The Archaeological Palace of Knossos, in Heraklion, is the most famous Minoan site on the island. bjected to heavy restoration work, the site has always been a source of controversy. However, this is why today we have a better picture of how wonderful the place must have been. Discover the best things to see in Knossos Palace, Crete with the help of this incredibly useful guide to visit this remarkable archaeological site.
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LAST-MINUTE PLANS FOR CRETE?
– Use Ferryhopper and Skyscanner for the best ticket rates.
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– Check the best tours with GetYourGuide.
– Visit Elafonisi, discover Balos Beach, hike Samaria, or explore Knossos.
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Best Hotels in Heraklion
Affordable: Candia Studios & Rooms or Rea Hotel in the city center.
Mid-range: Capsis Astoria and Veneziano Boutique Hotel in town.
Luxury: GDM Megaron H. M. Hotel or Galaxy Iraklio in the center.
Check also Heraklion Accommodation Guide and Best Places to Stay in Crete.
What to See in Knossos Palace, Crete
This guide helps you to get ready for your Knossos Palace visit, check all the facts and all the info you need to know before heading to this unique archaeological site in Crete!
The Myth: Theseus & the Minotaur
Let’s face it; it’s more romantic to tour Knossos knowing about the myth of Theseus. One of its versions tells that King Minos, from Crete, had won a battle over Athens. As a result, every 9 years, Athens had to send 7 boys and 7 girls to Crete to feed the Minotaur. The Minotaur lived in a Labyrinth inside the palace and was half man and half bull
Theseus volunteered to reach Crete and try to kill the monster. He promised his father, Aegeus, that if victorious, he would return with white sails, but if he had been killed, the sails would be black.
On Crete, he fell in love with Ariadne, King Minos’ daughter. She gave him a ball of thread to find his way out of the Labyrinth. The hero managed to defeat the beast, leave the Labyrinth, and sail away with Ariadne. But he abandoned her in Naxos on his way back.
In despair over the loss of Ariadne, Theseus forgot to change the sails of his boat. His father, seeing the ship approaching with black sails, believed his son was dead and threw himself into the sea – in Cape Sounion. He died and thus gave his name to the Aegean sea.
>>Check this guide to know exactly what to wear for a comfortable visit to Knossos Palace<<
General Information About Knossos
It’s easy to reach the Archaeological Site of Knossos from the center of Heraklion, either by car or bus. The trip takes about 15 minutes. Remember that it’s always better to visit early in the morning or just before sunset.
This way, you will avoid crowds as well as the extreme heat in summer (at the end of the post there is also a list with more practical tips). If you intend to visit it thoroughly, allow about 3 to 4 hours.
Crete’s Minoan Palace of Knossos is only 5 kilometers from Heraklion. It’s situated on a low hill known as Kefalas, in the valley of the river Kairatos. The area is rich in vineyards, fruit trees, and olive groves, and has been valued since ancient times for its resources.
Some believe that the Palace of Knossos was the largest of the Minoan palaces in Crete. The most important fact, however, is that Knossos was the center of a sophisticated civilization that lived on Crete thousands of years ago.
The first settlement goes back to the Neolithic era, about 7000 BC. The palace was built around 1900 BC and it is proof of the advanced economic and social structure of the civilization.
Knossos was a palatial complex with sanctuaries, residences, workshops, and storage chambers. There were also royal rooms, terraces, and shelters.
During that period, the area was the capital of the state of King Minos, which included dozens of other cities as well as the current Cycladic islands.
The first palace belongs to the 19th – 17th centuries BC, while the second one dates back to between the 16th – 14th centuries BC.
A massive quake wrecked important parts of the complex in 1700 BC. But the palace and the city underwent immediate reconstruction.
Its final destruction is thought to be due to a Mycenaean invasion from Greece. However, Knossos continued to be a prosperous city until the end (1370 BC).
Check ferry tickets to Greece here!
Discovery of Crete’s Most Important Minoan Palace
Knossos existed only in Greek mythology until its discovery at the dawn of the 20th century. The German scholar Heinrich Schliemann was convinced that there was an important Minoan site in the area of Heraklion.
However, Crete was under Ottoman domination at the time, and the Turkish authorities wouldn’t allow the excavations.
Years went by until Sir Arthur Evans, a rich British archaeologist, took note of Schliemann’s ideas and bought a large quantity of land in the area.
