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Crete's capital since 1971 and the fifth largest city in Greece, that's Heraklio.A bustling modern city, the kind of place you usually run away from in your holiday, that's Heraklio too. But a city you should avoid at all cost? That's not Heraklio. Heraklio, which was previously known as Kandak ('the moats') or Handakas in Greek and Candia, is kind of an obligatory stopover due to its two main attractions, the museum and the palaces of Knossos and Phaestos. OK, blah blah blah, now let's move on to the pattern, right?

heraklio crete - heraklio island map

Heraklio Hotels

If you search for accommodation in Heraklio I recommend you to visit Heraklio Hotel Online Bookings. There, you can make your reservations directly to the hotels and find rooms in low prices and useful guest reviews.

Ilhas gregas

Why should I go to Heraklio?

heraklio - knossos palace heraklio crete - archaeological museum

Usually people don't ask this question, for they already know the answer: Heraklio is the place where you will find the palaces of Knossos and Phaestos and the second most important archaeological museum of Greece (after that of Athens). You can't claim you went to Crete if you don't visit these places, you know that. They're the heart of Crete, the spots where you can witness the grandeur of the Minoan civilization. Solely these are reasons enough to visit Heraklio, maybe even decide to make it the base of your vacations. But if you want a couple of more reasons. just keep reading and you will find some.

What does Heraklio look like?

heraklio - traditional dance

Heraklio, as I said before, is a city, a modern city with all the good and bad parts of this term. You might even come to find that the bad parts are a little more prominent than you expected. Tourism has taken the best of Heraklio and the changes it's been through are sometimes painfully obvious.Let me make my personal comment at this point: I've lived three years in Heraklio. My sister was actually born there. It's been a long time since then and I was a lot younger, too young to bother looking around and forming an opinion about the place where I was living, but I can remember how things looked through the eyes of a kid. Things have not changed a lot till this day. Heraklio is still a town that gives and takes. There's nothing you may need that you won't find in Heraklio.

On the other hand, there are some things that might be vital for you and that Heraklio simply can't give you, things like a great view or a breath of fresh air in the morning, a moment of peace and seclusion.

So, that's what Heraklio looks like, what Heraklio is. Since you are reading this section, I assume you have already decided you want to go to Crete. Whether you will stay in Heraklio or not though, is exclusively up to you.

Which places should I not miss in Heraklio?

heraklio crete - knossos palace

Well, I guess from what I've said and what you perhaps already know, Heraklio has two unmissable attractions (or three, depending on the way you count), the museum and the palaces of Knossos and Phaestos. Since I'm going to refer to the archaeological sites later on, let me focus on the museum for now.

So, Heraklio's Archeological Museum, just a few blocks away from Plateia Eleftherias, is the place where you will find most of the masterpieces of the Minoan civilization. You see, as I read a while ago, a Greek archaeologist who went by the name of Joseph Hadzidakis once made sure a law would pass that would make sure every important find of the island would immediately belong to the museum. What was the result of this? A huge, breathtaking collection of exhibits that you simply cannot be through with in one visit.

The museum has 20 rooms, the exhibits carefully divided into teams and placed there depending on what they are or what period they date from. The first room contains finds from the Neolithic and Pre-Palatial periods for example, while rooms 2 and 3 are devoted to the Old Palace Period. In room 3, by the way, you will find the mysterious and famous Phaestos disc.

heraklio crete - archaeological museum

But, while the Archaeological Museum is the most significant museum of Heraklio, it's not the only one. There's the Historical Museum of Crete, the Battle of Crete and Resistance Museum, the Natural History Museum of Crete and the Cathedral and Byzantine Museum, to name a few. The Battle of Crete and Resistance Museum specifically, is quite new and has a stunning collection of weapons and uniforms. Well, you can tell by the names of the rest what you will find there so I'm not going to bore you with the details, just. They're all pretty good, especially the Historical Museum. Just that.

