The ruins of the ancient Palace of Knossos is definitely not to be missed when you visit Crete. Located 5km (about 15 minutes' bus ride on the no. 2 bus) from Central Heraklion, this famous archeological site is well visited by tourists from all over the world.
Knossos is one of the most ancient cities of the Aegean and of Europe and had been inhabited since 6,000 B.C. According to Greek mythology, the king who ruled here, Minos, was the son of Zeus and Europa, and the Minoan people formed the first culture in Europe.
Upon arrival, after the ticket booths, a refreshment bar, and a book stand, you will walk along a short passage which leads to the West Wing of the palace. At the entrance stands the statue of Sir Arthur Evans, the English archeologist who excavated the site in the early 1900s. Wooden platforms and stairs have been built around the whole site to help visitors navigate. There are also clear signs explaining each section of the palace in English and Greek.
Left: here is where the copy of the Minotaur wall painting is located. Right: Wall paintings of servants holding vessels in a royal procession.
All of the original frescoes have been taken down and preserved in the Heraklion Museum, so what you will see at the ruins are reproductions, done in vivid colors and great likeness of the originals. The most impressive one is the copy of the Minotaur relief frescoe, located in the customs house near the north entrance. Standing among fallen stones and layers of staircases, one can only imagine where the labyrinths used to capture this mythological half-man, half-bull creature lied once upon a time.
Besides the minotaur frescoe, the main attraction is the throne room of King Minos. However, the line outside the room is so long that visitors have to wait for an hour on average to get in. Since it was lunch time and we were starving, we decided not to stand in the line. If you are planning to see this room, try to arrive a little earlier at the site, which takes a good two hours to tour.
The line leading to the Throne Room is often very long.
One word about the guides. With a fee, small groups of visitors can share a guide who speak their own language. The English-language guide is not particularly fluent in English, so I recommend buying a guide book on Knossos to read about the history before the visit. This would definitely enrich your tour.
On your return to Heraklion, a visit to the Heraklion museum is highly recommended. There, you can see not only the precious wall paintings and other artifacts recovered from the Palace of Knossos, but also thousands of objects gathered from all over Crete, including the famous Phaestos Disc (Festos Disc).
A tip about the tickets: it is more economical to purchase a combined ticket for both the museum and the ruins at the museum ticket booth (do it before heading to Knossos). It costs 10 euro as opposed to 12 euro if purchased separatly, and credit cards are not accepted at these ticket booths, so be prepared with cash.
The famous bull leaping frescoe from the Knossos Palace is in the permanent collection of the Heraklion Museum.
To take a virtual tour around the site of Knossos, click here (Quick Time required).