Welcome to the port of Heraklion, Crete!
Crete is the largest island in Greece and the fifth-largest island in the Mediterranean. Heraklion (aka Iraklion) is Crete’s capital city and the island’s most populous and largest city with more than 177.000 inhabitants. It lies on the north coast of Crete and boasts an impressive history that dates back to the Neolithic age and the Minoan civilization (3650-1100 BC) which was born in Crete.
Heraklion is the third busiest port in Greece and one of the most important ferry and cruise ports in the Eastern Mediterranean. In this article, read about:
- Port of Heraklion (Heraklion cruise terminal, getting around)
- Top things to do in Heraklion port, the best Heraklion shore excursions
Port of Heraklion
Heraklion port is divided into two parts: the old Venetian harbour and Heraklion ferry/cruise port, adjacent to each other.
The old Venetian harbour is centered around the Koules fortress in the western part of the port, while the ferry/cruise terminal is located on the eastern side. It takes approximately 15 minutes’ walk from the cruise terminal to reach the old Venetian harbour where the old town begins.
Port Heraklion’s new cruise ship terminal covers a total area of 2500 square meters and features all necessary facilities for a smooth embarkation/debarkation of the passengers. In a modern terminal building, you’ll find a tourist office where you can get free city maps, free wi-fi, luggage storage facilities, a mini-market, a duty-free shop, a cafe, a car rental, an ATM and a few other facilities.
Port of Heraklion useful info
- The currency in Greece is EURO (€). Local currency and credit cards are widely accepted. See the currency converter
- You can reach Heraklion’s old town within a 15-minute walk from the cruise terminal. All the main Heraklion attractions and landmarks are easily reachable on foot, no need to get around by bus except for the Palace of Knossos which is located about 6 km/3.7 miles (less than a 15-minute drive) north of the port.
- There are a lot of parking spaces available around Heraklion port, for both long-term and short-term parking.
- The best shopping and dining options are centered around Heraklion’s old town.
- To get around Heraklion easily, make sure you download the map of Heraklion on the app https://maps.me/
- Heraklion’s central bus station (also known as Heraklion Bus Station A and Port Bus Station) is located less than a 10-minute walk from the old Venetian harbour and Heraklion cruise/ferry port, right across the street from the terminal. This station serves both green intercity buses with routes along the northeast coast (Chania, Rethymno, Agios Nikolaos…) and blue local buses that you can use to get around the city (and also go to the airport, palace of Knossos, etc.). The nearest blue line local bus station is located less than a 10-minute walk from the port, in front of the GDM Megaron Hotel. You can check the schedules for blue local buses on KTEL local bus website, and timetables for intercity buses on KTEL regional bus website
- A taxi booth is located across from the passenger terminal inside the port gates. Taxis are quite cheap and a convenient way to move around the city if you travel with a group.
- Heraklion is well connected to Rethymno, Chania, and Agios Nikolaos via the E-75 national road (no tolls) that runs alongside the north coast of the island. That’s the only highway on the island. The rest of the roads are regional.
- The town of Heraklion doesn’t have a public city beach. The nearest popular beach is Ammoudara beach, located 6 km west of the port (less than a 15-minute drive). Hop on Hop off blue line bus stops at this beach and several others.
- Heraklion City Tours (Heraklion Hop on Hop off tours) are available in the city center. You can hop on these open-top double-decker buses at the Old Venetian harbour and enjoy any of the stops offered in the itinerary. There are red (12 stops) and blue (18 stops) lines and they also stop at Heraklion port parking. Check out Heraklion hop on hop off tours on Viator and Get Your Guide
- Heraklion Train Tour – There is a little white train going around the city of Heraklion that departs from the old Venetian harbour and includes 11 stops at major cultural attractions.
- There are two main international airports in Crete: Heraklion International Airport “Nikos Kazantzakis” and Chania International Airport “Daskalogiannis”. Heraklion Airport is located only 3 km/1.8 miles (less than a 10-minute drive) east of the port of Heraklion. The taxi fare to the Heraklion Airport from the port of Heraklion costs around 11€ per taxi).
- If you are planning to spend a day at the beach, make sure you check the weather in advance as Crete can be extremely windy, particularly in July and August. The beaches in Crete can be assigned the red flag (swimming and water activities are forbidden), yellow flag (swimming is allowed with caution) and green flag (swimming is allowed). Before planning your beach day, always check out the weather forecast on https://poseidon.hcmr.gr/
- The water on Crete is potable, but because this water is of slightly different chemical composition, it’s recommended to drink bottled water.
