unique and sophisticated architecture. The city used an impressive water system, that has never seen before in cities of the same age.

In its west “wing”, one can see the Throne Room, the Sacred Altars and the city’s Crypts, while in the east are the residents’ apartments and reception halls.

Going south, you get to see the magnificent wall-painting of “Prince of Lilies” at the Corridor of Procession, while if you head north you’ll find the iconic ,”Bull Hunt” wall- painting.

Heraklion Archaeological Museum

The Heraklion Archaeological Museum displays unique Cretan artifacts from prehistoric to Minoan periods. These artifacts date back more than 5500 years and are a fascinating glimpse into the island’s rich culture. Objects on display include pottery, carved stone objects, wall-paintings, and other archaeological finds. Some were discovered in caves and palaces.

The museum has thirteen rooms and contains artifacts from prehistoric to Minoan times. You’ll also find jewelery, seals, and marble statues from Knossos. The museum also features frescos, which depict everyday life and the natural world. Located in central Heraklion, this museum is an excellent place to spend a day exploring the local culture.

The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is an important cultural landmark in Heraklion, Crete. The building itself was constructed between 1904 and 1937 on the site of the ruins of the ancient Catholic Monastery of Saint Francis, which was destroyed in an earthquake in 1856. The building was designed by Patroklos Karantinos and features natural lighting, additional rooms for new discoveries, and a storehouse. The museum is one of the most comprehensive and diverse collections of Minoan artifacts in the world.

The Natural History Museum of Crete

The Natural History Museum of Heraklion, Crete was founded in 1980, under the auspices of the University of the Cretan School of Sciences. It has five departments dedicated to environmental research and the preservation of local collections. The museum’s educational programs and environmental research activities also help to promote the island’s unique environmental characteristics. There is a special interest in the flora and fauna of Crete and the eastern Mediterranean.

The museum is located near the port in Heraklion and is free to enter. The museum offers four floors of exhibitions that showcase the flora and fauna of Crete and the wider Mediterranean region. It also has a botanical garden, discovery center, earthquake simulation, and an outdoor botanical garden. Visiting the museum is highly recommended. It is a fascinating place to spend a day, especially if you’re travelling by boat.

The Natural History Museum of Heraklion, Crete, is located in a restored industrial building. It has the largest dioramas in Greece, including a giant lizard, a beech forest, a sandy desert, and a mountain conifer. There’s even a small aquarium housing native creatures. This museum is a fun place for kids to spend a day learning about the natural history of the island.

Cathedral of St. Minas

A visit to the Cathedral of Saint Minas in Heraklion, Crea is a must for any visitor to the city. The cathedral is a very active place of worship and it was constructed over the course of three decades in the late nineteenth century. This ancient building is also the seat of the Archbishop of Crete. During the war, the cathedral suffered bomb damage, but the resulting shelling did not deter pilgrims from coming to Heraklion to attend mass.

The Cathedral of Saint Minas is a large, impressive church located in the center of the city. Dedicated to the patron saint of Heraklion, the cathedral was built between 1862 and 1895. Despite its large size, the cathedral can hold up to 8000 people. The church is an excellent example of byzantine architecture. Its interior is adorned with exquisite murals and chandeliers.

Historical Museum of Crete

The Archaeological Museum of Crete in Heraklion collection includes items that tell the story of the island’s past and the story of Greek civilization. A bull artifact was donated in 1965 by an inhabitant of Ag. Deka and appears to have come from a town nearby, Gortys. It was identified as a decorative architectural sculpture and most likely came from a public building.

The Museum was founded in 1953 and now houses a permanent collection of objects ranging from the third century AD to the end of World War II. The exhibitions are presented in chronological order and have audio and multimedia guides. The museum has an entire section devoted to famous writer Nikos Kazantzakis, a renowned local artist, and two works by the Greek painter El Greco. There are also several temporary exhibitions in the museum.

Agios Titos Church

A 19th century mosque, the Agios Titos Church in Heraklion, Crete is dedicated to the patron saint of the island, St. Titus. Although the church is Greek Orthodox, it retains its traditional feel. A small, brightly colored dome adorns the church’s main entrance, which offers visitors a good view of the city’s colorful skyline.

The first church dedicated to Agios Titos was constructed in Gortyn, the first capital of Crete. During the Turkish occupation, the church was converted into a mosque, and was renamed the Vezir mosque. In 1856, an earthquake destroyed the church, but it was rebuilt by architect K. Mousi and was finished in 1872. Though the church was a mosque originally, it is now home to a Greek Orthodox relic. This is said to be the skull of St. Titos, who is believed to be the first bishop of Crete. During his time in Gortyn, the apostle Paul consecrated Titos as the first bishop of Crete. In a later age, Titos had a bishop’s church built for him and was buried

The exterior of the church is simple, yet impressive. The smooth stone façade is punctuated by stained-glass windows. Inside, a large double wooden door opens up to a church with a domed ceiling and a Renaissance-inspired gateway. Inside, the church features a gold-and-silver reliquary of St. Titus’ skull and icons protected by a glass attachment. The interior of the church has a regal feel and is a must-see for a holiday in Heraklion.

