Heraklion, Crete

The birthplace of El Greco

A vibrant small metropolis, a Port city, the Capital city of Crete, the 5th largest city in Greece.

Heraklion is the largest urban centre in Crete with approximately 200,000 people, the capital of the region and the economic centre of the island. The town enjoys of a dynamic and imaginative combination of natural beauty climate, strategic position, cultural heritage and scientific background what has created an appropriate environment to support a particular mechanism with which to in add value to the broader entrepreneurial activity in the region and stimulate the local economy.

Today Heraklion is the top choice for tourist destinations in the Mediterranean thanks to strategic geopolitical position connecting three continents and many different cultures; furthermore the city is also the commercial and scientific centre of the island.

The sea, the historical sites, the excellent food and the welcoming friendly people make this place a delightful place to visit.

Herakleio, Greece

Coming to Heraklion for the first time, the visitor nowadays may be somewhat surprised by the changes that are taking place in Crete's capital city; Heraklion is celebrating its rich history and moving onwards to a future full of potential.

If you begin a walk around Heraklion, starting at the fishing harbor close to the Rocca al Mare, but is now known by its Turkish name, Koules. It has a mixed history; for centuries it was used as protection against invaders, as were the great city walls and ditches. These are among the longest city walls in Europe.

With its huge dark hallways and cells, the fortress was also a prison to many Cretan rebels and those who broke the rules imposed by successive occupiers of Crete. Koules is built on two tiers and offers a commanding view of Heraklion from the battlements.

Herakleio, Greece

Nowadays, the harbor itself is home to brightly colored fishing boats and busy tavernas selling fresh fish.

Looking back towards the city you will see the strong arches which housed boats under repair and were used as an arsenal for storing guns and gunpowder. The greatest threat to the Venetian stronghold of Heraklion, or Candia, as it was named, was thought to come from the seaward side of the city, and indeed, many naval skirmishes were fought off this coast. The view northward takes in the uninhabited island of Dia, where evidence of ancient Minoan settlement (approx 2700-1450 BC) was found by the diver, Jacques Cousteau.

Genuine hospitality that is truly unforgettable

Cretan hospitality shares the characteristics of its famous landscape; grand, generous and infinitely welcoming. Families are only too happy to share the island’s many specialties – a dakos salad, free-flowing raki or the experience of the mantinades, poems often accompanied by a Cretan lyre or lute. Wise old men are only too happy to recount memories of the island’s rich, and often troubled, past or tales of the vendettas between feuding families. There are also stories of the great loves and friendships that characterise a proud and family-orientated people. You, too, can become part of this unique island: Cretan hospitality will be unforgettable!

City Attractions

  • Liontaria or Lion Square – This is the heart of Heraklion, it is called also Plateia Eleftheriou Venizelou, who was Crete’s greatest man of state. The decorated fountain is composed of eight cisterns and decorated with stone relief, depicting figures of Greek mythology, Nymphs, Tritons, sea monsters and dolphins, while the main basin is supported by four sitting lions balancing a circular bowl on their heads.

  • Archaeological Museum -The world famous Heraklion Archaeological Museum was built between 1937 and 1940. The Museum houses archaeological finds from all over Crete.

  • Historical Museum - on Sofokli Venizelou, facing the sea is dedicated to bringing 2,000 years of history to life. The museum was founded in 1952. It houses important examples of early Christian artifacts, stonework and decorative objects of Roman, Arab, Byzantine, Venetian and Turkish origin. More recent exhibits are concerned with the 20th Century, and the 1913 unification is dealt with, under the leadership of Eleftherios Venizelos. Other rooms offer evidence of the island's most recent warfare and the 10-day Battle of Crete in 1941 is powerfully evoked. Another room, a reconstructed library, dedicated to Crete's most famous writer, Nikos Kazantzakis, who captured for a moment the soul of Crete. The restaurants outside the museum offer shade and fine foods.

  • Plateia Kornarou - lies at the top of the market, with a lovely Venetian fountain of its own, the Bembo Fountain, probably the oldest, The Bembo Fountain was built in 1588 by Venetian architect Zuanne Bembo. It is decorated with columns, Venetian family coats-of-arms and a headless male statue, brought here from Ierapetra. At one time, people believed that the statue had supernatural powers and every May, religious rituals were organized in its honor. The atmospheric ‘kafeneio’ alongside it, still serving Greek coffee and aperitifs from an antique stone pavillion at its centre is a great reminder of Crete's Turkish past. The ‘Plateia’ itself is named after Vitsenzos Kornaros (1553 to approx.1614), composer of the epic poem Erotokritos, which is regularly performed around Crete, and still evokes pride in every Cretan heart.

  • Plateia Eleftherias - Freedom Sq.: The spacious Plateia Eleftherias is worth exploring, built in a crescent shape alongside the Archaeological Museum. Apart from breathing space, it offers the shaded park of Georgiades, a fine place to rest the feet and watch the busiest intersection in Heraklion. On the seaward side of the square is the entrance to St. George's Gate, used from Venetian times as a passage between the city and its port, the entrance is down stone steps, leading to an atmospheric dome-roofed chamber and the lower exit.

  • Agios Minas Cathedral - The church suffered damage in the battles for the city and needed thirty years to be rebuilt. In 1896 it was inaugurated with lavish celebrations.Inside the church can be seen the work of Mikail Damaskinos among other representatives of the Cretan School. The square here takes its name from this church.

  • Agios Titos - This majestic church dominates the eponymous, palm-studded square. It had Byzantine origins in AD 961, was converted to a Catholic church by the Venetians and turned into a mosque by the Ottomans, who used the bell tower as a minaret. It has been an Orthodox church since 1925. Since 1966, its most revered possession is once again the skull relic of St Titus, returned here after being spirited to Venice for safe-keeping during the Turkish occupation.

