Heraklion, aka ‘Iraklio’ is the capital city of the island of Crete, Greece’s largest island, and serves as one of the island’s primary urban centers. It is a popular cruise ship stop, and while this will give you only a tiny glimpse of Greece’s largest island, it is possible to really enjoy one day in Heraklion.

Renowned for its blend of medieval and modern architecture, Heraklion is steeped in rich history and cultural heritage, with roots tracing back to the Minoan civilization, as evidenced by the nearby Palace of Knossos, among other things.

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Where is Heraklion?

The city is a vibrant hub for commerce, culture, and tourism, offering visitors a mix of historical attractions. History and Mythology buffs from all over the world come to see Knossos Palace and the Heraklion Archaeological Museum which houses significant Minoan artifacts, and there are also lively markets, cafes, and restaurants.

Surrounded by fortified walls constructed by the Venetians in the 15th century, Heraklion boasts a picturesque harbor, and beautiful beaches nearby, and is a gateway to exploring Crete’s diverse landscapes and historical sites.

The city’s warm Mediterranean climate, combined with its rich history and modern amenities, makes Heraklion a popular destination for travelers seeking to experience the essence of Greek island life.

Further reading:  Things to do in Crete

Where do the cruise ships dock in Heraklio?

Cruise ships docking in Heraklion, Crete, primarily use the Heraklion Port, which is one of the largest in the Mediterranean. This port is well-equipped to handle several large cruise ships at a time and is located conveniently close to the city center, offering easy access to Heraklion’s main attractions.

The disembarkation process in Heraklion, as in most ports, involves a few key steps:

Clearance Procedures: Upon arrival, the ship’s crew must complete port and customs clearances. Passengers usually wait on board until these formalities are completed.

Disembarkation: The disembarkation process is fairly straight forward with passengers disembarking in groups according to the ship’s schedule or their booked shore excursions. Most shipped tie up to the dock and passengers can walk right off.

Transport and Tours: Just outside the cruise terminal, passengers will find various transportation options, including taxis, buses, and sometimes shuttle services provided by the cruise line or local operators.

Security and Identification: Passengers are usually required to carry some form of identification (a passport or a government-issued ID) and their cruise ship pass for re-entry to the port and ship.

How to get around Heraklion

Visitors to Heraklion, the largest city on the island of Crete, Greece, have several options when it comes to exploring the city and its surrounds:

Walking: Heraklion’s city center is relatively compact, making walking a viable and enjoyable option for exploring. Many of the main attractions –  shops, museums, and restaurants are close together.

Public Buses: Heraklion has an extensive public bus system that connects the city center with the airport, port, nearby beaches, and other towns across Crete. Buses are a cost-effective way to travel, especially for longer distances outside of the city.

Taxis: Taxis are readily available in Heraklion and can be a convenient way to move around, especially if you’re traveling in a group or with lots of luggage. Some of them may be happy to say with you the whole day and proudly show you around their town. Always agree on the fare before starting your journey or ensure the meter is running.

Car Rentals: Renting a car will give you the flexibility to explore Heraklion and the surrounding areas at your own pace. Crete has many beautiful places that are easier to access with a car. Driving in Crete is fairly easy if you stick to the main roads and highways. There are some great road trips to enjoy, especially if you can stay a week or two!

Bicycles and Scooters: For short distances, renting a bicycle or a scooter can be a fun and efficient way to get around. This option offers greater flexibility and the ability to explore off-the-beaten-path areas.

Hop-On Hop-Off Tour Buses: Catching the red HOHO bus is a good way to see the city’s main attractions, allowing you to explore the sights at your own pace with various stops that you can visit. 

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One Day in Heraklion Activities

It is likely your cruise will offer several tours that you can do. This can be easy and convenient as you simply follow the instructions of the Guide or Activities Director and join the rest of the tour.

The downside to these tours is they are often more expensive than doing them independently, and they usually result in large crowds of people all descending on the same attractions at the same time. It also means you will be bound to the times dictated by the tour which may be at a slower pace than you would like, or perhaps too rushed.

As an alternative you can book some tours direct and these are the ones on offer that we think are the best value and the most enjoyable. Be sure to check the start and finish times to ensure they work with your ships schedule!

Knossos Palace Skip-the-line guided tour

The most important archaeological site in Crete and one of the most famous across the country if the Palace of Knossos.

