Visit Knossos Palace and the Minotaur Labyrinth

Gods, Monsters, Heroes – what more could you want from a visit to the Palace of Knossos on Crete? Beneath this UNESCO world heritage site is the fabled labyrinth of the Minotaur, a major element in Greek mythology.

In this comprehensive guide about how to visit Knossos Palace, learn where the legends of King Minos, Theseus, and the Minotaur Labyrinth come from. Peer down into the excavated Palace and see if you think the labyrinth is here!

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The Palace of Knossos

Sitting just outside the modern city of Heraklion on the island of Crete, Knossos has been called Europe’s oldest city, with humans present since 7000BCE (BC).

Grand Staircase, Palace of Knossos, Crete, Greece
Grand Staircase, Palace of Knossos, Crete, Greece

Knossos was one of the principal centers of the Minoan civilization, whose rise coincided with the beginnings of the Greek Bronze Age around 3000BCE (BC).

But it was only around 1900 BCE (BC) that the Minoans started to build their palaces, and it’s from this earliest point that the first palace complex was built on the site of the current Knossos Palace location.

By 1700BC, Earthquakes were thought to have destroyed much of the original construction, and so the palace was built again on a much grander scale.

Financed by lucrative Mediterranean trade, the palace complex grew to cover five acres of multi-story buildings including luxurious royal apartments, various living quarters, and storage areas, all serviced by plumbing.

Lying in the middle of the complex, and adorned with colorful frescoes, the Throne Room was the palace’s centerpiece.

The subject of extensive modern restoration, the Throne Room is thought to have used been for key ceremonial and religious rituals.

Throne Room, Palace of Knossos, Crete, Greece
Throne Room, Palace of Knossos, Crete, Greece

There were around 1000 buildings at Knossos and the Palace had four wings (made up of four-story houses) around a central courtyard. The buildings were connected by a maze (a labyrinth!) of narrow stairs and corridors.

There were colonnades on the outside of these connecting corridors.

The central square was raised 15 meters above the other buildings and here you can peer down into the layers of basements. The frescoes at Knossos make it one of the most beautiful archaeological sites in all of Greece.

But for all its wonder, disaster struck at the height of Minoan power.

In around 1450 BC, Minoan cities across Crete were destroyed, either by earthquakes, invaders from the Greek mainland, or both, never again reaching their former might.

Knossos was only rediscovered by archaeologists in the 19th Century, with extensive work undertaken by the famous Arthur Evans in 1900. It was Evans who named the site and the civilization that built it, after the mythic King Minos of Crete.

Visiting the Archaeological Site of Knossos: Top Tips and Practical Information

Luckily for us, thanks to the extensive excavations, ancient Knossos is open to tourists today. It’s important to realize that this is the second most visited site in Greece.

A photo of the Dolphins fresco above a doorway in the Palace of Knossos, Crete, Greece
Dolphins Fresco – area not currently open

Only the Acropolis of Athens has more tourists each year. It is a crowded site and so it is much better to arrive at the very beginning or end of the day to avoid the crush.

Here’s a snapshot of what you need to know:

Opening Hours

The site is located a little outside the modern-day city of Heraklion (Iraklio) (with a fair share of its own attractions) and its opening hours run from 8 am until 8 pm in the summer and until 5 pm in the winter.

Admission Ticket Costs

16 Euros or 20 Euros on a combined ticket with the local museum. Queues can be very long at the ticket office, so skip the line and purchase your electronic ticket online here.

Or, opt for a skip-the-line electronic ticket that includes the Archaeological Museum here.

Tour Costs

A 90-minute tour of the site (limited to groups of five) is available for 250 Euros. Check out the prices and availability of the best tours available on this page.

What to Bring

This is an enormous archaeological zone. The Palace buildings covered 5 acres alone. Wear comfortable walking shoes and bring water and sun protection – the Crete summer sun is fierce!


Combined tickets and many guided tours end at the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, a delight for visitors and one of the best Knosos attractions.

It is one of the best museums in Greece, with artifacts and discoveries on exhibit that range back over 5,000 years. It’s a must-see destination so try hard to fit it in at the end of your visit!

Getting to the Palace of Knossos

By BUS: Bus Station A in Iraklio is where all the buses for eastern Crete leave from. Bus No. 2 goes to the Palace and buses run from 8 a.m. approximately every 20 minutes. If you’ve been on buses on the Greek islands, you’ll know not to expect a seat and to get to the bus early!

By TAXI: But if you want to get there in time for the opening of the Palace, you’ll need to take a taxi (about 30 Euros). it’s worth getting to this incredible but very crowded site as early as possible.

Minoan Civilisation

Minoans were a population distinct from the Greeks that came after them, like Athens, Sparta, and the Myceneans.

South Propylaea, Palace of Knossos, Greece
South Propylaea, Palace of Knossos

Minoan language is not thought to have been related to modern Greek. It was written in a distinct and undecipherable writing system now called Linear A.

The Minoan culture was critically important to the development of Ancient Greece as we know it today.

Taking inspiration from Mesopotamia, the Minoans were the precursors of the later Myceneans of Homeric fame and all those that followed them.

Minoan palaces became central to the fortified city-states of the more warlike Myceneans, while Minoan Linear A was adapted into Mycenean Linear B,  the first writing system used for an Indo-European language.

