Heraklion is the biggest city in Crete, so dont forget to get a quick tour of the city.
Landmarks to check out are:
- Venetian Fortress and Tomb of Nikos Kazantzakis (Old Harbour)
- Cathedral of St. Minas
- Morosini Fountain (Lion's Fountain - Liondaria in Greek) / Plateia Venezelou Square
- Loggia - City Hall
- Handakos Street (pedestrian street) for shopping
- St.Titus Church
- St. Mark Basilica
- Chanioporta Gate
- Elefteria Square
Half a day to a day is enough. Take advantage of the beaches instead.
Herklion serves as a common arrival and departure point for visitors to Crete via ferry or airplane. It is best known for its archeological museum and the nearby ruins of Knossos. Sadly, aside from those two features and the Venetian fortress guarding the old harbor it has virtually nothing to offer. The waterfront is a busy, crowded, and congested place hemmed in by heavy traffic and the general ugliness of the city, making it hardly worth your while to go there. If you want to see a Venetian fortress there are much better examples in Rethymnon and Frangokastello anyway. I was put off by Heraklion's run down appearance, its congestion, and its overall lack of a pleasant atmosphere.
To make matters worse, reasonably priced accommodations are almost non-existent here, and even food costs more than in many other parts of Crete. If you can avoid going to Heraklion altogether, do. If you must go for some reason, see the archeological museum and Knossos and get out of town as fast as possible, because there are far nicer places on Crete than this.
Surrounded by the Venetian fortifications of the 15th/16th century, Heraklion is Greece's 3rd biggest city. It's not the most attractive of cities, although its location on the northern coast of Crete, with the mountains sweeping right down to the coast and its proximity to Knossos make it an attractive stopover, with the bustle of everyday life, a characterful market and two or three excellent museums. And there's the picturesque Venetian harbour full of fishing boats and the 16th century castle.
It is all a question of expectation.
Most people arrive in Crete after a long flight, expecting to end up in some little white washed village. Instead the bus trails through this lovely ramshackle town with all the noise & traffic that you expect from a city. Well, I love it. Try to spend a few days here to see the other side of this city. I'm, not going to cover the museum with its exquisite Minoan artefacts, or Knossos - they are well covered everywhere. I'm going to briefly look at other treasures.
First of all, if spending the night, there is a shortage of well priced accommodation ( a criticism, perhaps). Most people end up staying at the 'OK' Rea or Lena, judging by the VT forums.
Other places in the city - the Market (Othos 1866) is great: herbs, penknives, leather .. and there is a simple cafe at the far end of the market (Platia Kornarou) with a a pretty Turkish pumphouse. You'll also find some local ouzeris & lunchtime restaurants round here.
The Ayios Titos church is fascinating and in an attractive square with a *very* good kafenion, built from an old ice house. Just behind this area is a huge Kafenion-society area - it comes alive at night. Every possible kind of bar cafe from the traditional to the star-wars. You can't hear a thing over the music & the rattle of frappe straws. Aimed at young local people - you'll be welcome too. El Greco park has many other drink/ food places round it.
Platia Venizelou is where most tourists end up. Come here of a morning and try the local speciality: heaven-in-the-mouth 'bougatsa' with coffee. The is a particularly good bougatsa place at Lion's Square. This delicacy is found elsewhere in Crete but nothing like you get here!
Other places: the Museum of Religious art near the beautiful cathedral - Santa Catherina is a very lovely church in the same area. There is a small free museum about the Battle of Crete (behind archaeological museum), a good aquarium, a Venetian fortress /city walls - on Martinengo bastion, you'll find the the tomb of Nikos Kazantzakis.
Our flight from Heraklion did not leave until very late at night. So we decided to use the day seeing the sights of Heraklion. Not being a city lover, ( I live in a very small village in a peaceful location), I was very endeared to heraklion. It has a charm that I liked, as with Plaka in Athens and the old town, dare I compare in Edinburgh. Those of you who have visited the above will know what I mean, those of you who have not, then you really should.
