Things to do in Heraklion

Crete's capital combines ancient Minoan gems, Venetian architecture, and blue, crystalline waters.

Our most recommended things to do in Heraklion

Heraklion: Knossos Palace Skip-the-Line Guided Walking Tour

1. Heraklion: Knossos Palace Skip-the-Line Guided Walking Tour

Join a guided tour of Knossos, a complex of more than 1500 interlocking rooms, once an astonishing palace built for a mighty king of the Bronze Age. Knossos is considered Europe’s oldest city. As you wander through the labyrinthine ruins, get the chance to see the original throne of ‘’Minos”, the mystifying sanctuaries, the luxurious domestic quarters of the royal family, Crete’s treasures pantries, and the water-management systems. The first palace of Knossos was erected soon after 2000 BC. In 1700 BC, a catastrophic earthquake destroyed the Palace. A new palace was built immediately, the most monumental of all, and for over 300 years it represented the pre-eminent center of power in Bronze Age Crete. The new palace was an imposing complex with important architectural innovations, splendid frescoes adorning the walls, hundreds of rooms distributed in four storeys, impressive storage areas, specialized workshops, and spacious courts hosting ceremonies and feasts. Learn how during the last decades of the 14th century BC, a series of earthquakes led to the final destruction of the palace. 

Crete: Palace of Knossos Archaeological Site Entrance Ticket

2. Crete: Palace of Knossos Archaeological Site Entrance Ticket

Benefit from skip-the-line access to the Palace of Knossos. Once inside, you are free to explore this Minoan archaeological site at your own pace, including the Grand Palace which dates back to the year 2000 B.C. As you wander through the site, discover what remains of living quarters, workspaces, and storerooms that have stood for centuries. Learn more about the city which is thought to have been the capital and political center of Minoan civilization and culture. Get a sense of what the building was like originally from the extensive restorations that have taken place throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. See colorful restored murals, which were typical of the time, and the throne room of the legendary King Minos, which is still intact.

Heraklion: Archaeological Museum & Knossos Ticket with Audio

3. Heraklion: Archaeological Museum & Knossos Ticket with Audio

Experience Ancient Crete at your own pace with a combined e-ticket for the island's top two archaeological attractions, the Palace of Knossos and the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. Experience two captivating self-guided audio tours on your smartphone. Receive your ticket in a separate email from our local partner, and download the app and audio tours onto your phone prior to your visit. Then travel back in time to experience the grandeur of Crete from the Minoan period to Roman times. Put on your headphones and discover the Palace of Knossos and the exquisite artifacts exhibited in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. Through the power of storytelling, learn interesting facts and hear little-known stories from ancient times. The content of the tours is the result of in-depth research, squeezed into brief original stories that will make your visit both engaging and informative. The audio tours can be used repeatedly and anytime, before or after your visit. This is an unmissable opportunity to gain valuable insights into ancient Crete and the Minoan civilization, and to engage with your surroundings in an entirely original way.

Crete: Day Trip to Agios Nikolaos and Spinalonga Island

4. Crete: Day Trip to Agios Nikolaos and Spinalonga Island

Embark on a full-day guided trip to northeastern Crete and take a boat trip to Spinalonga Island. Visit Agios Nikolaos with its famous lake, and explore the picturesque village of Elounda. Begin the day with the visit to Agios Nikolaos, and see the shore of Mirabello Bay. Explore the town, famous for the lake at its center and its shopping and cafes. Take your time for a walk to enjoy the views, enjoy some shopping or have a drink in one of the numerous cafes around the lake. Explore an open-air market on Wednesdays. Move on to see Elounda village, a former fishing village on the northern coast of the island. Depart from Elounda for the cruise to Spinalonga Island. Learn about the island's vibrant history, from a home for the Venetians and Turks to a place of isolation for those suffering from leprosy. Experience the island, more popular after the 2005 historical novel “The Island” about how lepers lived in Spinalonga. Join the hundreds of people who come to the island every day to visit and learn its history.

