2 Days in Heraklion: Enjoy an Amazing City Break in Crete

2 days in Heraklion

Are you heading to Crete and have 2 days to spend in Heraklion? There is more to do than you expect in Crete’s capital.

Known as the main gate to Crete, Heraklion is one of those cities that visitors usually discard too fast from their itinerary, preferring more popular destinations.

However, Heraklion has a lot to offer. Not sure? Let me show you some of the best things you can do with 1 or 2 days in Heraklion.

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2 Days in Heraklion (or More!)

Short break in Heraklion, Crete

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Heraklion City Break: What to Do in Heraklion, Crete in 1, 2, or 3 Days

Whether you have a few hours in Heraklion during your holiday in Crete or you’ve read about Heraklion becoming the most popular European destination for a city break, there’s always plenty to see and do in the area, other than just visiting the archaeological site of Knossos.

Just a Few Hours in Heraklion… or More!

2 days in Heraklion

If you plan to spend a weekend in Crete’s capital, you’ll find activities, fantastic gastronomy, unique architecture, and great day trips, that are also fantastic even for a short stay.

Instead, if you’re in the city for a layover or simply have 1 day in Heraklion, choose some of the ideas from the following itinerary.

How to Use This Itinerary Guide to Heraklion

A few hours in Heraklion

  • This itinerary can be used for a short visit to Heraklion. If you’re in town for a stopover, just a few hours, head directly to the places listed under Heraklion Layover.

One day in Heraklion

  • Add some afternoon suggestions if you’re staying in Heraklion for a whole day. Take a look at restaurants for the evening.

Two days in Heraklion

  • If you’re in Heraklion for two full days, choose one of the alternative itineraries under What to do in Heraklion in 2 days. Don’t forget to check the hotel recommendations and tips for public transportation.
  • More time in Crete? Check this 3-week itinerary!

Heraklion Layover

3 Things Not to Miss in Heraklion

There’re 3 must-do things you cannot skip even during a short visit to town, let’s see them one by one.

1. Try Bougatsa at Kirkor

If you have 2 days in Heraklion, don't miss the bougatsa in Kirkor.

The best way to start – or even end – your day in Heraklion is with a bite of a traditional local taste.

Bougatsa is a landmark breakfast in Crete. Few places know the art of this pie. This Greek phyllo pastry, usually stuffed with custard in the rest of Greece, acquires an original twist on the island due to the filling of local myzithra cheese. Much better if paired with Cretan thyme honey.

Kirkor is the most famous place on the island to savor this dish, competing only with Chania’s Iordanis, another well-known bougatsa artisan.

Kirkor is in Plateia E. Venizelos 31.

2. Visit the Landmarks of Heraklion

Lions Square

2 days in Heraklion

If you managed to find Kirkor, that means you’re already in the right place to continue this mini itinerary. You’re sitting right in front of the famous Morosini Fountain. Also going by the name of Liontaria.

This beautiful square is simply the best place to start exploring the capital of Crete.

The area is also known as Morosini’s Fountain, The Lions Square, or simply The Lions. The area dates back to the Venetian times when it was known as Grain Square or Piazza delle Biade.

This 1628 Venetian Fontana was more than a decorative fountain. It was Heraklion’s source of drinking water, coming to the city from Archanes, in Mount Juktas.

The water reached the fountain through an underground aqueduct about 15 km long. The altitude difference between Heraklion and Archanes made water flow naturally out of the mouths of the lions.

Well-preserved and still gushing water from the four lions, the fountain counts eight lobes from where people could fill their jars. The landmark is decorated with mythical water beings and Venetian coats of arms.

Every day and night, no matter the season, the Square is the most vibrant place to be, both for locals and visitors.

The Venetian Loggia

2 days in Heraklion

The Loggia is a remarkable building on the 25th of August Street, not far from the Lions. The building is a fine monument in the style of Palladio and a legacy of Crete’s Venetian past. 

Also built by Francesco Morosini, the Loggia dates back to 1628. A meeting place for nobles and rulers, this building combines Doric and Ionian styles with unique elegance.

Saint Mark’s Basilica and Church of Agios Titos

2 days in Heraklion

A few meters from the fountain, it’s possible to visit another example of Venetian architecture. Now functioning as Heraklion’s Art Gallery, the former Basilica of Saint Mark is worth a stop in town.

Another building to visit in the same area is the Church of Agios Titos, one of Crete’s most important buildings.

