Heraklion is Crete's main city and usually the starting point for holidays on the island. Built on a fairly steep hillside, its history of Venetian occupation is clear in its architecture, especially the Venetian fortress that dominates the harbour and accents the city's bustling mix of shops, hotels, traffic, and fast-food outlets.
The main square, Plateia Venizelou, is a pedestrian mall sporting cafes and restaurants, and some fascinating shops in the surrounding streets. History buffs should visit the archaeological museum, which contains the world's most comprehensive collection of Minoan artefacts, dating back to around 1600 BC. Heraklion is also close to the major archaeological site associated with the Minoans at Knossos.
Heraklion is Crete's commercial centre and has a great many shops with top designer labels and original jewellery for reasonable prices. Antiques, leather goods, folk art, olive oil and a variety of interesting cheeses are on offer as well. Some shops may have reduced operating hours during the winter off-season.
Crete offers traditional Greek food in its cafes, local tavernas and elegant restaurants. The island is also home to many ouzeri bars that specialise in the aniseed-flavoured liqueur called ouzo. Many of the destinations fast-food outlets and restaurants serve international favourites such as pasta, pizza, Indian and Mexican food.
People-watching from a sidewalk cafe is a favourite evening pastime among locals in Heraklion. The city also has many clubs and bars.
Heraklion has many historic and archaeological attractions, including its world-famous museum and the nearby Knossos, which was the heart of the ancient Minoan civilisation. Sporty visitors will find a number of beaches and opportunities to enjoy rock climbing and horse riding, while the CretAquarium Thalassocosmos is worth a stop for the entire family.
Heraklion is a busy, overcrowded city that can be claustrophobic and noisy. Hotel standards do not always live up to expectations and visitors are often harassed by touts outside the restaurants and cafes, particularly in Fountain Square.