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Things to do in
Heraklion

Crete's capital combines ancient Minoan gems, Venetian architecture, and blue, crystalline waters.

Our most recommended things to do in Heraklion

Heraklion: Dia Island Sailboat Cruise with Swimming and Meal

1. Heraklion: Dia Island Sailboat Cruise with Swimming and Meal

Sail with us to the exotic Dia island on our large and comfortable sailing yachts. Our journey begins at the Heraklion Old venetian harbor. As we start, we pass by the glorious Koules fortress which is built right at the entrance of the marina. A few minutes later we exit the main port of Heraklion and we set sails for our destination. As you admire the beautiful Cretan sea and enjoy the feel of sailing our crew will tell you about the legend of Dia island and its history. About 1 hour later we arrive to the first bay of Dia. There you can enjoy the crystal turquoise waters and our many water activities such as snorkeling, fishing, paddle boarding and more. While at anchor in the bay our crew will be happy to offer you any piece of equipment for our water activities and serve you plentiful drinks so please don't hesitate to request it from them. About 1 hour later our delicious Mediterranean menu is served and includes Greek salad and several appetizers, while the main course is shrimp pasta (we also offer vegetarian and gluten free versions of the menu upon request). You can also accompany your meal with the finest wine, beer, ice tea or soft drinks. Around 30 minutes later we sail to a different bay of the island where you can relax and enjoy the crystal waters and our refreshing fruit salad full of tropical and local fruits. There you will have about 30-60 minutes before we set sails once again to Heraklion and say goodbye to the beautiful scenery full of joy and great memories. You can choose between the morning or the afternoon cruise with the sunset view. *In case the weather does not permit or there is not enough time for a visit to the second bay there will be extra time in the first one and the fruit salad will be served there. We look forward to welcome you on board for an unforgettable day!

Crete: Palace of Knossos Entry Ticket & Optional Audio Guide

2. Crete: Palace of Knossos Entry Ticket & Optional Audio Guide

Benefit from access to the Palace of Knossos avoiding the ticket booth lines. Once inside, you are free to explore this Minoan archaeological site at your own pace, including the Grand Palace which dates back to the year 2000 B.C. Choose between just an entry ticket or an entry ticket and audio guide. As you wander through the site, discover what remains of living quarters, workspaces, and storerooms that have stood for centuries. Learn more about the city which is thought to have been the capital and political center of Minoan civilization and culture. Get a sense of what the building was like originally from the extensive restorations that have taken place throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. See colorful restored murals, which were typical of the time, and the throne room of the legendary King Minos, which is still intact.

Heraklion Area: CRETAquarium Admission Ticket

3. Heraklion Area: CRETAquarium Admission Ticket

Venture into the ocean’s depth with a 1-day admission ticket to the CRETAquarium. One of Europe’s largest aquariums, over 2,000 sea creatures lice the CRETAquarium's 60 diverse habitats. Delve into the caves and crevices of the Mediterranean, where stingrays and rock-like scorpionfish slither about. Pop out into the open ocean, where menacing sharks circle, waiting to be fed. Get up close and personal with jellyfish and schools of vibrant tropical clownfish through shallow, open-topped tanks, which allow a new viewing perspective of well known species.  Above all, gain a new appreciation for the unending diversity of the world’s most mystifying environment. When you’ve had your fill of looking at the ocean’s residents, why not pop in for a dip? The CRETAquarium is, fittingly, right on the beach.

Crete: Day Trip to Agios Nikolaos and Spinalonga Island

4. Crete: Day Trip to Agios Nikolaos and Spinalonga Island

Embark on a full-day guided trip to northeastern Crete and take a boat trip to Spinalonga Island. Visit Agios Nikolaos with its famous lake, and explore the picturesque village of Elounda. Begin the day with the visit to Agios Nikolaos, and see the shore of Mirabello Bay. Explore the town, famous for the lake at its center and its shopping and cafes. Take your time for a walk to enjoy the views, enjoy some shopping or have a drink in one of the numerous cafes around the lake. Explore an open-air market on Wednesdays. Move on to see Elounda village, a former fishing village on the northern coast of the island. Depart from Elounda for the cruise to Spinalonga Island. Learn about the island's vibrant history, from a home for the Venetians and Turks to a place of isolation for those suffering from leprosy. Experience the island, more popular after the 2005 historical novel “The Island” about how lepers lived in Spinalonga. Join the hundreds of people who come to the island every day to visit and learn its history.