The original church dates back to the Byzantine Empire (about 961 A.D.) It’s, in fact, one of Crete’s oldest churches. This Orthodox church underwent renovation in 1925.

Inside, check the impressive stained glass windows that enlighten the church’s interior with beautiful colors.

During the Ottoman occupation of Crete, the basilica was transformed into a mosque, and its bell tower was made into a minaret.

The local population tore it down after the liberation of the island to erase yet another reminder of the dark ages of the Turkish rule of Crete.

The Central Open Market on 1866 Street

2 days in Heraklion
2 days in Heraklion

Next up, don’t miss 1866 Street, home to Heraklion’s famous open market. Here, you can try the best of the local produce or buy a few gastronomic souvenirs, such as olive oil or spices.

Sit at a local café and savor a cup of authentic Greek coffee.

Not far from the market, 1821 Street (to the right of the market), is another lane that you shouldn’t miss. The place has recently been decorated with colorful umbrellas, which makes it one of the most instagrammable places in the city.

3. Discover the Old Port of Heraklion

2 days in Heraklion

Heraklion is home to the Koules, or Venetian Rocca a Mare, another landmark located at the entrance of the old port.

The building was erected during the 16th century by the Republic of Venice and it’s open to the public.

2 days in Heraklion

When you visit, check out the rooms housing ammunition and explore the roofs for a beautiful view of the Cretan Sea.

The square building boasts thick defensive walls and an entrance heavily protected by different wooden doors. Look up to admire the remarkable Saint Mark’s Lion.

The entrance fee is 2 €
Opening hours:
Summer 8 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Winter 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Closing hours vary in the shoulder season (September-October). The fortress is closed on Tuesdays. Check here for a detailed timetable.

1 Day in Heraklion, Crete

Do you have more time to spend in town? Perfect! If you don’t leave until later that night, take it easy! Here are a few more exhilarating places to add to your day itinerary of Heraklion.

Things You Can Do in Heraklion in the Afternoon

Spend the afternoon in the city and do some of these things…

Check the City Landscape, Kazantzakis’ Tomb

2 days in Heraklion
2 days in Heraklion

One of Crete’s most famous figures is Nikos Kazantzaki. He was the author of many books that define the Cretan character and portray every weakness and strength of human beings.

His most famous work is probably Alexander Zorbas, which inspired the famous movie, Zorba the Greek.

The author was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature on nine different occasions. He was also a prolific travel writer and translator.

Kazantzakis also wrote more controversial books, such as The Last Temptation of Christ, which led to his ex-communication back in 1955.

When he passed away in 1957, his funeral took place in Agios Minas cathedral, while – at the same time – religious fanatics were burning his books out of the church.

If you want to visit the grave of Nikos Kazantzakis, reach the top of Martinengo Bastion, the highest point of the Heraklion’s Walls. You will get an impressive birdseye view of the fifth largest city in Greece.

From here, it’s also possible to see the skyline of Crete, including the Pankritiko Stadium, the dome and bell towers of Agios Minas Cathedral (1862-1895), the seat of the Archbishop of Crete.

Kazantzakis’ grave is a famous place in the city, there are just a simple wooden cross and a gravestone with the well-known phrase I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I’m free (Δεν ελπίζω τίποτα. Δε φοβούμαι τίποτα. Είμαι λέφτερος).

Explore the Old District of Lakkos

2 days in Heraklion
2 days in Heraklion

Lakkos is a fantastic place to totally immerse into the real Heraklion atmosphere. Lakkos, which has gone through a remarkable requalification process in recent times, used to be Heraklion’s underground neighborhood.

Lakkos was the place that would scandalize Crete’s society, the area where prostitutes and outlaws would live and hang out.

Street art Lakkos, Heraklion Crete
Abandoned house, Lakkos quarter, Heraklion, Crete

A decree dating back to 1900 established that brothels were to be established in isolated areas, so Lakkos was the place designed for the Christian brothels (the Turkish ones were confined to a different area).

In Lakkos, hashish, raki, and crime were the norm, but also rebetiko music and bohemian artists.

Lakkos was home to prostitutes, criminals, and pimps, representing everything that the (at that time) snobbish Heraklion society would despise.

During the population exchange between Greece and Turkey (the 1920s), Lakkos received many refugees from Asia Minor, a bit like Splantzia, in Chania. This helped the area to turn into a place for outcasts.

After World War II, during the Nazi occupation, Lakkos’ prostitutes were transferred to a central hotel to attend to the needs of German soldiers. And, little by little, the district was abandoned.

