The capital and largest city of the sun-drenched island of Crete, Heraklion is a thriving, contemporary hub that revels in its fascinating history.
Away from the bustle of its cosmopolitan main streets, there are enough ancient archaeological riches here to satisfy the most enthusiastic explorer. Colossal fortifying walls surround Heraklion’s old town. Along with the harbour fortress of Koules, these were built by the Venetians in the 16th century to guard against Turkish invasion. Other gems from the time are strewn around the city, with a host of beautifully ornate mansions and the Bembo fountain taking pride of place in the main square.
Heraklion is also home to several world-class museums, most notably the Archaeological Museum. Containing artefacts from the Minoan period, the earliest European civilisation, it is one of the most important in the world.
A stone’s throw from the city centre lies King Minos’ legendary Palace of Knossos, famed in Greek mythology as the location of the labyrinth and home of the Minotaur.
Heraklion has a sense of elegance and sophistication all its own, with a flourishing nightlife and restaurant scene, as well as some of the best shopping you’ll find anywhere on the island. We’re sure you’ll love your time in this beautiful destination.
You could be forgiven for mistaking Chania for Venice or Florence. Sitting on the north-west coast, Crete’s second largest city is centred around a charming Venetian harbour, complete with its characteristic lighthouse dating back to 1570. One of the most picturesque spots in the whole of Greece, Chania is awash with beautifully preserved historical monuments that trace its fascinating past.
The modern part of the city spills out well beyond the ancient fortifying walls, but the old and new town harmonise perfectly to create a captivating destination.
The undisputed party capital! Malia is all about big personalities and even bigger beats. The main strip is a haven for hard-core clubbers, attracting some of the biggest name DJs to showcase their talents all through the summer.
Away from the intensity of Malia’s nightlife, you’ll also discover some of the island’s best beaches, with golden sands stretching for over five kilometres, along with a charming old town of narrow cobbled streets and mediaeval churches.
One of Crete’s most popular destinations, Agios Nikolaos is a sleepy and beautifully picturesque town sprawled across the hillside above Mirabello Bay. Its pastel-coloured houses and traditional tavernas give it a quintessentially Cretan ambiance, and mixes it up with a host of chic boutiques and a cosmopolitan buzz. Head here for a touch of romance with a sunset stroll around Lake Voulismeni, favoured bathing spot of the goddess Athena. End your evening in one of the charming waterfront cafes as you watch the fishing boats gently sway in the harbour.
Palace of Knossos
The absolute must-see experience in Heraklion. The centre of Minoan civilisation and origin of some of the best known of the Greek legends, the Palace of Knossos is just five kilometres from the city centre.
According to the mythology, the fabulous palace was designed for King Minos by the architect Daedalus and was so complex that it was impossible to find a way out. Walking around the site today, it’s easy to see where stories of Minotaurs stalking labyrinths were born as you explore ruins that have stood here since 2000 B.C. For keen historians, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Europe’s longest ravine and one for the serious hiker, the Samaria Gorge runs for 18 breath-taking kilometres, starting on the Omalos plateau and finishing at the village of Agia Roumeli. Narrowing to just four metres wide at its most famous spot, known as ‘The Gates’, the gorge was formed by the small river that runs between Lefká Óri (the White Mountains) and Mt. Volakias. Made a national park in 1962, if you’re lucky you might spot the shy Cretan goat, the Kri-Kri, or even a golden eagle soaring overhead. Make sure you pack your best walking boots—hiking the entire length of the gorge can take between five and seven hours.
Archaeological Museum of Heraklion
One of the most important museums in Europe, this enormous collection of more than 15,000 artefacts dates as far back as the Neolithic era, more than 5,500 years ago, and covers every age of Cretan history up to Roman times.
Pride of place goes to the relics from the Minoan civilisation, recognised as the best and most extensive in the world, with examples of artwork and sculpture from the period considered to be true masterpieces. Organised over twenty separate exhibition spaces, this is a fascinating visit.
Like much of its culture, the cuisine in Crete has ancient roots and their culinary traditions can be traced back thousands of years. Known as one of the healthiest diets in the world, it is rich in fruits, vegetables and grains, with far less meat than in other parts of Europe. The wonderfully fertile soil is the ideal source for cultivating that most important of Cretan ingredients, olive oil.
You’re sure of a warm welcome wherever you choose to eat in Heraklion. The locals are rightly proud of their cuisine, and dining well is very much part of the laidback island lifestyle. Don’t miss the opportunity to try out some regional specialities such as the shrimp saganaki or chicken souvlaki, washed down with some exceptional local wines or raki.
With something for everyone right on your doorstep, holidays in Heraklion are sure to be a hit with the whole family. Beautiful beaches, fascinating historical treasures and world-class nightlife are all within easy reach, wrapped up in a sumptuous all-year-round climate.
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