With three days in Heraklion (aka Iraklio), you can discover the area’s 4,000 years of history, savor the local cuisine, wander landscapes like the Samaria Gorge—and even visit another island. Here’s how.
Day 1: Historic Heraklion
Even if ruins aren’t normally your thing, make an exception for Heraklion. Star attractions are the Palace of Knossos, a 4,000-year-old city built by the mysterious Minoan civilization, and the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, home to ancient treasures from across the island. Check these off, then learn about Crete’s more recent history while exploring the Venetian Walls and 16th-century Koules Fortress. In the afternoon, immerse yourself in Crete’s culinary delights. Tour vineyards and olive groves; sample ingredients at markets and artisan food stores; or treat yourself to a cooking class. Wrap up your first day with a dinner of local seafood (try the red mullet, a Greek favorite) in one of the pretty eateries that dot the Old Venetian Harbor.
Day 2: Off-Road Adventures
Time for an inland adventure. At 10 miles (16 kilometers) long, the Samaria Gorge is one of Europe’s longest canyons, and for hikers, it’s an essential Crete experience that’s particularly beautiful when the wildflowers are in season. Or, head to the mountains around the Lasithi Plateau, known for its white-sailed windmills. Don’t miss the Dikteon Cave—according to legend, the Greek god Zeus was born among the eerie rock formations framing its underground lake. Spend the evening in true Cretan style, at a dinner show—island wines and local favorites like lamb pair perfectly with folk songs and traditional dances.
Day 3: Island Inspiration
On your final day, cruise to another of Greece’s 6,000-ish islands and islets. Uninhabited Dia is closest to Heraklion, with crystal waters and unspoiled beaches perfect for snorkeling. Or, make your way to Spinalonga, a tiny islet once used to quarantine people with leprosy. Even if you’ve not read the novel The Island, Spinalonga is an atmospheric place, and many tours include a swimming stop at nearby Kolokytha. Farther afield, but easy to reach on a day trip from Heraklion, the famously scenic Santorini boasts blue and white houses perched on the edge of a giant undersea volcano. Back in Heraklion in the evening, finish up your stay by enjoying the city’s modern side, as you crawl the contemporary bars and restaurants around Agios Titos Square