Heraklion Things to Do

We have gathered a list of the Best Things to Do in Heraklion, which includes the absolute must-sees and must-dos of the captivating prefecture of Crete: places to visit, sights, beaches, tours, where to eat, activities, and more.

In brief, the top things to do are to visit the unique Knossos and Phaistos, stay at a luxury beach resort and swim in the crystal-clear waters of the beaches.

Open the table of contents to see our suggestions for the 21 best things to do once in Heraklion.

1. Visit the impressive palace of Knossos

Category: Sightseeing

The legendary Palace of Knossos is the signature landmark of Crete and an archeological site of major importance regarding the history of the Minoan civilization. The palace is a large and complex structure, with lighting and liquid management systems that were truly ahead of their time. Many of the buildings in the palace complex are either well-preserved or have been successfully restored by archaeologists. This area has been linked to some of the most famous aspects of Greek mythology and more specifically, the myth of the Minotaur. The red columns and bright-colored frescoes of Knossos Palace are indicative of the art, culture and architecture of the entire Minoan civilization.

One of the very top things to do is to visit the Knossos Palace on a guided walking tour, as the experienced guides will share plenty of information about the place’s history with you. Book your tour now to skip the ticket line!

About Knossos Palace

2. Stay at an all-inclusive luxury resort

Category: Hotels

Looking for a place to stay in Heraklion? The island offers many lovely options! These are our favorite hotels and accommodations in the area:

Grecotel Amirandes in Gouves is an opulent hotel with a total of 212 units. It boasts a plethora of facilities for guests' entertainment and relaxation, while the personnel can arrange many activities upon request.
Acro in Agia Pelagia is a deluxe seaside resort offering suites and villas, each with its own private pool. Other amenities include several wellness rooms and a sophisticated restaurant.
Mitsis Rinela Beach is an all-inclusive 5-star hotel a few steps from Kokkini Hani Beach. Its facilities include swimming pools, restaurants, a spa and a mini market.
Thalori in Kapetaniana is a 4-key accommodation combining traditional elements with modern comforts away from the lively coastal resorts.

See our selection of the best hotels

3. Swim at the best beaches

Category: Beaches

Heraklion is a place of extraordinary natural beauty and exploring its coastline is one of the top things to do in the area. Vast beaches with golden sand or small pebbles and crystal clear, dark blue waters offer great relief from the hot summer weather. Some are well-organized, with sunbeds and numerous tourist facilities, including water sports centers, while others are completely pristine.

The most famous beach on the entire island is probably Matala, which is intertwined with the hippie movement of the 1960s. In addition to the chilled-out atmosphere, you will discover several impressive caves in rocks above the sea. If you enjoy rocky landscapes, Agiofaraggo is another great option. This is a peaceful and wild secluded beach and, unless you are into trekking, the only way to get there is by boat. If you are looking for something more accessible and suitable for children, check out Fodele or Agia Pelagia, two beaches with several facilities such as taverns and places to stay.

Explore Heraklion Beaches

4. Visit the ancient Phaistos Palace

Category: Sightseeing

Phaistos Palace is the second largest and most important archaeological site in Crete after Knossos Palace. It dates back to the Minoan era and was originally constructed around 2000 BC. Excavations brought many ruins to light in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Unlike Knossos, most parts of Phaistos Palace have not been fully restored or reconstructed so the visitors can see the authentic remains of the Old Palace, which used to be a huge complex comprising many buildings. The site is located on the southern side of Crete and can be easily approached by car. While strolling among the ruins, you will certainly get a grasp of this advanced ancient civilization. 

More about Phaistos

5. Walk around the town of Heraklion

Category: Villages

Heraklion is the biggest town on the island of Crete, as well as its capital and commercial center. It dates back to the Middle Ages and has been home to numerous civilizations, whose remnants can still be admired across the busy city center. Except for the Old Town and the port, the landscape of Heraklion is an authentically urban one, full of modern facilities, shops and restaurants that attract numerous visitors of all ages, inviting them to take part in the local life and enjoy the city’s cosmopolitan aura.

One of the best things to do is to stroll around the city streets, where you will certainly come across some of its most significant landmarks, such as an imposing Venetian castle, old Ottoman buildings, impressive churches and a few museums. The commercial streets of Heraklion are the best place to go on a quick shopping spree, try out traditional Cretan products and hang out at coffee shops, bars and other great places. Modernity and history merge into one another in Heraklion, making this rapidly developing Mediterranean town a very popular destination.

Discover Herakion Town

6. Make a day visit to Santorini

Category: Tours

Combine your vacation in Crete with a boat tour around the Cretan Sea and a short visit to the most famous Greek island — Santorini! This full-day tour will give you a taste of the Aegean since you will visit Fira and Oia, Santorini’s most picturesque settlements, full of tiny whitewashed houses, blue-domed chapels and narrow alleys. In addition, the little town of Fira offers some of the most spectacular views of the world-renowned volcano. The relaxing boat trip from Santorini to Crete is expected to last about 4 hours and you will also have a few hours to stroll around Santorini’s Cycladic neighborhoods. You can spend your free time swimming at one of the island’s volcanic beaches or exploring the local gastronomy at one of the traditional taverns.

