Crete, Greece

Heraklion is the largest city of Crete and a very popular destination for travelers from all over the world. It has a rich history, combining traditional Cretan culture with contemporary times. In this article, you will find information about your holidays in Heraklion, its beaches, sights, food and ferry routes. Book ferry tickets to Heraklion online on Ferryhopper with just 4 clicks!

The Venetian fortress in Heraklion near the port

The port of Heraklion next to the Venetian fortress.

Vacation in Heraklion

Heraklion is located on the north coast of Crete and is the most populated city on the island. As soon as you reach its port, it becomes obvious that Heraklion is a combination of traditional and modern elements. Its center is located near the port and is full of restaurants, cafes, bars and cultural attractions. With Heraklion as a starting point, adventure lovers can also discover the beautiful natural landscapes, archeological sites and beaches of central and southern Crete.

How to get to Heraklion 

There are several ferry routes from Athens to Heraklion that run all year round. The ferries usually travel at night and the average duration of the trip is 8-10 hours. Heraklion is also connected to other Cycladic islands like Santorini and Mykonos, and the Dodecanese such as Rhodes and Karpathos.

What to do in Heraklion 

Heraklion is a well-developed city with modern amenities and a strong cultural character. There are several sights and museums in the city, as well as around it, like Knossos. Moreover, you can find idyllic beaches -popular or isolated- at a close distance from the city. Heraklion is a destination for all ages, as there are many restaurants, attractions, as well as a vivid nightlife

Beaches in Heraklion

Crete has some of the most beautiful beaches in Greece. You can visit many of them during your holidays in Heraklion. On the north and south coast of the island, you will find stunning beaches that are easily accessible from the city of Heraklion. They will all enchant you, with their crystal-clear waters and lush vegetation. Most of the beaches have amenities like umbrellas, sunbeds and cafes, while there are some that are more secluded and quiet. 

On the north coast of Crete, we suggest the following beaches:

  • Agia Pelagia: this is the beach next to the village of Agia Pelagia. It has coarse sand and turquoise waters, as well as bars and cafes, which are flooded with young people when night falls.
  • Lygaria: beautiful popular beach with coarse sand and calm turquoise waters. It has amenities like umbrellas, sunbeds, cafes, tavernas, water sports facilities and a diving school.
  • Potamos (“river”): charming beach with sand and crystal-clear waters near Malia. The beach offers amenities for visitors, but it is more quiet and calmer than the beach of Malia.
  • Psaromoura: pebble beach with crystal blue waters. It has a canteen and a big trademark rock that shelters it from the waves.
  • Limanakia Sarantari - (“small ports of Sarantari”): this is a series of coves that have beautiful glassy waters and are sheltered from the wind.

Tip: Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the islet of Dia and swim in the magical waters of Agios Georgios and Panagia. 

The southern part of Crete is full of impressive beaches overlooking the Libyan Sea. Ferryhopper recommends that you visit: 

  • Matala: one of the most famous beaches in Crete. It has fine sand and deep crystal-clear waters and is known for its man-made caves that have been cut into the rock. It has amenities such as umbrellas, showers, lifeguards, beach volleyball courts, snack bars, restaurants, bars and water sports infrastructure. A large part of the beach has tamarisks that offer their shade to visitors.
  • Agiofarago: the beach is accessible either by boat or with a 30-minute hike in the gorge of the same name. The beach is beautiful, with fine pebbles, crystal-clear waters and imposing rocks.
  • Aspes: this lovely small beach with black sand is accessible only by boat. High cliffs with caves and turquoise waters complete the gorgeous scenery.
  • Listis: it is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Crete. It has sand and relatively shallow waters and gathers a lot of people. The beach stands out for its large rocks, which are located inside and next to the sea and are ideal for dives! Keep in mind that the beach has no umbrellas or other amenities, so make sure that you bring what you need with you. . 
  • Agios Nikitas: to reach the beach, you have to go down 230 steps from the monastery of the same name. The beach is beautiful, with pebbles and crystal-clear turquoise waters.
  • Komos: this is a beach that offers a lot of amenities, such as umbrellas, sunbeds, a lifeguard, showers and a canteen. It has tamarisk trees and sand dunes, which are full of beautiful white sand lilies!
  • Kaminaki: amazing but difficult to reach, this beach is accessible mainly by boat. It has gray pebbles, crystal-clear waters and is ideal for seclusion.
  • Kokkini Ammos (“red sand”): this is a stunning secluded beach with beautiful red sand and turquoise waters.  You can reach it with a relatively easy hike (15-25 minutes) or by boat. Keep in mind that when a west wind blows, the sea gets rough.

beach with blue waters and pebbles

Beach with blue waters and pebbles in Crete.

Sightseeing and activities in Heraklion

Heraklion has a rich history and is full of impressive sights, monuments, neighborhoods and museums that are worth discovering. We suggest you take a walk from the Liontarion Square ("lion square”)  to the old port, where the Venetian fortress stands majestically next to sailing and fishing boats.

