Currency is the euro. Heraklion is two hours ahead of GMT and is 3 hours 50 minutes travel time from London.
Aegean Airlines (aegeanair.com) flies from London Heathrow to Heraklion via Athens.
Easyjet (easyjet.com) flies to Heraklion from Bristol, London Gatwick, London Luton and Manchester.
Visit Greece (visitgreece.gr) provides detailed information on visiting the country, Crete included
The Golden Step: A Walk through the Heart of Crete by Christopher Somerville (Haus Publishing, £7.99). This account of a 483km walk across Crete captures the island’s spirit.
To sample the buzz of Crete’s capital city. Despite current hard times in Greece, there’s a vibrant museum and dining scene here, helped along by students at the respected local university. Heraklion might not be Greece’s most picturesque city – the effects of heavy bombing during the Second World War were compounded by unplanned post-war development, and only recently have its crumbling medieval quarters, public monuments and surviving historic buildings from the Venetian era received preservation attention. But take time to explore the narrow central lanes beyond the traffic-clogged main boulevards, along with the charming westerly waterfront, and you will be amply rewarded.
What to do
The first stop has to be the Archaeological Museum just off Platía Eleftherías (Liberty Square), home to the foremost collection of 5,000-year-old artefacts from the Minoan people, Europe’s first organised culture. The main museum has been shut since 2006 – renovation works uncovered a medieval Venetian monastery beneath, which is slowly being excavated – but the ‘greatest hits’ from a collection of more than 5,000 objects are displayed in two temporary galleries. Next stop, a 20-minute walk across town, should be the Historical Museum (historicalmuseum.gr), covering Cretan history, from Byzantine times to the present. Inside are fine icons and fresco fragments, stone relief carvings, documentation of the local Jewish, Muslim and Armenian communities, and a recreation of a traditional Cretan home. Finally, head south of the city (take bus two or four) to Knossos, the site of the first Minoan palace to be excavated, restored between 1900 and 1931 by Sir Arthur Evans. His anachronistic assessment of the ancient Minoans remains highly controversial, but kudos to him for making real what had been a shadowy, half-legendary culture.
Where to stay
If money’s no object, check into the top-rated Galaxy Hotel at Dimokratías 75, south of the centre (00 30 2810 238812, galaxy-hotel.com.gr). Overhauled in 2008, its 127 rooms and suites face both out and inside towards a large pool garden; there’s also a gym, two restaurants, and super-efficient staff. Closer to the centre, two design-led hotels beckon: the 58-room Lato (00 30 2810 228103, lato.gr), which has balconied rooms or suites facing the Venetian harbour, and a well-regarded summer rooftop restaurant; or nearby Marin Dream (00 30 2810 300018, marinhotel.gr), with sweeping port views from the spacious front rooms and a copious breakfast at the roof-level restaurant.
Where to eat and drink
Just need a quick snack? No better place than Armenian-run Kirkor on central Morosíni Square, with its famous Venetian lion fountain. Sit at tables just opposite, where you can munch on succulent bougátsa (custard pastry) and tyrópittes (cheese pies), or sip great coffee. For a proper lunch, head down a pedestrian passage to Paradosiako at Vourváhon 9 (00 30 2810 342927), a secluded, no nonsense taverna with courtyard seating and intriguing interior; grills and mezédes (appetisers) are the stock in trade. Crete is, after all, an island, so once it’s dark dine on the freshest seafood at Ippokambos (00 30 2810 280240), a highly regarded ouzerí by the Venetian port, and tuck into hokhlí (snails, a Cretan speciality) and reasonably priced fish. It gets busy, so go early; no reservations taken. Alternatively, Karnagio at Minóös 3 (corner shore road) in Tálos district, a couple kilometres further west, is an all-year daily favourite (00 30 2810 280090), best for grilled cuttlefish or octopus, and rich risotto. Fancy a drink later? It has to be at Pagopoieion on central Ágios Títos Plaza (00 30 2810 346028), a bistro with a superb upstairs room. The picture window gives eyefuls of the Venetian loggia and Ágios Títos church.
Time running out?
Browse the lively market street Odos 1866 for souvenirs and all kinds of Cretan delicacies – from olives and honey to lamb and snails. It’s open every day of the week except Sunday, from eight in the morning until two in the afternoon.
Hire a certified archaeological guide at Knossos – available ones hang around the ticket booth. They make all the difference in interpreting what can be an otherwise bewildering site.
Average daily temperatures and rainfall
This article was published on 1st February 2013 so certain details may not be up to date.