The island of Crete is packed with popular holiday towns, from pretty Chania to picturesque Malia, which is a world-famous haven for beach bums. Spend some time exploring the busy streets of Heraklion, though, and you’ll discover a place that ticks every box when it comes to city holidays. Museums and sightseeing spots abound, but it’s the excellent food and authentic urban vibe that make Heraklion a truly special destination.
From Heraklion Airport, the city centre is just a 10-minute drive. Here you’ll find the oft-photographed Morosini Fountain, the expansive Archaeological Museum and a pedestrian area known as Korai Street, renowned for its run of cafés and bars. Head out towards the water and you can tour Heraklion’s fortress, which perches at the entrance of the old port. This fortress had a stern defence since it was once equipped with more than 40 cannons.
To experience more of Heraklion’s historic side, take a walk along the remains of the Venetian city walls, stopping to visit the grave of Greek writer Nikos Kazantzákis. History buffs should also make time for a trip to Knossos, a Bronze Age archaeological site and the main centre of Minoan Crete. For the best experience of this magical place, arrive early in the morning and leave several hours to tour the Palace of Knossos and its surrounding buildings and grounds.
When sightseeing has tired you out, it’s time to hit the beach. Heraklion’s centre is short on sand, but if you head west to the Pankritio Stadium you’ll come to Ammoudara Beach. This long stretch of golden sand is perfect for lazy days in the sun but is also well-suited to water sports enthusiasts. To the east, Karteros offers a Blue Flag beach with plenty of nearby taverns and bars.
Lastly, for nature lovers seeking secluded walks, there’s the uninhabited island of Dia, which is accessible by boat from Heraklion harbour. The main island, meanwhile, boasts beautiful Rouvas Forest, just an hour’s drive southwest from Heraklion.