Visit Heraklion: Top 13 Things To Do and Must-See Attractions


Things to do in Heraklion: The 13 Best Places to Visit and Highlights

You want to visit Heraklion, the capital of Crete, and you’re looking for the best things to do?

You’re at the right place!

In order to help you plan your stay, I have prepared for you this guide of the 13 best places to visit in Heraklion, with all points of interest and must-see attractions.

In addition to this list of things to do and activities, I will also give you itineraries to visit Heraklion (and its surroundings!) in 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 days as well as my selection of the best accommodations depending on your budget.

And as always, this travel guide contains all my best tips to make the most of your stay.

So, what to do in Heraklion? Where to stay?

Visit Heraklion: 13 Must-See Attractions

1. The archaeological museum of Heraklion

The archaeological museum is the main attraction of Heraklion and certainly the most interesting museum to visit during your trip to Crete.

It has a magnificent collection which gives you a very precise idea of the history of Crete lasting over 5500 years, from the Neolithic to the Roman period. But its fame is mainly derived from the many objects from the Minoan civilisation.

Completely renovated, the museum is modern and I really liked the chronological organisation of the 27 rooms as well as the explanatory panels translated into English (quite rare in Greece …).

Among the most famous objects to see at the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, the many artefacts from the Palace of Knossos (see below):

  • The statuettes of the snake goddesses
  • The Bull’s head rhyton with golden horns, a kind of vase used during religious ceremonies
  • The frescoes: the “Prince of Lillies”, the “Parisian” or the Dolphin fresco.

To visit the archaeological museum of Heraklion, you need a priority access ticket if you don’t want to wait for hours.

You can buy it easily by clicking on the green button below:

Voyage Tips - Advice

If you have also planned to visit the Palace of Knossos (another unmissable spot in Heraklion that I mention below) in addition to the museum, the best option is to go for a combined ticket.

The ticket also includes an audio guide (in English) to download on your smartphone before the visits.

You can buy it directly by clicking on the button below:

Musée archéologique d’Héraklion
Heraklion archaeological museum

2. The Palace of Knossos

As I told you, the Palace of Knossos is the other unmissable tourist spot in Heraklion.

If you are an archaeology and history buff, you should include it into your tour in Crete.

The Knossos ruins were first uncovered in 1878, but it was not until 20 years later, under the leadership of Sir Arthur Evans, an archaeologist, that the archaeological excavations really began.

The latter, who put the majority of his savings and 35 years of his life in this endeavour, was thus responsible for the discovery of Minoan civilisation (which he chose to name in reference to King Minos, a legendary figure in Crete).

In its heyday, the palatial complex contained the private residences of the king and queen, as well as several residences reserved for officials and priests.

There were also thermal baths, warehouses where large jars containing oil, wine, and cereals were stored, grain silos, workshops and a theatre.

There are no two ways about it, there isn’t much left of the buildings today, but one of the main features to see during your visit to Knossos is:

  • The bull’s head fresco and its red and black columns that can be found in all the photos representing the Minoan palace
  • The fresco room where copies of the original frescoes are kept, you can admire the originals at the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion
  • The throne room where, according to Sir Evans, King Minos used to sit (in reality it would have been a room where religious rituals took place)
  • The megaron of the queen where the famous Dolphin fresco is located
  • The Prince of Lillies fresco (Southern end of the central courtyard)
  • The giant Pithoi: the huge jars used for storing food and wine.

All the practical information can be found in my dedicated article: Visit the Palace of Knossos.

Voyage Tips - Advice

The visit to the Palace of Knossos really goes hand-in-hand with the archaeological museum, so you must to buy a combined ticket to visit both sites (excellent idea for 1 day).

Here’s where you can book it:

If you only want to visit the Minoan palace of Knossos, you can book one of the tickets below (by clicking on the orange link):

Palais de Cnossos
Knossos palace – Visit Heraklion

3. Koules fortress

Among the things to see in Heraklion, you must visit the fortress of Koules.

Located at the entrance of Heraklion harbour, it was built by the Venetians in the 16th century. Recently renovated, you can visit the interior and see the exhibition dedicated to the history of the city and the monument.

