Heraklion or Iraklion the birthplace of El Greco and Nikos Kazantzakis can at first seem a nightmare, particularly if you arrive expecting to see a picturesque little island town.
But Heraklion is a contemporary city in the awe-inspiring island of Crete ... the sea, the area's antiquities, excellent food - coffee, and friendly welcoming people make the town a delightful place to visit.
Stay long enough and you will discover a vibrant working small metropolis with a great number of attractive features that do much to temper initial impressions.
Heraklion is Crete's biggest city (among Chania, Rethimno, Agios Nikolaos, Sitia, Ierapetra), whose emblem is the Venetian fortress of Koules and it harmoniously combines a multilingual past as Byzantine churches standing next to the Venetian mansions and Turkish fountains and a thriving present with many restaurants, coffee shops and bars that cater to every taste.
Heraklion or Iraklion has undergone a significant makeover in recent years because of the city's increasing prosperity. Infrastructure works have included the redevelopment of the waterfront ( have a nice walk there ), improved roads, and a city bypass to ease traffic congestion and maybe the most important much of the historic center has been turned into pleasant pedestrian strips.
How to get there
By air: Nikos Kazantzakis International Airport located about 5km east of the city center. The airport has a bank, an ATM, a modern duty-free shop, and cafe bars. Book your flights via our partner website.
By Boat: The ferry port is 500m to the east of the Koules fortress and old harbor. Minoan, Anek, and Blue Star all operate daily (two) ferries from Iraklio to Pireaus. Anek also has a weekly service to Karpathos, Kasos, Milos, Rhodes, and Santorini. Hellenic Seaways goes to Mykonos, Paros, Santorini daily. The fastest boat to Santorini is operated by Sea Jets. You could reserve your tickets here
By Car: If you want to explore the region while you're here, we recommend that you rent a car. We suggest our sister website Crete-Car-Rental.com, which offers competitive prices and you can collect your car at either airport.
Taxis: Apart from waving down a cab, there are taxi stands scattered around Heraklion. Three useful ones are Eleftherias Square opposite the outdoor cafes, on 25th August below & almost-opposite Lion square and at the bus station A (see below). Book your taxi transfer online easily and safely from the airport or port to any location via our website.
Buses: There are two operating bus stations. The main bus station is nearby Heraklion Port (google location here). For: Chania, Rethymno, and connections to Imbros, Sfakia, Kastelli, and other places in the west and south-west Crete, and destinations on the north coast east of Heraklion (including Hersonissos, Archanes, Sitia, Agios Nikolaos, Lassithi Plateau). Please find here all information about the station.
Bus station B (tel: 2810-255965) at Hanioporta (part of the old city walls, at the beginning of 62 Martyrs street). For all other destinations - this means Anogia, Rogdia, Agia Gallini, Mires, Matala, Phaestos, Gortyn, and places in between. See bus schedules to/from Heraklion. (Phones: see Calling Crete) And if you are ready to leave Heraklion, you can check Flights to/from Heraklion and Ferries to/from Heraklion (google exact location here). Please find here all information about the station.
Where To Stay
Lato Hotel the most desirable and stylish place to stay in Heraklion. Family-owned, designer hotel, with rotating displays of contemporary Greek art in rooms and public areas. Conveniently located between the Venetian Koules Fortress and Eleftherias Square. Most of its rooms have a direct, remarkable view of the fortress, harbor, and Dia island across the sea. Balconies or terraces, air-conditioning/heating, double-glazing, local internet access provided in every room, and satellite TV. The dining room serves breakfast and full meals and there is an elegant and comfortable bar for drinks and coffees. Workout room, steam room, and Jacuzzi, roof terrace for guests. Open year-round.
Aquila Atlantis Hotel is Heraklion's largest luxury hotel. Located in the heart of Iraklion city and within 200 meters from the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, the 5-star Aquila Atlantis Hotel features an outdoor pool with unobstructed views over the harbor, a semi-covered heated pool, and an elegantly decorated restaurant.
GDM Megaron Hotel is such a setting of harmony, a sanctuary of purist aesthetics, where one can breathe freely, let thoughts wander, enjoying the stunning sea, and Koules fortress views.