Now being private property, digging works began in 1900. He only needed a few days to find the first evidence of the Minoan civilization.
Controversial Restoration Works
The controversial intervention of Evans gave the site new contours, shapes, and colors, essentially reinventing the area according to his idea of what the place might have looked like.
It was Evans who gave the name Minoan to the civilization, after King Minos. Because of his intervention, Evans put Knossos forever at the center of historical discussions.
He replaced different columns and rebuilt the famous Grand Staircase. He also put a roof over the Throne Room and revived the frescoes.
If you are interested in seeing the real walls, don’t miss a visit to the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.
Despite the controversy, it would have been extremely difficult to understand what the palace would have looked like without Evans’ conjectural intervention.
On the other hand, I recommend visiting the nearby site of Malia or the well-known Festos for a more authentic take on the Minoan civilization.
What to See in the Archaeological Site of Knossos
Once inside, get yourself a good plan of the site. You can pick one up from the ticket office or in the shop. It will help you highlight what areas you should see.
The complex is quite impressive, with about 1300 rooms connected by corridors. There is an entrance gate on each of its cardinal faces.
It’s interesting to take a look at the enormous storage rooms with containers made of clay (pithoi) used to keep grain, beans, olives, oil, and dried fish.
Tour of the Palace
To better understand where you’re standing, here is a small list of the best places to visit inside the Archaeological Site of Knossos.
The Central Court
In the central area of the palace, there is an important courtyard. Here, a new floor lies over the oldest remains in the complex, which belong to the Neolithic era.
Many believe that it was here that the bull-leaping ceremony used to take place. However, the space wouldn’t have been large enough for the acrobatic movements required for the performance.
If you want to read more, check Wikipedia. For an even more fascinating explanation, here you will find a great article on the ceremony and bulls in Crete.
The West Court
The west court was probably a gathering place for public meetings or the area devoted to the marketplace.
Also evident are sidewalks that connected the west of the palace to the theater. Also in the court, there are 3 circular pits that might have been silos or storage places.
The Piano Nobile
As I have mentioned before, Evans re-imagined the Knossos site according to his own ideas, and the area known as Piano Nobile is an addition of Evans built from scratch.
Archaeologists don’t give importance to the place, but if you choose to visit it, you’ll have a privileged view of the dimensions of the site. And take great photos!
Those who know better say the area is confusing and totally out of place.
The Royal Rooms (One of the Best Things to See in Knossos!)
The Throne Room
Probably the most popular spot in Knossos Palace, after the bull fresco, is the Throne Room, so get ready to queue. Inside there is a stone seat, and the wall, colored in vivid red and with frescoes, is lined with a continuous bench.
According to our guide, the seat was more than a throne. Apparently, the seat was also meant to be used by a priest, since there is a sunken bath nearby not connected to the drain system. This indicates that the water in the bath was probably used for ritual baths.
The Royal Apartments
Through the Grand Staircase, you will reach the royal apartments. Comfortable and luxurious, these beautiful rooms were probably used by the highest rulers and authorities since, despite their beauty, many think that their small size was not enough for the royalty.
The famous fresco of the dolphins decorates one of the rooms in the Queen’s Suite (again, the original version is in the Archaeological Museum). Right above, visit the King’s Room. It includes a reception and a personal chamber known as the Hall of the Double Axes.
The room known as the Queen’s Bathroom includes a bathtub made of clay as well as a lavatory connected to the complex’s drainage.
Other Points of Interest in Knossos
This open space resembles an amphitheater and it was probably used for public entertainment, dances, and presentations. However, according to our guide, space would have been limited for such events, so it still remains one of the enigmas of the Knossos Archaeological Site.
Probably the place where potters, artisans, and smiths worked and sold their products. There are also some pithoi, the famous vases of impressive capacity used to store goods. From here you can take good photos of the bull relief fresco (minus the crowds!).
The Drain System of Knossos
Several terracotta pipes and drains were interconnected underneath the entire expanse of the complex. Very close to the external walls, there is a visible system of baffles that was specially designed to avoid flooding
Sites to Check Outside the Palace
Just behind the theatre, the Royal Road leads to numerous small sites. The Little Palace is worth a visit for its Roman remains. If you can, also visit Villa Dionysios for its mosaics and the Royal Villa, which faces the main complex from the north.
