Heraklion is the largest urban center in Crete, the capital of the region and the economic center of the island. The first European civilization, the Minoan civilization, flourished on this land 5000 years ago. Currently the population of the municipality of Heraklion is approximately 150.000 people. It is a very dynamic and cosmopolitan town, all year long. Thousands of visitors can be seen shopping in the market or visiting the museums and other places of interest. During the last 20 years the city has made also a remarkable progress in the academic and technological fields.
The city lies along the North coast of the island, having to the west at about 80 km the town of Rethymnon and at 135 km the city of Chania. To the east is the town of Agios Nikolaos (60km) and the town of Sitia (130km).
Heraklion airport (HER), named after the Cretan writer Nikos Kazantzakis, is one of the biggest in Greece and receives approximately 15% of the total tourist traffic of Greece. The airport is about 5km east of the city. Major car-rental companies have desks at the airport. Taxi and public bus are available for transfer from/to Heraklion.
This city also receives a lot of visitors by boat. There are daily ferry trips to and from Piraeus (Athens’ port), and many weekly ones to and from other islands and towns in Greece. The terminal at Heraklion port is within walking distance from the town’s center and there is plenty of taxis to take visitors to their destinations. The inter regional Bus terminal is also located close to the port.
Heraklion today, as a modern town, has extensive facilities that cater for all needs of its visitors. There is a lot of hotels ranging from Luxury class to small rent-a-room and youth hostels operating all year round. Most of them are located in the old town. Travel bureaus offering excursions and special events, car hire companies and other tourist related agencies are also close to the old town’s center and the port.
As far as entertainment goes the options are almost unlimited. The people of Heraklion enjoy going out a lot, either for lunch, dinner, a coffee or a drink, or all of them – the weather, of course, helps a lot to this. So there is plenty of restaurants, family taverns, luxury café – snack bars, traditional coffee shops (Kafeneia), music halls with traditional Cretan or Bouzouki (Rebetica songs), discos, small pubs and music bars, either indoors or outdoors, open throughout the year and frequented by visitors and locals alike.
Heraklion, being the business center of the area, has plenty of stores selling clothes, shoes, jewelery etc. Stores are open in the morning (9 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and in the evening (5 p.m. to 9 p.m.) with the exception of the evenings of Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.
The city’s long history and cosmopolitan character is reflected to its rich cultural life throughout the year. A wealth of cultural events from music & dance recitals to theatrical performances, to lectures, to art exhibitions and much more are hosted in the many private or public places that the city offers.
The major cultural event in Heraklion is the summer cultural festival, organised by the municipality. It is a three-month extravaganza of music, theater and dance, both of Greek and foreign performers. Most concerts take place outdoors at several outdoor theaters which have been created out of the bastions of the Venetian walls, adding to the scenery of every performance.
The Heraklion’s carnival celebration and parade, the municipal cinema and the Mediterranean Festival of Arts (25 September-05 October) are organised also by the municipality of Heraklion.
History is very much alive in the old town of Heraklion, just like in most Greek cities.
From the old Venetian Harbor, the August 25th Str., leads to the old town’s center. The central square while surrounded by cafes, stores and restaurants, is dominated by the fountain of the Lions, built by Morozini the Venetian governor in 1628. The Town Hall, is today housed in the Venetian Loggia, a building from the same era and next to it, the plateau and the cathedral of Agios Titos an exceptional monument from the Byzantine era.
From the central square the street of the “Central Market” ends at “Kornarou Square” with the coffee house, housed at “Koubes” a Turkish fountain and next to it the “Bembo fountain” built by a Venetian nobleman. To the left “Averof Str.” leads to “Eleftherias sq.” , Heraklion’s main square where the Archaeological museum stands and to the right ‘Kyrillou Loukareos Str” leads to Agios Minas cathedral and Agia Aikaterini Museum.
All around the old part of the city, a visitor can walk following the Venetian walls that meet at the old port and “Koules”, the fortress that dominates the old harbor of the city.
The visitor to Heraklion should definitely visit the archaeological site at Knossos and the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion that houses most of the Minoan findings in Crete. Special attention should also be paid to the Historical museum of Heraklion that houses findings from the early Christian era to today and the Museum of Natural History.