Agios Nikolaos is a medium-size town with a small-town feel, one that has lots to offer. 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 which 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-centre-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 sea front 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 - savoury 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.
Beaches: Ammos (sandy public beach by the marina), Kitroplatia is the town centre (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).
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, http://www.marinaofagiosnikolaos.gr
Just over an hour (64 km) from Heraklion airport or port by car or taxi. See flight information. There is regular bus service from Heraklion (and to Ierapetra - Sitia). The bus station is off centre, near the hospital. See bus schedules.
From May through mid-October there are direct charter flights to Heraklion and Sitia Airport.
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.
The Archaeological Museum, a small, easy to navigate museum, exhibiting finds from the whole of Eastern Crete, like the early Minoan cemetery of Mochlos, the Zakros palace, Lato and Elounda. Good collection of coins ranging from about 330-350 BC to 200 AD. More than 1500 vases (!). On Konstantinou Paleologou street, a little before the hospital. Open 08:30-19:30 (15:00 in the winter), except Monday. Tel. 28410-24943.
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.
Back down by the lake, there is usually a mock "Sir Francis Drake" style boat where you can have a drink on board. The same harbour is also the starting point for excursions to the famous Spinalonga, recently featured in the nove "The Island". Or imagine, an island you can visit for its quiet presence of palm trees and soothing watered sandy beaches - then take a boat trip from here to Chrissi Island.
You can book boat trips (and ferry tickets) at Nostos Tours, up the road that leads to the harbour (Roussou Koundourou 30). Tel. 28410-22819.
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 colour worth seeing: Limnes, Zenia, Exo Potami, Prina, Mesa and Exo Lakonia.
Faneromeni Monastery, inland from Gournia. [There is also another Faneromeni Monastery just outside Sitia, see our Sitia guide ]
Walking in the area: There are lots of interesting routes and hikes, going through villages, hills and beaches.
The suggested routes and maps on http://www.agiosnikolaos.gr (Agios Nikolaos town official site) are helpful.
Diving: Scuba-diving centre is about 250 m from the lake, on the seafront (of course!), in front of the Coral and Hermes hotels. "Creta's Happy Divers", tel. 28410-82546 (they also have 2 more sites towards Elounda)
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 club house. 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 harbour, a speck of archaeology. Used to be a fishing village; now Elounda's fame comes from being home of 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.