About Heraklion beaches
Heraklion on the Greek island of Crete is an industrial port city and has been the island’s administrative capital since 1971. At first sight it is not particularly beautiful, being surprisingly modern and buzzing with traffic. Most people come here specifically to visit the awe-inspiring Palace of Knossos, a 4,000-year-old archaeological site, and to see the world-class Archaeological Museum, displaying finds from Knossos. However, Heraklion’s finest years were those spent under Venice rule between the 15th and 17th centuries, when the sturdy city walls were constructed. Within the walls, the old town (much of which is pedestrian-only) boasts several notable Venetian buildings plus a plethora of cheerful open-air cafés and taverns.
Being an industrial port city, Heraklion is not a place for bathing. However, there are plenty of beaches along the coast out of town, the best lie to the east: Florida, Karteros and Amnissos. All three are sandy and equipped with sunbeds and umbrellas for hire, and while Florida and Karteros offer good watersports, Amnissos is better known for its informal seafood tavernas.
Beyond the beach:
Heraklion’s Old Town is filled with Venetian monuments including the sturdy 15th-century defensive walls, the fortress guarding the harbour, and the early 17th-century Venetian loggia. The Byzantine Church of Agios Titos was temporarily converted into a mosque by the Turks in the 19th century. However, the town’s top site is the excellent Archaeological Museum with 20 rooms displaying thousands of ancient artefacts. Pride of place goes to finds from the Minoan period (dating back some 4,000 years) including frescoes, metalwork and ceramics from the world’s best preserved Minoan site, the Palace of Knossos, which can be found 5km (3 miles) southeast of Heraklion.
Children will love the area’s sandy beaches and most will also be inspired by a visit to the ancient Palace of Knossos. To experience underwater life, visit Thalassocosmos (Crete Aquarium) at Gournes (a former American base), 15km (9 miles) east of Heraklion, where 32 vast glass-sided tanks display some 200 fish and creatures from the big blue. There are also a couple of decent water parks nearby. A 35-minute drive east of Heraklion lies Star Beach Water Park, complete with pools, waterslides, a lazy river, a great beach offering water-skiing, parasailing and scuba-diving, plus a spa centre. A 45-minute drive southeast of Heraklion, Acqua Plus (7km/4 miles south of Hersonissos on the road to Kasteli) is set in gardens on a hill near Crete Golf Course and offers a giant adventure pool, a lazy river, slides and extensive sports facilities.
Just 5km (3 miles) southeast of Heraklion lies Crete’s largest and best preserved Minoan site, the Palace of Knossos, which was built with four wings arranged around a rectangular central court some 4,000 years ago, and excavated by the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans in the early 20th century. Drive across the island to the south coast to visit the Palace of Phaestos (Festos), yet another Minoan archaeological site, and Matala Beach, made famous by the hippies who lived here in caves during the 1960s.