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. 

Late start

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.

Heraklion port at night - RiA Vistas solo travel
Heraklion port at night


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.

Maplink here

Heraklion Lighthouse - RiA Vistas solo travel
Heraklion Lighthouse
Heraklion port Lighthouse - RiA Vistas solo travel
Heraklion port Lighthouse

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.

For more information, check the Heraklion open bus tour website and to book a trip like I did on GetYourGuide, click here.

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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.

Beautiful Matala Beach - RiA Vistas
View of Matala Beach from the Hippy Caves


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). 

Maplink here 

View from Matala Beach - Hippy Caves_RiA Vistas solo travel
View from Matala Beach - Hippy Caves

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.

Hippy Caves at Matala with RiA Vistas solo travel
Hippy Caves, Matala Beach

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!

RiA climbs the Hippy Caves - Matala Beach
Climbing the Hippy Caves
Take a seat with RiA - Hippy Caves - Matala Beach
Inside a cave on Matala Beach
RiA Vistas in the Hippy Caves - Matala
Inside the Hippy Caves, Matala Beach

Awesome views

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. 

Getting there

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.


RiA at Ammoudara Beach Heraklion - RiA Vistas solo travel
Ammoudara Beach
Sunrise at Ammoudara Beach - RiA Vistas solo travel
Sunrise at Ammoudara Beach

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.  


Agios Nikolaos - Lake Voulismeni - RiA Vistas solo travel
Lake Voulismeni, Agios Nikolaos

Picture postcard

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.

Agios Nikolaos viewpoint - RiA Vistas solo travel
Amazing views from Agios Nikolaos' viewpoint

It’s really worth the short walk up to get an amazing view of life below.

You can take a one day tour like I did via GetYourGuide to Agios Nikolaos trip which also includes visiting Spinalonga (an island with a Venetian fortress) and Kolokithi island. 


Maplink – Agios Nikolaos 

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.

Inside Palace of Knossos
Inside Archaeological Museum Heraklion - RiA Vistas solo travel
Part of the Palace of Knossos
Ruins at Palace of Knossos - RiA Vistas solo travel
Ruins at Palace of Knossos

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.

Getting there

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.

Maplink to the musuem here 

Display at the Archaeological Museum Heraklion - RiA Vistas solo
Display at the Archaeological Museum
Inside the Archaeological Museum - RiA Vistas solo travel
Inside the Archaeological Museum

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.

Windmills of Elounda - Crete_RiA Vistas solo travel
Windmill of Elounda
The Ascension church - Elounda_RiA Vistas solo travel
The Ascension church

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.

Maplink here 

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!


For more solo travel inspiration for your next holiday to Greece, check out my Greece destination page.

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