Theseus and the Minotaur Labyrinth Myth

Both Knossos and the island of Crete upon which it grew, are rich in myth, and the most famous Cretan story of all is that of the monstrous Minotaur and its labyrinthine prison.

Photos of a Mural at Knossos, 'hunting the Minotaur' mythical home of the Minotaur's labyrinth, Crete
Hunting the Minotaur – Mural at Knossos

The great hero Theseus is known as the founder of Athens and has been central to the identity of Athenians for thousands of years. But Theseus’  endeavors weren’t just confined to Attica – his most famous exploit took place at Knossos.

An open-air mural of the labyrinth and Theseus slaying the Minotaur in the center - the MInotaur's body has been stolen, Kato Paphos Archaeological Zone, Paphos, Cyprus
An open-air mural of the labyrinth and Theseus slaying the Minotaur in the center – the MInotaur’s body has been stolen, Kato Paphos Archaeological Zone, Paphos, Cyprus

Born the son of both King Aegeus (the King of Athens) and Poseidon, Theseus was born into obscurity before he was able to prove himself a hero. He performed six great labors and was reunited with his long-lost father.

But by then Athens was in dire straits. When, during the Panathenaic Games, the eldest son of King Minos of Crete was assassinated, the might of the Minoans was turned against then-weak Athens.

Photo taken looking down towards the mythical Minotaur labyrinth into the lower floors of the Palace with scaffolding propping up the floors
Looking down towards the mythical Minotaur labyrinth

Aegeus surrendered and the Minoans forced the Athenians to pay them a tribute of seven boys and seven maidens every few years. These fourteen youths were sent into the Labyrinth, home of the Minotaur, said to be half man and half bull, and were devoured.

The monster known as the Minotaur was a chimeric creature with the body of a man, but the head and tail of a bull.

The Bull Horns Cult Statue at the Palace of Knossos, Crete, Greece
The Bull Horns Cult Statue at the Palace of Knossos, Crete, Greece

The Minotaur was the offspring of Minos’ wife Pasiphae and a Cretan bull, a set of circumstances arranged by the god Poseidon to punish Minos for a perceived slight.

Determined to end this atrocious sacrifice, our Athenian hero, Theseus, promised to go as part of the next tribute and confront the Minotaur.

Theseus sailed off in a ship with black sails, promising his father that he would replace them with white sails should he return alive to let him know that he had been successful.

Labyrinth coin from Knossos (c. 200BC), Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete
Labyrinth coin from Knossos (c. 200BC), Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete

Once at Knossos, the charming Theseus quickly won the affection of King Minos’ daughter, Princess Ariadne.

Ariadne and the man who built the Minotaur’s labyrinth, Daedalus, provided our young hero with a ball of thread, to be unfurled as he went through the maze.

That night Theseus entered the Labyrinth. After a titanic battle, he overpowered the legendary Greek Minotaur. Following the thread back out, he returned in triumph with the beast’s head.

With his deed done, Theseus fled Knossos with Ariadne, her sister, and all of that year’s Athenian tributes in tow.

But Greek heroes rarely get their happy endings. Stopping in at Naxos on the way home, Theseus was visited by the goddess Athena, and forced to leave his beloved Ariadne on the island as a gift for Dionysus.

Grief-stricken, Theseus abandons Ariadne and sails away, forgetting to change his black sails to white. Waiting on the cliffs at Sounion his father, King Aegeus, looked out at the approaching ship in despair.

Mosaic in Villa Kerylos Beaulieu-sur-Mer Cap Ferrat shows the Greek myth of Theseus killing the Minotaur in the middle of the Labyrinth.
Mosaic in Villa Kerylos Beaulieu-sur-Mer Cap Ferrat shows the Greek myth of Theseus killing the Minotaur in the middle of the Labyrinth.

Believing that his son was dead, the King threw himself into the water far below, giving the sea its current name, the Aegean.

You can peer down into the bowels of the Palace of Knossos but not everyone believes Daedalus built his labyrinth underneath the Palace.

Fragment of a labyrinth fresco from the Palace of Knossos, Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete
Fragment of a labyrinth fresco from the Palace of Knossos, Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete

Instead, there is a 2.5-kilometer cave system (it was once a quarry) that is an hour’s drive south of Knossos, near the ancient Minoan Palace of Phaistos.

This is another site that some historians have speculated was the entrance to the labyrinth. Most historians, however, don’t believe there was ever a labyrinth on Crete!

So was the labyrinth real?

Certainly, the Palace and various caves have maze-like rooms and tunnels and the labyrinth is a strong focus at Knossos in its legends, and on its coins and frescoes –but no matter where you think the labyrinth is, this intriguing site has given Greece some of its most colorful legends and is a wonderful site to visit when you’re next in Greece!

Where to stay in Heraklion

GDM Megaron, Historical Monument Hotel – the best-rated 5-star hotel in Heraklion. A wonderful bar and within walking distance of all the major attractions and the Port.

Ibis Styles Heraklion Central– this property is the best-reviewed 4-star hotel in Heraklion, 250 meters from the center and with a convenient airport shuttle. A great first base in Crete.

Infinity City Boutique Hotel – a 3-star travel-sustainable property. Incredible sea views if you get the better rooms and contemporary decor. (The older, inward-facing rooms with balconies are not as nice). Only a couple of minutes’ walk to either the main restaurant hub or the harbor, breakfast included, and the next-door restaurant is very good.

Keep Planning Your Trip to Crete