Heraklion is the largest urban center in Crete, serving as the capital of the region and the economic hub of the island. Additionally, it is the primary commercial and scientific center of Crete. Due to its strategic geopolitical position in the southeastern Mediterranean basin, it connects three continents and hosts various distinct cultures.
History of Heraklion
Heraklion is connected to antiquity and Europe through its history. According to Greek mythology, Zeus, the father of the gods, brought the beautiful young maiden Europa to Crete, with whom he was in love. Their relationship led to the birth of Minos, their son, whose name was borrowed by all the kings of Crete and the historical civilization of the island. During the Minoan period (2000-1450 BC), Heraklion was likely the port of Knossos, the center of Minoan civilization. Ancient historians, such as Strabo, refer to Heraklion as Herakleion, possibly in honor of Hercules, who came to Crete to slay the wild bull and complete the seventh of his twelve labors.
Around the 9th century, the Arabs occupied Crete and established a new city in the location of Heraklion, which they named Kastro of Chandax.In the 10th century, the Byzantines regained control of the island and managed to maintain it until the beginning of the 13th century. During the 14th century, the city fell into the hands of the Venetians. The Venetian period lasted approximately four and a half centuries and was a period of great progress for the city, particularly in terms of development in areas such as trade, architecture, literature, and art in general. Many Venetian monuments still exist in Heraklion, such as the old walls surrounding the old part of the city, the fortress at the harbor (Koules), the Loggia, the Morosini Fountain, and others.
After the siege of Heraklion by the Turks, which began in 1648 and lasted for 25 years, the Venetians were forced to surrender the city to the Turks. The Cretans revolted against the Ottoman Turks many times, such as in 1770, 1821, 1866, and 1895. In 1898, Crete regained its autonomy from the Ottoman Empire, and in 1912, it was united with Greece.
Beaches in Heraklion
On the northern side of Crete, you will find a plethora of beautiful beaches. Among them are the following:
- Fodele Beach: This beach is located 23 kilometers west of Heraklion, near the national road that connects Heraklion with Rethymno and Chania. The beach is sandy, and the village of Fodele, which is just 2 kilometers away, is the birthplace of the famous painter El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos).
- Mononaftis Beach: It is located 20 kilometers west of Heraklion and is a sandy beach with some pebbles.
- Agia Pelagia Beach: It is 16 kilometers west of Heraklion. In the area of Agia Pelagia, you will find many taverns, restaurants, and cafes. The bay of the beach is protected from the northwest winds, and the sea is usually calm.
- Lygaria Beach: It is located 15 kilometers west of Heraklion and is less crowded than Agia Pelagia Beach.
- Paleokastro Beach: It is located 10 kilometers west of Heraklion and is a small pebble beach. It is protected from the northern winds, but you need to be careful as the waters become deep abruptly.
- Amoudara Beach: It is located 5 kilometers west of Heraklion. It is a long sandy beach with many hotels in the area, both large and small. You will find areas with sunbeds, umbrellas, and lifeguards, as well as quieter spots. Along the beach, there are cafes, restaurants, and bars. You can easily visit it by bus or taxi from Heraklion.
- Floridas, Karterou, Amnissos, and Tobruk Beaches: These beaches are located 8 kilometers east of Heraklion. They form a large sandy beach with different names for each section.
Sights in Heraklion
- Knossos: The Minoan Palace of Knossos is located 5 kilometers southeast of Heraklion, in the valley of the Kairatos River. The river originates from Archanes, crosses Knossos, and flows into Katsambas, the Minoan harbor of Knossos. During the Minoan era, the river had running water throughout the year, and the surrounding hills were covered with oaks and cypresses, where we now see olive groves and vineyards. As for the pine trees inside Knossos, they were planted by Evans. The continuous habitation for 9,000 years has brought significant changes to the natural environment, making it difficult for us to imagine the real Minoan landscape. The first settlement in Knossos dates back to around 7,000 BC, during the Neolithic period. The economic, social, and political development of the settlement led to the construction of the magnificent palace of Knossos in the late second millennium BC. Knossos was the residence of the legendary King Minos and the main center of power in Crete.
- Phaistos: Also known as the Minoan Palace of Phaistos, it is an important archaeological site in southern-central Crete. It is located in the plain of Messara, approximately 55 kilometers south of Heraklion. In close proximity are also the archaeological site of Agia Triada, the ancient Gortyna, and the village of Matala. Phaistos is one of the most significant archaeological sites in Crete and attracts many visitors every year. The Minoan palace of Phaistos is an advanced city that developed in the Messara plain from prehistoric times (around 6,000 BC) until the 1st century BC, as evidenced by archaeological findings.
