Heraklion is Crete’s biggest city, whose emblem is the Venetian fortress of Koules and it harmoniously combines a multilingual past with Byzantine churches standing next to Venetian mansions and Turkish fountains and a thriving present with many restaurants, coffee shops and bars that cater to every taste. The birthplace of El Greco and Nikos Kazantzakis, Heraklion is perhaps Crete’s most underrated destination. Sure, if you arrive with a tranquil Greek holiday in mind, Greece’s bustling fifth-largest city can initially be an assault on the senses. But although it’s not pretty in a conventional way, Heraklion can grow on you if you take the time to wander its backstreets and explore its nuances. In recent times, the city has undergone a period of intense urban renewal and is riding high on energy if not money. The waterfront invites strolling and the attractive pedestrianised historic centre is punctuated with bustling squares rimmed by buildings from the time when Columbus set sail. Heraklion has a certain urban sophistication, with a thriving cafe and restaurant scene, the island’s best shopping and lively nightlife, in part thanks to its many students. Plus the blockbuster sights such as the amazing archaeological museum and the Palace of Knossos. There are plenty of accommodation options in the area, but do not forget to explore the rent-a-villa offers, guaranteeing a truly leisurely stay.