What to do in Heraklion

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Heraklion: The Must-Do Activities

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Heraklion: What to do when you get there?

Geography

Heraklion, Greece is the fourth-largest city in Greece and the capital of Crete. This coastal city is located on the North Coast along the Sea of Crete. Knossos, the ancient Minoan capital, lies just a few kilometres to the South of Heraklion

As the economic hub of the island, you can find daily flights to and from Heraklion airport to Athens, Thessaloniki, and most other major European cities. Transportation around the island is easily accessible with local buses or by car.


History

The name Heraklion comes from the ancient Roman port, Heracleum, named after the mythological hero, Heraklès. Heraklion has a long and tumultuous history. It was once controlled by the Byzantines, then the Arabs in early Medieval times. The Byzantines regained power only to lose it once more to the Venetians and the Ottomans. In 1013, Heraklion officially became part of Greece.


Much of the city was damaged during WWII, and today, Heraklion reflects a torturous past. But the city rebuilt itself post-war. The city centre now displays a patchwork of byzantine churches, Venetian palaces, Turkish fountains, neoclassical buildings and beautiful post-war concrete structures.

Following the end of WWII, Heraklion It became a large exporter of grapes, olives and olive oil, as well as citrus fruits and almonds. This surge in agricultural export was driven by the increased publicity regarding the benefits of a Cretan diet.

Hotels and restaurants were also built to supporting a growing tourism economy.  Despite the modern developments, much of Heraklion's ancient structures still remain or have been restored. This includes ancient cathedrals, an extensive system of defensive walls built around the city, as well as palaces and museums.


Climate

Summers in Heraklion are warm, averaging around 27°C  with seasonal breezes keeping temperatures quite comfortable, especially in summer when the Northerly Meltemi winds blow across the Aegean Sea. Winters are milder than in the Greek mainland, making Heraklion a nice place to visit year-round.


Knossos Palace

As the largest archaeological site remaining from the Bronze Age on the island of Crete, Knossos city has been called Europe’s oldest city. Knossos palace itself was built in stages starting in 2000 BC, during the Minoan period of history. 


Knossos Palace is part of a complex which was built in conjunction with other palaces, including Mallia, Phaestos, and Zakro. The building of these palaces was indicative of the growing wealth and a regional concentration of authority, both political and religious in these areas. Much of Knossos' prosperity was attributed to native Cretan resources such as oil, wine, and wool.


Today, Knossos is the largest palace of the four and is also the most accessible, located just 15-minutes from Heraklion. It is an absolute must for travellers to see when in Heraklion.


Heraklion Fortress

As a major attraction in Heraklion, the fortress of Koules is one of many defensive structures built by the Venetians, this one, in particular, to protect the port of Heraklion against the Byzantines and the Turkish.


Visitors can explore the interior of the fortress and the rooftop. Inside the fortress, the walls are beautiful, with domed-shaped 15th-century ceilings, reminiscent of scenes from Game of Thrones. You can see large cannons and cannonballs, which are the same as those used to bring down the Constantinople empire. From the roof, you can see where military forces kept a lookout for incoming attacks and ships into their port.


Historical Museum of Crete

The Historical Museum of Crete is where history-lovers can go to see ancient Greek artefacts. In the museum, you will see ancient gold Greek coins, traditional Greek clothing, and religious pieces from the era. The museum also displays ancient Greek and Byzantine artwork, as well as more modern pieces created by Greek artists.


Heraklion Agios Minas Cathedral

The Agios Minas Cathedral is a Greek Orthodox church dedicated to the patron saint of Heraklion, Saint Menas. Construction of the cathedral began in 1862 and continued for over 30 years. Inside the cathedral, the ceilings are painted with beautiful, colourful religious figures and designs, with an ornate, gold chandelier hanging from above. The cathedral is a peaceful and beautiful piece of ancient Greek religious history definitely worth visiting.


Liontaria square

Liontaria Square, home to the Morosini Fountain, or Lions, is a well-known gathering spot for both visitors and locals of Heraklion. The fountain was commissioned in 1628 by the Venetian governor of Crete to help resolve the water shortage in the city. The fountain pumps water from the Yuchtas mountains and is decorated with carvings of Greek mythological creatures. The fountain originally had a statue of Poseidon, which mysteriously went missing.

Today, the square and fountain are surrounded by boutiques, cafes and delicious places to eat gyros and bouratsa.