Book the tour

7. Eat at the best restaurants

Category: Eat & Drink

Crete is full of restaurants and taverns that guarantee an unforgettable culinary experience! With unique recipes and delicious local products, Cretan cuisine is popular all around Greece and beyond, so tasting it is definitely one of the best things to do while on the island. Whether you are looking for a traditional place to eat or something more modern and upscale, the streets of Heraklion Town are full of excellent options. 

One of the best restaurants is Peskesi, outside the historic center. Peskesi aims to preserve the local culinary heritage by reviving traditional Cretan recipes and uses top-quality, locally harvested products in its dishes. You will find meat, seafood, salads, legumes and delicious desserts among others.
Another amazing restaurant that is highly recommended, especially to seafood lovers is 7 Thalasses near the port of Heraklion. This restaurant specializes in fresh fish and seafood dishes with Greek, Mediterranean, or even international origins, including sushi, while cocktails to accompany your meal are also available. 

Our selection of restaurants

8. Visit the traditional village of Arhanes

Category: Villages

For a glance at the traditional side of Heraklion, don’t skip a visit to the large but picturesque Arhanes village. Built on a hillside and surrounded by Cretan nature, Arhanes is mostly known for its neoclassical architecture and old houses with colorful walls and small verdant gardens full of flowers. The village is located around 16 kilometers from Heraklion Town and can easily be approached by car. It is divided into two parts, Epano (Upper) and Kato (Lower) Arhanes. You will find several places to stay, shops and restaurants. The warm and welcoming atmosphere in Arhanes, accompanied by the locals’ genuine hospitality makes it one of the loveliest places on the island. A few museums have been built there to offer insight into the local history and culture and some archeological sites can be found around the village, including a cemetery that dates back to the Prehistoric era.

Discover Arhanes

9. Take a cooking class with a local

Category: Workshops

If you are seeking an alternative and authentic experience in Crete, book a cooking class with a local chef. You will have the chance to prepare a dinner of traditional Cretan recipes using fresh products just picked up from the farm. Also, during the class, you will find out all the secrets of Greek gastronomy and you will learn how to cook some of the most famous Greek dishes such as ntolmadakia, tzatziki and gemista.

About the cooking class

10. Take a day tour to Spinaloga and Elounda

Category: Tours

A trip to Spinalonga and Elounda is one of the best things to do for anyone who wants to learn more about Crete’s past. Although Elounda has become a popular seaside resort, the abandoned settlement on the island of Spinalonga has been linked to a much darker side of the island’s history, since it was used as a leper colony during the 20th century. In reality, the area’s rich history goes much further back in time and becomes a meeting point of different cultures that affected the island, as it connects the Ottoman, the Saracen, the Venetian and the contemporary Greek histories to each other. By taking part in an organized day tour, you will have the opportunity to explore Spinalonga and the Venetian fortress and visit Elounda at Mirabello Bay and the picturesque town of Agios Nikolaos. In addition, you will stop at the Pirate Bay of Kolokitha to swim and have a BBQ lunch break.

Book the tour

11. Book a sailing trip to Dia Island

Category: Tours

Dia is a tiny isolated islet approximately 7 nautical miles from Heraklion. It was named after the god Zeus, since according to Greek mythology, the small islet was created by him. Although it is currently uninhabited, archaeological excavations have brought to light the remnants of an ancient wall and a port, while many other ancient findings probably remain hidden, as they lie at the bottom of the sea. Nowadays, Dia is part of the Natura 2000 network to help preserve the local biodiversity. The unique rocky landscape and the crystal clear sea of the islet attract numerous visitors and Dia has become a popular destination for short day trips and excursions. Regardless of the time of day, you will have the opportunity to snorkel and explore the underwater scenery of Dia, while fishing equipment is provided as well! 

Book the sailing trip

12. Have a full-day Gramvoussa and Balos tour

Category: Tours

One of the best things to do in Heraklion is to participate in a guided day tour to Gramvousa and Balos. Gramvousa, also known as the island of pirates, comprises two small islets with sandy beaches. This area has become quite popular, not only due to the bright-colored sea waters around the islets but also for the ruins of a Venetian castle and an old rusty shipwreck. If you opt for the guided tour, you will also get to visit Balos Beach and swim in the impressively transparent waters of the turquoise lagoon. At the beginning of the trip, expect a brief stop at the small village of Skaleta, where you can have breakfast and a cup of coffee.

Book the Gramvoussa and Balos tour

13. Go to the Cretaquarium

Category: Sightseeing

Discover the miraculous SeaWorld of the Mediterranean and get to know its diverse marine life at Cretaquarium, one of the largest aquariums in Europe! Founded in 2005, Cretaquarium promises a unique experience to visitors of all ages; you will have the chance to observe various species of colorful fish, jellyfish and sharks coexisting harmoniously in large fish tanks, specifically designed to mimic the sea creatures’ natural habitat. Guided tours, audio guides, audio-visual systems, accessibility tools and other advanced pieces of equipment are available at Cretaquarium, where education and entertainment are combined!