Today, and thanks to the Lakkos Project, the district has become a fantastic place to hang out. Many cafés and tavernas managed to preserve the local mystic atmosphere. Besides, the walls of many abandoned houses are a fantastic canvas for local graffiti.

Stop in Lakkos for an afternoon appetizer and a glass of Cretan beer before heading back to town for dinner.

Dinner in Town

2 days in Heraklion
2 days in Heraklion

Nothing better than ending the day with authentic Cretan dishes.

If you are looking for information about what you can do in Heraklion in 2 days, I’m sure you’ve already heard about Peskesi.

Peskesi is Crete’s most famous restaurant, serving unique traditional dishes inside an ancient townhouse right in the center.

The building, which was mentioned in one of Kazantzakis’ books, has dreamy open areas for dinner with aromatic herbs and pleasant decorations.

Their wine list highlights some of Crete’s best vineyards, and the dishes are superb. It’s a bit on the expensive side, but you won’t regret it. Be aware that you might need to book in advance.

If you want to remain on the traditional side of Cretan gastronomy, spending less but enjoying great food, try my personal favorite. The Kafenio O Tempelis is on Milato Street, a lovely pedestrian area with several other tavernas, some featuring live music.

O Tempelis serves delicious Greek tapas. My favorite dishes are mushrooms saganaki, baked potatoes, and dakos. They also have great salads and fried fish. Prices are super convenient.

It would be a pity to visit Crete and choose ethnic food over local. However, you can do so as well. If you find yourself in the area of Liontaria, craving some Mexican, German, or Oriental food, walk along Chandakos Street.

Many restaurants serve international food and a very picturesque tea house with incredible cake platters even late at night.

Finally, for some typical Greek street food, such as gyros, souvlaki, or a juicy piece of grilled meat, no place beats Krasás.

The restaurant is in the city center, right on Plateia Eleftherias (Heraklion’s main square). Or, if you’re about to board your plane, there’s a second Krasás in Nea Alikarnassos close to the airport.

Heraklion in 2-3 Days

If your stay extends for more hours, or if you chose Heraklion as your city break destination, your second day could easily include one of the following alternative itineraries.

If you decide to rent a car and drive around, you’ll not need to rely on public transportation and will be free to explore much more. Check this step-by-step guide to driving on Crete.

Trendy Heraklion Itinerary

Morning: Hersonissos

2 days in Heraklion
Hersonissos (J.M. Pires, Wikimedia).

One of the most popular spots in Crete is Hersonissos (also spelled Chersonisos). This seaside resort is less than 30 km from Heraklion and caters to entertaining holidays, beach life, and cheap alcohol. However, Hersonissos is the place to be for many Europeans.

Noisy videogame arcades, crowded seaside restaurants, and not very original souvenir shops animate the village’s main road. It’s the place for package holidays, with all-inclusive seaside resorts for any pocket.

Not a very authentic atmosphere. Hersonissos is my least favorite place in Crete but it’s favored by mass tourism. I can’t help it, but when I think about Crete, Hersonissos is not in the picture.

Afternoon: Koutouloufari

2 days in Heraklion
(Myhersonissos, Wikimedia)

A more pleasant place in the area is the nearby village of Koutouloufari.

This traditional settlement rests on the slope of Mount Pyrgia (100 meters a.s.l.), a few hundred meters from Hersonissos main road.

Koutouloufari is a quaint little town with traditional Cretan architecture. It features limestone houses, cobblestone alleys, and plenty of flowers and vineyards.

In the village, it’s possible to visit Agios Vasilios church, which dates from 1840.

Picturesque tavernas and cafés offer great appetizers and a panoramic view of the bay of Hersonissos.

Heraklion for Foodies

One of the best things you can do in Heraklion is drive through the wine region of Peza and visit some of the local wineries.

Heraklion is the most important wine region of Crete, with 12 different unique grape varieties growing only in Crete, and outstanding production of remarkable quality.

You can visit different wineries, including Lyrarakis Winery, one of the best-known ones in Crete, or Fragospito, a boutique family experience. I can also recommend you to visit Minos-Miliarakis and Silva Daskalaki, two of the best wine producers in Crete.

Your itinerary should also include a visit to Archanes. This is a gorgeous traditional village less than 15 kilometers from Heraklion that was restored with the aid of European and private funds.

2 days in Heraklion
2 days in Heraklion

In the settlement, it’s also possible to visit their museum, explore the surrounding green fields, and enjoy the local hospitality.

