52 Spectacular Things to Do in Heraklion (Region) for a Great Vacation in Crete!

things to do in heraklion

Set right in the center of Crete, Heraklion is the most important of the island’s four regions. Its main city, also called Heraklion, is the region’s and Crete’s capital.

Home to an important international airport, the city receives many flights to Crete, making it a popular destination in Greece. Home to the imposing Minoan Palace of Knossos, Heraklion has much more to see and discover. In this piece, I bring over 50 incredible things to do in Heraklion region!

Posts include affiliate links to products or services. I might earn a commission if you make a purchase.

Best Things to Do in Heraklion
(Region Version)

things to do in heraklion

>> Join our Facebook Group!

Be sure to book ahead of time to ensure availability!

🛎️ Find the best hotels in Crete here

📍 Top tours I recommend on the island:
Boat cruise to Balos Lagoon & Gramvousa
Ticket to Knossos Archaeological Site

🚘 The best way to get around Crete is by car. Check rental car rates for Crete here.

📲 Book a consultation call if you need help planning your trip to Crete!

Get your copy now and unlock the secrets of Crete’s capital like a local!

No matter how long people plan to stay in Crete, many of the island’s itineraries start in this region first because it receives hundreds of international and domestic flights every week, with an increased frequency in summer.

Second, nobody wants to miss spending at least a few hours in the capital of Crete.

For many travelers, the main excuse for visiting Heraklion is the Palace of Knossos, the second-most visited archaeological site in Greece after the Acropolis.

things to do in heraklion

Another good reason to visit this area is the popular hippie beach of Matala, with its incredible hillside caves and bohemian spirit.

However, Heraklion is a region with a lot more to offer! Starting with its stunning wine region and some of the best restaurants on the island, more archaeological sites, beautiful monasteries, mountain villages, museums, seasonal festivals, and art exhibitions.

If you’ve already planned what to do in Heraklion city, keep this article at hand to also explore the rest of this amazing Cretan region. So, let’s see everything to do in the Heraklion region!

What to Do in the Region of Heraklion, Crete

things to do in heraklion
Port of Heraklion.

In this post, I’ve included the best places I’ve discovered in these over seven years on the island. This is my list of the best things to do in the Heraklion Region.

The list begins with 5 fantastic things to do in the city and then takes you on an exploration journey in other parts of the region.

1. Visit the Venetian Fortress of Heraklion

Koules Fortress in Heraklion.

One of the best views of the city landscape can be enjoyed from the rooftop of the Venetian Fortress in the old Port of Heraklion.

Known also as Rocca a Mare or Koules, this is one of the most important fortresses in Crete. The Venetian building dates back to the sixteenth century.

Don’t miss the ammunition room and the impressive amphorae display. The vases were found under the sea in a shipwreck off the coast of Crete.

This massive, square building with thick defensive walls and an entrance with heavy wooden doors is one of the city’s characteristic landmarks.

>> The entrance fee is 2 €. In summer, it’s open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and, in winter, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The fortress is closed on Tuesdays. Check here for a detailed timetable.

2. Explore the Street Markets in Heraklion City

things to do in heraklion
Street market, Heraklion.

Head to 1866 Street to discover everything about the fresh and seasonal produce that distinguishes the Cretan diet.

Heraklion’s famous open market is the best place to find genuine gastronomic souvenirs, such as olive oil, herbs, spices, tsikoudia, herbs, spices, or even fresh fruit to take with you if you’re planning a picnic on any of the nearby beaches.

>> To learn more about the local food culture and enjoy sampling local products, you can join this Heraklion Food and Market Tour.

3. Try Delicious Pastries at Kirkor

things to do in heraklion

A staple in town and on the whole island, Kirkor is a pastry shop located in the central Liontaria Square and one of the best places to try the delicious Bougatsa, a Greek delicacy that, on Crete, is often filled with fresh mizythra cheese and topped with thyme honey.

No visit to Heraklion is complete without a stop at Kirkor for warm bougatsa and a cup of Greek coffee!

>> Kirkor is located at 31 El. Venizelou Square is right opposite the Lion’s Fountain.

4. Check out the Best Museums in Town

things to do in heraklion
Historical Museum of Crete.

There are plenty of interesting museums to visit in Heraklion. Of course, the most prestigious museum in town is the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion. However, your quest for interesting exhibitions should not end there.

For instance, you can learn about the Mediterranean flora and fauna, explore the incredible Natural History Museum, and learn about this region’s natural inhabitants through the mega-dioramas.

Kids love this museum because they can experience a real earthquake in the seismic simulator or check out the aquariums and terrariums with living animals.

Also in the city, the Historical Museum of Crete is another important museum with collections from the Byzantine period to the 20th century, including collections dedicated to Cretan history and art and key local figures.

This post lists the most interesting museums in Heraklion. It includes important information such as ticket fees, opening hours, and a list of lesser-known and curious museums in town.

5. Dine in One of Crete’s Most Famous Restaurants

things to do in heraklion
Peskesi restaurant.

Although there are endless fantastic restaurants in the city, where you can taste anything from local cuisine to ethnic gastronomy, Peskesi is arguably the most famous restaurant in Crete – do book a table before heading there!