The small sites outside the main complex are often closed or have very limited visiting hours. Check at the entrance or at the ticket office for updated information.
Useful Tips to Visit Knossos
Tickets & Special Fees
Full €15, reduced €8.
There’s a special package that includes the entrance to the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion that costs only €1 more: Full €16, Reduced €8.
Reduced fees apply to:
- Greek citizens and citizens of other European countries over 65 years old (ID card or passport needed).
- Escorts on educational visits (primary schools)
- University Students (high education institutes or equivalent, student ID card needed).
- For free admission categories, check this site.
Opening Hours & Closing Dates (2021)
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)
The site is closed on the following dates: January 1, March 25, May 1, Easter Sunday, August 15, December 25 & 26.
The site is open with a limited timetable on the following dates: Easter Friday, Easter Saturday, October 28.
Bus to Knossos
From Heraklion Central Bus Station: Bus Number 2 – Knossos. The bus runs 3 to 5 times per hour. Its final stop is Knossos. For 2019, the fee is 1.50 € one-way.
Running hours: from 8.00 to 19.00 in summer and from 8.00 to 15.00 in winter.
Tips to Remember: Just a few meters from the entrance, a traditional taverna, Pasiphae, is an oasis. Order their jugs of freshly made orange juice from their own trees. Try their freshly baked Cretan pastries, Kalitsounia, filled with sweet cheese and honey. I’ve never tasted something so delicate, soft, and gently cloying, with a refreshing perfume of lemon drops and strong cinnamon powder… We ordered twice.
Other Important Tips to Visit Knossos
The Palace of Knossos is the most important Minoan site on Crete, so it’s very popular. The place is busy all year round, but mostly in Summer. Expect lines at the ticket booth, or buy tickets in advance from the Archaeological Museum in the center of Heraklion if you also intend to visit the museum.
The best way to understand the palatial complex is to combine a tour of Knossos with a visit to the Archaeological Museum, preferably before visiting the site.
Allow at least 2 hours to see the site, more if you’re interested in a guided tour. Also, leave plenty of time to see the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion.
Most of the palace is exposed to the sun and there’s no shade. Bear in mind that Crete is very hot and sunny in Summer. Bring a hat, water, and sunscreen. If you forget, these three items are sold in different shops and kiosks outside the entrance. Sunglasses are a good idea too.
Wear light clothes and comfortable walking shoes or trainers. Do not wear flip-flops or heels. This great dress code guide tells you what’s best to wear to visit Knossos in full comfort!
Don’t forget your camera. It’s possible to take pictures, but tripods or large pieces of professional equipment are not allowed without previous written consent.
Guided tours are available on the site from €10 per person. I experienced a guided tour last August and it was the most disappointing experience! However, I believe that with a tour booked in advance, things might be more enjoyable. You’ll only visit Knossos once –don’t go with the wrong tour guide!
Our guide kept talking about King Minos and Queen Pasiphae as if they had actually existed. I didn’t really enjoy the guided visit, but if you have no idea about the Minoan civilization, it can be a good starting point.
Guides for different languages are available at the entrance, although they’re usually quite unfriendly. Maybe it’s an endemic problem in Crete because I’ve never found a smiling licensed guide in my life in Crete!
Guided tours are available on the site from 10 € per person. I experienced a guided tour last August and it was the most disappointing experience! However, I believe that with a tour booked in advance, things might be more enjoyable. You’ll only visit Knossos once, don’t go with the wrong tour guide!
>> ThIs tour has good ratings on the Get Your Guide tour platform <<
Our guide kept talking of King Minos and Queen Pasiphae as they had really existed. I didn’t really enjoy the guided visit, but it’s also true that if you have no idea about the Minoan civilization, it can be a good starting point.
Guides for different languages are available at the entrance (they’re usually quite unfriendly, maybe it’s a problem of the category in Crete, never found a smiling licensed guide in my life in Crete!
Have you ever been to Knossos Palace?
Let me know in the comments section below!
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About the author of this blog:
Gabi has been living in Crete for the last five years. Here, she juggles being a solo mom, hosting culinary tours in the summer, translating, and writing for The Tiny Book and her other blogs.
She’s written for Greek Reporter, published three travel guides about Greece, and had more glasses of frappe than any regular person would be able to handle.
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