WHAT TO DO IN THE CITY
Heraklion is a lively city with a troubled past that combines rich historical heritage with a crazy nightlife scene. These are our suggestions for must do thing in and around Heraklion:
Knossos was the heart of the Minoan civilisation and the seat of the legendary king Minos. It gave birth to thrilling myths, like the Minotaur and the Labyrinth. The site was excavated by the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans between 1990 and 1931, who restored it to its present form. No visit to Heraklion is complete without a visit to the palace of the first Western civilisation!
Address: 71409 Knossos, Heraklio, Greece
Tel.: +30 2810 231940
Opening hours: 1 April – 31 October, every day 08.00 – 20.00
1 November – 31 March, every day 08.00 – 17.00
Ticket price: Full – 15 euros, Combo (Knossos + Archaelogical Museum): 16 euros
Free entrance for students
How to get there: Take the bus number “2 – Knossos” from Eleftherias Square.
HERAKLION ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM
The Heraklion archaeological museum is one of the largest and most important museums in Greece, and among the most important museums in Europe. It houses representative artefacts from all the periods of Cretan prehistory and history, covering a chronological span of over 5,500 years from the Neolithic period to Roman times. It is definitely worth a visit.
Tip: Get the combo ticket (for the palace and the museum) for just 1 euro more, and visit the museum after the palace to get a better understanding of the Minoans way of life.
Address: Xanthoudidou 2, 71202 Heraklion, Greece (near Eleftherias square)
Tel.: +30 2810 279000
Opening hours: 1 April – 31 October, every day 08.00 – 20.00
1 November – 31 March, every day 08.30 – 16.00
Sundays and bank holidays 09:00 - 16:00
Ticket price: Full – 5 euros, Combo (Knossos + Archaeological Museum): 16 euros
Free entrance for students
How to get there: The museum is located right next to Eleftherias Square.
HISTORICAL MUSEUM OF CRETE
The historical museum of Crete presents a comprehensive view of Cretan history from early Christian times to the present day. It is housed in a two-storey neoclassical building built in 1903.
Tip: Must-do for anyone interested in WWII
Address: A. & M. Kalokerinos House
27, Sofokli Venizelou Ave. /
7, Lysimachou Kalokerinou St.
71202 Heraklion, Crete, Greece
Tel.: +30 2810 283219
Opening hours: November 4th, 2018 - March 31st, 2019
Monday - Saturday, 09.00-15.30
April 1st, 2019 - November 4th, 2019
Monday - Saturday, 09.00-17.00
Sundays & Public Holidays Closed
Ticket price: Full - € 5,00, Student - € 3,00
How to get there: The Historical Museum is located on the seaside avenue.
NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM OF CRETE
The natural history museum is an international leader in the scientific study of the natural world. It demonstrates with an impressive manner the natural environment of eastern Mediterranean area with special emphasis on Greece and Crete.
Tip: Don't miss the earthquake simulator!
Address: Sofokli Venizelou Avenue Heraklion Crete, Greece
Tel: +30 2810 282740
Opening hours: 1 November - 30 April
Monday to Friday: 09:00 - 15:00
Weekends: 10:00 – 18:00
1 June – 30 September
Monday to Friday: 09:00 - 21:00
Weekends: 10:00 – 21:00
May and October
Monday to Friday: 09:00 - 18:00
Weekends: 10:00 – 18:00
Ticket price: Full – 7.50 euros, Student – 4.50 euros
How to get there: NHMC is at a walking distance from the city centre, just walk the Sofokli Venizelou avenue (on the coast) towards the west, and when you see the old impressive energy plant by the sea, you're there!
If you are a fan on Nikos Kazantzakis’ work, a visit to his tomb is mandatory! It is situated at the bastion of Martinego, over the Venetian walls, and bears the famous epitaph that Kazantzakis himself ordered, stating: “I hope for nothing, I fear of nothing, I am free”. A visit to his tomb is also a good chance to take a stroll over the Venetian city walls, from where you can have a nice view of the city, with the bell towers of Agios Minas and the sea on one side, and the summits of Youchtas and Psiloritis on the other.
Tip: The tomb is accessible at all times, and it is free. It’s better not to venture a visit very late in the evening as the surrounding area might seem a little sketchy!
How to get there: Go the new cultural centre, near the Komeno Bedeni Gate, cross the street to the side of the Venetian walls, and follow the signs to ‘Kazantzakis grave’.
Nikos Kazantzakis Publications Official Webpage
The site of Castello a Mare was possibly first fortified by the Arabs in the 9th century. By the Byzantine period, a tower known as Castellum Comunis stood on the site. In 1462, the Venetian Senate approved a programme to improve the fortifications of Candia. Eventually, the Byzantine tower was demolished in 1523, and the Castello a Mare began to be built instead. Old ships were filled with stone, and were sunk to form a breakwater and increase the area of the platform on which the fortress was built. The fortress was completed in 1540. In 1630, the fort was armed with 18 cannons on the ground floor, and 25 cannons on the pathway leading to the roof.
The fortress has been restored, and it is now open to the public. Art exhibitions and cultural activities are occasionally held at the fort.