Located in the center of town, inside an old Cretan house, the restaurant welcomes you with delicious local staples served in a beautiful herb garden and surrounded by a cozy atmosphere. The wine list is also excellent.

>> Peskesi is at 6-8 Capetan Charalampi Street, Heraklion

There is much more to see and visit in the center of Heraklion. To explore the rest of the city like a local, check out this guide to the best things to do in Heraklion town.

You can also read this article about the best things to do in Heraklion at night and this post with amazing free things to do in Heraklion!
Let’s now see what else to do in the rest of the region.

6. Spend Time Visiting the Minoan Palace of Knossos


The Minoan Palace of Knossos is an important archaeological site about 15 km from the city center. It is arguably the most visited spot on the island.

Although the site has often been considered heavily restored and – at the very least – controversial, the place offers a clear picture of how impressive the original settlement might have been

Many archaeologists consider Knossos the largest of the Minoan palaces in Crete. It was the center of a sophisticated culture that lived on Crete thousands of years ago and has always been considered the cradle of Western Civilization.

>> You can read about Knossos Palace here. Or check out the best tours to explore the site here.

7. Check Out an Ancient Wine Press in Vathypetro

things to do in heraklion
Courtesy Anna M. Kambouraki.

Only a few kilometers from the mountain village of Archanes, in the heart of Heraklion’s wine country, Vathypetro is an archeological site under the shadows of Mount Juktas where you can explore the ruins of an ancient Minoan Villa.

Experts have found a unique collection of items for everyday use, including equipment for the production of olive oil and wine.

The villa is surrounded by an ancient vineyard, which locals claim to be the oldest in the world. The most interesting finding is an ancient and remarkably well-preserved winepress still visible on the site.

8. Visit at Least Dozen Wineries

things to do in heraklion
Grapes in Crete.

No matter where you go in Crete, you will never be too far from a local winery, especially in the region of Heraklion. Known as a top wine area in Greece, Crete is home to some fantastic labels you need to try. The so-called Iraklio Wine Country is a great place to start.

So, if you’re visiting the capital, you can join an organized Heraklion wine tour or have a little fun on your own and visit at least one winery, although you might want to check out a lot more of them.

And even when it’s hard to choose a favorite, I’ve always enjoyed the wines made by the former Gavala Winery, today known as Fragospito Winery, in the village of Vorias, right in the heart of Heraklion’s wine region.

>> Head to this article to discover more amazing wineries in the Heraklion region.

9. Wander the Charming Alleys in Archanes Village

Archanes, village in Crete

Located about 14 km from Heraklion, in the heart of the region’s amazing wine country, Archanes is a small rural town featuring traditional architecture, interesting museums, and several archaeological sites in the nearby area.

The village is a top European example of the sustainable requalification of a rural settlement, featuring a maze of ancient homes in pristine conditions.

If you visit in August, attend the wine festival, which lasts about five days. After walking around the streets and green squares of Archanes, you can also visit local wineries or head to one of the local tavernas.

10. Learn About Music in Xoudetsi Village

Cretan Lyra
Cretan Lyra.

Located in the small village of Houdetsi (also written Choudetsi and Xoudetsi), this unique place is a must-visit if you’re interested in music.

The musical workshop Labyrinth organizes weekly music seminars focusing on modal musical traditions worldwide and concerts with outstanding musicians and representatives of these traditions.

Furthermore, every year, the place organizes the Houdetsi Festival to share with the community the music produced by the Labyrinth teachers and students.

This festival is a 4-day celebration of music, food, and art in the village. Stop at the local restaurant Semeli, which serves excellent Cretan food when you are in the village!

>> Check out the official website for more information about this place and the music festival.

11. Discover Cretan Pottery in Thrapsano

things to do in heraklion
Local pottery.

A large and interesting village near the Peza wine region, Thrapsano has been one of Crete’s most important pottery-making centers and probably the biggest one on the island.

Wandering the alleys of this place, you can discover dozens of artisan workshops selling enormous clay jars known as pithoi, almost identical to the ones that the Minoans used to store grains, fish, and olive oil.

In the past, local artisans and master potters from Thrapsano traveled the rest of the island, each time building a new kiln in every place they visited to make and sell the pottery that was once essential for managing the Cretan household.

12. Find out about Snails and the Minoans in Tylissos

things to do in heraklion
Ancient Site of Tylissos (Photo via Shadowgate – Commons Wikimedia).

Especially if you’re traveling with kids, visiting the Snail Farm and Fun in the village of Tylissos, near Heraklion, is a good idea.

You can learn every secret about snail farming and, if brave enough, even try delicious Cretan dishes made with snails. However, there’s more than one reason to visit this village, 13 km from Heraklion Center.

Tylissos was an important Minoan settlement where you can explore the ruins of three important Minoan Villas dating back to the Second Palace Era.

Over here, archaeologists have unearthed big copper cauldrons, traditional clay pots (pithoi), and other objects (some exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion).

13. Learn about Crete’s Villages in Arolithos

things to do in heraklion
Courtesy of Arolithos Museum.

Although this place is not a truly authentic village, it can be the best model for learning about the way of life in most Cretan villages.

