Heraklion is not just the capital of Crete, but also the capital of the Heraklion region, the most important area on the island. Heraklion is home to the most visited landmark in Crete, the Minoan Palace of Knossos, probably the first reason why people visit Heraklion.
However, this vibrant town has dozens of attractions, amazing restaurants, hundreds of hotels, and incredible museums.
Not sure yet? Read this article and discover the most fantastic things to do in Heraklion City.
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Things to Do in Heraklion Town, the Capital of Crete
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Heraklion, also known as Candia, is the capital city of Crete, a gate to one of the most beautiful Greek islands.
Not only the city offers dozens of things to do, but also coming across villages such as Zaros and Krasi, or the seaside town of Matala is worth a drive through the mountains and gorges of the region.
Not far from town, you can visit the vineyards of Peza and Archanes and the centennial green olive groves.
Other must-sees are famous landmarks such as Knossos Palace or lesser-known gems, including the pottery village of Thrapsano, where ceramic factories produce vases that are very faithful to the Minoan tradition of the island.
Top Things to Do in Heraklion Town
If you’re looking for the best things to do in the region of Heraklion, then do not forget to check out these 52 incredible things to do in Heraklion Region.
To visit the city, instead, read on and discover some of my favorite things to do in Heraklion City, the capital of Crete…
Visit Knossos Palace
The Palace of Knossos, in Heraklion, is the most famous archaeological site on the island. Some agree that the Palace of Knossos was the largest of the Minoan palaces in Crete.
Even if the place is technically a bit out of the city, it cannot be left out of this list.
The most important fact is that Knossos was the center of a sophisticated civilization that lived in Crete thousands of years ago.
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.
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.
A special pass also includes access to the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, for 1 more euro: Full €16, Reduced €8.
Discover the Archaeological Museum
The Archaeological Museum of Heraklion is one of the most important museums in Greece.
One of the most important pieces is the well-known Disc of Phaistos.
Check the Museum of Natural History
The Museum of Natural History includes different collections. The place is particularly appealing for kids as it exhibits an impressive Deinotherium giganteum, a fossil found near Sitia.
Another thing that both kids and adults love is the earthquake simulator, which lets you experience a real earthquake situation in a safe environment.
More Museums to Visit in Heraklion
The Historical and Folklore Museum of Heraklion exhibits objects from the early Christian times until the Second World War.
There is a collection of ceramics and sculptures, personal items that belonged to the Cretan author Nikos Kazantzakis and paintings by the famous Cretan artist, El Greco.
The Museum of Nikos Kazantzakis preserves the works of the famous Cretan author. It features personal letters, manuscripts, photographs, and first editions of his books.
This a valuable presentation of the life and ideas of the brilliant writer and his impact on modern literature.
Explore the Koules and the City Skyline
One of the best views of the city landscape is the one you can enjoy from the rooftop of the Venetian Fortress in the old Port of Heraklion.
The building dates back to the 16th century and it was erected by the Republic of Venice.
When you visit, do check the ammunition room as well as the impressive amphorae that were found under the sea in a shipwreck off the coast of Crete.
The Koules, also known as Rocca a Mare, is a massive, square building with thick defensive walls and an entrance with heavy wooden doors.
As you access the castle, look up to admire the Lion of Saint Mark over the main gate.
The entrance fee is 2 €. It can be visited from 08.00 to 19:00 in summer, and from 08.00 to 18.00 in winter – closing hours vary in the shoulder season (September-October). The fortress is closed on Tuesdays. Check here for a detailed timetable.
Extend your stay in Heraklion! Best rental homes in Heraklion town.
Check the Stunning Architecture of the Loggia
On the pedestrian road 25th of August, there’s an imposing Venetian building known as the Loggia. The building is a fine monument in the style of Palladio and a legacy of Crete’s Venetian past.
The construction of the building was an idea of Francesco Morosini. It dates back to 1628 when it functioned as the city’s meeting place for nobles and rulers.
The building has a remarkable architectural style, combining Doric and Ionian influences.
Wander the Open Markets on the Streets of Heraklion
If you’re looking for the right present to take back home, or even a memento of the legendary Cretan diet, head to 1866 Street and wander the streets of Heraklion’s famous open market.
While wandering the alleys, pick a traditional café and ask to be served a cup of authentic Greek coffee.
Have a Coffee at Lions’ Square
This beautiful square is simply the best place to start exploring the capital of Crete. Sit at a table of the traditional Kirkor to sample a bite of one of Crete’s most traditional desserts, bougatsa, and admire the unique architecture of the fountain.
Also known as Liontaria, the square dates back to the Venetian times when it was known as Grain Square or Piazza delle Biade.