Kotsanas Museum

The Kotsanas Museum in Heraclion, Crete, is located in an Art Nouveau building on Pindarou Street. Guests can hear the sounds of birds as they sing and learn about the museum’s collection. The museum is run by Kostas Kotsanas’ sons, Giorgos and Panayiotis. The two sons have carried on their father’s passion for the museum by opening this educational institution.

Another museum in Heraklion is the Museum of Christian Art. Founded in 1953, the museum features religious art, items from Cretan monasteries, and works by famous Cretan writers. The museum is expected to move to a new venue soon. The museum features artifacts, antiques, and items that chronicle the history of the island. Visitors can also enjoy the works of the famous Cretan hagiographer Angelos Akotantos.

If you love art, this museum will satisfy your passion for antiquity. This museum has artifacts and machines that trace the history of the island from the ancient world to the present. The museum also has a cafe on the rooftop. The museum features town reliefs, sculptures, and an exhibition of numismatics. The museum also has a section dedicated to El Greco, an important Cretan artist.

Castello del Molo Koules

The two-story sea fortress was built in the early 16th century to defend the harbor of Heraklion. It is crowned with the Lion of Saint Mark, one of Heraklion’s most important Venetian monuments. This cathedral is located opposite the Lions Fountain in Eleftheriou Venizelou Square, and it is open most days.

The walls of the Koules fortress were built in the 1500s, but were not completed until 1540. This explains the reason for the thick walls, which reach up to three meters in some areas. Venetians reinforced the foundations of the fortress by sinking old ships filled with stone. In addition, they also retrieved stones from the island of Dia.

Kera Kardiotissa Monastery

The Panagia Kera Kardiotissia Monastery in Heraklion is located 50 kilometers southeast of the capital and is accessible from the Lasithi Plateau and Hersonissos. The monastery dates back to the 12th century and is one of Crete’s most important religious centers. The name of the monastery means “Mother of God”, and is one of the oldest in the island.

The Kera Kardiotissia Monastery is a historic Eastern Orthodox monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The monastery is situated near the village of Kera, on the southern side of Heraklion. The interior of the monastery is decorated in white and has beautiful frescoes. A visit to the monastery is sure to be a spiritually-charged experience.

If you are looking for a beautiful place to meditate, consider making a day of it in Heraklion. The city has plenty of beautiful beaches and a lively nightlife. You may also want to check out the Kera Kardiotissa Monastery’s interior. It is the most popular monastery in Crete.

What do you like best about your city?

Well, the first thing that comes to mind, is its people and how they think about life. Cretans are fairly known in Greece for their hospitality. They believe that the visitor honours them with his presence, so they treat him kindly and with respect. Moreover, their perception on life’s most harsh events is extraordinary, as they deal with their sorrows by singing and dancing. These are things that are “printed” in their lifestyle, and even a simple encounter with them, is enough to show you their kindness.

Best Walk in Heraklion

Venetian Harbour

Starting from the city’s modern harbour, head straight as you’re going towards the city’s center. The first thing that you’ll come across are the Venetian Walls. These walls are of unique architecture and were once part of the city’s fortification wall. They are now in great condition, and as you walk through them, you’ll ,surely, find the Renaissance inspired gateways magnificent. During your walk you’ll learn about the famous painter “El Greco” (or by his real name Dominikos Theotokopoulos), who was born and raised in Heraklion. Note that the entrance is free.

Continue going straight, and as you’re now exiting the walls, you’ll meet the Venetian Harbour on your right. This is where the city’s maritime activity happened in Venetian times. The port is now used by small fishing boats, which combined with the surrounding landscape, create a very picturesque sight.

At the harbour’s entrance you’ll notice the Koules Fortress, a square shaped building made to guard the harbour during the city’s occupation by the Venetians. The fortress was built to endure violent attacks, something that made it very well preserved, withstanding the “test of time”.

You can access the inside of the fortress with a fee (low price). The upper level of the fortress, offers a clear view of the Venetian harbour, while in it’s arched pathways below, are canonballs and old cannons. You’ll also find a lot of information panels, as well as a short film about the history of Koules Fortress.

If you continue walking straight past the frortress, you’ll meet a mole that is about 1,5km (1mi) long. If you decide to walk it through the end, you’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view of the modern and the Venetian Harbour. A small tip- try this walk in the late afternoon to catch the sunset!

