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Heraklion

Round-trip distance is 234 kilometers

heraklion
Koules Fortress, Heraklion. Y. Skoulas - GNTO
heraklion
Koules Fortress, Heraklion. Y. Skoulas - GNTO
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Heraklion, which you will also see spelled Irakleio, is best known as the gateway to the archaeological site of Knossos and also as Crete’s largest port. Although Heraklion dates back to Minoan times (3000-1450 BC), the structures in Heraklion are more modern than in many cities in Greece. That’s because an earthquake in 1856 destroyed all but 18 residences in the city. The city was further damaged during World War II, when the city was extensively bombed by the Germans, which destroyed many historic structures. In the late 20th century, efforts to “modernize” the city led to the destruction of more historic sites. There are still many things to see and experience in Heraklion, and you’ll want to augment the suggestions below with an updated book or online travel guide on the city. You can enjoy much of Heraklion in a day, but a deeper dive into the city could easily consume another day or two.

 

 

Major Historic Sites

Knossos

This Minoan palace is perhaps the most famous attraction on Crete. The site is not actually in Heraklion but is located 5.5 kilometers (3 miles) from the city center. 

Koules Fortress

The harborside fortress was built by the Venetians (1204-1669 AD) and is the final version of a number of sea-oriented forts previously located on the site. Its recently restored interior contains a number of artifacts and exhibits related to the building and its history.

City Walls

The old city walls are approximately 4.5 kilometers (almost 3 miles) in length. The walls existed in many early forms, but the current iteration was built by the Venetians. The walls are one of the most complete sets of city walls remaining in Europe and link five period forts.

Cathedral of Saint Minas

The largest church on Crete, this cathedral is the seat of the Greek Orthodox Church on Crete. It is a relatively new church (built during 1862-1895) and is worth visiting to view its rich interior decor.

Morosini Fountain

Built during the Venetian period, this fountain was originally fed by an aqueduct that provided fresh water from the nearby mountains. The fountain was built to accommodate about 30 people at a time who used the fountain to obtain fresh water. During the Turkish occupation of Crete, the fountain was redesigned and adapted to serve as a place to wash before entering the nearby mosque. The fountain has since been restored to its original configuration and is often referred to as the Lion’s Fountain.

Loggia

Dating to the Venetian period, this building was first a place for noblemen and important merchants to gather in a club-like format. The Turks turned it into an administrative center, and it currently it serves as the town hall. The building has been recognized for its originality and outstanding restoration.

 

 

Museums

Heraklion Archaeological Museum 

This museum has the greatest collection of Minoan artifacts in the world. It is a major institution and one of the most important in Greece.

Historical Museum of Crete 

This museum hold collections documenting the history of Crete from the 4th century AD through World War II. It also holds two paintings by artist Domenikos Theotokopoulos (better known as El Greco), who was born nearby.

Natural History Museum of Crete

The Natural History Museum tells the story of the evolution of flora and fauna in the Eastern Mediterranean region. It is situated in a renovated industrial building that formerly served as a power station.

Museum of Christian Art

This museum contains art objects from the 14th through the 19th centuries that illustrate the development of Christian art on Crete during that period. The museum is housed in an important historic monastery that operated from the second Byzantine period (961-1204 AD) until 1669.

Kotsanas Museum of Ancient Greek Technologies

Founded by mechanical engineer and author Kostas Kotsanas, the museum presents the idea that ancient Greece was the origin of many technological innovations. It houses reconstructions of ancient Greek technology and offers interactive exhibits. 

Nikos Kazantzakis Museum

Located 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Heraklion, this museum is dedicated to the life and work of Nikos Kasantzakis, who wrote the novels Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ.

 

 

Shopping

1866 Street is a small street densely populated by shops. Named for the 1866 Cretan revolt, the area is a good place to look for souvenirs. This area also houses the frenetic Central Market.

The area around the Morosini Fountain, Lion’s Square, contains a wide variety of shops and restaurants.  

Dedalou Street is a walking street that has Heraklion’s largest concentration of shops. These are shops where you can buy everyday goods and products—not tourist souvenirs.

Dikeosinis Street is home to the Marks and Spencer department store as well as a number of high-end shops.

 

 

Restaurants

Heraklion has a wide array of restaurants. As in all cities, the quality of restaurant food varies and restaurants can come and go in somewhat unpredictable ways. It’s worth spending a bit of time researching restaurants in Heraklion so you don’t miss establishments that offer exceptional food. A good site that explores restaurant possibilities can be found here.

