Heraklion is the capital of the island of Crete. It is the most popular region and also one of the most beautiful. According to the ranking, Heraklion was the 20th most visited region in Europe.
Its history is still reflected on the townscapes!
What’s more, it’s the perfect base for exploration, as it is close to two of the most important monuments in Crete: Knossos palace and Phaistos palace!
The region of Heraklion on the eastern side of Crete has many developed tourist resorts, including Matala, Malia, and Hersonissos. Also has much interesting sightseeing to visit.
Some of them are :
Minos Palace in Knossos
The Minos Palace of Knossos lays about 5 km south of Heraklion. This is the most famous and largest Minoan site in Greece. Discovered in the early 20th century by the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, the site was found almost intact and covered by ashes. This led scientists to believe that the palace was destroyed by a tsunami wave caused by the volcanic eruption of Santorini in 1550 BC.
Minos Palace in Phaistos
The Palace of Phaistos is located on the east end of Kastri Hill, the end of the Messara plain in South Central Crete. It is considered to be one of the finest of all Minoan palaces. The preserves of the old and new palace can be seen until nowadays.
The palace complex and the city of Phaistos offering a panoramic view. The rich and fertile plain of Messara opens up ahead to the east for a distance of 40 kilometres.
The Phaistos disc, the most famous example of Minoan pictographic script, unique in its kind, was discovered inside a small room of the Phaistos palace. It dates to the early Neopalatial period and is preserved intact.
Τhe archaeological site of Gortyn is located near the present-day village of Agii Deka, very close to the river Mitropolianos, in the Messara region. One of the most ancient and most powerful cities of prehistorical and historical Crete existed there. The ruins of ancient Gortyncover an area of 4.000.000 square metres,from the hills of Ai-Yiannis, of Volakas and of Profitis Ilias to the north, as far as the village of Agii Deka to the east, and to Mitropolivillage to the south.
Heraklion Museums & Churches
Known as the largest town in Crete, Heraklion is home to remarkable museums and churches, all being part of the Cretan history that begins from antiquity.
Nikos Kazantzakis Museum
The Museum was founded by set and costume designer Yiorgos Anemoyiannis, a pioneering figure in Greek theatre. His fundamental aim was to preserve the author’s memory and promote his work and thought.
Every day, visitors arrive from all four corners of the globe, bearing witness to the lasting relevancy of the word expressed by the great Cretan, universal author and thinker.
Crete Historical Museum
The Historical Museum is housed in a Neoclassical building dating to 1903 which was owned by Andreas Kalokairinos. He granted it to the Society of Cretan Historical Studies to be turned into a museum in 1952.
Successive extensions to the museum and recent re-displays, using contemporary perceptions in museology and new media applications, have contributed to creating a lively, up-to-date, visitor-friendly museum.
The CHS now offers a composite view of Cretan history and art from the early Christian centuries to the 20th century. Lectures, symposia, film shows and book presentations held in the amphitheatre add to activities at the Historical Museum of Crete, rendering it an outgoing, multi-faceted cultural organization.
CRETAquarium offers visitors a unique opportunity to explore the magnificent Mediterranean sea world, its species and its habitats.
Approximately 200 Mediterranean species are hosted in numerous tanks of varying sizes (totalling 1.7 million litres of sea water) along a spectacular route that requires approximately 2 hours to view in full.
The monastery of Kalyviani is located in the valley of Messara, at a distance of four kilometres from Moires. This church, probably the catholicon of an older monastery of hut-dwelling monks, acquired great fame because of its miraculous icon and became an important pilgrimage site already from the 19th century.
Kalyviani monastery is a typical example of a foundation that offers help and charity to poor and needy people, orphanage, hospice, housekeeping school for girls, elementary school, kindergarten, summer camps, workshops of weaving, knitting and making vestments, etc.
