Around 1880 the Greek Kalokairinos and later in 1900, the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans began excavating a site just south of the city, thinking to find remains of ancient culture maybe Mycenean. He quickly discovered a much older, more powerful civilisation, which he called “Minoan” after the Minotaur legend. 4000 to 3000 years ago, Crete dominated the east Mediterranean from this site, Knossos. These discoveries changed our ideas of the ancient world – and Crete’s modern fame and tourist industry were born.
Heraklion (in Greek Ηράκλειον, also transcribed as Herakleion, Iraklio, Irakleion) has been much fought-over down the centuries. From 1204 it was held by the Venetians, who built a great wall around the city, and a harbour fort, to defend against the Ottoman Turks. But the Ottomans won in 1669 and held the island until 1898 when their empire was crumbling. Crete for a time was independent, then was incorporated into Greece in 1913.
Modern air transport brought huge numbers of tourists, mostly heading to resorts further along the coast, and the city sprawled out way beyond its historic centre – the population is now some 200,000. Many developments were ugly and ill-planned. Then came recession, and turmoil in the Greek economy. Heraklion today is an interesting city with a pedestrianized center and a lovely coastal promenade.
Like the rest of Crete, Heraklion has a Mediterranean climate. Summers are hot and dry with clear skies, but often with stiff breezes to relieve the heat. Winters are mild with little rain and rare frosts.
Heraklion International AirportHas frequent flights from Athens and Thessaloniki, the main carriers being Olympic Air and Aegean Airlines. Heraklion is the base for Sky Express, which flies to several Aegean islands. There are no flights within Crete, eg Heraklion to Chania. Easyjet has regular flights to Heraklion from several UK and German cities plus from Milan. From April to November charter airlines fly in from many European airports.
By boatThe principal ferry route is from Piraeus, the port for Athens. These ferries mostly sail overnight, leaving in each direction around 9 pm to dock next morning at 6 am. Heraklion ferry terminal is near the KTEL bus station just east of town centre. The operators are
Minoan Lines, Anek Lines and Superfast Ferries
Other routes are:
- to Thessaloniki and Dodecanese by G.A. Ferries
- to the Cyclades by G.A. Ferries, Sea Jets and Hellenic Seaways.
- to Santorini by Anek, Seajets and Hellenic, links above.
Most ferries take vehicles and run year-round – trucking is an important part of their business, especially since so many people nowadays fly. But frequency is much reduced in winter, so for island-hopping you may find you have to double back via Piraeus.
By roadSee below under “Get around”.
By busHeraklion is connected with the rest of Crete by regular bus lines operated by two KTEL companies , . The coaches are modern, comfortable and air-conditioned. Fares are reasonable. The main inter-city buses run hourly.
There is now only one newly built bus station for all inter-city buses in Heraklion:
Bus stationphone: +30 2810-246532
In and around Heraklion, use the public city buses. The main bus stops have routes and schedules posted, lcd displays for the next buses, and ticket machines, which are cheaper than buying aboard the bus. Small stops may have none of these, so consider buying two tickets, keeping one for your return. At bus stops, signal the driver by raising your arm. Orange ticket (A zone whole, B zone students) costs €1.20, blue ticket (B zone whole) costs €1.70, all tickets have a QR code, directing to Astiko KTEL website.
When you get on the bus, hold the bottom half of your ticket in your right hand. The driver will take the top half (side with ticket price) and the two of you will rip it in half. Tickets are available inside buses but cost more (2€ Zone A, 2.50€ Zone B).
- Line 1 goes to the airport
- Line 2 goes to Knossos
- Line 7 goes to Amnissos
- Line 8 goes to FORTH (Foundation for Research & Technology Hellas)
- Line 12 goes to TEI (Technologiko Ekpedeftiko Idrima Kritis)
By carFirst think whether you really need a car for your trip. Traffic in Heraklion is bad and parking is worse. You can see the main central sights on foot, and take the bus for Knossos, Rethymno and Chania.
Hiring a car is easy with the usual documentation (a standard EU driving licence is fine.) Get prior permission in writing from the rental company if you plan to take the car away on a ferry.
