Most people who come to Heraklion pop in to see the Palace of Knossos, and then move on to more traditionally picturesque parts of Crete. However, after staying in Heraklion in December for two weeks, I have to say that the city has completely charmed me.
While it has a more grimy exterior in places, I adore that about the city. Beyond this, though, there are so many beautiful Instagrammable places in Heraklion and hidden photography spots that you should give the city more than a passing glance.
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Where to Stay in Crete
The island of Crete is so big and diverse that it’s almost impossible to make everyone happy when It comes to deciding on the best areas to stay on the island.
Since you will most probably be arriving at the capital, Heraklion, or spending some time in the wonderful western town of Chania, we have included here some of the top accommodations in both places. For more places to stay in Crete, check this site.
Here are our top suggestions for where to stay in Crete. In most cases, budget means hotel stays for around $40 a night, mid-range is from about $50-80 per night, and luxury will cost over $100 per night.
Budget: When it comes to Heraklion with a limited budget, check the great comfort of So Young Hostel. For Chania town, instead, we suggest Casa Latina, in the old town.
Mid-range: With a more generous budget, discover the comfortable Lato Annex Boutique Rooms in Heraklion and El Greco Hotel in Chania.
Luxury: Want to splurge in Crete? We recommend a stay at the magnificent Artion City Boutique Hotel in Heraklion and Consolato Boutique in Chania.
The Most Instagrammable Places in Heraklion
Here are my favorite Heraklion Instagram spots, in no particular order…
While the city is full of delicious cafes, the most Instagrammable cafe in Heraklion (in my opinion) is Sinaitiko Cafe off of Saint Catherine Square. You can sit outside and enjoy a Greek coffee while looking at the beautiful Agios Minas Cathedral and watching the pigeons gather in the trees. Though it would be a shame if you came and didn’t snap a pic of the lovely green door juxtaposed against the orange trees.
Location: Archontopoulon 14, Iraklio 712 01, Greece
Palace of Knossos
Most people come to Heraklion explicitly to see the famous Palace of Knossos. If you want to get shots without tourists in them, come early! You can buy a Skip the Line pass and arrive first thing in the morning to help you avoid the crowds.
Check prices for Knossos Skip the Line pass.
Location: Knossos 714 09, Greece
Koules Fortress, Venetian Harbor, & Lighthouse
You can’t visit Heraklion and skip the Venetian Harbor. Koules Fortress juts out into the water with the lighthouse at the end of the causeway. When you come down, give yourself enough time to explore every angle. This shot above is my take on the classic fortress shot. But there are so many other cool angels you can do!
I love this shot of the fortress with the water in winter. Don’t forget to play with close-ups and textures when you’re here!
Location: Heraklion 712 02, Greece
Historic Lakkos District
Lakkos Historic District is the former red-light district in Heraklion, but these days it is celebrating its seedy past with an amazing display of street art and art projects. If you love street art, you’ll be in heaven here!
Start at the Lakkos Cafe before exploring the surrounding area.
Location: Taxiarchou Markopoulou 41, Iraklio 712 01, Greece
Rocks on the Shore
A lot of the shoreline in Heraklion is rocky. Even though these areas aren’t the gorgeous sandy Cretan beaches people come to the island for, they still make a great photo opportunity! Come at the golden hour so you can play with the reflections and intense colors.
Location: the shoreline all around Heraklion
Read also: The Perfect 2 Days in Heraklion Itinerary (Plus Bonus Day Trips!)
If you get out into the residential streets, you can find all kinds of beautiful doors here. I love this green one I found while wandering the city (can’t remember exactly where). Get out and explore the city and find your own gorgeous Heraklion doorway!
Of course, not all of the beautiful doors in Heraklion are private houses! Get out into the city and see what you can find.
Location: all over the city!
From the ground level, the Venetian Walls are impressive, but they’re truly marvelous from above! If you’re traveling with a drone, make sure to check the local drone laws before flying!
Location: Leof. Plastira 25, Iraklio 712 01, Greece
Read also: Crete or Rhodes: Which Greek Island is Right for Your Island Getaway?
I fell in love with Crete’s tetrapods while in Rethymnon, but there are some of these super cool engineering marvels protecting the shoreline in Heraklion as well. I can’t find information on whether or not they’re safe to crawl out on, so do so at your own risk. But the shot sure does look cool.
Of course, you can photograph them by themselves, as they make quite an interesting subject against the water.
Location: near the Lighthouse in the Venetian Harbor
Most people don’t come to Heraklion for a beach vacation, instead, they come for the culture and architecture and then move onto the beaches on the rest of the island. There are some gorgeous beaches in Heraklion prefecture, including Matala Beach and Stalis Beach.
There’s no end to the gorgeous beach shots you can get on any beach, so they aren’t exactly Heraklion-only Instagram shots. However, no trip to Crete should go without at least one (or five) amazing beach days, and you might as well bring your camera when you come down.
