What to See in the Minoan Palace of Phaistos, Crete

Greece - Crete - Phaistos Pithoi

Are you about to visit the Archaeological Site of Phaistos, and you are not sure what to expect? Or want to know more about the second most important Minoan palace of Crete? Either way, this article is for you. Keep reading to discover all Phaistos has to offer. 

Spoiler alert: there is more than meets the eye!

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Minoan Palace of Phaistos, Crete

minoan palace of phaistos

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What to See in Phaistos Palace, Crete

minoan palace of phaistos

Lonely and fascinating, the Minoan Palace of Phaistos is located on the southern coast of Heraklion, in Crete, and it is an imposing archaeological site, contemporary to Knossos Palace, on the northern coast of the same region.

In this article, you can find all the info you need to prepare for your visit and know what to expect. Read on!

The Many Spellings

minoan palace of phaistos
minoan palace of phaistos
minoan palace of phaistos

Before we get into the many details, note that Phaistos has more than one spelling. Just like its many faces. To be exact, you can also spell Phaistos as Phestos, Festos, or rarely even Faistos.

As long as you emphasize the last syllable, every local will understand you refer to the same ancient Minoan palace. 

You might also want to read: Red Beach Matala Crete: Everything about the Stunning Kokkini Ammos.

Second Only to Knossos 

minoan palace of phaistos

Phaistos is one of the most important historical sites on the island. Although it does not get to the top of the list, this lesser-visited Minoan palace deserves more attention than it currently gets.

After all, it was one of the noblest centers of power in the grand age of Minoan civilization.

If you have time to visit only one Minoan site, then that should be the Knossos Palace. After all, it is the most renowned ancient sight in all of Crete.

However, if you want to delve deeper into the ancient civilization of Crete, or if Phaistos is on your way, then a stopover at the site will reward you with unique scenery and pictures of beauty you can’t find elsewhere. 

>> Check out this organized tour that takes you to discover Knossos, Phaistos, and Gortyn.

The Myth of King Rhadamanthys

minoan palace of phaistos

Next to its rich history, Phaistos is also known for being the home of the mythical figure king Rhadamanthys.

According to Greek mythology, Rhadamanthys was a wise king of Crete who later became a judge in the underworld. In other words, he was responsible for judging the souls of the dead.

Son of Zeus and Europa, Rhadamanthys was a demigod with an unparalleled stern and inflexible judgment. As a king, he was known for his thoughtful and progressive legislative activities.

Do not forget that the Minoan was a civilization where women had an elevated role in everyday happenings. 

Location of the Minoan Palace of Phaistos

minoan palace of phaistos

To reach Phaistos, you would need to drive south for about an hour from Heraklion, the capital of Crete.

Alternatively, the palace is only 70 kilometers from Rethymnon, another important city on the island.

As you find your way to the site along the National Road, you will pass through the town of Moires and reach Phaistos in less than 9 kilometers.

The ruins of the city of Phaistos lie on a hill on the way to the village of Tymbaki. Once you reach the site, you can leave your car in the free parking area and enter the palace.

minoan palace of phaistos
Parking area.
minoan palace of phaistos
Bus stop and parking area.

You will first come across a comprehensive bookstore next to a lovely cafe and souvenir store. Pay your €8 ticket and get ready to discover the hidden beauty of the palace! (More on ticket fees at the end of the article).

Check out this Knossos, Gortyna, Phaistos & Zaros Bus Tour that departs from Heraklion.
Visit Knossos Palace, Minoan civilization ruins, and Phaistos, the most important center of the Minoan civilization.
– Stop at Gortyna and Plouti for lunch.
– Visit Zaros with its Byzantine monasteries.
Approximate price: € 120 per person –
***Prices are handled by the tour operator -not by this blog- therefore, they are subject to change without notice.

View from Phaistos 

minoan palace of phaistos
The Messara Plain, view from Phaistos.

The moment you step foot into the ancient city of Phaistos, you cannot but notice the spectacular view across the nearby valley. The Messara Plain is covered with thousands of olive trees and local plantations.

Just imagine how it would feel to live there all your life. That is a handy opportunity to get a feeling of royal life in ancient Crete.

And do not forget to put some snow into the picture too. Across the valley on the horizon lies the peak of Psiloritis, the highest mountain in Crete. Until the end of May, the summit is covered with snow.

No matter the time of your visit, you can take great photos of the surrounding area and the excavation site of Phaistos. 

History of Phaistos

minoan palace of phaistos
The area where the Disc of Phaistos was found.

Once you start walking around the ancient city, it is important to have a basic understanding of what this place once was.

Eight thousand years ago, the lush valley of Messara provided plenty of sustenance to early communities and succeeding societies.

