Different to all other towns in Crete, Agios Nikolaos manages to mix - upon the three hills which support its girth - an arty, leisurely, sleepy and yet also bustling place.
Built partly atop ancient remains of bygone residents' homes.
Also known as Agios Nik or Ag Nik or Saint Nikolaos (but the whole name is pronounced eye-yoss nikor-lowse).
Agios Nikolaos is a medium-size town with a small-town feel, one that has lots to offer ... with rich history too.
The town sits partially upon the ruins of the ancient city of Lato pros Kamara.
The Voulismeni Lake, the town’s jewel and one of the landmarks, is known for its many legends, according to one of Greek Mythology, Athena and Artemis are bathing in its waters. The sweetwater lake becomes one with the sea through a narrow canal and is surrounded by red rock formations and lush vegetation. Around the lake, there are several bars and restaurants making the place pretty animated at night.
Like almost everything in Crete, the lake is surrounded by several legends. For instance, according to Greek mythology, it was here where the goddesses Athena and Artemis would bathe.
You can walk and enjoy walking here, you have several distinct waterfronts - you can get to know it quickly and feel familiar with the place, like an old friend.
The town has three faces to the sea: The Lake and port, Kitroplatia beach and the Marina. Its unique features, start with the lake ("Voulismeni"), a folklore-inspiringly deep body of water that is connected to the sea by a narrow inlet. It is surrounded and overlooked by cafes and restaurants - a busy gathering place for local residents and visitors alike.
Cafes meander between those suited for talking, meeting, and lounging, to those playing thump-dump music, nestled alongside more scholarly hang-outs. Standard but good tavernas are overlooked by fine-dining establishments.
As the lake joins the sea with a strip of water under the tiny road bridge and becomes one with it, the microscopic island of Agii Pandes (All Saints) is in view - adding another facet to the three sides of the town. Ferries come and go from the open port area just beyond.
Next, the beach at Kitroplatia is one of the few in Crete to provide that town-center-by-the-sea beach location, together with its own original restaurant and cafes and a handful of hotels and apartments.
Then, stroll up to the square and down the other side of the town, this gets you to the marina, where another seafront offers its wares. Take a walk around the marina to see if by chance someone has arrived in a dazzling yacht (a stop at the cafe by the first slipway is a good idea for Crepes - savory or sweet).
Many churches ply their trade, scattered within the streets of Agios Nikolaos - including the small church which lends its name to the town.
Shopping is fun in Agios Nikolaos - there are shops with original items on offer, from woven fabrics to cups, mugs, and china wear and a miscellany of clothes, house decor, and local food products and delicacies. Agios Nikolaos - apart from being a summer draw for visitors - is for the most part open in winter. Yes, people live, love, and learn here, grow up, function, and work year-round.
Marina details: One of the more organized in Greece, 255 vessel capacity. Provides water, electricity, showers, laundry facilities, fuel, WiFi, car parking. Tel. 28410-82384/5, www.marinaofagiosnikolaos.gr
Useful: Town's Tourist Information Office. By the harbor, beside the bridge, open daily in the summer 08:30-21:30 for maps & brochures. Tel:28410-22357.
How to get there
Just over an hour (64 km) from Heraklion airport or port by car or taxi. See flight information. There is a regular bus service from Heraklion (and to Ierapetra - Sitia). The bus station is off-center, near the hospital. See bus schedules.
From May through mid-October there are direct charter flights to Heraklion and Sitia Airport. Tickets can be bought in advance for almost all flights via our partner website.
The journey is the thing". A superb way of enjoying the journey to Crete is to fly to Athens and take the ferry from Piraeus (Pireas) - the port serving Athens. A still-romantic way to travel by the overnight ferry from Piraeus to Heraklion Port. Tickets can be bought in advance for all ferries via our website.
If you want to explore the region while you're here, we recommend that you rent a car. We suggest our sister website, which offers competitive prices and you can collect your car at either airport.
In case you prefer the convenience of a taxi, then you could book your taxi transfer online easily and safely from the airport or port to any location via our website.
Where to stay
- Minos Beach Art Hotel, luxurious stay in minimalist surroundings...
- St. Nicolas Bay Hotel, a small hotel with atmosphere, character, and style.
- Minos Palace Hotel & Suites ... an oasis of bliss, relaxation and tranquility, a romantic escape, a spectacular seafront location with 360° stunning sea views, a favorable couples-only and adults-only luxury hotel, a quality luxury holiday, a large seawater infinity pool, delicious food and refreshing drinks, a premium island hospitality experience and many more!
- Candia Park Village, stay with people who care ... Tradition, charm, and relaxation at this family-friendly hotel, set right on the waterfront along the dazzling Mirabello Bay in Agios Nikolaos, Crete.
- Thalassa Villas combine the best of two, perhaps even three or more, worlds!
- Palazzo is an old glory restored building one of the best-preserved and renovated examples.
