What to Do in Irakleio: 48 Hours in the Cretan Capital

Irakleio (aka Heraklion), Crete's capital and largest city, is energetic and vibrant with fantastic museums, great food and a lively nightlife scene.


DAY 01 08:30

Bright and early

Stop for a quick specialty coffee at Crop Roastery Brewery and then walk to Eleftherios Venizelos Square (popularly known as Lions’ Square) in the historic center of the town; it’s a popular meeting spot for locals and a selfie staple for visitors.

A very short walk from the square’s Morosini Fountain is the city’s most beautiful building, the Loggia, which served as a club for Venetian nobles. Today, you can see teens showing off their breakdance and skateboarding moves here. The city’s most famous bougatsa (cream pie) is also served in this area, at the Kirkor Kafeneio.

From here, take 25th Avgoustou Street, with its neoclassical mansions and the beautiful Church of Aghios Titos – renowned for its stained glass windows.

Info

Crop Roastery Brewery – 4 Aretousas, Tel. (+30) 2810.221.058

Kirkor Kafeneio – 31 Venizelou/Lions’ Square, Tel. (+30) 2810.242.705

DAY 1 10:30

Ancient treasures

Everything in Crete began with the Minoan civilization, so immerse yourself in this fascinating world with a tour of the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion with its amazing exhibition items such as the Phaistos Disc and the Minoan Snake Goddess.

Here, you’ll find objects providing a full chronicle of Minoan Cretan palatial, religious and everyday life – from Knossos as well as from other palaces, settlements, cemeteries and cave shrine sites. In addition to the iconic Snake Goddess, the Phaistos Disc and the symbol-rich Aghia Triada sarcophagus, exhibits include golden jewelry; stone seals; finely crafted ceramic and ivory containers; bronze and silver weapons; archival tablets; ordinary iron tools; household equipment; and assorted votive offerings.

Upstairs, colorful Knossian wall paintings depict prosperous palace elites, their now-famous bull-leaping ritual and nature scenes with idyllic rocky or riverine landscapes and exotic animals.

Info

Archaeological Museum of Heraklion – Xanthoudidou & Hatzidaki, Tel. (+30) 2810.279.000, open: Wed-Mon 08:00-20:00, Tue 10:00-20:00, admission: €10  

DAY 01 13:00

Local delights

When you’ve had your fill of ancient artifacts, head back and follow 1866 Street into the heart of the market. Among the tourist shops selling sarikia (traditional headscarves), katsounes (shepherds’ crooks) and daggers with mantinades (rhyming couplets) carved into their blades, there are still a few grocery stores, butchers’ shops and cafés.

Worth a visit is Alati tis Gis, a small deli with a selection of good-quality products from Crete and around Greece. After doing their daily shopping, locals often stop for some meze (small dishes) and a glass of raki at one of the many eateries in the area before heading home for a siesta, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t do the same.

Alternatively, you could grab a vegetarian snack, like a falafel wrap with organic vegetables and homemade sauces, from the healthy fast-food eatery Rovythi. If, however, you’re looking for a heartier meal of home-style Greek food, try Kanatelias. For dessert, there’s great homemade ice cream at Kosmiri.

Info

Alati tis Gis – 4 Gianitson, Tel. (+30) 2811.758.458

Rovythi – 9 Meramvellou, Tel. (+30) 2814.004.423

Kanatelias – 15 Tsikritzi, Tel. (+30) 2810.285.770

Kosmiri – 22 Kydonias, Tel. (+30) 2810.334.219

DAY 01 15:00

Adventures in learning

The Historical Museum of Crete spans the period from early Christianity to World War II and also boasts two paintings by the world-renowned, Irakleio-born artist Domenikos Theotokopoulos, better known as El Greco.

If you’re traveling with children, visit the Natural History Museum, where animatronic dinosaurs, simulated earthquakes and dioramas make for a fascinating experience. Kids really love the special “exploration area,” where the museum offers interactive games.

