I first visited Heraklion in Crete when I was 12 years old, and it was love at first sight! My father, a truck driver, often went to Heraklion to load agricultural products. Sometimes, he would allow me to accompany him on his trips to gorgeous Crete, where I had a perfect time.
Since then, planning a trip to Heraklion in Crete has been one of my favorite tasks. I always look forward to a new exploration trip. If you are also looking for things to do in Heraklion in Crete, I will share my top places to visit and activities to do!
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Top Things to Do in Heraklion in Crete
Fast Facts for Heraklion
- It is the fourth largest town in Greece with 179.302 (2021) permanent residents in the town. The rest of the region of Heraklion (villages and smaller towns) has 305.017(2021) permanent residents.
- The Minoan palace at Knossos is located 5.5 km (3.1m) southeast of the city. It is the second most visited archaeological site in Greece, after the Acropolis Hill in Athens. There is also the Minoan Palace of Malia and the Minoan Palace of Phaistos in Matala.
- Heraklion was named after Idaion Hercules who was one of the five mythical Kouretes, creatures of Crete to whom Rhea entrusted the newborn Zeus. Zeus was born in Rethymno in the Idaion Andron Cave.
- If you have a sweet tooth Heraklion is the paradise of phyllo pies, cakes, and pastries.
- Cretans are very hospitable and accompany anything edible with raki. If possible, always accept their offer; they will appreciate it.
Heraklion town is the capital of Crete, a large financial and business center. Its center is always lively with locals and students, as Heraklion hosts some of the biggest universities in the country. The broader region of Heraklion includes the stunning Knossos Palace, traditional villages, high and rugged mountains, and endless sandy beaches facing the Cretan Sea.
So, are you ready to discover the best things to do in Heraklion in Crete?
1. Explore Heraklion Town – North Heraklion
Stroll through the picturesque streets of Heraklion’s Old Town, where Neoclassic, Venetian, and Ottoman buildings mix with lively markets and cozy cafes. One of the most popular places to visit is the Morosini Fountain, also known as the Lion’s Fountain, located in the heart of Heraklion.
The cafes and shops around the fountain are always bustling. For delicious bougatsa (cream or cheese-filled phyllo pastry with a light dusting of powdered sugar and cinnamon on top) head to the Kirκov cafe!
Pass by the Temple of Saint Titus with its stained glass windows and the Loggia, once an exclusive club of the noble Venetians. Head to Korai Street for traditional cafes and taverns, the realm of the city’s thousands of students. Visit the historic record store Aerakis (Korai 14), where father and son will introduce you to the rich Cretan music tradition. Immerse yourself in the bustling and beautiful city of Heraklion in Crete.
2. Venetian Fortress or Koules
No exploration in Heraklion is complete without visiting the well-preserved Venetian Fortress. Built between 1523 and 1540 by the Venetians at the entrance of the Old Port, it served as a protective stronghold against intruders and pirates. Originally called Rocca a Mare Fortress, the locals now commonly refer to it as Koules, a name from its Ottoman period.
As you enter the castle, be sure to look up and admire the Lion of Saint Mark over the main gate. Wander through its well-preserved corridors, and climb to the top for panoramic views of the Old Port and the town.
The fortress is open between 8:00 and 15:30 in winter and 8:00 and 20:00 in summer. The entrance ticket is €4.
3. Heraklion Archaeological Museum
If you love ancient history and in particular the Bronze Age Minoan civilization, a visit to the exceptional Heraklion Archaeological Museum is a must. It is home to an impressive collection of artifacts, spanning 5,500 years from the Neolithic period to Roman times (6th millennium BCE – 3rd century CE). Two of each most renowned artifacts are the famous Snake Goddess figurines and the Phaistos Disc bearing 241 pictograms arranged in 61 groups presenting the yet undeciphered Linear A script.
Open daily between 8.00 – 20.00 (Tuesdays open at 10.00 to 20.00). Entrance ticket €6. For more info visit the Museum’s website.
4. Visit Kazantzakis’ Tomb
Nikos Kazantzakis is a renowned Cretan author whose most famous novels were published between 1940 and 1961, including Zorba the Greek (1946), Christ Recrucified (1948), Captain Michalis (1953), The Last Temptation of Christ (1955), and Report to Greco (1961).
His works showcase his profound exploration of philosophical and existential themes. Kazantzakis’ works not only shaped modern Greek literature but also received international acclaim, establishing him as a literary giant with a distinctive voice in the 20th century.