What to see & do
- A stroll in the shops is always a pleasure. Stores sell unique traditional Cretan art artifacts, copies from the local archaeological museums, jewels, and impressive embroidery. They also sell local products and delicacies that dazzle everyone’s palate. The town is filled with traditional coffee shops that serve local dishes and raki.
- Agios Nikolaos is equally magical at night. There are numerous bars, with a relaxed atmosphere and loud music, that attract the younger crowds. The town of Agios Nikolaos is a beautiful place with open-hearted people!
- Except Lake Voulismeni, two different sculptures will definitely attract your attention during your stay here. All of them have become the landmarks of Agios Nikolaos Town. One of them is the Horn of Almathia, which is located nearby the Kitroplateia beach. It recalls the myth of Zeus and the connection that the god has with the area and according to the mythology, while Zeus was hidden by his mother Rhea in a cave, the goat Almathea nourished the little god. One day, however, while he was playing with Almathia, the young god accidentally broke one of her horns. Feeling terribly Zeus blessed the damaged horn adding a hole, so that everything would be found in abundance pouring from it. This myth is at the base of the Cornucopia, the eternal symbol of abundance locally known as the Horn of Almathea. The other one landmark is the Abduction of Europa, another sculpture in the port of Agios Nikolaos. It’s also connected with Zeus who, falling in love with Princess Europa, transformed into a white bull to approach the girl. Captured by the beautiful animal, Europa tried to ride the bull. When she did so, the bull ran into the sea, taking Europa with him to the South of Crete.
- Beaches: Agios Nikolaos is a seaside town, surrounded by stunning beaches. Ammos (sandy public beach by the marina), Kitroplatia is the town center (shingle & sand) beach, Ammoudi and Havania beaches (on the way to Elounda). In the area: Almiros and Ammoudara (sandy beaches with organized facilities, about 2.5 km east of Agios Nikolaos), Istron/Kalo Horio - 2 good beaches (10 km), Elounda small sandy beach (10 km), Plaka pebble beach (16 km).
- Beaches: Located just a 10-minute drive down the coast from Agios Nikolaos, Voulisma Beach is a spectacular, shallow beach with clear turquoise water. It is considered one of Crete's best beaches for its curving ribbon of soft sand backed by cliff walls. The beach is long, but not particularly wide. Unlike many other beaches in Crete, the sand here is soft and almost white. The beach is shallow well out into the bay, and the water gets warm in the hot Cretan sun. It's also perfect for children and for those who prefer to wade instead of swim. A long set of stairs leads down from the car parking, and a few beach shops have umbrellas and chairs for rent and sell refreshments and snacks. Two other beaches are located nearby, Chartalami and Pylos.
- The Archaeological Museum of Agios Nikolaos was inaugurated in 1969 and is considered one of the most significant in Crete. It houses collections of very important archaeological findings from the entire region of eastern Crete, extending from Malia to the distant Zakros. Findings are exhibited in chronological order from the Neolithic period until the end of Roman times. Its showcases include more than 1,500 pots, as well as the oldest gold and bronze findings in Crete. The museum has always had a free entrance. However, this could change after the reopening. Also, visiting hours might change. Check the official website periodically to get updated information if you plan to visit.
- The Folklore Museum with woven textiles, embroideries, handicrafts, and a model of an old traditional Cretan house. Old photographs, paintings, and costumes...takes you back in time. Overlooking the lake, at Kondylaki 2. Open 10:00-14:00 but erratically (call 28410-25093 to check). Closed Monday. The Iris Museum, in a listed neoclassical building on the 28th Oktovriou pedestrian street, holds a local flora exhibition. Tel. 28410-25899. Limited opening hours.
- The churches of Agios Nikolaos : The church of Agios Nikolaos is located in a small bay, where ships anchored during the Byzantine and Venetian periods. It is a single-aisle church with a dome and was most probably built before the Arab conquest of Crete in 827-828. Two layers of frescoes adorn its interior walls. The oldest layer is non-iconic and dates back to the period of iconoclasm. The church is one of the few examples of early-Byzantine architecture in Crete, and gave its name to the city of Agios Nikolaos.
- The churches of Agios Nikolaos : The Cathedral of Agia Triada is located in the center of Agios Nikolaos. It is a Byzantine, three-aisled, cruciform church with a dome. Its middle aisle is dedicated to Agia Triada, the northern to the Three Hierarchs, and the southern to the Presentation of the Virgin Mary. Two chapels were added to the original church, mainly serving as confessionals. The church is filled with frescoes, representing two trends of Byzantine Hagiography: the Cretan and the Macedonian. In 2001-02, a mosaic was placed on the façade of the church of Agia Triada, in the narthex of “Trimorfos”.