As time passed, a central power emerged, and locals built a city on top of the hill to overlook the whole area. 

Around 2000 BC, the first palace of Phaistos included paved yards, multiple gates, facades, and skylights of any kind.

minoan palace of phaistos

Unfortunately, an unknown disaster hit the city in 1700 BC, when the locals built a new palace on top of the ruins.

This new palace lasted until 1450 BC, when the whole site was destroyed for good, possibly by fire.

The locals abandoned the idea of rebuilding the palace and never attempted to live there again. Instead, the site started to gain religious significance.

minoan palace of phaistos
The giant pithoi.

They even built an archaic temple of the Greek goddess of Rea in the southern part of the old palace.

The city turned into ruins after the neighboring prosperous city of Gortyn attacked it in the 2nd century BC. Since then, Phaistos palace has been in ruins, almost like you see it now. 

Excavations in Phaistos

minoan palace of phaistos

The excavations of the area began about 2100 years later. In 1900, the first archaeologists came to the island thanks to the newly formed country of Greece.

To create a national identity and showcase the glory of Ancient Greece to the world, the government speeded up the excavation processes. 

Unfortunately, the two world wars reversed any progress but luckily left the site intact. After about 200 years since the first excavations started, Phaistos is now available for a visit.

minoan palace of phaistos
The East Wing Complex.

Although most finds were moved to the archaeological museum of Heraklion, the site is still worth the visit. 

Some of the monuments, mainly the old building and the royal quarters of the new palace, include a cover of plastic sheds for protection.

What is more, archaeologists added concrete roofing to the storerooms of the new palace. These are the only changes and modern touches in an otherwise ancient site in ruins. 

The Phaistos Disk

minoan palace of phaistos
The area where the disc was found.

The most intriguing artifact found on the site is the Phaistos Disc, (also spelled Phaistos Disk, Phaestos Disc) is a disk of fired clay now displayed in the museum in Heraklion.

It is a 3500-year-old circular flat clay tablet that shows several imprints of symbols.

Thousands of archaeologists and interpreters tried to decode the use and significance of those symbols. Today, their meaning is still a mystery.

minoan palace of phaistos
The disk can be seen at the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.

The most popular theory says that the Phaistos disk was used to save important, possibly top-secret, trading information.

Although no one has decoded the meaning, similar symbols are found on clay seals in many archaeological sites throughout the Mediterranean. As a result, it is believed that these symbols were possibly a form of early trading record. 

>> Join a guided tour of the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion to learn about the mysteries of the Disc of Faistos.

How to Prepare for Your Visit 

minoan palace of phaistos

If you want to make your visit to Phaistos as spectacular and rewarding as you can, it will help if you know your way around.

If you have no idea what lies around you, you will miss a big part of the fun. All you will see would be a few squares, stairs, and plenty of knee-high walls. 

Although an organized tour or a personal guide can save you from the trouble of reading or looking up things, nothing is compared to self-learning.

minoan palace of phaistos

You will appreciate the beauty of the place more if you discover it yourself. The site is full of small posters and signs that designate and describe what you see in front of you.

Use them to get the best feeling of this ancient city.

What to Expect in Phaistos

minoan palace of phaistos

If you expect to see old objects, such as vessels, jewelry, or even the famous disc of Phaistos, know that these are all moved to museums.

This is necessary for safety reasons alone. Phaistos is an open-air city protected only by a simple fence. Most of the buildings do not even have a roof.

As a result, anything valuable has been moved elsewhere.

minoan palace of phaistos

What remains on the site, however, is still an incredible piece of raw beauty and history. On the surface, you see three large squares of the old palace surrounded by ruined walls.

But if you start observing, you will discover various significant buildings as well as small preserved rooms.

Upper Court

minoan palace of phaistos

The Upper Court connects the palace and the rest of the city with a long staircase.

In the center of the court, you can see the main theatre where various performances took place in antiquity.

minoan palace of phaistos

Not far from the area, four-round structures known as Kouloures were used to store grain.

West Court

minoan palace of phaistos
minoan palace of phaistos
minoan palace of phaistos

Near the West Court, you will come across the Grand Stairway, which leads to the main palace entrance. There, you will also find gigantic storage urns that used to contain wine, oil, or other food staples. (pithoi)

Temple of Rhea

minoan palace of phaistos

The temple dedicated to goddess Rhea is not far from West Propylon. Built in the Hellenistic period, it was the reason thousands of Cretans and Greeks visited Phaistos even after its destruction.

During Roman occupation, the nearby city of Gortyna prevailed, leaving the temple in ruin.