Crete: Palace of Knossos E-Ticket and Optional Audio Guide

5. Crete: Palace of Knossos E-Ticket and Optional Audio Guide

Enjoy an exciting visit to Knossos Palace, Crete’s most famous historical attraction, with a pre-booked e-ticket, including a compelling audio tour downloadable on your phone and a detailed map of the site. Lose yourself in the audio tour's storytelling and immerse yourself in history as you walk around this iconic site. Visit the grand capital of Minoan Crete, located just south of Heraklion, and see the evocative setting, complete with impressive ruins and brightly-colored frescoes, come alive through an engaging narrative that sheds light on various elements of Minoan culture. The cupbearers and procession frescoes at the South Propylaeum, which depicts scenes from everyday life and the ceremonial activities in Minoan Crete, provide a great insight into the aesthetic ideals of the time. Follow the evolution of Minoan fashion, learn about the popular hairstyles of the people, and discover the beauty products locals used to touch up their looks. At the West Magazines, where the storage facilities of the palace are located, gain an understanding of the well-organized bureaucracy that supported the palace organization, the earliest forms of linear writing, as well as the Minoan economy and trade networks. Discover the copy of the “Prince of the Lilies” at the South Entrance Corridor and gaze out on Mount Juktas, perfectly framed by the eroded walls of the palace. Visit the Queen’s Megaron, embellished with famous blue dolphins fresco and equipped with a bathroom and a toilet room, where you can find out everything about the bath habits in the Minoan era.

From Heraklion/Crete: Santorini Island Guided Day Trip

6. From Heraklion/Crete: Santorini Island Guided Day Trip

Enjoy a roundtrip tour to Santorini. Travel comfortably on a modern boat and in air-conditioned buses while learning about this island's history and mythology. Capture pictures of Santorini's famous Aegean architecture and narrow, winding streets.  Travel to Heraklion port where you will depart on a high-speed boat for Santorini. Enjoy ocean views on the 2.5-hour cruise to the island and pickup a snack from the bar onboard.  Arrive at Port Athinios and hop aboard the bus for the guided tour. Travel 40 minutes to Oia, where you will admire the blue and white houses built over the cliffs. Learn about the city before enjoying free time to admire the volcanic caldera at your own pace. Next, travel 30 minutes to Fira, the main town of Santorini, built on the edge of a 300-meter cliff. Check out its narrow streets, white vaulted houses, and bright blue domes. Have the option to take a cruise from Fira in a wooden boat to the volcano and hot springs (for an additional charge) or spend more time exploring the city. Return to Port Athinios where your guide will help you board the return ferry.  Take in the late-afternoon views on the boat before arriving at Heraklion port.

Heraklion: Sailboat Cruise to Dia Island

7. Heraklion: Sailboat Cruise to Dia Island

Kick off your shoes and come onboard an elegant yacht on a sailing tour with us. Embark on a private cruise or a group trip to Dia Island from Heraklion and explore this rugged island with plenty of time to swim, snorkel, or relax on its pristine shores. Enjoy a glass of wine or a refreshment. Benefit from optional pick-up from your hotel or apartment, and then relax on a 1-hour sailing cruise to Dia Island on a luxury yacht with your family or friends. After dropping anchor in the romantic Gulf of Saint George, spend your day discovering an idyllic location with great history, such as the underwater ancient Minoan port, which was one of the favorite destinations of the explorer, Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Enjoy fishing, swimming in the crystal clear water, taking a walk among the island's cedar trees, or just relaxing in the quiet bay overlooking Heraklion. Snorkeling and fishing equipment are provided for your comfort and convenience by the attentive crew, along with unlimited refreshments and seasonal fruits.

Crete: Rethimno, Chania, and Kournas Lake Day Trip

8. Crete: Rethimno, Chania, and Kournas Lake Day Trip

The first stop is the town of Rethimno, the third biggest town in Crete west of Heraklion on the north coast of Crete. Here, archeological monuments of the Ottoman and Venetian eras co-exist. Enjoy a stroll in the alleys of the old town, a visit to the Turkish minarets and the Venetian fortresses, or a coffee at the magnificent harbor. The next stop is Chania town, the second largest town of Crete on the north coast west of Rethymno. The city of Chania is divided into the Old City, with the gorgeous harbor, and the New City, beyond its Venetian fortifications. The Old City is one of the most beautiful cities in the Mediterranean and is called “Venice of the East”. You can find Turkish minarets and mosques, Muslim neighborhoods, Venetian fortresses, dockyards, fountains, squares, arches, mansions, Loggia and the Lighthouse. Visit the famous Agora (market), which houses traditional little shops and taverns. The last stop of the day is Kournas lake, a beautiful habitat with natural freshwater, one of a kind in Crete. The whole area of Kournas is protected under 'Natura 2000', as it's a designated wetland. Vast greenery, steep cavities between hills, and rare species of fish and birds make Kournas the ideal place to enjoy an early afternoon walk.

