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A journey through myths and history

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Heraklion: A journey through myths and history

The largest city of Crete and capital of the island, Heraklion is one of the most lively urban centers in Greece and an important innovation hub with many universities and technological institutions.

Built in the middle of the northern coastline of Crete, it has been a crossroad of three continents and great civilizations of the Mediterranean that marked its unique cultural identity.

From the ancient port of Minoan Knossos and the Arab stronghold of Chandax, to the noble Candia of the Venetian Republic and the Kandiye of Ottoman rule, the cradle of the striving Minoan civilization and the birthplace of the great Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco), Heraklion is today a modern maritime city and a gate to mythical palaces, landscapes of untouched natural beauty and pristine traditions.

Routes & Attractions

Heraklion is a modern Mediterranean metropolis with an intense rhythm of life. In its historic centre, the pedestrian streets and squares are full of significant sights that keep alive the golden era of the Venetian rule.

Walk aroundthe Lions Square with the ornate Venetian Morosini fountain. Stroll along the historic 25th of August Street with the magnificent neoclassical buildings, the impressive 16th century Loggia and the stunning church of St. Titus.

And of course, visit the amazing Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, the ark of the Minoan civilization, to admire the Phaistos Disk, one of the greatest archaeological puzzles in the world.

The old Venetian harbor with the iconic medieval fortress of Koules gives a romantic touch to the modern city and invites the visitor to an unforgettable walk along the waterfront.

Before leaving Heraklion, walk up the imposing walls surrounding the Old Town, the most beautiful and strong structurebuilt in the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages. For the most spectacular panoramic shot of the city, visit the Martinengobastion, the burial point of the world-famous Cretan writer Nikos Kazantzakis.

Beaches & Activities

Heraklion is the gateway to some of the most beautiful beaches in Crete. The most popular and organized beaches are located east of the city, along a massive coastline with famous tourist resorts, such as Hersonissos and Malia.

Visit Akti, Hani Kokkini, Paleokastro or Ammoudara and Agia Pelagia to the west. Those who love isolation and landscapes of wild beauty, travel to the South with the countless untouched beaches unfolding in the shadow of Asterousia Mountains and the estuaries of dramatic gorges.  Kommos, Agios Nikitas with the homonymous monastery built on the rock, Vathi, Trafoulas in Lenta, Listis in Keratokampos, the dark sand, fairytale-like beach of Aspes and of course, the legendary Matala of the hippies back in the 60s and 70s, with blue waters and enigmatic natural caves carved into the rocks.

The area of Heraklion, as well as the entire island, is ideal for offroad explorations. The bare and arid Asterousia Range, a natural border between the plain of Messara and the Libyan Sea, forma natural realm of stone and breathtaking wild gorges.

For hiking enthusiasts, the most exciting invitation is the passage through the thrilling Agiofarago, a mysterious landscape of imposing vertical rocks full of wild olive trees and inaccessible caves, which leads to the homonymous dreamy beach with emerald waters. The route from Kapetaniana to the sacred peak of Kofinas and from there to the Monastery of Koudoumas, offers a unique spectacle.

Opposite Heraklion, the uninhabited island of Dia is ideal for a day trip for those who like ancient shipwrecks and fragrant flora.

If you like gastronomy and wine expeditions, grab the unique opportunity to take an organized tour of the vineyards and wineries that spread around Peza, Archanes and Dafnes, and enjoy some unique local wine tastings.

Tastes of Heraklion

A cradle of the Mediterranean diet, the Cretan cuisine is an ode to nature and the inexhaustible wealth of its treasures but also an expression of unparalleled Cretan hospitality. From the scenic rakadika and gastro-cafes to the most stylish restaurants, every meal is a ritual and celebration for discerning palates.

Try some dakos (barley rusked tomatoes, xynomyzithra cheese, olive oil, oregano or capers and olives), fried or baked kaltsounia (traditional pies stuffed with mizithra cheese or wild greens), snails, fried or cooked in red sauce with french fries, gamopilafo (rice dish with various meats), apaki (smoked pork), artichoke raw or pickled, cretan graviera (PDO), savory olives, fennel pies, octopus with olives, omelette with artichoke, hand-made pasta with red sauce, tsigariasto (goat or lamb in pot), antikristo(goat meat or lamb stew).

Among the must-try traditional desserts are the sweet cheese pies known as lychnarakia, the small mizithra pies with honey, yogurt pies and xerotigana.

Cretan raki and rakomelo are essential accompaniments to every meal with appetizers. However, Heraklion is the largest wine-producing region of Crete, so don’t forget to try some of the local wine varieties as well.

Traditions & Events

The Cretan feast forms a proud part of the island's cultural tradition, and all visitors must be initiated into its ritual. Every historical anniversary, feast or religious celebration culminates with a feast.

If you find yourself in Heraklion in May, do not miss the celebrations for the anniversary of the Battle of Crete (20 to 28/5). Every June in Archanes, revives the custom of Klidonas (24/6), where the young and old jump over the fire.

Wine festivals are held throughout the hinterland of Heraklion, such as in Dafnes (in July) and Archanes (in August). Guests have the opportunity to taste famous local wines and fine dishes.

Excursions near Heraklion

The magical hinterland of Heraklion (the Venetian Paracandia) is full of treasures for nature, history and archaeology lovers. Five kilometers south of the city, the monumental palace complex of Knossos brings to life the grandeur of the Minoan civilization in all its splendor and mythical glamor.

Further south, in an extraordinary location overlooking the vast plain of Messara, the palace of Phaistos will impress you with its majesty and invite you to roam around the kingdom of the mythical king Rhadamanthus.

Next stop, ancient Gortys, the capital of Roman Crete, for a walk in the ravishing temple of St. Titus, the Roman Odeon and the Great Inscription (the oldest and most complete law code in Greece).

Serving as guardians of ancient traditions, the beautiful villages of the Cretan hinterland deserve a special visit. All roads lead to the gracious Archanes, a place of model residential development with wonderful architecture, excellent museums, and a long wine tradition. Also worth a visit, Houdetsi, Dafnes, Venerato, Ano and Kato Asites and Myrtia, where you will find the modern interactive museum dedicated to the life and work of Nikos Kazantzakis.

Nature lovers may wander in the protected Rouvas Forest and admire the largest kermes oakcolony in Europe.

Don't miss...

Visit the one-of-a-kind El Greco Museum (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) in Fodele, the birthplace of the greatest Cretan painter of the Renaissance.

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