The bustling port city and capital of the Greek Island of Crete, Heraklion has become a popular summer holiday destination. The modern metropolis, renowned for its buzzing nightlife, is packed full of cultural and historical attractions, from the vast archaeological site Knossos, which dates back to the Minoan civilisation, to the 16th century Koules fortress.
Why cruise Heraklion
Crete’s capital has a prolific history and countless attractions waiting to be explored, from the ancient Koules Fortress to the legendary 3,000-year-old Palace of Knossos. The modern capital is also famed for its vibrant and thriving nightlife and some of the best beaches in Europe, making it the ideal port of call for cruisers of all ages and all types of cruiser.
What to see and do in Heraklion
Undoubtedly the biggest attraction in Heraklion is the ancient ruins at Knossos, which sit just outside the city. Considered Europe’s oldest city and the oldest site in Crete, Knossos dates back 9,000 years and was once the political hub of Minoan civilisation and culture. The Minoan Palace once featured more than 1,200 rooms, some if which have been reconstructed so that visitors can appreciate the sheer grandeur of the site in its heyday. The first palace was destroyed by an earthquake in 1700BCE, which was built around 2000BCE. A second and even grander palace was constructed in its place, but it is believed this was destroyed in 1450BCE, possibly by the terrible volcanic eruption on the nearby island of Thera (now Santorini). Visitors can today wander around the maze of salons, staircases and courtyards, which gave rise to the legend of the Labyrinth and its monster, Minotaur.
Heraklion Archaeological Museum
One of the largest museums in Greece and regarded as one of the most important museums in the whole of Europe, the Heraklion Archaeological Museum houses the most complete collection of artefacts belonging to the Minoan civilisation. The museum brings together archaeological finds from all over Crete, covering more than 5,500 years of the island’s history, from the Neolithic age to the Roman Empire.
Situated at the entrance of the old port of Heraklion and surrounding the harbour, the formidable Koules Fortress was built by the Venetians in the 16th century. Today, the fortress occasionally plays host to concerts, exhibitions and plays.
Located on 25th Avgoustou, the city’s main church dates back to the 10th century after the reconquest of Crete from the Arabs by the Byzantine general Nikiforos Fokas. It has been dedicated to St Titmus, who brought Christianity to Crete and whose relics are housed inside. During the Turkish occupation of Crete, it was rebuilt as an Ottoman mosque and the building features both neoclassical and oriental architectural features. After taking a wander around the church, enjoy a coffee in the picturesque Atios Titos Square.
Agios Minas Cathedral
Another important church in Heraklion is the Agios Minas Cathedral. Located in the heart of Heraklion, the Greek Orthodox cathedral was built in the 19th century and is dedicated to Saint Menas, who is the patron saint of Heraklion and whose feast day is a public holiday in the city (11 November).
Historical Museum of Crete
Founded by the Society of Cretan Historical Studies in 1953, the neoclassical building in which the Historical Museum is housed holds significant architectural merit in the city. The museum's rich collections highlight Crete’s art and history throughout the ages, from the 4th century AD up to and including the Second World War. Exhibits include ceramics, sculptures, coins, jewellery, wall paintings, portable icons, ritual objects, manuscripts, heirlooms and weavings. Also worthwhile is the city’s Natural History Museum, whose aim it is to study, protect and promote the diverse flora and fauna of the Eastern Mediterranean region.
Need to know when travelling to Heraklion
Getting around in Heraklion
Cruise ships dock at Heraklion’s large port. The city of Heraklion provides shuttles to the passenger terminal and from there it is an easy 15-minute walk along the seafront to the old town. Once within the old town’s Venetian walls, most of the city’s main attractions are within walking distance, but you will need to get a taxi or bus to reach Heraklion’s star attraction, Knossos. Heraklion has several bus terminals and taxis are plentiful.
When to go to Heraklion
Crete can get uncomfortably hot during the peak summer months of June, July and August. For cooler climes and fewer crowds to enjoy sightseeing, visit earlier or later in the season in May/June or September/October.
Heraklion uses the euro. You'll find numerous ATM machines and foreign exchange facilities in the main tourist areas in the city, but it’s always worth bringing travel money with you.
If you hold a British Citizen passport, you don't need a visa to enter Greece unless you're planning a stay of longer than three months.
Knossos Palace – Crete
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