Heraklion: Discover the Capital of Crete
Heraklion is the largest town in Crete, the capital of the prefecture of Heraklion and the administrative capital of the entire island.
Heraklion is surrounded by the mountains of Psiloritis and Lasithiotika, and its landscapes and sceneries alternate in a harmonious coexistence of the wild beauty, the green vegetation and the blue sea.
It has also a spectacular touristic development. All this was certainly contributed to by its geographical position. It lies almost in the middle of the north coast, just outside Knossos, has one of the most important museums in the world, and is close to the most interesting archaeological areas: Phaistos, Ayia Triada, Gortyn, and Malia.
The first impression of the city of Heraklion might be a little disappointing as the visitor will see a busy and noisy city, that resembles nothing of an island. But soon that impression disappears as the city unfolds its beauty and charms, and provides motivation for visitors to explore and discover its secrets.
The history of Heraklion dates back thousands of years since the years of mythology. The prefecture of Heraklion is home to the famous Minoan palace of Knossos, famed for its mythical tale about Theseus and the Minotaur. The palace of Knossos is of the most famous archaeological sites in Greece and attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year.
Heraklion consists of the New and Old towns ( Palia and Nea Poli ). The Nea Poli (new town) has been the capital of the region since 1972 and is an important financial center that contributes to the trading and industrial sector of Crete, and therefore to its development and prosperity.
The part of Palia Poli ( old town ) is situated between the old walls, creating a triangle, where at the base is the sea, and at its peak, it meets the bastion Martinengo, the tallest point of the hill, where the tomb of the famous writer Nikos Kazantzakis is located.
The picturesque Venetian port of Heraklion is ideal for morning or afternoon strolls in the city and is ideal for visitors who want to admire the wonderful views from the castle’s walls.
At a short distance from the port is the Historical Museum of Heraklion that was founded in 1952 by the History Research Institute of Crete. The museum holds many important exhibits and important archeological findings that depict various aspects of Cretan life through the centuries, beginning of the Christian period.
Visitors to Heraklion have the chance to wander around the Old city ( Palia Poli ) and visit some of the “secret jewels” of it, such as the Eleftherios Venizelos square, which is filled with beautiful cafes, restaurants, and tourist shops. Equally impressive is the fountain of Morozini in the center of the square, which is known as the “Lions Fountain”, which was constructed in 1628, by the then governor of Crete, Francesco Morozini.
Apart from the Old and New town of Heraklion, you will find many beautiful areas in the county that are worth visiting and getting to know better. Heading south in the region you will meet wonderful beaches with crystal clear waters, and very warm and hospitable locals who welcome you and make you feel home.
The prefecture of Heraklion, from the coastal holiday resort of Hersonissos to the archeological sites of Ahanes, and Pyrgos, as well as to its mountainous villages such asPsiloritis, is a destination that you must visit and experience
Whilst in Crete, if you are not staying in Heraklion, plan your holidays in a way that allows you to have the chance to sample the magic and beauty of the Cretan civilization and hospitality.
The largest artificial lake and the international airport in the town cover its communication needs which, however, are continually growing. The town of Heraklion is surrounded by the famous Venetian wall and one can only enter through certain gates in it. The town’s center is the square with the lovely Venetian Fountain of Morosini (picture). The Basilica of Ayios Markos, built in 1239, is nearby, as well as the Loggia (both Venetian buildings) and the church of Ayios Titos which most probably was built after the arrival of Nikephoros Fokas (961).
Prefecture of Heraklion
The Prefecture of Heraklion is located in the center of the island and houses the capital city of the island with many museums, archaeological sites and steeped in history. The Minoan Palace of Knossos is just a few kilometers to the south of Heraklion and the Palace of Malia to the east. The finds of these palaces and many others can be seen in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion. Here, too, is the tomb of the famous author Nikos Kazantzakis, a square monument of large stones with a roof and a wooden cross.
With so much to see and do you will come back again and again just to do it all.
How to get to Heraklion
Flights to Heraklion Crete
Flying to Heraklion is the fastest way to ensure that you will start your holiday as soon as possible. During the summer, thousands of visitors arrive in Heraklion from Greece and abroad. Heraklion has an airport that caters for domestic and international flights and is the busiest airport in Crete. Many arrivals and busy schedules also take place at the port of Heraklion, where large cruise ships and ferry boats arrive and depart on a frequent basis.