At the moment there is also a temporary exhibit on the discovery of several wrecks and a French ship “La Thérèse” by Captain Cousteau off Heraklion. Unfortunately, the explanatory panels are only in Greek, which is a shame.

You can then climb the ramparts and enjoy the view of the port and the city.

The entrance fee is €4.

Voyage Tips - Advice

Where to park in Heraklion?

Since part of the historical centre is reserved for pedestrians or residents’ vehicles, you must leave your vehicle behind before going there.

You will find several car parks (covered or open-air) in the small streets around the historical museum of Crete just before arriving at the fortress.

Koules fortress – Things to do in Heraklion

4. The old town of Heraklion

The old town is the best place to walk in Heraklion.

From the fortress, you must take the main street, “25 Avgoustou” which crosses the old town and explore the small alleys in the surrounding area.

All lined with shops and nice restaurants with shaded terraces, you’ll feel like wandering around and stopping for a drink or sampling local specialities.

Things to see in the old town of Heraklion:

  • Agiou Titou Square, where the Basilica of Agios Titos is located
  • The Venetian loggia, a beautiful 17th century building where the nobles met to discuss economic life. It is now home to Heraklion Town Hall.
  • Saint Mark‘s Basilica (see below)
  • The Morosini Lions Fountain, named after the governor of Crete who commissioned it in 1628. It is located on Plateia Venizelou, one of the most lively spots in Heraklion.
  • Rue 1866 and its many shops, which will leads to the Bembo fountain, the first fountain built in Heraklion.
Voyage Tips - Advice

When visiting Heraklion, everything can be covered on foot. You won’t have much choice here, as access to the old town is reserved for pedestrians.

But if you can’t walk too long, you can also take the hop-on hop-off bus that makes a circuit around the historical centre.

There are stops at the fortress, the archaeological museum and the bus even goes up to the Palace of Knossos, which can be really practical if you don’t have a car.

To book your Hop On Hop Off bus tour in Heraklion, just click on the green button below:

Agios Titos church Heraklion
Agios Titos chuirch – Heraklion old town

5. Churches to see in Heraklion

During your stay in Heraklion, you can admire several religious buildings:

  • Church of Saint-Pierre-Saint-Paul: built in the 13th century under the Venetian rule, it is located on the seafront, not far from the Venetian port and the fortress. You can admire it from the outside as it is rarely open to the public.
  • The Basilica of Agios Titos that I mentioned earlier in the section on the historical centre of Heraklion. This pretty cathedral was originally a Byzantine sanctuary. The site was later converted into a Catholic church before becoming an Ottoman-dominated mosque and then an Orthodox church. Inside, you can see pretty woodwork and beautiful icons. Free entry.
  • The Agios Minas Cathedral: Built in the 19th century, it is now one of the largest in all of Greece. The dome with its ceiling adorned with frescoes is really worth a look. Free entry.
  • The Basilica of Agios Markos, dedicated to the patron saint of Venice, built in the 13th century. Today, it houses the municipal art gallery where works by Cretan, Greek and foreign artists are exhibited. Free entry.

Voyage Tips - Advice

You’re going to Heraklion?

You probably know it: the hardest part of planning your trip is to find an hotel offering a good value for money!

The closer you get to your travel dates, the harder it will be to get a good deal. Lots of people will be visiting Heraklion on the same dates as you, so you can be sure that the best deals are booked extremely quickly!

Hopefully, there is a pretty simple solution to this problem: do like me and book your hotel as early as possible!

So, my best advice is to take 5 minutes (now) to have a look at the list of travelers’ favorite hotels in Heraklion.

And if you see a good offer, book it!

Most hotels offer free cancellation, so it’s quick, easy, and you will avoid the the inconvenience of finding nothing but mediocre rooms at exorbitant prices.

To check the current best deals for your hotel in Heraklion, simply click on the green button below 😎:

Once you’ve booked your hotel, it will be time to continue reading this guide and find out more about the best things to do in Heraklion!

Agios Minas Cathedral Heraklion
Agios Minas cathedral – Visit Heraklion

6. The historical museum of Crete

You must take the opportunity during your trip to Heraklion to visit the historical museum of Crete.

