Heraklion is the largest city on the island of Crete and the main transport hub with Heraklion Airport and the busy Heraklion Port operating daily ferries to other Cyclades islands.
Town attractions are varied and include excellent museums, art galleries and pretty pedestrian streets for shopping and souvenirs.
The city is linked to the rest of Crete by good road networks, and given that it is centrally located on the north coast Heraklion is a good base to explore the other island towns on Crete by rental car.
The Koules Fortress at the entrance to the harbour is one of Heraklion’s landmarks and was built by Venetians in the 13th century. It was primarily built for storage of food and was used as a military quarters with a chapel, mill and a prison. The fortress can be visited every day (excluding Monday) year round and they sometimes have art exhibitions or concerts.
The Minoan site of Knossos is situated 5 kilometers from Heraklion and is one of the most important Bronze Age archaeological sites in Crete. The palace covered an immense area complete with theater, bath houses and villas. The site has been restored greatly due to damage from invasions and earthquakes and you can excavations of villas and mosaics.
Located in the town center, the Heraklion Archaeological Museum holds excellent artefacts uncovered from Knossos including pottery, frescoes, sculptures and mosaics. It is one of the most important Greek museums for demonstrating Minoan culture. You can buy a combined ticket for the museum and the archaeological site of Knossos; check opening hours prior to visiting as they undertake renovations therefore major artefacts are displayed in temporary exhibitions.
Go for a harborside stroll alongside Heraklion’s working port which is an interesting insight into daily life where you will see locals fishing from the rocks, fishermen repairing nets and trawling boats bringing in the morning’s catch that will be sold in the tavernas.
Find a table at a kafenion (coffee shop) so you can relax with a cup of strong Greek coffee as you watch townspeople and tourists wander past.
Visit the grave off celebrated Greek writer and philosopher, Nikos Kazantzakis (best known for his novel Zorba the Greek). His grave is on the Martinengo Bastion on the city wall near Chania Gate because the Orthodox Church ruled out him being laid to rest in a cemetery.
Drive 44 kilometers southwest of Heraklion to Gortyn (Gortys), an archaeological site that has been partially excavated. Here, you can see the Church of St Titus, Odeon and the famous plane tree that is said to have sheltered Zeus and Europa.
Anogia is located 45 minutes’ drive from Heraklion via winding mountain roads but is a good detour from Heraklion. Here, Greek women spin textiles on their looms and sell their wares in town shops. You can sit at the shaded town square with a cool drink and sample the town’s famous cheese and honey.