Crete: Off-Road Quad Safari with Hotel Transfers and Lunch

9. Crete: Off-Road Quad Safari with Hotel Transfers and Lunch

Set out on a self-driving quad safari and explore the Cretan countryside with a guided tour with hotel transfers from Malia, Heraklion, Sisi, and surrounding spots. Drive to Milatos, featuring rock-hewn caves and a little beach. Visit an olive oil factory, and discover the Palace of Malia. Before starting your quad tour experience, get acquainted with your ATV vehicle, including lessons for beginners, by an instructor. Begin by going uphill on off-road terrain to reach your first stop, the chapel of the Prophet Elias, where you will be greeted by panoramic views of the surroundings. Descending through this lush place, hit an off-road route between the vineyards and olive groves to explore Cretan nature in all its glory. Stop at an olive oil factory to see how locals extract olive oil, followed by a brief tasting. Continue on the dirt roads to Milatos to explore a series of caves hewn into rocks, surrounded by mountains, rich flora, and fauna. This is your chance to collect some local herbs and be one with nature. After the hike on the path to Milatos cave, head to Milatos beach for a swim. Next, it's time for a seaside safari tour through the narrow streets of the quaint fishing villages of Milatos and Sissi. Then, we'll drive through impressive off road around the picturesque countryside, where the Malia palace archaeological site once stood. Finally, unwind over lunch after a full day of adventure in Crete.

Heraklion: Dia Island Sailing Cruise with Snorkeling

10. Heraklion: Dia Island Sailing Cruise with Snorkeling

Sail with us to the natural island od Dia with our comfortable sailing yachts. We start our trip from Heraklion Old venetian harbor where you can admire the forteress. It will take us about 1 hour and a half to get to Dia Island, always depending of the weather conditions. On our way to the Island , our crew ( captain and host(ess) will tell you about the history of the island and can answer any questions that you may have about Crete. Once we arrive you will have the opportunity to swim in the crystal clear water, observe the underwater world with equipment provided by us, use the paddle board, have a drink and relax. We will prepare you a nice traditional meal composed by a greek salad, tzatziki and pasta with seafood ( we can adjust the menu in case of allergy or any specific diet). After our lunch we will set sails to an other bay of the island and you will enjoy a different landscape and have time for swim and enjoy some fruits and a traditional digestive that we called RAKI. In case the weather dont allowed us to go to an other bay we will just spend more time in our first stop. During the half day option, we will served some appetizer instead of a full meal and stay in our main bay for enjoying more time swimming and snorkeling. It s time to end our day saying goodbye to Dia Island and thank you for this nice memories that we have shared together. Once we arrive back at the port we will escort you back to the meeting spot or transfer. We are looking to welcome you on board soon :-)

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Frequently asked questions about Heraklion

What are the best day trips and excursions from Heraklion?

The best day trips and excursions from Heraklion are:

Santorini

Insider tips: Planning a trip to Heraklion

Thomas Dowson is the founder of Archaeology Travel, a website for those seeking adventures in archaeology and history. As a professional archaeologist Thomas enjoys visiting archaeological and historical sites around the world. And sharing these experiences so that others can explore the world’s pasts more deeply. On his blog, you can find more information and all the details for planning a trip to Heraklion.

What should I do on my first trip to Heraklion?

Heraklion is dominated by a defensive 16th century Venetian fortress. It is still in very good condition and well worth a visit. Heraklion, however, is better known for the Minoan site of Knossos, just on the southern outskirts of the city. Widely referred to as a palace, it is an important archaeological site. Although not a palace, certainly not in the way we think of palaces today. The use of reinforced concrete to reconstruct parts of the site was the first use of concrete in Crete. Once you have finished exploring these impressive Minoan ruins, make your way to the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. Here you will find artefacts from around the island, but also the best collection of artefacts is from Knossos.

What are some hidden gems to see in Heraklion?

In the centre of Heraklion is Eleftheriou Venizelou Square, named after the politician eight times elected as Prime Minister and still called the Father of Modern Greece. But the square is more commonly known as ‘Lion Square’. At the centre is a Venetian fountain made up of four beautifully carved lions holding up a basin. The square and its 16th century fountain should not be missed. It is a great place to stop for a while and have an iced coffee.

How much time should I spend in Heraklion?