There are several other incredible villages in this wine region. Most wineries offer lunch or appetizers, but local tavernas shouldn’t be overlooked.

In the village of Kyparissi, about half an hour from the city center, Yannis’ Taverna is a place that ticks every box for food, wine, and a unique atmosphere. The place lacks electricity, so you will eat strictly in a candlelight dim-lit dining room, surrounded by fragrant house wine barrels and Cretan music. 

Relax by the Sea in Heraklion

Agia Pelagia

2 days in Heraklion
2 days in Heraklion

One of the most popular beaches in the area of Heraklion is definitely Agia Pelagia.

Last summer, in July, I rented a small house up in the mountains in the village of Rogdia, where I managed to disconnect from stress and write while enjoying a straightforward life there.

The peaceful Rogdia was just a few minutes away from Agia Pelagia, which became the place to go every day after lunch.

Agia Pelagia is a tranquil fishing village made of different bays, more or less crowded. The shores are perfect for lazy afternoons by the beach, water sports, and sailing.

One of my favorite beaches is a relatively small pebbled beach, Psaromoura. Here, my kids enjoyed SUP surfing and kayaking, while the whole family went on a fantastic boat trip to visit nearby beaches only accessible by boat.

2 days in Heraklion
2 days in Heraklion

I returned to Agia Pelagia again back in September for a weekend, and I stayed in the village this time. The view of Agia Pelagia Bay from the Sunday Life Hotel was outstanding. The restaurant served delicious Cretan food and sweets. Prices? Super convenient. Do ask for their Sky Roof Suite!


Fodele beach, Heraklion
2 days in Heraklion

If you have some more time, it’s also a good idea to visit the nearby village of Fodele.

There’s an incredibly beautiful sandy bay ideal for swimming, thanks to its protected position, but it’s also a good idea to visit the village. It’s in the middle of orange groves, with fantastic craft shops, traditional tavernas for a lunch break, and old churches.

Once in Fodele, check out the Byzantine Church of the Panagia, dating back to the 11th century.

The magnificent building is located about 1 km past the village, surrounded by orange trees, the characteristic fruit of Fodele.

The church stands on the foundations of a former Early Christian Church of the 6th century. Inside it’s possible to see beautiful frescoes and an ancient marble floor.

The church is in a somewhat high position, and you can spot it even from the road that leads to the village.

El Greco Museum, Heraklion, Crete.
2 days in Heraklion

Always in Fodele, visit El Greco Museum, meters after the Church of the Panagia. Locals claim that Domenikos Theotokopolous El Greco, the important mannerist painter, was originally born in Fodele (1541).

Later in life moved to Italy and then established and died in Spain. 

El Greco Museum opens daily, from 9.00 to 19.00 (from April until the end of October), and the entrance fee is 2.00 € for adults. Kids enter for free.

More free time? Visit the stunning beach of Paleokastro, just 9 kilometers from Heraklion. You can hike to the fortress Paleokastro of Malevizio, a triangular castle still featuring its original walls.

Despite being known as a Venetian building, it was initially built in 1206 by the Genoans.

You might also want to visit the best beaches in Heraklion.

Classic Itinerary of Heraklion


2 days in Heraklion

I’ve already written tons about Knossos and Heraklion’s Archaeological Museum, both on the blog and for other media.

In fact, a combined visit to both places remains the most remarkable reason why people decide to stop in Heraklion for a day (or sometimes two).

The Archaeological Site of Knossos is about 15 minutes by bus from the town center. It’s also one of the most visited places in Greece.

You can either visit with a guide or on your own. One might think that a guide would be the way to go. It’s indeed a good source of information if you have no clue about the Minoan civilization. Still, I was most disappointed during a guided tour a few weeks ago. The guide kept talking of King Minos and Queen Pasiphae as if they really existed.

She insisted on the fact that the famous Throne found in Knossos used to belong to the king. But none of it that was ever proved. On the contrary, the throne probably belonged to a priest.

She made the place look like the setting of a fairy tale, yet I would have appreciated a different, more truthful insight.

Up to you! You can join a guided tour for 10 euros or, ideally, visit independently. You need to get a guidebook at the entrance or check out my self-guided tour of Knossos Palace.

Opening hours & closing dates (2019)
Winter: January 7 to March 31 (2019)  8:00 – 17:00. (Last admission at 16:45)
Summer: 8:00 – 20:00. (Last admission at 19:45)
Tickets & special fees
Full €15, Reduced €8.
Enquiry about their more convenient pass, including access to the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.


