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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

Crete: Palace of Knossos Archaeological Site Entrance Ticket

1. 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

2. 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: Palace of Knossos Ticket with Audio Tour

3. 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.

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

4. 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. 

From Heraklion: Afternoon Sailing Trip to Dia Island

5. From Heraklion: Afternoon Sailing Trip to Dia Island

Embark on a half-day cruise to Dia Island from Heraklion and explore this rugged island with plenty of time to swim, snorkel, or relax on its pristine shores. Enjoy a Mediterranean lunch with a glass of wine. Benefit from optional pick-up from your hotel or cruise ship, or meet at the Venetian harbor at Heraklion Port at 14:30, and then relax on a 1-hour cruise to Dia Island on an intimate boat with space for no more than 8 passengers. Relax aboard the elegant sailing boat before dropping anchor in the romantic Gulf of Saint George at 15:30. Discover an idyllic location with a great history as an ancient Minoan port and one of the favorite destinations of the underwater explorer, Jacques-Yves Cousteau.  Enjoy 2.5 hours at leisure to fish, swim in the crystal clear water, take a walk among the island's cedar trees or just relax in the quiet bay overlooking Heraklion. Snorkeling and fishing equipment are provided for your comfort and convenience by the attentive crew, along with unlimited refreshments and seasonal fruits. Feast from a delicious Mediterranean menu of roasted chicken fillets, rice with vegetables, Greek salad, and wine. Depart Dia Island at 18:00 and journey back to Heraklion for an estimated arrival time of 19:00, where a transfer to your hotel or cruise ship is provided if requested.

From Heraklion: Santorini Island Guided Tour

6. From Heraklion: Santorini Island Guided Tour

Enjoy a roundtrip tour to Santorini. Travel comfortably on a modern boat and in air-conditioned buses while learning about this island's history and mythology. Capture pictures of Santorini's famous Aegean architecture and narrow, winding streets.  Travel to Heraklion port where you will depart on a high-speed boat for Santorini. Enjoy ocean views on the 2.5-hour cruise to the island and pickup a snack from the bar onboard.  Arrive at Port Athinios and hop aboard the bus for the guided tour. Travel 40 minutes to Oia, where you will admire the blue and white houses built over the cliffs. Learn about the city before enjoying free time to admire the volcanic caldera at your own pace. Next, travel 30 minutes to Fira, the main town of Santorini, built on the edge of a 300-meter cliff. Check out its narrow streets, white vaulted houses, and bright blue domes. Have the option to take a cruise from Fira in a wooden boat to the volcano and hot springs (for an additional charge) or spend more time exploring the city. Return to Port Athinios where your guide will help you board the return ferry.  Take in the late-afternoon views on the boat before arriving at Heraklion port.

From Heraklion: Morning Sailing Trip to Dia Island

7. From Heraklion: Morning Sailing Trip to Dia Island

Enjoy a cruise, snorkeling and fishing in crystal clear waters on this relaxing and fun trip to Dia Island. Relax on the 1-hour trip to the island, taking in the scenery and enjoying the comfort of your boat, which will have a maximum of 8 passengers onboard. Next, visit the romantic gulf and ancient Minoan port of St. George. Spend 2.5 hours swimming in the turquoise water, walking on the beautiful trails, fishing or just relaxing on the beach. Relax and let the crew take care of you by providing you with any snorkeling and fishing equipment you need. Enjoy unlimited refreshments, seasonal fruits and a delicious Mediterranean lunch served by the crew.

Agia Pelagia: Quad Safari-Family Tour

8. Agia Pelagia: Quad Safari-Family Tour

Begin the tour at the Peninsula Resort and Spa with a short theoretical introduction and a quad driving lesson before the adventure begins. Follow a beautiful off-road cliff path along the sea and into the heights of Achlada away from traffic and in the midst of the most beautiful nature the area has to offer. Enjoy breathtaking views over Agia Pelagia until reaching Heraklion, then continue to the ancient and abruptly abandoned ghost village of Achlada.  Find out more about the background of the village and the traditional Cretan way of life and share a special personal moment with the last two remaining inhabitants of the village. Stroll through this otherwise inaccessible village at leisure. From the heights of Achlada, pass in between the mountains surrounded by breathtaking nature before continuing to Fodele, a traditional Cretan village, also called the village of the oranges and birthplace of the famous painter El Greco.  Explore Crete’s culture and marvel at its local handicrafts. Take some time for shopping and a visit to the museum or to the village’s orthodox churches. Sit back and enjoy a famous freshly squeezed orange juice made from the local orange trees for a more relaxing experience. Return to the hotel at 1.00 p.m., just in time for lunch.

Heraklion: CRETAquarium Admission Ticket

9. 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.

From Heraklion: Gramvousa and Balos Cruise with Hotel Pickup

10. From Heraklion: Gramvousa and Balos Cruise with Hotel Pickup

Start with pickup from Heraklion or the surrounding area. Drive over to Kastelli by bus to board your boat. Balos are Gramvousa are located on the West part of the island. Depending on the area your hotel is located is around 4 hours by bus to the place where the boats depart. Embark the boat from the village of Kasteli and head over to Balos Lagoon and enjoy plenty of time to swim in the quiet crystal clear waters, walk across the golden sand beach and soak in the sun as you relax. Cruise across the western Cretan sea and arrive at the tranquil Gramvousa. Swim along the coast and stroll up to the castle on the hill to admire panoramic views of the natural landscape as you hike up to that point. The drivers will be awaiting you at the port, in order to begin the drive back to Heraklion.

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

This is the best activity we did our entire trip. Mary was an incredible guide. We loved the tour of the village and folklore museum. It was fascinating to learn this history. But the cooking and eating was brilliant! We learned so many techniques to improve our Greek cooking once we get home. The view is spectacular and everyone was so nice- 12/10, we would go again.

Brilliant experience from start to finish. Would recommend this to anyone who is able to get to Heraklion. Our skippers - Nansy and Marinela - were perfect and made the day go from a 10/10 to a 12/10. We could not thank them enough. Was the best day and we'll remember it forever.

It was a relaxing and fun trip. we have 1.5 hours in the water and 1 hour of lunch and relaxing on the boat. The water was perfect to swim. Marko and Michael were really nice and attentive.

Skipping the line is definitely worth it. And we had almost a private tour, with just 3 of us. Very knowledgeable guide.

Great trip, highly recommend. Spinalonga is a must see!