Arolithos (also written Aerolithos) was built in the 1980s. It is quite a faithful reproduction of a traditional Cretan village. Here, you can see several artisan shops and a local kafenio. You can also visit the Museum of Rural History and Folk Art, which exhibits work instruments and home utensils once commonly used in most Cretan houses.

The place has become a tourist attraction, and several tours offer traditional activities:

14. Visit the Fodele Church of Panagia

things to do in heraklion
Panagia Church, Fodele.

Among the most important Byzantine churches on the island, this small chapel in the village of Fodele is a must-see in the region.

The church, dedicated to the Presentation of the Virgin Mary, is on the northern side of the village and was originally built over the ruins of a former Paleochristian Basilica from the sixth century.

The four-pillar church features a characteristic red-tiled dome and an overall simple design. Once inside, you can examine the ancient frescoes, probably painted between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries.

Other than visiting this church and the El Greco Museum (see below), the village and the beach of Fodele are worth a visit. Fodele is about 30 km from the center of Heraklion, and it’s easy to reach through the National Highway.

>> Discover more about this Byzantine Church and all the things to do in Fodele in this guide to the village.

15. Explore El Greco Museum

things to do in heraklion
El Greco Museum.

Only a few meters from the main church in Fodele, don’t miss a stop at the small El Greco Museum, which celebrates the life and works of Domenikos Theotokopoulos (1541-1614), known as El Greco, an important mannerist artist who grew up in this village.

Although the villagers claim that El Greco was born in the exact spot where the museum is located, the fact that the painter was born in Fodele is still disputed.

In any case, the place offers a good opportunity to check out copies of works and documents associated with El Greco.

>> To see original paintings, visit the Historical Museum of Crete, which hosts the only two works by El Greco on Crete: the View of Mt. Sinai and the Monastery of St. Catherine (1570) and the Baptism of Christ (1567).

16. Learn About Greece’s Most Famous Writer at Kazantzakis Museum

Video published by Kazantzakis Museum.

Myrtia is a small village better known for hosting the Kazantzakis Museum, an exhibition dedicated to Crete’s most important writer and philosopher and certainly one of modern history’s most remarkable Greek characters.

The small traditional village is no different from other charming and quiet settlements surrounding Heraklion, where you can walk and admire the landscape.

The museum is opposite the main square and is hosted in the former family house of Katzantzakis, which has now been remodeled. For children, the museum showcases an interesting, educational 20′ cartoon film about Nikos Kazantzakis’s life and writing.

>> More details are available on the museum’s website. The museum’s permanent exhibition is accessible to mobility and visually impaired people.

17. Sail on the Northern Coast of Agia Pelagia

things to do in heraklion
Agia Pelagia

A popular seaside resort on the northern coast of Heraklion, Agia Pelagia is a small fishing village easy to reach from the center by traveling west along the National Highway. Here, you will find incredible bays and hidden shores, some of which are reachable only by boat.

Agia Pelagia
My kids enjoying a boat trip in the area.

For that reason, all over this part of Heraklion, you will find plenty of boat rental companies, fishing tours, and even daily boat trips around the area to spend the day at sea.

You’ll see the magical sea caves and visit hidden bays, and you’ll also jump off the boat and swim in the turquoise waters of Agia Pelagia.

After a day at sea, you can return to the village and visit one of the many fine-dining restaurants or Cretan taverns, rigorously on the beach, to eat delicious seafood and other staples of the local cuisine.

18. Soak in the Hippie Vibes of Matala

Matala caves.

If you follow this blog, it’s certainly no secret that this is one of my favorite places in Crete. When I leave Chania, I will drive south to find a place to disconnect and have fun!

Matala is a fantastic hippie village that has received tourists worldwide since the early 70s. Easy to reach from Heraklion, Matala is a laid-back village with colorful shops and alleys, and it is home to a wide sandy bay with a deep, crystal-clear sea.

The beach’s most characteristic trait is a series of man-made caves carved into the rock on a low hill on the shore’s western side.

>> Check out everything about Matala in this complete guide to visit.

19. Hike Your Way to Kokkini Ammos

things to do in heraklion
Kokkini Ammos.

About one kilometer from the famous hippie Matala Beach, on the southern coast of the Heraklion region, Kokkini Ammos (or Red Beach) is one of Crete’s best-hidden gems.

This is a fantastic nudist-friendly beach that you can reach with a short but intense hike from the village of Matala, which can take from 45 minutes to a bit more than an hour.

The hiking trail is fairly easy if you are in good physical shape, but it can get hard if you do it under the sun, especially if you’re not used to walking. Set out early in the morning to avoid the hottest hours of the day!

things to do in heraklion
Mojito Bar in Kokkini Ammos.

The road starts on an asphalt street in the center of Matala, and it continues with a steep climb on a dirt track. The last part of the trail features a steep approach descending towards the sea. A few boats in Matala also cover the route by sea.

When in Kokkini Ammos, don’t miss a glass of the legendary mojito served by the only bar on the beach.

>> Check out more details about this gorgeous shore here.

20. Check out the Archaeological Site of Phaistos

things to do in heraklion

Devote at least two hours to explore what I believe to be Crete’s most magnificent Minoan Palace. The place, which is never as crowded as Knossos nor has undergone heavy restoration, remains a superb archaeological site.

