Crete’s Palace of Knossos promises a lot of 2 things: 1) education and 2) other people. While it’s essentially impossible to beat the crowds, you can at least minimize them by carefully planning and timing your trip.
A visit to these ancient Minoan ruins offers much to be appreciated, from several perspectives: historical, architectural and archaeological, amongst others. You’ll appreciate your visit even more, if you can avoid bumping elbows with a thousand other tourists and school children under a blazing midday sun.
The best time to visit Knossos: what NOT to do
When we arrived at Knossos at 1:30pm on a Wednesday in July, the line was an hour long. There were at least 500 people waiting to buy tickets, and these weren’t just your standard “summer tourists” like families and international tour buses. We’re talking massive groups of children—part of various camps and other youth groups—getting a bit of “learning” out of their summer vacation (whether they liked it or not!).
In the end, it was well worth the visit. But we learned that the best time to visit Knossos is definitely not midday during high-season. As your own Crete itinerary comes together, please learn from our mistake and plan your Knossos visit for first thing in the morning, ideally in the middle of the week, and if at all possible: not during the summer.
This guide will share some photo highlights and tell you everything else you need to know about planning a day trip to one of ancient Greece’s largest and oldest archaeological sites.
Knossos: quick history lesson
Crete’s Palace of Knossos was once the center of the powerful Minoan civilization—a civilization considered by many to be the oldest in Europe. It’s roughly 4000 years old, and it’s the largest Bronze Age archaeological site in the world. During its height, the palatial complex was home to over 100,000 people.
So, what happened to Knossos? Well, the line between proven history and ancient mythology is blurry at best. And the reasons behind Knossos’ eventual decimation are disputed.
Here’s what we do know: in the early 1900’s, Knossos was discovered, excavated and reconstructed by Sir Arthur Evans, an English archaeologist. Like it or not, Evans is credited as being the driving force behind the modern-day restoration of Knossos. The controversy surrounding his work is the topic of a separate post.
Knossos is the #2 archaeological tourist attraction in all of Greece. Only the Acropolis in Athens receives more visitors annually. When planning a trip to Knossos, time of day should be your #1 consideration.
The best time to visit Knossos is either first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon. If you choose the latter, show up 2 hours before closing to make sure you’ve got enough time.
Knossos is only 15 minutes south of Heraklion, home to the island’s main international airport (HER). Even if you’re only passing through Heraklion on your way to another part of the island, you can still swing by Knossos for a couple hours on your way out of town.
If you’re staying in Heraklion (like we did for a few days), a trip to Knossos is a piece of cake. Here are your options:
- Drive: this is your best option. Stay flexible to continue exploring the island after a morning tour.
- Taxi: from Heraklion, the roundtrip distance is 8 miles (14 km). Ask the driver for a fare estimate!
- Public bus: line 2 runs from Heraklion every 20 minutes. Duration: 35-40 minutes. Cost: less than 2€.
- Hours of operation: April to October 8am-8pm; late October to March 8am-5pm (weekends may vary)
- Season: Spring or Fall will help you beat the heat, but the crowds are there year round
- Parking: if you can’t find a spot on the street, there are 3 huge parking lots nearby (cost: $FREE.99!)
- Snacks: sandwiches, ice cream, coffee, beer and other basics are available at the onsite cafeteria
- It’s hot: bring drinking water (also available from the cafeteria, but you’ll pay a premium)
- It’s not shady: bring a hat or sunscreen or both
Tickets, tours & ways to explore
Save some €€€ and skip the line by pre-purchasing tickets online. Search all options here.
- Private tour guide (price is for a group of 2)
- Round-trip transfer from Heraklion + private tour guide (price is for a group of 3)
- Skip the line + self-guided audio tour: catch all the (disputed) facts, straight from your smartphone
- Do it yourself: grab a Knossos guide book from the gift shop & create your own adventure
The entire archaeological site has 22 featured landmarks. Between the heat and the crowds, we decided the “do-it-yourself” route made the most sense. We moved fast, skipped a few sights, and wrapped it all up in less than 90 minutes.
Knossos photo tour
Here are a few pics to give you a taste of what you’ll find @ Knossos:
Post-Knossos snacking and sipping
There are plenty of restaurants to choose from, right outside the palace. We chose one at random and were pleasantly surprised. Cold beer, good food.
A visit to nearby Lyrarakis is another great way to disconnect after your hot and history-intensive morning. The winery is only 20-25 minutes south of Knossos, by car.
No visit to Crete is complete without a visit to Balos Beach: the iconic landmark that graces the front of millions of postcards & Google searches.
Balos Beach is 3 hours away from Knossos, but if your time on Crete is limited, you can visit both in the same day. You’ll just need to start your Knossos tour at 8am sharp, so you can be out of there by 10am (or sooner) and on your way to Balos.
The drive to Balos is something we refer to as the “precarious pathway to paradise.” But once the beach comes into view, you’ll realize that it was worth the trek.
Despite its controversial restoration, there’s at least one fact about Crete’s Palace of Knossos that can’t be argued: this ancient archaeological site is as structurally-impressive as it is beautiful.
We hope this guide helps you plan your own perfect (and largely-undisturbed!) Knossos day trip.
Enjoy your trip to the incredible island of Crete, and all of its breathtaking destinations.