Venetian Loggia

Located at the centre of Heraklion, the Loggia is an elegant nobleman’s club, also built by Francesco Morosini in 1626. This Loggia is one of four built on Crete, but the others no longer stand and information about them is largely unknown. The building was created as a meeting place for nobles, lord, and a place where economic and commercial decisions could be made. 

It is designed in Doric-style, as a reproduction of Palladio's Basilica in Vincenza. In the early 19th century, the Loggia underwent a beautiful renovation and is now considered one of the finest monuments on the island of Crete.


Cave of Zeus

If you have rented a car, the cave of Zeus is just a 1-hour 15-minute drive from Heraklion. Also known as the Psychro Cave or Dikteon Cave, the entrance is located on the hillside of Mount Ida, and is a great place to see stalagmites and stalactites.

There is a small and scenic hike required from the parking lot in order to get to the entrance.  Tourists also love to visit the caves because it is rumoured to be the birthplace of the Greek god, Zeus. Some Greek mythology also refers to the cave as a place Zeus's mother Rhea hid his children to keep them from being eaten by his father, Cronos. Not cool to eat your own kids!


Cretan Beaches

Greece is known for having some of the most amazing beaches in the world, and the island of Crete is no exception. One of the best beaches within the vicinity of Heraklion is Agia Pelagia Beach. This is one of the most accessible beaches, sitting right up against nice shops, cafes, and resorts. It is located 20 kilometres west of Heraklion.


Star Beach is another beach popular with tourists because of its convenient location. Finally, Gefyri beach is a stunning beach with turquoise waters, which is not as crowded and located only 25 kilometres east of Heraklion, near Hersonissos harbour.


Outdoor Activities

There are plenty of amazing outdoor activities to enjoy in and around Heraklion! Some of the most popular activities include scuba diving in the sparkling blue Aegean waters, stand-up jet skiing, paragliding, and surfing. Heraklion usually has a wonderful summer breeze that makes parasailing here fun and popular. There are also places to go hiking, canyoning and ride quads.

In addition, visitors to Heraklion can also book a helicopter tour to explore the coasts from the air.

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All our activities in Heraklion

Jet Skiing
    Scuba Diving
      Parasailing
        Hiking / Trekking
          Via Ferrata
            Snorkeling
              Rock climbing
                Quad biking
                  Helicopter tours
                    Canyoning

                      Heraklion: What to do when you get there?

                      Geography

                      Heraklion, Greece is the fourth-largest city in Greece and the capital of Crete. This coastal city is located on the North Coast along the Sea of Crete. Knossos, the ancient Minoan capital, lies just a few kilometres to the South of Heraklion

                      As the economic hub of the island, you can find daily flights to and from Heraklion airport to Athens, Thessaloniki, and most other major European cities. Transportation around the island is easily accessible with local buses or by car.


                      History

                      The name Heraklion comes from the ancient Roman port, Heracleum, named after the mythological hero, Heraklès. Heraklion has a long and tumultuous history. It was once controlled by the Byzantines, then the Arabs in early Medieval times. The Byzantines regained power only to lose it once more to the Venetians and the Ottomans. In 1013, Heraklion officially became part of Greece.


                      Much of the city was damaged during WWII, and today, Heraklion reflects a torturous past. But the city rebuilt itself post-war. The city centre now displays a patchwork of byzantine churches, Venetian palaces, Turkish fountains, neoclassical buildings and beautiful post-war concrete structures.

                      Following the end of WWII, Heraklion It became a large exporter of grapes, olives and olive oil, as well as citrus fruits and almonds. This surge in agricultural export was driven by the increased publicity regarding the benefits of a Cretan diet.

                      Hotels and restaurants were also built to supporting a growing tourism economy.  Despite the modern developments, much of Heraklion's ancient structures still remain or have been restored. This includes ancient cathedrals, an extensive system of defensive walls built around the city, as well as palaces and museums.


                      Climate

                      Summers in Heraklion are warm, averaging around 27°C  with seasonal breezes keeping temperatures quite comfortable, especially in summer when the Northerly Meltemi winds blow across the Aegean Sea. Winters are milder than in the Greek mainland, making Heraklion a nice place to visit year-round.


                      Knossos Palace

                      As the largest archaeological site remaining from the Bronze Age on the island of Crete, Knossos city has been called Europe’s oldest city. Knossos palace itself was built in stages starting in 2000 BC, during the Minoan period of history. 