Phaistos Palace is one of the finest and most typical Minoan palaces. Shrines, royal quarters, storerooms, and workshops create a setting, making it easy to imagine (maybe with a good visit guide) what its glorious past was like.

The Phaistos Disc was found on this site. This enigmatic clay disc, written in the still undeciphered Linear A language, is now displayed in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.

>> Phaistos is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the summer season from May to October, the entrance fee is €8.

21. Learn about the Law of Gortyn

things to do in heraklion
Code of Gortyn.

Gortys (also Gortyn or Gortyna) is an important archaeological site located only 23 km from Phaistos. It’s smaller than the Phaistos Archaeological Site and quite easy to visit in about an hour.

Once an important city in Crete, quite powerful back in its times of splendor, the place features ancient buildings and ruins dating back to the island’s Roman or Byzantine periods.

However, vases and stone tools from the Neolithic were also found in the area.

things to do in heraklion

Inside the site, the most impressive area in Gortyn is the Odeon and the city’s first Agora, ruins that probably date back to the 7th-6th centuries.

Right here, you can check out the remains of the Gortyn Code, or the Great Code, a legal code for the civil law of the ancient city-state.

>> In the same area, it’s worth spending at least an hour exploring the Archaeological Site of Agia Triada, a small Minoan Palace a few minutes from Gortyn and Phaistos. Here, archaeologists found the famous Agia Triada Larnax, a painted sarcophagus from about 1400 BC that is today exhibited at the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.

22. Admire the Endless Messara Plain

things to do in heraklion
Messara Plain.

The Messara Plain is a long strip of land running east from the Gulf of Messara and is considered the most important fertile flatland in Crete.

The plain is home to endless olive groves. It also hosts other important crops, including various fruits and vegetables, that keep the local economy alive.

Since the area was home to three of Crete’s most important archaeological sites (Phaistos, Gortyn, and Agia Triada), it’s easy to believe that the Messara Plain has been a vital center for the local economy since ancient times.

24. Explore Agioi Deka Village

things to do in heraklion
Church in Agioi Deka (via C Messier – Commons Wikimedia).

Considered the most interesting village in Messara, Agioi Deka takes its name from ten Early Christian martyrs who were killed in the area approximately in 250 AD.

Translating as the Holy Ten, they are among the most revered Cretan Saints who sacrificed their lives during the persecution of Christians at the hands of Roman Emperor Decius.

Two churches in the village are related to these martyrs. The oldest is a Byzantine Church with an impressive icon of martyrdom and a marble block on which they may have been beheaded.

Inside a more modern church in town, there’s a crypt where six of the tombs are still visible. Both chapels are worth a visit.

25. Spend the Night in the Forgotten Village of Kamilari

things to do in heraklion
(Via Villa Xenia)

I got to know Kamilari by chance one summer long ago when finding accommodation in Matala was impossible! Kamilari is not crowded, scenic, and quite affordable for food and accommodation.

The small village and the nearby Kalamaki Beach are perfect places to stay (as an alternative to Matala). There is also a beautiful sandy beach and a few small beach bars and restaurants open until late at night, where you can go for dinner or a drink with your feet on the sand.

things to do in heraklion

There are a few shops in the village, and the atmosphere is truly special. The houses, typically Cretan, are often made of stone, with yards, plants, and colorful flowers climbing the walls.

If you’d like to experience the typical Cretan farmer’s market, head to the nearby towns of Moires (on Saturday mornings) and Tymbaki (every Friday).

Stop at Kamilari for a short walk or a coffee by the sea. You will love it! You can find accommodation in Kamilari here.

>> Close to Matala, Phaistos, and Agia Triada, Kamilari also holds its Minoan secrets. My favorite website, Minoan Crete, tells you more about them here.

26. Check out the Archaeological Site on Kommos Beach

Kommos Beach - Crete
Kommos Beach.

This sandy beach has only a few parts organized with umbrellas and sunbeds. The rest of the beach preserves its unique and wild beauty. 

However, the most important thing to know about Kommos is that it was a busy port, serving nearby Phaistos, with connections to the Near East, built over the ruins of a smaller Stone Age settlement, with several houses and a warren of stone rooms atop the hill arguably belonging to a community of farmers or fishermen.

A visit to Kommos is a great opportunity to learn more about the history of the Minoan era after enjoying a swim in its spectacular turquoise sea.

27. Go Clubbing in Malia

things to do in heraklion

This coastal town is just minutes from the capital and is one of the most visited seaside resorts for young people looking to have fun all day and party all night.

This popular town hosts some of the best clubs and discos on the island.

Malia also has amazing sandy beaches with warm waters and a small old town with a typical Greek atmosphere, which you can visit during your stay.

>> If you’re considering staying in the area, check out this guide to the best party hotels in Malia.

28. Make a Splash in Some of the Region’s Best Water Parks

Water City, in Heraklion.
Courtesy Water City, Heraklion.

Several water parks (and other themed parks) are located in the region of Heraklion. They are near the northern coast and not far from the city center.