This museum is comprehensive and very well thought out, and will take you on a journey through the history of Crete for over 1700 years.

Using interactive terminals and an audio guide available in English, you can browse the various rooms with a collection of objects dating from the Byzantine period to the Second World War.

Among the master pieces, you will find 2 Greek-style paintings, an impressive model of Heraklion and numerous Venetian jewels.

Entrance ticket price: 5 Note that the museum is closed on Sundays.

It’s an excellent place to visit in Heraklion if it’s raining!

Musée historique de Crète
Historical museum of Crete

7. Natural History Museum of Crete

This touristic guide of Heraklion continues with another museum to visit: the Natural History Museum of Crete.

Located on the seafront and not far from the historical museum, here you can discover the fauna and flora of the island.

In fact, if you are interested in this subject and you have also planned to visit Chania during your itinerary in Crete, you must visit the botanical garden of Crete.

I have discussed this in more detail in my article here: What are the best things to do in Chania?

Coming back to the museum, it was completely renovated this year and features numerous reconstructions of the Mediterranean ecosystem, a vivarium and a space reserved for the fossils discovered in Crete.

Make sure to see the life-size model of the Deinotherium, a gigantic mammal that lived on the island 9 million years ago!

Part of the museum is also dedicated to the study of earthquakes.

Musée d'histoire naturelle de Crète
Natural History museum of Crete

8. Beaches in Heraklion

Do you want to take some time to refresh yourself on your visit to Heraklion?

I’ll get this out of the way, you won’t be able to enjoy the most beautiful beaches in Crete in Heraklion.

The closest beach to Heraklion is Karteros beach, which runs parallel to Amnissos beach, but they are just next to the airport and are therefore not very quiet.

You can also go to Ammoudara beach, 4 km away from the historical centre. It is the best known beach for swimming in Heraklion but it is often windy.

If you’re looking for better beaches, you must go to Agia Pelagia, about twenty km from Heraklion.

Plage d'Agia Pelagia
Agia Pelagia beach

9. The best activities to do in Heraklion

Here is a list of the best activities to do during your holidays in Heraklion, during your road trip in Crete. To make it easier for you, I have classified them into 2 categories.

We’ll start with the water/sea activities (click on the orange links to reserve):

  • My favourite activity to do in Heraklion is a superb boat trip to the island of Dia. You will have the chance to go snorkelling in a beautiful spot and spend a great day.

I would particularly recommend this cruise because it accommodates only a small group of up to 10 people and also includes a good meal.

However, it is important to book in advance using the green button below, as the 10 seats fill-up quickly and there is only one cruise per day:

Here is my selection of other activities to do in and around Heraklion:

Voyage Tips - Advice

What are the things to do in Heraklion with children?

If you have decided to visit Heraklion with your family, you must take your children to:

quad bike tour Crete
Quad bike tour – Best activities to do in Heraklion

What are the things to do around Heraklion?

You now know the things to do in Heraklion! It is time to continue your holiday in Crete by exploring the surroundings.

I have prepared my selection of the best things to do in the vicinity of Heraklion.

10. Heraklion wine region

Most of the wines produced in Crete come from the South of Heraklion.

All around Heraklion, you will find about twenty wineries, some offering wine tastings.

Some of the best-known ones are:

Voyage Tips - Advice

If you don’t want bother with the reservations or if you don’t have a car, you should opt for an organised trip to visit the estates.

And what’s great is that you will also have an English-speaking guide to accompany you all day long.

The best wine tour includes:

  • Pick up and drop off at your hotel
  • Visit to an olive oil production estate + tasting
  • Visit to a wine estate + tasting of 5 different wines
  • Lunch with Cretan specialties included.

Book your guided visit to Heraklion wine region by clicking on the green button below:

And if you want to go on a little more upscale trip, you can also choose to participate in a tasting of 15 different wines with a visit to 2 estates.

Guests can also enjoy an excellent gourmet lunch in one of the best restaurants in the area.

Click here to book!

