Heraklion, the capital of Crete, may not be your typical island destination, but it's a worthwhile and fascinating place all the same. Inhabited throughout the years by the Muslims, the Byzantines, the Venetians, and the Ottomans -not to mention the Ancient Minoan civilization- Heraklion is bursting with diverse sites of cultural and historical interest, waiting to be discovered.
1. Knossos Palace
Palace of Knossos - credits: KevTate999/Depositphotos.com
Only 5 km from the city of Heraklion, the ruins of the Palace of Knossos can be reached by public transportation and should be one of the first things you visit when you arrive in Heraklion. It is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site in Crete and is considered Europe’s oldest city. The site features four wings built around a spacious central courtyard, believed to have been the mythical Labyrinth of King Minos. The palace site is extensive, containing ceremonial spaces, living areas, storage rooms, and a sophisticated drainage system.
2. Old Venetian Harbor
The Old Venetian harbor in Heraklion - credits: alexandros petrakis/Shutterstock.com
Go back in time to the period of the Venetian rule with a walk down the harborside, where old Venetian shipyards, ramparts, and the 16th century Koules Fortress still remain. It’s the most scenic walk in town and there are plenty of cafes and restaurants along the promenade to sit and take in the beautiful view. To get a real money-shot for Instagram, you can climb the roof of the fortress and take a selfie with the striking Cretan sunset in the background.
Traditional Cretan cuisine, dakos - credits: Fanfo/Shutterstock.com
A good way to get a feel of the local culture is to try the famous Cretan food! On our Heraklion private food tour, a fun and knowledgeable guide will take you through the streets of the city and show you the best eateries for traditional Cretan cuisine. Sample foods such as various kinds of Cretan cheese, herbs, and pastries called 'kalitsounia' and taste local delicacies, such as traditional fried snails, loukoumades, and the freshest seafood around!
4. Historical Museum of Crete
Historical Museum of Crete - credits: wikipedia.org
Located in a restored mansion, the Historical Museum of Crete contains archaeological items spanning 1.700 years of history on the island, from early Christian times to the modern era. Considering the number of empires that ruled Crete throughout time, there is a lot to see. Following your tour around the museum's exhibits, don't leave without visiting its tranquil Garden Cafe!
5. Cretaquarium Thalassocosmos
Crete's aquarium - credits: flashnews.gr
Crete’s aquarium is considered to be one of the biggest aquariums in Europe, consisting of sixty tanks and 2.000 marine organisms. The most fascinating species of the Mediterranean Sea can be observed and admired here, like sand tiger sharks, flat lobsters, and sea turtles. The aquarium is located in the former American military base in Gournes, about 15 km from the city center, accessible by public bus.
6. Tomb of Nikos Kazantzakis
Author Nikos Kazantzakis - credits: timesnews.gr
The famed and beloved Nikos Kazantzakis, the author of many novels including Zorba the Greek, was laid to rest just outside the walls of his hometown, Heraklion. Excommunicated by the Greek Orthodox Church for his controversial writings on Jesus, he was not allowed to be buried in a cemetery when he died from leukemia in 1957. His tomb can be found near the Chania Gate, a minimalist stone structure with a cross over it and the words 'I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free' engraved on the tombstone.
7. Religious Monuments
The Agios Titos Church - credits: www.allincrete.com
Heraklion is home to various religious structures with impressive architecture and rich history. The Agios Titos Church was originally Byzantine but was taken over by the Catholics and Muslims until it became Greek Orthodox in1925. The Agios Minas Cathedral is one of the largest cathedrals in Greece and dedicated to the patron saint of Heraklion, st. Minas. The Basilica of St. Mark is an important Venetian monument and the current site of the Municipal Art Gallery, open to the public on a daily basis.
Known as the fourth largest city in Greece, Heraklion is a crucial stop along a tour of Greece’s island cities. There’s more to it than meets the eye; all you have to do to discover it, is keep your feet in comfortable shoes and your eyes open!