heraklio crete - eileithyia cave

There's another place you might like to visit, the Cave of Eileithyia. Eileithyia was the daughter of Zeus and Hera, the goddess of childbirth and fertility and this cave was the most important place of he r worship, where pregnant women would rub their bellies against a stalagmite that looked like a pregnant belly. If you wish to visit the cave though, you'll have to ask at the archaeolo-gical museum. You see, the admission is free but you'll have to make an arrangement with the guard at Nirou Chani

Now let me name some villages you have to visit: Ag. Deka, Mires (that is more like a town, but anyway), Kato and Pano Karouzana that offer traditional Greek nights to coach parties, Ag. Pandeleimonos, Kastelli, Sklaverohori with the 15th-century church Eisodia tis Theotokou, Archanes, a down-to-earth farming centre where the remains of a Minoan palace were found in 1964.

Lake Zaros is yet another Heraklio must. The Votomos spring flows into this small but quite pretty lake. Along the road to it, you will find tavernas with delicious specialties, while around the lake there are benches, a children's playground and an attractive restaurant.

Finally, even if you're not a Christian, you should consider paying a visit to Moni Vrondissiou for its extraordinary view alone. Moni Vrondissiou is a double-aisled monastery, its buildings surrounded by a wall, with 14th-century wall-paintings and a 5th-century marble fountain.

What about the archaeological sites?

heraklio - minoic culture

What does Heraklio have to offer? Well, first of all, Heraklio has to offer Crete's pride and honor, the palaces of Knossos and Phaestos. How about that?

What's the history behind Knossos? Well, once upon a time king Minos asked for a sign from Poseidon, a bull that he would later sacrifice. But the bull sent to him was so pretty that he couldn't bring himself to kill it. Poseidon's rage was expressed by cursing Minos' wife Pasiphae to feel lust for the bull. The outcome of this union was Minotaur, a man-eating monster with the body of a man and t he head of a bull. Minotaur was concealed in a labyrinth built by Daedalus for Pasiphae and was fed the bodies of seven men and women from Athens every year until Theseus slew him, finding his way out of this labyrinth thanks to Ariadne's, the daughter of Minos, ball of twine.

The archaeological site of Knossos covers 20000 sq m, but there are no walls or fortifications. Thanks to Evans' excellent reconstruction, the significant parts are recognized easily. It consists of the palace, some residences and the burial grounds. Make sure you have a guidebook with you or hire a guide, as there is absolutely no signage.

Phaestos is one of Crete's oldest cities. Situated on a hill and with a wonderful view, Phaestos is like Knossos, only in a smaller scale. It hasn't been touched by Evans, so only your imagination can help you see how the three-storey palace of Rhadamanthus, Minos' brother, used to be like. Again, you're going to need a guide if you want to fully understand the histo ry that lies inside it.

heraklio phaestos disk

Heraklio itself has a few signs of the Venetian influence upon it, just like Chania and Rethymno. A bright example is the Venetian harbor with the restored 16th century fortress Rocco al Mare, the best introduction to the city. But that's only the tip of the iceberg! There's the Venetian Loggia, built in 1628 as a meeting place for the Venetian and Cretan nobility. There's San Marko (Agios Markos) which is the first Venetian church of Crete, built in 1239. San Marko has been rebuilt twice after earthquakes and converted into a mosque by the Turks. And of course there's the Morosini Fountain, commissioned in 1626 by the governor, Franscesco Morosini.

OK, now that I read what I've written about the archaeological sites so far. whew! Way too much information without a break, huh? OK, some personal details now, then. To be honest, I've only visited Knossos and Phaestos twice in my life. I'm not quite proud of that, since I'm from Crete, but I rarely got the chance since I always stay in Rethymno, where I have a house. I actually usually avoid Heraklio, since my friends are not interested in the sites and are a bit annoyed by the crowdedness of the city. But I will never forget these two times and, really, I can't wait for a third!