The Palace

minoan palace of phaistos

There is nothing more prominent in Phaistos than its palace. Its superb architectural composition and time-enduring construction make it one of the finest and most typical Minoan palaces. Thankfully, you can explore the ruins of both the new and the old palace, which is in good condition thanks to a natural shade.

The heart of the new palace is a central court surrounded by various rooms. Shrines, royal quarters, storerooms, and workshops create a setting unique to Phaistos. With some imagination, you can relive the glory of the past days. 

minoan palace of phaistos

To the west of the storerooms, you will find the theatre where all cultural activities and ceremonies took place. Not far away, you can explore the granaries of the old palace or climb large staircases that lead to successive terraces.

However, what you will most love is West Propylon, the monumental entrance to the new palace.

Central Court

minoan palace of phaistos

The Central Court was once lined with columns and was the meeting point of the palace. Now, the central yard still preserves its pavement which dates back to 2000 BC. 

Royal Apartments in the North Wing

minoan palace of phaistos
The North Wing.

Once you are in the palace, do not forget to check out the Royal Apartments. This is an area only select royals had access to. The southernmost of the Royal Apartments has been identified as the Queen’s Megaron.

It was a bedroom that featured gypsum-paved floors and benches. Immediately behind is the King’s Megaron. 

minoan palace of phaistos

A long corridor and interior yards give access to a complex of rooms and a larger yard with a ceramic furnace in the center. This is where the royal servants spent most of their time. Explore the area, leave your imagination loose, and experience life 5000 years ago.

The King’s Megaron bears an impressive resemblance to the corresponding King’s Megaron at the Palace of Knossos.

Tips for Your Visit to Phaistos

minoan palace of phaistos

When you come to Phaistos, allow at least 2 hours to explore the entire place. Anything less than that will not give justice to the significance and gravity of the site.

At the same time, do not plan to spend your entire day here. After all, there is only one small canteen that sells coffee. 

If you have your own car, consider combining your visit to Phaistos with a visit to the ruins of Gortyna (read on), only a few kilometers east of Phaistos.

This is the place where, according to legend, Zeus made love to Europa under the plane tree. 

minoan palace of phaistos

If you are a history buff or want to explore the deep culture of the Minoan civilization, you need to visit the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.

Preferably, before you explore Phaistos. If you do so, you can use the knowledge from the museum to understand more about Phaistos and the Minoans. Everything will appear so much more in harmony. 

Practical Information to Visit the Archaeological Site of Phaistos

minoan palace of phaistos

Keep these details at hand before heading to the palace:


Entrance ticket cost archaeological site of Phaistos, Crete

If you are wondering about the cost, know that the standard entrance fee is €8. However, there is also a reduced entrance fee of €4.

This reduced fee applies to university students, escorts on educational visits, and the elderly above 65 years of age from Europe. 

minoan palace of phaistos
The bar.
minoan palace of phaistos
The shop.

There will be free admission if you visit during the following days: 6 March, 18 April, 18 May, the last weekend of September, 28 October, every first Sunday from November to March

Opening Hours and Dates 

minoan palace of phaistos

Phaistos is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 pm during the summer season from May to October. The last admission is at 19:45. 

The site is closed on the following dates: January 1, March 25, May 1, Easter Sunday, August 15, December 25 & 26.

Phaistos is open with a limited timetable on the following dates: Easter Friday, Easter Saturday, October 28.

Other Things to See in the Area Near Phaistos

minoan palace of phaistos
Matala, a few minutes from Phaistos.

Once you reach the southern coast of Crete to visit Phaistos, it would be a pity not to devote some time to discovering the area.

The following are some of the places worth visiting, they are all very close to Phaistos and will certainly be a great addition to your South Heraklion itinerary.

Take a look at the places to visit near Phaistos.

Archaeological Site of Gortyn

minoan palace of phaistos

This archaeological site is located only 23 km from Phaistos, about 30 minutes by car. Gortyn (also written as Gortyna) is not as big as Phaistos, therefore it is quite easy to visit in about an hour.

Gortyn used to be an important city in Crete, quite powerful back in its times of splendor.

Most buildings and ruins date back either to the Roman or Byzantine periods of the island. However, vases and stone tools dating from the Neolithic have been found in the area.

minoan palace of phaistos
Roman statue next to the exhibition of Roman sculptures.

The settlement evolved between 11th-8th BC, a period known as Geometric. The Acropolis of Gortyn was probably built during that time.

The most impressive area in Gortyn is certainly the space where you will find the Odeon and the city’s first Agora. These ruins date from the 7th-6th century.

minoan palace of phaistos
The Odeon, the Agora, and the building housing the Code of Gortyn in the back.

Probably the most remarkable thing to see in Gortyn dates from 5th-4th BC, the Classical period.

