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Are you going on a cruise to Crete or taking a Minoan Lines ferry from Piraeus to Heraklion (Iraklio) Crete? A two-hour to half-day walking tour is a great way to orient yourself to the capital of Crete.

Heraklion map
Heraklion map
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Cruise ships and ferries to Crete dock in the new port. A map outside the passenger station depicts a walking route from the new port to the pedestrian areas in the city center. It also showed us the location of Heraklion's points of interest.

Old Venetian port

The distance between the ferry and cruise port to the old Venetian port is only 500 meters (0.3 miles). Walking west along the waterfront, we viewed fishing boats and people fishing in the harbor.

At the northern end of the old port's jetty is the 16th-century Koules Fortress. When the Venetians occupied Crete from the 17th to 19th century, they called it Rocca a Marre, which means "Castle in the Sea." Koules is the name that the Turks gave to the castle.

Koules Venetian Fortress

A blue-and-white Greek flag flies above the fortress. The stone building withstood a Turkish siege for 22 years, the longest in European history. It ended when the Turks gave gold to the Venetians to surrender, so the Venetian fort and walls were preserved.

Koules Venetian Fortress
Koules Venetian Fortress
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Reliefs of the Lion of St. Mark decorate the exterior. The 26 rooms inside are restored. Lower-level rooms now house art galleries. Upper-level rooms are venues for musical and theatrical performances.

City walls

Opposite the fortress, we viewed the vaulted arcades of the Venetian Arsenal. Like Heraklion's city walls, they are very well preserved.

Four kilometers long, the walls have seven bastions and four gates. The Arabs started the fortifications when they took over the country in 826 AD. After the Venetians took control 250 years later, they completed the walls over a 100-year period (1462-1562).

Heraklion Traditional Market cafe
Heraklion Traditional Market café
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Zorba the Greek

Nikos Kazantzakis, writer of Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ was born in Heraklion.

El Greco, the Greek painter, sculptor and architect was also born in Heraklion. Both men are proof that the Venetian period in Crete was a time of Renaissance and the arts.

Walk to Traditional Market

You can follow the city walls around the center of the city to view Heraklion's neighborhoods. Instead, we walked along Avgoustou, the main street of Heraklion, to Lion Square. Just past the Astoria Hotel, we found the pedestrian Traditional Market.

The market is a lively place with several outdoor cafés. Shops on both sides of the street sell Cretan olive oil and mountain herbal teas, including dictamus.

Cretan food specialties

The Heraklion market is a great place to buy Cretan foods, such as spicy green olives and jars of golden pine and thyme honey.

Cheese shops display several Cretan cheeses — olive, honey, mizithra, anthotyros (a traditional fresh cheese), graviera and feta.

Cretan olives, baklava and mountain tea
Cretan olives, baklava and mountain tea
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Bakeries sell tahini, chestnut-chocolate and sour cherry bagels. Handmade baklava comes in many flavors — honey-pistachio, fig with mixed nuts and Mediterranean fruits and nuts. Boxed, they make delicious culinary souvenirs of Crete.

If you have time to extend your walk, the fascinating Archeological Museum of Heraklion is just a short walk east of the Traditional Market and south of the new port.

More things to see & do in Heraklion Crete:

Knossos Palace & Archeological Museum of Heraklion Tours