Heraklion is the capital of Crete and a fascinating city that gives you an insight into modern Cretan culture and a tour through Cretan history since it features many monuments from different historical periods. In Heraklion, you will also find the most important museums of the island and a vibrant city life with countless things to see and do. Most visitors don’t have a lot of time to spend in the city as, understandably, they wish to hit the beach as soon as possible. However, we highly recommend spending at least a day in Heraklion, and with our short guide, you will be able to experience the best of it in less than 24 hours!
Morning / noon
Walk through the historical center
Most visitors that arrive in Heraklion usually land at the port side, where the ferries and the central bus station are located. Luckily, this is also the best starting point for a short walk that will take you to all the main attractions of Heraklion. Walking along the seaside towards the city center, you will first encounter the imposing fortress of Koules. Build in the early 16th century by the Venetians, Koules (or Castello a Mare, as it was then known) protected the port of Heraklion for many centuries, until it was taken over by the Ottomans after the 21-year siege of the city, the longest siege in war history! Today the fortress is open to the public, and if you have the time, it is well worth a visit.
Next, follow the pedestrian 25th of August street, starting right across the street from Koules fortress. As you walk up, you will first see on your left the magnificent Venetian temple St. Titus (Agios Titos) and Loggia, the Venetian building that today hosts the town hall. Shortly after, you will end up at Lions Square (liontaria), the heart of the city center. Take a moment to admire the exquisite Venetian art on the Morosini Fountain and observe the briskly human traffic. Perhaps you wish to take a break for a quick coffee and bougatsa (traditional cream-filled pastry) in one of the cafes around the fountain, or check out if there is an exhibition at the Basilica of St. Marcus, right across the fountain, another Venetian building that houses the Municipal Gallery.
Visit the archeological museum (and perhaps Knossos)
Visiting Heraklion and not visiting the Archaeological Museum is almost a scandal! The richest collection of Minoan art, the civilization that defined Crete in ancient times, is found here, including world-famous exhibits, such as the disk of Phaistos and the Snake Goddess. Apart from the Minoan section, the Museum exhibits cover over 5500 years of the island’s history, offering a fascinating time travel in just a couple of hours! If you have time and energy, we also recommend combining the Museum with a visit to the Palace of Knossos, a 20-minute bus ride away. The bus station is right across the Museum and there is a reduced price if you visit both!
Afternoon / evening
As your morning schedule was already quite tight, you will probably need some rest and “fuel” to continue the day! Fortunately, in the city center you will find anything your stomach desires: from fast-food options, (we suggest you try the local gyros or souvlaki) to quality restaurants of international and Mediterranean cuisine. Heraklion also features some of the best Cretan restaurants that serve local specialties in a pleasant environment. Plus, you can find a variety of Cretan products, such as cheese, wine and honey at the city’s old market.
Once your hunger is satisfied, we suggest you take your afternoon coffee at St. Minas Square, a popular hangout for families and an idyllic square to rest your body and your senses.
Experience city life
As the day reaches its end, we suggest taking a relaxing walk over the Venetian Walls to get an overview of Heraklion, and enjoy the sunset over the city. Then, head back to the city center, and take the last stroll of the day to find a kafeneio (local raki hangouts) to try raki or wine, accompanied by small local treats (mezze). This would be the ideal closure or your tour in Heraklion, unless of course, you feel young and restless and you want to go on and experience the bustling nightlife of Heraklion! One thing is for sure: you will never regret dedicating a day to discover the city!