The Archaeological Palace of Knossos, in Heraklion, is the most famous Minoan site on the island. Subject to heavy restoration works, the site has always brought up controversy. However, that’s how today we get 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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- The myth: Theseus & the minotaur
- General information about Knossos
- Discovery of Crete’s most important Minoan palace
- What to see in the archaeological site of Knossos
- Tour of the Palace
- The royal rooms (one of the best things to see in Knossos!)
- Other points of interest in Knossos
- Useful tips to visit Knossos
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. Therefore, 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 it was half man and half bull.
Theseus volunteered to reach Crete and try to kill the monster. He promised his father, Aegeus, that in case of victory he would have returned with white sails, but if he had been killed, the sails would have been 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, left the Labyrinth, and sailed away with Ariadne. But he abandoned her in the Naxos on his way back.
In despair for the loss of Ariadne, Theseus forgot to change the sails of his boat. His father, seeing his ship approaching with black sails, believed him dead and he threw himself in the sea – in Cape Sounion. He died and thus gave his name to the Aegean sea.
Find the best accommodation in Heraklion to visit Knossos
When it comes to Heraklion, the capital of Crete, prices for accommodation are quite convenient, however, early booking will guarantee a better deal. Hotels in the center of Heraklion sell out early since everyone wants to see Knossos! Don’t book your room last minute!
– There are great places to stay in Heraklion with a limited budget (under €50 per day). One of the top picks is So Young Hostel Cocoon City Hostel, where a bed in a mixed dorm starts at €42 per night!
– Mid-range options go from €50 to €150 per night. A higher budget offers more possibilities to choose from. My favorite in town has always been Galaxy Iraklio, one of the few hotels in the center with a spectacular pool. Prices start at €103 per night.
– With a higher budget, from €120 per night, you’ll be able to stay in the most exclusive hotel in the capital. GDM Megaron is a historical monument hotel and a landmark in Heraklion.
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 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 is on a low hill known as Kefalas, in the valley of river
Some agree that the Palace of Knossos was the largest of the Minoan palaces in Crete. The most important fact 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, 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 belong to 19th – 17th centuries while the second ones date back to between 16th – 14th century (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 was a prosperous city until the end (1370).
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 the Ottoman domination, and the Turkish authorities didn’t allow the excavations.
Years had to go by until Sir Arthur Evans, a rich British archaeologist, took Schliemann’s ideas and bought a big quantity of land in the area.
Being now 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 new shapes and colors, reinventing the area according to what he deduced the place might have been.
It was Evans the one to give the name Minoan to the civilization, after King Minos. With this intervention, Evans put Knossos forever at the center of 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, from the ticket office, get yourself a good plan of the site (which you can also get in the shop). It will help you highlight what areas you should see.
The complex is quite impressive, there are about 1300 rooms connected with corridors. There is an entrance gate on each of its cardinal faces.
It’s interesting to pay 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
Located in the central area of the palace there is an important courtyard, here a new floor lays over the oldest remains which belong to the Neolithic era.
Many believe that it was here that the bull-leaping ceremony used to take place. However, space wouldn’t have been 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 even the area devoted to the marketplace.
The place also presented sidewalks that connected the west of the palace to the theatre. In the court, there are 3 circular pits that might have been silos or storage places.
The piano nobile
As I have mentioned before, the area known as Piano Nobile is an addition of Evans from scratch.
Archaeologists don’t give importance to the place, but you can use it to 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, 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, more than a throne, the seat was meant to be used by a priest, also because there is a sunken bath not connected to the drain system. For this reason, the water in the bath was probably used for ritual baths.
>> Check these amazing guided tours if you want a local guide explaining to you everything about it!
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 representations. However, according to our guide, space would have been limited for such events, so it still remains one more of the enigmas of 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 whole extension of the complex. Very close to the external walls, it is also visible a system baffles that was specially designed to avoid floods.
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, it’s only 1 more euro: 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 (2020)
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.
- 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, gently cloying, with a refreshing perfume of lemon drops and strong cinnamon powder… We ordered twice.