First erected around 2000 BC in 1700 BC, a catastrophic earthquake destroyed the Palace and a new one was built immediately, the most monumental of all. For over 300 years it represented the pre-eminent center of power in Bronze Age Crete and was an imposing complex with significant architectural innovations, splendid frescoes, hundreds of rooms across its four stories, impressive storage facilities & engineering, specialized workshops, and spacious courts hosting ceremonies and feasts.

It was the throne of King Minos and home to the Minotaur, who lived in its dungeons.

With this tour you will need to catch a taxi from the port but if you do it quickly you will beat the hundreds of cruise ship passengers who arrive by bus.

The price includes entry to the site, a licensed tour guide and a headset for easy audio. It is capped at 16 people per group.

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Land Rover Safari on the Minoan Route

Explore the scenic landscape of Crete on an 8-hour Land Rover safari, and travel off-road along the old Minoan Path. Enjoy panoramic views during a barbecue lunch with unlimited wine on the Lassithi Plateau. Visit quaint villages, see the cave where Zeus was born, and lots more.

This tour does take 8 hours so be sure your ship’s schedule allows for this.

Food Tasting Walking Tour

Experience Heraklion like a local & explore the best the city has to offer. Learn about the culinary culture & wander in local neighborhoods as you eat and sip your way through authentic Heraklion.

Experience real Cretan food at 8 local-favourite stops away from the tourist crowds and sample local delights including unique Cretan cheeses, Heraklion’s bougatsa, the world famous Cretan olive oil and enjoy a glass of local wine and learn about the local wine making process that dates back to the Bronze Age

Sail Boat Cruise to Dia Island

 Embark on a private cruise or a group trip to Dia Island and explore this rugged place with plenty of time to swim, snorkel, or relax on its pristine shores.  Enjoy fishing, swimming in the crystal clear water, taking a walk among the island’s cedar trees, or just relaxing in the quiet bay overlooking Heraklion.

Snorkeling and fishing equipment are provided for your comfort and convenience by the attentive crew, along with unlimited refreshments and seasonal fruits.

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one day in heraklion

Palace of Knossos Frescoes

one day in Heraklion

St. Tinos Church

One Day in Crete Itinerary – General

If you would like to city and surrounds at your own pace, this is what we suggest to maximize your one day in Heraklion.

8 am –  Get to the Palace of Knossos as soon as it opens and before all the other cruise ship passengers descend.

10 am – Visit Heraklion Archaeological Museum and nearby Morosini Fountain and the Church of Agios Titos.

12noon – Cretan wine is considered to be some of the best in Greece. Drive or do a tour up to wine country, less than 30 minutes from the Port. We highly recommend visiting Douloufakis Winery and Lyrarakis Winery and Tasting Room which are quite close together.

3 pm – Stop on the way back for a delicious lunch at Koukounari, one of the most authentic places on the island and hugely popular with locals.

5 pm – Explore Heraklion city. Wander the maze of streets around the harbour and the Venetian Fort. There is some good shopping to be found and very affordable too!

7 pm – If you are still in port in the evening try and have dinner at Peskesi, which is a national institution on the island.

9 pm – return to Ship

One Day Itinerary in Heraklion for families


9 am – Get the Palace and the Archaeological Museum out of the way before it gets too hot and crowded( do the Museum after the Palace)

11 am – Visit the Natural History Museum of Crete and/or the Museum of Ancient Greek Technology. Yes, it’s a lot of museums but families really do love these two!

1 pm – Head to a nearby beach. Amnissos Beach is only 10 minutes by taxi and is a designated ‘blue flag’ beach right behind the airport, with Arena Beach a little further than that. There are lots of bars, cafes, toilets, and sunbeds for hire. Active families may like to head out to Karteros Canyon which has lots of walking and hiking trails and is home to many herds of sheep, goats, and other animals.

5 pm – Explore the area around the harbour, the Rocca a Mare Fort, and perhaps a bit of shopping.

Have dinner at child-friendly places such as Lucky’s Souvlaki, Mama’s Restaurant, Cacio e Pepe and Avocado.

8- 9 pm – return to ship or board ferry

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Heraklion Town Hall

one day in Heraklion

Peskesi Taverna

one day in Heraklion

Agia Pelagia