Every day and night, any time of the year, the Square is the most vibrant place to be in Heraklion, where both locals and visitors gather to hang out and enjoy the magical atmosphere of the city.
Take a Snapshot of Morosini Fountain
This 1628 fountain was built during the Venetian times to be Heraklion’s source of drinking water which reached the center of the town from Archanes, now a picturesque village more than 15 km away.
The Fountain remains quite well-preserved and it still works at its best. Water gushes from the four lions that decorate the central area.
The fountain has eight lobes and features carved mythical water beings and Venetian coats of arms.
Visit Kazantzakis’ Tomb
The famous Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis was born in Heraklion. Although he reached worldwide fame for his work Alexander Zorbas (on which the well-known movie, Zorba the Greek is based).
Kazantzakis, who was also the author of more complex and controversial books, such as The Last Temptation of Christ, was ex-communicated from the Orthodox church in 1955.
It’s for this reason that his final place of rest is not a cemetery, but the top of Martinengo Bastion, a high point on the Walls of Heraklion, which at the time, marked the outskirts of the city.
Take some time to visit his grave with a simple wooden cross. From this high point, it’s possible to get a unique panoramic view of Heraklion’s skyline.
Don’t Miss the Beautiful Church of Agios Titos
Just a few steps from Morosini’s Fountain, walking towards the sea, you will come across the beautiful church of Agios Titos, a very important religious building on the island.
The church was originally built during the Byzantine Empire, it also functioned as a mosque during the Turkish rule of the island, and it underwent a complete renovation in 1925.
The Orthodox church features unique stained glass windows which produce a magnificent colorful effect inside the building.
Less than 200 meters from the church, devote some time to explore the former Venetian church of Saint Mark which today works as an art gallery and exhibition center. It’s located right opposite Morosini.
Check the Magnificent Cathedral of Heraklion
Another church worth a visit in town is Agios Minas Cathedral, the most important church on the island and the seat of the Archbishop of Crete
The Cathedral is a Greek Orthodox church dedicated to Agios Minas, a martyr, and wonderworker, as well as the patron saint of the city.
Get Lost in the Alleys of the Old Quarter of Lakkos
The mysterious neighborhood of Lakkos is a wonderful place to walk around to discover stories from the recent past of Heraklion.
Forget about the Minoans and discover what the capital of Crete was like during the last years of the nineteenth century.
It was back then when hashish, prostitution, and crime were part of everyday life in this quarter, which was home to rebetiko music and bohemian artists as well.
During the exchange of population between Greece and Turkey (the 1920s), Lakkos received many refugees from Asia Minor.
Years later, during the Nazi occupation of Crete, the prostitutes of the area were sent 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 an amazing place to hang out in the countless small bars and tavernas that populate the alleys.
Unique Places to Visit Near Heraklion City
Once you’ve checked out the most important landmarks in town, you can explore these other gems that are easy to reach from the center.
Archanes, Peza, and the Wine Region
Most of the economy in the areas of Peza and Archanes revolves around the production of grapes.
About seventy percent of the wine produced in Crete comes from these areas of Heraklion.
Grapes have been harvested in Crete since the Minoan times. The varieties used for wine production are Vilana (white), Kotsifali, Mandilari (red), and Liatiko (dry and sweet red).
Schedule a visit to a local winery. Fragospito Winery, a family winery in the village of Vorias, is my absolute favorite.
At the winery, they believe that organic products protect the environment from pesticide contamination so their vineyards are part of an organic cultivation system.
Check Out the Nightlife in Hersonissos and Malia
Those looking for videogame arcades, crowded seaside restaurants, and not-very-original souvenir shops can walk along the main road of the village to find this not-so-authentic atmosphere.
Yet Hersonissos remains a popular spot among many Europeans. Avoid if you’re interested in real Crete.
For nightlife, beach clubs, discos, bars, and the Cretan Movida, reach the nearby Malia.
The small town is another trendy seaside resort near Heraklion, ideal for a night out, but a bit less authentic than other seaside villages.
If you plan to spend a day visiting, do not miss this article about the Minoan Palace of Malia.
Explore the Pottery Village of Thrapsano
Not far from Peza, about 30 kilometers from Heraklion, lies the Thrapsano, known as the pottery village of Heraklion.
Thrapsano has long been related to the manufacture of traditional Cretan ceramics, in particular the Minoan pithoi, which you can still buy and even learn to produce pottery during a visit to one of the many factories. Many of these will put your work in a kiln and send it to your hotel a few days later.
Beach Day at Agia Pelagia
Another popular beach on the northern coast of the region is Agia Pelagia. A small and quiet fishing village whose coast features different tiny bays and coves, some of them not crowded.