Région viticole d'Héraklion
Heraklion wine region

11. Excursion to the lagoon of Balos from Heraklion

The lagoon of Balos is one of the most beautiful places to see in Crete.

It’s not really close to Heraklion but if you are planning to stay only in this part of Crete and not in Chania (much closer to Balos), it would be a shame not to not visit this place.

From, Heraklion you shouldn’t go by car because it takes too long.

The best option is to choose an organised trip. The bus will pick you up early in the morning from your hotel and will take you to Kissamos where you will embark on a magnificent cruise.

The boat will drop you off at the island of Gramvoussa where you can swim and then return to the lagoon of Balos where you will then have the rest of the day to enjoy.

Book your trip to the Lagoon of Balos from Heraklion by clicking on the button below:

To learn more about Balos, you should read my dedicated article: Visit Balos Beach.

Lagon de Balos
Boat trip to Balos Beach from Heraklion

12. Visiting Santorini from Heraklion

As with Balos, Santorini is not really near Heraklion.

And yet, from the port of Heraklion, you can go in a high-speed boat and find yourself in Santorini, in the Cyclades, in just 2 hours and 30 minutes!

Once in Santorini, a bus will take you around the island, with an English-speaking guide. A visit to the 2 most famous and picturesque villages of the island is on the agenda: Oia and Fira.

You will have about 90 minutes minutes in the first village and 2 hours and 45 minutes in the second, which gives you ample time to click beautiful pictures of the white and blue houses.

The bus will then take you back to the port to take the ferry back to Heraklion.

Book your trip to Santorini from Heraklion now by clicking on the green button below:

Day trip to Santorini from Heraklion

13. The 7 best day trips from Heraklion

To visit Heraklion and its surroundings, if you haven’t rented a car, you will have to go on an organised trip with transport included because public transport is not very developed here, apart from the main cities.

Here is my selection of the best trips to take from Heraklion.

For more details about the prices and reservations, just click on the orange links:

Spinalonga island

How many days to visit Heraklion?

To visit the city of Heraklion itself and discover the main places of interest, it won’t take you more than a day.

But if you want to visit Heraklion and its surroundings, add a few activities, day trips, and you have plenty to keep you busy for a whole week.

I’ll give you an idea of the itinerary.

Visit Heraklion in 1 day

Are you planning to spend a day in Heraklion? It’s enough to visit the city and see the main places in my top things to see list.

Here is an example of a walking tour of Heraklion in one day:

  • Visit to the historical museum of Crete
  • Visit Saint Peter and Saint Paul church
  • Explore the Koules fortress
  • A walk through the old town of Heraklion, up Rue 25 Avgostou
  • Visit to the archaeological museum of Heraklion
  • Explore the Agios Minas Cathedral
  • (Optional visit to the Natural History Museum of Crete )
  • Take your car or the bus back to reach the Palace of Knossos.

You can also start by visiting the Palace of Knossos in the early morning and resume your itinerary from the historical museum of Crete to spend the rest of the day in Heraklion.

Visit Heraklion and its surroundings in 2 days

For 2 days in Heraklion, you can continue from the schedule of the first day and add the following for the second day:

If you are not too interested in the wine estates, you can also choose another activity. Here are my recommendations:

Visit Heraklion in 3 days

If you have 3 days in Heraklion, in addition to the previous 2 days, you must go on a trip to Balos.

Believe me, you won’t regret getting up early to see this heavenly place!

Visit Heraklion in 4 or 5 days or a week

If you are staying for 4 days or even plan to spend 5 or 6 days or a week in Heraklion, you can choose any of the trips.

My top 3 are:

To organise your week-long tour from Heraklion, you must read my article: 7-day itinerary in Crete.