- The Palace of Malia: The Palace of Malia is located east of present-day Malia. It is the third largest Minoan palace in Crete and is situated in a privileged location near the sea and along the road that connects eastern and central Crete. According to mythology, it served as the residence of Sarpedon, the brother of Minos, and was built around 1900 BC. The preexisting strong settlement was transformed into a palace-city center, and the palace was rebuilt around 1650 BC after the destruction of the original palace around 1700 BC. The Palace of Malia was permanently abandoned around 1450 BC.
- Agia Pelagia: Agia Pelagia is a distinct tourist resort in Crete and a significant point of interest for visitors who wish to explore the island's attractions. The settlement of Agia Pelagia is located near the coast with an amphitheater-like layout of houses. It is situated west of Lygaria Bay and east of Mononaftis Bay. The view from the area is stunning. Agia Pelagia offers beautiful beaches, as the sea is calm and clear, while its golden sandy shores are also appealing to tourists. If someone prefers quieter beaches, they can visit the western side of Agia Pelagia, where the beaches of Kladissos, Psaromoura, and Mononaftis are located.
- Matala: Matala is a destination situated 65 kilometers southwest of Heraklion and is known for its crystal-clear waters and golden sand. Visitors can enjoy swimming in the beautiful waters of the Libyan Sea, with the imposing cliffs serving as a backdrop, which are the area's trademark. The sandy beach of Matala is 300 meters long and forms a semicircle on both sides, while there are surrounding rocks that create a small enclosed bay. Matala became widely known in the 1960s for the carefree and alternative lifestyle of people who chose to live in the many caves and hollows created by the force of the waves and the saltiness of the sea. Additionally, Matala hosts a song festival every year, and during the summer, there is a connection by boat to Agia Galini. Moreover, there is a local office of the Sea Turtle Protection Society.
- Hersonissos: As for Hersonissos, it is located 26 kilometers east of Heraklion, along the national road. The seaside resort of Limenas Hersonissou is a bustling town throughout the year, unlike other parts of Crete where some hotels and restaurants remain open only during the tourist season. Tourist agencies usually make reservations in many of the hotels, making it challenging to find available rooms. In the past, Hersonissos was an important commercial center in antiquity and served as the port of the city of Lato, which was located near Kastelli Pedias.
How to travel to / from Heraklion?
Ships operate the route from Piraeus to Heraklion, Crete, throughout the year. The ferry companies that serve this route are ANEK-Superfast, Minoan Lines and Blue Star Ferries. Ticket prices range from 36 to 66 euro, depending on the type of ship you choose, either a fast ferry or a conventional one.
You can choose either direct routes or routes with stops at other islands such as Milos, Santorini, Anafi, Sitia, Crete, Kasos, Karpathos, Diafani, Halki, Rhodes, Syros, Mykonos, Paros, and Ios. ANEK-Superfast and Minoan Lines offer direct routes to Heraklion, Crete.
Below are some of the most popular ship routes:
Ship routes from Piraeus to Heraklion:
- There are two ships departing from Piraeus port daily at 21:00. During the peak season, there are also morning routes. The duration of the ferry journey from Athens to Heraklion is 8.5 - 9.5 hours, starting from 36 euros for a regular seat. Due to the long duration of the trip, conventional ships are the only ones traveling to Heraklion. Although slower than fast ferries, they offer modern amenities such as restaurants, bars, shops, and swimming pools.
Ship routes from Santorini to Heraklion:
- Ships (both fast and conventional) from Santorini to Heraklion operate seasonally from April to October each year. The ferry journey takes less than 2 hours with a fast ferry and up to 3 hours with a conventional ship. The cost of the ferry ticket ranges from approximately 63 euros to 89 euros, depending on the type of ship.
Ship routes from Mykonos to Heraklion:
- There are daily ship routes from Mykonos to Heraklion, Crete. The ferry journey takes about 5 hours, and tickets cost approximately 86 euros to 90 euros.
Ship routes from Paros to Heraklion:
- There are daily ship routes connecting Paros to Heraklion. The ferry journey takes about 4 - 4.5 hours, and the ticket price is approximately 72€ - 79€.
Ship routes from Ios to Heraklion:
- Daily, fast ferries connect Ios to the port of Heraklion. The journey takes a little over 3.5 hours, and tickets cost about 33 euros.
Book your ferry tickets quickly and economically at booktickets! Here, you will find all available information on prices and ship schedules to organize your trip!