Heraklion is a city worth visiting. You are bound to adore its cosmopolitan character. It is the administrative capital and also the largest city of the island of Crete. Its geographical position is important as it joins three (3) continents (Europe, Asia and Africa).
Heraklion has a population of 150,000 people. The whole prefecture of Heraklion has more than 300,000 people.
Heraklion is famous for agricultural products such as olives, olive oil, grapes, wine and oranges. The harbor of the city is the largest one on the island and there is also “Nikos Kazantzakis” airport which accommodates thousands of travelers daily. The city also has a university where there are a School of Science and Engineering and a School of Medicine as well as the ITE (FORTH) which is one of the largest research centers in Greece.
Extremely important people, who have made everybody in the city and the whole country proud, lived in Heraklion. Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco), Vitsentzos Kornaros, Nikos Kazantzakis, Elli Alexiou, Odysseas Elytis, Manolis Rasoulis and many more. Finally, it was one of the Greek cities that hosted the Olympic Games in 2004.
- The Minoan Civilization (2000 BC) started in Crete and spread throughout the country. The vast majority of the population lived in the center of the civilization, the city of Heraklion.
- In 824 AD. Handakas, that is what the city was called at the time, was conquered by the Saracens who fortified the city and used it as their base. A century later, the Byzantines conquered it and destroyed it. So, they built the city from scratch, they cared so that noble families settled in and tried to create bonds with the residents. In 1204, the city was bought by the Venetians. During the Venetian Rule the residents rebelled repeatedly until they finally managed to improve their life conditions.
- In 1669, after a 22- year siege, the Ottomans conquered Handakas. The events that followed stained the history of the city. After numerous fights the city was finally free in 1898, it was named Heraklion, incorporated in the Cretan State and was united with Greece in 1913.
When you visit Heraklion, do not leave without visiting the museums and archaeological sites of the city.
In the Archaeological Museum there are various exhibits that travel the visitor from the Neolithic Age to the Roman Times. The treasures from the Minoan Times and the Palace of Knossos will be a thrilling experience for the visitors.
The Museum of History in Heraklion includes collections of the Cretan history that cover a period from the first Christian centuries until today. One can see, among others, paintings by El Greco, Nikos Kazantzakis’ personal belongings, exhibits of Byzantine and Post byzantine art, features of the Ottoman period, the Second World War, coins, ceramics, sculptures and many other masterpieces.
The visitor of the area should not miss the opportunity to visit the Natural History Museum, the Battle of Crete and National Resistance Museum, the Heraklion Museum of Visual Arts, the exhibition center of St. Aikaterini’s church and the Nikos Kazantzakis Museum.
Knossos, where the most important Minoan Palace is, Faistos, Gortyna, Malia and the Venetian Castle “Koules” are places that everybody who comes in Heraklion must visit. The monasteries and the Byzantine churches as well as El Greco’s house in Fodele are also places of great interest.
Apart from the museums and the archaeological sites there are other places in Heraklion that are really worth visiting.
The Eleftherias’ Square, the central square in Heraklion is teeming with life as it has lots of cafeterias, public service departments and the Museum of History.
Also, you can visit the Venetian castle “Koules” in the harbor, as well as the Venetian Walls that surround the city and were used for its protection from the enemies.
Downtown, in the Lions’ Square you will be amazed by the Morozini Fountain. Water springs from the mouths of 4 lions consisting it one of the most beautiful and impressive Venetian monuments.
The Lotzia building which houses the City Hall today is also of great interest. The building which is decorated with sculptures and relief displays, used to be a place where the nobles and the rulers gathered.
A hundred meters on the southwest side of the square there is the Medieval St. Aikaterini’s Monastery. In its exhibition center one can admire Cretan Hagiography exhibits. Walking along the street you will find the impressive Metropolitan Church of St. Minas who is the patron Saint of the city.
A visit at the CretAquarium will be a unique experience. In the park, the visitor has the opportunity to get to know the species of life in the sea, in a most interesting and entertaining way.
You can find accommodation according to your preferences and your interests. There are one to five star hotels that have received very good reviews.