You should definitely visit:

  • the palia poli (“old town”) of Heraklion
  • the Venetian fortress
  • the palace of Knossos
  • the Heraklion Archaeological Museum 
  • the Historical Museum of Crete
  • the CretAquarium
  • the El Greco Museum in the village of Fodele
  • the palace of Phaistos

Tip: Due to the location of Heraklion in the center of the island, you can easily drive to other major cities in Crete that are difficult or impossible to access by ferry, such as Rethymnon and Agios Nikolaos.

Crete is also famous for its natural beauties. From Heraklion, you can follow hiking trails, visit many gorges and go to the famous Psiloritis(or Mount Ida) and the Asterousia Mountains

For nature and adventure lovers, we suggest:

  • Rouvas forest and gorge
  • Agiofarago
  • Martsalo Gorge
  • Trafoula Gorge
  • Gafari Gorge
  • Astrakiano Gorge
  • Krousonas or Krousaniotiko Gorge
  • Arvi Gorge for canoeing
  • Ideon Cave or Ideon Andron 
  • Santorinios Gorge

Agiofarago gorge in Crete

Trail in the beautiful Agiofarago and the sea in the background.

Food in Heraklion

Traditional Cretan recipes are famous in the entire world and visiting  Heraklion will give you the opportunity to try them. The city has restaurants and tavernas with delicious Cretan food and you can also try the big, Cretan-style gyros! The alleys of Heraklion are full of hidden little restaurants (and kafeneia), where locals spend their evenings having fun and drinking raki!

While in Heraklion, you should try:

  • antikristo (roast lamb)
  • skioufixta makaronia (traditional Cretan pasta)
  • gamopilafo (Cretan rice dish)
  • staka (Cretan dairy product)
  • chochlioi (snails)
  • kalitsounia (traditional sweets)
  • apaki (smoked pork)
  • eggs with stamnagathi (Cretan wild greens)
  • ntakos or dakos (Cretan meze with rusks, tomato and cheese)

Cretan skioufixta pasta

Skioufixta, the traditional pasta of Crete.

Tip: The most famous traditional Cretan drink is tsikoudia! It is often served as a  welcoming treat in restaurants in Heraklion.

Useful information for Heraklion

The port of Heraklion is one of the main ports of Crete and is located next to the city center. Just a few meters away, you will find many hotels and rooms for your accommodation, as well as bars and cafes. There are also amenities such as ATM machines, gas stations, supermarkets and pharmacies. 

Important phone numbers for your stay in Heraklion

Some useful telephone numbers for your holidays in Heraklion:

  • Heraklion Port Authority: +302813406910
  • Venizeleio General Hospital of Heraklion: +302813408000
  • Heraklion International Airport "Nikos Kazantzakis": +302810397129
  • Heraklion citizen service center (KEP): +302813406307
  • Tourist police: +302810274046
  • Heraklion - Lasithi intercity bus station (KTEL Irakliou - Lasithiou): +302810245019
  • Chania - Rethymnon intercity bus station (KTEL Chanion - Rethymnou) : +302810221765

Transportation in Heraklion 

Heraklion has public transport and the bus station is 10 minutes away from the port. The airport of Heraklion is about 5km from the center and it is accessible either by bus (lines 1 and 78) or by taxi. You can also get around the city by your own vehicle or you can rent one to further explore the area around it.

Island hopping from Heraklion

The port of Heraklion is one of the biggest and busiest ports of Crete. It is connected to many islands of the Cyclades and the Dodecanese. If you want to  continue your vacation on the Aegean islands, you can take the ferry from Heraklion and travel directly to:

  • Santorini
  • Mykonos
  • Paros
  • Naxos
  • Ios
  • Milos
  • Anafi
  • Syros
  • Tinos
  • Rhodes
  • Karpathos
  • Kassos
  • Chalki

On our interactive Map of ferries, you can find all ferry connections between Heraklion and the Cyclades or the Dodecanese. Organize your trip from Crete to the Greek islands easily and at the best prices!

Heraklion ferry, schedules and tickets

Heraklion is connected to Athens with regular ferry services from the port of Piraeus. During the summer, the ferry route Piraeus - Heraklion runs daily. The journey takes about 8 to 10 hours and ferry crossings usually take place at night. For this reason, we suggest booking a cabin for a more comfortable and enjoyable trip.

Note: You should check our article on how to reach Crete in 2021 and easily plan your trip to Heraklion 

Where to book ferry tickets to Heraklion

Travel by ferry to Heraklion with Ferryhopper. On our platform, you can find all available ferry routes, compare prices and book ferry tickets to Heraklion online at no extra cost!

Frequent ferry connections

Nearby destinations

Heraklion has direct ferry connections with 21 ports :

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