Bus N° 20 takes you there and back to the port of Heraklion. This is the bus stop in front of the palace.
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 it 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, better if previous to the visit to the site.
Allow at least 2 hours to see the site, more if you’re really 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 shadow. Bear in mind that Crete is very hot and sunny in Summer. Bring a hat, water, and sunscreen (if you forget, the three items are sold in different shops and kiosks out of 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 professional equipment is not allowed without previous written consent.
Hats, sunscreen, souvenirs… if you forget anything, you’ll find it there.
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 one 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!
Coming to Crete any time soon? These fantastic resources will help you organize the trip!
- Start by heading right to my post with helpful tips to plan a trip to Crete, which goes over every detail you need to know, from when it’s best to travel to what documents you need, or how to get a SIM card. You can also check my post to plan a Crete trip with kids!
- Probably, you’re also planning to spend some time at the beach on the island. Check my guide to the best beaches in Crete to choose the one you like the most. Read this article to decide what area suits best to stay in Crete, or check this post is you still don’t know all the things you can do in Crete.
- Finally, to have updated information about the island, join my private group on Facebook about Crete and download a copy of my West Crete Travel Guide to have it always with you on the island!
Finally, make sure you’ve got everything you for a hassle-free trip!
- I never move around the island with any of these… my Osprey backpack has been the most loyal travel partner over the last 5 years. It’s sturdy, light, roomy, and super comfortable! I just love it. To visit the old town, archaeological sites, and museums, this little crossbody bag is always around.
- When driving around Crete, I always pack my Michelin map, clear, accurate, and easy to read and my Nikon D7200, I’m lost without any of them. In summer I also carry good sunscreen lotion, the sun on the island can be pretty aggressive.
- Greece, and especially Crete, is a fairly safe destination, however, I’m sure you know that it’s always better to travel with an insurance policy for complete peace of mind. My favorite? World Nomads. Already left home? Buy your travel insurance online now!
- Always bring with you a good travel guide to Crete! The best Crete Travel Guide I’ve found so far is the one published by Lonely Planet. It has all the information you need.
- Airfares to Crete can vary immensely from one airline to the other, make sure you always compare ticket prices with a powerful search engine. Getting to Crete can be really comfortable with an airplane, but nothing beats the romantic experience of traveling by sea. I always choose Direct Ferries to visit other Greek islands or to travel directly to Crete from Athens. It has a powerful search engine to get the right ticket you need!
- If I need to book accommodation in Crete or anywhere else, I personally use Booking.com. Their Genius Loyalty Programme allows me to find better fees. As they say, the more you stay with them, the more rewards you get.
- Road trips in Crete are the most authentic way to explore the island. Find the cheapest rental car using a good car rental search engine. Discover Cars searches over 500 trusted rental companies for you to find the best deal. Compare prices for rental cars in Crete here.
- Sometimes, the best way to get to know a place better and make the most of your time on Crete is to join an organized tour. GetYourGuide has a great selection of proposals that help you save time and money. From cooking lessons to archaeological site tours, skip-the-line attractions, and even airport transfer!
Do you have everything you need? Then you just have to get ready to discover Crete, Greece’s most beautiful island!
- Further reading
If you would like to read more about Crete’s fascinating past, you should also check the article that helps you discover the most stunning archaeological sites in Crete. There are also beautiful monasteries to visit on the island. If you’re interested in Crete’s past as a leper colony, don’t miss this article about the island of Spinalonga, while in the same region there are many gorgeous villages to explore. A trip to Crete is a good opportunity to learn even more about Greek mythology, why not checking the Cave of Zeus or the fantastic seaside caves of Matala and the Minoan Palace of Faistos. Finally, in the region of Rethymnon, a day trip to Arkadi Monastery will teach you tons about the Turkish occupation of the island.
Have you ever been to Knossos Palace?
Let me know in the comments section below!
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About the Author
Hola! I’m Gabi. Welcome to The Tiny Book – Crete Travel Blog! I moved to Crete to explore the island all year round. I love taking pictures and driving on the mountain roads of Crete. I’m a beach freak and on this island I’ve found heaven on earth!