While Chania is home to most of the Islands physical beauty, Heraklion is definitely the place to be to get your fix of ancient and historical Crete. You wont find crystal clear beaches here, but what you will find is a vibrant city with an amazing emerging food scene, a growing list of quality wineries and of course some of the best Ancient sights in not only Crete, but in all of Greece and even the world for that matter. While this is one of the cradles of modern civilization, two days should be enough to cover it.
Much like my advice for visiting Athens, it is definitely worth brushing up on some history of the Minoan civilization. This article is a great in depth history lesson. Sorry couldn’t find any Minoan history for kids this time. Next blog post maybe? Also the video below, while lengthy is an amazing documentary and in my opinion a must watch if visiting Heraklion.
Where to Stay in Heraklion
Most accomodations are located near the Old harbour and rightfully so. Sights around Heraklion are extremely compact. While Knossos is a bit outside of Heraklion, there isn’t much going on so it’s best to stay as close to the centre of town as you can.
Heraklio Youth Hostel There aren’t many budget options available in Heraklion unfortunately and it’s a shame. This appears to be the only backpackers hostel in town and it is a bit worse for wear. Its clean and safe but could definitely use some sprucing up and updating. Free wifi. Beds start at €12.50
Kronos Hotel If you’re looking for great value then this is your place. It has all the modern amenities, rooms overlooking the beach and a central location. Rates start at €43.
What to do in Heraklion
There is no shortage of things to do in Heraklion. Thankfully most sites are all within walking distance in the centre of the city.
Take a Walk along the Venetian Fortress
The harbour in Heraklion is vast and it is a wonderful place to wander in the afternoon. Even on the hottest of days the breeze is so refreshing. Be careful with walking on some sections of the fortress as the “path” is quite narrow and the drop is quite high.
Heraklion Archaeological Museum
This one is a no brainer. If you’re in Heraklion and don’t visit the museum, why on Earth are you here. This is the place to visit to learn about and see artifacts from the Minoan civilization, as well as an insight into daily life and the lives of other civilizations like the Egyptians. Check the website to see more information on the museum as well as any special exhibits. I highly recommend a combined ticket for the museum and Knossos it will save about €5 but most of all will save you from waiting in line at Knossos. These tickets are €16 and are good for 3 days so no need to visit everything on the same day. It is best to visit the museum first so you have a better sense of what you’re seeing when you visit Knossos
Much like visiting the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, if you don’t plan to visit Knossos while you’re here, then what are you doing here. Knossos is easily reached from the Iraklio bus station (or in front of the archaeological museum). Take bus #2 labeled KNOSSOS (city bus line, running 3-5 times an hour). Get off at the final stop. The public busses are €1.50 one way. Much like visiting the Acropolis, it’s best to visit here as early as possible to avoid the tour buses. Unfortunately there is nothing else in the area to visit. The restaurants are expensive and not worth visiting. Expect to spend 1-3 hours wandering the grounds. Be sure to grab a map when walking through with your ticket (since you don’t need to wait in line). It’s easy to forget and it is very helpful. There is also very good signage around each sight but there may be a crowd trying to read them. When you’re ready to come back be sure to look for signs back to Heraklion. It is not at the same spot where you were dropped off! Thankfully it is located not too far to the right of the parking lot and exit.
I visited Lyrarakis winery on a whim. I was surprised at how quickly I toured Heraklion and Knossos and still had another day left in my stay. My hotel recommended a winery tour. If you check their website they allow you to customize your tour with the type of tasting and food pairing of your choosing. I definitely recommend doing a food tasting as well. It’s not elaborate, but it’s a delicious sampling of traditional Cretan dishes. I tried the basic wine tasting and the degustation food pairing and it came out to €18. Now since I was on a budget I decided to visit by public bus. Catch the bus from the Heraklion bus station and hop on the bus heading to Alagni. *IMPORTANT when you buy your ticket from the kiosk take a note of the return times! I was stuck waiting for a bus back to Heraklion for 3 hours in the sun until a nice shop owner decided to take me in and give me some watermelon…true story. The walk to Lyrarakis winery is about 20 minutes on a dirt road and is pretty straight forward. The scenery of the countryside is beautiful thankfully. Still, download a google map for some piece of mind. The tour lasts about an hour and a half but you are free to roam the grounds at your leisure.
Where to Eat in Heraklion
Filosofies This is a great place to grab a frappe and a pastry called Bougatsa. You can get them cream filled or filled with sweet mizitra cheese. Get the cheesy one, this place is famous for it and there’s a reason. It’s perfection. Don’t really venture to order anything else off the menu. It’s location in the main square is a great place for a break and perfect for people watching
Peskesi One of the best restaurants in Heraklion and it’s pretty reasonably priced. The entire menu is local and farm to table. The interior looks like you’re dining in a treehouse. One of the best meals you’ll have here
Mare coffee This is a wonderful place to grab a cup of coffee and light breakfast of lunch. The location is relaxing right on the water and noone really rushes you out when you linger
Crop Roastery This is the perfect place to come after a visit to the Archaeological museum when you’ll need a pick me up. The coffee here is some of the best I’ve had in Crete. It’s not hard to see why as they roast their beans on premises. I grind my own beans when I travel to guarantee I always have coffee. These coffee beans were amazing! So if you’re like me do the same pick up a bag. They also have amazing light lunches, fantastic breakfast and really fluffy pancakes
Cooking with Love If you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive place to have dinner this place is perfect. Obviously the souvlaki platter is amazing but there are also many other options available and everything I’ve tried here is amazing
Xalavro Open Bar I stumbled upon this bar after a long day of sightseeing. It had a wonderful large, lively patio complete with trees and music. There happy hour cocktails are also wonderul
If you’ve enjoyed my guide or have more places to add to my list let me know and leave me a comment. Happy Travels!
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