On an island as big and well-known as Crete, with its rich history, amazing beaches and local flavors, a visit to Heraklion is the best introduction to the island’s history and beauty.
Start your stroll at the port, walk along the road that connects the sea with the center and the old city, wander through small alleyways, visit the city’s museums, have a sit down and enjoy some raki in one of the hundreds of raki shops, try the local cuisine and enjoy the sunset from a magical beach.
The old city
The Venetian-built Koules Fortress
The castle at the port, also known as the Castello del Molo or Rocca al Mare, is probably the city’s best-known landmark. It was built by the Venetians and used mainly as a prison by the Ottomans. If you go a little further along 25th of August Street, you can still see remnants of the Venetian ‘Neoria’, the dockyard used by the Venetian navy to repair its ships.
Heraklion Archaeological Museum
Over 5000 years of history are housed within the walls of one of the country’s most important museums, making the archaeological museum alone reason enough to visit the city. Make sure you see the Phaistos Disc and the fantastic frescoes, including the famous bull-leaping fresco.
Only 5 kilometers outside the city lies what is probably the main reason for visiting Heraklion: the Knossos Palace, whose golden age was the Minoan Era (2000- 1350 BC). During this time, it became the most important economical, cultural and religious center in the whole of Crete. It is one of the best-known and important archaeological sites in Greece, with its exquisite frescoes and the Throne Room being the jewels in its crown.
The Palace of Phaistos
The Palace of Phaistos, another important Minoan palace, lies around 55 kilometers outside the city of Heraklion. It is the second biggest palace (around 18,000m2) after Knossos Palace and sits on a hill to the west of the largest, lushest valley of the Messara plain.
Covering an area of 300,000 acres, the Messara plain is located in the region of Heraklion. Visitors to the area can still see the ‘‘oil presses’’ of the Minoan period: evidence of Crete’s long history of olive oil production and of the importance of the olive tree to the island. The area has numerous perennial olive trees dating from the Venetian and Minoan eras, and some of the oldest olive trees in Greece. It is the ideal place to try some pure extra virgin olive oil.
The village of Archanes
A bit further outside the city is one of the most beautiful and colorful traditional settlements in Greece. Wander along its cobbled streets with their multicolored walls, have a sit down at a traditional coffee shop and try some vegetable pie and kserotigana, the local pastry.