Welcome to Heraklion
Heraklion is the capital of Crete and one of the Mediterranean region’s most fascinating and vibrant cities. It is full of places to discover. With the current efforts to open up the wonderful mediaeval city centre, it speaks to us of a past full of history and great events that reflect its location at the crossroads of three continents. The city is also the commercial and technological centre of the island. It has a strategic geopolitical position in the south-eastern Mediterranean Sea connecting three continents and many different cultures. The city flourished under a multicultural influence throughout the centuries; that’s why there is a plethora of Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman structures to look out for! The city’s landmark is the 16th c. Koules fortress in the westernmost side of the old Venetian port, which along with the fortification walls (dating back to the same period) are among the most significant and imposing sights.
Start your visit at the old Venetian port where you can see the vaulted tarsanades (shipyard) where ships used to be built during the Middle ages. On its west you can’t miss the 16th c. Koule Fortress whose first walls were built by the Arabs and were later reinforced by the Venetians in the 15th century. The Martinengo bastion, the only one out of seven that is preserved today, is where the renowned writer N. Kazantzakis’ tomb is located and overlooks the city. Τhe are only 2 out of 4 entrances to the city that still stand and you can see, Chanioporta (1570) Gate with its marble relief winged Lion of Saint Marc and the New Gate (1587) on the south side of the fortress.
In the heart of the city there are many monuments dating back to the Middle Ages, a period in which Heraklion witnessed great prosperity. From the port, ascending 25 Avgoustou (August) street, you will reach the public square, where the church of Agios Titos is found built in 1872 on the site where a Byzantine church once stood. Next to it lies the 16th c. Venetian Loggia, a Venetian building with ornate arcades and walls, sculptures etc. that served as a meeting place for the Duke and other noblemen during the Venetian period.
Don’t miss Heraklion’s Venetian and Turkish fountains, scattered around the city. The most famous one is the Venetian-style Μorozini fountain (aka the Lions fountain, 1628), a landmark for locals and visitors alike. Other noteworthy Venetian fountains are the Bembo fountain (1552-1554) on Kornaros Square, the Sagredo fountain (1602-1604) built in the northwestern corner of Loggia building, and Priuli fountain (1666) located near the port. The most interesting Turkish fountains are: Philanthropic fountain (1776), on Kornarou Square next to Bembo fountain, where in our days you can enjoy a refreshment as it runs as a coffeehouse; Idomeneas fountain (behind the Historical Museum of Crete), Genitsar Aga Fountain (on Ikarou street) and many more.
Among the churches of Heraklion the one that stands out is the imposing Metropolis of Agios Minas, on Agia Ekaterini Square, built between 1862-1895. Adjacent to it, stands the chapel of Mikros Agios Minas and on the northeast you can pay a visit to the 16th c. church of Agia Ekaterini, which runs as a museum housing exhibits from the Cretan Renaissance. The church of Agios Markos (13th century) towers over Venizelou Square. Other significant churches in the city are Panagia Akrotiriani, Panagia ton Stavroforon, the Monastery of Agios Petros and Pavlos etc.
The Heraklion Archaeological Museum, one of the most significant museums in Greece, must be added to your to see list; it showcases unique treasures of the Minoan civilization unearthed from Knossos, Phaistos, Malia and other sites. Other museums that are noteworthy are the Historical Museum, the Museum of Natural History and the Cretaquarium (aquarium in the area of Gournes). At a short distance from the city of Heraklion, in the area of Hersonissos, you can enjoy a golf game on a court ideal for either beginners or advanced players.
Heraklion Knossos Palace
The Minoan Palace of Knossos in Crete, Greece: The Minoan Palace at Knossos is over 20,000 square meters and the largest of all Minoan palatial structures. It was built of ashlar blocks, had many floors and was decorated with really beautiful frescoes. The old palace was built around 2,000 BC but was destroyed by an earthquake in 1700 BC. The newer, more complex palace, was built almost immediately after the first one was destroyed. In the middle of the 15th Century BC, the Achaeans took over the island of Crete and settled in the palace. The palace was once again destroyed by fire in the middle of the 14th Century B.C and henceforth ceased to function as a palatial center.
Heraklion Phaestos Palace
The Minoan Palace of Phaestos in Crete: The Palace of Phaistos is located on the east end of Kastri Hill, the end of the Messara plain in South Central Crete. It is considered to be one of the finest of all Minoan palaces. The preserves of the old and new palace can be seen until nowadays. Excavations in the area began in 1884 and were carried out by F. Halbherr and A. Taramelli. After the declaration of the Cretan State as independent in 1898, continued by F. Halbherr and L. Pernier between in 1900-1904.