- The churches of Agios Nikoloas : Panagia Vrefotrofos. This particularly elongated church dedicated to the Virgin Mary in the old part of the city of Agios Nikolaos is the result of two successive expansions to the west of the original single-aisled vaulted church. The original church and its first extension bear two layers of frescoes, of which the oldest -dating back to the early 14th century- is traced mainly in the eastern part, with scenes from Jesus and the Virgin Mary. The second layer, indicative of the so-called academic style of the second half of the 14th century, is traced only in the arch of the westernmost part of the church.
- In the area around Agios Nikolaos: After a visit to Elounda and Spinalonga island, Kritsa's tourist shops offer some local hand-woven linens, rugs, tablecloths, and handicrafts; visit the Katharo plateau above Kritsa and the Lassithi Plateau for its starkly contrasting climate, topography, and geology. If excited by caves, the Dikteon Cave is waiting for your visit and has a rich foundation in mythology (and much argued-about it is!)
- Sitia Town (70 km east of Agios Nikolaos - a very winding and scenic coast route) is even smaller than Agios Nikolaos, has a fortress, a pleasing waterfront esplanade, some quaint corners, and a few really pleasant cafes. Sandy beach.
- Archaeological sites: Lato, 4th-2nd century BC settlement, nice elevated location with views, a few km from Kritsa village. Panagia Kera, a triple-nave Byzantine church from the 13th century, with wall paintings. In Logari, 1 km east of Kritsa. Vrokastro and Gournia archaeological sites, near Istron. Spinalonga island. The sunken ancient Olous, across the causeway from Elounda, visible at the sea bottom when the sea is calm.
- Some villages of local color worth seeing: Limnes, Zenia, Exo Potami, Prina, Mesa and Exo Lakonia. Faneromeni Monastery, inland from Gournia.
- Diving: There are a few Scuba-diving centers in front of the biggest hotels in Agios Nikolaos and Elounda Village.
- Golf: There are 2 golf courses in Crete. A 9-hole course is available 10 km from Agios Nikolaos, at the Porto Elounda resort (open to outside guests, by appointment only). Tel. 28410-68000. The Crete Golf Club, an 18-hole, full facilities golf course, 45 km (about 30 minutes drive) from Agios Nikolaos, between Hersonissos & Kastelli. Has a very pleasant clubhouse. Tel. 28970-26000.
- Elounda and Plaka: Elounda is a smallish coastal town, 10 km from Agios Nikolaos. Enjoys fine views of the Mirabello gulf, a sandy beach, a harbor, a speck of archaeology. Used to be a fishing village; now Elounda's fame comes from being home to the most luxurious and exclusive resorts in Crete. Many of these are well designed, sporting wonderful gardens and attractive areas, pools, and walkways. The renowned Elounda Beach, Elounda Bay Palace, Elounda Mare, Elounda Gulf Villas, Elounda Gulf Suites, and the fine Porto Elounda with its exclusive Peninsula. World leaders and jet-setters arrive every year to enjoy the blue sea views the pampering luxuries these hotels offer, including fine restaurants and spa facilities. The luxury Elounda hotels are on the outskirts of the town. The town itself has some smaller hotels and apartment units, quite a few tavernas, cafes & shops, both on the only main street and the waterfront. More of a watering-hole/local shopping hang out than anything else. You can walk across the causeway to Kolokytha island, to enjoy the views, or see the remnants of the ancient city of Olous in the sea.
- Plaka village (15 km from Agios Nikolaos) is much quieter than Elounda, although, with the arrival of the Blue Palace luxury hotel (just before the village), it has become more visited. A few fish tavernas and cafes by the waterfront, with Spinalonga in view, and a crystal clear pebble beach. Tiny.
Find here all our exciting activities in Lasithi Area.
Where to eat & drink
- Perched above "the lake" with a grand view across it, and part of the harbor with the sea beyond, is Migomis - linen tablecloths announce a smarter place to eat, the restaurant has an original menu and is a delight to dine at when something better beckons. Accomplished live piano performance is a regular feature. N. Plastira 20
- Ble Katsarolakia, is located in an old and very beautiful neoclassical building in the port of Agios Nikolaos. A place with great atmosphere and excellent seafood. Koundourou 8, Ag. Nikolaos
- Karnagio, creative Cretan cuisine made of local products and fair prices. Prices are convenient. You usually have to wait in line because it’s really popular. Thy strictly collaborate with Cretan producers, use Cretan herbs as they feel obligated to thank the Cretan soil. In addition the wine list offers a lot of Cretan wine producers. Located at the lake of Voulismeni at the heart of Agios Nikolaos.
- Piato, for delicious food, and beautiful sea views. Minoos 5 Ammoudi Beach
- Gargadoros Fish Tavern, combine swimming and eating. A place with very nice staf, but most important, excellent food and nice sea views.
- Miliaras at Latsida Village, a few km away from Agios Nikolaos. Here you will find one of the best souvlaki in Crete. A true local gem, a real local taverna, with great prices and great food especially meat. Also, the owner is delightful and was super welcoming and helpful.
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