Nikos Kazantzakis is one of the best known cultural icons of Crete (1883 - 1957).
The eminent author and thinker was born in Iraklion. He studied Law in Athens and Philosophy in Paris.
When the 20th century dawned in Crete, it brought the wonderful promise of freedom from the Turkish yoke. When a little later, this promise became reality, many creative talents were awakened after centuries of sleep. Before this and especially during the 16th century, literature had blossomed briefly on the island; later, the 18th century witnessed the rise of what was to become known as the "New Cretan School". But the real awakening came with the island's final independence in the begining of the 20th century with a young man called Nikos Kazantzakis who left an impressive amount of work from his first book in 1906 until his untimely death in 1957.
All his work has been translated into a great many languages attaining universal fame. His varied works include poetry, travel logs, philosophical treatise, translations and novels.
"Zorba the Greek" is without doubt the novel that made him famous internationally.
The grave of Nikos Kazantzakis on the bastion of Martinego (in Iraklion) "keeps" his words in greek:
"I hope for nothing, I fear nothing, I am free"
One of these churches in the one dedicated to St. Titos. A former mosque which was transformed into an orthodox church in 1923. The scull of the saint is found here.
Opening times: 7am-12pm and 5pm-8pm
admission is free
The Arsenali are huge and impressive remnants that are unfortunately hemmed in by the modern city surrounding them on all sides. Dating from the 16th century they were used for shipbuilding and repair and are impressive both for their scale and their design.
The current fortress dates from the 1540's but stands on the site of earlier forts. The fort is usually open to the public but unfortunately it wasn't when we were there. It still makes a spectacular and pretty sight though, and you can walk beyond it onto a huge, long breakwater that extends way out into the sea. The views back to the fort and to Iraklion are lovely.
The harbour at Irakion is filled with pretty, colourful fishing and pleasure boats. Away on the other side is the ferry and commercial harbours which are also quite pretty given their nature.
The fishing harbour is the old Venetian Harbour and is bounded by the Venetian Shipyards (Arsenali) and the Fortress.
St. Titus was the man who brought Christianity to Crete and his first basilica can be found at Gortys (see elsewhere).
This church in Iraklion dates from Byzantine times but has been totally rebuilt following an earthquake in 1856. The remains of St Titus used to be kept in this church until the Venetians arrived and took them off to Venice. They were returned to Crete in 1966 and now reside once more in the church.
The square in front of the church is a large, airy open space, a bit of an oasis in this busy city, and to the sides are cafes and tavernas.
One of the most beautiful buildings in Iraklion and in fact on Crete is the Venetian Loggia. Built in the 1620's it was a kind of "gentleman's club" for the Ventian nobility. It is part of a building that once formed the Armoury and the whole is now used as the town hall of Iraklion.
Iraklion is the capital Crete. This translates into a faster pace of life for the locals, as compared to the other cities and towns on Crete. So, you will find better nightlife, more eating options, and the best museum here. Other than that, Iraklion fails to deliver the atmosphere of true Crete. Hania, Rethymno, and other smaller villages produce a better feel for the traveler, with their nicer people, laid back atmosphere, and better natural beauty. I found Iraklion to be a dirty, hard-line city, with very little flavor. I am sure there are those who found Iraklion to their liking, but for me, it was the least interesting city in all of Greece.
Still not to be missed are Knossos, which is a few minutes by bus south of town, and the Archaeological Museum.
Do not get confused when you see Iraklion as Heraklion. They are one in the same.
In the plack, the Lion of St. Mark, a Venetian Symbol.
The fortress is situated at the entrance of the old port. It had been used for centuries not only for the protection of the city but as a prison too. During the Turkish period, its huge dark hallways and cells where used to torture and imprission Cretan revolutionaries.
In the center of the square there is a fountain decorated with sculpted sea images and animals.
At the time of it's construction it was not only made for decoration but to provide the town with water.
Around the square you will find a lot coffee shops.