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Heraklion, current capital of the island, with a population of just under 300,000, ranks within the ten largest towns in Greece, and is possible the town with the most names and spellings on the island! Tourist guides list the ancient Herakleium, then the Arabic Rabdh-el-Khandak or Chandax for Byzantium, Candia under Venetian rule, and finally Herakleion or Irakleion (Heraklion or Iraklion) these days. This is the hub of commercial urban lifestyle on the island, but still an historical town itself, equally at ease with its Venetian past fortress and its '60s architecture, after the complete levelling of the town by bombers during World War II. Heraklion hosts the largest collection of Minoan artefacts found in archaeological digs all over the island, so the Archaeological Museum is definitely worth a visit, followed by the Historical Museum of Crete for those interested in more recent historical finds. Admire the view from the town's fortress walls, and enjoy a mid-morning coffee in the Venizelos square where you can see the Morozini Fountain, before heading off to visit some of the town's ancient churches or the Museum of Religious Art.
The district boasts being the home of no less than four Minoan sites, Knossos, Aghia Triadha, Festos, (Phaistos), and Mallia, all worth a visit in combination with a trip to the capital's Archaeological Museum. Younger families will enjoy the Lychnostatis open air museum and the Museum of Rural Life; others may wish to visit the Museum of Cretan Ethnology, which has received an international award of excellence. Long sandy beaches stretch to the east of the capital (Limin Chersonissou and Mallia), while smaller coves are found to the west (Aghia Pelaghia). The southern coast is more rugged, but still offers the beach and sandy caves of Matala, and the peaceful retreat of olive groves and orchards in the Messara valley.
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