Are you thinking of exciting places to visit in Heraklion? Well, you’ve come to the right place. This is Crete’s capital and largest city, popular for its beautiful beaches, ancient ruins, lively nightlife, and home to some of Greece’s top attractions. It’s no wonder more, and more people are discovering what this city has to offer. So, if you’re planning your vacation, here is a list of 19 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Heraklion you can’t miss. Read on!
1. The Palace of Knossos
The Palace of Knossos is perhaps the most well-known Ancient Greek monument and one of the top attractions in Heraklion. This is a spectacular Bronze Age palace complex located in the town of Knossos. It’s one of the most important Minoan palaces and is named after King Minos, who lived here.
Today, it attracts thousands of visitors who want to know more about this fascinating place. The palace is actually part of a larger archaeological site that also includes the nearby Minoan palace. You can tour the ceremonial spaces, staircases, working areas, storage rooms, and more inside the palace.
I spent a good two hours exploring this place, and it was definitely worth it. It’s an amazing place to learn more about life in the Minoan times. The palace provides a perfect educational experience that can be enjoyed by both adults and children alike.
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2. Archaeological Museum of Heraklion
As a second-best option, this archaeological museum deserves its place on top attractions in Heraklion. This is because it is one of the most important museums in Greece and Europe due to its exhibits’ quantity, quality, and variety.
This museum has more than 8,000 artifacts spread across 27 exhibits and is reportedly the world’s second-largest antiquities museum. It was built in the early 20th century, and many exhibitions have been added since then.
The exhibits come from the Neolithic period to Roman times, spanning over 5500 years. It prides itself on its excellent collection of Minoan artifacts. It has good collections of ceramics, frescoes, jewelry, and small objects found in Heraklion and the surrounding area.
The Snake Goddess is, of course, the highlight of the museum. This is a spectacular 1600 BC glazed ceramic figurine of a lady holding two snakes. It’s also worth checking out the Phaistos Disk, a clay disk with unknown symbols believed to be from around 100 BC.
I spent well over two hours in this museum and enjoyed it a lot. The exhibits are presented clearly and intelligently for everybody to understand. So I highly recommend allotting enough time for it if you want to see everything here.
3. Take a Food Tour in Heraklion
Are you bored of eating the same old boring food? Do you want to try some tasty dishes that are original and surprising? Are you up for trying new things but do not know where to start? Well, if you answered yes to any of these questions, then a food tour is one of the best things to do in Heraklion.
There are many companies offering food tours in Heraklion, and the best part about it is that you get to try out different restaurants and dishes. I strongly recommend trying out some of Heraklion’s famous dishes, such as Tirokafteri, which is a mixture of feta cheese and hot chili peppers. I also recommend trying out one of the local dishes, such as Pastitsio or Moussaka.
I had an amazing time on the food tour with Cretan Adventures, and I would recommend it to anyone visiting Crete. It’s a great way to see the city and try some of its famous dishes.
4. Koules Fortress
The Koules Fortress is one of the greatest places to visit in Heraklion. It’s located at the old port entrance, just on the water’s edge. It was built originally by the Venetians in the 16th century AD to protect the harbor. Later on, the Turks heavily modified it when Crete fell under Ottoman rule. The Turks were eventually driven out of Crete in 1898, after which it served as a prison for political dissidents and rebels.
Today, it’s a popular and well-preserved landmark of Heraklion. It was recently renovated and opened to tourist visits, so you can spend some time exploring its halls, Chambers, towers, and historical artifacts like stone carving, amphora, and old cannons.
I greatly enjoyed my visit to Koules Fortress because it was such an awesome experience. Inside the walls, you basically feel like you’re in another world. The fact that it’s also a great place to spend time with family or friends makes its spot on this list well deserved.
5. Take a Scenic Walk Around Heraklion Old Town
Without a doubt, visiting this area is one of the best things to do in Heraklion. The whole town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site full of history, culture, and an authentic Cretan atmosphere.
This area is a maze of narrow streets with picturesque houses, churches, shops selling local products, cafes, and tavernas offering delicious Greek food, all clustered around three main squares. The area also offers different attractions. And a good place to start is the 16th-century Venetian Fort of Koules, a small fortress with beautiful views of the surrounding area.
Another fascinating sight is the Venetian Arsenals. This is a massive structure dating back to the Middle Ages that was used by the Venetians to repair their ships. You can go inside and explore its countless rooms, which is a great feeling.
One thing about Heraklion is that there’s no shortage of things to do and see. So you can easily spend a great day here exploring the Old Town and its surroundings.
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6. Shopping in The Old Town
I’m sure you already know that Heraklion is not just a holiday destination, but also the island’s main business and shopping hub. This island capital is as busy as Athens, with all kinds of shops and offices scattered around the city center.
One of Heraklion’s most interesting shopping attractions is The Central Market, also known as the pedestrian-only 1866 Street. As you can guess by the name, it’s one of the oldest shopping streets in Crete. The market sells all types of food products, vegetables, fruits, chocolate, candies, and souvenirs. You can also find clothes, shoes, handbags, some antiques, and furniture.
