Things to do in
Heraklion

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

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Our most recommended things to do in Heraklion

From Heraklion, Agios or Nikolaos: Full-Day Santorini Trip

1. From Heraklion, Agios or Nikolaos: Full-Day Santorini Trip

Climb aboard a luxury high-speed catamaran in Heraklion harbor for the 2.5-hour crossing to Santorini. Upon arrival, take a tour of the beautiful island by air-conditioned bus and get an informative commentary about the history of one of the most romantic destinations in Greece. Travel to the village of Oia at the northernmost tip for magnificent views of the typical blue and white houses across the hillside. Continue to the capital at Fira and get some free time to browse the shops or enjoy a drink at a bar with views of the volcano. Go for a stroll along a black sand beach at Perissa or Perivolos before the return boat departure at 5:45 PM.

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Knossos Palace Skip-the-Line Entry with Guided Walking Tour

2. Knossos Palace Skip-the-Line Entry with 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. 

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Knossos Palace: Pre-Booked E-Ticket & Smartphone Audio Tour

3. Knossos Palace: Pre-Booked E-Ticket & Smartphone Audio Tour

Enjoy an exciting visit to Knossos, Crete’s most famous historical attraction with a skip-the-line e-ticket, which includes a compelling audio tour downloadable on your phone and a detailed map of the 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.

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Heraklion: CRETAquarium Admission Ticket

4. Heraklion: CRETAquarium Admission Ticket

Venture into the ocean’s depth with a 1-day admission ticket to the CRETAquarium. One of Europe’s largest aquariums, over 2,000 sea creatures lice the CRETAquarium's 60 diverse habitats. Delve into the caves and crevices of the Mediterranean, where stingrays and rock-like scorpionfish slither about. Pop out into the open ocean, where menacing sharks circle, waiting to be fed. Get up close and personal with jellyfish and schools of vibrant tropical clownfish through shallow, open-topped tanks, which allow a new viewing perspective of well known species.  Above all, gain a new appreciation for the unending diversity of the world’s most mystifying environment. When you’ve had your fill of looking at the ocean’s residents, why not pop in for a dip? The CRETAquarium is, fittingly, right on the beach.

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From Crete: 4-Hour Boat Tour to Santorini

5. From Crete: 4-Hour Boat Tour to Santorini

Visit Santorini, the island neighboring Crete, and enjoy a short cruise in just 1 day. After pick-up from your hotel, head to the harbor and begin your 4-hour boat tour on the Cretan Sea. Upon arrival, see the white houses of Fira that lie high above the edge of the crater, and decide whether you would like to spend more time on this volcanic island. Wander the small town of Fira or visit the picturesque town of Oia. Enjoy the leisurely Greek lifestyle and visit a taverna or two. Relax on the beach, enjoy the day by the sea, and simply leave your cares behind.

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Heraklion: E-Bike Historical Sightseeing Tour & Greek Meze

6. Heraklion: E-Bike Historical Sightseeing Tour & Greek Meze

Head to the meeting point and get kitted out with the necessary bike gear while listening to a safety briefing. When you’re ready, hit the road with your local guide and set off on your sightseeing adventure. Glide alongside the city’s imposing Venetian Walls as you make your way to Koules Fortress. Hop off your bike to take some photos of this impressive landmark and learn about its history. From here, ride into the Old Town district to see monuments of the Second World War as well as some of the city’s more modern sights. Pass by the city’s Orthodox church and mosque next, and learn about the influence of religion in Heraklion. You’ll also get a better insight into the city’s history with the Ottoman Empire. Later, cycle thorough the narrow streets of Iakkos and soak up views of this picturesque neighborhood. Once you've worked up a bit of an appetite, enjoy some delicious Greek meze and learn about traditional cuisine. Finally, stop at one of the city’s ancient markets before heading back to the meeting point where the tour ends.