His burial site is marked by a simple wooden cross at the highest point of the Venetian Walls of Heraklion, the Martinegko bastion. On his grave you can read a quote crafted by Kazantzakis himself: “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”
5. Ammoudara Beach in Heraklion in Crete
If you’re seeking a sun-soaked escape close to Heraklion town, make your way to Ammoudara, a 5-km long sandy beach located just 7 km from the center of Heraklion. With its golden sands and crystal-clear waters, this beach is a haven for relaxation or a quick dip if you’re short on time. Unwind under the Mediterranean sun, take a refreshing swim, and indulge in water sports if you’re feeling adventurous.
Petousis Hotel & Suites is 500 meters from Ammoudara Beach and is ideal for a family.
6. Sail to Dia Island from Heraklion
Dia is a small, uninhabited island located 7 nautical miles north of Heraklion. According to Greek mythology, it was created by Zeus (Dias in Greek). The island is part of the European Natura 2000 Network due to its significant biodiversity, featuring lizards, wild rabbits (Oryctolagus), a type of falcon known as ‘mauropetritis,’ and the famous kri-kri goats. Dia is also a popular sailing destination.
Dia has no infrastructure at all, only a small white church in one of the four sheltered bays in the south. At the bay of Agios Georgios, there is a small port, and nearby are some of the beaches with sparkling clear blue waters that you can stop for a dive.
One of the best things to do in Heraklion is to book a tour to Dia island for a 7hrs l Semi-private Sailing with available pick-up.
7. Knossos, a Minoan Era Palace
Knossos was the seat of King Minoas and is the largest palace of the Minoan period, covering an area of 22,000 square meters. The city of Knossos, around the palace, was continuously inhabited from the late 7th millennium BC until the Roman era, with its peak during 1600 BCE, a time when it seemed to accommodate 80,000 residents.
The Throne Room, the Grand Staircase, and the Central Court, the colorful frescoes are just a few of the stunning features that you can see in the remains of the Knossos Palace. According to Greek mythology, in Knossos, there was also an elaborate labyrinth to imprison the fearsome Minotaur a half-man half-Taurus creature.
The excavation and restoration were carried out by the English archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans from 1900 to 1930, and to him is attributed the partial restoration of the palace. Knossos is located 5 km southeast of Heraklion.
Tickets for Knossos: Full: €15, Reduced: €8, pre-purchase tickets and your time slot online at the official e-ticketing service of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports.
Visit this page if you are interested in how Sir Arthur Evans rebuilt the Palace of Knossos.
8. Chersonissos, Stalida, Malia Villages
These are three very popular seaside resorts east of Heraklion. They are vibrant and full of life, as they are filled with restaurants, endless shops with souvenirs, pubs, bars, clubs, beach bars, creperies, and everything else you can imagine. Here you can find all-inclusive hotels like I Resort Beach Hotel & Spa in Stalida or Stella Village Seaside Hotel in Hersonissos (Great for kids, with waterparks).
A fun thing to do in Hersonissos with kids is to go to Minotaur Labyrinth Park!
Malia has a beautiful, long, sandy beach framed by palm trees, offering both organized sections with umbrellas and beds, as well as open areas for everyone to enjoy. In the evening, Malia transforms into a hub of vibrant nightlife, hosting wild parties that last until the morning. The majority of the partygoers are young Europeans with a simple agenda – drink a lot and party every night.
Malia also hosts the third-largest palace in Minoan Crete, built in a beautiful natural location overlooking the sea. According to mythology, it was inhabited by Sarpedon, the brother of Minos.
Would you like to stay for a few days in Malia? Pyrgos Blue in Malia is a lovely seafront hotel with incredible sea views and large airy rooms.
Tip: If you are looking for authentic or peaceful Heraklion in Crete, the northern part of Heraklion might not be the right area for you. Go central or south!
9. Archanes Village – Central Heraklion
14 km south of Heraklion and 9 km from Knossos, visiting Archanes is one of the best things to do in Crete. It is built at an altitude of 380 meters, in a closed valley traversed by the Kairatos stream, amidst vineyards and olive groves. You will love the beautiful neighborhoods with well-maintained houses, painted in vibrant colors, flower-filled balconies, and retro street lamps.
At the village square beneath dense plane trees, taverns, and cafes beckon with the aroma of local cuisine, accompanied by the warmth of raki, all enveloped in the embrace of authentic Cretan hospitality. The women’s cooperative, ‘Archanon Tastes,’ is a haven for traditional delights—crafting herb-infused rusks, jams, and spoon sweets using fruits sourced from neighboring orchards, not to mention the renowned petimezí made from local grapes.