Families with small kids spending their vacations in Heraklion will find endless hours of wet fun in the following water parks:

29. Learn About the Mediterranean Sea at Cretaquarium

Things to do in Crete in Winter: Visit the CretAquarium

Located about 20 minutes from the center of Heraklion, this is a favorite place for families with kids. Here, you can spend a tranquil and relaxing afternoon exploring the magnificent diversity of Mediterranean sea life.

The place features over 2,000 aquatic creatures ranging from jellyfish to sea turtles. The open-topped tanks allow a new viewing perspective of well-known species. Audioguides in different languages are available for the visit.

>> Click here to purchase the entrance ticket in advance.

30. Experience a Variety of Theme Parks

Labyrinth Park - Heraklion
Cretan Maze at Labyrinth Theme Park.

There are several entertainment opportunities in Heraklion for the whole family to enjoy. Other than a few fantastic water parks and the famous CretAquarium, it’s also possible to spend time (and even learn a lot) at different theme parks:

Labyrinth Park: Located in Hersonissos, Labyrinth Park is an attraction that teaches kids about Crete history and mythology and is inspired by the Minoan culture. The park offers activities closely connected to the island’s traditions, including pottery classes and interactive games. You can check out my review here and visit the official website.

Dinosauria Park: Located near CretAquarium in Gournes, this incredible interactive park offers the opportunity to learn about fossils and dinosaurs in Crete and enjoy an entertaining walk in a green park surrounded by dinosaur animatronics. You can check out my review here and purchase entrance tickets here.

things to do in heraklion
Dinosauria Park.

Planet Crete: The Planetarium of Heraklion opens a window from the island to the mysterious world of stars and galaxies. It features a high-tech dome offering virtual travel through the solar system. Kids will love the virtual trip through space using Virtual Reality (VR). You can read reviews here or purchase entrance tickets here.

Aquaworld Aquarium & Reptile Rescue Centre: Located in Hersonissos, this is the second aquarium on the island as well as a natural history museum featuring different species, including local sea life, as well as reptiles from Crete and around the world. You can read reviews here or purchase entrance tickets here.

31. Have a Candlelit Diner in a Mountain Village

things to do in heraklion

Gianni’s Taverna is a unique restaurant in the village of Kyparissi, a few kilometers from Vathypetro. Local and foreign media have mentioned its incredible atmosphere, and it has become one of Crete’s most incredible places to eat.

Truly worth the journey from the center of town, this taverna is truly special, home to a warm atmosphere that resembles a Crete of centuries ago, when eating in a candlelight dim-lit room was part of the routine.

The place serves traditional Cretan food in a cozy atmosphere next to endless rows of house wine barrels that decorate the no-frills place.

>> I’ve written a special article for Greek Reporter about this restaurant.

32. Have Fun in Hersonissos Seaside Village

things to do in heraklion

One of the most visited seaside resorts in the Heraklion region, Hersonissos features a long sandy beach and plenty of entertainment, including video game arcades, theme parks, karting tracks, lively beach bars, cafes, traditional restaurants, and many other attractions.

However, in Hersonissos, you will also find a fair share of traditional Crete in three small settlements in the area: Old Hersonissos, Piskopiano, and Koutouloufari, three pretty hillside villages not far from modern Hersonissos.

things to do in heraklion

Despite attracting plenty of visitors, these settlements manage to maintain a somewhat more authentic atmosphere and offer a great opportunity to discover the island’s rural landscapes.

>> You can learn more about the best things to do in Hersonissos here.

33. Explore the House of Literature in Krasi

things to do in heraklion
Springs, Krasi.

The small village is located off the main road that connects Heraklion to Malia at about 600 meters asl.

The village hosts a series of springs that some consider to have healing properties. These springs are opposite Krasi’s main attraction, its monumental Plane Tree, which is hundreds of years old and the biggest in Europe.

things to do in heraklion
Krasi’s Plane Tree.

Besides visiting its tranquil main square and the several tavernas around the village’s focal point, Krasi is also home to the House of Literature, thus being nicknamed Krasi Literary Village.

It was also here where Cretan writer Nikos Kazantzakis chose to spend summers writing and resting.

In 2009, The House of Literature was created in the village, this residence offers accommodation to translators, writers, and intellectuals who come to Krasi to create.

Road between Kera and Krasi near the Lasithi plateau. Lush vegetation.
The gorgeous road to Krasi is just a few minutes away from Kera.

Remember that Krasi is a protected natural area since a beautiful oak tree forest surrounds it, and there are amazing walking trails to explore.

In the same area, visiting the small village of Avdou and its ancient churches can be a great idea to learn more about Cretan traditions and way of life.

34. Admire Agia Irini Monastery in Krousonas Village

things to do in heraklion

Krousonas is a wonderful mountain settlement about 25 km from the center of Heraklion, not far from seaside resorts such as Agia Pelagia, Ligaria, and Fodele.

It’s a great place to rent a villa and spend a relaxing holiday in Crete. It is also home to an important monastery, about 3 km from the center of the village and about 630 meters above sea level.

things to do in heraklion
Krousonas, Agia Irini Monastery.

One of the oldest monasteries in the region, probably constructed between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the religious building functions as a nunnery, and it was destroyed by the Ottomans in 1822.

