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Sail into the stunning port of Heraklion, a charming seaside city that was once ruled by Arabs, Ottomans, and Venetians. Behind the striking fortified walls that line its waterfront, you’ll discover medieval monuments, ancient palaces, and a trove of archeological wonders that span back millennia.
As the capital of Crete, Heraklion is also an important commercial port full of modern museums, a bustling culinary scene, and a walkable historic center. This heavenly port makes it easy to enjoy the wonders of Greece including fresh seafood, azure blue waters, and breathtaking sunsets.
Spanning over 150,000 square feet, the Palace of Knossos is the largest Minoan palace in the world. Originally built around 2,000 BC, the palace once served as the center of Minoan civilization and was reconstructed a few times after several destructions, including an earthquake in 1700 BC and a fire in the 14th century BC. Today, you can still tour the ruins of the palace and admire its distinct red columns, reconstructed frescoes, ceremonial halls, and throne room.
Pay a visit to one of Greece’s most important museums and marvel at objects that date back over 5,000 years. The Heraklion Archaeological Museum features one of the most comprehensive collections of Minoan art and includes artifacts that span back to the Neolithic era up to Roman times. The meticulously organized exhibitions feature frescoes, jewelry, pottery, marble statues, and other objects from ancient settlements that provide valuable insight into Crete’s history.
Explore the ancient Koules Fortress, a former Venetian castle that was built in the early 13th century. The two-story stone structure was used for a variety of purposes in the past, including a food and weapons storage, prison, and military quarters. If you embark on a tour of the building, make sure to head up to the fortress’s rooftop, where you’ll enjoy spectacular views of the sea.
Take a stroll down Heraklion’s picturesque old town and harbor, where you’ll see fishing boats lining the waterfront, historic ramparts, and the Koules Fortress. Not only are there many restaurants and cafes, where you can enjoy a seaside lunch or afternoon snack, but it’s also one of the top spots to enjoy one of Greece’s famous sunsets.
Stop by the village of Matala, one of the oldest villages in Crete, where you’ll find a wide, sandy stretch of beach in front of the sparkling Mediterranean Sea. Take a break from the sun and step inside the ancient caves hidden within the rocky formations that surrounded the coast, which date back to the Greek and Roman eras. The Matala caves were also a popular spot during the 1970s when they became the site of a hippie settlement that attracted the likes of famous musicians including Joni Mitchell and Cat Stevens.
Animals lovers should make sure to visit the Cretaquarium, one of the largest aquariums in the Mediterranean. This stunning, interactive space features up to 2,500 different marine species that are found in the waters of the Mediterranean. Make your way around its 32 large glass tanks and marvel at sharks, jellyfish, turtles, seahorses, and octopi, or catch a screening of one of the museum’s daily documentaries on marine sea life.
Savor Mediterranean and Greek specialties during your visit to Heraklion, where you’ll find fresh fish and seafood dishes at every turn. As for traditional Crete cuisine, don’t miss out on trying fresh Cretan cheeses like myzithra and graviera, fried snails, and an order of kalitsounia, which are delicious cheese pies. Top off your meal by sipping a glass of raki, the local brandy that acts as a digestive liquor, too.
Heraklion is the largest city and most important port on the island of Crete. The city’s name comes from Heracleum, a former ancient Roman port. Most of the fortified walls that surround Heraklion were built by the Venetians, who occupied the area from the 13th century until the 1600s, when it was ceded to the Turks. Turkish occupation ended in 1897, and over a decade later in 1913, Crete officially became a part of Greece. Today, Heraklion is a thriving commercial port and popular vacation destination. Its economy depends on tourism as well as various exports, including olives, wine, citrus, and grapes.
The Heraklion cruise port is located only a short walk away from the Old Town, where you’ll find most of the city’s major attractions. If you don’t feel like walking, you can also board one of the taxis at the front of the port, which are ready to take you wherever you need to go.
While the Old Town and harbor of Heraklion are easily walkable, there is also an extensive public bus system to help you move around the city. You’ll also find it easy to hail a taxi, but the fares can be expensive. If you want to discover Heraklion at your own pace, another option is to rent a car or motorbike.
Most of the stores in Heraklion are concentrated in the Old Town section, particularly Odos 1866 street, where you’ll find a variety of gift shops and souvenir stands. There, vendors sell all kinds of local items, like olive oil, raki, and cheeses, as well as clothing and accessories. From Mondays to Saturday, there’s also an open-air market, where you’ll find fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as a fish market located in one of the side streets of Odos 1866.
The major currency in Heraklion, which is a part of Greece, is the Euro. Credit cards are accepted widely throughout the city, but it’s always a good idea to have some cash on hand, especially if you’re thinking of spending some time browsing small stores and local markets. Tipping is not as common as it is in the United States, but you can always leave something extra as a thank you if you enjoyed excellent service.