Heraklion is the capital of the island of Crete and is one of it's most beautiful gems. The city has been called “The Great Castle of the Mediterranean” and for good reason. Having a long, substantial history, from the Minoan civilization in Ancient Ages to the Late Middle Ages and onwards, Heraklion has a variety of historical and natural beauties to offer for couples, groups of friends and families. Needless to say, if you want to start exploring the city, it would be very helpful to have some guidelines first. That’s why we have carefully selected and prepared a few tips for you, so you can discover the island like a local!
How to Discover the Cretan Culture
For History Lovers
Heraklion is a great place to learn a lot about the history of the Bronze Age. Firstly, only five kilometers south of Heraklion, you will find the emblem of the Minoan Civilization; Knossos Palace. The site has many unique spaces such as the central royal courtyard, the throne room, the royal quarters, storerooms, and repositories. So wear comfortable shoes and explore this legendary archaeological site!
(Tip: Arrive preferably before 10:00 am so you can avoid the heat and the crowds).
If you decide to visit Knossos Palace, you are in luck; the entrance ticket is also valid for the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, so you get to hit two birds with one stone! Just 20 minutes away from Knossos, this museum is considered one of the most important cultural organizations across Europe. It contains artifacts from Cretan prehistory and unique pieces from the Minoan period.
You can finish your educational route by visiting the Heraklion Fortress, or Castello a Mare. This notable site was initially a tower from the Byzantine period which was destroyed after a big earthquake. Then, the Venetian Senate built the Castello a Mare in its place.
For Activity Enthusiasts
If you are a person who does not lay on a sunbed but wants to be on the move, we have a number of suggestions for you. The city of Heraklion facilitates lots of cultural events and happenings. For example, you could attend the popular Matala Beach Festival, a music event which brings you back to the 1970's while enjoying the crystal and breezy waters of the Cretan Pelagos. Matala is a village located 67 kilometers southeast of Heraklion and overlooks the Libyan Sea so it would be a great bonus stop for your trip.
(Sunset at the Matala Beach Festival. Photo credits: Matala Beach Festival, Facebook page)
Speaking of beaches, Heraklio is the best place to enjoy sandy coastlines, get your adventurous mode on and do lots of water sports or just play rackets with your friends and family. Scuba diving, windsurfing or just swimming on a coastline like the one you see below, is more than tempting, right?
Learning about the culture of a city from within will help you uncover its extraordinary beauties and traditions. The best way to do so is to join an authentic feast where you will witness live music played with the famous instrument named Cretan Lyra. There, you will see men of any age wearing black shirts and special scarves on their heads for traditional purposes. Women, on the other hand, have folklore long skirts with golden coins and red scarves. When joining a Cretan “glenti”, you should keep in mind: these events always include lots of food so make sure that you come hungry! When Cretans offer food, they do not take no for an answer!
(Traditional dance during a Cretan feast. Photo credits: Greeking.me)
The Cretan cuisine is among the most popular in Greece and world-renowned. With lots of healthy dishes like the traditional “dakos” and “skamnagathi” for starters, and delicious seafood or meat choices, Heraklio is a great place for you to try new foods. Since there are many hidden treasures across the city, you will be spoiled for choice when exploring all the restaurants and taverns available. If you are a foodie, our Heraklion Food Tour is a must!
Cretans are also known for their love of wine and their special viniculture, having one of the world’s oldest wine-making regions. The diversity of the island’s landscape gives locals the opportunity to make high-quality wine. Wine lovers would definitely like to taste the abundance of modern, aromatic and blended wines on our Wine Tasting Tour.
Heraklio is also an ideal place for strolling around. Walking down the streets of the city, you will come across a lot of architectural masterpieces and this will help you learn more about the history of the island and the Venetian Rule period. Buy some small bottles of raki as souvenirs to remember your trip and discover first hand the honored painter El Greco’s hometown!
(Evenings at Heraklio. Photo credits: Greeking.me)