Explore our recommendations for eating out in the capital of Crete, from tavernas offering quick, casual bites to hip restaurants serving up the best of the island’s fine dining.
Crete’s port city and capital is naturally a hulking affair, a processing point for international arrivals and a thrumming, working city. Peppered with places to eat, it doesn’t make things easy when you want to know a quality place to go. Be it a simple lunch spot or somewhere for a stylish dinner, here are the best restaurants in Heraklion.
On the fringes of the old town, close to the harbour, this lofty, glass-wrapped terrace has views of Neoria Vechi, the city’s old fortress walls, with nothing but blue beyond. A dressed-up crowd clinks glasses of fizz and orders stuffed squid with black-olive mousse, or slow-cooked goat with Cretan greens; this is a place for the first and last night of a holiday, big birthdays and anniversary soirees. Book a couple of weeks ahead to request a table by the sea-view edge of the terrace – it’s worth the hassle.
In Greece, you want a taverna where the seafood is fresh from the fisherman’s haul – there are no frozen calamari rings at Kastella. Right by the water’s edge, near two of the city’s best museums, this is a great choice for lunch between sightseeing stops. Simple dishes of creamy whipped taramasalata, herb-sprinkled sheep’s cheese, dressed anchovies and grilled octopus are always bang on the money, making for a delicious mix-and-match mezze. The views of the port are heavenly.
Tables are topped with brown paper and pots of basil at this unflashy, quality tavern. Plates of grilled fish, trad salads and oil-slicked dolmades (stuffed vine leaves) appear quickly and neatly presented. Big tables of informally dressed families and groups of couples create a hum of chatter on the sheltered patio, with a great view of the city fortress. Make like the locals and go late – folks stay sipping their raki and Metaxa until 1am.
Back in the warren of the old city, this humble white taverna is famous for its Greek music and dance nights (check their Facebook page for updates). Inside is a prettily tiled floor and a grid of smart, olive-green checked tables, with black-and-white photographs nudging up against vintage Greek posters on the walls. Food is simple but beautifully flavoured, from Cretan-style salads to veggie fritters and smoked pork. It’s the sort of place where house wine is served in jugs by the half-litre and there’s a complimentary nip of raki for you at the end.
Flying firmly under the radar, a few steps back from the harbour, this family-run treasure sends out delicious, authentic creations courtesy of matriarch Katerina. Making use of Cretan-hero foods such as sheep’s cheese, lamb, aubergine and home-baked sourdough bread, it’s the place to try unusual dishes; the mixed mini-desserts, in particular, will send you off grinning. You’ll feel right at home on the low-key patio, with wine bottles displayed on distressed-timber shelves and earthenware pots sculpted into a water feature.
On the top floor of a building in the heights of the city, this suave hotspot has map-like views of parks and rooftops, seen from a dining room filled with glossy pine and potted plants. Dishes are dainty and prettily presented: lightly battered courgette flowers, slivers of anchovy swirled with beetroot puree, mini almond cakes topped with candied orange peel. Locals come here for special occasions, so book your table a month or so in advance to be sure of a great seat.
Pulling up a chair at this atmospheric bistro right by the water’s edge, diners at Kazoual are often treated to the last glow of sunset. A cafe and lunch spot by day, it has a minimalist, glassy dining room with pristine white tables and illustrated blue menus – owners Kostas and Urszula are also on hand with carefully tailored recommendations. Order the tarama and fava-bean dips to dunk fresh pitas into while you peruse the choice, agonising over whole salt-baked fish versus seafood spaghetti.
Ready to explore? Check out the best things to do in and around the Cretan capital. For more recommendations on where to eat in Heraklion, take a look at local chef Stefanos Laverenidis’ handpicked choices. Wash down your delicious dinner with a drink at one of the best bars in the city, before laying your head to rest at one of the best hotels, perhaps with the view of a Cretan beach, now bookable through Culture Trip.