Galaxy Hotel is centrally located in the posh part of Heraklion, Crete's capital city, showcases elegant design, upscale comfort, contemporary conveniences, high standard of services, gracious professionalism, and healthful amenities to cosset discerning guests and business travelers alike.
Olive Green Hotel, an urban oasis, 100% environmentally eco - friendly hotel in the heart of Heraklion town, in unique Crete.
Atrion is a modern, elegant, and fully renovated hotel, in a quiet corner in the heart of Heraklion
Around Heraklion (within 25 Kilometres /15 miles): Villa Kerasia is a delightful 8-room country inn, near Venerato (22 km from Heraklion). A beautifully restored farmhouse, standing on the hillside, with a pool and sweeping views to the valley below and sea in the distance. Amongst vineyards and orange groves, quiet, private, intimate - a find! Open year-round.
Asion Lithos. In Kato Asites village, 32 km (35-45 minutes drive) from Heraklion. 2 traditional solid stone houses, every 4 bedrooms with large shared pool, fine views. The charming inland village, beautiful countryside, balconies, scenic routes to Zaros, Phaestos, and North & South coasts. Open year-round.
Fabrica Traditional House in Anopolis, traditional stone village house with character, views, near waterpark and the sea in Kokkini Hani or Hersonissos. Open year-round.
Kalimera Archanes, three village houses, with warm charm, in the center of Archanes (Arhanes). Near the small archaeological museum, with a walled garden, two-story maisonette-style houses, with 1 or 3 bedrooms, living room with fireplace and well-equipped kitchens. Open year-round.
What To See & Do
- A Tour of the City of Heraklion: Coming to Heraklion for the first time, the visitor nowadays may be somewhat surprised by the changes that are taking place in Crete''s capital city; Heraklion is celebrating its rich history and moving onwards to a future full of potential. Where, at one time, the number of cars in the city center would have made walking difficult, you will now find large city-center spaces cleared of traffic. You can enjoy walking in one of the most historically and socially fascinating cities facing the Mediterranean, on streets free from traffic noise and rush. The city has opened up in so many ways, making the city a place of discovery. These changes bring harmony too; between the traditionally warm, considerate people of Heraklion, and the fine buildings that surround us, the open public spaces and views over the ocean. Many landmarks tell their story about the city and the island that gave birth to gods, to rebellion, and to a place that inspires everyone who feels the spirit of Crete. Heraklion today is living between the fast-moving currents of regeneration and a deep desire to maintain links with the past. Both these strands define its character. In the last hundred years alone, we have seen huge changes, which can be quite easily followed, in buildings and streets that reflect the changing fortunes of Crete. The ‘old town'' areas of the city, established from medieval times, now offer visitors some fantastic walks in the heart of the city. If you begin a walk around Heraklion, starting at the fishing harbor close to the Rocca al Mare, but is now known by its Turkish name, Koules. It has a mixed history; for centuries it was used as protection against invaders, as were the great city walls and ditches. These are among the longest city walls in Europe. With its huge dark hallways and cells, the fortress was also a prison to many Cretan rebels and those who broke the rules imposed by successive occupiers of Crete. Koules is built on two tiers and offers a commanding view of Heraklion from the battlements. Nowadays, the harbor itself is home to brightly colored fishing boats and busy tavernas selling fresh fish. Looking back towards the city you will see the strong arches which housed boats under repair and were used as an arsenal for storing guns and gunpowder. The greatest threat to the Venetian stronghold of Heraklion, or Candia, as it was named, was thought to come from the seaward side of the city, and indeed, many naval skirmishes were fought off this coast. The view northward takes in the uninhabited island of Dia, where evidence of ancient Minoan settlement (approx 2700-1450 BC) was found by the diver, Jacques Cousteau. Boat trips can be booked from travel shops throughout central Heraklion, as can excursions to various places of interest.