Best Hotels in Heraklion

I have added a few of the best hotels to stay at in Heraklion. There are link that will take you to TripAdvisor for more information and customer reviews.

  1. Olive Green Hotel stands out with a distinct character. The name consists of two nodal words for the interpretation of its philosophy and personality that lies beyond. The Olive stands as a symbol of power, eternity, tranquility and prosperity. 
  2. GDM Megaron Historical Monument Hotel was built in 1925 and classified as a historical building the GDM Megaron luxury hotel is located in the heart of Heraklion overlooking the harbor within walking distance of all the major sights of the city. The great architectural design and interior decoration together with the warm – welcoming atmosphere and the high standard of services.
  3. Aquila Atlantis Hotel is situated close to the archaeological museum and commanding a spectacular view of the harbour. The hotel also has a variety of facilities and services that are sure to meet the needs of both business and leisure travellers. 
  4. Hotel Irini provides an ideal mix of value, comfort and convenience, it offers a family-friendly setting with an array of amenities designed for travelers like you.

Best Restaurants in Heraklion

Heraklion is a city with a rich culinary history, influenced by the ancient Minoan civilization, as well as centuries of occupation by various Mediterranean powers. Traditional Cretan cuisine is renowned for its use of fresh, local ingredients and its emphasis on simple, rustic flavors.

One of the most popular dishes in Heraklion is dakos, a simple yet flavorful salad made with crusty bread rusks, ripe tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese, and a drizzle of olive oil. Another local favorite is lamb with stamnagathi, a type of wild greens that grows only in Crete.

Seafood is also a staple of the Heraklion diet, with fresh fish and shellfish caught daily in the waters around the island. Some of the most popular seafood dishes include grilled octopus, fried calamari, and stuffed squid.

In addition to traditional Cretan cuisine, Heraklion also boasts a diverse range of international restaurants, serving everything from Italian pizza to Asian fusion dishes.

If you’re visiting Heraklion and looking to sample the local cuisine, here are some of the best restaurants to check out:

  1. Peskesi: Located in the heart of the old town, Peskesi serves traditional Cretan dishes made with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. Try the lamb with stamnagathi, or the baked feta with honey and sesame seeds.
  2. Avli: This charming restaurant is set in a restored 16th-century Venetian building, with a beautiful courtyard garden. Avli serves contemporary Cretan cuisine, with dishes like wild boar stew and sea bass with fennel and orange.
  3. Ta Psarakia: This seafood restaurant is a local favorite, with a menu featuring fresh fish and shellfish caught that day. Try the grilled octopus or the red mullet with caper sauce.
  4. Kritamon: Located just outside the city center, Kritamon is a hidden gem serving creative Cretan cuisine with a modern twist. Don’t miss the sea bream tartare with avocado and citrus, or the lamb chops with wild greens and truffle oil.
  5. Kafeneio Kriti: This cozy taverna is the perfect spot to sample traditional Cretan meze dishes, like dakos, stuffed grape leaves, and grilled halloumi cheese. Wash it all down with a glass of local wine or raki.

Whether you’re a foodie or just looking to experience the local culture, the cuisine of Heraklion is sure to satisfy your taste buds. Be sure to check out these top restaurants for a true taste of Crete.

Best Music/Festival

Heraklion, being one of the major cities in Crete, has a number of festivals and cultural events throughout the year. Here are some of the most popular festivals in Heraklion:

  1. Carnival: The Carnival of Heraklion is one of the most popular and well-attended events in the city. It takes place every February or March, and features parades, live music, and traditional food and drink.
  2. Feast of Saint Titus: Saint Titus is the patron saint of Heraklion, and his feast day on August 25th is a major celebration in the city. There are religious processions, live music, and plenty of traditional food and drink.
  3. Wine Festival: Heraklion is known for its vineyards and wineries, and the Wine Festival is a celebration of the local wine-making traditions. The festival takes place in July or August and features wine tastings, live music, and plenty of food.
  4. International Film Festival: The International Film Festival of Crete takes place in Heraklion every year in June. It is one of the most important cultural events in the city, with screenings of international films, as well as workshops and seminars for filmmakers.
  5. Renaissance Festival: The Renaissance Festival of Rethymno takes place in nearby Rethymno every July, but it is well-attended by people from Heraklion as well. The festival is a celebration of the Renaissance period and includes live performances, music, and plenty of food and drink.

