Cruise Port Atlas | Heraklion (Crete), Greece Day Trips | Attractions

Heraklion (Crete), Greece Day Trips | Attractions

Iraklio (Alternate Spelling)

With limited time in port, planning is the best way to make the most of your time. Should you strike out on your own? Should you hire a local guide? Or should you book a shore excursion offered by the cruise line or an international tour company? Below we have listed the attractions and activities that many other cruisers have enjoyed. This information should help you plan.

The advantage to cruise line tours is that they are timed for your visit and give you flexibility to change your mind after your trip begins. The advantage of using a large international firm is that tours are often less expensive than cruise sponsored tours. The advantage to using a local tour company or guide is that prices can be significantly lower or you may be able to get a customized trip just to see the attractions that interest you most.

Cruise lines that visit Heraklion: Voyages to Antiquity, Cunard, Holland America, Costa, MSC Cruises

Key Attractions: Knossos Palace, Koules Venetian Fortress, Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Lassithi Plateau, Windmills, Kera Monastery, Amoudara Beach, Water Parks, Elounda, Spinalonga Island, Rethymnon, Arkadi Monastery, Phaestos Palace, Agia Triada Palace, Malia Palace, Gournia

Knossos Palace

Heraklion to Knossos Palace - 7 KM, 15 minutes
Link to Full-Page Google Map

The most impressive monument of the Minoan civilization, the Palace at Knossos was the site of an important cultural center from the 19th to 16th centuries BCE. This is one of the most popular ruin sites in Europe and has undergone significant restoration over the last century. What is most striking about the Palace is the uniqueness of the structure and the art. Though we call the building a palace it is not clear that it was a royal residence. It contains a massive and complex building with over 1000 connected rooms. The art of Knossos, primarily frescoes in striking colors, portrays a ceremonial culture with a love of leisure and beauty. There is clear Egyptian influence, but the style is uniquely Minoan. The archaeological record of Crete indicates that the Minoans were not involved in significant wars during their golden era. Sometime around 1400 BCE the culture collapsed, most likely as a result of massive earthquakes and the aftermath of the eruption of the Thiran volcano. What is left is the first significant advance civilization in the Mediterranean.



Photo of Knossos Palace by LappLaender

Heraklion Attractions

Port to Koules Fortress - 1 KM, 4 minutes, 15 minute walk
Port to Old Town & Archaeological Museum - 1. KM, 4 minutes, 15 minute walk
Link to Full-Page Google Map

Arriving in the port at Heraklion you will see the Koules Venetian Fortress on the breakwater of the harbor, where it has stood since shortly after the Venetians conquered Crete in the early 13th century. It was destroyed and rebuilt several times by the Venetians and then by the Ottomans. It served as a storage facility for food, an armory, officers’ quarters, a prison, and is now the iconic attraction in Heraklion. To the southwest of the port is the old city of Heraklion, surrounded by a wall that was built by the Venetians. Inside, the architecture is primarily Ottoman and Venetian, though there are several Orthodox churches. The city has several important museums including the Archaeological Museum which contains some of the most important Minoan artifacts to be found anywhere. The museum also contains displays from prehistoric and later eras. At this writing the museum is being renovated, though there is still a smaller temporary display available for viewing. The most famous artifacts to be found in the museum are the Phaistos Disc, which has mysterious symbols of unknown meaning, and the stunning Snake Goddess. About 16 kilometers south of town in the village of Myrtia is the Nikos Kazantzakis Museum, dedicated to the Cretan writer of Zorba and The Last Temptation.



Photo of Koules Venetian Fortress by Nernyo Nyannpoulo, Photo of Phaistos Disc by PRA

Lassithi Plateau

Port to Kera Monastery - 46 KM, 50 minutes
Port to Lassithi Plateau - 56 KM, 65 minutes
Link to Full-Page Google Map

The Lassithi Plateau is an unlikely tourist attraction, but the stunning scenery, rustic villages, and elegant windmills lend an atmosphere that is unique. It has an average altitude of almost 3000 feet and sits below the massive Dikti (mountains), which offer melting snow in the spring to keep the ground fertile. The area has historic significance since through the centuries Cretans have used it as a base for resistance activities against first the Venetians and later the Ottomans. During winter the plateau is cold and often snow-covered. On the northern perimeter of the Plateau is the small and serene Kera Monastery.