                      Knossos Palace is part of a complex which was built in conjunction with other palaces, including Mallia, Phaestos, and Zakro. The building of these palaces was indicative of the growing wealth and a regional concentration of authority, both political and religious in these areas. Much of Knossos' prosperity was attributed to native Cretan resources such as oil, wine, and wool.


                      Today, Knossos is the largest palace of the four and is also the most accessible, located just 15-minutes from Heraklion. It is an absolute must for travellers to see when in Heraklion.


                      Heraklion Fortress

                      As a major attraction in Heraklion, the fortress of Koules is one of many defensive structures built by the Venetians, this one, in particular, to protect the port of Heraklion against the Byzantines and the Turkish.


                      Visitors can explore the interior of the fortress and the rooftop. Inside the fortress, the walls are beautiful, with domed-shaped 15th-century ceilings, reminiscent of scenes from Game of Thrones. You can see large cannons and cannonballs, which are the same as those used to bring down the Constantinople empire. From the roof, you can see where military forces kept a lookout for incoming attacks and ships into their port.


                      Historical Museum of Crete

                      The Historical Museum of Crete is where history-lovers can go to see ancient Greek artefacts. In the museum, you will see ancient gold Greek coins, traditional Greek clothing, and religious pieces from the era. The museum also displays ancient Greek and Byzantine artwork, as well as more modern pieces created by Greek artists.


                      Heraklion Agios Minas Cathedral

                      The Agios Minas Cathedral is a Greek Orthodox church dedicated to the patron saint of Heraklion, Saint Menas. Construction of the cathedral began in 1862 and continued for over 30 years. Inside the cathedral, the ceilings are painted with beautiful, colourful religious figures and designs, with an ornate, gold chandelier hanging from above. The cathedral is a peaceful and beautiful piece of ancient Greek religious history definitely worth visiting.


                      Liontaria square

                      Liontaria Square, home to the Morosini Fountain, or Lions, is a well-known gathering spot for both visitors and locals of Heraklion. The fountain was commissioned in 1628 by the Venetian governor of Crete to help resolve the water shortage in the city. The fountain pumps water from the Yuchtas mountains and is decorated with carvings of Greek mythological creatures. The fountain originally had a statue of Poseidon, which mysteriously went missing.

                      Today, the square and fountain are surrounded by boutiques, cafes and delicious places to eat gyros and bouratsa.


                      Venetian Loggia

                      Located at the centre of Heraklion, the Loggia is an elegant nobleman’s club, also built by Francesco Morosini in 1626. This Loggia is one of four built on Crete, but the others no longer stand and information about them is largely unknown. The building was created as a meeting place for nobles, lord, and a place where economic and commercial decisions could be made. 

                      It is designed in Doric-style, as a reproduction of Palladio's Basilica in Vincenza. In the early 19th century, the Loggia underwent a beautiful renovation and is now considered one of the finest monuments on the island of Crete.


                      Cave of Zeus

                      If you have rented a car, the cave of Zeus is just a 1-hour 15-minute drive from Heraklion. Also known as the Psychro Cave or Dikteon Cave, the entrance is located on the hillside of Mount Ida, and is a great place to see stalagmites and stalactites.

                      There is a small and scenic hike required from the parking lot in order to get to the entrance.  Tourists also love to visit the caves because it is rumoured to be the birthplace of the Greek god, Zeus. Some Greek mythology also refers to the cave as a place Zeus's mother Rhea hid his children to keep them from being eaten by his father, Cronos. Not cool to eat your own kids!


                      Cretan Beaches

                      Greece is known for having some of the most amazing beaches in the world, and the island of Crete is no exception. One of the best beaches within the vicinity of Heraklion is Agia Pelagia Beach. This is one of the most accessible beaches, sitting right up against nice shops, cafes, and resorts. It is located 20 kilometres west of Heraklion.


                      Star Beach is another beach popular with tourists because of its convenient location. Finally, Gefyri beach is a stunning beach with turquoise waters, which is not as crowded and located only 25 kilometres east of Heraklion, near Hersonissos harbour.


                      Outdoor Activities

                      There are plenty of amazing outdoor activities to enjoy in and around Heraklion! Some of the most popular activities include scuba diving in the sparkling blue Aegean waters, stand-up jet skiing, paragliding, and surfing. Heraklion usually has a wonderful summer breeze that makes parasailing here fun and popular. There are also places to go hiking, canyoning and ride quads.

                      In addition, visitors to Heraklion can also book a helicopter tour to explore the coasts from the air.

                      See more

                      All spots in Crete

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