There are many scheduled flights daily from Athens to Heraklion and even more in summer (50′). The airport is 3,5 km from the city and you can reach it via O.A.’s local buses. For more information, contact O.A. (Olympic Airways) in Athens tel. (01) 961.6161
From Heraklion are scheduled flights to:
Thessaloniki (duration 1,15 h)
Rodos ( >> 40′)
Santorini ( >> 40′)
Mykonos ( >> 1,10 h)
Paros ( >> 1 h)
For more information contact O.A. in Heraklion tel. (081) 225.171-4 or the airport tel. (081) 282.025
From Piraeus to Heraklion (174 nautical miles) there are two to three boats a day in the summer and two in the winter (every 12 hours). For more information, contact the Coastguard of Piraeus tel. (01) 451.1311-19
Local connections: Santorini, Ios, Naxos, Paros, Folegandros, Syros.
Agia Barbara: 29,5 km SW of Heraklion. Nice village at an altitude of 600m.
Kalamaki:68 km SW of Heraklion. Vast beach with tavern
Malia:37 km E of Heraklion. Spectacular touristic development over the last years. The archeological site, wonderful beach.
Stalida. 34 km E from Heraklion. Nice beach with modern touristic infrastructure.
Hersonissos: Good shelter; Fuel & water in town; Nightlife
Spinalonga: Excellent shelter; Anchored off; Fuel & water in town; Taverns
If you are looking for airline tickets and flights to Heraklion enter the dates of arrival and departure in the box below, and the online reservation program will show you suggestions and prices for your flight where you can make your reservation directly and securely.
Useful Telephone Numbers
Area Code: 2810
Tourist Police: 2810- 302256
Coast Guard: 2810-244912
In central Crete, the city of Heraklion combines the modernity of Greece’s fourth-largest city with a Venetian Fortress, many buildings of sophisticated Venetian architecture and several great museums. These include the Heraklion Archaeological Museum and the Natural History Museum of Crete that will captivate you with their displays. The famed seaside fortress kept pirates out in the olden days and today offers an enchanting opportunity to learn about Crete’s varied history. All these attractions are less than ten minutes by car from the Creta Beach Hotel & Bungalows and its golden sands.
The most popular attractions in Heraklion
- Eleftherias Square, the main square of Heraklion with the St George Gate, the prefecture building and the Archaeological Museum
- Lions Square, the famous Venetian fountain with the lions
- The main Heraklion market in 1866 Street
- Bembo Fountain, a wonderful Venetian fountain next to a Turkish monument in Kornarou Square
- Kornarou Square, the great Cretan writer Vicenzos Kornaros
- Saint Minas, the cathedral dedicated to the patron saint of Heraklion
- Basilica of Saint Mark
- TheHeraklion Municipal Art Gallery
- Venetian Loggia, Venetian monument in Heraklion
- Saint Titus, the church of St Titus or Agios Titos in Greek
Archaeological Museum of Heraklion
The Archaeological Museum of Heraklion houses the finds of the Minoan civilization.
The foundation of the first museum (1904-1912) is owed to the efforts of two Cretan archaeologists, Joseph Chatzidakis and Stephanos Xanthoudides of the Archaeological Service.
It housed the valuable finds from Crete until 1937, when the construction of the modern, anti-seismic building was begun. Thanks to the efforts of Prof. Nicolaos Platon, the treasures of the museum survived during World War II, although the building was seriously damaged.
The task of rearranging the exhibition was undertaken by Prof. N. Platon in 1951 and in 1952 the finds were again on display.
In 1964, a new wing was added and the arrangement of the exhibits was completed by the Director S Alexiou. Thus the museum today has in all, twenty rooms containing artifacts from the palaces, houses, tombs, and caves of Crete. The exhibition of the Museum is organized in chronological order, ranging from the Neolithic period to the Roman era (4th century AD) and geographically, according to the provenance of the finds.
There are several groups of finds exhibited in separate rooms:
1. All the LM III sarcophagi are displayed in Room XIII, the Minoan frescoes in Rooms XIV-XVI and the sculptures, reliefs, statues, and architectural parts, in Rooms XIX-XX.
2. The S Giamalakis collection, which was bought by the Greek State in 1962, is now on display in Room XVII.
3. A collection of inscriptions is exhibited in a fenced, sheltered open space opposite the Museum.
4. The archaeological collection of Archanes.
5. The “Glyptotheca” of Gortyn, is exhibited at the archaeological site of Gortyn.
The most famous archaeological site on Crete. It contains the ruins of the largest and most luxurious Minoan palace, built in the middle of a large town. The first palace was built around 2000 B.C. and destroyed around 1700 B.C. The second one was also destroyed, around 1500 B.C., most likely by the terrible eruption of the volcano on Santorini. The excavations were carried out in 1900 by the English archaeologist Arthur Evans, who then reconstructed certain sections of the ruins.
You follow the road to Knossos. At the 11th km you turn right.
Epano Archanes is a market town amid vineyards, which produces the fine rozaki grapes. In the environs of Archanes, there are the old churches of the Archangel Michael and Ayia Triada, from the 14th century. Many of the areas near Archanes are of archaeological interest such as Tourkoyeitonia, Fournoi, Anemospilia, the peak sanctuary of Jucktas and Vathypetro.