Petrol stations often close around 21:00, particularly in villages. Most petrol stations expect you to pay cash - they serve you, so you can choose for them to fill the tank or put in fuel to a cash value. On the National Highway, there are service stations, but they are often 50 km or so apart. Fill up before public holidays and Sundays when you may have more difficulty finding an open station.
By taxiLots of taxi ranks in all the main locations, downtown and at the airport & ferry port. Usually they’re looking for trade and will spot you before you spot them. If they’re sparse, call (+30) 2810 210102) or via their website.
Take a stroll along the city’s Venetian wall (Greek: Τείχη). It’s 7.5 km long, with seven bastions jutting out. On the southernmost of these, the Martinengo Bastion, is the grave of Nikos Kazantzakis with its moving inscription, "I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free." From the wall head towards the harbour, taking in the Historical Museum, which picks up the story where the Archaeological Museum leaves off. The Koules or fortress stands over the inner harbour but the mole continues for almost 2 km, with views back over the city and the ferry port. You don’t need to enter the Koules to go on the mole, but you may need to dash where the waves are breaking at its base.
phone: +30 2810279000address: 2 Xanthoudidou StHouses the most important and representative finds from Minoan civilisation and excavations across the island of Crete. Highlights include statues of the Snake Goddess, the Bull-Leaping Fresco, the Phaistos Disk, and Minoan seals and jewellery. Also includes a number of finds from Classical Greek and Roman periods.
phone: +30 2810 231940, +30 2810 226470, +30 2810 226092, +30 2810 224630If you see just one ruin on Crete, see Knossos (in Greek it’s Κνωσός, stress is on the second syllable). The site is fairly compact, and much of it is accessible with restricted mobility. But 30 minutes will do it.
phone: +30 2810 288484Koules (Greek: Κούλες) was built by the Venetians in the 16th C. From the parapet, enjoy the view towards Dia Islet, where Jacques Cousteau found many sunken remains of Cretan sea trade.
phone: +30 2810-283219, +30 2810-288708address: 27, Sofokli Venizelou AveCovers the story of Crete from the Byzantine era to the present day. This includes material on World War 2 and the German occupation – this was formerly displayed in the “Museum of the Battle for Crete and National Resistance” but this has now closed.
address: 25 August Strelegant city meeting place, built in 1628
St Minas Cathedralphone: +30 2810 282402(Greek: Άγιος Μηνάς)
St Titus Churchphone: +30 281 034 6079address: Pl. Agiou Titou(Greek: Άγιος Τίτος) Known for housing the skull of St. Titus himself.
St Catherine of the Sinaites Churchaddress: Monis Odigitrias 1(Greek: Αγία Αικατερίνη Σιναϊτών)
St Mark's Basilicaaddress: Pl. Kallergon 100(Greek: Βασιλική Αγίου Μάρκου)
Dominican Church of St Peteraddress: I. Mitsotaki(Greek: Άγιος Πέτρος Δομηνικανών)
phone: +30 2810 282740address: Sofokli Venizelou Ave
phone: +30 2810 741689address: Myrtia 70100Nikos Kazantzakis Museum, in the village of Myrtia (Varvari) 20 km south of Heraklion, focuses on Crete's most prominent modern intellectual figure.
Take the main highway east towards Malia to reach the Cretaquarium and the folklore museum.
phone: +30 2810 337788 (for bookings: +30 2810 337888)The biggest aquarium in the Eastern Mediterranean.
phone: +30 28970 23660address: Hersonissos 700 14, HersonissosOpen-air Cretan folklore museum.
- Heraklion Summer Arts Festival - from June to September
- Amoudara the city's beach area; a 6 km strip of sandy beach, lots of cafes, bars and hotels and the site of "Technopolis", a modern multiplex cinema and open-air theatre.
- Horseback riding, experienced and amateur riders can ride at the beach of Karteros, or take riding lessons at Ippikos Omilos Hrakliou, located 6 km east of Heraklion, in Karteros.
- Rock climbing, locals and visitors can climb a 15 m rock at the suburb of Karteros, east of Heraklion. Safety equipment is provided
- Water fun, at the nearby Water City and Aqua Plus water parks.