About Cretaquarium

14. Spend some time in Chania and Rethymno

Category: Other

In order to see some of the other highlights of this beautiful island, we recommend taking part in an organized tour that offers the opportunity to explore the northwestern part of Crete. During this tour, you will learn more about Crete’s history and admire the wonderful countryside, including the seascapes. In addition, you will visit two other major cities, Chania and Rethymno, and have some free time to stroll around the historic center of the towns, spot listed buildings and discover hidden gems in the local market. The excursion includes a visit to the natural park of Kournas Lake, one of the most significant places on the island in terms of biodiversity. 

Discover Chania

15. Visit the Museum and the Tomb of Nikos Kazantzakis

Category: Sightseeing

Nikos Kazantzakis is one of Greece's most important 20th-century writers. Most of his books regard existentialism, religion and metaphysics, and highly impacted modern literature. He became globally popular thanks to the movie "Zorba the Greek". The Museum of Nikos Kazantzakis is located in Myrtia and was founded in 1983 to preserve the writer’s work. It offers visitors an insight into his life, as it exhibits a precious archival collection of handwritten letters, manuscripts, old photographs, first-edition books and personal items of the writer. Since he was not allowed to be buried in a Christian cemetery, Kazantzakis's tomb is located outside the Venetian walls of Heraklion in a verdant area.

More sights in Heraklion

16. Try scuba diving

Category: Sports

Book your scuba diving session now for an unforgettable underwater adventure! One of the most common meeting points for scuba diving enthusiasts is Mononaftis Beach, which is located close to Heraklion. The activities are guided, conducted in small groups, and suitable for experienced divers, beginners, or practically anyone over 10. All the equipment is provided by the diving center and the certified instructors offer lessons in both theory and practice in several languages. During the session, you will have the opportunity to explore the biodiversity of the local sea world and meet many underwater species of fauna and flora, while you will also receive a scuba diving certificate at the end of the course. This is the perfect place to start your scuba diving journey!

Discover the scuba diving centers

17. Take a Land Rover Safari Tour

Category: Tours

Get adventurous and discover the hidden beauties of the wild Cretan countryside by booking your seat for a Land Rover Safari tour! This is the best way to explore the authentic natural landscape of Crete while crossing forests and rocky valleys. The tour includes a few stopovers: you will visit a traditional coffee shop in the middle of the woods, admire magnificent views and see the old village of Krassi. In addition, you will enter the impressive cave where Zeus was born according to Greek mythology and have a BBQ lunch with plenty of wine in the wilderness.

Book the Land Rover Safari

18. Hike along magnificent mountain trails

Category: Sports

There can be no better way of exploring Heraklion than hiking. The awe-inspiring Mount Psiloritis, the mythical birthplace of Zeus, dominates a large part of the prefecture, while a number of other mountain ranges, like the barren Asterousia in the south and Mount Juktas further to the north complete the landscape of Heraklion. With their spectacular caves, deep gorges, verdant forests, plateaus and picturesque villages, they provide several rewarding hiking trails, such as the ones that go all the way up to the mountain peaks of Psiloritis. Other popular routes include the ones that go through Agiofarago Gorge or the Rouvas forest, and many of them are part of the E4 European Long Distance path. Mount Psiloritis has been declared a natural park for the protection of the local biodiversity, and, with a little luck, you will catch a glimpse of the rare species populating its verdant slopes.

See the hiking routes

19. Watch a movie under the starry sky

Open-air cinemas are one of the trademarks of Greek summer nights and Heraklion has at least two charming venues where you can enjoy a nice movie under the starry sky. One of the best choices is the Bethlehem Municipal Outdoor Movie Theater, which has been established under the shadow of the city’s Venetian walls, while the Technopolis, which has been designed to look like an ancient Greek theater, is another great space offering great views of the big blue.

20. Book a day trip to Chrissi Island

Category: Tours

The small uninhabited island of Chrissi invites you to explore its unspoiled landscape for the most relaxing getaway! Chrissi is also known as the Golden Island since its beaches are entirely covered with golden soft sand, while a lush green cedar forest adorns the island. Α small chapel, a lighthouse and some ancient remnants of Minoan and Roman settlements are the only signs of human presence. The shallow turquoise waters surrounding Chrissi are great for a swim and safe for families. In order to get there, the best option is to book a guided day trip from Heraklion.

Book the day trip

21. Are you an animal lover? Visit the Gouves Animal Shelter!

Category: Other

The Gouves Animal Shelter is a non-profit organization that takes care of over 200 stray dogs and 200 cats every single month, providing a safe and caring environment for injured, abandoned, or mistreated animals. By visiting the center, you can meet and interact with the animals, help care for them, or even support the Gouves Animal Shelter in its mission. Animals taken in by the shelter have found their forever homes all over Europe and the US, so, if you are thinking of adopting one, this might well be a great chance.

Visit the Gouves Animal Shelter website at www.gouvesshelter.com.

More

But that's not all! There are a lot more things to do, from having a class of yoga to enjoying refreshing cocktails at the numerous bars!
We invite you to explore even more options that the island has to offer:

DISCOVER MORE ABOUT HERAKLION