- Let's see how you could spend one or two days in Heraklion. You have a day or two to spend in Heraklion, the main city and key business center of Crete. The city is also a major cruise destination. Beyond the crazed progress of moped riders, noisy scooters, and a battered, out-of-control look to the city, there is much to do and plenty of things worth seeing. Apart from shopping and the designer clothes on Daedalou Street ("Daydaloo"), there are many small shops off all the main streets which sell those local products which normally are used when you live in Crete. Just have a look along 1866 Street and more so its side streets - you may find a curio distinctly different from more typical "gifts" offered to visitors in gift shops. The famous tourist attraction, the Saturday market that was by the port, an almost kilometer-long display of fruit and vegetables and sundry items - has now sadly moved to an obscure suburb.
- The enormous Archaeological Museum (converted from an old power station well before the idea of using the old Battersea power station in London as an art gallery) on one corner of the central Eleftherias Square, collects together many of the finds from Knossos, Archanes, Phaestos, Zakros and many other archeological sites in Crete. The museum spans a period starting several thousand years ago, through the Minoan, post-Minoan, and later periods. Popular highlights include the Phaestos disc, classic Hellenic and Roman sculptures, frescoes, jewelry, wall-paintings, and pottery. A selection of guide books is available at the museum shop - best to buy one to gain some insight into the items that make up this substantial collection. It's a good idea to start early in the morning or late in the day during the summer months to avoid a rush-hour style of viewing - this is a very popular destination. Open every day 08.00 to 19.30 summer, 08.30 to 17.00 winter. Monday opening is from 12.00. December to February closing time is 15.00. Closed on Public Holidays. Tel: 2810-279086, 279087. Admission: 6.00 euros. Combined museum and Knossos ticket: 10.00 euros.
- History Museum on Sophocleus Venizelou. The easy way to find it is to walk to the bottom of 25th August and at the end, turn left along the seafront - it's about half a kilometer along on your left (some nice cafes and tavernas have opened in the square beside it). Open 09.00 to 15.00 every day, except Saturday 09.00-14.00, Sunday closed. Tel: 2810-283219.
- The Battle of Crete Museum. Walk down the side of the Archaeological museum on Hatzidaki and at the end, where it meets Bofor is this small but informative gem. Open 09.00 to 15.00 every day except Saturday & Sunday. Free entrance. Tel: 2810-346554.
- The Venetian Loggia on 25th August Street ("Avgoostoo Eekosi Panday"), 50 meters down the street from "Lion Square" (Morosini or Venizelos Square on maps) on the right, is now the city hall of Heraklion. You can walk in a take a quick look. This is a two-story Venetian mansion completed in 1628, which used to be a meeting place for the nobles of Crete.
- The Municipal Gallery and Basilica of St. Mark has an ever-changing variety of exhibitions from early photographs of Crete, to specific works of art - have a look to see if there is a current exhibition. Opposite "Lion Square".
- The Koules Venetian Fortress on the harbor walls, built in the early 1500s. Both for the impressive stone mass of its fortification and unfathomably solid walls, the pleasure of views from its turret and roof, restored interior and exterior reliefs of the Lion of St. Mark. Open 09.00 to 15.00. From 1 July to 31 October, open 08.00 to 19.30. (We find that in reality, their opening times seem rather unpredictable!) Tel: 2810-246211 Admission: 1.50 euros.
- The Venetian Walls, one of the best-designed examples of fortification in the entire Mediterranean basin.
- The Natural History Museum of Crete. 10 minutes walk along the seafront from the bottom of 25th of August street - turn left as you face the sea (same direction as for the History Museum). The museum is in the well-converted old electricity power plant for Heraklion. Has wonderful displays and good descriptive details about the flora and fauna, the wildlife, of Crete. An exciting feature is the "experience an earthquake" platform in the basement of the museum. It's a thrill for kids and educational for adults. There is also a not-to-be-missed children's' area with caves and all sorts of play/learning materials (it's actually even fun for adults!). You might happily spend 1-2 hours here. Admission: 5.00 euros adults, 3.00 euros children. Tel: 2810-282740. www.nhmc.uoc.gr
- Another great place to visit with your children is CretAquarium - Thalassocosmos. A 5000 square meter structure, it is both a research center (housing the Institute of Marine Biology & Genetics and the Institute of Oceanography) and a fun, impressive aquarium with 60 tanks (representing interesting underwater Cretan sea landscapes) and over 100 viewing points. 2500 organisms of 200 Mediterranean marine species, from hunter sharks to lobsters, to colourful jellyfish. Audio devices provide information in 9 languages. 15 km east of Heraklion, within what was the American base of Gournes (there are buses to it from the center of town). Open 365 days/year (including public holidays), Monday to Sunday: 09:30 - 21:00 (1st May to 30th September) and 9.30-17:00 (1st October to 30th April). Admission: 9.00 euros adults, 6.00 euros 5-17 year olds & students. Children under 5 years: free. Personal audio guide: 3.00 euro. Parking, cafe/restaurant with sea view, souvenir shop. Tel: 2810-337788, 2810-337888.