A fishing village which just a few years ago was known as a hippy center and today has developed into a tourist resort. Matala was the port of Phaistos and later Gortyn. There are caves carved out of limestone cliffs on the sheer side of the north hill. West of Matala in the open waters of the Gulf of Messara, are two uninhabited islands, Paximadia.
The Palace of Malia
The third most important Minoan palace after Knossos and Phaistos. It has an area of 12,000 sq. m. It was built like the other Minoan palaces around 1900 B.C., destroyed around 1700 B.C. and then built again more brilliant than before only to be finally abandoned in 1450 B.C. after a new calamity.
A mountain village on the slopes of Psiloreitis at a height of 600 m. It is the starting point for the climb up to the Cave of Kamares which was used as a place of worship during the Minoan period. The famous Kamares ware was found in this cave.
The second most important town in Minoan Crete with the luxurious palace of the mythical Radamanthys, the brother of Minos. The palace was built twice. The first time around 1900 B.C. during the so-called Old Palace Period. This was destroyed by an earthquake and in 1700 B.C. a new and more luxurious one was built in its place during the New Palace Period. The second one was also destroyed, around 1500 B.C., probably by the eruption of the volcano on Santorini.
The ruins were uncovered and left untouched in the places they were found. The architecture here is like that of Knossos with the palace being built around a rectangular, oblong and flagged Central Court which is oriented from north to south. Around the palace was the large Minoan town of Phaistos.
For a length of 1km after Ayioi Deka there are the ruins of a large town scattered left and right of the road; during the Roman period, this was the Capital of Crete. There was a small settlement on the site of Gortyn since the Late Minoan period.
But Gortyn became known later during the Archaic period and reached the high point of its glory in 69 B.C., when the Romans made it the capital of the Province of Crete and Cyrenaica and built many majestic structures there, such us the Praetorium and the Odeion, next to which was found the famous Law-Code of Gortyn carved in stone blocks. Opposite the ruins of the basilica of Ayios Titos, the road left leads after 33 km to the coast at Lendas. Ancient Lebena was on the site of modern Lendas; it was built at the beginning of the Minoan period and flourished much later during the Roman period when the inhabitants of Gortyn built a Temple of Asklepios there at the site of the therapeutic springs. A gorgeous sand beach at Lendas is also suitable for winter swimming. Winter is so mild that it is said the swallows spend it there. From Lendas you can visit the remote Monastery of Koudoumas by Caique. On your return, you follow the coast road which goes west to the marvelous sandy beach of Kales Limenes where the Apostle Paul landed.
One of the most notable monasteries in Crete. It was built around 1400 and in the beginning, was a monastic estate of the neighboring Varsamonero Monastery (one of the oldest monasteries in Crete and the most important in terms of the number and the quality of its wall paintings). The monastery’s fountain from the 15th century is fabulous, with wonderful sculptures depicting Adam and Eve in Paradise. The monastery began to flourish in 1500 when it appears the other one at Varsamonero was abandoned. It was a spiritual center and it is even said the great painter Michael Damaskinos lived and painted there.
Picturesque Cretan Villages
Close enough to Heraklion lies the wonderfully picturesque village of Archanes, recent winner of the European Upgraded Village Award. Caution is advised though, as the cobblestone streets, traditional houses, little shops and hearty food of this Cretan village will make you want to move to Crete permanently. This Mediterranean island is known to capture the hearts of many and keep them there.
State Tourism Offices
Tourism Directorate Of the Island Of Crete, Xanthoudidou 1 – 71 202 Heraklion, 2810 228203
Tourism Police Stations
Aquarium Of Crete
One of the most interesting sites in the area is the modern Aquarium of Crete, which is situated between the city of Heraklion and the tourist resort of Hersonissos. It holds about 2.500 living sea organisms, such as fish, sharks, shells, medusas, and may wonderful species of the sea. The Aquarium is open to the public daily and attracts many visitors from every group of age. It is a wonderful place to visit and is great for the kids to enjoy.
Windsurfing – You can windsurf at the beaches mentioned above if you have your own windsurf. If you would like to rent one, you’ll have to go a little further (Agia Pelagia or Hersonissos). The large hotels of the area, though, usually have the necessary equipment required for water sports.
Tennis – If you would like to play tennis you should contact the Tennis Club Of Heraklion Tel. (081) 283.015
Paragliding – For more information, contact the Paragliding Federal Aeroclub of Heraklion Tel. (081) 762068
The Sports mentioned are not the only sports you can do while in Heraklion. You can do many other things such as Climbing, Horseback riding, if only you have the time to check them out.
In Heraklion, there are a lot of taverns with Cretan music. Heraklion has practically everything one could ask. Buzukia, bars, pubs, discos, cinemas, it’s all there.