It remained abandoned until 1944, when it became part of the much older Panagia Eleusa (or Kitharida) Monastery, also located in the Malevizi region of Heraklion.

35. Explore Savathiana Monastery near Rodia

things to do in heraklion
(Via Wikimapia).

Rodia (also Rogdia) is a small mountain settlement amphitheatrically built opposite the Paleokastro Bay and Castle, a few kilometers from Heraklion.

The tranquil village with impressive coast views is an unmissable example of simple traditions and the way of living in the region.

Not far from the village, you can visit Savathiana Monastery, a nunnery located in a remote and strategic position, naturally fortified by the rugged surrounding landscapes.

>> This is a great tour to discover the monastery

The monastery is about 450 meters above sea level and can be accessed via a dirt track. On the site, you can see the old church of Agios Antonios, the ossuary and cemetery, an ancient mill, and the nuns’ cells.

36. Hike Agiofarago Gorge and Visit Moni Odigitrias

Agiofarago - gorges in Crete
Agiofarago Beach,

Located about 6 km south of the Heraklion village of Sivas, close to some of the best wineries on the island, Moni Odigitrias is an ancient monastery with a legendary tower from where the monks could anticipate the attacks of pirates but also the Turks and the Nazi forces in different periods.

From the monastery, a 3-km path that leads to the Libyan Sea passes through the magnificent Gorge of Agiofarago.

Part of the trail can also be made by car, yet about 1 km before the beach, you must park and continue on foot to reach Agiofarago Beach.


Along the gorge, you can admire ancient caves and ancient chapels while, about halfway through the trail, it is possible to see an old Byzantine church dedicated to Agios Antonios.

Despite being quite isolated, the pebbled beach is a fantastic shore that attracts locals and tourists, especially on the weekends.

37. Learn About Local Herbs in Mochos

Mochos, Crete

One of my favorite mountain villages in Crete, Mochos, is a few kilometers from the coast after a short, winding mountain road.

This quintessential Cretan village, home to a beautiful square with lush plane trees and small, gorgeous churches, is an ideal destination for enjoying an authentic Cretan dinner or learning more about the wild herbs that grow all over the island.

In fact, a few small shops sell local herbs for cooking and preparing different varieties of Cretan teas.

38. Sail to Dia Island

things to do in heraklion
(Courtesy Get Your Guide)

Located about 14 km from the northern coast of Heraklion, Dia is an uninhabited island about 5 km long and 3 km wide, perfect for a short day trip to jump off the boat and swim in pristine waters, but also to fish or enjoy a day away from the city.

The place was, for centuries, the main port of the island while it features several coves, some of which were used as anchorages since the Minoan period.

The small islet resembles a lizard from the coast, in fact, according to mythology, a giant lizard that tried to destroy Crete was turned into a stone by Zeus giving shape to the island.

It’s important to remember that the island is part of the European Network of Nature (Natura 2000) and hosts several protected wildlife species, including lizards, European rabbits, and falcons.

39. Hike Down Skotino Cave

things to do in heraklion
Skotino Cave and Agia Paraskevi Church (via Roger W Haworth, Creative Commons).

Known as Skotino Cave and Agia Paraskevi Cave, this is one of Crete’s largest caves and is not far from the center of town.

The cave is located on a hill northwest of the village of Skotino, south of Gouves village. On top of the cave, you can visit the Church of Agia Paraskevi, which also gives its name to the cave. This impressive site is about 160 meters deep and more than 36 meters wide.

Sir Arthur Evans, the famous archaeologist who unearthed the Minoan Palace of Knossos, first explored the cave.

Further explorations in recent years have revealed a number of bronze and ceramic votive offerings, the oldest of which dates to the earliest Minoan period, suggesting that the cave was also an important sacred shrine.

40. Check Out the Beauty of Zaros and Lake Votomos

things to do in heraklion

Known for the abundant spring waters (sold all over the island), Zaros is a small village home to a beautiful lake where you can enjoy delicious food or spend the night in a relaxing atmosphere (in fact, you will find plenty of accommodation for such a small village).

Zaros is a great area in Crete where you can enjoy tranquil walks, hikes, and many well-marked paths. If you enjoy fish, head to Votomos Lake to taste the local trout.

A great starting point to visit gorges, mountains, and ancient churches, Zaros also features an important Folklore and Geological Museum that the local folklore association completely put together.

In addition to exhibiting folklore items, furniture, and Cretan tapestry, the museum includes an impressive collection of gems and fossils and some ancient Minoan findings.

41. Drink Spring Water at Moni Vrontisi

things to do in heraklion
Venetian Fountain at Vrontisi Monastery (via Georgios Pazios Alaniaris – Commons Wikimedia).

A well-marked hiking path starts at the area of Lake Votomos, about 1 km from Zaros. It leads to a fantastic monastery (and Rouvas Gorge). However, it is also possible to reach the area by car.

On your way, you will first pass the vast blue-domed church of Agios Nikolaos Monastery. However, not far from here, the more impressive Moni Vrontisi is a gorgeous monastery with a simple limestone church and a beautiful fresco of the Last Supper.

The church is famous for other important artworks and icons, as well as an ancient Venetian fountain with images of Adam and Eve and gushing refreshing spring water from the mountains.

