Agios Nikolaos is one of the prettiest seaside towns in Crete. Built upon the site of ancient Lato pros Kamara, the settlement takes its name from a historical landmark – the Early Byzantine chapel of Saint Nicholas (Agios Nikolaos), dating from the 7th century. The temple is one of the town’s must-see attractions for its cultural value, but also to admire the beautiful views of the town and the bay of Mirabello, as the chapel stands at the edge of Cape Nissi near Katholiko beach.
Although small, Agios Nikolaos offers plenty to see and do. If you only have one day to explore it, use the following suggestions as a starting guide.
Take a Walk Along the Sea
In the morning, take a walk along the sea: the weather is pleasant, and you will enjoy the seascapes. Along the way, towards Kitroplateia beach (200 m west of Lake Voulismeni), you will see one of the town’s landmarks: a sculpture depicting the Horn of Amalthea by brothers Soteriades. Next to the harbour, on Akti Themistokleous street, you can admire a sculpture by Nikos Koundouros depicting the Abduction of Europa. Both artworks are based on Cretan myths.
Amalthea was the goat that nursed Zeus, who eventually grew up to kidnap the daughter of the king of Phoenicia, Agenor. He brought her to Crete, where she bore him two sons: Minos and Rhadamanthys. When Zeus left her to return to Olympus, Europa married the King of Crete, Asterios, who adopted the children. After the death of Asterios, Minos became the King of Crete, founding the island’s famous civilization, the Minoans. He ruled at Knossos – Crete’s top tourist landmark.
Take a Stroll Along Lake Voulismeni
Lake Voulismeni (or Vromolimni) is the central landmark of Agios Nikolaos. Although a small karstic doline – its perimeter is only 500 meters – it is deep. Local legends described it as bottomless, although its centre is 48 m deep according to measurements. According to Greek mythology, goddesses Athena and Artemis bathed in the lake. Locals believe that evil spirits guard the lake – and considering that the Nazis disposed of military equipment at its bottom in 1944, they may be right. Nevertheless, cliff divers do not mind superstitions. There are cliff diving contests held at Lake Voulismeni annually.
You can stop for lunch at one of the tavernas or cafes overlooking the deep blue lake and admire panoramic views of the sea. Take your camera to snap a few pictures: this is the prettiest part of the town.
Visit a Museum
Local museums offer a glimpse into the history and traditions of Agios Nikolaos. You can start your cultural experience with a visit to a small church known as the Fisherman’s Crypt (across Lake Voulismeni’s pier). Inside the crypt, which measures about 25 meters in length, objects used by fishers hang on the walls- ropes, propellers, anchors, instruments, nets, etc. Although not an official museum, the site is free to visit and offers a fascinating, eerie experience.
The Archaeological Museum of Agios Nikolaos opened its doors in 1969. Its permanent exhibition features more than 2000 archaeological finds from the entire region of eastern Crete. The objects are displayed chronologically, from the Neolithic period until the end of Roman times. Unfortunately, the museum is closed for renovation, hosting only occasional temporary exhibitions.
The Folk Art Museum of Agios Nikolaos is fascinating if you want to learn more about the lifestyle of its inhabitants before the town became a popular tourist resort. You will find it next to the Tourist Information Bureau at Lake Voulismeni. The permanent exhibition features Cretan art, textiles, Greek Orthodox icons, wooden artifacts, pottery, furniture, and manuscripts.
Take in The Spirit of the Stairs
The Spirit of the Stairs is an artistic regeneration organized by the Cultural and Sports Organization of the Municipality of Agios Nikolaos. The town’s network of stairs is an outdoor street art exhibition. Artists use unconventional materials and methods to bring various subjects to life. For example, some use marble pieces to make mosaics or collages, and others use outdoor paints to create murals. You will see different themes inspired by the landscape, each neighbourhood’s heritage, and the sea.
Spend a Couple of Hours at the Beach
Agios Nikolaos has several beaches, all of them with Blue Flag certification.
- Kitroplatia (200 meters west of Lake Voulismeni) is at the centre of the town. It is a pebbly beach with shallow, clean water. It gets crowded during the tourist season (June-September). There are excellent facilities at the beach, including sun loungers, umbrellas, and showers. Several tavernas serve fish, seafood, Greek mezzedes, grilled meats, and drinks.
- If you walk from Kitroplatia on the stone-paved walkway leading to the Marina of Agios Nikolaos, you will reach Ammos Beach (500 meters south of Lake Voulismeni). The water here is shallow, which is excellent for little children to play close to the shore safely. The beach has umbrellas, sunbeds, showers, water sports, and good dining facilities. Close to Ammos, you will find a park with a swimming pool, playground, and mini golf course.
If you still have time, go shopping or walk the pedestrian streets of Agios Nikolaos.