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From Heraklion: Full-Day Gramvousa and Balos Tour

7. From Heraklion: Full-Day Gramvousa and Balos Tour

Travel by air-conditioned coach to the west of Crete. Enjoy a cup of coffee or breakfast at the small village of Skaleta and then continue to Kissamos to board a boat and start your cruise. Admire a vast cave that was most likely an ancient shipyard. See sea turtles and dolphins playing in the water. Disembark on the island of Gramvousa, also known as "Pirates' Island". Here, you can encounter over 100 bird and 400 plant species. Enjoy plenty of free time to swim at a gorgeous beach. Alternatively, feast from an (optional) lunch on board. Continue your cruise to the lagoon of Balos and discover one of the loveliest sites in Greece. Get a breathtaking view of the lagoon, before the return journey to the meeting point.   

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Heraklion: Finikia Horse Riding Day Tour with Lunch

8. Heraklion: Finikia Horse Riding Day Tour with Lunch

Start your day by meeting your guide at the stables, where you will have a relaxed cup of coffee before taking a basic training session to make sure you feel safe and comfortable while riding a horse. Then, hop on your horse and wagon to begin your ride out into the mountains. After riding for about an hour, you'll arrive at the top of the Finikia mountains, where you'll stop for a break. Help yourself to a soft drink, or fruit, and take a moment to admire the amazing views and snap a picture or two. In the distance, you can spot the nearby mountain of Archanes, the place where the Greek God Zeus is said to be sleeping. Then get back on your horses and wagon and make your way back to the starting point. After riding for another hour, you'll arrive at the stables and then sit down for a delicious traditional Cretan lunch, including homemade wine. After lunch, have a seat out in the garden of the stables, help yourself to some more wine, or enjoy a few more minutes of riding. At about 1:15 PM, you will head back to your hotel or apartment.

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Scuba Experience I-Discover Scuba

9. Scuba Experience I-Discover Scuba

This is the ideal diving course for anyone over 10 years old who wants to try scuba diving but does not have a diving certificate. 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.

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Acqua Plus Water Park Admission with Optional Transfer

10. Acqua Plus Water Park Admission with Optional Transfer

Benefit from hotel pick-up at approximately 08:00 and journey to Acqua Plus Water Park in Heraklion for an estimated arrival time of around 10:30. Then, enjoy the park at leisure until 17:00. Situated just 5 kilometers from Hersonissos and 30 kilometers from Heraklion, Acqua Plus Water Park entertains thousands of visitors every year with its thrill rides and relaxation areas. Divided into 2 sections - one for adults and the other for kids - the park includes a large number of extreme slides and water features. Zig-zag your way through 3 different pools on the Crazy River, or ride through the Black Holes and experience beams of light that attack your senses before you emerge for the final splash! Stroll around the gorgeous garden, filled with native plants and exotic flowers to create a Garden of Eden. Perched on a hill, the park is easy to work your way around with little effort. Save your energy for rides such as the Kamikaze waterslide or Tsunami. Take the little ones to the dedicated kids area and drift around on the Lazy River or just watch them play in the active playground. Avoid waiting in lines with a unique system that ensures you can enjoy the slides and games as much as possible, and benefit from the park's reputation for cleanliness, hospitality and safety. Qualified lifeguards and a stand-by doctor are ready to assist and protect you at any minute of the day.

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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.

Frequently asked questions about Heraklion

Other Sightseeing Options in Heraklion

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What people are saying about Heraklion

Overall rating

4.4 / 5

based on 4,119 reviews

Amazing time at this tasting. Very well organized and prepared. Our host Yiorgos (sp?) is very knowledgeable about olive oil, taught us how to properly taste it, and answered all our questions kindly. Experience is divided into 2 parts: a 'pure' tasting of the different oils, then pairing them with different foods to see how the taste changes. Took place in a beautiful private space right next to the restaurant meeting point. Highly recommend!!

Very useful to have access to two different venues. Really worth the price. Interesting audio stories and easy to use the map of the app. I would recommend it!

This combo activity, saves up time and makes you enjoy visiting both sites. Just using my own headphones, I got all these interesting info.

Really enjoyed all the experience. Very interesting info and helpful to have the audio guides on your phone.

Fascinating site, really helpful stories and easy app.