Heraklion Mount Ida Psiloritis
Psiloritis is the highest mountain on Crete, with Mount Ida being the highest summit (2456 meters) and one of the best places to go hiking on the island. The most common hiking routes start at Kamares (6-7 hours) and Ideon Antron (3-4 hours). The wild landscape of Psiloritis is truly magnificent and on the mountain, you will come across many caves, gorges and forests. In addition, the mountain Psiloritis is culturally significant since it was a place of worship for the Ancient Greeks and many important archeological findings have been discovered. The mountain is connected with many aspects of mythology and it is worth mentioning that the Cave of Ideon Antron was believed to be the place where the god Zeus grew up.
El Greco Museum
The El Greco Museum or Museum of Domenikos Theotokopoulos can be found in the village of Fodele and it is dedicated to one of the most important Greek artists, El Greco, who was born and raised in Crete. The museum was established in 1998 and the stone-built building that houses it was a result of a reconstruction of a much older building, allegedly the painter’s former house, which took place in 1982. In the museum you will find replicas of some of the painter’s most significant paintings, as well as a collection of photographs and the recreation of an atelier. To see two original works of the artist, you can visit the Historical Museum of Crete.
The Cretaquarium in Heraklion Crete: Crete Aquarium is located in Gouves, just a few kilometers from Heraklion Town and the beach of Hani Kokkini. This is the largest aquarium in the Mediterranean founded in 2005. The Cretan Sea has always been known for the huge diversity of marine life and the beautiful rock formation.Crete Aquarium depicts marine life with upgraded and impressive presentations of natural landscapes, offering visitors a chance to see rare sea-living creatures. In the aquarium, there are more than 100 different areas for 2,500 the Mediterranean and tropic sea creatures and species.
All along the northern and the southern coasts of the region, visitors will discover amazing Heraklion beaches to relax. Around the tourist resorts, Heraklion beaches are organized with plenty of hotels, traditional taverns, and watersports centers. However, many secluded bays are also found for total privacy and isolation, mostly on the southern coasts of Crete Greece, which is less tourist-developed. You will find below a list with the best beaches in Heraklion Crete.Agia —-Pelagia beach, Agia Pelagia is a beautiful village lying 24 km north-west of Heraklion Town. It has a long beach with wonderful golden sand. The beach is always protected from the winds and offers a few rental facilities.
-Matala beach, Matala is one of the most famous beaches of Greece located 67 km south west of Heraklion town.The beach extends over 300 metres, with light golden sand and bamboo umbrellas and sun beds available for rent.
-Agiofaraggo beach, Agiofaraggo is a wonderful yet secluded beach located 80 km south west Heraklion town close to the village of Kali Limenes, at the end of a small gorge.
-Tobrouk beach, This large and well-organized beach is located 10 km east of Heraklion Town. Nearby you will find several hotels and nice taverns.
-Lygaria beach, Lygaria is a soft sand beach situated 23 km north-west of Heraklion town. It is a lovely narrow stretch of sand with calm and warm waters. The sands are clean with parasols and chairs on the central part of the curvy stretch enclosed by tall lush green hills.
-Amoudara beach, Amoudara is a fine beach located in the Gulf of Heraklion, 5 km west of the capital, on the northern coast of the prefecture.It has soft golden sand and crystal-clear waters and proposes a few facilities.
-Gouves beach, This wonderful sandy beach lies 16 km east of Heraklion town. It is awarded by the EU Blue Flag for its clean golden sand,its crystalline waters and fine facilities.
-Paleokastro beach, The beach of Paleokastro is placed 15 km north wets of Heraklion town, under the shadow of an old castle. Paleokastro is one of the finest beaches to the north coast of Crete, well-organized, with clean waters.
Getting to Heraklion
You can easily reach Heraklion from Athens by ferry, since there is a daily connection with Piraeus port, all year round. The trip lasts from 6 to 8 hours. During summer, you can also reach some islands of Cyclades and Dodecanese from the port of Heraklion, like Santorini, with which Heraklion is connected on a daily basis. Once per week, Heraklion is linked by ferry with Mykonos, Paros and Milos, while three times per week Heraklion is connected with Karpathos, Kassos and Rhodes.
Heraklion International Airport “Nikos Kazantzakis” is the second busiest airport in Greece. All year round, it receives flights from Athens, Thessaloniki and Larnaka, while during summer it also receives flights from many countries around Europe. The flight time from Athens to Heraklion is about 45 minutes.
Upon your arrival, it is a nice idea to take a taxi for your transfer, since the airport is located in the region of Nea Alikarnassos, 5 km away from the Town centre.
Sources: https://www.heraklion.gr/en/visitor/welcome.html, https://www.greeka.com/crete/heraklion/,https://www.visitgreece.gr/islands/crete/irakleio/