- The Palace of Knossos. 20-25 minutes from the center of Heraklion. For many, this is a must see, and for some a major reason to visit Crete. While you are in or near Heraklion it makes sense to visit this well-restored and sprawling work of Arthur Evans who spent much of his life, and his inherited fortune to make Knossos what is today.
A Minoan palace - this is is the closest you can get to piecing together the threads of the story of the Minoan civilization through the structures the Minoans lived in. Many publications about Knossos are available both in bookshops in Heraklion and at the gift shop there. Knossos also has guides who will, for a fee, enlighten your visit with details and history and provide a more rewarding visit. There is a cafe just after entering the gate, and several cafes and tavernas to eat in on the Knossos road just outside the gates.
You could spend anywhere from 1 - 3 hours and more here, depending on your interest in archaeology. To get there by bus go to Bus station A near the harbour. At the bus station look for the KNOSSOS ticket office [see more info about bus stations]. By car or taxi, it is a 15-20 minute ride. Open every day 08.00 to 19.30 (to 15.00 in the winter). Tel: 2810-231940. Admission: 6.00 euros. Combined Knossos and Heraklion Archaeological museum ticket: 10.00 euros. Sundays (November to end of March) free for all!
The recently reconstructed underground Gate through the city walls, accessible from the central section of Eleftherias square. One of the best known and most important direction finding, streets in Heraklion is 25th of August street, which has now been repaved as a pedestrian street. There is very limited car access (it is quite probable that we will see more cafes spilling onto the street now cars are forced to take second place).
On the walk down 25th August Street from Dedalou to the sea (before most of the shops are turned over to car rental offices) is the church of Agios Titos, a beautiful building, Byzantine in origin then rebuilt in the 16th century by the Venetians. The building was taken over by the Turks who converted it into a mosque and rebuilt it after the 1856 earthquake. It was renovated and re-consecrated by the Greek Orthodox Church in 1925. Fronted by a spacious square that accommodates a municipally run outdoor restaurant in the summer months and the interesting Pagopoieion restaurant/cafe/bar by the side of the church.
- The church of Agia Ekaterini Sinaites - now a theological museum, is on the edge of the square surrounding the much larger and better known Agios Minas. It has some very fine Byzantine icons. (see Heraklion photo album). Monday-Friday: 09.30 - 19.30, admission: 1.50 euros.
A bit further from heraklion :
Rogdia has a panoramic view, really one of the best, of Heraklion and a lot to see besides. It's a chance to get a bit closer to the more traditional face of Crete and it's 20-30 minutes away.
Archanes has won the European award for having the best long-term plan for a restored village and second-best restoration in Europe (there you are!). It has re-paved streets and walkways, proudly presented courtyards and balconies with beautiful flower arrangements. Also interesting archaeological sites in and outside this sizeable village. Attractive Kafeneia and tavernas. A 25-30 minute drive from the center of Heraklion.
Achlada much of Achlada is filled with old buildings and ruins, but there are also wonderfully restored houses, two delightful small Kafeneia in the old center, and two at the roadside by the main church above the village. The views are magnificent. On the way up to Achlada from the National Road be sure to look out for the sign to the Old Fountain, a great place to sit and admire the views over the Agia Pelagia peninsula and beyond to Dia island. The old fountain, well-worn and carved with insignia and dates, still gurgles fresh water. About 25 minutes from the center of Heraklion by car - west on the National Road and the same turn left as to Agia Pelagia (the second turn thus sign-posted after you've passed the signed right turn to Made/Athina Palace).
