The birthplace of El Greco and Nikos Kazantzakis, Iraklio (also called Heraklion) is perhaps Crete’s most underrated destination. Sure, if you arrive with a tranquil Greek holiday in mind, Greece’s bustling fifth-largest city can initially be an assault on the senses. Although it’s not pretty in a conventional way, Iraklio can grow on you if you take the time to wander its backstreets and explore its nuances.
In recent times, the city has undergone a period of intense urban renewal and is riding high on energy if not money. A revitalised waterfront now invites strolling and the newly pedestrianised historic centre is punctuated with bustling squares rimmed by buildings from the time when Columbus set sail.
Iraklio has a certain urban sophistication, with a thriving cafe and restaurant scene, the island’s best shopping and lively nightlife. Of course, don’t miss its blockbuster sights either, like the amazing archaeological museum and the Palace of Knossos, both fascinating windows into Minoan culture.