Agios Nikolaos Travel Guide
The Parthenon © Nathan Hughes Hamilton
Shaking off its reputation for package-tour karaoke evenings and touristy clubs, this resort is rapidly transforming into a charming getaway for couples and families. Ágios Nikólaos (or Áyios Nikólaos), about 43 miles (69km) east of Heraklion on the island of Crete, is now a cosmopolitan resort with high standards of harbour-side café-bars and top quality restaurants.
Ideal for couples of all ages, Ágios Nikólaos is an excellent base from which to explore the eastern part of the island while on holiday. The town itself does not boast any major historical or archaeological sites, but it does have one major curiosity: the deep pool in the environs of the harbour, called Lake Voulismeni, has many tales and legends attached to it, and was once believed to be bottomless. The lake is very beautiful and attracts visitors from all over the world with its dramatic red cliffs. Look out for the bright plumage of the kingfishers who frequent the lakeside.
Ágios Nikólaos also has a fine Archaeological Museum, worth visiting while on holiday for its growing collection of Minoan artefacts. The museum houses finds from the cemetery of Aghia Photia, dating back to 2300 BC, including more than 1,500 vases. Besides all the Minoan finds the museum also exhibits the skull of a young Roman athlete wearing a gold olive-leaf wreath, dated to the 1st century AD.
Many visitors on holiday in Ágios Nikólaos take the excursions to the fortified islet of Spinalónga to see the ruins of, and hear the fascinating story of what became the last leper colony in Europe. The island of Crete is full of epic historical attractions and it is not difficult to find exciting excursions and day-trips when staying in Ágios Nikólaos. However, many happy hours can be spent wandering the quaint waterways of the resort itself, taking photographs of the various pleasure boats and fishing craft, or relaxing in a taverna.
Good clothing and shoe shops, as well as high-quality jewellery stores are available in Agios Nikolaos and holidaymakers won't be disappointed. The street market (Wednesday mornings) is a good place to rummage with the locals for clothes and bargains. The top end of the market is a great place to buy traditional foodstuffs and local thyme, honey, herbs, fruit and vegetables. The resort is fashion-forward in many regards and visitors and locals often dress up in designer labels for a night of socialising.
The Agios Nikolaos lake area is full of tourist-orientated tavernas that charge more for the location than the quality of the food. Aggressive waiters will try to pull you into the restaurants on the lake and a firm 'no' is sometimes required, although it is also true that some of these 'advertisers' can be charming. The most fashionable places to dine out are along the harbour and these trendy joints can fill up quite fast in the evening.
Ágios Nikólaos used to be famous for its bar culture when thousands of holidaymakers would flock here every year for a good party. Today, it still maintains a few 'touristy' bars serving up the traditional mix of 80s disco music, and a couple of British-style pubs and sports bars. The more modern and relaxed café-bars on the south side of the harbour tend to attract more customers nowadays and are popular with the locals as well as tourists which makes them feel more authentic.
The area around the Agios Nikolaos resort is ideal for hiking, and the coastline lends itself to the pursuit of all kinds of watersports, appealing to just about every kind of holiday visitor. Almyros Beach, a 20-minute walk from town, is pleasant and sandy, and there are a number of lovely pebble beaches to choose from on windy days. The various hotels in the resort have swimming pools, basketball, volleyball and tennis courts. The town council organises a programme of cultural events each summer season, some of which are staged in the small theatre on the lake.
Restaurants and tavernas down by the harbour tend to be pricey and party animals may be disappointed with the limited nightlife options in Agios Nikolaos.