Karteros a few kilometers from the airport on the Old national road, east of Heraklion, you pass a BP petrol station selling large earthenware pots and if you look carefully a right turn is sign-posted (bearing the British Horse Society logo) to the Riding center of Crete. Here you can enjoy horse or pony rides, horse and wagon tours along the nearby canyon and at certain times, wonderful traditional Cretan meals - food is cooked in a traditional oven. Also, at certain times you will see Raki (Tsikoudia), which is the Cretan equivalent of Grappa, being made. Tel: 2810-380 244. Best to telephone for times and availability.
Amoudara (or Ammoudara) west of Heraklion is home to a long and popular stretch of sandy beach and the luxurious Candia Maris hotel among others of varying standards. Restaurants, tavernas, cafes, music bars, gift and jewelry shops are available along the road, with some beach-side tavernas. You can continue from here by car to Rogdia. For movie fans or those with the need for a big screen, there is the new 5-screen multiplex cinema "Technopolis", with cafe and fast-food offerings to quell the pangs of hunger after the excitement and drama fade. A bus to Amoudara can be taken outside the Astoria cinema (next to the Astoria hotel) on Eleftherias square. The tiny hut/kiosk there sells tickets and it's best to buy tickets for the return as well.
Made ("Mathvay") formerly part of Lygaria - let's give you a different view. Small and boasting one occasionally-open taverna, seasonally open mini market, and a beach bar interestingly woven into the rocks on one side of the small bay (though this tends to play the cursed dance-thump music pleasing employees more than guests). Above the beach bar - where you can also eat, is the cliff-clinging Athina Palace hotel, with its several large swimming pools and a steep climb from most of its rooms (with expectedly fine views) to the entrance. 20 minutes from the center on the National Road, heading west, in the direction of Rethymno.
Kapetaniana Village, Kapetaniana is a small village perched at an altitude of 800 meters on the Asterousia range, on the west side of the Κophinas peak. This small village commands a magnificent view of the Libyan Sea and combines in harmonious ways the wilderness of the mountain and the serenity and benefits of the sea.
Where to Eat & Drink
- Merastri, where you will find authentic flavors and traditional Cretan recipes such as scrambled eggs with wild greens, pies, traditionally roasted lamb and "siglina". Everything is cooked in a traditional oven and there is a rich wine list with an emphasis on the Cretan vineyard. All this in a beautiful neoclassical building. It is highly recommended.
- Erganos is another great option for Cretan, authentic cuisine with dishes such as boiled or grilled lamb, spaggeti with athotiro (Cretan traditional cheese), myzithropitakia(pitas filled with myzithra cheese), goat in red sauce and much more. The decoration is inspired by the "village style" and here you will listen just to Cretan music.
- For a quick snack or fresh croissant, walk round Eleftherias square, past the Astoria hotel and just ahead of you, across Idomeneos street, is Little Paris (Mikro Parisi), a sandwich shop for those on the run. To see the Cafe section on Korai (you could call it the "mega-socializing "centre) of Heraklion, walk down the passageway on Deadalou between the jewelry shop Gallery Deadalou and (a few doors up) Aspis Bank.
- Cafes of elaborate decor, with as many tables and chairs as can be crammed outside. You can find these cafes by the dominant sound of their "dance-thump" music which is transmitted some large distance and if it provides the urge to dance, hardly useful, as people come here to sit and talk (or shout ) to each other over the high output sound levels.
- All the cafes have similar pricing at the higher end of the coffee drinking scale! Just sample the atmosphere!
- Back down Deadalou Street to 25th August - the street where travel agents and car rental companies abound at the port end, but at this point, you find "Lion Square" - see the Morozini fountain and to your left two cafes that specialize in Bhougatsa ("Boogatsa"), a thin flaky pastry filled with a choice of cheese or sweet cream. Both versions can be ordered with ("may") or without ( "horeese"), honey ("mellee"). Perhaps surprisingly, I'd recommend having even the cheese versions, with honey - delicious! Try it! In the early mornings, many who arrive on the ferries which dock at 5 and 6 o'clock, head straight here for their welcoming Bhougatsa.