There are many good places to stay in Crete, and Heraklion is definitely one of them. But unless you are a studious historical traveller, two days is more than enough to see most of what Heraklion has to offer. Most visitors tend to use Heraklion as a base to explore the island beyond its capital. And in this sense Heraklion is the perfect base from which to explore Crete - for anything up to 7 days.

What food is Heraklion known for?

Crete is especially well known for olive oil and cheese. And one or both of these are used in many traditional cretan dishes. One speciality most visitors to Crete remember are ‘dakos’, usually served as a starter or a snack. Sun ripened tomatoes are chopped and placed on a ‘paximadi’ (dried bread) and drizzled with lots of olive oil and sprinkled with fresh herbs and the typical Cretan cheese ‘myzíthra’. This cheese is everywhere and used in lots of cold and hot dishes - especially pies.

What is the best way to get around Heraklion?

Getting around Heraklion on foot will be enough for most visitors. Although Knossos is only an hour’s walk from the city centre, you will probably want to use a bus if you do not have a car, particularly in summer. You will definitely need a car to explore sites on the island away from Heraklion, or take organised day trips where transport is included. There are a lot to choose from, whether you enjoy hiking in Samaria Gorge or wine tasting at a Cretan winery.

What are the best months to visit Heraklion?

Heraklion, and Crete more generally, is best visited in the spring and autumn. During summer there can be too many tourists and during the winter months a lot of attractions are either closed or have restricted opening times. For me, spring is by far the better option. Many people come at this time specifically to see the wild flowers of Crete. Of which there are many, including wild tulips and many varieties of wild orchids.

What are the best neighborhoods for food?

Heraklion has a lot of very good restaurants, whether you are looking for something simple or something a bit more extravagant. Of course there are places to eat scattered all over the city, but the area surrounding the Venetian Lion Fountain and then north to the port is where you will find some of the best restaurants.

What are the best neighborhoods for shopping?

The area around Lion Square is the main shopping area in Heraklion. Both Daedalus and Chandakos streets have been pedestrianised, and this is where you will find designer stores and luxury boutiques. Although not pedestrianised, Dikeosinis is another street to explore. The area has a lot of good cafes for when you just want to relax with a cold drink!

What are the best areas for outdoor activities around Heraklion?

Whether exploring Minoan and Roman ruins, or wine tasting on a Cretan farm, visitors to Crete are spoilt for choice when it comes to outdoor activities. Most of these involve a day trip from Heraklion. Popular outdoor activities include Land Rover Safaris to more remote parts of the island, or sailing trips that leave from the Heraklion harbour. A popular boat trip is to the island of Spinalonga. A Venetian fort was used to house people suffering from Leprosy. Because of the ruins and the history, the island has been used frequently as a set for film and television productions.

What are the best beaches around Heraklion?

Heraklion is located on Crete’s northern coastline. As much of the seafront immediately next to the city centre is taken up with maritime activities, there are no decent beaches there. For sandy beaches with facilities (such as sunbeds, umbrellas and drinks kiosks), you will need to go further out, east or west. To the west Ammoudara Beach is a popular beach with both locals and visitors alike. Going to the east, and a bit further out is Arena Beach. On a rocky promontory from a wide sandy beach you will find the ruins of a Minoan shipyard. If having a beach is important for your stay, choose a hotel that has private beach facilities.

Other Sightseeing Options in Heraklion

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What people are saying about Heraklion

Overall rating

4.4
(8,667 reviews)

This was hands down one of our top highlights of our trip!! Both the captain and the skipper were very attentive and provided us with an amazing experience!The food they prepared was so delicious and top quality ingredients! It was our last evening in Crete and I am so glad I booked this cruise. It felt like it was the best way to wrap up our trip. It felt luxurious! Thanks Tanasis and George!!!! Would highly recommend this cruise!!

This was our second time on a sailing cruise but it was by far the best ever!! The boat was so spacious and incredible - we were only on monohull boat - this catamaran was magnificent and majestic! Friendly crew with such good sailing knowledge - made it even more special and safe! Not only the view was wonderful but to swim, relax and enjoy the wonderful climate that Crete has! The food was more than delicious! Highly recommended!!

this is your sign to JUST BOOK IT!!! it was amazing, 10/10 worth it, everything was smooth, kind hosts, food was delicious, even dessert and fruits and soft drinks. It was amazing i will 100% come back!

It was a very nice trip. The crew was very nice and accommodating and took all our requests into account. The food was also good and the setting where we ate was great. I can definitely recommend it.

Incredible trip! What a wonderful day sailing and enjoying the beautiful, natural Dia Island. The crew was so welcoming - highly recommend!