Heraklion is the most populous and largest city of the island, characterized by major administrative and economic activities in sectors, such as agriculture, tourism, trade and academic studies. The access to the town of Heraklion is possible through its port with frequent itineraries to various destinations within Greece and abroad. Moreover, there is the “Nikos Kazantzakis” international airport, which is extremely crowded by passengers of domestic and international flights throughout the year.
The taxis and the urban buses offer transport inside the city, while the station of interurban buses (KTEL) is located near the port and operates frequent itineraries outside the city and the regional unit. Today, the city of Heraklion provides all the necessary comforts for its visitors through luxurious or affordable hotel accommodations and various travel agents plan organized excursions and tourist packages on a daily basis.
Heraklion is worldwide known for the heyday of the first European civilization that had been developed 5000 years ago and that is the Minoan Civilization. The famous palace of Knossos offers a unique experience to every visitor. The port’s life started to boom in the renamed Byzantine city of Chandax. The later Venetian occupation left behind different monuments and buildings, such as the Venetian walls and the sea fortress (Koules), while the Ottoman occupation and the great earthquake in 1856 led to the reconstruction of roads and houses as well as the adaptation of neoclassical elements that are preserved until today.
Phaistos is located in the southern part of the island and is considered the second most important palace of the Minoan Civilization, where the Phaistos disk with the famous hieroglyphic Minoan script was found. Furthermore, important findings, such as ancient currencies and plates with inscription derived from the ancient legislation of Europe, were discovered in the archaeological site of Gortyna.
Museums & Cultural Activities
The Archaeological Museum of Heraklion is situated in Eleftheria square, one of the most central squares in the town and this is worldwide the only museum which houses a permanent and rich collection of Minoan civilization’s findings. In particular, we should mention the Natural History Museum, that organizes many cultural activities, as well as the Historical Museum of Crete, that houses items of the modern history and provides different educational programs for the public.
Saint Menas, the patron saint of Heraklion dominates in the majestic Cathedral of Agios Minas, which is located near the museum of Christian Art. Moreover, the temple of Agia Aikaterini is dated from the Venetian era and houses this museum.
In Lions Square, the Vikelaia Library constitutes a cultural center, that acts as a public library, and at the same time contributes actively to the organization of scientific and artistic events.
The Nikos Kazantzakis Museum is located relatively close to the city of Heraklion (approximately 15 km) and exhibits some rare manuscripts and personal objects of the writer, with a view to maintaining his memory and demonstrating his educational influence in Greece and abroad. On the other hand, during the summer various music and dance festivals with local and foreign artists are organized in the town’s Venetian walls and/or outside the city, in places such as Matala beach and Choudetsi village. Finally, the museum of Dominikos Theotokopoulos operates in Fodele area. It displays some indicative paintings and includes as well the entirely renovated workshop of El Greco and material accessible to 5 different languages.
The main pedestrian precinct is called 25th August and connects the old city’s port with the Lions square. There you can find many tourist shops and travel agencies as well as snacks bars in the narrow paved roads. Moreover, the church of Saint Titus, a masterpiece of centuries, is located near the Venetian Loggia, which nowadays houses the city hall of Heraklion. On the other hand, the Lions square is undoubtedly the city’s center where the famous Morosini fountain decorates the paved road.
Here you can find the most commercial stores and some enterprises, while a wide range of cafes and restaurants, that could cater for everyone’s tastes, are located in the same area. An alternative place to visit is the central Market that leads to Kornaros square. There the local shops offer local foods and handmade souvenirs, while the taverns provide raki, an alcoholic beverage.
Entertainment at Heraklion
As regards the entertainment and the night life, many bars, luxurious restaurants and family taverns are located sparsely in every corner of the town. In particular, music events with local artists and traditional musical instruments are organized in these places. In the city’s center, you can find all kinds of commercial stores that are open all day except for Monday, Wednesday and Saturday during the afternoon.
For many years, Hersonissos area has a special place in the heart of every visitor, because there are clean beaches at a short distance from smaller and bigger hotel accommodations. The same glory enjoys Malia region. During the summer, the city and its apartments are full of young tourists, who enjoy themselves in the bars and the narrow streets until the early morning hours.
The northern coastline of the Heraklion regional unit is rich in beaches and natural beauty without any lack of tourist facilities. Agia Pelagia beach is located in the western part of Heraklion. Despite the fact that it is considered a small narrow sandy beach, its clear blue waters and the traditional taverns astonish every visitor. The village of Agia Pelagia is built on different layers of rocks and provides a landscape of unequalled wild beauty. On the contrast, Gouves is located in the eastern part of the town and this area includes a big coastline and a variety of rocky and remote beaches ideal for privacy, but also organized sandy beaches with hotels at a short distance.
The southern part of the regional unit consists of some magnificent sites, such as the holiday resort of Agia Galini. The village is built on a small hill and its picturesque port is ideal for small pleasure crafts and sailing boats. The houses of local people are constructed in such a way so as to form a labyrinth of narrow streets. Kommos in south Crete is a golden sandy beach with natural sand dunes and is protected as well, because the Caretta Caretta turtles come ashore towards the two kilometers coastline. Apart from the beaches of Heraklion, Zaros lake is characterized by a particular natural beauty, which was formed after an artificial intervention in the green valley near the foothills of Psiloritis mountain. The visitors could admire the lake’s flora and fauna, while the region is well-known for the “Zaros” natural mineral water of the Votomos sources.
Finally, the virgin forest of Rouva lies in a rutty and isolated place of Psiloritis mountain. This constitutes the largest forest of kermes oak in Europe. The aesthetic and ecological value of this place is of a great importance as regards the diversity of plants and the existence of endemic pieces by including the largest part of the forest in the European ecological network Natura 2000.