Agios Nikolaos is the capital of the region of Lasithi, East Crete. It’s a beautiful seaside town, popular among tourists all year long for its beaches and the mild climate all year long: It’s warm, and it doesn’t rain much and, there’s plenty of sunshine. Besides, there’re dozens of things to discover near Agios Nikolaos too. If you’re wondering what to do in Agios Nikolaos, Crete, why not checking this guide to plan the perfect itinerary?
- General information about Agios Nikolaos
- 10 Top things to do in Agios Nikolaos
- 1. Visit Lake Voulismeni
- 2. Learn about Greek mythology with the local sculptures
- 3. Check the city museums
- 4. Enjoy art in the city stairs
- 5. Discover the churches and the monasteries
- 6. Explore the beaches in and around Agios Nikolaos
- 7. Walk the pedestrian streets
- 8. Go shopping in some of Crete’s best boutiques
- 9. Explore the sunken city of Olous and Epano Elounda
- 10. Sail to the leper island of Spinalonga
- Practical details to plan your stay
- More things to do in Lasithi
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it might earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you.
General information about Agios Nikolaos
Map of Agios Nikolaos & Location
- Regional unit: Lasithi
- Location: Northeastern Crete
- GPS Coordinates – Latitude: N 35.208517 | Longitude: E 25.612737
Distances to Agios Nikolaos from Crete’s main cities
- Sitia – Agios Nikolaos: 66,5 km, 1 h 20 m.
- Heraklion – Agios Nikolaos: 62,4 km, 1 h.
- Rethymno – Agios Nikolaos: 139 km, 2 h.
- Chania – Agios Nikolaos: 202 km, 3 h.
How to get to Agios Nikolaos
How to get to Agios Nikolaos by car: We’ve often stated that the best way to see Crete is to travel by car. This is a flexible and cost-effective transport in such an extensive island and with so much to do.
Crete’s National Road: There’s one National Road on Crete which runs along the northern coast of the island. It’s known as Greek National Road 90 (or with the acronyms ΒΟΑΚ/ sometimes VOAK). The road connects Kissamos (West coast) to Sitia (East coast and passes through the main cities of Chania, Rethymnon, Heraklion, and Agios Nikolaos. There are upgraded sections (designated as A90). Since the road is part of the European route E 75, the road is also known by that name.
How to get to Agios Nikolaos with public transport: Buses depart from Heraklion, Sitia, and Ierapetra. If you’re traveling to Agios Nikolaos from Chania or Rethymnon, you must change the bus at Heraklion’s Public Bus Station. For you to have an idea, a complete trip Chania-Agios Nikolaos by bus can last up to 5 hours.
10 Top things to do in Agios Nikolaos
There’s a lot to do in Agios Nikolaos and sometimes it might look as is if time is not enough to experience everything. The town is not as extense as other Cretan cities, and if you’re not in a rush, you will need at least 2 days to see the things in the following list.
If you also want to explore near places, mountain or coastal villages, consider adding two or three more days to your itinerary. As a general rule, four days in Agios Nikolaos is a good time to see a bit of everything in and out of the city. Let’s take a look at the best things to do in Agios Nikolaos.
1. Visit Lake Voulismeni
One of the landmarks of Agios Nikolaos is Lake Voulismeni, located right in the heart of the city. The sweetwater lake is connected to the sea. 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.
A local legend wanted the lake to be bottomless, as it was believed that it was a passage to communicate with evil spirits. However, in 1853, it was discovered that the lake is 64 m deep at the center.
The lake, as locals call it, has a rocky wall on one of its sides, there are fishing boats and ducks, and it’s a traditional place of gathering. To get the best view of the lake and the sea, it’s better to reach the street that borders the upper part of the lake.
2. Learn about Greek mythology with the local sculptures
If you walk along the sea in Agios Nikolaos, two different sculptures will definitely attract your attention.
Together with Lake Voulismeni, these have quickly become a landmark of the city. And it’s not odd to spot tourists taking a selfie with them.
The Horn of Almathea is located near Kitroplateia beach. It recalls the myth of Zeus and the connection that the god has with the area (see the nearby Cave of Zeus).
According to the legend, 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 Almathea, the young god accidentally broke one of her horns.
Feeling terribly sad and sorry (according to my son’s version of the myth!), 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 Abduction of Europa is a 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 (many legends say to Matala).
3. Check the city museums
The Archaeological Museum of Agios Nikolaos hosts archaeological objects from Lasithi that belong to different Minoan periods.
Among the findings, there are objects from the seaside cemetery of Agia Fotia (close to Ierapetra) and a remarkable skull of an athlete with a gold wreath and a coin from Polyrrinia in his mouth. This exhibit comes from Ancient cemetery in Lato, the best-preserved town from the Hellenistic period.