I visited this market on a weekday morning. It was very lively with plenty of stalls, even though it wasn’t the best day to catch all the shops here. The line-up for some restaurants along the street looked impressive though.
7. Take a Walk Along the Waterfront
One of the best things to do in Heraklion is walk along the waterfront. It is a pleasant and scenic walk that can be done for as long or short as you like. In addition, this area is very attractive with cafes, bars, and restaurants to relax and people watch.
There are two main waterfronts to explore: The waterfront stroll and the breakwater walk. The first one starts at the breakwater to the Natural History Museum. You can stroll for an hour or more through lively cafes, bars, and restaurants.
The breakwater walk starts at Koules Fortress. It’s a 4.6-kilometer return walk that takes you into the sea and towards the city. It is a quieter alternative as it’s slightly further away from the city center and has less activity as such.
Both walks are excellent for people-watching, with tempting cafes and stylish bars lining the route. Note that public transportation is not available along the waterfront, and you’ll have to do it on foot.
8. Day Trip to Matala
A day trip to Matala is a must. This town became famous in the 1960s when a hippie community settled there and created a new lifestyle. It was the center of counterculture for all of Europe back then and attracted many young people from different countries.
Today, Matala is a cute little town with some of the most popular beaches in Heraklion. Its hippie days are long gone, but several original caves and abandoned buildings remain. These used to be homes and nightclubs for hippies, but today they’re mostly empty and falling apart.
I found Matala to be incredibly charming, with its winding streets of cubic white houses. This town looks exactly as you would think a Greek hillside village should look like. The beach here is very beautiful, with great sand and beautiful clear turquoise water. There are also many cafes, bars, and restaurants near the beach where you can sit down and enjoy the marvelous view.
I spent the whole day in Matala and loved it. There is something magical about this place that makes you want to come back again and again. All the locals I met were also very friendly and welcoming.
9. Cretaquarium Thalassocosmos
This is the largest aquarium in Greece and one of the largest in Europe. It’s also probably one of the top tourist attractions in Heraklion to visit with kids. The aquarium is home to more than 2500 marine species, including sharks, turtles, penguins, stingrays, and many others. You can get up close to the seahorses on an underwater glass tunnel. Kids are guaranteed to have tons of fun here, so it’s worth scheduling a visit if you have some family members with you.
I really enjoyed my time here, as the exhibits are well done, and it’s fun to see the animals in action. I recommend it for adults and kids alike, but you might want to go early or late as it can be very crowded.
10. Beach Day at Agia Pelagia
A Beach Day at Agia Pelagia is well deserved after all the sightseeing you’ve done. Fortunately, there are many good options, especially on the north coast. I recommend Agia Pelagia in particular due to its beach, amenities, and proximity to Heraklion. It’s 24 kilometers away from the city center, and I recommend taking a bus or taxi.
There are many hotels that line the beach, and it is dotted with umbrellas and lounge chairs that are free for everyone to use. The water was clean, warm, shallow, and not rough at all during my visit in the early September evening. The sand was also just right.
The beach looks phenomenal when the sun sets into the sea while you’re lying on your lounge chair, drinking a cool beverage and enjoying the view. I enjoyed it so much, and I think it’s one of the best things to do in Heraklion you should try.
11. Natural History Museum of Crete
The Natural History Museum of Crete is an excellent Cretan museum that explores Crete’s natural history, wildlife, and geology. You’ll find a number of interesting exhibits here, from stuffed animals to rocks and minerals.
I personally found the geology part of it extremely fascinating. The rocks and fossils on display were explained thoroughly by very knowledgeable staff who were happy to answer questions. Another highlight of this museum is the earthquake and tsunami simulator, which lets you experience an earthquake and a tsunami first-hand.
In general, this museum is a hidden gem of Crete. It has a very interesting collection, and the exhibits have been well-preserved and cared for. I don’t recommend going to Heraklion just for this museum, but if you happen to be there, then you should not miss it.
12. Cathedral of St. Minas
Next on my list of top attractions in Heraklion is the 19th-century cathedral of St. Minas, otherwise known as the Old Metropolitan Church. It’s a beautiful church and the Largest in Crete.
This magnificent cathedral is richly decorated with icons and mosaics. The highlights here are the gilded wood iconostasis and the seat where St. Minas sat for his last sermon. In addition, you will be able to see a side chapel containing his relics and many other religious artifacts.
The cathedral has a fascinating history and is worth a visit for that alone. You can learn about the history of this unique place, discover its architecture, have a look at the impressive frescoes and mosaics, and enjoy the spiritual atmosphere.
13. Historical Museum of Crete
The Historical Museum of Crete is a must-see if you want to learn more about the history and culture of this area. The museum’s main objective is to preserve and show the historical heritage of Crete.