As the sun starts to set, join the locals for a stroll along the Venetian Harbor, taking a few photographs of the 14th-century shipsheds and the Koule, a 16th-century fortress in the sea that’s also Irakleio’s most iconic monument.

Info

Historical Museum of Crete – 27 Sofokli Venizelou & 7 Lysimachou Kalokerinou, Tel. (+30) 2810.283.219, open daily 9:00-17:00, admission: €5

Natural History Museum – Sofokli Venizelou Ave. (Dermata Bay), Tel. (+30) 2810.282.740, open Mon-Fri 09:00-21:00, weekends 10:00-21:00, admission: €7.50

Koule – Tel. 2810.243.559, Wed-Mon 08:00-20:00, admission: €2

DAY 01 21:30

Own the night

Irakleio’s nightlife is mainly concentrated inside the city walls, on the pedestrianized streets in the downtown area.

Aman – The Garden is a lovely verdant space serving cocktails made with local ingredients and premium spirits, as well as a menu of Mediterranean dishes and sushi.

Great drinks and loud music can be found at Halavro, located in the roofless shell of an old house.

Info

Aman – The Garden – 54 Aghiou Titou, Tel. 2810.288.116

Halavro – 10 Milatou, Tel. (+30) 2810.335.146

DAY 02 09:30

Walk the walls

Start your day with breakfast and a well-made specialty coffee on the rooftop of Think Tank before heading off like a modern-day Theseus into the labyrinth of central Irakleio.

Follow the footpaths on the Venetian walls and locate the fortress’ four main gates: the Aghios Georgios Gate, which hosts temporary art exhibitions; the New or Jesus Gate on Evans Street, where you’ll find an exhibition on the life of celebrated Cretan writer Nikos Kazantzakis (there are no fixed hours, but it can usually be found open daily from 08:00-14:00); the Bethlehem Gate, where concerts are held in the summer; and the Pantokrator (“Almighty”) Gate, which the locals call Hanioporta.

Info

Think Tank – 7 Ideou Androu, Tel. (+30) 2811.112.954

DAY 02 13:30

Let’s do lunch

Go local and visit a proper Cretan kafeneio for classic meze, including wild greens, snails, graviera cheese and dakos salad, washed down with glasses of fiery raki; Kagiabi on a small lane in the Lakkos district is a great choice. This long-neglected neighborhood is now an open-air public art gallery worth exploring.

For something more modern, Apiri, in the town center, is an all-day eatery with creative Cretan cuisine, a good cocktail list and a selection of local wines.

Info

Kagiabi – 12 Monofatsiou, Tel. (+30) 2810.226.286

Apiri – 5 Aghion Deka, Tel. (+30) 2810.342.228

DAY 02 17:30

Sunset swim

Just 15 minutes out of town, Arina is a popular beach for windsurfing and paddle boarding; the fine sand also makes it perfect for beach volleyball (there are several nets) and yoga, too.

For a super sunset experience, try Nirou Terra, an all-day/late-night beach bar with a beach of its own and an easygoing indie vibe. Watch the sun sink from the comfort of a sun lounger with a cold drink in your hand.

Info

Nirou Terra – Kokkini Hani, Tel. (+30) 694.477.7094

DAY 02 22:30

Out on the town

Check the program of the Kazantzakis and the Hadjidakis open-air theaters for any interesting performances, as they’re both beautifully situated in the dry moat area beneath the Venetian walls.

For dinner, Walls is a Mediterranean restaurant with a view of the fortifications and of the busy tennis courts below. Another good option is Vourvouladiko, a lovely taverna (one of the city’s best, so reservations are a must) with a garden in Lakkos. It serves simple, well-executed Cretan food; all meals end with a treat on the house of vanilla ice cream with a garnish of warm, homemade pasteli sesame snap.

If you’re up for an after-dinner drink, the cocktails at Parko 240 in the city center are good.

Info

Walls – 1 Doukos Bofor, Tel. (+30) 2810.344.348

Vourvouladiko – 50 Monis Kardiotissis, Tel. (+30) 2810.33.5323

Parko 240 – Milatou & Ideou Androu, Tel. (+30) 2810.331.642


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