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The town of Heraklion is the administrative capital of the Greek holiday island of Crete, as well as its historic heart. It lies close to the island’s most famous sight, the ruined city of Knossos. Founded over a millennium ago, Heraklion is a mecca for visitors with its glorious weather, Venetian architecture, beaches, quaint old town and plethora of hotels, restaurants, bars, nightlife and shops. Getting away from the summer crowds to enjoy the spectacular scenery of the interior, or exploring the island’s dramatic coastline, is easy with a hired car.
Who to Book With
As a result of Crete’s long popularity as a tourist destination, car hire here is easily arranged with a choice of international firms. At Heraklion’s International Airport and in the town itself, you’ll find Sixt, Avis, Hertz, Budget and Europcar, with booking well in advance online the best way to ensure your preferred model at the best price.
Best Time to Go
Although Crete’s Mediterranean climate makes the island a year-round visitor destination, most tourists arrive during the hot, dry and sunny summer months. Spring on Crete is simply beautiful, with the countryside displaying a mass of wildflowers and bird life. If a winter break is being planned, expect mild weather with little rain.
Need to Know Essentials
The following documents must be presented at the pick-up point:
- A valid UK photo driving license, EU license or an International Driving Permit
- A second photo ID, such as a passport
- The credit card used for the initial online booking
- A printed confirmation of the rental agreement if possible
Heraklion’s winding streets aren’t made for cars, but touring the rest of the island can be both pleasant and rewarding. Roads vary from the modern through to ancient cart tracks, although the winding and mountainous roads do boast spectacular views. Greece drives on the right of the road, and often in the centre, as encounters with local farm animals or goats come as standard. Signage is bilingual and parking is permitted in Heraklion, but spaces are tricky to find, especially in the summer months. Most petrol stations close around 19:00, and rural versions may not accept card payments. Seat belts must be worn, and drink-driving is treated seriously and incurs heavy fines.
Heraklion International Airport, close by the town, is the island’s main air arrivals hub. There is also Chania Airport, a budget airline alternative, and ferries running from Athens and Thessaloniki in spring, summer and autumn. Public transportation on the island and around Heraklion is by bus or taxi. There are no train services on Crete.
To avoid excess charges, travellers taking taxis need to agree a fare with the driver before the journey commences. Around-town trips should cost between €2 and €5, the journey from the airport to town costs around €10 and longer trips, such as Heraklion to Chania, are an expensive €150. Taxis can be booked in advance by phone or online via websites such as CreteTaxis.
Local buses buzz around the town at frequent intervals, and longer-distance coaches run all over the island, with services provided by KTEL. No specific routes or timetables are used, and buses can be hailed on the street. The average fare is around €1.30, with Bus Station A serving long-distance travel and Bus Station B offering local routes.
Crete’s mountainous topography and rugged coastlines make for scenic drives wherever you’re heading, even if it’s just to another beach resort. Heading inland takes you on a journey through foothills and lush agricultural valleys to the winding roads of the high mountains, with their monasteries and cliffside villages.
Knossos - This ancient palace is located a short drive to the south of Heraklion, and was the heart of the mysterious Minoan civilisation over 3,000 years ago, and discovered by British explorer Sir Arthur Evans in the late 19th century. The true purpose of the complex has never been revealed, although the Frescoes Room shows restored paintings of Minoans offering gifts to the ruler of Ancient Egypt.
Paleochora - Perhaps one of Europe’s most stunning scenic drives is the route that begins in Chania and leads to the beachside location of Paleochora. The road runs through the breathtaking Samaria Gorge and over the craggy mountains of Kandanos, with their tiny hillside villages and Byzantine churches. It’s a challenging but inspiring drive, taking around four hours from Chania.
Amari Valley - Heading west from Heraklion, then south to the Amari Valley, you’ll find peaceful vistas of olive groves, cherry orchards and vineyards overlooked by Crete’s soaring Psiloritis mountain range. The pretty towns of Amari and Yerakari are typically Cretan, and hold quaint tavernas offering delicious local dishes, perfect for a lunch before the return trip.