Crete (Heraklion) (Photo:Vladimir Sazonov/Shutterstock)
5.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Ty Treadwell
Cruise Critic Contributor

Port of Crete (Heraklion)

It's common for first-time visitors to take one look at Iraklion and marvel at how modern the city is. After all, this is the capital of Crete, the home of Europe's earliest civilization, and birthplace of countless myths and legends. Newcomers tend to expect a small village with antiquated buildings rather than the busy cosmopolitan city that occupies the same ground where Hercules, King Minos, the minotaur and other characters from ancient mythology once roamed.

About Crete (Heraklion)


Pro

Crete is a land of ancient legends, but the port of Herkalion is impressively modern amid all of the history

Con

Because signage is primarily in the Greek alphabet, navigating the city can pose a challenge

Bottom Line

From ancient ruins to scenic beaches and shops selling local wares, there's always something to do in Crete


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The magic of Iraklion, though, is the fact that its modern amenities commingle peacefully with its ancient treasures rather than overshadowing them. The result is a vibrant town that manages to look to the future while still embracing its past.

The contemporary shops, hotels and apartment buildings might be the first things to catch a visitor's eye, but scratch the surface of Iraklion's new veneer and the town's glorious history comes shining through. Massive walls built in the 1500's circle the heart of the city like two powerful arms trying to restrain Iraklion from moving too far forward into the modern age. Lovely fountains, ornate architecture and other relics of the past lie scattered throughout the city as well, with many of these attractions dating back centuries ago to the time when Venice ruled the island of Crete.

While the blend of past and present provides a fascinating backdrop, Iraklion's true beauty comes from its simple reflections of everyday Greek life. Its small, unexpected surprises are the things that make the city such a joy to explore -- such as a tiny church with an immaculate flower garden or a hidden courtyard where an elderly man sits alone and softly strums his bouzouki, a Greek instrument similar to the mandolin. The busy public squares and festive taverns may draw more tourists, but to experience Iraklion at its best try strolling the shoreline at dusk or visit the old harbor beside the Venetian fort at sunrise and watch fishermen carefully inspecting their nets in the pink glow of dawn.

At times like these you might wonder if you've somehow stumbled backward into Iraklion's rich past, and you may also find yourself with no desire to leave it.

Where You're Docked

Iraklion's harbor is extremely close to the heart of the city, less than half a mile northeast of the main tourist area. Most of the town's attractions are within 20 minutes walking distance.

Good to Know

For a tourist hotbed, Iraklion is amazingly difficult to navigate. In many Greek cities, streets are identified by both the Greek alphabet (which combines characters and letters) and an English interpretation; not so here. The challenge is that guidebooks in English (including this port profile) feature the, er, English spelling.

Tip: I compared the street names and memorized a few of the Greek letters so I didn't have too much of a problem. Another quirk is that in small towns like this, the street numbers sometimes aren't posted on the shops and restaurants so you just have to wander the street until you find the place you're looking for. I'm one of those people who asks for a lot of directions when I'm traveling because it's a good way for me to chat with the locals, and I normally don't stay lost for very long.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

As a member of the EU, Greece uses the euro. Banks are easy to find with several located on 25 Avgusto Street, which bisects the central part of town. Normal banking hours are 8 a.m. - 2 p.m., but most banks close a little early on Friday and hours can also fluctuate according to the season. ATM's are common in case you need cash after the banks are closed.

Language

Greek, although many people working in the service industry speak fairly good English.

Shopping

Every shop in town sells reproductions of the Phaestos Disc, one of the prized objects from Iraklion's Archeological Museum. This ancient tablet covered with mysterious glyphs is one of the city's most famous treasures, and while tacky reproductions of it abound, a piece of silver jewelry bearing its likeness makes a unique and tasteful keepsake. The vendors on Market Street tend to offer better deals than the jewelry stores, and you can expect to pay around 20 euro for earrings or a nice pendant.

Best Cocktail

Ouzo may be the drink of choice in other parts of Greece, but in Crete the locals favor a grape brandy called tsikoudia. This aromatic liquor packs a mean punch but it pairs quite well with Greek salad and other local dishes.