The first time I visited Greece back in the late 90s there were only a few places on my must-visit list: Athens, Santorini and the Palace of Knossos archeological site on the island of Crete. I had been fascinated by the Minoan civilization for much of my young life. The idea that a sophisticated Greek civilization flourished during the same time period as the great Egyptian pharaohs filled me with Hellenic pride.
I devoured information on the Minoans, its connection with mythology, the truth and the mysteries surrounding its demise. A lot of our early information on the Minoans comes from Sir Arthur Evans the “archaeologist” (and we put that in quotes because the idea of archeology was in its infancy at the time and also often meant treasure hunter) who did the first major excavations. The descriptions of a vast palace complex with running water and sewers extending to a vast town of 100,000 on the north coast of Crete fascinated me.
We weren’t sure that the signs and plaques in the park would be in English (my recollection is that they were) so I made sure to learn as much as I could before we left. I had to be the guide and we didn’t want to miss the chance to put this amazing site into context as we stood in its ruined shadows. I know we could have just found a guide near the entrance, but his or her credentials could be circumspect and we didn’t want to waste our money on a chance.
Fast forward to the connected internet age we live in today and a bevy of slick tours can be arranged online before you even arrive in Greece. We’ll look at two in this post, starting with Visit Knossos.
A slick website and colorful pictures welcome you as the page opens with colorful tiles at the bottom to click on for each of the offered tours. The tours range from the Visit Knossos tour where you meet your guide at the gate and get a professional guide or archeologist, a bottle of water (very important because the shade is scarce in summer), and maps of the site. You will, however, have to purchase your own tickets and find transportation to the site. You could also purchase an expanded tour and have a guide/chauffeur pick you up and drive you to the archeological sites, countryside, and museums. The ticket prices still aren’t included but the tour is at your own pace — a good choice if you don’t get around well.
The second tour booking group is Viator. Yes, that Viator, the company owned by Trip Advisor. It’s a site we’ve begun to trust for its reliable travel reviews.
Viator offers an affordable tour for around $50 called the Ancient Palace of Knossos Tour. You seem to get a lot for the price, too. The 5-hour tour is by bus from Heraklion and provides an expert guide not only for the archeological site but for the city of Heraklion as well. You will get the chance to not only visit the Minoan sites but also the Venetian fortress in the harbor. That’s a site I didn’t even know you could visit in the 90s. The only catch is the tickets to the sites are not included in the price, so add in 15 euros for the Ancient Palace of Knossos and 10 euros for the museum.
We haven’t been on either of these tours, but I really would have loved to have had the option to book something like them back on my first visit. I did learn a lot, but the chance to have an professional share their wisdom is so often worth the price.