Heraklion is the main city and key business centre of Crete. The city is also a major cruise destination. Beyond the crazed progress of moped riders, noisy scooters and a battered, out-of-control look to the city, there is much to do and plenty of things worth seeing. Apart from shopping and the designer clothes on Daedalou Street, there are many small shops off all the main streets which sell those local products which normally are used when you live in Crete. Just have a look along 1866 Street and more so its side streets – you may find a curio distinctly different from more typical «gifts» offered to visitors in gift shops.
This is a brief guide to some of the well known and some less well known enjoyments and rewards of Heraklion:
The enormous Archaeological Museum (converted from an old power station well before the idea of using the old Battersea power station in London as an art gallery) on one corner of the central Eleftherias Square, collects together many of the finds from Knossos, Archanes, Phaestos, Zakros and many other archeological sites in Crete. The museum spans a period starting several thousand years ago, through the Minoan, post-Minoan and later periods.
Popular highlights include the Phaestos disc, classic Hellenic and Roman sculptures, frescoes, jewelry, wall-paintings and pottery. A selection of guide books is available at the museum shop – best to buy one to gain some insight into the items that make up this substantial collection.
Historical Museum is on Sophocleus Venizelou street. Easy way to find it is to walk to the bottom of 25th August and at the end, turn left along the seafront – it’s about half a kilometre along on your left (some nice cafes and tavernas have opened at the square beside and oposite of it).
The Battle of Crete Museum. Walk down the side of the Archaeological museum on Hatzidaki and at the end, where it meets Bofor is this small but informative gem.
The Venetian Loggia on 25th August Street, 50 metres down the street from «Lion Square» (Morosini or Venizelos Square) on the right, is now the city hall of Heraklion. You can walk in a take a quick look.
One of the best known and most important for direction finding, streets in Heraklion is 25th of August street, which has now been repaved as a pedestrian street. There is very limited car access (it is quite probable that we will see more cafes spilling onto the street now cars are forced to take second place).
On the walk down 25th August Street from Dedalou to the sea (before most of the shops are turned over to car rental offices) is the church of Agios Titos, a beautiful building, Byzantine in origin then rebuilt in the 16th century by the Venetians. The building was taken over by the Turks who converted it into a mosque and rebuilt it after the 1856 earthquake. It was renovated and re-consecrated by the Greek Orthodox Church in 1925. Fronted by a spacious square which accommodates a municipally run outdoor restaurant in the summer months and the interesting Pagopoieion restaurant/cafe/bar by the side of the church.
The Municipal Gallery and Basilica of St. Mark has an ever-changing variety of exhibitions from early photographs of Crete, to specific works of art – have a look to see if there is a current exhibition. Opposite «Lion Square».
The Koules Venetian Fortress on the harbour walls, built in the early 1500’s. Both for the impressive stone mass of its fortification and unfathomably solid walls, the pleasure of views from its turret and roof, restored interior and exterior reliefs of the Lion of St. Mark.
The Natural History Museum of Crete is after the History Museum, a few meters away – it is of moderate size, with wonderful displays and good descriptive details about the flora and fauna, the wildlife, of Crete. It is also one of the most engaging and interesting of museums for those children who find even the sound of the word «museum» creates a sense of rebellious boredom. Don’t miss the impressive slide show at the side of the indoor section of the cafe. You might spend 1-2 hours here.
Another great place to visit with your children: the new Aquarium («CretAquarium» or «Thalassocosmos«). A 5000 square metre structure, it is both a research centre (housing the Institute of Marine Biology & Genetics and the Institute of Oceanography) and a fun, impressive aquarium with 32 tanks (representing interesting underwater Cretan sea landscapes) and 50 viewing points. 2500 organisms of 200 Mediterranean marine species, from hunter sharks to lobsters, to colourful jellyfish. Touch screens provide information in 5 languages.
The Palace of Knossos is 20-25 minutes from the centre of Heraklion. For many this is a must see, and for some a major reason to visit Crete. While you are in or near Heraklion it makes sense to visit this well-restored and sprawling work of Arthur Evans who spent much of his life, and his inherited fortune to make Knossos what is is today. A Minoan palace – this is is the closest you can get to piecing together the threads of the story of the Minoan civilization through the structures the Minoans lived in.
Many publications about Knossos are available both in bookshops in Heraklion and at the gift shop there. Knossos also has guides who will, for a fee, enlighten your visit with details and history and provide a more rewarding visit. There is a cafe just after entering the gate, and several cafes and tavernas to eat in on the Knossos road just outside the gates.
You could spend anywhere from 1 – 3 hours and more here, depending on your interest in archaeology.
To get there by bus go to Bus station A near the harbour. At the bus station look for the KNOSSOS ticket office [see more info about bus stations]. By car or taxi it is a 15-20 minute ride.