A striking view
The best way to arrive in Iráklion is from the sea on an MSC cruise ship. It’s the traditional approach and is still the one that shows the city in its best light, with Mount Yioúhtas rising behind, the heights of the Psilorítis range to the west and, as you get closer, the great fortress guarding the harbour entrance and the city walls encircling and dominating the oldest part of town.
Iráklion has superb fortifications, a fine market and atmospheric old alleys to visit when you alight from your MSC cruise. Virtually everything you’re likely to want to see lies within the north-eastern corner of the walled city. The massive Venetian walls, in places up to 15m thick, are the most obvious evidence of Iráklion’s history.
Though their fabric is incredibly well preserved, access is virtually nonexistent. El Greco Park, to the right as you approach Platía Venizélou, is crowded with cafés and bars, while opposite, on the left, are some of the more interesting of Iráklion’s older buildings including the church of Áyios Títos and the Venetian city hall with its famous loggia, both almost entirely rebuilt. Just above this stands the church of San Marco, its steps usually crowded with sightseers spilling over from the nearby platía.
Knossós, 5km south of Iráklio on a low, largely artificial hill, was by far the largest of the Minoan palaces, thriving more than three and a half thousand years ago at the heart of a highly sophisticated island-wide civilization: it’s an excursion not to be missed on any MSC Mediterranean cruise to Greece.
As soon as you enter the Palace of Knossós through its West Court, it is clear how the legends of the labyrinth grew up around it. Even with a map and description, it can be very hard to work out where you are.