- Walking past all the bougatsa-serving cafes on Lion square, you come to Handakos street, also pedestrian-friendly, with many unique small shops - a good place for gift hunting - there are also attractively themed and decorated cafes. The street goes all the way down to the sea, passing the Road and Planet map and book shops, and near the bottom at No71, is Heraklion's Mexican restaurant, in case burritos and tacos beckon.
- For something different, but still on the cafe trail, in an old structure on the first floor - Cafe Veneto has tall opening windows each secluding a table for two to four people, with views over the harbor and Venetian Fortress. Good service, coffee and drinks, and a rather delicious appetizer/snacks. The price is similar to the cafe section cafes but well worth it. There is also an outdoor terrace. Generally, open from 10.30 a.m. until the early hours of the morning. Tel: 2810-223 686. Epimenidou Street (further down 25th August - toward the sea - turn right on Epimenidou street (which is immediately before the also-interesting Minoan shipping lines building on its corner - behind which is Heraklion's slab-like catholic church), it's on your left in 200 meters.
- Next to Cafe Veneto is the superb restaurant of Lato Hotel, Herbs Garden Restaurant maybe the finest balcony in town.
- By the seafront: there are several cafes and restaurants, most of the "touristy" variety. In our opinion, Ippokabos is the best one and with a long good history regarding the quality of food and the value for money. But to sit by the sea, with the fortress in view may well be worthwhile. You will also see Heraklion city's commendable effort to improve the waterfront, which is now accessible, paved - even has a new square and fountain! This renewed area stretches from the marina (at the bottom of 25th of August street) going west in the direction of the Olympic Stadium and Ammoudara beach area.
- Kafeneia (traditional cafes where coffee is 50% and conversation the other 50% of the event). A great place of traditional nature but the newer finish is "Siga-siga" a kafeneio - it's on Minotavrou just off Theotokopoulou square. Another
- Αnother great Kafenio is the Sarantavga, Sarantauga is perhaps the smallest and most representative rakadiko of the city! Situated in the heart of the old market, it is noisy when the shops are open (but perfect for purposelessly observing people passing by) and quiet when the market closed.“Sarantauga” means “forty eggs", which you can count on the label. It is one of the oldest rakadika in the city. The proof for that is that it has no bathroom, as when it first opened toilets were not a prerequisite to acquiring permission! Do not worry though, there is an unofficial agreement with the rakadiko across the street and you can use the toilets there. Raki is usually accompanied by olives, rusk, taramosalata, baked potato and -of course-eggs! The music is popular Greek (laika), rebetika or Cretan. Simple, genuine, and traditional, Sarantauga is perfect for your raki experience.
- We recommend for value and good food, eating at the Amateur Fisherman's Association Restaurant. This is at the port, behind the old bus station (and opposite bus station A). It is at the base of a building on the edge of the water, that looks like a gigantic concrete slab - with a virtually washed-away mural on the side. The menu is in several languages. You may not receive many smiles when eating here, but the fresh fish is guaranteed to make you smile...
- Odos Egeou (or Odos Aigaiou - "Aegean street"). Delicious and creative seafood dishes and fresh fish. This is the premier exotic fish restaurant and the most stylish in Heraklion. Great relaxing views across the harbor, as the occasional ship glides into port. Seafood salads are all good, grilled baby kalamari with lemon is splendid. Ask for the day's fresh catch. The restaurant is elevated above the port frontage road, 3 minutes east of the center.
- Dish Bar at St.Titos square (beside the big church on 25th August street) offers Mediterranean and Cretan cuisine, wonderful crisp salads, and good wines. The delightful decor inside. Outside seating available in the lovely square (candle-lit and very romantic at night). One of the few places to eat and have a drink where even the toilets deserve mention as a work of art (a Must visit!).
Best Cafes in Heraklion Town
- Think Tank Espresso & Wine Bar, three long monastery tables, a sommelier, wine tastings, and an espresso bar with different varieties of great coffee. (1 Idaiou Androu).
- Miniatura, one of the best cafes in town just behind the St. Minas Cathedral, is famous for its excellent coffee, a blend of beans from Brazil, Costa Rica, Africa and Colombia as well as 16 great Greek wines served by the glass and other 60 labels served by the bottle. (Archontopoulou & 11 Monis Odigitrias St.)
The reviews for the Heraklion