Heraklion, which you will also see spelled Irakleio, is best known as the gateway to the archaeological site of Knossos and also as Crete’s largest port. Although Heraklion dates back to Minoan times (3000-1450 BC), the structures in Heraklion are more modern than in many cities in Greece. That’s because an earthquake in 1856 destroyed all but 18 residences in the city. The city was further damaged during World War II, when the city was extensively bombed by the Germans, which destroyed many historic structures. In the late 20th century, efforts to “modernize” the city led to the destruction of more historic sites. There are still many things to see and experience in Heraklion, and you’ll want to augment the suggestions below with an updated book or online travel guide on the city. You can enjoy much of Heraklion in a day, but a deeper dive into the city could easily consume another day or two.

 

 

Major Historic Sites

Knossos

This Minoan palace is perhaps the most famous attraction on Crete. The site is not actually in Heraklion but is located 5.5 kilometers (3 miles) from the city center. 

Koules Fortress

The harborside fortress was built by the Venetians (1204-1669 AD) and is the final version of a number of sea-oriented forts previously located on the site. Its recently restored interior contains a number of artifacts and exhibits related to the building and its history.

City Walls

The old city walls are approximately 4.5 kilometers (almost 3 miles) in length. The walls existed in many early forms, but the current iteration was built by the Venetians. The walls are one of the most complete sets of city walls remaining in Europe and link five period forts.

Cathedral of Saint Minas

The largest church on Crete, this cathedral is the seat of the Greek Orthodox Church on Crete. It is a relatively new church (built during 1862-1895) and is worth visiting to view its rich interior decor.

Morosini Fountain

Built during the Venetian period, this fountain was originally fed by an aqueduct that provided fresh water from the nearby mountains. The fountain was built to accommodate about 30 people at a time who used the fountain to obtain fresh water. During the Turkish occupation of Crete, the fountain was redesigned and adapted to serve as a place to wash before entering the nearby mosque. The fountain has since been restored to its original configuration and is often referred to as the Lion’s Fountain.

Loggia

Dating to the Venetian period, this building was first a place for noblemen and important merchants to gather in a club-like format. The Turks turned it into an administrative center, and it currently it serves as the town hall. The building has been recognized for its originality and outstanding restoration.

 

 

Museums

Heraklion Archaeological Museum 

This museum has the greatest collection of Minoan artifacts in the world. It is a major institution and one of the most important in Greece.

Historical Museum of Crete 

This museum hold collections documenting the history of Crete from the 4th century AD through World War II. It also holds two paintings by artist Domenikos Theotokopoulos (better known as El Greco), who was born nearby.

Natural History Museum of Crete

The Natural History Museum tells the story of the evolution of flora and fauna in the Eastern Mediterranean region. It is situated in a renovated industrial building that formerly served as a power station.

Museum of Christian Art

This museum contains art objects from the 14th through the 19th centuries that illustrate the development of Christian art on Crete during that period. The museum is housed in an important historic monastery that operated from the second Byzantine period (961-1204 AD) until 1669.

Kotsanas Museum of Ancient Greek Technologies

Founded by mechanical engineer and author Kostas Kotsanas, the museum presents the idea that ancient Greece was the origin of many technological innovations. It houses reconstructions of ancient Greek technology and offers interactive exhibits. 

Nikos Kazantzakis Museum

Located 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Heraklion, this museum is dedicated to the life and work of Nikos Kasantzakis, who wrote the novels Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ.

 

 

Shopping

1866 Street is a small street densely populated by shops. Named for the 1866 Cretan revolt, the area is a good place to look for souvenirs. This area also houses the frenetic Central Market.

The area around the Morosini Fountain, Lion’s Square, contains a wide variety of shops and restaurants.  

Dedalou Street is a walking street that has Heraklion’s largest concentration of shops. These are shops where you can buy everyday goods and products—not tourist souvenirs.

Dikeosinis Street is home to the Marks and Spencer department store as well as a number of high-end shops.

 

 

Restaurants

Heraklion has a wide array of restaurants. As in all cities, the quality of restaurant food varies and restaurants can come and go in somewhat unpredictable ways. It’s worth spending a bit of time researching restaurants in Heraklion so you don’t miss establishments that offer exceptional food. A good site that explores restaurant possibilities can be found here.

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