Tel.: +30 2810 243559
Opening hours: summer 08.00 - 19.00
winter 08.00 - 15.00
Ticket price: Full - 2 euros, Student - 1 euro
How to get there: From the Lions’ Square, follow 25th August street til the seafront.
Koules Fort Official Webpage
HERAKLION VENETIAN WALLS
The Venetian walls of Heraklion are some of the best preserved monuments in the Mediterranean basin, concerning the fortification architecture of the 16th century A.D.
Walking along the Heraklion Walls feels like unwinding the skein of history of the city, while vivid memories of the glorious past are strongly embodied into them. They extend to a length of about 4,5 km and form a triangle protecting the “Old Heraklion” of the 16th century A.D. Starting from the western end of the city walls you will see seven heart shaped bastions (forts) and four impressive city gates (portals).
Tip: The city walls are accessible at all times, free of charge. It’s better not to venture a visit very late in the evening as the surrounding area might seem a little sketchy!
The Lions in Heraklion is the square of the Fontana Morosini, the ornate Venetian fountain with four lions with water gushing from their mouths. The fountain is one of the most important monuments the Venetians bestowed on Heraklion. When it was built, it offered a solution to the problem of supplying Heraklion with water, providing 1,000 barrels of water a day.
Tip: Enjoy views of the fontana in the morning together with a local favourite breakfast staple, Kirkor’s bougatsa!
How to get there: The lions square is the true heart of the city. To get there from the hostel, just follow the main road (Kalokerinou street), until you reach 25 August street, and turn left.
HERAKLION CENTRAL MARKET (1866 STREET)
Heraklion central market is on 1866 Street, running from the Meidani to Kornarou Square. The street name refers to one of the most important Cretan risings to overthrow the Turkish yoke. The Heraklion central market is lined with shops selling souvenirs, cheap clothes and shoes, fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices, cheese and meat, along with small cafés and tavernas.
At the end of the market - or the start if you're coming from Kornarou Square - are two major monuments: the Venetian Bembo Fountain and the neighbouring café, which was once the Sebil (charity fountain) of Haci Ibrahim Agha.
The market is accessible at all times, though most shops close early in the afternoon. For the full market experience it is advised to come here in the morning.
Tip: For a true local experience, sit at the ‘Sarantavgas’ raki-shop in the middle of the market, order ‘raki with meze’, and spend a few lazy hours people watching.
How to get there: The central market is just few steps away from the Lion’s square.
The Cathedral of Agios Titos in Heraklion Town is among the most important monuments in Crete. It is found on August 25th street, one of the busiest streets of the town. Around the church there is a lovely square with small cafes and bars. The original church of Agios Titos on this location was probably built in 961 A.D. by the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus Phokas, who liberated Crete from the Arabs and made it again part of the Byzantine Empire. To strengthen the Christian faith in Crete, who had weakened from the Arabs, the emperor constructed this Orthodox church and dedicated it to Agios Titos, disciple of Apostle Paul and first Bishop of Crete.
During the Turkish occupation of Crete, the church of Agios Titos was turned into a mosque, named Vezir mosque. In the severe earthquake of 1856 that hit Crete, the temple was entirely destroyed and rebuilt as an Ottoman mosque by architect Athanasios Mousis. The minaret was destroyed in 1920, when the last Ottomans left the island of Crete, who had been integrated to the Greek State since 1909.
AGIOS MINAS CATHEDRAL
The Agios Minas Cathedral serves as the seat of the Archbishop of Crete. Ιt is dedicated to Saint Minas the martyr and wonderworker (285-309 A.D.), who is the patron saint of Heraklion. It was built over the time period of 1862-1895. The construction was interrupted during the Cretan Revolution of 1866–1869. The church has a cruciform architecture with a central dome. It is the largest cathedral in Crete and one of the largest in Greece. An older smaller church dedicated to Agios Minas is located in the proximity of the cathedral.
AGIA EKATERINI CHURCH
The church of Agia Ekaterini (Saint Catherine) of Sinaites is located close to the Cathedral of Saint Minas, in the heart of Heraklion town. It was probably built in the 16th century, during the Venetian times, and served as a university school. Many prominent members of the local community studied there. Graduates include famous Cretan writers, like Vitsentzos Cornaros, philosophers, theologians and artists. It is said that even the famous painter Domenicos Theotokopoulos, a.k.a. El Greco, studied there. After Heraklion was occupied by the Turks in 1669, the church was converted to a Muslim mosque, till the early 20th century, when Crete was liberated. Today, Saint Catherine hosts the Ecclesiastical Museum of Heraklion, exhibiting many rare icons painted by Michael Damaskinos, a representative of the Cretan School of Icon Painting, as well as ecclesiastical vestments, manuscripts and frescoes. It is open every day in the morning for visitors, but a service is held only once a year on the name day of Saint Catherine, on November 25th.
Learn more about the ancient Sinaite Monastery
ORGANIC MARKET AT GEORGIADIS PARK
A farmer’s market for certified organic quality products is held in Georgiadis park, just a few steps away from Eleftherias Square.