  • Nikos Kazantzakis’ Grave: A simple tomb in the well-preserved Martinengo Bastion south of the city centre honors Nikos Kazantzakis (1883–1957), Crete’s most acclaimed 20th-century writer and author of Zorba the Greek. The famous epitaph on his grave reads: ‘I hope for nothing, I fear nothing, I am free’.

  • Knossos - The centre of Minoan civilization and capital of Minoan Crete lay 5km south of Heraklion. The Minoan palace is the main site of interest at Knossos, an important city in antiquity, which was inhabited continuously from the Neolithic period until the 5th c. AD. The palace was built on the Kephala hill and had easy access to the sea and the Cretan interior. According to tradition, it was the seat of the wise king Minos. The Palace of Knossos is connected with thrilling legends, such as the myth of the Labyrinth, with the Minotaur, and the story of Daidalos and Ikaros.

    Herakleio, Greece
  • The Market - This market has a long history: Walk slowly through the Agora, the Market Street that runs alongside a shopping boulevard called 1866, after a Cretan uprising. From top to bottom, with some shaded sideways exits, this old Market Street is still a place for ‘Herakliotes'' to come every day to find socks, shirts, herbs, fish and fresh meat. It's a good place to find thyme honey, raki (the Cretan clear spirit) from among shops selling everything from selections of Cretan music to the finest cheese.

  • The City Walls - Heraklion is surrounded by a formidable medieval wall, which was used to protect it from enemies. Owing to this, the city enjoyed the reputation as a well-fortified state in the Mediterranean basin. It stood up to a siege from the Turks for 21 years, but was finally seized in 1669 after its betrayal by a Greek-Venetian engineer who informed the invaders of the walls' weaknesses at east and west bastions. It is possible now to walk along the top of these walls and enjoy a view over the city.

Dining & Nightlife

  • Crete has one of the oldest and most tasty gastronomic traditions in the world, a tradition of tastes, aromas, ingredients and skills which begin from the prehistoric years and continue until today.

The Cretan diet constitutes the subject of study, since the majority of studies demonstrate that the Cretan cuisine is the most characteristic example of the Mediterranean diet.

Visit traditional tavernas or modern restaurants, spread all over the city, and taste their Cretan cuisine.

  • Heraklion is one of the most lively cities of Greece. Nightclubs, bars, traditional coffee shops and modern cafeterias are located all over the center of the city.

Lions Square, Freedom Square (Plateia Eleftherias) and the streets around them are full of bars, cafeterias, tavernas and restaurants. The coastal area of the city is also a place to visit with nightclubs and tavernas beside the sea.

  • You will find a variety of clubs and bars both in Heraklion city and in Hersonissos (Limenas Hersonissou) which is a tourist resort famous for its intense and vibrant nightlife.

Herakleio, Greece

Shopping

  • Heraklion is a lively shopping city with a lot of shops within walking distance. It offers an exciting mixture of modern shops, stock houses, pedestrian areas and galleries.

Daidalou, Dikaiosinis, Kalokairinou and their surrounded streets are full of exclusive fashion and big chains'' shops. Open markets are organized every weekday in several areas offering fresh fruits, vegetables and cheap clothing.

  • Each trading street of Heraklion has its own characteristics. For the most fashionable brand things, you can go to Daedalou Street. Here, are concentrated the most fashionable boutiques that sell clothes and accessories, chic perfumery and jewelry. On this street, are found shops of Greek designers, which differ by more affordable prices. It is here, that you should go in search of luxurious fur coats, clothes, and accessories made of genuine leather.

  • 1866 Street is famous for its numerous souvenir shops. Each of which offers exclusive goods. In local stores, you can buy not only magnets and T-shirts popular with every tourist, but wonderful spices, natural cosmetics of local production, and excellent Cretan honey in beautiful decorative jugs. This street will be of interest to gourmet. There are lots of gastronomic shops where they sell wonderful cheese of local production and other delicacies.

  • The largest choice of excellent national products and delicacies is presented in the Central market, attendance of which remains a special entertainment. They sell literally everything, from inexpensive clothes and souvenirs to popular national sweets and street food. Right on the market, are several wonderful cafes where you can enjoy popular national dishes. The Central Market operates every day, but the best day to visit it is Saturday. On Saturday, you have access to every trading pavilion.

  • Heraklion's Talos Plaza is the largest shopping center in Crete, in the coastal area of the city, offers convenient shopping in one place. Its area is about 9000 sq. m. Talos Plaza presents dozens of clothing and footwear shops and several more restaurants and cafes.

  • A great place for shopping will be the Fokas department store, which presents pavilions of famous world brands.

  • Heraklion is famous for its wonderful jewelry stores. Kosmima Gold & Silver store is one of the most popular.

  • Vassiliki's Herb Broidery is a very unusual shop. It looks like an old pharmacy. They have various spices and herbs, as well as dozens of herbal teas. This store will appeal to those who're concerned about the health. The store offers various kinds of balms and herbal infusions created on the basis of herbs. Women will be especially impressed with lots of wellness and beauty elixirs.

  • For edible souvenirs go to Faskomilo store, that offers the most popular Cretan delicacies. Great farm sausage, olive oil and honey, fresh bread and dozens of cheeses, natural sweets and spices - they have all kinds of souvenirs to your liking. You can certainly try the products before buying. The owner of the store helps tourists not to get confused in the variety of products.

Opening hours:

Stores open early, at 8 am, and accept visitors until late in the evening (20:00 - 22:00). They can also close during the daytime for a break. This break can last up to several hours in some department stores. Sunday is a day off. Only stores located in the beaches can work on this day.

Herakleio, Greece