8 things to do in and around Heraklion, Crete
Heraklion (also Iraklio) is the capital and busy port city of Crete, the largest and most populated island in Greece. If you’ve booked a trip to Heraklion and are about to plan your time there, here’s 8 things to see and do in and around Heraklion, Crete.
1. Walk to the Heraklion lighthouse
If you’re up for a nice walk along the sea, then walk to the Heraklion lighthouse. It’ll take you just under 50 minutes to an hour to walk to the lighthouse and back from the port. I’d suggest going early in the morning or in the evening when it’s cooler.
I went at about 9.30 pm and it was lovely and refreshing. Very cooling. It’s pretty dark as there’s minimal lighting along the route. There were a lot of people doing the same thing, taking a night stroll. More people were still arriving when I was leaving. You can get to the lighthouse a little quicker with a brisk walk but a few people were on bikes and running for exercise.
Early morning walk
I also went again early in the morning about 8:50 am. It was already pretty warm especially by the time I walked back. By midday it’ll be very hot so you’ll want plenty of sun cream and maybe even a hat and something to cover your shoulders if you’re not wearing a t-shirt. There’s no shade at all!
You’ll find benches and also a toilet on route.
2. See the sights on the Heraklion Open Tour Bus
See historical sights and key monuments of Heraklion city and its surroundings on the Heraklion Open Tour Bus. You’ll pass landmark sights like the Venetian walls, Grave Monument of Kazantzakis, Knossos Palace and the archaeological museum.
The full tour lasts approximately 60 minutes and you can get on either the yellow or red buses at the designated tour bus stops.
The Red tour line
The red line completes the circuit around the main attractions and monuments in the city centre. It starts running between 9 am and 9.30 am daily, and there’s a bus every 45 – 60 mins.
The blue tour line
The blue line starts from Ammoudara, an area just outside the town. If you’re staying in that area you can catch the blue line from there into the city centre. It runs about every two hours from 9.30 am each day.
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3. Spend time on Matala beach
If you have time, you should try to travel south to Matala Beach. Only about an hour and 20 minute drive southwest of the city of Heraklion, Matala is a lovely village on the coast that’s become a popular destination.
It has a big, beautiful sandy beach and is the perfect place to relax and explore. You’ll find some tavernas where you can grab drinks, lunch and snacks, and a selection of shops and a supermarket if you want to add to your picnic or purchase some beach gear. There’s changing areas and toilets on-site as well.
You’ll find plenty of parking and if you can, try to park on the main street. There it will be free. There is a large car park close right next to the beach for ease, but that’s chargeable at €3 (2022 — at the time of writing).
4. Climb the Hippy Caves of Matala
Aside from the sandy beach and seaside shops in Matala, you’ll also find caves carved into the side of cliffs. The famous “caves” or tombs are Neolithic — the period of the final division of the Stone Age. They are also known as tombs due to how they were used as graves.
The Hippy Caves
The caves have become known as the “Hippy” caves because during the 1960’s, hippies used to use them as a base and their homes. However the attraction is now protected. It’s only accessible by purchasing a ticket for €4 (2022) EU residents under 25 get free entry, but ID is required.
The climb up
I climbed up and ventured into some of the caves. You do have to be really careful as there’s no guide to show you the best way to climb up or any fence or rope support. It’s best to wear trainers, plimsoles or walking boots — do not attempt this in flip flops. You may not get very far not to mention you can slip more easily. There’s loose rocks everywhere!
The higher up you go is definitely very cool. The view from there below to the beach is amazing. I’d definitely recommend it if you’re already spending time at the beach. Just be prepared and don’t carry much with you as you’ll need your hands to be free!
5. Visit the area of Ammoudara and its beach
Heraklion is a busy city. If you’re staying there but want a change of scene, spend an afternoon in Ammoudara. Ammoudara is a lovely area not far from Heraklion with a brilliant stretch of beach.
You can get there via local transport if you do not have a car. Bus number 6 from the city centre will take you straight there. The number 6 only operates one way but you can get the number 1 back to the centre. If you have a Heraklion city sightseeing tour bus, the blue line goes to and from Ammoudara as well.
There’s a parade of shops, taverns and tour agencies lining the street and hotels. You’ll also find a cinema and complex there too if you want to catch a movie!
Ammoudara is a 15-20 minute bus ride away from Heraklion city centre.
6. Spend time in Agios Nikolaos
Agios Nikolaos is another popular area in Crete to visit. Located in the east, about 62 km from Heraklion, Agios Nikolaos is a beautiful coastal town. I adored it as soon as I arrived.
It has a pleasant vibe and there’s lots of shops, cafes and restaurants dotted around the lake. Taking a moment to stop and take it all in is a must. Grab a gelato or ice drink and once you’ve finished, walk to the back of the lake and take the steps up to the viewing point.
7. Visit the Palace of Knossos
The Palace of Knossos is the largest of all the palaces in Crete. It’s surrounded by an extensive city. Excavated, uncovered and its ruins restored by Arthur Evans, the Palace was built on the low Kephala hill at the confluence of two streams.
The First Palace
The first palace was built around 1900 B.C. (Old Palace Period). From the few parts that are preserved, it appears that the basic plan was formed at that time. It was destroyed around 1700 B.C. and the new palace was built in its place.
Wanting to visit the Archaeological Museum?
If you’re planning to visit the Archaeological Museum as well, you can save money by buying a combination ticket for €1 more (so €16 total 2022). This will give you entry to the palace and museum.
NOTE: The Archaeological Museum entry fee is €10ams the Palace of Knossos is €15 (2022 — based on adult prices per person).
Double up on tickets to save
Getting the combo ticket will save you €9 (2022) if your buying one adult ticket. You can buy the combo tickets on the day.
It’s nice to walk around the ruins but there’s not really much shade, so dress appropriately.
You can use the Heraklion Open Tour Bus to get to the palace or there’s the daily bus ticket for €5 (2022) the Knossos – Ammoudara Express.
8. Visit the windmills of Elounda and the Ascension church
I drove to Elounda one morning and spent some time on the beach. I also visited the Windmills of Elounda.
The windmills are located between the Kolokitha Peninsula and Elounda. The ancient ruin stone windmill structures are lovely. They tower over the area and shoreline with the town of Elounda in the background.
Just a few minutes walk away, you should try to visit the Ascension church. You’ll pass a taverna on the way and the church is up a path on the left-hand side.
This list will give you a head start on your planning but there’s many other things to see and do while in Heraklion. Get sorting your travel plans and see what other activities you can do on the beautiful island of Crete!
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