Kera Kardiotissa Monastery
The Monastery of Kera Kardiotissa is located next to the road leading to Lassithi Plateau and about 30 km from Hersonissos. The monastery is one of the most important monastery of Crete and today it functions as a monastery for women.
Because of its position, during the Cretan revolutions, the monastery of Kera served as the revolutionary center of the local province and thus suffered many times of Turkish attacks. Today Kera serves as a nunnery and it is worth a visit, especially if you combine it with a drive to Plateau of Lassithi.
Heraklion Traditional Products
Crete is blessed with a wonderful nature, a mild climate and fertile land. The gastronomical heritage of the island originates from antiquity and the Minoan times. The Cretan diet is based on traditional Cretan products, in particular, the olive oil, fish, cheese and a great variety of fruits and vegetables. It is an integral part of the Mediterranean diet and it offers longevity and good health. Meals are always accompanied by the unique Cretan wine or tsikoudia (the local drink).
Raki, also known as tsikoudia, is the trademark of Cretan day and night life, a strong clear drink similar to grappa in Italy or orujo in Spain. It is made from the ‘must’ of grape skins and twigs after the local production of the white wine. It doesn’t taste like aniseed, as opposed to the Turkish rakı. Most raki is standard spirit strength of 40% or 80o proof, but some are much stronger. It’s often served in small glasses after dinner with a plate of fruit or other dessert.
Heraklion Folklore Festivals and Cultural Events
During the summer interesting cultural events take places in all villages to celebrate religious feasts. The festivals contribute to the survival of local customs and traditions and enrich the visitors’ experience. Less-known cultural events are organised to commemorate historical anniversaries
Religious Feasts & Festivals
- August 15th
Many panigiria are organized in the villages of Heraklion on the occasion of the Dormition of the Virgin. Visitors are unlikely not to find a panigiri that day in Crete.
- August 25th
On August 25th, there is the celebration of Saint Titus in Heraklion Town. Saint Titus was the first bishop of Crete and is considered the protector of the island.
Houdetsi Festival is a 4-day celebration of music, food, and art that takes place in the village of Houdetsi, 23 km south of Heraklion Town. This festival is the continuation of the Labyrinth Musical Workshop that was mastered by Ross Daly.
This is an international festival that usually takes place in June. It is like a trip to the past, with music, art, and literature from 1960 to 1970, the era of the hippies.
Over the last years, the Kastrino Carnival of Heraklion Town gets very popular. Carnival celebrations last for two weeks and include musical concerts, treasure hunts, and carnival parades.
All along the northern and the southern coasts of the region, visitors will discover amazing beaches to relax. Around the tourist resorts, Heraklion beaches are organized with traditional taverns, hotels,and watersports centers. However, many secluded bays are also found for total privacy and isolation.
You will find below a list with the best beaches in Heraklion Crete.
Although it has become a popular tourist destination it still retains the charm and character of the quiet fishing village it started as at the beginning of the 20th-century, and the laid-back lifestyle of the hippies of the 60’s and 70’s lives on.
Half the beach is fringed by tamarisk trees, leading the eye on to impressive formations of sandstone rock cliffs with their famous caves sliding into the sea at an odd angle, creating one of the most unusual beachscapes on the island.
Matala it is one of just over 400 beaches in Greece that have been awarded a Blue Flag.
It is a wide beach with fine sand and shallow water. It is usually very crowded, so that there is no space between the sunbeds to fit a pin! Here you can find whatever comfort you ask. Apart from the classic umbrellas and water sports, you will find some extreme services, like massage, gym on the beach, bars at the hotel pools.
Enjoy cool cocktails, unique meals and snacks, listening to unique music from the beach clubs that are there.
The sea deepens steadily and it has a sandy beach and is 3 km long. Due to its northern orientation, this beach usually has waves. It is an organized beach with lifeguards, umbrellas and sunbeds. There are many restaurants and cafes too, offering multiple choices to visitors.
Stalida beach is couples and families friendly, has shower facilities and space for activities.