There is also a great archaeological museum in Archanes displaying ancient wine jars, ceramic wine presses for crushing grapes, and numerous vessels that depict the everyday life in a Minoan house. The museum is open daily, except on Tuesdays, from 8:30 am to 2:30 pm.
A fantastic boutique hotel with a beautiful design in Archanes is the Manili Boutique Suites & Villas.
10. Wine Tour in Archanes and Peza
The area around Archanes is full of vineyards with 70% of the Cretan wine production coming from this area. If you love wine-tasting then I recommend exploring the fertile Archanes and Peza areas on a guided tour with wine tasting. It also includes a visit to a family-run olive oil producer and taste exceptional olive oils with a 3-course gourmet lunch at a local restaurant.
11. Visit Famous Matala Beach – South Heraklion
Matala Beach is 69 km south of Heraklion. It has a striking rocky backdrop with ancient caves carved into the white limestone hill that stands imposingly north of the beach. The caves were prehistoric dwellings and were used as tombs during Roman times. However, they became famous thanks to the hippies who made the beach their home from 1965 until the late 1970s.
You’ll be captivated by the vibrant red sandy beach, though it tends to get quite crowded during the peak season. For an optimal experience, I recommend heading there early in the morning to revel in the natural beauty of Matala.
A mere 1.5 km away lies the equally stunning Red Sand Beach (Kokkini Ammos), where, if you enjoy nudity, the northern end accommodates such preferences. If you are seeking to blend a day at the beach with an archaeological experience, the Minoan Palace of Phaistos awaits just 14 km northeast of Matala (entrance fee €8).
Best seafront apartment in Matala: Flores Playa (self-catering).
12. Hike Agiofaraggo Gorge
If you love hiking and crossing gorges that lead to breathtaking turquoise beaches, Agiofaraggo is a must-visit destination. Located 80 km south of Heraklion, this hidden gem resides in an isolated and wild area of Crete. Start your journey by driving up to the Monastery of Panagia Odigitria in the village of Sivas.
Upon reaching the monastery, choose the left dirt road (towards Kaloi Limenes) driving with caution. After 4 kilometers, you’ll spot a sign indicating Agiofarago, guiding you to the right towards a plateau where you can park.
Tip: Locals advise avoiding leaving your car under trees, as the area’s goats may use it as a climbing aid to reach the high leaves of the trees, potentially causing damage to your car.
The hike from the parking area to the beach is easy and it will take you 20 to 30 minutes to reach the beach. The gorge is a place of great natural beauty, filled with olive trees, laurels, and various herbs, with distinctive cliffs featuring caves. As you approach the beach, 250 meters beforehand, you’ll encounter the Byzantine church of Agios Antonios, adding a touch of historical charm to your hike.
The beach stretches for 1.5 kilometers, has fine pebbles, and crystal clear blue waters, and is surrounded by the Kapsala hill cliffs. It is not organized so bring with you plenty of water and snacks.
Head to the western side of the beach, where a natural arch awaits, providing an opportunity to swim in what feels like a small private pool. Agiofaraggo is undeniably a fascinating destination to explore in Heraklion in Crete.
FAQ for Heraklion in Crete
Crete Heraklion Hotels: Where to Stay
For a memorable stay in Heraklion town Crete, consider accommodations near the city center or the Venetian Harbor. The area offers a blend of historical charm, a vibrant atmosphere, and easy access to major attractions like the Archaeological Museum and Koules Fortress.
Stay 365 Heraklion Apart Hotel is a great value-for-money property, with spacious and modern rooms with modern finishes, close to the city center (15 minutes by bus) and the airport (10 minutes by car). Easy check-in for late arrivals.
I also love Infinity City Boutique Hotel (mid-range), close to the Venetian Port with a beautiful sea view from the rooms and with breakfast included.
Top Guided Tours in Heraklion Region
Consider taking guided tours in Heraklion in Crete, to enhance your exploration and gain insightful perspectives on the rich history and culture of this captivating region. This is a short list of popular guided tours in the area:
- Heraklion SUV Private Guided Wine Tour with Lunch (Badge of Excellence)
- Wine Tasting Experience @ Lyrarakis Winery (Transfer Included) (Badge of Excellence)
- Knossos Palace Guided Walking Tour
- Minoan Life: Knossos Palace, Olive Mill Visit, Lunch at Archanes
What is the Best Time to Visit Heraklion?
Heraklion is a year-round destination even in winter as Crete is the warmest place in Greece. July and August are the hottest and busiest time for any Greek island so if you prefer fewer crowds then go to May/June or September/October for the best combination of great weather and moderate prices. Are you interested in visiting Crete off-season? Check out this dedicated post for Crete in Winter!