- Heraklion Sailing Club(Ιστιοπλοϊκός Όμιλος Ηρακλείου Tel:2810242120 - email: email@example.com) - provides sailing lessons, sailing trips, yacht charters and also has its own seafood restaurant. On the former premises of the port refrigeration plant, east of the Port Authorities.
University of CreteThe leading higher education institution on the island of Crete. The University was established in 1973 and operates under the supervision of the State. The seat of the University is in Rethymno, with Heraklion hosting the School of Sciences and Engineering and that of Health Sciences.
- Visit the central open market in Meidani square and buy mountain herbs, spices and folk natural remedies.
BudgetThroughout the city centre, it is easy to find cheap tavernas (ταβέρνα) offering full meals for under €20 for two people.
A strict budget can be met by sticking to the supermarkets which provide the usual array of fruits, vegetables and cheese for modest prices (€5/day is quite feasible.)
Central cafes serve the local breakfast treat bougatsa, a local pastry with cottage cheese, served with honey, or cinnamon and sugar.
Also available are the usual complement of pastry shops for standard meals such as spanakopita (spinach pie) and various cheap deserts.
- Pagopiion (Ice-Factory) is a "quirky" restaurant and cafe/bar, at St Titus square, by the church. You can sit outside and enjoy the setting, or you might be tempted by the dramatic decor to sit inside. The food is excellent, and the menu different and interesting.
- Herb's Garden (The Roof Garden of Lato Boutique Hotel) The name has been inspired from the traditional Cretan herbs. Offers a spectacular view to Heraklion’s Venetian fortress and Cretan Sea. Opens from early afternoon and serves fresh fish and salads accompanied by local aperitifs and a variety of fine wines. Later in the afternoon there is special coffee and tea arrangements, fresh fruit juices, ice cream and cocktails.
- Raki, also known as tsikoudia, is the trademark of Cretan day and night life, a strong clear drink similar to grappa in Italy or orujo in Spain. It is made from the 'must' of grape skins and twigs after the local production of the white wine. It doesn't taste like aniseed, as opposed to the Turkish rakı. Most raki is standard spirit strength of 40% or 80 o proof, but some are much stronger. It's often served in small glasses after dinner with a plate of fruit or other dessert.
- Cretan wine: Try the distinctive Cretan wine, produced in the island for at least 4000 years. Labels: Sitia, Peza Union. The Cretans themselves drink so called 'open' wine, straight out of the barrel, like fresh white wine, and the sometimes very old dark rusty red wine, a bit like port. Typical Cretan wine varieties are Marouvas and Kotsifali (both red wines).
BudgetThere are two hostels in Heraklion, both in the city centre, a 10-minute drive from the airport and a 5-minute drive from the port. A taxi from the airport to either hostel should cost less than €10, and from the port less than €6.
Heraklion Youth Hostelphone: +30 2810 286281address: Vironos 5Read the online reviews before booking: fairly disgusting and not for the faint hearted.
phone: +30 2810 381645address: Old National Road, KarterosAn excellent family-run hotel in Karteros, about 7 km east of Heraklion beyond the airport. (On bus route to Ag Nik with hourly buses.)
phone: +30 2810 285052address: 20, TheotokopoulouGood value, friendly atmosphere, very helpful staff. Rooms from €30-55 with discounts during low-season. Centrally located in a quiet part of the city. Nice views from the balcony.
phone: +30 2810 243090 or +30 2810 343088address: 50, Ikarou AveThis hotel is walking distance to the port and very close to the bus station. Double €70. A good option if staying near the port and walking distance to the centre. It is also a 25-min walk from the airport and the directions are simple: Remain on Ikarou Ave until you see the hotel on the left. Staff are helpful and speak fluent English
phone: +30 2810 228103address: 15 Epimenidou StAccommodation within a modern, friendly and luxurious environment with panoramic views of the Venetian fortress.
phone: +30 2810 229103address: 2 Igias StCentrally located in a quiet area.
phone: +30 2810 343080-2address: 11 Eleftherias sq.
There are many stray cats and dogs in the city. The dogs can often be seen in small packs, and may bark and growl but do not attack if they are left alone.