Old port of Heraklion - credits: kavalenkava/Shutterstock.com
Old port of Heraklion - credits: kavalenkava/Shutterstock.com

Heraklion is the capital of the island of Crete and one of its most beautiful regions. The city has been called the 'Great Castle of the Mediterranean' and for good reason; having a long, substantial history, from the Minoan civilization to the Late Middle Ages and onwards, Heraklion has a variety of historical and natural attractions to offer to couples, friends, and families visiting the region. Due to the plethora of sights and experiences that await, we have carefully selected a few tips to help you explore the island like a local!

How to Discover the Cretan Culture

For History Lovers

Knossos Palace - credits: KevTate999/Depositphotos.com

Heraklion is a great place to learn a lot about the history of the Bronze Age. Only five kilometers south of Heraklion, you will find the emblem of the Minoan CivilizationKnossos Palace. The site of Knossos consists of many unique attractions, such as the central royal courtyard, the throne room, the royal quarters, storerooms, and repositories. Therefore, 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'd be glad to know that 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, the museum is considered one of the most important cultural hubs 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

Matala beach where the Matala beach festival takes place - credits: lornet/Shutterstock.com

If you are a person who does not lay on a sunbed but like to be on the move, we have a number of suggestions for you. The city of Heraklion facilitates lots of cultural events and happenings. You could attend the popular Matala Beach Festival, a music event which brings you back to the hippie times of the 1970s 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.

Additionally, Heraklion 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 is one of the locals' favorite pastimes and now you have the opportunity to discover why.

Traditional Cretan cooking class in Heraklion
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Learning about the culture of a city will help you understand the traditions and everyday life of the citizens. The best way to do so is by joining an authentic feast, where you will witness live Cretan music being played with the famous local instrument named Cretan Lyra. There, you will see men of any age wearing black shirts and traditional scarves around their heads and women with folklore skirts decorated with golden coins and red scarves. When joining a Cretan feast, you should keep in mind that these events always include lots of food so make sure that you come hungry. When Cretans offer food, they don't take no for an answer!

For Foodies

Cretan food - credits: Veniamakis Stefanos/Shutterstock.com

Cretan cuisine is among the most popular in Greece and the world in general. With lots of healthy dishes like the traditional 'dakos' and 'skamnagathi' for starters, and delicious seafood or meat choices for the main course, 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!

At this point, we should mention that Cretans are 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

Walking down the streets of Heraklion, you will come across a lot of architectural masterpieces unveiling the history of the island, and the Venetian rule in particular. Buy small bottles of raki as souvenirs to remember your trip and discover first-hand the honored painter El Greco’s hometown!