You can stay downtown so that you can have more choice. If you are interested in a quieter holiday you will find excellent accommodation in the picturesque villages around Heraklion, either on the mountain or by the sea. The hotels in the villages are less luxurious but they are worth preferring them, especially if you are looking for family holidays.
For those of you who prefer camping you will find numerous choices on unique beaches. You just have to choose whether you prefer to stay in free camping sites or go for the comforts that organized campsites offer.
Heraklion is the best place to taste the Cretan cuisine. You can find restaurants with excellent food at reasonable prices. Of course there are more gourmet options for those interested.
The city of Heraklion and Crete in general, are famous for the “rakadika”. “Rakadika” are small traditional taverns which offer “raki” or “tsikoudia” and traditional dishes and products such as olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, “dakos”, cheese etc. You will find them in pedestrian streets, squares or narrow paths along the city.
In the villages around Heraklion you will find traditional taverns where you can taste authentic Cretan dishes. You should not leave the island without tasting “dakos” “hohlious bourbouristous”, “avonies”, “staka”, kalitsounia” as well as different kinds of cheese that are produced in Crete: “tyrozouli”, “ksinogala” and “Malaka”. Certainly, “raki” should always accompany your meals.
In most taverns (if not in all of them) you will be offered a treat upon finishing your meal. A small jug of raki along with some kind of sweet or fruit indicate the great hospitality of the city.
Heraklion is a city with great night life throughout the year. There is something for everybody. You will find clubs with Greek music, bouzoukia, traditional Cretan music, rock music bars, live music, dancing clubs or pubs for a relaxing drink.
“Rakadika” is the best way to start your night out and there are places where you can have breakfast before going to bed early in the morning.
August is the month when lots of fairs take place in villages around Heraklion. During those fairs you will have the chance to know the Cretan culture since you will taste traditional Cretan food and watch traditional Cretan dances.
No trip would be complete without some shopping. There are countless shops downtown where you can find everything you wish for.
The Old Market is the street where you can begin your shopping experience in Heraklion. You will find traditional Cretan products such as “apaki”, Cretan “graviera” cheese and of course “tsikoudia”, “rakomelo” and Cretan wine. Honey, Cretan sweets, herbs and spices are also of great quality.
“Sarikia”, knives and various hand-woven textiles are also characteristic products of Crete. You can also buy small magnets and other small items as souvenirs which show the history of the island such as golden horns, pictures of the Minoan Palace, the disk of Faistos and so on.
Heraklion has magical beaches, most of which are organized.
Ammoudara is a huge sandy beach, very close to the city of Heraklion. It is an organized beach with lots of cafeterias and taverns. The visitors can also try water sports. However, for those of you who look for less crowded places there are parts on the beach that are not organized and therefore they are quiet.
Lygaria beach will enchant the visitors with its blue-green water and thick sand. As it is in a closed bay, it is protected by the strong wind unlike the beach in Ammoudara where it is often quite windy.
In Agia Pelagia there are small natural bays with beautiful beaches. In the main beach the water is warm and greenish. The most beautiful one is the beach Fylakes which is protected by cliffs. Swimming from Agia Pelagia you can reach Vlyhada, a small artificial beach.
The thin golden sand of Karteros beach impresses the visitors the most. You will find it 7 kilometers east of Heraklion. It is characterized by its beautiful sand and its shallow water. You will find fewer people in the area of Florida which is unspoiled.
You can travel to Heraklion either by plane or by ship.
You can find ferry routes from the harbor of Heraklion to Piraeus, the Dodecanese and the Cyclades. During the summer months, when the touristic season is in its peak, there are always extra routes.
«Nikos Kazantzakis» airport has routes to various cities along Greece: Athens, THessaloniki, Alexandroupoli. There are also flights to Cyprus (Larnaca) and major European cities. During the summer months there are more lights to more destinations.
The urban and intercity transport network in Heraklion is a quite well organized one. There are lots of routes especially during the summer months when the buses run more often. The visitors can also rent cars, motorbikes or bicycles. In fact, the municipality of Heraklion provides bicycles for free two-hour rides.