- Check out the best hotels in Heraklion
If you want to read more about Crete, check out my articles:
Top Things to Do in the Port of Heraklion
The site of Heraklion and the nearby Palace of Knossos is world-famous as the birthplace of the Minoan civilization, whose origins date back to 3650 BC. The Palace of Knossos is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world as Knossos itself has been considered Europe’s oldest city.
After the fall of the Minoans, Crete was ruled by different civilizations including Romans, Arabs, Byzantines, Venetians and Ottomans. The greatest development and economic and cultural growth of Crete took place from the 13th to the 17th century when the Venetian Republic ruled the island. Crete has finally become part of Greece in December 1913, mainly thanks to Eleftherios Venizelos, a prominent Greek statesman whose name you’ll often hear while wandering the streets of Crete. All these various cultural influences left traces on Heraklion’s impressive architecture.
Before I share with you the best things to do in Heraklion, I invite you to subscribe below and get my insider SHORE EXCURSION GUIDE for FREE!
1. Palace of Knossos
The Palace of Knossos is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete whose origins date back to the Neolithic period. It is believed that the first palaces on Crete, including Knossos, were built soon after 2000 BC in the early part of the Middle Minoan period. At that time, the imposing palace of Knossos, built on a hilltop overlooking the site of today’s Heraklion, became the political and ceremonial center of the Minoan civilization and culture.
The Minoan civilization started declining around 1450 BC when a natural disaster, probably an earthquake, hit the island and destroyed a large portion of it. The Minoan civilization finally ended around 1100 BC, during the early Greek Dark Ages, characterized by the collapse of the Bronze Age civilization.
The Minoan civilization was the first advanced and organized civilization in Europe and Knossos was one of the most powerful cities in the eastern Mediterranean. At the beginning of the 20th century, the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans started the excavations and rediscovered this incredible civilization that used to have its own writing systems, developed trade, economy, sophisticated art and massive building complexes used for different purposes.
Nowadays, visitors can explore the archeological ruins and learn the facts, myths (including the most famous one about Labyrinth and Minotaur) and legends associated with the Minoan civilization. The artifacts, artworks and objects found during the excavations are kept in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, one of the most impressive archaeological museums you’ll ever visit! The combo ticket for the Palace of Knossos and Archaeological Museum costs 20€ and audio guides are included in the fare. You may encounter long lines, so booking the ticket online is advisable. There is large parking available for buses and cars next to the site.
The palace of Knossos is located approximately 6 km/3.7 miles (less than a 15-minute drive) north of the port. You can go there with a shore excursion, by taxi (approximately 11€ per vehicle one way), Hop on Hop off bus, or a local blue line bus (#2) that departs every 15-20 minutes from the Terminal Station Port bus stop (in front of GDM Megaron Hotel) and finishes at Terminal Station Knossos.
2. Heraklion Archaeological Museum
Visiting the Palace of Knossos doesn’t go without a visit to the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion because this impressive museum houses all the artifacts, artworks, and objects found during the excavations of Knossos at the beginning of the 20th century.
Housed in a 2-story yellow building in the heart of Heraklion town, approximately a 10-minute drive from the Palace of Knossos and within a 15-minute walk from the port, the fascinating museum consists of numerous rooms displaying outstanding collections from all areas of Cretan prehistory and history. Wandering around its rooms you’ll discover stunning frescoes, sarcophagi, pottery containers, jewelry, figurines, and other valuable items found on the site of Knossos. The visit can take from 1 to 3 hours, depending on your pace and interest. The museum is incredible and surely one of the most fascinating archaeological museums in the world.
3. Old Venetian Harbour and Koules Fortress
The old port of Heraklion has been the most important harbour of the Eastern Mediterranean over the centuries. It flourished with the arrival of Venetians at the beginning of the 13th century and became “the other Venice of the East”. In the last two centuries of Venetian rule on Crete, it developed into the greatest harbour in the Eastern Mediterranean exporting wine, olive oil, raisins, cheese, and other Cretan products.
Unfortunately, due to many modifications and modern development of the city, not many of the original installations remained. Nowadays, you can admire the marina filled with picturesque fishing boats and small yachts dominated by the Koules Fortress, the main monument of the past times and symbol of Heraklion port.
Koules Fortress, also known as Castello del Molo or Rocca a Mare, is a square-shaped Venetian citadel built in the 16th century to guard the entry to the harbour. It is open to the public and the entrance fee is 2€. After you reach the fortress, you can continue walking down the 2 km long fortified mole all the way to the Heraklion lighthouse. There is no shade, so make sure you bring water, sunscreen and a hat.
Suggested article: What to Pack for a Cruise – Top 50 Cruise Essentials
4. Heraklion Old Town
From the Heraklion port passenger terminal, walk along the seafront to the old harbour and once you reach the roundabout, cross the street and enter the 25th of August Street. This is the main pedestrian street and the main tourist area where most major sights, shops, and restaurants can be found.
