Crete is Greece’s largest island. Terrain and elevations range from sandy beaches to mountains. Mt. Ida is the tallest of the White Mountain range, and the legendary birthplace of Zeus in Ideon Cave. The island’s capital, Heraklion is famous for the thousands of years old Minoan Palace of Knossos just outside the city. The city also has a 16th century fort guarding the port, and a museum with a large collection of Minoan art. Winters on Crete are generally mild with snow staying mainly in the mountains. Currency in Greece is the Euro, which is fairly close in value to the US dollar.
Crete’s history extends back to the stone age with tools found there dating back at least 130,000 years. The Minoan civilization dates back to the bronze age when they built palaces and other buildings on Crete. They are considered the first European civilization. They had a powerful navy and ships sailing around the Mediteranean with merchants trading as far away as Egypt. Their civilization was destroyed by a powerful eruption of Thera (now Santorini), which was one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history. The Minoan ruins are now one of Crete’s major tourist attractions. Following the volcanic destruction, Crete’s inhabitants developed ancient Greek influenced city-states followed by becoming part of a succession of empires from Roman to Byzantine, to Ottoman and were under the rule of the Venetian Republic in between the Byzantines and Ottomans. Following that Crete was autonomous before becoming a part of Greece.
HERAKLION CRUISE PORT
Ships dock in the port of Heraklion (Iraklion) in a container port so passengers are not allowed to walk through the port after disembarking the ship. Those with cruise ship tours board their tour bus by the ship. The rest take a 5-minute free shuttle to the cruise terminal. People have to pass through the terminal before going anywhere else. Free city maps are available at the tourist office there. It has a duty free shop on the port side where people can purchase things after the security screening on their way back. There’s also a small shop on the other side of security near the exit door. Inside the building there are places to sit and use the free wifi provided there. The terminal building has restrooms and storage lockers. It’s about a 15 minute walk from the cruise terminal to old town. There are tourist attractions within a 20 minute walk from the port. Street signs are in Greek.
Once out of the terminal passengers can walk a short distance to a hop-on hop-off bus stand where tickets are available at a small booth and busses await. Just past the hop-on hop-off busses there’s a stop for the city bus which people can catch if they have a specific destination in mind. There’s also a walkway marked with a yellow line leading anyone who wants to travel by foot to the city center.
The footpath follows along the waterfront past a marina. It ends at a city map with a you are here dot. From there you can tour the Koules Fortress – originally a Venetian sea fort -just a short distance away for a minimal entry fee, or walk into the city or on the seawall.
Besides boats the marina also had cats. We saw a mother and some half grown kittens sleeping near some fishing boats. There were other cats around the marina as well as in town. Greece has lots of stray animals. Some places have dogs as well as cats.
Along the way you can see part of the old Venetian walls across the street, and a couple of its tunnel-like gates. These walls were built during the time Crete was under the control of the Venetian Republic. Beyond the marked walkway on the roadway next to the sea we saw some small ruins.
The town has a maze of streets and pathways winding their way through shops and eateries. There’s lots of little bakeries, coffee shops, and restaurants. Anyone looking to eat local has many opportuities to find something tasty.
The city center area has stores of all sorts where people can shop for pretty much anything if they look for the right store. It’s not just souvenir shops for tourists, they have pretty much everything anyone could want and things the locals need as well.
There’s also a little park. Somewhere in town there’s a fountain that shows on all the tourist maps, but we didn’t pass by it.
We walked past one colorful little shop that just begged to have its picture taken.
THINGS TO DO IN HERKLION/CRETE
Koules Fortress, an old Venetian sea fort is within walking distance of the port and can be toured for a small fee. The fortress sits at the land end of a seawall. It’s free to walk past the fort and out to the lighthouse at the far end of the seawall.
You can get to the the area’s main attraction – the ruins of the Minoan Palace of Knossos by public bus, hop on hop off bus, or taxi. It’s about 20 minutes by bus from the port. Taxis and the hop on hop off bus pick up at the cruise terminal. The public bus stop is not far. Hop on hop off busses run about every 45 minutes. There’s 9 stops and the whole route would take about 45 minutes if you never got off the bus. Knossos is the second to last stop when starting from the port.
Herkalion has beaches, museums, a mix of old and new architecture, Phaestos Minoan Palace, Cretaquarium (aquarium), a market, local cuisine, and boat trips. There are also caves and other villages in the region. If you walk around a bit you might come across old buildings or random ruins that aren’t listed on the tourist maps.