Crete: Palace of Knossos Ticket with Audio Tour

5. Crete: Palace of Knossos Ticket with Audio Tour

Enjoy an exciting visit to Knossos Palace, Crete’s most famous historical attraction, with a skip-the-line e-ticket, including a compelling audio tour downloadable on your phone and a detailed map of the site. Lose yourself in the audio tour's storytelling and immerse yourself in history as you walk around this iconic site. Visit the grand capital of Minoan Crete, located just south of Heraklion, and see the evocative setting, complete with impressive ruins and brightly-colored frescoes, come alive through an engaging narrative that sheds light on various elements of Minoan culture. The cupbearers and procession frescoes at the South Propylaeum, which depict scenes from everyday life and the ceremonial activities in Minoan Crete, provide a great insight into the aesthetic ideals of the time. Follow the evolution of Minoan fashion, learn about the popular hairstyles of the people, and discover the beauty products locals used to touch up their look. At the West Magazines, where the storage facilities of the palace are located, gain an understanding of the well-organized bureaucracy that supported the palace organization, the earliest forms of linear writing, as well as the Minoan economy and trade networks. Discover the copy of the “Prince of the Lilies” at the South Entrance Corridor and gaze out on Mount Juktas, perfectly framed by the eroded walls of the palace. Visit the Queen’s Megaron, embellished with famous blue dolphins fresco and equipped with a bathroom and a toilet room, where you can find out everything about the bath habits in the Minoan era.

Samaria Gorge: Day Trip from Agia Pelagia, Heraklion & Malia

6. Samaria Gorge: Day Trip from Agia Pelagia, Heraklion & Malia

Stop to purchase a hearty breakfast in Rethymno on this full-day Samaria Gorge excursion. Begin your trek at Xiloskalo, where you'll enter the vast, 18-kilometer canyon. Hike along a path that follows the route of the ancient Taras River. Admire the caves that formed a natural shelter for the Cretans in war times and now are home to wild goats. See the abandoned village of Samaria before reaching the Iron Gates, 3 kilometers before the end of the gorge. Rest and enjoy lunch (at your own expense) at the small fishing village of Agia Roumeli. Cool off with a refreshing swim in the Libyan Sea before boarding the ship that takes you back to the village of Sfakia.

Knossos Palace Skip-the-Line Ticket & Private Guided Tour

7. Knossos Palace Skip-the-Line Ticket & Private Guided Tour

Settlements in Knossos date as far back as the Neolithic period. Neolithic remains from around 7000 BC are found throughout Crete. Explore the ruins of the ancient Minoan civilization and enjoy a skip-the-line tour of the Knossos Palace. The Knossos Palace was built from 1700 to 1400 BC. Advanced architectural techniques were used in its construction, and sections of the palace stood up to 5 stories high. It featured 1,300 rooms connected by corridors, and a theater and extensive storerooms, which held large clay containers of oil, grains, dried fish, beans and olives – often with gold hidden beneath.

Crete: Land Rover Safari on Minoan Route

8. Crete: Land Rover Safari on Minoan Route

Explore Crete by Land Rover on a full-day adventure along the Minoan Path, and experience a blend of ancient myths, spectacular landscapes, and a barbecue lunch on the Lassithi Plateau. Following a pick-up from your hotel, drive through spectacular mountains en route to the Aposelemis Basin Reservoir, and see an ancient aqueduct of the Roman Empire. Continue to the village of Kastamonitsa in the foothills of the Afendi Mountains. Stop for a Cretan-style breakfast and raki tasting. Next, brace yourself for the dirt tracks of the Minoan Path. Drive through a stunning mountain landscape to see wildlife and the unbelievable scenery. Learn the myths and legends of Crete on the way to a shepherd's mitato (mountain shelter). Feed the animals as you watch the shepherds produce cheese according to traditional methods. Taste some of the fresh, rich cheese. Enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the Lassithi Plateau and north coast. Continue to Dikteon Cave to marvel at the birthplace of Zeus. Work up an appetite before your lunch at a local taverna. Try a selection of traditional dishes (vegetarian option available) and a glass or two of wine. Then, go to Lassinthos Eco Park to admire traditional handicrafts. Back on the Lassithi Plateau, experience a wilderness and farming land where time has stood still. See donkeys put to work to help farm the land. Then, go to Seli to take photos of the unique scenery. Drive to the village of Krassi, famous for its 2,000-year-old tree and natural spring water source. Continue down the mountain roads, passing ancient olive groves before you reach the spectacular coastline and deep blue sea.

