The main city on the island of Crete, Heraklion is the fourth largest city in Greece and the birthplace of Minoan civilisation. On this island, myth meets history and the mountains meet the sea offering you an unforgettable travel experience. Whether you’re looking for a trip back in time, a relaxing break on beautiful beaches, or simply want to enjoy the city’s wild nightlife in modern bars, restaurants and clubs, Heraklion offers you everything you are looking for.
Located in the centre of the Mediterranean at the crossroads of many commercial routes, Crete was the cradle of the Minoan civilisation, which flourished during the Bronze Age and is considered to be the first European civilisation. Discovered by the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, the civilisation takes its name from King Minos, whose palace in Knossos was associated with the labyrinth where the Minotaur, a mythological creature half-man, half-bull, was held captive and then killed by Theseus with the help of the thread of Ariadne, Minos’ daughter. If the disappearance of the Minoans remains shrouded in mystery - some even think that Crete could be the mythical island of Atlantis - this sophisticated civilisation has undeniably left us the first writing system of Europe, as well as vivid frescoes, amazing palaces, and a vast range of art pieces showing a high degree of craftsmanship. True masterpieces from Minoan times are on display in the impressive Heraklion Archaeological Museum.
After the fall of the Minoan civilisation, the island fell under the influence of the Mycenaeans, after which it was successively annexed by the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Venetian Republic and the Ottoman Empire, before finally becoming a part of modern Greece. Due to all these influences, the island features a very mixed architectural style. The Venetian influence is mostly visible in the defensive buildings dominating the harbour like the Koules Fortress, the Loggia (today the Heraklion Town Hall), and the Morosini Fountain, decorated with lions, the symbol of La Serenissima (a name for the Republic of Venice). The Byzantine influence is mostly to be found in the religious buildings, like the Agios Titos Cathedral or the Agios Minas Cathedral, both converted into mosques during the Ottoman occupation.
Tired of all this travelling back in time? Come back to the present and enjoy the animated nightlife of Heraklion on Korai Street or in St. Titus Square. Ouzo, taverns, delicious Cretan dishes and traditional music will make you feel like Zorba the Greek, the character from the famous novel of the same name written by the Cretan author Nikos Kazantzakis.
The Minoan palaces of Knossos, Phaestos and Zakros are situated near Heraklion and can be easily reached by bus. The Palace of Knossos, built over 4,000 years ago, is one of the most visited places in Greece after the Acropolis. We advise that you set aside a full day for the visit. You can also visit a number of Minoan tombs near Heraklion, where you can admire statues, pottery and other pieces of Minoan art.
In addition, you will find a large number of religious buildings, like monasteries and churches from the Byzantine period as well as ancient Greek temples and sanctuaries, all over the island. They all house valuable treasures and the beauty of the surrounding landscape will lend a spiritual air to your visit.
Apart from its archaeological and architectural jewels, the island of Crete is also famous for its beautiful beaches. Whether you are looking for popular beaches offering a lot of complementary services (like Matala, Amoudara or Malia) or for secluded and isolated bays (for example, Agiofaraggo or Dermatos), and whether you prefer sand, pebbles or rock, you will definitely find the perfect spot that most suits your needs.