The Island Experience
Zeus, Greek god of hospitality, is said to have met and fell in love with Princess Europa in the region of Heraklion. She then gave birth to the Minoan kings and sages who were founders of the earliest civilized nation in Europe.
The modern city of Heraklion is the capital of Crete, the economic centre of the island and has a bustling atmosphere to match. Ancient Byzantine churches appear against a modern cityscape in this city of contrasts, while its pavement cafes and elegant boutiques lend Heraklion its cosmopolitan air. However, if you’re prepared to lose yourself in the back streets, you’ll get a glimpse of a slower, more traditional way of life.
Head to the central market to sample and stock up on Cretan oil, wine, raki, honey and herbs.
Peer into the past at Heraklion’s enormous Archaeological Museum, which spans several thousand years. Highlights here include classic Hellenic and Roman sculptures, frescoes and jewellery. And for further historical insights, visit the small but informative Battle of Crete Museum.
Families with children will enjoy the Natural History Museum of Crete (15-20 minutes from the centre). It is packed with wonderful displays and has a great cafe in its horticultural garden. Kids also love the Aquarium (“CretAquarium” or “Thalassocosmos”). Its 32 tanks are filled with thousands of marine species, from hunter sharks and lobsters to weird and wonderful jellyfish.
The Palace of Knossos is a major attraction, being the second most visited place in Greece after the Acropolis. A visit to this well-restored, sprawling Minoan palace gives a good opportunity to piece together the threads of the story of the Minoan civilization.
For a further idea of the past prosperity of the city, visit the Venetian Loggia, or ‘Lotzia’ in the city centre. Now the city hall of Heraklion, it is decorated with sculptured coats of arms, trophies and metopes. For centuries the noblemen of Crete would gather here to rest or be entertained and it is now considered to be the finest Venetian monument in the city.
The Koules Venetian Fortress on the harbour walls dates back to the early 1500’s. Appreciate the immense solidity of this fortification and then enjoy the pleasure of the views from its turret and roof. It also has a restored interior with exterior reliefs of the Lion of St Mark.
What to see and do
Below is a list of links to websites with great information about the Archaeological Sites and Museums of Athens