At the date of writing, the museum is closed since it’s currently undergoing renovation, so it might be a good idea to drive to the nearby Lato Archaeological Site if you’re interested in Crete’s Hellenistic past.
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 Folk Art Museum of Agios Nikolaos is easy to access since it’s right in front of the lake, next to the Tourist Information Bureau.
Here, it’s possible to see authentic objects part of the Cretan way of life (such as furniture, handmade textiles, and pottery). There are also religious icons and other crafts on display.
Admission fee: € 3 for adults, children fee.
Operating hours: 10.30am-2.30pm and 6pm-8pm – Closed on Mondays.
4. Enjoy art in the city stairs
The Spirit of the Stairs is a contemporary art project which started back in 2018. It’s all about making the city even more appealing through the decoration of its stairs.
The project promotes the architectural and cultural heritage of Agios Nikolaos and its impressive network of stairs (over 70!).
Paintings and sculptures can be admired in 11 different stairs in town. The idea makes reference to the identity of Agios Nikolaos, the stairs that connect the upper and lower parts of the town, and the relationships they create.
Artists make use of both the natural landscape and the culture of each neighborhood where the stairs are located. Each of them developing a unique theme, incorporating elements from yards and private gardens.
5. Discover the churches and the monasteries
There are 7 monasteries and 28 historical churches you can visit in the region. Most of them host unique icons and frescoes and they are usually open to the public.
Let’s first take a look at some of the ones you can check in town.
Central churches of Agios Nikolaos
Agios Nikolaos in Ormos
The first and most beautiful church is the one that gives the name to the city. The church of Agios Nikolaos (Saint Nicholas) is not in the center but it’s worth a visit. Agios Nikolaos church faces the nearby bay of Ormos, a place where ships would anchor during the Roman and Byzantine periods.
This single-naved church probably dates back to the pre-Arab conquest of Crete, about 827. The little church is considered one of the few remaining Early Byzantine churches on the island.
The Cathedral of Agia Triada is in the center of Agios Nikolaos. It has remarkable frescoes belonging to both the Cretan and Macedonian Byzantine tradition.
The little church of Agios Athanasios is on one of the town’s most central roads (Roussou Koundourou Street), just a few steps from the lake.
You can also visit the churches on the island of Spinalonga. If you want to know more about them, check this article.
Churches and monasteries near Agios Nikolaos
Megali Panagia – Neapoli
Megali Panagia is the metropolitan church of Neapoli (1927), the former capital of the region. It’s dedicated to the Virgin Mary and it’s in the main square of this town. In the area, you can also visit the ruins of the abandoned Catholic Fraro Monastery belonging to the Order of the Franciscans. It’s from the 14th century and it’s accessible only by dirt road.
Agios Fokas and Agios Loukas, Kolokitha
Not far from Elounda, in the bay of Kolokitha, there are remains of two early Christian basilicas (around 5th century), with geometric floors.
Always in the peninsula, you can visit the restored Byzantine church of Agios Fokas (access only by boat). It honors the Byzantine emperor Nikeforos Fokas who liberated the island from the Arab occupation in 961 AD, thus beginning the second Byzantine period of Crete.
Finally, behind the beach of Kolokitha, the church of Agios Loukas is also worth a visit.
Other churches in the region
Probably the most famous religious building in the area is Panagia Kera, one of Crete’s most important churches. Panagia Kera is located less than a km from the mountain village of Kritsa.
The church is believed to date back to the 13th – 14th centuries and is home to remarkable frescoes and icons.
Further from Agios Nikolaos, Selinari Monastery is in the area of Vrachassi. The complex develops in two levels, and it has a wonderful garden with stunning views of the sea.
If you’re coming from the West, you will spot it along the main road, about 20 km before Agios Nikolaos.
The monastery and its small chapel dedicated to Saint George are among East Crete’s most important religious centers. Saint George is the protector of travelers in the region.
6. Explore the beaches in and around Agios Nikolaos
It’s true that some of the prettiest beaches in Lasithi are not right in the heart of Agios Nikolaos. Yet, over there you can find some good city beaches, all of them awarded a blue flag.
On the other hand, to get to the region’s best beaches (for instance Sissi, Voulisma, Mochlos or Vai) you will need to get on the road. Let’s first see the beaches in town.
Kitroplateia Municipal Beach
Kitroplateia is the most important city beach in Agios Nikolaos. It has a very central position and the nearby facilities make it a great place for a one-day stop. In the promenade behind the beach, there are restaurants, tavernas, and bars for a quick snack or a cold drink.
