Crete’s capital city combines traditional architecture, Venetian romance, a charming port, and a world-class archaeological site and museum. Added to this are an excellent aquarium, a waterpark for kids with energy to burn, and gorgeous wineries for their parents to unwind, as well as many other natural and cultural attractions.
What to Do in Heraklion
Like all Greek harbor towns, the seafront is the spiritual center of the town. Heraklion’s Old Venetian Harbor, protected by Koules Fortress (once called by its Venetian name Rocca Mare), is a beautiful place to take in the atmosphere of this centuries’ old city.
The pedestrian street 25th of August leads from here past some of the town’s loveliest Neoclassical buildings. You’ll come eventually to The Loggia, a 16th century Venetian building with an arched arcade.
More Venetian style can be seen at Lion’s square. It’s officially called Venizelos Square for the Cretan politician and hero, but because of the gorgeous Morosini fountain, “The Lions” is its more popular name.
The Agora is the place to come for gifts of honey and olives. The local people of Heraklion come here for their fish and meat. There is a lively atmosphere — enjoy it like the locals do, by having a coffee or some raki and meze at one of the casual local places around the marketplace.
Sites of Interest:
One of the most famous archaeological sites in all the world is just outside of Heraklion. At the Palace of Knossos, experience the splendor and the mystery of the advanced Minoan Civilization, a Bronze Age culture that flourished for well over a thousand years, from 2700 BC to around 1450 BC, before declining gradually and vanishing some three centuries later. Knossos was excavated and restored with enthusiasm by Sir Arthur Evans in the early part of the 20th century. Although sometimes criticized for its excess, the effect of this vividly restored palace with its red columns is dramatic, a place where myths come to life in the imagination. This is a perfect place to immerse yourself in the fascinating life of this ancient culture.
Archaeological Museum of Heraklion
Visiting Heraklion’s Archaeological Museum after Knossos completes the experience. The original frescoes, like the famous Bull-leaping fresco- are there, as well as the Phaistos disc and the Snake Goddess figure. The Museum’s collection includes findings from the Neolithic Period (7000 BC), to the 3rd century AD. Through pottery, carved stone objects, figurines, jewelry, wall paintings, sculpture, and other findings, the whole of Cretan civilization over the millennia is explored.
CretAquarium is part of Thalassocosmos (“Seaworld”), which is one of the largest complexes devoted to marine science, education, and recreation in the Mediterranean. Explore aquatic ecosystems and get to know some of the creatures that dwell in Crete’s seas, like the beloved caretta caretta sea turtle. This makes a splendid excursion for families.
Crete has not only a beautiful sea coast with beaches and coves, and dramatic mountains and gorges to explore, but also many interesting caves. Both speleologists and historians will find something of interest in the caves of Crete. One of the most fascinating is a short drive from Heraklion. Skotinos cave is multi-chambered, including a “Great Temple,” and “Altar,” and a “House of Worship.” The names have meaning — this cave was used for worship from Minoan times through the Greek and Roman eras.
For a very dramatic yet relatively easy hike of about 6 kilometers, visit Aposelemis Gorge, less than half an hour’s drive from Heraklion. With walls sometimes 200 meters high, and a tremendous vegetation and biodiversity (birds love it!), the hike is beautiful and rewarding. But it’s not overly strenuous; it takes about two and a half hours, and is not steep.
Explore the Wine Country
Crete’s fertile lands feed luscious vines. There are several excellent wineries right outside of Heraklion you can visit for tastings, education, and a unique cultural experience.
Less than 20 minutes from Heraklion, in the hills outside of the village of Skalani, the Boutaris winery offers a complete experience of wine. The winery offers a unique multimedia show that encompasses the history of Crete. In the tasting hall, wines – including experimental wines – are accompanied by Cretan dishes.
At an altitude of around 600 meters by the village of Partheni, the Michalakis Estate makes a refreshing destination. With a viticultural pedigree stretching back in to the Minoan era, this is interesting land for wine. Cretan grape varieties such as Muscat Spinas, Vilana, Thrapsathirim, and Kotsifali- among others- are joined by international varieties, all harvested lovingly by hand. In the tasting room, with its extraordinary views, enjoy focused tastings to get a true, and delicious, learning experience.
At family-owned Lyrarakis, Cretan grape varieties are also the focus. The family is credited with reviving the ancient grape varieties Plito and Dafni, and now is introducing Melissaki. There are customized tasting packages available and for a real wine-lovers’ splurge, they also offer a premium private cellar experience.
The Crete Golf Club
An 18-hole golf club takes advantage of Crete’s gorgeous scenery, just half an hour’s drive from Heraklion. The club has every amenity — clubhouse, pro-shop, snack bar- and 2 PGA professionals, a driving range, and putting greens for an enjoyable day of sport.
Crete’ largest waterpark features over 50 attractions- slides and games. Even better they have a great system to reduce waiting in lines so the day will be all about fun! There are plenty of kid-oriented fun activities, plus a few grown-ups only adrenaline-pumping waterslides.
We recommend spending a full day discovering all the fun-packed and historical activities that Heraklion has to offer. Have you been to this part of Crete?