A city of truly ancient origins, Heraklion (or Iraklio) as well as being one of the four provinces in which Crete is divided is also the capital city of the island. After being the cradle of Minoan civilization, Heraklion was dominated by Arabs, Venetians and Ottomans, all peoples who have left their architectural and cultural heritage.
The city, in fact, is also known with the Venetian name of Candia which originates from the white color of the stones with which the houses were built since the sixteenth century.
Surrounded by valleys rich in olive groves and vineyards and bathed by a crystal clear sea, Heraklion is the perfect combination of history, nature and excellent beaches. A few kilometers from the center of the city, in fact, we find one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world which houses the remains of the fascinating Palace of Knossos, the place where, according to legend, there was the labyrinth in which the Minotaur was locked up.
In addition to being an important archaeological center, the city of Heraklion also hosts the main airport of the island of Crete and is one of the major tourist destinations of Crete thanks to a wide range of restaurants, hotels and traditional taverns. A maritime town able to preserve the remains of its long history: from the archaeological sites of Minoan origin to the walls built by the Venetians in the mid-sixteenth century. Heraklion is a city that represents the ideal combination for those who want to spend their days not only relaxing and having fun but also enjoying good food.
Heraklion has managed to keep intact the most historical area of the city called the “old city” which is the area delimited by the fortification walls. The city has gone down in history as the best fortified city in the Mediterranean thanks to these impressive ramparts.
The first walls were built by the Arabs, but later it was the Venetians who modified and reinforced them. These are currently considered a true work of engineering conceived by theVenetian architect Michele Sanmicheli who designed them more than five hundred years ago. Of the four gates that guaranteed access to the city only two remain: Chanioporta (1570) characterized by the presence of the Lion of St. Mark and the Porta Nuova (1587).
The port of Heraklion was built by the Venetians in the sixteenth century and is dominated by the presence of the Venetian fortress of Koule. This building was built to defend the city’s port from enemy attacks. Even today can be visited inside and from the top of its towers you can admire a beautiful view of the city and the port. The port of Heraklion is a stop not to be missed also because it allows to admire the daily life of Cretan fishermen.
The Archaeological Museum of Heraklion is one of the most important museums in Greece, as it houses exhibits that cover more than five thousand years of Cretan history. The museum exhibits objects from all over the island and in particular, there is a rich array of remains from the Minoan civilization found in Knossos, Phaestos, Malia and other sites.
Inside there are also rooms that preserve the beautiful frescoes that were originally in the palace of Knossos.
The central square of Heraklion, known as the Lions’ Square or Venizelos Square, houses the beautiful Morosini Fountain commissioned by the Venetian general Francesco Morosini and built in 1628 on the site where there was already a fountain dating back to the 14th century. Originally, this fountain was used by the locals to supply themselves with drinking water thanks to a complex hydraulic system.
The fountain, part of the hereditary patrimony that Venice left to the city, looks like an elegant work in white marble that recalls the Italian style of the time. In the lower part, in fact, you can see bas-reliefs depicting mythological figures of the Greek tradition, such as nymphs, dolphins, tritons and sea monsters, while in the upper part there are four lions that support the central basin and from whose mouths the water comes out.
The Church of St. Titus, or Agios Titos in Greek, is a Byzantine church dedicated to St. Titus, the first bishop of Crete and patron saint of both the island and the city of Heraklion. This church has a somewhat troubled history: built for the first time during the Byzantine rule around 961 A.D. it became, during the rule of the Serenissima, a Catholic cathedral and the seat of the archbishop, while later, during the Turkish occupation, it was converted into a mosque.
Rebuilt after an earthquake in the nineteenth century, today we can admire the stone facade and the massive wooden door, while inside there are three main aisles and the silver reliquary that houses the skull of St. Titus.
Five kilometers from Heraklion we find Knossos, center of the Minoan civilization between 1900 and 1400 BC and one of the most famous archaeological sites in Europe. The city of Knossos, at the time of its greatest splendor occupied an area of about 22 thousand square meters and was inhabited by more than 100 thousand people. In addition to being the residence of Minos, Knossos was also the political, commercial and administrative center of the island. To this site is linked the famous legend of the labyrinth built by Daedalus on order of King Minos. Here the king locked up the Minotaur, a being half man and half bull, who was killed by Theseus with the help of Ariadne, daughter of King Minos.
The Palace of Knossos is a site that preserves within it a complex of buildings that at the time were used not only by the royal family but also by officials, priests and residents. The main part, in addition to the royal apartments, included ceremonial quarters, treasure rooms and craftsmen’s workshops. Don’t miss a visit to the throne room, the queen’s bathrooms and the ancient theater.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
The capital of Crete is also a good base to explore the beaches of the region, just move a few kilometers from the center to be able to find beautiful beaches and excellent accommodation facilities. In the province of Heraklion, in fact, there are some of the most beautiful coasts of the island of Crete.
Along the northern part there are the beaches most frequented by tourists and full of bathing facilities. One of the most famous is certainly that of Agia Pelagia: here the beach is bound to a narrow strip of land and what conquers the visitors is the crystal clear sea. Other very beautiful beaches in the northern part are Malia, Hersonissos and Palekastro that are well organized and also offer the possibility of doing water sports. It must be added that those who frequent these areas often do not do it only for the sea but also for the lively nightlife.
The southern part, however, is characterized by small secluded bays and therefore very quiet, where there are less equipped bathrooms and more free beaches. Some of the beaches can give you truly unique environments thanks to their black sand and turquoise sea water. Among all we recommend: Aspes, which is perhaps the most famous among the black beaches, Agios Nikitas and Chrysostomos.
Heraklion is a city that does not disappoint even for the nightlife given the numerous opportunities for entertainment that it offers. Among the narrow streets of its old town there are pedestrian streets, such as Korai and Milatou Street, where you can find many bars, pubs and taverns, while in the area of the port you can discover clubs, cocktail bars and more sophisticated places.
Heraklion is able to offer awide choice of accommodation according to different needs. The city comes alive a lot in the evening and is frequented by many nightlife lovers, so if you take a hotel in the city center take into account this aspect.
The structures that overlook the old port allow you to enjoy a really beautiful view. In this area, however, you can find accommodations for all needs and for different budgets: from hostels to luxury hotels, from apartments to accommodations in historic buildings.
The city of Heraklio is easily accessible thanks to the presence of the Kazantzakis International Airport which is located just over five kilometers from the city. The airport is well connected, especially in the summer, with major European cities. Once you arrive at the airport you can take a bus to reach the center or you can think to rent a car if you plan to move to other areas of the island. Alternatively, you can also take a cab because given the proximity of the airport to the center the cost will be very affordable.
As another solution, you can reach Athens, by plane or by ship, and then from the Greek capital continue by ferry. The sea connections from the port of Athens or other Greek cities will take you to the port of the city of Heraklion, which is located in the city center.
What's the weather at Heraklion? Below are the temperatures and the weather forecast at Heraklion for the next few days.
Heraklion is located in the central-eastern part of Crete island which is the largest and most populous island of Greece. The city, located in the prefecture of the same name, is surrounded by the prefectures of Rethimno and Lassithi and is about 140 km from Chania, the second city of the island and 90 km from Ierapetra.