If you’re interested in religious art, the nearby Moni Valsamonero houses the beautiful church of Agios Fanourios, where you can appreciate some of the best frescoes in Crete dating back to the fifteenth century.

42. Rouvas Gorge for Experienced Hikers

things to do in heraklion

One of the most challenging gorge hikes in Crete is Rouvas. Located south of the capital, this gorge can take up to 3 or 4 hours to walk from one end to the other. If you decide to walk it all the way, make sure you bring enough food and drinks with you. 

The path has an interesting mix of terrain, fauna, and flora, but one needs to be fit enough to complete it. Because it can get steep at some points, make sure that you bring the necessary gear, including good hiking shoes.

>> Discover more details about Rouvas and other gorges in Crete.

43. Discover the Beach of Lendas

Lentas (or Lendas), in Heraklion.

Located on the region’s southern coast, Lentas is a small beach and village featuring a gorgeous pebble and gravel beach in a very tranquil environment.

The village and seaside area features a few tavernas and rooms for rent. The seabed features a rocky bottom ideal for fishing and snorkeling.

Although the place is quiet and doesn’t offer much entertainment, it has become a popular tourist destination that is ideal for those looking for a tranquil atmosphere.

44. Kapetaniana and the Asterusia Mountains

things to do in heraklion
Kapetaniana (via C Messier – Commons Wikimedia).

The Asterousia Mountains are a wild mountain range in the south of the island that separates the Messara Plain from the Libyan Sea. The highest peak is Kofinas (1231 m).

Kapetaniana is an isolated village in this mountain range with no access to cars. Trekkers and hikers favor it as a base to explore the area’s trails. Mountain climbing, trekking, and other sports are common in the region.

Although the village is located only 60 km south of Heraklion, it is not easy to reach. Most of the journey is done along very narrow mountain roads, which can be quite dangerous.

45. Lychnostastis Open Air Museum

Video published on YouTube by Lychnostatis Open Air Museum

One of the best places to visit in Hersonissos, especially for those traveling with kids, Lychnistatis is a fantastic exhibition that wants to promote the understanding and awareness of the Cretan folk cultural heritage through collections related to Cretan Folk Tradition, Cretan Nature, and Cretan Folk Culture.

Located in one of the principal tourist areas in Crete, the museum is a valuable tourist asset and an exemplary example of self-motivated conduct regarding the island’s tradition, culture, and environment.

>> For more details, check out the museum’s official website here.

Book your entry ticket to the Lychnostatis Open Air Museum to learn about Cretan heritage and culture. Consider adding an audio guide and audiovisual film or a private tour to your visit.

46. Admire Panagia Kera Kardiotissa Monastery

things to do in heraklion
Church of Kera Kardiotissa Monastery (via Lourakis, Wikimedia Commons).

There are several important monasteries to discover in the region of Heraklion, Panagia Kardiotissa is one of them.

Located in the small village of Kera, not far from the Lasithi Plateau, this monastery (also known as Keras Kardiotissas Monastery) at the foothills of the Dikti range is among the oldest monasteries in Crete. It’s dedicated to the Heart of the Virgin Mary.

Probably dating from the fourteenth century, the monastery features a gorgeous stone-built church that was restored in the last decades. However, its shrine remained intact during the restoration works and still maintains its original structure.

The Byzantine church houses important frescoes from the 14th-15th centuries. However, locals are particularly attached to an icon from the 18th century that represents the Virgin and the Child.

The monastery also hosts a small museum of religious objects. In this area, it’s also possible to visit the Homo Sapiens Village, close to Lasithi’s ancient stone windmills.

>> The monastery is open from 8 am to 7 pm in summer (it closes at 5 p.m. in winter) and there’s a small fee to access (€2).

47. Visit Crete’s Biggest Minoan Necropolis at Fourni

things to do in heraklion
Fourni (via AWI – Commons Wikimedia).

One of Crete’s most important archaeological sites is the Ancient Minoan Necropolis of Fourni, which was probably active between 2400 and 1200 BC.

Located a few minutes from Archanes, on a small hill that can only be reached via a hiking path that begins in the village of Archanes.

Fourni was a relevant site not far from another important religious center in the region of Heraklion (Mount Juktas). The cemetery covers an impressive area of 6600 square meters housing 26 funerary buildings.

Findings in the place include funerary pottery and human remains some of them exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.

48. Mount Juktas Peak Sanctuary

things to do in heraklion
As locals say, the mountain resembles the face of the God Zeus (via Handydad – Commons Wikimedia).

The Juktas Peak Sanctuary, which locals also call Psili Korfi, is about 13 kilometers from Knossos. Probably the first Peak Sanctuary for the Minoan civilization, it was an important religious site and also close to other remarkable historic centers, including Vathypetro, Fourni, and Knossos.

A curious place also at the base of the mountain is Anemospilia (or Wind Caves) where archaeological findings might suggest that human sacrifice was a practice known to the Minoans.

49. Discover Dorian Crete in Ancient Lyttos

things to do in heraklion
Bouleterion (via C Messier – Commons Wikimedia).

