Find the locals’ favourite places. Discover the best restaurants, cafes, and bars. Experience the city like a true local!
Heraklion is in the middle of Crete, which makes it an excellent starting point for visiting the whole island. You may know it for its history (with the impressive Minoan Palace, still standing after 5000 years), its museums, or its various other sightseeing attractions. Is that enough to say you’ve gotten to know Heraklion? It truly has a little bit of everything, so surely not.
Let me take you out for a day in Heraklion the way I’d spend it, to places that I, as a local, enjoy and recommend.
What to do when you arrive in Heraklion
When you get to Heraklion, there’s a tradition you have to follow: go straight to the historical fountain square, called ‘Liontaria’ (meaning ‘lions’), and enjoy a slice of ‘bougatsa’ as you take in the view of the Morosini fountain. Bougatsa is a delicious dessert, a bit like a cream pie. You can get to the city centre by taxi.
Some of my favourite walks in the city:
- The shopping route: Starting from Heraklion’s main square, Eleftherias Square (meaning ‘Liberty Square’), I usually walk down the wide Dikeosinis street until you get to Lions Square. Expect a lot of shops, and a lot of people.
- The wellness route: Starting from the Venetian Koules Castle in the old harbour, you can walk for 4 kilometres to the lighthouse at the edge of the modern port. Local artists have decorated the long wall, and the view of both the harbour and the airport are really quite something. The lighthouse offers quite a romantic view of the sunset and makes all the effort you put into the walk feel worth it.
- The best route: Personally, my favourite walk is a tour along the city walls. Starting from ‘Jesus Gate’, also known as Kenouria Porta, you can walk along the impressive Venetian walls surrounding the old city. There are a lot of sightseeing spots on the walls themselves, but just the view of the city and the waterfront at the end of the journey is more than enjoyable.
- The explorer route: Lately, there’s been an explosion of graffiti art throughout the city. You can see some of the best examples of this in the Lakkos area, behind the Cultural Centre.
There’s nothing better after a long walk than a nice cold coffee, best enjoyed with friends over a long sitting at the café of your choosing.
My personal selection of cafes:
- Hacienda de Buenos Dias has my favourite blends, and it’s always full of locals.
- Crop is an interesting third-wave coffee house. I suggest grabbing a table under the trees, in the park.
- Think Tank is an old house which has been converted to a wonderful cafeteria, with specialty coffee.
- Frankly has an excellent selection of drinks and a view which opens onto the wide Venetian-style Agios Minas Square.
- Palio Kafe (meaning ‘old cafe’) is the traditional, iconic café in the heart of Heraklion. It offers the perfect ‘Greek coffee’: Let it cool before you drink it – and never stir it!
Now should be a good time for a swim! There’s no beach in the city of Heraklion, but don’t worry – the closest one is just a 10-minute car journey away.
Beaches favoured by me and the locals:
- Psaromoura, in Agia Pelagia, has pebbles and crystal-clear water. It’s well-organised and there’s a bar on the beach.
- Karteros is the closest beach to the city. It’s a long sand beach, which has an excellent colour and clean waters.
- Arina. This is a very shallow and long sand beach. It’s frequently a bit choppy, but it’s always fun. It’s so wide that it’s home to several beach bars, and there’s still space to spare!
No day is complete without a good meal. Heraklion has a little bit of everything, from local traditional to international cuisine.
Best places to eat in Heraklion
- Kagiampis. Probably the best homemade food in Heraklion. The owner is full of character and is always willing to chat about history or theatre.
- Vourvouladiko. Exceptional dishes and a relaxed ambiance. The pace is slow but it’s well worth the wait. Nestled in an old house with a lovely, jasmine-scented garden, it’s perfect for dinner.
- Apiri offers the most creative cuisine of all, and it truly sets the standard for good food in Heraklion. There’s a nice atmosphere and the staff are professional yet friendly.
- Mavros Katis, located in a gallery that leads to a hidden urban garden, combines modern rock and electronic music with traditional(-ish) cuisine.
- Vardis tavern, with its’ tables out on the street and great selection of fresh fish.
- If you prefer more international cuisine, I recommend Waka, a Japanese and Peruvian fusion restaurant, or Curry Park for Indian cuisine. They’re both excellent choices!
- The best sushi in the city is Kymata. Just bear in mind that during the summer, it moves to Hersonissos!
- For something vegan, there’s nowhere like Rovithi, which serves mostly falafel.
- Any traditional ‘kafenes’ (this is what old traditional cafeterias were called 100 years ago) or ‘rakadiko’ (which are practically the same thing). They all offer some kind of food, and the atmosphere is unique, original – and lively!
Who says dinner has to be the end of your day? Heraklion offers such a vibrant nightlife that it would be a pity to just go to sleep. There are bars and clubs with international music, along with places that only play local music, which stay open until very late. A typical night on a “bar crawl” might look something like this:
- Start with a beer at Beer o’clock, the best rock bar in Heraklion. Giorgos, the owner, is always happy to talk about his beer collection and have a laugh with the customers.
- Make sure you don’t miss The Garden, an old club that burnt down, lost its roof, and then converted into an open-air bar.
- Then head closer to the sea by visiting Avli for a cocktail. The sea breeze there is always welcome.
- After that it’s time for a club, and Envy is the place to be.
- It should be around 5 or 6 in the morning at this point, so it’s time for an “after”: the most iconic club in Heraklion with a cult following, known to all the locals and none of the tourists, is Levare. Grabbing a drink or dancing to the loud local music played there is a unique experience.
You can soak in the sunrise from the Koules fort in the old harbour, eat a Bougatsa at Lions Square for breakfast, and then do the whole thing all over again!