The museum’s collections include stone carvings, religious icons, textiles, manuscripts, as well as paintings and prints. The museum’s collections include stone carvings, religious icons, textiles, manuscripts, as well as paintings and prints. Besides these items, there is also a somber space dedicated to the resistance against Axis powers during World War II.
I spent over an hour in this museum, but I could have easily stayed longer if I had more time that day. So it’s definitely worth visiting when in Heraklion.
14. Take a Snapshot of Morosini Fountain
The Morosini Fountain is an attractive historic landmark in Lion Square. Built in 1628, the fountain consists of four lions spouting water from their mouths into the pool below. This fountain played an important role in Heraklion history, as it was the main water source for both people and animals.
This area is also popular with cafes and restaurants, so the fountain makes a nice spot to rest and enjoy lunch. There are also some tourist shops selling all kinds of souvenirs around the square, so it’s a nice place to look around for some gifts.
The fountain is quite popular with visitors to Heraklion as they can take nice photos here. I would recommend visiting this fountain if you have spare time because it is one of the top attractions in Heraklion.
15. Wine Tourism
One way to explore Crete Island while being entertained is by going on a wine tour. Winemaking in Crete has a long history. As early as the Bronze Age, the Minoans used wine for religious purposes and trade.
Today, Crete is one of Greece’s largest wine-producing regions, and Heraklion is home to some of the major wineries in the region. I recommend taking a trip to the landscape to the south of Heraklion, where you will see several wineries as well as several other agricultural activities.
There are many companies offering wine tasting tours for individuals or groups. These tours include transportation to and from Heraklion, and guided tours at each winery. It also includes wine tasting and, in some cases, dinner with Cretan specialties. After all, what’s better than drinking good wine while having tasty local food?
I had a great time learning about the process of making grapes into wine and discovering how it is all done. This makes it one of the best things to do in Heraklion and a great way to spend your day learning while sightseeing at the same time.
16. Get Lost in the Alleys of the Old Quarter of Lakkos
Another amazing attraction you’ll find in Heraklion is being lost in the Old Quarter of Lakkos. This is a unique way to explore the traditional side of Heraklion as you look for its hidden-away alleys. In addition, this is the best way to forget about the Minoans and discover how Crete’s capital has been through history.
This part of the city is pretty much unchanged since medieval times, so it’s worth exploring some of its narrow alleys. You can find an abandoned mosque, small churches, old windmills, and fountains. There are also a lot of unique boutiques, jewelers’ workshops, confectioneries, and sweet shops that sell traditional pastries and sweets.
I found this to be one of the most interesting things to do in Heraklion, as I got lost in its maze-like alleys, finding hidden gems left and right, and admiring the historical splendor of the city.
17. Check the Archaeological Site of Phaistos
Another Heraklion top attraction is the Palace of Phaestos, which lies 62 kilometers south of Heraklion. This impressive and massive palace was built around 1600 BC on a hillside site of an earlier palace. It was one of the most important political, religious, and artistic centers of Minoan Crete.
What you see today are the ruins, but you can tell that this was an impressive building with strong walls, storage rooms, and several open spaces. The fascinating aspect of this palace is that it was destroyed, but not by war. The evidence points to a massive earthquake around the mid-second millennium BC.
Although little is left of this ancient palace, I enjoyed exploring its ruins and imagining how it might have looked when in use. It is one of the top attractions in Heraklion due to its impressive ruins and stunning surroundings. So, I recommend allotting it enough time.
18. Have fun at Ammoudara Beach
Ammoudara Beach is a public beach with fine golden sand, crystal clear blue waters, and nice surroundings. It’s one of the most photographed beaches in Crete and is also an excellent spot for kiteboarding.
What makes this beach stand out among others in Crete is that it has an array of facilities to help you enjoy your time there more. There are cafes and restaurants on both ends, umbrellas, and sunbeds for rent (and drink service), changing rooms, showers, water sports, etc.
The beach is also busy most of the time, especially during summer. So you won’t have any problem finding a suitable spot to relax at. I would say Ammoudara Beach is perfect for family outings on weekends with children, as there are plenty of activities for them to do here.
19. Cool down at Acquaplus Water Park
After a long day of sightseeing, the best thing to do in Heraklion is to cool down at Acquaplus Water Park. This is the largest water park in Crete, located 26 kilometers east of Heraklion. It’s a great place to enjoy family time with lots of fun activities for people from young kids to adults.
This waterpark offers about 50 slides spread throughout the park. You can either try classic or white water adventures, jump into the numerous pools that come with slides and winding rivers, or relax in the sun with a refreshing drink.
The park also includes plenty of restaurants and bars where you can rest and relax after all the excitement of your visit. I had an amazing time here, as this waterpark provides a rocking experience. My favorite part was visiting the wave pool, as I’ve never been to one before. I recommend planning a full day here to enjoy everything this park has to offer.
Heraklion is a great place to visit in Crete and has lots of things for everyone to enjoy. However, these are some of the top attractions in Heraklion you shouldn’t miss. Any of these places will be great for you, and you can comfortably spend a couple of days here. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.