Inside a semicircular building in the Odeon area, it is possible to admire the remains of the Gortyn Code.

minoan palace of phaistos
The Code of Gortyn.

Also known as the Great Code, this was a legal code for the civil law of the ancient city-state. It was also here that the inhabitants minted the first silver coins on the island, back in 470 BC.

minoan palace of phaistos

From the Roman period (1st-4th BC), there are the remains of impressive Roman public buildings as well as an extensive drainage network that supplied water to the city-state.

minoan palace of phaistos

Finally, the most imposing building you will be able to see is the Byzantine Church of Agios Titos, dating from the Early Christian and Byzantine periods (4th-9th AD).

The city of Gortyn was raided and destroyed by the Saracens back in the 9th AD and it was uninhabited until the first excavations started in 1884.

The entrance fee is €6 for adults and free for kids.

Archaeological Site of Agia Triada

minoan palace of phaistos
(Photo via Olaf Tausch – Own work, CC BY 3.0, Commons Wikimedia)

Agia Triada is a small archaeological site located only 5 minutes (3 km) from Phaistos.

This small Minoan Palace receives the place of a small village located close to the site, however, the original name that this place had during the Minoan times remains unknown.

Visitors here can explore the ruins of the Minoan town as well as tombs from the same period. The site developed contemporary to Phaistos.

And the most remarkable things to see include the Royal Villa, smaller than the palaces in Knossos and Phaistos, yet it features the same traits of palatial architecture, such as halls, shrines, magazines, workshops, staircases, and paved streets.

minoan palace of phaistos
Larnax Agia Triada, one of the sides
minoan palace of phaistos
Larnax Agia Triada, Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.

The agora and the ruins of the settlement belong to the Mycenaean period, while at the cemetery there are two Early Minoan tholos tombs with funerary rooms.

It is also possible to check the chamber tombs of the Late Minoan period where archaeologists unearthed different sarcophagus made of clay.

The well-known Agia Triada Larnax is a painted sarcophagus from about 1400 BC, the only one that has been found made of limestone. Today it is exhibited at the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.

Museum of Cretan Ethnology

minoan palace of phaistos
Courtesy of the Museum of Cretan Ethnology.

The Museum of Cretan Ethnology is located in Voroi Pirgiotissis, a village part of the municipality of Faistos. Its main focus is to promote typical cultural characteristics and ancestral memories of the island.

In the museum, it is possible to check exhibits regarding metalwork (balcony railings, door rings, etc), furniture-making, weaving, and pottery, and crafts that have characterized the popular culture of Crete for centuries and that are still part of the present lifestyle. You can read more about the exhibits here.


minoan palace of phaistos
Matala Caves.

The hippie village of Matala is another great place to visit when exploring Faistos. You can read everything about the things to do in the village here.

However, if you are on an archaeological exploration quest, then there’s certainly one thing you can check in Matala, the magnificent ancient caves on the west side of the beach.

minoan palace of phaistos
The beach from the caves.

Probably an ancient Roman or Early Christian cemetery, the caves of Matala have been carved out of soft rock thousands of years ago, they are located above the northwest side of the bay and it is possible to visit.

Be aware that the cliff is very steep, and the climbing is not easy (at times even dangerous), so do wear the proper shoes.

minoan palace of phaistos
Inside the caves.

Inside some of the caves, it’s possible to see carved beds, porches, and entrances. It is believed that the caves were used centuries ago as homes.

minoan palace of phaistos

More or likes like in the 60s when the caves were the place where dozens of hippies from the U.S. and other parts of the world, moved to and lived for years (more info about this in my Matala article).

minoan palace of phaistos
Ticket booth, Matala entrance.

The entrance fee to Matala is €4 for adults and free for kids. The site opens at 10 am and closes at 7 pm in the afternoon during summer.


minoan palace of phaistos
The open archaeological site is open and right by the beach.

Not only is Kommos a beautiful beach just minutes from Matala (about 5 km), but here it is also possible to see the remains of an important ancient site.

Kommos is believed to have been the port of Phaistos, and indeed an important port connecting Crete to the Near East. The ruins date back to the Bronze Age.

minoan palace of phaistos
The ruins in Kommos.

The excavations brought to light rich and elaborate buildings which represent the importance of foreign trade for Crete in ancient times. Although part of the site was damaged during WWII, much of it is still visible.

It is believed that Kommos was also the harbor of Agia Triada during the last years of the Late Minoan period. Visitors can also find ample parking space and a local tavern if they want to spend their day on the nearby beach.

Have you ever been to the Palace of Phaistos?

minoan palace of phaistos
Kommos, South Heraklion.

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minoan palace of phaistos

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 Crete. 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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