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Heraklion Travel Guide

Heraklion
Heraklion © bongo vongo

Heraklion is Crete's main city and usually the starting point for holidays on the island. Built on a fairly steep hillside, its history of Venetian occupation is clear in its architecture, especially the Venetian fortress that dominates the harbour and accents the city's bustling mix of shops, hotels, traffic, and fast-food outlets.

The main square, Plateia Venizelou, is a pedestrian mall sporting cafes and restaurants, and some fascinating shops in the surrounding streets. History buffs should visit the archaeological museum, which contains the world's most comprehensive collection of Minoan artefacts, dating back to around 1600 BC. Heraklion is also close to the major archaeological site associated with the Minoans at Knossos.

Heraklion is Crete's commercial centre and has a great many shops with top designer labels and original jewellery for reasonable prices. Antiques, leather goods, folk art, olive oil and a variety of interesting cheeses are on offer as well. Some shops may have reduced operating hours during the winter off-season.

Crete offers traditional Greek food in its cafes, local tavernas and elegant restaurants. The island is also home to many ouzeri bars that specialise in the aniseed-flavoured liqueur called ouzo. Many of the destinations fast-food outlets and restaurants serve international favourites such as pasta, pizza, Indian and Mexican food.

People-watching from a sidewalk cafe is a favourite evening pastime among locals in Heraklion. The city also has many clubs and bars.

Heraklion has many historic and archaeological attractions, including its world-famous museum and the nearby Knossos, which was the heart of the ancient Minoan civilisation. Sporty visitors will find a number of beaches and opportunities to enjoy rock climbing and horse riding, while the CretAquarium Thalassocosmos is worth a stop for the entire family.


Heraklion is a busy, overcrowded city that can be claustrophobic and noisy. Hotel standards do not always live up to expectations and visitors are often harassed by touts outside the restaurants and cafes, particularly in Fountain Square.

What to see in Heraklion

The Palace of Knossos

The Minoan palace at Knossos, covering an area of 215,278 square feet (20,000 sq metres), is one of the world's greatest sightseeing experiences and a must for visitors in the area. It consists of…

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Heraklion Archaeological Museum

A visit to the Minoan palace at Knossos should be complemented with a visit to the wonderful Archaeological Museum in Heraklion. This is one of the largest and most renowned museums in Greece, and…

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Historical Museum of Crete

This museum deals with Crete's more modern history and highlights the islanders' long battle for independence from early Christian times to the present day. The museum is housed in a two-storey neoclassical…

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Gortyna

Gortyna is both a municipality in Greece and an archaeological site on Crete which was once the Roman capital of the island. The two are unrelated. The remains of the ancient city of Gortyna, to the…

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Phaistos

South of Heraklion lies Crete's second most important Minoan archaeological site, the Palace complex of Phaistos, considered by many to be a finer example of Minoan architecture than Knossos. The west…

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