Crete: Scuba Diving Experience with Certified Instructor

9. Crete: Scuba Diving Experience with Certified Instructor

This is the ideal diving course for those who want to try scuba diving but do not have a diving certificate. Enjoy a pre-dive lesson and always be accompanied by a certified instructor. Begin your day with the basic theory on diving and the skills necessary to do so. You will then move on to real-life diving under the supervision of a certified instructor. During the dive, you will have the opportunity to explore the bottom of the sea in Agia Pelagia, learn the basic commands, and get the chance to observe up-close the fish and sea creatures living near the seabed.

Heraklion: Food Tastings Walking Tour

10. Heraklion: Food Tastings Walking Tour

Get an introduction to the best food that Heraklion has to offer by treating your palate to traditional Cretan dishes and exceptional local wines! Go on an unforgettable tasty journey through Heraklion’s local neighbourhoods. After meeting your local guide, start off with a traditional Greek coffee also known as ellinikós kafés. Learn why Greeks love coffee and see it brewed the traditional way in sand and be taught “cup reading”, a centuries-old tradition that reads your future. Enjoy Heraklion’s well-known bougatsa in a family-owned business that has mastered its bougatsa technique since 1922. Consisting of semolina custard, cheese, or minced meat filling between layers of phyllo, bougatsa is a must-taste pastry that you shouldn’t miss while being in the city. Continue to a local market where you’ll meet the local vendors and learn about their products. Sample some of the basic elements of Cretan cuisine such as olives, rusks, and cheese. Become a cheese-tasting expert by receiving local hints and learn how to spot the best local cheeses. Taste the island’s famous olive oil and find out why organic Cretan olive oil is one of the best oils in the world. Sit down for a local organic meat dish or if you want to show yourself how brave you are, sample a dish that is loved by most Cretans: fried snails. Move on to your last stop and taste some local Cretan wines in a family-run shop. Keep in mind that winemaking in Crete has a long history that dates back to the Bronze Age. Before you go, don’t forget to ask your local guide for more tips on what else to see, do and eat during your stay.

Frequently asked questions about Heraklion

What are the best day trips and excursions from Heraklion?

The best day trips and excursions from Heraklion are:

Chania

Insider tips: Planning a trip to Heraklion

Thomas Dowson is the founder of Archaeology Travel, a website for those seeking adventures in archaeology and history. As a professional archaeologist Thomas enjoys visiting archaeological and historical sites around the world. And sharing these experiences so that others can explore the world’s pasts more deeply. On his blog, you can find more information and all the details for planning a trip to Heraklion.

What should I do on my first trip to Heraklion?

Heraklion is dominated by a defensive 16th century Venetian fortress. It is still in very good condition and well worth a visit. Heraklion, however, is better known for the Minoan site of Knossos, just on the southern outskirts of the city. Widely referred to as a palace, it is an important archaeological site. Although not a palace, certainly not in the way we think of palaces today. The use of reinforced concrete to reconstruct parts of the site was the first use of concrete in Crete. Once you have finished exploring these impressive Minoan ruins, make your way to the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. Here you will find artefacts from around the island, but also the best collection of artefacts is from Knossos.

What are some hidden gems to see in Heraklion?

In the centre of Heraklion is Eleftheriou Venizelou Square, named after the politician eight times elected as Prime Minister and still called the Father of Modern Greece. But the square is more commonly known as ‘Lion Square’. At the centre is a Venetian fountain made up of four beautifully carved lions holding up a basin. The square and its 16th century fountain should not be missed. It is a great place to stop for a while and have an iced coffee.

How much time should I spend in Heraklion?

There are many good places to stay in Crete, and Heraklion is definitely one of them. But unless you are a studious historical traveller, two days is more than enough to see most of what Heraklion has to offer. Most visitors tend to use Heraklion as a base to explore the island beyond its capital. And in this sense Heraklion is the perfect base from which to explore Crete - for anything up to 7 days.

What food is Heraklion known for?