In the area, you can enjoy water sports or can rent a boat and go sailing.
This way, you can discover the beautiful transparent waters in the area of Paleokastro, and even jump from your boat for a refreshing swim on a lonely shore.
Visit the Small Village of Fodele
Not far from Agia Pelagia, Fodele is a wide and calm sandy bay where you can go swimming or simply relax.
A few minutes from the coast, pay a visit to the village amid lush orange trees. Have lunch in one of the few Cretan tavernas, and then go all the way to the gorgeous Byzantine Church of the Panagia from the 11th century.
The orange bricks of the church make it easy to spot in the green landscape that surrounds it.
Inside, the church features beautiful frescoes and ancient marble floors.
Opposite the Church of the Panagia, take some time to explore the El Greco Museum. According to the locals, Domenikos Theotokopolous, El Greco, the important mannerist painter, was originally born in Fodele in 1541.
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.
Drive South to Discover Matala
The unique caves in Matala Beach became famous during the sixties when hippies from all over the world choose the island, and this particular beach, to live a different, more simple kind of life.
They occupied the caves and made a legend out of the once-quiet fishing village.
Today, the beach and the village still retain some of that bohemian flower-power atmosphere, and it’s a great day trip from Heraklion.
For many tourists, Matala is a fantastic holiday destination and they choose to stay in this small village rather than in the noisier and busier Heraklion.
When planning a road trip to Matala, car rental is one of the first things to consider.
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Getting to Matala from Heraklion: The road from the capital, on the northern coast, takes you to the opposite side of the island in a little more than one hour (about 66 km).
Read more about how to get from Heraklion to Matala.
From the center of Heraklion, you must head to the north up to Gazi, and once there, take the national road Heraklio-Festos (also written as Faistos and as Phaistos on the road signs).
Check the Archaeological Site of Phaistos
One of the best things you can do near Matala is to pay a visit to the Minoan Site of Phaistos in the Messara plain, roughly in the south-central portion of the island.
Phaistos is a little more than 50 kilometers from Heraklion and it’s one of the most important archaeological sites in Crete.
This Minoan Palace corresponds to a flourishing city that arose in this fertile plain from 6000 BC to the 1st century BC.
According to the legend, the palace has a history of endless turbulent episodes and myths.
According to Greek mythology, the first Palace of Faistos was founded by King Minos while his brother, Radamanthis, was the first king in the Palace.
Remember that you can see all the artifacts and findings from Faistos in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, including the enigmatic Disc of Faistos.
The Archaeological Site of Phaistos is open with the following timetable:
On Mondays from 13.00 to 19.30
From Tuesdays to Fridays, from 08.00 to 19.30
From November 1st to March 31st, from 08:30 to 15:00
Full price 8€, Reduced fee 4€. Reduced fees apply to the following categories:
– 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.
Basic Things to Know about the City of Heraklion
Keep the details down below at hand for when it’s time to plan your trip to Heraklion, Crete.
How to Get to Heraklion, Crete
There are two ways to reach the capital of the island. You can either fly to Nikos Kazantzakis International Airport.
Or you can sail to the Port of Heraklion from Athens, the capital of Greece.
⛴️ Check out ferry ticket fees and schedules
During the high season, it’s also possible to board a ferry from the Cycladic islands, including Mykonos and Santorini.
For more tips and suggestions, as well as for alternative routes to reach Crete, check my article describing how to travel to (and from) Crete.
When is the Best Time to Visit Heraklion
One of the top-rated things to do in Heraklion is to visit the many museums and the fantastic archaeological sites in the region.
And to avoid crowds, spring, and autumn are the best moments to explore the capital and the region.
During both seasons, you’ll avoid the extreme temperatures of July and August, as well as skip long lines to access the venues you want to visit.
Besides, prices are always more convenient off-season.
Visiting Heraklion in winter can account for a genius city break if you live in Europe.
Since Heraklion is Greece’s fourth most important city, it is always alive and it never closes for winter. Shops, hotels, restaurants, and museums are open all year long.
How to Move Around in Heraklion
You can drive along the fast northern highway which connects the capital to the other regions of Crete.
To go south, there’s a road connecting the city to the Messara Plains and the villages near Matala. Another important road passes right in front of Knossos Palace and goes through Heraklion’s wine region.
The best way to move around is by driving your car. Check these tips to rent a car and drive safely in Crete.
By bus: There’s an extensive public bus network connecting the most important towns and villages in the region all year round. Of course, the frequency is even higher during the summer.
Traveling from Heraklion to Chania by bus? Check this article for instructions.
You can take buses to reach Chania, Rethymnon, Agios Nikolaos, and other towns at the new bus station on Efessou Street.