How to Get to Heraklion
Crete Heraklion Airport
You can fly from Athens Airport and Thessaloniki all year round with additional seasonal flights from various European countries during the summer.
Heraklion International Airport, “Nikos Kazantzakis,” is the main airport serving the city. The flight time from Athens to Heraklion is 50 minutes.
From the airport, you can get a taxi, a rental car, or a bus to your destination.
Ferries to Heraklion
The ferry connection from Piraeus port in Athens to Heraklion is serviced daily all year round. During summer there are up to 5 routes per day. The average trip lasts about 9 hours. Book your ferry transfer with FerryScanner to secure your seat, especially if you travel during the summer.
Island Hopping from Heraklion
Shortly before Easter, ferries start traveling from the Heraklion port to the Greek islands. These boats are mostly fast and can carry not only people but also motorcycles and cars.
Heraklion is connected with Santorini, Paros, Mykonos, Naxos, Ios, and Syros. Throughout the year, the ship named “Prevelis” travels to the Dodecanese. It departs every Saturday at 13:35 from the port of Heraklion to Kasos, Karpathos, Diafani, Halki, and Rhodes.
Can I Use Credit Cards in Heraklion?
Credit cards are widely accepted in hotels, restaurants, and larger establishments. However, it’s advisable to carry some cash, especially if you would like to buy street food from a kiosk or use a public bus or for tips.
Is it Safe to Drink Tap Water in Heraklion?
While tap water in Heraklion is generally safe to drink, many prefer bottled water for taste preferences. Bottled water is readily available and affordable throughout the city.
Is Crete Island expensive?
It is a very affordable island and it offers from budget to 5-star tourist products, so it all depends on where you are staying or dining. There are always places to have a reasonably priced vacation.
What to Wear in Crete
Crete has the highest temperature in Greece so you must protect yourself from the sun if you are visiting during summer: you should wear comfortable walking shoes, apply organic sunscreen often, and a white linen shirt to cover up if you get easily burnt.
How to Get around Heraklion?
There are frequent buses that connect well to the areas around the island but for more adventure and independence I would suggest you rent a car in Heraklion, especially if you are visiting the hottest months (July-August). Your car also means that you can go whenever you want to any remote area without the stress of catching a late bus or if you also wish to visit the popular Chania and Rethymno regions.
The countryside roads may look a bit intimidating, especially if you are not an experienced driver. Take it slowly, enjoy the view, and wait for the sheep to cross the road and you will get to your destination not only safely but also happy to be on this gorgeous Greek island! 😀
Plan My Trip to Greece
Do you need a custom travel itinerary for Greece? Are you traveling solo, with your family or friends and need a tailor-made multi-day tour or a transfer within Greece?
If yes, please visit my dedicated Plan My Trip Page for a free itinerary!
To wrap up, immerse yourself in the local cuisine, explore historical sites, and savor the unique charm of this captivating region in Crete! Safe Travels. Till next time, Evgenia.
Athens Airport to Piraeus Port
- Bus: If you are arriving at Athens International Airport you can travel straight to the port by taking the X96 express bus (€5.5, children <6 yo, free entrance), which departs every 40 minutes and the average trip lasts 1 hour – runs 24/7.
- Metro: (€9) is easily found across airport arrivals (blue line – M3) going directly to Piraeus port. The average trip to Piraeus lasts 1 hour.
- Taxis are available in front of the airport (around €40 to Athens, €55-60 to Piraeus (depending on the traffic in Kifisos), and take up to 3 or 4 people with small luggage)
- Rent a car with Discover Cars to rent reliable new cars at affordable prices
- You don’t like driving but love hassle-free solutions? Book a Private transfer with an English-speaking driver from Athens International Airport to Piraeus Ferries, or anywhere else in Greece
- Are you looking for domestic flights in Greece? Check out the official Aegean Airlines Website.
Essential Travel Resources for Greece
- ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank You’ in Greek: “Ya sou” and “Efharisto”
- Booking.com: I use Booking.com because I can get the best deals on hotels and apartments, free cancellations, and great prices!
- All-Inclusive Resorts in Greece
- FerryScanner to book ferries to the Greek Islands
- Rent an Affordable Car in Greece
- Athens Metro Website (timetables and ticket info)
- Map of Athens Metro
- Trains (Hellenic Train)
- Public Buses KTEL
- Get Your Guide: For all your day or multi-day tours and city guide needs, I use Get Your Guide
- Emergency Numbers Anywhere in Greece: AMBULANCE 166 – FIRE 199 – POLICE 100– EMERGENCY NUMBER 112