The old town of Heraklion is surrounded on three sides by massive Venetian Walls that tower above the surrounding city, originally dating from the Middle Ages. This area is filled with bustling pedestrian-only streets where you’ll find churches, squares, monuments and countless restaurants, cafes and shops. Some of the main landmarks you’ll come across in the old town are:
- Church of Agios Titos – Originally built in the 10th century, the present church is dedicated to St. Titus and is a former 19th-century mosque.
- Church of Agios Minas – The largest church in Crete was built in the 19th century and is renowned for its ornate religious art and iconography.
- Morosini Fountain on the Lion Square – This is the central square of the city featuring the 17th-century fountain and is surrounded by plenty of cafes, restaurants and shops.
- Venetian Loggia (Town Hall) – At a stone’s throw from the Morosini fountain, the Loggia is Crete’s best-preserved Venetian building. It is located on the 25th of August street.
- Central Market – Only a few minutes’ walk from the Morosini fountain, you’ll come across a colorful Central market on 1866 street where you can browse for clothing, jewelry, linens, souvenirs, fresh fruits and vegetables, spices and herbs, you name it!
5. Heraklion Museums
Besides the iconic Heraklion Archaeological Museum which is a must, Heraklion has several other museums worth visiting:
- Natural History Museum of Crete – Located on the seafront, a 5-minute drive or a 25-minute walk west of the port of Heraklion, this museum features illusion exhibits and fun activities such as earthquakes and tsunami simulators. You’ll learn about animal life and geography in Crete, with an entire floor dedicated to stuffed animals that live or once lived around the Mediterranean Sea. Website: https://www.nhmc.uoc.gr/
- Historical Museum of Crete – Housed in a yellow neoclassical building overlooking the sea, the historical museum traces 1.700 years of history on the island, from early Christian times to the modern era. The museum is located near the old harbour, a 5-minute drive or a 20-minute walk west of the cruise terminal. Website: https://www.historical-museum.gr/
- El Greco Museum – Little is known that Crete is the birthplace of Domenikos Theotokopoulos, world-known as El Greco, a famous Greek painter, sculptor and architect of the Spanish Renaissance. El Greco was born in 1541 in Fodele, a small village situated 33 km/20 miles (a 35-minute drive) west of Heraklion. His birth house was transformed into a museum and is open to the public.
- Christian Art Museum
- Museum of Ancient Greek Technology of Heraklion by Kotsanas
6. Beaches in Heraklion
Crete boasts hundreds of majestic beaches with soft sands and crystal clear turquoise waters. Many of them are famous worldwide, such as the breathtaking Elafonissi beach, Falassarna beach, and Balos Lagoon (read about these beaches in my article Top 15 Things to Do on Crete from Rethymno, Chania and Heraklion).
The city of Heraklion doesn’t have its own public city beach, but there are a few nearby beaches that you can enjoy:
- Ammoudara beach – This long, golden sand beach is located 6 km/3.7 miles (less than a 15-minute drive) west of the port of Heraklion. The beach is equipped with amenities such as sunbeds and umbrellas and backed by tavernas and cafes where you can grab a bite or get refreshments. This beach is popular for kiteboarding.
- Agia Pelagia beach – Located a 35-minute drive northwest of the port, this beach boasts crystal clear azure waters and is popular with young people.
- Lygaria beach – Another beautiful beach with all types of facilities, located a few kilometers south of Agia Pelagia and a 30-minute drive northwest of Heraklion.
- Analipsi beach – Situated a 25-minute drive east of Heraklion, Analipsi is a relaxed beach backed by palm trees with swimming and water sports. It is known for its picturesque Agia Marina chapel.
- Karteros beach – This beach is located a 15-minute drive east of Heraklion town. It is a nicely organized beach with golden sand and crystal waters awarded by the EU Blue Flag. All types of facilities, taverns and bars are available at the beach.
Note: When planning a beach day in Crete, make sure you check the weather on https://poseidon.hcmr.gr/. Winds can be very strong and swimming on some beaches may be prohibited.
If it is your first time in Heraklion port, I definitely suggest you explore Knossos and the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. Time permitting, you can take a walk through the old town and along the waterfront to the Venetian old harbour and admire the beauty and vibe of past times.
Make sure you treat your taste buds with some local cuisine delicacies and indulge in a glass of premium quality Cretan wine. If you have already visited the city of Heraklion, you can then book a trip to the countryside and visit the authentic Greek villages, the ancient ruins, caves, islands, or other famous towns such as Agios Nikolaos, located a 1-hour drive east of Heraklion. There’s so much to see and do on this incredible island, so make sure you plan your day ahead to get the most of it!
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