Tip: You’ll find great fresh vegetables, as well as local delicacies that make great gifts for your loved ones back home.
Opening hours: Monday - Wednesday - Friday 12.00 - 18.00 all year round
UPDATE: The park is currently undergoing renovation work, which could affect the organic market hours.
There’s plenty of traditional festivals and live music festivals going on in or around the city, especially in the summer. Look out for banners around the city, or check the Facebook page ‘Panigiria tis Kritis’ for the traditional festivals.
Tip: Greeks, and especially Cretans love to party. No visit to Crete is complete without attending a ‘panigiri’ (local festival) or a village wedding.
In 1204, the city was bought by the Republic of Venice as part of a complicated political deal which involved, among other things, the Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade restoring the deposed Eastern Roman Emperor Isaac II Angelus to his throne. The Venetians improved on the ditch of the city by building enormous fortifications, most of which are still in place, including a giant wall, in places up to 40 m thick, with 7 bastions, and a fortress in the harbour. Heraklion was renamed Candia and became the seat of the Duke of Candia, and the Venetian administrative district of Crete became known as "Regno di Candia" (Kingdom of Candia). To secure their rule, Venetians began in 1212 to settle families from Venice on Crete. The coexistence of two different cultures and the stimulus of Italian Renaissance led to a flourishing of letters and the arts in Candia and Crete in general, that is today known as the Cretan Renaissance. Important buildings built in that era that still survive today are:
The Loggia (noblemen's club) now standing in 25th of August Street, a few yards downhill from the Basilica of St Mark and the Lions square, was constructed in 1626-28 by Francesco Morosini, the same man who built the Lions Fountain. Venetian political and social customs demanded the construction of a public building in Heraklion, as a meeting-place for the nobles, rulers and feudal lords, where economic and commercial decisions were made. It was also a place for them to relax, something like an officers' mess today. The Loggia was the centre of local administrative and social life. From its balconies the heralds proclaimed decrees of state, and the Duke watched the processional litanies and parades. Today the Loggia has been restored to its former glory and houses the Town Hall.
The Basilica of Saint Mark is directly opposite the Lions Fountain, in Eleftheriou Venizelou Square in the centre of Heraklion. Today it houses the Municipal Art Gallery and is open to the public almost all day, every day. From the first years of Venetian rule, in the 13th century (1239), the Venetians, wishing to consolidate their rule over their new colony of Candia and simultaneously express their gratitude to and love of their home, built a basilica dedicated to their patron saint, St Mark. This was where the official ceremonies of the Venetian administration were held, and where the Venetian nobles were buried.
The Venetian harbour of Heraklion is at the end of 25th of August Street, the pedestrian street leading from the town centre to the sea. This is the old harbour of Heraklion, now used by fishing boats and yachts, and its history is as ancient as that of the city itself. In the Venetian harbour of Heraklion stands the fortress of Koules. Here begins the long mole of the new harbour. The mole is a favourite spot for a stroll, especially on warm summer evenings, when the sea breeze offers some relief from the heat. The Venetian harbour also contains the Venetian Arsenals (‘neoria’) or shipyards, where ships were repaired.
One of the first concerns of the Venetian leadership was the supply of water to the thirsty city of Candia, which was lacking in spring water. This was accomplished with the construction of cisterns and wells, public and private ones. Various Venetian fountains are preserved with an elaborate decoration ornamenting the old city of Heraklion. The most noteworthy are:
Bembo Fountain: Constructed by "capitano" Gianmatteo Bembo between 1552-1554 in today's Kornarou square, next to a later Turkish philanthropic fountain. It is decorated with coats of arms and other elements of the renaissance and of gothic type, while in the middle a big headless statue stands out of the roman period. The spring is ornated with floral and embossed elements.
Sagredo Fountain: Built by Giovanni Sagredo between 1602-1604, part of it has been built in the Northwest corner of today's Loggia (Town Hall) and it is decorated with a carved female statue which was holding a shield in the left hand, and a big hammer in the right one, representing the personification of Crete.
Morosini Fountain: (The so called Lion's fountain). One of the most known fountains of Heraklion, point of reference for its inhabitants, but also for the visitors. Today it is one of the most beautiful monuments of the city. The «General Provisioner» Francesco Morosini built it in 1628, bringing water from the Archanes' springs to the thirsty town of Heraklion. The eight-lobe cistern, which is based on a special stand, is decorated with embossed mythological depictions and maritime figures like tritons, dolphins and various coats of arms. At the very top of the fountain there was a supernatural statue of Poseidon that was standing out but fell probably due to an earthquake. During the Turkish period the fountain went into a vulgar modulation with the addition of a baldachin (ciborium) around it which was later taken away.
Priuli Fountain: The «General Provisioner» Antonio Priuli built it in 1666, in the area of the Venetian Dermata Gate (behind the "Bodosakeio" Primary School) . He decorated it with round and square columns with Corinthian type capitals, while a triangular pediment crowns the whole construction. From both sides of the columns there are niches with their metopes elaborately decorated. In the middle of the fountain there is a Turkish inscription where there is a reference to the name of the Turkish pasha who managed to bring water again in the fountain.