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Heraklion is a large port city best known for its Venetian walls and the fresco-covered Palace of Knossos archaeological site dating back to the Minoan civilisation. Unsurprisingly, as Crete's capital and with this much culture and history, it's also home to excellent museums such as the Heraklion Archaeological Museum and plenty of ancient architecture. Pockets of modernity and a youthful café scene give it a contemporary feel too.
In Heraklion, you can stay in a hostel with roomy verandas that have city views, a centuries-old renovated neoclassical building or a chilled spot by the port with a pool. A traditional blue-painted home with an olive grove is a stylish place to stay if you're seeking somewhere a bit out of the city. To max out on mezze, pick a Heraklion hostel with a restaurant serving classic Greek cuisine. Hoping for a little privacy? Many hostels in Heraklion are apartment-style complexes with rooms that have their own balconies.
Eleftherias Square is Heraklion's centre, with the paved and pedestrianised Dedalou Street, the main area for designer boutiques, leading off it. Try smaller streets of the city, like 1866 Street, for more independent shops. Korai Street runs parallel to Dedalou Street and has a bohemian feel thanks to the outdoor cafés and bars attracting young people with upbeat music and the kind of strong coffee Greece is famous for. Down by the fishing harbour, you'll find the city walls that hint at the city's turbulent history.
You can soak up Heraklion's rich history by exploring the imposing Venetian fortress on the harbour and checking out the red-domed Saint Minas Cathedral. Crete's beaches are rightly famous, so you should make sure to factor in some time by the sea too. Karteros is a sandy beach about 8km east of the city. Here, you can relax with an ouzo cocktail from one of the nearby bars or ride a horse along the sands.
You can get to Heraklion's port via boat from Athens all year around. In the summer, routes are added from islands around Greece, including Santorini and Karpathos. There are three airports on Crete but the nearest to the city is Heraklion International Airport, 6km away. If you're landing here, a regular bus service runs towards Eleftherias Square. For journeys out of Heraklion, the city has two KTEL bus stations: one by the port with buses to the east and west of the island and one by Chanioporta for southern destinations.