Not far from the traditional village of Ano Viannos, at the foot of the Dikti Mountains, Ancient Lyttos was a remarkable Dorian city on the island. Homer even mentioned it as the city leader of the Cretans in the Trojan War.

Later, it became one of the most powerful city-states in Classical Greece and was enemies with three other important settlements: Gortys (Gortyna), Knossos, and Ierapytna (today, Ierapetra). It was also allied with Lappa, another ancient Dorian city in the Rethymnon region.

Two small churches in the area were constructed with stones removed from the site. For instance, below the church of Timios Stavros, there are ancient bastions of an impressive city wall. In contrast, the church stands atop the ancient Agora (public market).

The city’s ancient bouleterion is the most important place excavated. This was a council chamber that still features benches. Around the area, you will also find partially excavated ruins, probably ancient homes, tombstones, and pillars.

50. Try Local Honey in Marathos

things to do in heraklion

Located in Malevizi, about 20 km west of town, this small village stands at 400 meters above sea level.

The tiny but lively village of Marathos is famous for its tavernas, which serve rich, traditional cuisine, and for the local honey.  

Located near the more tourist-geared Arolithos, this village is a true example of a Cretan settlement.

During a trip to Marathos, you can also check out the Doxa Cave, a historical site about 500 meters above sea level, with a length of about 50 meters and impressive stalactites and stalagmites.

Arkaliospilio is another interesting cave in the area with an impressive entrance. However, most of the sites still need to be explored. Since the village is not far from Fodele, you can visit both places on the same day.

51. Explore Cretan History at Ano Viannos Village

Ano Viannos, Crete

This small, historical Cretan village is amphitheatrically located on the southern slopes of the Dikti Range, standing over 550 meters asl, and not far from the city of Ierapetra on the southern coast of the Lasithi region.

There are a few traditional kafenia, some taverns, and the Historical and Folklore Museum of Viannos.

The small settlement with a few inhabitants grew on top of the ruins of the ancient city of Viennos. This strong and thriving ancient town minted its coins and had allies in other Ancient cities around Crete.

Viannos suffered important losses during the Turkish occupation of the island. The Turks raided and destroyed the village in two opportunities (1822 and 1866).

The village became known during the years of the Nazi invasion (WWII) when the Germans gave the order to destroy Viannos in reprisal for its support of the Cretan resistance, thus killing over 3250 men, women, and children and setting fire to the village in 19143. There’s an interesting memorial in the village

52. Play Golf in a Magical Environment

things to do in heraklion

Head to the coastal town of Hersonissos to practice golf in Crete. Crete Golf Club is an 18-hole golf course originally designed in 2003.

The place, which often hosts national and international competitions, is in a strategic and charming location, only 15 minutes from Heraklion International Airport. The premises combine the gorgeous scenery with the club’s top facilities and the on-site hotel amenities.

Crete has slowly become a perfect golfing destination in the Mediterranean thanks to its perfect weather, so if this is your favorite sport, Heraklion can also surprise you with the best golf facilities on a Greek island.

>> You can read more about Crete’s Golf Club here.

General Information About Heraklion

things to do in heraklion

Keep these details in mind if you’re planning to spend a few days in the capital of Crete:

When is the Best Time to Visit Heraklion

One of the top-rated things to do in Heraklion is to visit the archaeological sites and museums in the region.

Spring and autumn are the best moments to explore Heraklion if you want to beat the crowds. and avoid the extreme temperatures of July and August. Moreover, during the shoulder season, prices are always more convenient.

things to do in heraklion

Visiting Heraklion in winter can be a genius city break if you live in Europe. Since Heraklion is Greece’s fourth most important city, it is always alive and never closes for winter. Shops, hotels, restaurants, and museums are open all year long.

How to Get to Heraklion

things to do in heraklion
Heraklion bus station.

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.

You can take a ferry from Mykonos or Santorini during the high season. Check out my article describing how to travel to (and from) Crete for more tips and alternative routes to reach the island.

Where to Stay in Heraklion

Heraklion at night, Crete

On this website, you will find several accommodation guides about the island and a specific hotel guide for Heraklion town (and region). Check also this article for the best vacation homes in Heraklion.

For a quick reference, however, you can check out the following places, which are among my favorites for a stay in Heraklion Town:

  • Sofia Hotel is one of the few hotels in Heraklion town with a pool, which is perfect if you consider that there’s no beach in the town center. 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.
  • GDM Megaron is a fantastic place to stay in Heraklion for a luxury vacation. Set in a historic building, GDM Megaron is one of the historic monuments in town. It faces the old city port directly 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.

I publish new content about Crete almost every day! Bookmark my Crete and Practical Guides pages to learn more before your trip.

Are you dreaming of a getaway to Crete but feeling overwhelmed with planning?

  • You can join my Facebook Group, Things to Do in Crete, a friendly gathering of Crete enthusiasts.
  • With my consultation call services, I have assisted countless travelers in crafting the perfect Crete experience. Email me for more information!

Don’t forget travel insurance!

Although Crete is a safe destination, consider purchasing travel insurance to protect yourself and your loved ones from unexpected situations.

>> Join our Facebook Group!

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:

Pin This Super Guide to the Best Things to Do in Heraklion Region for Your Next Trip to Crete!

things to do in heraklion

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *