Knossos Palace Temple at Heraklion, Crete

Heraklion Cruise Port: DIY Excursion Guide to Crete’s Capital

Ready to make the most of your port day in Heraklion? From the legendary Palace of Knossos to charming Venetian architecture, a DIY shore excursion gives you the freedom to experience the heart of Crete at your own pace. There’s stunning nearby beaches as well, so plan your own DIY adventure that blends ancient wonders with island relaxation!

Note: Heraklion is typically used by NCL, MSC, Costa and P&O cruises. If you’re travelling with another cruise line to Crete, you may be docking at Port Souda for Chania – see my DIY Excursion Guide for Chania instead.

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Heraklion Cruise Port: Is a DIY Excursion Easy? ๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž (Straightforward)

Docking in Heraklion, Crete? Get ready for a DIY adventure with little planning needed! Here’s why:

  • Walk into the Action: The Venetian Harbour is a leisurely 15-minute stroll from your ship.
  • Knossos is a Breeze: Want to see the legendary Minoan palace? Buses run regularly, making this star attraction a cinch to reach.
  • Old Town Delights: Get lost (in a good way!) exploring the Old Town’s charming maze of shops, cafes, and historical gems.

See? Heraklion is totally DIY-friendly! Now let me tell you all there is to see at Heraklion.

Heraklion Cruise Port Essentials: All You Need to Know

  • Heraklion (Crete) Cruise Port Address: Leof. Nearchou, Iraklio 713 07, Greece
  • Currency: Euros
  • Official websites: Port Heraklion’s website lists cruise ship arrivals & departures, Heraklion City Bus has information on local bus routes
  • Recommended Transport App: Use Google Maps to navigate around Heraklion city and for local bus routes within Heraklion city limits.
  • eSIM for roaming in Greece: For a great data connection without the huge roaming fees, use an eSim data pack from Airalo. I always recommend having a smartphone with a valid plan when youโ€™re at port touring independently. Get US$3 off your first eSIM data pack from Airalo when you use ROXANN1666 when you sign up or apply it at checkout
  • My Heraklion Map: ๐Ÿ‘‡ Click on the upper right hand corner to see a bigger version. Use buttons on bottom left hand corner to zoom in and out. If the map is not loading, click here to see it directly on Google Maps.

Heraklion Cruise Port to City Centre: Getting your Bearings

  • Heraklion Port Passenger Station: There are six quays at Heraklion port. Regardless of where your ship docks, you’ll be dropped off at the Port Passenger station, marked on my map above ๐Ÿ‘†
  • Walk to City Centre: Around 15 minutes walk to the Heraklion Venetian Harbour.
  • Inter-city buses: If you intend to visit other parts of Crete, such as Chania, the bus station is about 10 minutes walk away. Inter-city buses get quite busy during the summer, so pre-book a ticket online to ensure you get a seat!

Experience the Highlights of Heraklion Cruise Port

Heraklion offers a fascinating blend of ancient history, Venetian charm, and modern Cretan life. Here are some must-see spots to add to your DIY adventure:

1. Knossos Palace: Explore the Legendary Home of the Minoans

Grandstand Fresco at Knossos Palace in Heraklion, Crete
“Grandstand Fresco” at Knossos Palace. Image by bigfoot from Pixabay

The Palace of Knossos is a sprawling Bronze Age complex that served as the epicentre of the enigmatic Minoan civilisation. The Minoans, a seafaring people of uncertain origin, flourished on Crete from around 2,700 BC to 1,450 BC.

Their artistic sophistication, advanced architecture, and mysterious disappearance continue to fascinate historians and archaeologists. One of the most popular theories is that they were wiped out by a massive volcanic eruption. There’s archaeological evidence to suggest that this volcanic eruption occurred on Santorini around 1,500 BCE and the resulted tsunamis killed all those living in coastal settlements. (If you’re heading to Santorini for your cruise, then don’t miss seeing its dramatic caldera, created from this volcanic eruption.)

At Knossos, you’ll explore the remnants of a grand palace complex that once sprawled over several acres. Discover the remains of colorful frescoes, intricate courtyards, royal chambers, and the imposing Throne Room. Ponder the mythical labyrinth, said to have been home to the legendary Minotaur. While some of the reconstructions are controversial, Knossos offers a unique window into the power and ingenuity of this ancient civilization.

Knossos Palace is outside the city centre, so many cruisers assume that it’s only accessible on a guided tour. Not so! Here’s how to do a DIY excursion:

  • How to Get There:
    • Walk to Port Bus Stop: Walk to “Port” (ฮ›ฮ™ฮœฮ‘ฮฮ™) bus stop, marked on my map above. The walk is about 700m (0.4 miles) on flat ground and should take no more than 10 minutes from the cruise terminal.
    • Bus #2 starts from this stop. Get off at the last stop. You’ll be dropped off at the entrance to Knossos Palace.
    • Tickets: One-way ticket is โ‚ฌ1.60 for adults, โ‚ฌ0.90 for kids & students. Purchase tickets before you board at the ticket booth. There’s also a ticket machine. It’s more convenient to pay for your return ticket at the same time.
    • Timetable: Use Google Maps for live departure times for this stop.
  • Tickets for Knossos Palace: โ‚ฌ15 for adults and โ‚ฌ8 for kids. Official online ticket website is the Hellenic Heritage e-Ticket site. Fortunately it’s not the Acropolis, so I don’t think you need to pre-book.
  • Opening Hours: 8am to 8pm daily from April to August. 8am to 6pm from September to October. Double check opening hours here.

2. Venetian Fortress and Harbour

Koules Fortress (aka Rocca al Mare) at Venetian Harbour in Heraklion, Crete
Koules Fortress at Heraklion Venetian Waterfront. Image by Ralf Kronenberger from Pixabay

Heraklion’s picturesque harbour and the imposing Koules Fortress are enduring symbols of the city’s Venetian past. The Venetians, a powerful maritime republic, arrived in Crete during the early 13th century and ruled for over four centuries, leaving a lasting imprint on the island’s architecture and culture.

The construction of the massive Koules Fortress (also called Rocca al Mare) began in the early 16th century. It served a crucial role in protecting the city and its valuable harbour from attack, particularly during the prolonged Ottoman siege of Heraklion.

The walk from the cruise terminal to the Venetian port is about 15 minutes on flat ground.

3. Heraklion Archaeological Museum

The Phaistos Disc at Heraklion Archaeological Museum
The Phaistos Disc at Heraklion Archaeological Museum. Source: Wikipedia

Considered one of the finest archaeological museums in Greece, the Heraklion Archaeological Museum’s collection focuses primarily on the Minoan civilisation. Here’s some of the star exhibits:

  • How to Get There: Around 15 minutes walk from the cruise terminal. If you went to Knossos Palace before hand, catch the #2 bus back. It’s a 10 minute walk from the bus stop.
  • Opening Hours: 8am to 8pm daily, except Tuesdays 10am to 8pm
  • Tickets: โ‚ฌ12 for adults, free for EU citizens aged <25 otherwise โ‚ฌ6 for kids 6-25 and seniors 65+. Note tickets purchased online are dated and timed. Click here for the Official website for tickets.
  • Official Museum Guide: Download to your phone here (PDF)

4. Exploring the Old Town

Heraklion Waterfront view of City & Old Town
Image by Anna Mendrek

Heraklion’s Old Town is a vibrant mix of Venetian elegance and Ottoman influences. Here’s a list of what to see – all are within walking distance of the Venetian Fortress and Harbour and marked on my map ๐Ÿ‘†:

  • Platia Eleftheriou Venizelou (Lion Square): The heart of Heraklion! This bustling square is ringed by cafes and features the iconic Morosini Fountain, adorned with Venetian lions.
  • Venetian Loggia: This ornate 17th-century building once served as a meeting place for Venetian nobles. Free entry.
  • Basilica di San Marco: While no longer a functioning church, this 13th-century Venetian basilica is a beautiful landmark. It’s now used as general exhibition place.
  • Saint Peter Monastery: A former Dominican monastery, this impressive structure now houses cultural exhibitions and events.
  • Historical Museum of Crete & Natural History Museum of Crete: These neighbouring museums offer fascinating insights into Crete’s history, culture, and natural environment. For museum buffs!
  • Venetian Walls: The Venetian walls start just after the National History Museum, as you walk along the waterfront. It then extends to the bottom of Old Town, marked by Martinengo Bastion. These walls once encircled Heraklion. Enjoy panoramic views of the city and harbour from atop this section of the impressive Venetian Walls.

5. Cretan Food Adventure: From Dakos to Raki

Dakos Barley Rusks with Cretean cheese
Dakos โ€“ typical Cretan starter. Image by DanaTentis from Pixabay

For foodies, here are a few suggestions on what to look out for (and try) on your walk around Old Town:

  • Kalitsounia: Sweet or savory pastries filled with wild herbs, greens, and soft Creatan cheese. Think of them as the Cretan version of hand-held pies.
  • Dakos: A quintessential Cretan starter, dakos are barley rusks topped with juicy grated tomatoes, creamy mizithra cheese, olive oil, and herbs.
  • Dolmades: Vine leaves typically stuffed with minced meat, pine nuts and rice
  • Snails (Chochlioi Boubouristi): A beloved and surprisingly delicious Cretan delicacy, snails are pan-fried with rosemary and vinegar, offering a unique, earthy flavor.
  • Cretan Raki: This clear, potent spirit is made from grape pomace and holds a strong place in Cretan culture.

Sun, ๐Ÿ–๏ธ Sand, and Relaxation: Your Guide to Heraklion’s City Beaches

There’s two beaches close to Heraklion’s cruise port. Perfect if you want to enjoy half day sightseeing in Old Town and half day at the beach before returning to port.

  • Ammoudara Beach: About 6 km west of the cruise port.
    • How to Get There: Bus #6 from outside the Central Bus Station will get you to Ammoudara Beach. (See my map for bus stops).
    • Timetables: Best to use Google Maps to find the next bus departure or to plan ahead. The bus is a service that runs back and forth between the Airport and Ammoundara, so runs every 20 minutes or so throughout the day.
    • Journey Time: Around 30 minutes bus ride
    • Tip: If you intend to go to Knossos Palace as well as Ammoudara, get the โ‚ฌ5 all-day bus ticket to save time.
  • Amnissos Beach: About 8 km east of the cruise port, past Heraklion Airport. For aviation geeks, you can see the planes flying into Heraklion Airport!
    • How to Get There: Bus #7 from outside the Central Bus station will get you to Amnissos Beach. (See my map for bus stops)
    • Timetables: Use Google Maps to find the next bus departure. Bus #7 is typically an hourly service, so keep this in mind when you’re planning your port day!
    • Journey Time: Around 30 minutes from cruise port, depending on whether you time it well with the bus times!
    • Facilities: Usual facilities are available including resorts & hotels nearby selling “day-passes” to their facilities

Featured Image by Leonhard Niederwimmer from Pixabay

Wishing you an awesome adventure in Heraklion! Found these tips helpful? Pass this guide along to your cruise buddies so they can make the most of their time in this fantastic city. Have a blast in Crete!

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