To reach the airport by bus, you have to walk to the back of this new station, the stop is right at the Shell gas station.
The buses for Knossos Palace depart from the old bus station, right opposite the Megaro Hotel.
More time in Crete? Check this 3-week itinerary.
How to Reach the Airport of Heraklion
How to Travel to the Airport of Heraklion from the City Center
- 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 coming from the airport to the city stops right across the street.
- Buy the ticket either on the vending machine (€ 1,20) or on the bus (€ 2,00).
- The ride takes from 10 to 15 minutes under normal traffic conditions. If you’re traveling with several bags or heavy luggage, it might be wiser to ride a taxi or book a private airport transfer.
Where to Eat in Heraklion City
Peskesi: The restaurant is one of the most famous on the island, known for its traditional dishes served in a wonderful old house in the center of the town. Their wine list highlights some of Crete’s best vineyards, and the dishes are simply superb.
Kafenio O Tempelis is my favorite place to try the unique variety of mezedes (or Greek tapas) and even enjoy some music.
Located on Milatos Street, this is one of the most convenient places in the area for a nice evening out with friends, enjoying some of the most authentic flavors of Crete.
Feeling hungry? Check out the best restaurants in Heraklion.
Krasas: Perfect for typically Greek street food. Try their meat sandwiches, gyros, souvlaki, and burgers. There are two restaurants.
One of them is in the center of town, right in Plateia Eleftherias (Heraklion’s main square). The second one is in Nea Alikarnassos close to the airport. Prices at Krasas are very convenient.
Yannis’ Taverna: About half an hour from the center of Heraklion, in a village known as Kyparissi Yannis’ Taverna serves great local food and homemade wine.
The place is knowns for its unique atmosphere given by no electricity whatsoever. You will enjoy your dishes in a candlelight dim-lit dining room, surrounded by fragrant house wine barrels and Cretan music.
Beaches near Heraklion City
There are no beaches in the city center, but you can visit Amoudara Beach located about 15 minutes west of the port of Heraklion. It’s a nice sandy beach fairly wide and long, however, the sea can be rough at times.
If you’re visiting with kids, pay good attention as the sea tends to be quite deep even close to the shore.
There are several small restaurants in the area for those who want to spend the day in Amoudara.
If you want to learn more about other beaches you can visit when staying in town, read on for a few suggestions.
Where to Stay in Heraklion
On this website, you will find several accommodation guides about the island and a specific hotel guide for Heraklion town (and region). There’s also a guide to rent vacation homes in Heraklion that you can check out too.
For a quick reference, however, you can check out the following places, which are among my favorite for a stay in Heraklion Town:
- Sofia Hotel is one of the few hotels in Heraklion with a pool, perfect if you consider that there’s no beach right in the center of town. This hotel is in a great location, just a few minutes from the center, and every room has been recently refurbished. According to most reviews, their breakfast is truly delicious!
Click here for more information and the latest prices.
- Capsis Astoria Heraklion is a great option in the capital of Crete, right next to the Archaeological Museum. Besides, the hotel has a magnificent rooftop swimming pool and two restaurants serving an amazing Greek breakfast as well as very convenient buffet proposals both for lunch and dinner.
Click here for more information and the latest prices.
- GDM Megaron is a fantastic place to stay in Heraklion to enjoy a luxury vacation. Set in a historic building, GDM Megaron is one of the historic monuments in town. It faces directly the old city port and has panoramic views of the city and the sea. Parking is free of charge for the hotel’s guests.
Click here for more information and the latest prices.
More accommodation in Heraklion:
Read more about Heraklion
🛌 Suggested accommodation in Heraklion:
- Affordable: Rea Hotel in the city center.
- Mid-range: Capsis Astoria in town.
- Luxury: GDM Megaron H. M. Hotel in the center.
- Check also Heraklion Accommodation and Best Places to Stay in Crete.
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- 🛫 Search for cheap flights with CheapOAir.
- 🛥️ Find convenient ferry tickets with Ferryhopper.
- 🚕 Book airport transfer with Welcome Pickups.
- 🚘 Rent a car in Crete with Discover Cars.
- 📍 Join adventures and cultural experiences with Get Your Guide.
- Never leave without travel insurance Safety Wing.
- 💳 Carry the best credit card for travel with Wise.
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You might also want to read about these places to see in the region of Heraklion:
About my blog:
I moved to Crete in 2016. During these years, I learned much about the island.
In Crete, I juggle being a solo mom, hosting culinary tours, and writing for several travel media.
I’ve written for Greek Reporter, published travel guides about Greece, co-authored DK Eyewitness Top 10 Crete, and had more glasses of frappe than any regular person could ever handle.