Where to stay in Heraklion

  • Intra Muros Hostel: Hostel located a 5-minute walk from the old town. Dormitory bed from 21€. Strong points: comfortable, warm welcome, cleanliness, roof terrace. The best choice for cheap accommodation in Heraklion!
  • Kronos Hotel: Located just next to Heraklion fortress. Double room with impeccable cleanliness and balcony (some with a sea view) from 65€, breakfast included. Strong points: the location is perfect for visiting Heraklion, good breakfast and friendly staff.
  • Atrion Hotel: Located in the historical centre. Comfortable and warm double room with balcony from 85€, breakfast included. Strong points: excellent location and excellent breakfast. It’s my favorite hotel for its excellent value for money in Heraklion!
  • DOM Boutique Hotel: Located in the heart of the old town. Modern, spacious and elegantly decorated double room from 110€, breakfast included. Strong points: excellent breakfast, attentive staff, setting, very good bedding. This is my recommendation for an upscale stay in Heraklion!
  • GDM Megaron: This 5-star hotel is also located in the centre of Heraklion, not far from the Venetian port. The hotel offers beautiful rooms with a balcony from 190€, breakfast included. Strong points: rooftop swimming pool, wellness area, exceptional breakfast, great staff. This is my recommendation for a luxury stay in Heraklion!
GDM Megaron - Hotel de luxe à Héraklion
GDM Megaron – Luxury hotel in Heraklion

Where to eat in Heraklion

  • Peskesi: Located in the historical centre of Heraklion, on rue Kapetan Haralampi. The restaurant serves delicious Cretan dishes with an original twist. The food is fresh, hearty, reasonably priced and everything is served in a very pleasant and warm setting. We loved it!
  • Merastri: Located on Chrisostomou street, away from the old town. Very typical dishes in ample quantities, superb setting, warm welcome, dessert and liqueuer offered, excellent value for money, I highly recommend it! It’s best to reserve a table for this restaurant in Heraklion!
  • Plani: Located in the old town, rue Ariadnis. Here too, you will have the opportunity to taste delicious Cretan specialities in a small and very charming inner courtyard. The cheap prices and extremely friendly staff are the highlights.
Voyage Tips - Advice

If you are interested in local specialities, this guided tour should also please you.

Your guide will take you to small stalls and the Heraklion market where you can have coffee, olives, cheeses, pastries and wines.

Click here to book!

How to get to Heraklion

By plane

To get to Heraklion, the best is to take a flight.

Heraklion Airport is just a 10-minute drive from the city centre.

As always, you should book your plane tickets as early as possible to get the best prices. You have to know that the flight prices to Corsica can vary a lot throughout the year!

So to check the rates and schedules, you can use our flight comparator, in partnership with Skyscanner:

By ferry

Heraklion can also be reached by ferries from the port of Piraeus in Athens. It’s 8h30 to 9h30 journey.

You can also get to Heraklion from many Greek islands of the Cyclades archipelago: Santorini, Naxos, Paros, Mykonos, Tinos.

And lastly, there is a boat that allow you to get to Heraklion from the island of Rhodes.

To check prices and schedules of ferries to Crete, simply click on the button below:

Rent a car in Heraklion

Heraklion can be mostly explored on foot.

But if you want to make the most of your stay and go on a small road trip in Crete and have complete independence when exploring the most beautiful places around Heraklion, renting a car will be absolutely essential.

To compare the car rental prices in Heraklion easily and quickly, you must use Cars .

The site is really very convenient because you can directly compare the rates of the different international (Hertz, Europcar) or local rental companies present at the airport.

Click on the button below to compare car rental rates for your trip to Heraklion:

Renting a boat in Heraklion

If you want to rent a boat for a nice day at sea during your stay in Crete, you should book it with Samboat.

Motorboats, sailboats, yachts, small boats without a license, with or without a skipper: they simply have the most complete offer for boat rental!

So, what are you waiting for to book your boat trip in Crete? 😊

Tourist map of Heraklion

To help you visualise the city a bit better, I have created this tourist map of Heraklion, with all the best places to visit and things to do in Heraklion and its surroundings.

You can display the map legend by clicking on the top left button, the one with a small arrow on it.

So what have you planned to in Heraklion?

Book your trip now and save money!

You’re traveling to Crete? These articles will help you!

Discover all my articles about Crete: All my articles to help you plan your trip to Crete are listed there.

You’re using Pinterest? Here is the picture to pin!

Best places to visit in Heraklion
Best places to visit in Heraklion

Creator of the Voyage Tips blog, travel and photography lover. I give you all my best tips to plan your next trip.

Leave A Reply