Heraklion, the largest city and port of the island of Crete, is a magnet for both Greek and international tourists. Its archaeological sites, natural beauty, and vibrant nightlife are irresistible. Here, we present a list of the must-visit tourist attractions in Heraklion.
Tourist Attractions in Heraklion
1. The Palace of Knossos
Located just five kilometers southeast of Heraklion, the Palace of Knossos is the largest and best-preserved Minoan site in Crete. It is a significant tourist attraction and is believed to have been the legendary Labyrinth of King Minos. With its monumental palace featuring four wings surrounding a spacious central courtyard, Knossos showcases remarkable sophistication. It includes ceremonial spaces, living areas, storage rooms, elaborate decorations, and even a complex drainage system. The current structure mainly dates back to 1450 BC, with some imaginative reconstruction from the early 20th century.
2. Heraklion Archaeological Museum
The Heraklion Archaeological Museum offers unparalleled insight into Minoan history. It houses treasures from Minoan sites all across Crete, including extraordinary works of ancient art. One such masterpiece is the iconic Prince of the Lilies fresco from the entrance of the Palace of Knossos, dating from around 1600-1500 BC. Another fascinating artifact is the Phaistos Disc, a clay disc covered in 241 symbols whose meaning is still debated to this day. The museum also displays the mesmerizing Snake Goddess figurines, the bee pendant from Malia, the bull’s head rhyton from Knossos, and a vast collection of decorative weapons, pottery, frescoes, clay figurines, and gold jewelry.
3. Venetian Harbour
To the west of Heraklion’s new harbor lies the Venetian Harbour, once the hub of the city’s maritime activities during the Venetian era. The Koules Fortress guards the entrance of the harbor, providing a glimpse into the sophistication of Venetian maritime prowess. Along the waterfront, you can see the remains of Venetian arsenals and shipbuilding warehouses. Take a stroll along the mole for a view of the modern port and the gigantic cruise liners. The Venetian Harbour offers a fascinating blend of history and picturesque scenery.
4. Koules Fortress
Occupying a prominent position on Heraklion’s waterfront, the Koules Fortress is an impressive Venetian stronghold dating back to the early 16th century. A leisurely walk along the breakwater leads you to its main entrance. This fortress, with walls as thick as 8.7 meters, houses 26 rooms and vaults displaying historical artifacts such as old cannons, amphorae, and stone carvings. Don’t miss the recently renovated interior, which showcases period pieces and provides valuable insights into the fortress’s history. Climb the stairs to the roof for incredible views of the sea, the harbor, and the town. Be mindful of sea spray if it’s windy.
5. Saint Minas Cathedral
The grand Saint Minas Cathedral is one of the top tourist attractions in Heraklion. Dedicated to Saint Minas, the city’s patron saint, this cathedral is one of Greece’s largest. It was constructed in 1862 as a gesture of gratitude from the city’s residents for the saint’s protection. Adjacent to the cathedral, you will find the Saint Catherine Church and the Saint Catherine Square. Don’t miss the chance to explore this architectural marvel and experience the vibrant atmosphere of these religious sites.
6. Heraklion Archaeological Museum
The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is another must-visit attraction in Heraklion. It houses magnificent frescoes from Knossos, including the famous Prince of the Lilies and Bull-Leaping. The museum also displays the Snake Goddess, a glazed ceramic figurine, and the enigmatic Phaistos Disc, a clay disc adorned with a spiral of symbols. With 27 galleries spanning over 5,500 years of history, the museum offers a comprehensive journey through time. The courtyard area even preserves the remains of the Venetian Monastery of St. Francis. As one of the world’s finest museums, it is a haven for history enthusiasts and a perfect complement to a visit to the Knossos site.
Heraklion, Greece, offers a wealth of cultural, historical, and natural attractions. Immerse yourself in its rich heritage, explore its archaeological wonders, and enjoy the vibrant ambiance of this captivating city.