Best Nightlife

Heraklion has a vibrant nightlife scene with a variety of bars and nightclubs to choose from. Here are some of the best ones:

  1. Faust: Faust is a popular bar located in the old town of Heraklion. It has a cozy, laid-back atmosphere and serves a variety of cocktails and beers.
  2. Café Bohème: Café Bohème is a popular café by day and a lively bar by night. It is located in the center of Heraklion and has a great selection of cocktails and a dance floor.
  3. Sin City: Sin City is a popular nightclub located in the center of Heraklion. It has multiple dance floors playing different types of music, including techno and Greek pop.
  4. Camelot: Camelot is a popular bar located in the old town of Heraklion. It has a medieval-themed decor and a variety of cocktails and beers.
  5. Saloon D’or: Saloon D’or is a popular bar located near the Venetian walls of Heraklion. It has a western-themed decor and a variety of drinks.
  6. Fuga: Fuga is a popular bar located near the port of Heraklion. It has a beach-bar atmosphere and a great selection of cocktails and beers.
  7. Bitters: Bitters is a popular bar located in the center of Heraklion. It has a vintage decor and a great selection of cocktails and spirits.
  8. Cava Mezzo: Cava Mezzo is a popular wine bar located in the old town of Heraklion. It has a great selection of Greek wines and a cozy atmosphere.
  9. Loft: Loft is a popular rooftop bar located in the center of Heraklion. It has a great view of the city and a variety of cocktails and beers.
  10. En Plo: En Plo is a popular beach bar located in Ammoudara, a suburb of Heraklion. It has a great view of the sea and a variety of drinks.

These are just a few of the many bars and nightclubs in Heraklion. There is something for everyone in this vibrant city, whether you prefer a laid-back bar or a lively nightclub.

Best Day Trip Out Of Heraklion

Heraklion is surrounded by places of exceptional beauty. Head to Agia Pelagia village, and visit it’s beach. Crystal-clear, turqoise waters and golden sand is what awaits you there. In the case that driving is not an option, the beach is accessible via public transport.

If you’re visiting Heraklion during winter, visit the village of Anogeia. Good food and snowy mountains, accompanied by the Cretans’ hospitallity, will certainly leave you with no regrets. Anogeia is also accessible by coach (low price).

Something that not Many Travellers Would Know About Heraklion

Like every place, the city of Heraklion, has its little secrets. One of it is the tomb of “Nikos Kazantzakis”, a world-known greek writer.

Head out to the coastal boulevard and walk until you meet castle wall ruins. Follow the ruins through the “heart” of the city. It’ll be quite a long way, so make sure you’re confortable walking. At the end of the walls, you’ll see some stairs that climb up the walls. You can take the stairs as you’re taking the road of return and have a look at the city from a different perspective.

While you’re at the stairs, there’ll be a sign that leads you to the grave of Nikos Kazantzakis. On his tombstone it’s written, “Den elpizo tipota, den fovame tipota, eimai lefteros!”, which translates to “I hope for nothing, I fear nothing, I am free!”.

10 interesting facts about Heraklion Greece

  1. Heraklion is one of the oldest cities in Europe, with a history dating back more than 5,000 years.
  2. The city was originally known as Knossos, and was the site of the ancient Minoan civilization, which flourished from around 2600 to 1400 BCE.
  3. Heraklion was heavily damaged during World War II, with many of its historic buildings and landmarks destroyed. However, the city has since been rebuilt and restored, and is now a popular tourist destination.
  4. The Venetian Walls, a series of fortifications that surround the old town of Heraklion, are considered one of the most significant surviving examples of Venetian military architecture.
  5. Heraklion is home to the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, which contains the largest collection of Minoan artifacts in the world.
  6. The city is also home to the Palace of Knossos, the largest and most impressive of the Minoan palaces, which is thought to have been the administrative and religious center of the Minoan civilization.
  7. Heraklion is a vibrant cultural hub, with a thriving arts scene and a rich musical heritage. The city hosts several cultural festivals throughout the year, including the Heraklion Summer Arts Festival.
  8. The city is also famous for its cuisine, which includes traditional Cretan dishes such as lamb with stamnagathi (a type of wild greens), kalitsounia (a type of cheese pastry), and dakos (a type of salad made with rusks and tomatoes).
  9. Heraklion has a lively nightlife scene, with many bars and clubs catering to both locals and tourists.
  10. Heraklion is a gateway to some of the most beautiful beaches in Crete, including Ammoudara Beach, which is just a short distance from the city center.

David Cronk - Editor

David Cronk is the editor of online travel magazine Travelodium Travel Magazine. David has travelled to over 30 countries of the world and his writing has been published by enRoute magazine - Air Canada's inflight magazine and by Hotel & Accommodation Management Magazine. David has worked as a Sales Executive for Sheraton and Hilton Hotels and for Hotelbookers in London. He has worked also as a Hotel Night Manager and in bars throughout Europe. David eventually settled into a position working as a croupier for several years before changing careers to become a Data, Sales and Statistical Analyst.

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