Now, before I forget, let me move on to Ancient Gortyna. There's no way of describing the archaeological site of Gortyna. You see, this site was a settlement from Minoan to Christian times and it's full of bits and pieces from various ages and periods. The most important monuments are the Odeon, the northern theatre, the temple of Pythian Apollo, the Sanctuary of the Egyptians and the acropolis.

Does Heraklio have any beaches?

heraklio crete - heraklio beach

Beaches, huh? Well, there are some options that could be considered exceptions, but the rule is that Heraklio doesn't have much to offer when it comes to beaches. I've mentioned quite a few times that Crete generally doesn't have the beaches other Greek islands do, haven't I? Well, remember that if you don't want to be disappointed.

Anyway, let me tell you about these exceptions. None of them is in Heraklio as in the city - they're in the province. For example, Matala is near the village of Matala, a popular sandy beach with crystal-clear waters. Kommos is near the village of (guess what?) Kommos, a large sandy beach. Fodele beach is near the village of (see the pattern, I guess) Fodele, which is also the birthplace of El Greco, and it's a beautiful sandy beach near hotels and restaurants. Finally, Agia Pelagia beach is just 16 km west of Heraklio, near Agia Pelagia Town, with lots of cafs and restaurants nearby.

Where should I go eat?

Well, this time let's start with what you should avoid, OK? Like any other famous tourist destination, Heraklio is full of tourist traps. Most of them are gathered around the Morosini Fountain or on Dedalou Street and are quite easy to identify: photos of the dishes in the window, plates over-flowing with French fries and waiters at the entrance touting. They're all quite pricy and certainly not worth it.

heraklio - dakos greek food

Now let's move on to the good stuff. Giakoumis and Ta Grousouzadika on Theodosaki Street are two good and cheap options, with fresh Cretan dishes.

Pantheon on Fotiou Street is reasonably priced and offers a load of options, with international dishes like steak with shredded red cabbage or spaghetti with spinach. Pagopion on Agios Titos Plateia has so tasty day's specials every day that you don't even need a menu. If you enjoy Italian food on the other hand, Loukoulos and Giovanni are just your thing. Both on Korai Street, both a bit pricy, but also both attractive and with great options.

Prassein Aloga on Handakos and Kydonias Street is alternative itself, but in a different way. With rustic style and first-class Mediterranean food, this caf-restaurant is a must. As for Restaurant Ionia, on Evans Street, well, let's just say it's a personal favorite when it comes to Cretan food.

What about Heraklio's nightlife?

heraklio crete - nightlife

Oh, don't worry! Heraklio's a big city; don't you think big cities know how to entertain their visitors? Well, Heraklio does. Three are the places that you will want to memorize - and I don't mean names of bars and clubs, I mean places as in where you will find lots of good bars and clubs. So, take a pen: Chersonisos, Ammoudara and Korai Street.

Granazi, Edem, Baracuda and Bahalo are only some of your options from these places. Granazi and Edem often play live music, while Baracuda and Bahalo play both Greek and foreign music, attracting the young crowd.

Doukos Beaufort Street is quite populated when it comes to clubs too. Kastro, with its live music from a lyra maestros, and Diamonds and Pearls, a lap-dancing bar, are two excellent examples.

Also try Blue Iguana and Xitzaz on Idomeneos Street, Caf Veneto on Epime-nidou (a place that personally excited me), I Palia Aigli with its live rembetika music and DNA or Fougaro on Ikarou Street.

How can I get to Heraklio?

Well, thanks to its airport, Heraklio is probably the easiest province of Crete to reach. You see, Heraklio is connected by direct flights with many European cities due to it being such a popular destination. The airport is linked to the city by public bus and the distance is only 4 km, I think.

Anyway, I'm going to repeat what I've already said numerous times: if you're in Athens, you might want to consider coming by sea. Usually only the best ships travel to Heraklio and the experience will be unforgettable!

Book online your ferry tickets to the greek islands and have them delivered at home easily.

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