Heraklion, the port city and capital of Crete, is one of the island’s most popular regions and the birthplace of famous painter El Greco and writer Nikos Kazantzakis. It possesses all the big city elements one could benefit from without the hectic pace of life and with an abundance of beautiful landscapes. If you want to explore Heraklion is just one day, read below our 24-hour guide and rest assured that we’ll introduce you to activities and places we would share with our friends and family.
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Start your day with a nice walk and a boost of energy
Venetian fortress - credits: alexandros petrakis/Shutterstock.com
Wake up as early as you can -you're on vacation after all- and kick off your day in the charming city of Heraklion with a walk through 25th August Str., reaching Heraklion’s Venetian walls, where you can enjoy a morning stroll before your breakfast. Cruising along the Heraklion Walls, you can witness the past and present of Heraklion merge into one, filling the modern city with their old-time beauty, while carrying strong recollections of the memorable past. You can experience the riches of the Cretan cuisine through a luscious breakfast in 'Think Tank', a trendy coffee shop with mouth-watering breakfast options, or through a local pastry from a traditional Cretan bakery, such as 'Veneris bakery', which has kept both locals and visitors well-fed since 1967. Alternatively, If you wish to enjoy a leisurely walk in the historic center and indulge in the local cuisine at the same time, consider taking a Heraklion For Foodies tour, where you’ll have the opportunity to taste some of our favorite Cretan recipes.
Marvel at the Palace of Knossos
Knossos Palace - credits: KevTate999/Depositphotos.com
Following your breakfast experience, it’s time to delve into the history and culture of Heraklion, which is even richer than Crete’s world-acclaimed gastronomy. The Minoan Knossos palace is located 5 km south-east of the city of Heraklion, built on the hill of Kefalas. It is the most important example of the Minoan civilization, which peaked from approximately 1700 BC until 1450 BC. Knossos Palace was allegedly home to King Minos, the first King of Crete, son of Zeus and Europa. There are a number of well-known Greek myths linked to the palace of Knossos, such as the tale of Minotaur’s maze and the tale of Daedalus and Icarus. The city of Knossos was inhabited from the Neolithic to about 1350 BC. The resurrection of the palace of Knossos first began with an initiative from Greek art historian and archaeologist Minos Kalokairinos in 1878 and concluded between 1900-1935, when English archaeologist Arthur Evans came to Knossos with his assistants and began the excavations, which lasted for 35 years and uncovered the majestic palace. The palace of Knossos had multiple levels and covered approximately 20,000 sq. meters. Its aesthetic value lies not only on its impeccable architecture, but also on its building materials, its colorful facade and, of course, the famous frescoes decorating the rooms. Knossos palace has also helped modern Greeks understand the extent of the architectural and technological knowledge of the Minoans, with the drainage and water supply network of the building offering examples of construction genius. Keep in mind that the palace of Knossos is 20' from Heraklion’s city center and therefore, you will need transportation to get there. To solve this problem and enjoy the stunning archaeological site with the help of an expert guide explaining the history of the area, you can join us on a Knossos Palace and Archaeological Museum tour.
Enjoy the vibrant city center
Lion fountain in Heraklion - credits: Pecold/Shutterstock.com
Having experienced a heavy dose of Cretan history, it is time to spend your evening and night relaxing and exploring the bustling city center of Heraklion. Heraklion is the largest city in Crete and the 4th largest city in Greece. Due to its size and diversity, it covers all tastes and needs of both visitors and locals alike, with its monuments being the remnants of the first civilization of Europe. Along the length of Heraklion’s harbor, you will come across the first great monument, Loggia, which today houses the City Council and part of the Heraklion City Services. Loggia, which was the Club of the Duke and the officials of Crete, is considered to be the most elegant Venetian monument, which in 1987 won the first ‘Europa Nostra’ award as the ‘Most Well-Restored and Preserved European Monument of the Year’. South of Loggia, lies the Cathedral of Crete, the church of St. Mark, built in 1239, which today houses the Municipal Art Gallery of Heraklion. Within a few meters of the church, there is the ornate fountain known as ‘Lions’ with its exceptional sculptural decoration depicting the animal kingdom. It was built in the 17th century by Francis Morozini to decorate the square and to offer much-needed water to the people of Heraklion. Southwest of the Lions Square, lies the Medieval Monastery of Saint Catherine, which was the Cretan University of the Middle Ages, and introduced a number of European artists, philosophers, ecclesiastical fathers, poets, and writers to the world. Today, Saint Catherine houses a rich and great collection of paintings of Cretan Hagiography. After visiting all the important sights of Heraklion’s city center, indulge in local meze and raki in a traditional Cretan tavern. ‘Paradosiako’ and ‘Peninta-Peninta’ are both excellent choices for you to try local dishes following the recipes that have been passed down through generations, made with local ingredients. Your day will come to an end on a high note, having experienced Heraklion to the fullest!
Even if your time is limited to less than a full day, you should not skip a visit to the Venetian port in Heraklion and walk along 25th August Str. This street starts at the port and leads you to the city center. You’ll need a solid two hours to pace yourself and spend a decent amount of time at each attraction, but most of the major landmarks are along this route, so it’s a good way to take in all the city sites at once. If, however, you want to experience the city in an effortless, alternative way, you can join us on one of our tours that will give you the opportunity to see the city from a local’s point of view! Taking it a step further, you can even book a specially designed tailor-made tour that will suit all your individual needs and desires!
Whether you decide to visit Heraklion with kids, alone, or as a couple, spending time in Heraklion -even if it is limited to a day or less- is a decision you won’t regret. Let the history, culture, gastronomy and old-time charm of Crete’s capital bewitch you and we promise your first time in Heraklion won’t be your last!