Location: All over, but the closest is at Arkadias 33, Xeropotamos 713 03, Greece
Read also: Chania or Heraklion: Which City in Crete is Right for You?
The Venetian Loggia now serves as city hall, but you can come into the courtyard for free on your own. This is the traditional shot in the courtyard.
However, this shot of the sky through the top of the courtyard might be my favorite! I do feel stupid, as I spent a ton of time in this courtyard, and never thought to take this pic!
Location: August Str. 25, Iraklio 712 02, Greece
Agios Minas Cathedral
I stayed across the street from the Cathedral for two weeks, and I have to say that it’s a building I have truly grown to love. It’s impressive without being overpowering. There are two squared next to it, one in front and Saint Catherine Square to the side.
Location: Heraklion 712 01, Greece
Read also: The Perfect 2 Days in Heraklion Itinerary (Plus Bonus Day Trips!)
Agios Titus Church
Agios Titus is the beautiful little church off of August 25th Street. The square out front is gorgeous, but do take a moment to go inside and see the lovely icons.
Location: Pl. Agiou Titou, Iraklio 712 02, Greece
The fountain has seen better days, but you can’t come to Heraklion and not grab a pic. I enjoyed sitting at the Phyllo Sophies cafe next to the fountain, sipping Greek coffee, and eating bougasta while looking at the faded beauty of the fountain and the square.
Location: Pl. El. Venizelou, Iraklio 712 02, Greece
5 Things to Bring with You to Crete
If you’re planning a trip to Crete, you’ll want to pack all the normal essentials, but here are a few things we strongly recommend bringing that may not have crossed your mind. For more packing tips, check out our complete Greece packing list.
– A physical guidebook, on paper or Kindle. We love Lonely Planet Greece for this region and strongly recommend it to supplement blogs. Blogs are great, but a combination of a blog and a guidebook is key to having the best access to information easily at your fingertips.
– A water bottle with a filter. While generally, the tap water in Santorini is drinkable, we generally recommend using a water bottle with a purifying filter to reduce your plastic consumption and ensure you won’t drink any funny-tasting water on your stomach that could make your trip unpleasant! There are places on the island where the water tastes like minerals.
We recommend the GRAYL water bottle – it filters water perfectly in an instant so that you can even drink from lakes, bad taps, etc.
– Motion sickness pills. Santorini roads are winding, especially around the coast. If you have a weak stomach as we do, save yourself and bring some non-drowsy motion sickness pills.
– Wet wipes, hand sanitizer, TP & other Balkan transit needs. Bathrooms in the Balkans tend to be… how can we say it?… not so well-stocked. Save yourself the disappointment and bring a mini-rescue pack of wet wipes & hand sanitizer.
– Travel safety items. We think Santorini is very safe to travel to, but at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Stephanie nor I use these. Instead, we both carry the same PacSafe anti-theft backpack.
It has locking zippers, slash-proof construction with metal mesh hidden in the fabric, and tons of other smart security features — all while being cute and stylish enough to be our everyday bag. We recommend it highly for both male and female travelers, as it’s neutral enough to be unisex. We also strongly recommend travel insurance! Our recommendation is at the bottom of the post.
More Crete Travel Resources
Headed to Crete? If this is your first trip to Greece, check out our guide to Planning a Trip to Greece, which covers visas, budgets, vaccines, and everything else you need to consider as you plan your trip.
For Heraklion, make sure to read our guide to the best Heraklion restaurants and cafes.
If you’ll be exploring the rest of the island, we have guides to things to do in Rethymnon, Rethymnon Instagram spots, and where to stay in Rethymnon, which includes hotels and hostel recommendations.
If you’re planning to see Crete’s beautiful beaches, we have our recommendations for the best beaches in Crete and a guide to visiting Seitan Limania (our personal favorite).
If you’re combining a trip to Crete with the mainland or other Greek islands, check out our Greek Island Hopping Guide and our list of Greek vacation spots if you’re wondering where to go in Greece.
We publish new articles and trip advice nearly daily! For more information about traveling to Greece and the Balkans, bookmark our Greece and Balkan travel pages, where you’ll find our entire archive plus anything new we publish before you leave for your trip.
Finally, Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
I’m sure you’re aware that travel insurance is essential for Crete and travel in general! This is especially true when you’re talking about traveling with your camera and smartphone near the water because you don’t want your trip ruined if they get lost, stolen, or fall in the Mediterranean.
Allison and I have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption.
While Crete is perfectly safe to travel around, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel, so it’s better to play it safe. The saying goes “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel” is true!
Pin This Guide to the Best Heraklion Instagram Spots for Your Trip to Crete
Stephanie has been living in and traveling around the Balkans for the past three years. She’s written for National Geographic Online, appeared on CNN Arabic and in the New York Times, and ridden more Balkan buses than is good for a person.