Photo of Lassithi Plateau by Philthemancunian

Beaches near Heraklion

Port to Amoudara Beach - 6 KM, 15 minutes
Port to Kalimaki Beach - 68 KM, 1 hour 20 minutes
Port to Moni Koudouma - 73 KM, 1 hour 45 minutes
Link to Full-Page Google Map

The beaches around Heraklion are developed and often crowded, with lots of watersports, tavernas and other activities available. The long beach at Amoudara is the closest to the port. If you are looking for quieter beaches you might want to go to the southern shore to places like Kalimaki, and for dramatic scenery, Moni Koudouma.



Photo of Kalamaki Beach by Schuppi

Elounda and Spinalonga Island

Port to Elounda and Spinalonga Island - 69 KM, 1 hour 20 minutes
Link to Full-Page Google Map

The resort area around Elounda is the most luxurious on Crete and attracts the rich, famous, and infamous. Recent visitors have included Gaddafi of Libya, the Saudi royal family, and nearly every summer was the vacation spot for 1990s Greek Prime Minister, Andreas Papandreou. One reason for its popularity is its protected location across from the large island commonly known as Spinalonga. The island was the location of the last leper colony (until 1957) and important Venetian fortress. Shopping, eating, people watching and island tours are the most popular activities in this Cretan hotspot.



Photo of Elounda by George Groutas

Rethymnon and Arkadi Monastery

Port to Rethymnon - 83 KM, 1 hour 25 minutes
Port to Rethymnon - 85 KM, 1 hour 30 minutes
Link to Full-Page Google Map

Rethymnon is an historically Venetian port on the northern coast of Crete. Quieter than Chania and Heraklion it is a great place to connect with the local culture and relax in the old Cretan atmosphere enjoying local food and drink. To the southeast of town is one of Crete's iconic locations. During the 1866 revolt against Ottoman rule, a group of Cretans including many women and children took refuge at the 16th century monastery. After 3 days of battle against the Ottomans, the locals chose to blow themselves up with gunpowder rather than surrender. This historic event has become emblematic of Cretan courage and independence and inspired continued resistance. Visiting the Monastery, you will not only see the impressive Renaissance buildings but also momentos of the events of 1866.



Photo of Arkadi Monastery by Gerard Janot

Other Minoan Attractions

Port to Phaistos Palace - 62 KM, 1 hour 10 minutes
Port to Malia Palace - 38 KM, 40 minutes
Port to Gournia Minoan Site - 81 KM, 1 hour 30 minutes
Link to Full-Page Google Map

Knossos is not the only "palace" on Crete. The second largest, the Phaistos (sometimes spelled Phaestos) Palace, is also accessible from Heraklion and is close to the southern shore of the island. It was built originally around 2000 BCE, destroyed and quickly rebuilt around 1700 BCE. Nearby there are several other Minoan sites including the somewhat newer palace at Agia Triada. The third largest palace is between Heraklion and Aghios Nikolaos, near the town of Malia for which it is named. It was built in the early 2nd millennium BCE and then destroyed and rebuilt around 1700 BCE. It is likely that all these palaces were victims of a massive earthquake. Gournia is another site that is southeast of Aghios Nikolaos which was obviously a less luxurious setting than the other "palaces," but which is popular among those who visit there. Where in Knossos huge numbers of visitors are the norm, at Gournia you can have a more serene experience and get more of a feeling for what it was like when the Minoans lived there.



Photo of Phaistos Palace by Olaf Tausch

Interests Key:

Art Architecture Beach Children Wild Animals Local Cuisine Flora Gardens-Parks Geology

Diving UNESCO Views Wine Dance Music Shopping History Hiking

Walking & Wheelchair Accessibility:

No Walking Easy Walking Normal Walking Difficult Walking Accessible Limited Not Accessible