Top Tourist Attractions in Heraklion, Greece

Heraklion, which is the largest city and port of the island of Crete, attracts countless Greek and foreign tourists, who want to explore its archaeological sites and enjoy its wonderful natural beauty and the vivid nightlife. Here is a list of the top tourist attractions in Heraklion that travelers shouldn’t miss.

Tourist Attractions in Heraklion

1. The Palace of Knossos

tourist attractions in Heraklion: The Palace of Knossos


Crete’s biggest and best-preserved Minoan site lies just five kilometers southeast of Heraklion. It is one of the most important tourist attractions on Crete.

A vast monumental palace, with four wings built around a spacious central courtyard, Knossos is believed to have been the mythical Labyrinth of King Minos. Remarkably sophisticated, it included ceremonial spaces, living areas, storage rooms, elaborate decoration, and a complex drainage system.

Although excavations show that there was a palace here as early as 2000 BC, what you see today dates mainly from 1450 BC, with some slightly over-imaginative reconstruction from the early 20th century, plus replicas of many of the frescoes.

2. Heraklion Archaeological Museum

There’s no better museum in the world to dip into Minoan history. Finds from Minoan sites all over Crete have been brought here, and many of the exhibits are masterpieces of ancient art.

One breathtaking example is the iconic and life-sized Prince of the Lilies, from the fresco at the entrance to the Palace of Knossos, composed around 1600-1500 BC. Or there’s the Phaistos Disc from the palace of the same name, a clay disc 15cm in diameter, covered with 241 tokens, the meaning of which is still disputed today.

Other extraordinary works include the Snake Goddess figurines, the bee pendant from Malia, the mesmerizing bull’s head rhyton from Knossos, and a huge array of decorative weapons, pottery, frescoes, clay figurines, and gold jewelry.

3. Venetian Harbour

tourist attractions in Heraklion: Venetian Harbour


In a pocket to the west of Heraklion’s new harbor is where the city’s maritime activity happened in Venetian times. At the mouth of the harbor is the Koules Fortress, which we’ll talk about next.

On dry land, facing the water there are two separate rows of arches, the vestiges of Venetian arsenals or shipbuilding warehouses. These structures give a small hint of just how sophisticated Venetian maritime activity was in those times.

You can carry on along the mole, past the fortress to look back at the enormous cruise liners in the modern port.

4. Koules Fortress

Occupying a prominent position on the waterfront of Heraklion, the Koules Fortress is an impressive Venetian fortress dating from the early 16th century. An easy and scenic walk from the shoreline along a breakwater takes you to the main entrance located on the right-hand side.

Although it’s an imposing sight from afar, the recently renovated interior is equally, if not more, impressive. Grand wooden doors open into rooms where period pieces are on display, and plaques offer insight into the history. With walls as thick as 8.7 meters, it’s quiet and cool, making it easy to spend time exploring the 26 rooms and vaults, which display historical artifacts like old cannons, amphora (pots), and stone carvings.

Incredible views out to sea and over the harbor towards town can be had by climbing the stairs to the roof. If it’s windy, be sure to watch out for sea spray from the waves crashing against the rocks.

5. Saint Minas Cathedral

Saint Minas Cathedral


This is one of the best tourist attractions in Heraklion. Saint Minas is the patron saint of Heraklion, and his feast-day (11th of November) is a public holiday in the city. The imposing Saint Minas Cathedral was planned by the architect Thomas Mousis and was established on the 25th March 1862 as an expression of the residents’ gratitude for the protection offered by the saint to the city. Next to the cathedral, which is one of the largest in Greece, is located the church of Saint Catherine, as well as the Saint Catherine Square.

6. Heraklion Archaeological Museum

Magnificent 3,500-year-old frescoes from Knossos, including Prince of the Lilies and Bull-Leaping, are on display at this museum, as are the Snake Goddess, a glazed ceramic figurine of a lady holding two snakes, dated 1600 BC, and the Phaistos Disk, a clay disc bearing a curious spiral of symbols from around 100 BC.

The museum’s treasures are spread out over 27 different galleries and cover more than 5,500 years of history. The courtyard area has the preserved remains of the Venetian Monastery of St. Francis, destroyed in an earthquake in 1856.

This world-class museum is Heraklion’s principal tourist attraction, apart from the actual site of Knossos, and lies in the eastern part of the old town.


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