Crete is especially well known for olive oil and cheese. And one or both of these are used in many traditional cretan dishes. One speciality most visitors to Crete remember are ‘dakos’, usually served as a starter or a snack. Sun ripened tomatoes are chopped and placed on a ‘paximadi’ (dried bread) and drizzled with lots of olive oil and sprinkled with fresh herbs and the typical Cretan cheese ‘myzíthra’. This cheese is everywhere and used in lots of cold and hot dishes - especially pies.

What is the best way to get around Heraklion?

Getting around Heraklion on foot will be enough for most visitors. Although Knossos is only an hour’s walk from the city centre, you will probably want to use a bus if you do not have a car, particularly in summer. You will definitely need a car to explore sites on the island away from Heraklion, or take organised day trips where transport is included. There are a lot to choose from, whether you enjoy hiking in Samaria Gorge or wine tasting at a Cretan winery.

What are the best months to visit Heraklion?

Heraklion, and Crete more generally, is best visited in the spring and autumn. During summer there can be too many tourists and during the winter months a lot of attractions are either closed or have restricted opening times. For me, spring is by far the better option. Many people come at this time specifically to see the wild flowers of Crete. Of which there are many, including wild tulips and many varieties of wild orchids.

What are the best neighborhoods for food?

Heraklion has a lot of very good restaurants, whether you are looking for something simple or something a bit more extravagant. Of course there are places to eat scattered all over the city, but the area surrounding the Venetian Lion Fountain and then north to the port is where you will find some of the best restaurants.

What are the best neighborhoods for shopping?

The area around Lion Square is the main shopping area in Heraklion. Both Daedalus and Chandakos streets have been pedestrianised, and this is where you will find designer stores and luxury boutiques. Although not pedestrianised, Dikeosinis is another street to explore. The area has a lot of good cafes for when you just want to relax with a cold drink!

What are the best areas for outdoor activities around Heraklion?

Whether exploring Minoan and Roman ruins, or wine tasting on a Cretan farm, visitors to Crete are spoilt for choice when it comes to outdoor activities. Most of these involve a day trip from Heraklion. Popular outdoor activities include Land Rover Safaris to more remote parts of the island, or sailing trips that leave from the Heraklion harbour. A popular boat trip is to the island of Spinalonga. A Venetian fort was used to house people suffering from Leprosy. Because of the ruins and the history, the island has been used frequently as a set for film and television productions.

What are the best beaches around Heraklion?

Heraklion is located on Crete’s northern coastline. As much of the seafront immediately next to the city centre is taken up with maritime activities, there are no decent beaches there. For sandy beaches with facilities (such as sunbeds, umbrellas and drinks kiosks), you will need to go further out, east or west. To the west Ammoudara Beach is a popular beach with both locals and visitors alike. Going to the east, and a bit further out is Arena Beach. On a rocky promontory from a wide sandy beach you will find the ruins of a Minoan shipyard. If having a beach is important for your stay, choose a hotel that has private beach facilities.

Other Sightseeing Options in Heraklion

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What people are saying about Heraklion

Overall rating

4.4 / 5

based on 7,219 reviews

Great day out! Michael, our tour guide, was brilliant and knew a lot about the local areas. As it was the national Independence Day of Greece , we had our schedule moved around a little so we were able to experience the parades that were happening - a really lovely consideration for the team to have made! Our pick up was very smooth and the bus journey was a beautiful route that allowed us to see the Cretan scenery. Elounda and Agios Nikolaos are stunning places and definitely worth a visit!! We had a good amount of free time in each place - the best part, jumping off our boat into the sea on our way back from Spinalonga Island! Bucket list check! Highly recommend this day out to everyone!

Absolutely brilliant tour around Knossos Palace. Would absolutely recommend this. Katerina the guide was incredibly knowledgeable and funny. Really brought the history to life. The group size was a total of 5 so we could always here and move about without getting separated. The instructions for meeting were spot on and informative with contact info if you ever needed help.

The audio guide was great and so helpful compared to just walking around on our own. There were a few closed viewpoints in the audio which made some of the directions confusing, but overall we had a great experience and it was super interesting and informative.

Altough you don't have to much time, the tour was enough to see the important stuff in Heraklion. The guide was constantly giving us information and the bus driver also was very friendly

This was a major highlight of our trip to Crete, highly recommend