2 days in Heraklion

Up next (or before, as you wish), devote a couple of hours to the Archaeological Museum.

It will provide all the necessary background to understand better what was happening inside the Palace.

A guided visit to the museum is something a bit more personal than a massive guided tour of the archaeological site.

Besides, it’s easier to ask as many questions as you want. I personally recommend this guided visit, which is not extremely expensive and provides good value for money with significantly reduced groups. There’s more information about it in my Archaeological Museum of Heraklion post.

Currently (March 2020), the entrance fee is €15. With just one more euro, you can also visit the Archaeological site. The combined ticket lasts three days, so you don’t need to rush around. Excellent value for money.

Some shopping in town

2 days in Heraklion

There are many shops for those souvenirs you want to take with you.

Check the shops in the area of the Archaeological Museum for art replicas, trendy t-shirts, and alternative memories of Greece.

If you want to buy trendy clothing brands, cosmetics, shoes, and bags, try the shops on 25th August Street.

Bring home with you some local products such as spices and herbs, marmalades, liquors, and olive oil. Where to get all that?

Try the biggest open market of Heraklion, on 1866 Street, or any of the smaller farmer’s markets around town.

2 days in Heraklion

General Information about Heraklion

Check this info before your trip!

Heraklion Crete Hotels

I’ve often recommended Galaxy Hotel Iraklio, which is very close to the city center.

However, if you want something different, try accommodation in nearby areas. There are a few exciting budget places in Amoudara, one of the closest beaches to the city. This proves convenient if you’re looking for a seaside place still close to town. I have personally stayed in the following ones.

  • Ikaros Suites, just a few meters from the sea and about 3 km from the city center, Ikaros offers a great swimming pool and gardens. One of my top choices near the city. Check availability, and if you find a room, don’t miss it and book immediately!
  • Another great option in Amoudara is Yianna Caravel, featuring a delicious restaurant. A pool close to the beach and a spa are some of the key features providing excellent value for money.
  • If you prefer the comfort of a house, then do not miss Villa Delfino. It comes with all the things you need to feel at home. Check availability and book as soon as you can. It’s very odd to find it available.

How to Reach the Airport of Heraklion

How to travel to the Airport of Heraklion from the city center:

From 10 to 15 min. (max. 25 min. under heavy traffic)

Reach the new Bus Station of Heraklion, walk past it, and just around the corner, cross the street.

At the gas station, you will see a wooden booth. This is where you take the bus to the Airport (Bus number 1). The bus from the airport to the city stops across the street.

Bus Station Heraklion, ticket fees.

Buy the ticket on the vending machine (€ 1,20) or bus (€ 2,00).

Bus tickets, Heraklion, Crete.

The ride takes from 10 to 15 minutes under normal traffic conditions. If you’re traveling with several bags or heavy luggage, riding a taxi or booking a private airport transfer might be wiser.

Arriving or Departing by Sea: The Port of Heraklion

The Heraklion port is Greece’s third busiest port, so if you arrive or depart from here, prepare for some action. Crowds are not odd, so plan to arrive well ahead of departure.

Ferries leaving for Athens (Port of Piraeus) and others leaving for other Greek islands are mainly concentrated here (some ferries also depart from Chania). Some ships cover the route to Thessaloniki in northern Greece.

Read more about Heraklion

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More resources to enhance your Crete adventure

Start by checking out my guide to planning your trip to Crete, packed with helpful essential information. Explore the articles on prices in Crete, common mistakes to avoid, and insider secrets. You can also get one of the digital travel guides I’ve written about Crete. They are affordable and practical to check from your mobile.

When it’s time to plan, explore the best places to visit on Crete Island, discover my tours and activities, and be amazed at Crete’s incredible beaches. If you are exploring specific areas like Heraklion, Rethymnon, Lasithi, and Chania, I’ve got detailed guides to help you make the most of your time.

Suggested accommodation in Crete

No time to read all my accommodation guides? Check out these places to stay:

Don’t Leave Before You Pin! Pin this Guide to 1-3 Days in Heraklion For Your Crete Adventures!

Short break in Heraklion, Crete

About me:

Gabi Ancarola | The Tiny Book

Gabi Ancarola

I have lived in Chania, Crete, since 2016. As a local, I have an intimate knowledge of the island. I host culinary and concierge tours and experiences in Crete and write about the island for several travel media. During the last five years, I have helped many travelers plan the perfect holiday in Crete. I co-authored DK Eyewitness Top 10 Crete and had more glasses of frappe than any regular person could ever handle.

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