The beach is mainly pebbled and rather shallow. It gets really crowded during the peak of the season, so it might be a good idea to get away from the village for more relax. Especially if you’re traveling with kids.
Ammos Municipal Beach (Marina Beach)
Ammos is the first beach I ever visited in Agios Nikolaos many, many years ago. It has not changed much during the years and it’s not a bad option if you’re staying in town or don’t have a car to move around.
The beach is close to the Marina, east from Kritroplateia Beach. Ammos is great for kids since it’s a sandy small shore with shallow and clear waters. Definitely better than Kitroplateia in terms of crowds, however, local and visitors do populate Ammos in Summer.
Ammoudi is a beautiful city beach, not far from the center. Many tourists choose Ammoudi because it’s organized, the waters crystal clear and the bay is protected from the winds.
It tends to get crowded since the first hours of the day, so it’s better to arrive early to secure an umbrella.
One of my favorite beaches close to Agios Nikolaos is Almyros (my most favorite one remains Voulisma, but Almyros is also perfect!).
Almyros is a very wide golden sand beach, 2,5 km east of Agios Nikolaos, so it’s fairly easy to reach if you have your own car (public transport from Agios Nikolaos is also available).
The bay is protected from currents and winds and the water is really shallow. A favorite among families with children as well as with tourists in general.
The beach has a little river ending by the sea. The river is cold and clean and it produces a weird hot-cold effect when it mixes with the sea. There’s a small bridge over the river where kids love to play. The colors of the water are simply amazing.
Another tranquil bay close to Agios Nikolaos is Ormos Beach, with a very protected position. It’s sandy, shallow and there are always a few small boats in the area.
Ormos is on the way to Elounda, and it’s a must-go place if you want to visit the Byzantine church of Agios Nikolaos, which is very close-by. From Ormos, every day depart many cruise ships to visit Spinalonga and the beach of Kolokitha.
Other beaches in the area (West Mirabello Bay)
If you paid attention to my suggestion, you’ve probably booked a car already! Therefore, you are now able to venture along the East to see the outstanding beaches far from Agios Nikolaos. Let’s check them out.
I’m not a big fan of pebbles, so it’s hard for me to put Plaka among my favorite beaches. However, it is indeed a quiet place, in a tranquil village.
Many visitors think it’s one of the most beautiful places in Crete (I beg to differ, but that’s another story).
The beach is about 16 km from Agios Nikolaos and directly faces the island of Spinalonga. It’s organized with lounges and umbrellas, and there are a few good fish tavernas in the area too.
Being close to the popular resort of Elounda, it tends to get quite crowded. From the little harbor of Plaka, it’s possible to hire a boat to visit Spinalonga.
There are two main beaches in Plaka, Agia Marina is the most important one and it’s good for snorkeling. Not my favorite, but truly popular, also among fishermen.
Elounda is one of the most exclusive resorts in Crete, home to exclusive hotels and villas. As in most of the Mirabello Gulf, the sea is calm and clear, which has made these shores really popular.
To reach Elounda from Agios Nikolaos, drive along the coastal road towards the west for about 10 km.
Close to the port, you will find the most popular Skisma, a sandy beach that’s very well organized. There are several tavernas and beach bars as well.
Kolokitha (Agios Loukas)
To reach the beach of Agios Loukas in the Spinalonga peninsula (or Kolokitha), you have to drive along the artificial road that passes on top of the ancient sunken city of Olous.
After a while, you get on a dirt path that takes you directly to the parking area (opposite Agios Loukas church).
INSIDER’S TIP: Despite not being very high, this narrow road is quite impressive. I’ve even read once or twice that it’s among the most impressive drives on Crete. I would not place this road on that list since there are far scarier roads on the island. However, if I had to compare it to …let’s say the road to Balos) I’d say that the road to Balos is much safer !
Once you’ve parked by the church, and despite not seeing the beach yet, start hiking down the path. Within 15-20 minutes you get to this spectacular sandy beach. One might think that being harder to access it could be quite lonely. Well, it’s not!
This shore is popular. Many people get to the beach by boat as well. Besides, cruise ships traveling to Spinalonga, usually schedule a stop here for a barbeque on the beach.
For a quieter experience, people visit the small secluded shores located towards the South, this area is known as Vagi, and it’s a favorite among naturists.
Other beaches in the area (East Mirabello Bay)
Ammoudara is about 5 km east from Agios Nikolaos, on the road that connects the city to Sitia. You need about 10 minutes by car to get there. Many people who spend their holidays in East Crete choose this small village instead of staying in Agios Nikolaos.
Ammoudara is a small but beautiful sandy beach. It faces the east, which makes it really protected from the winds and it virtually lacks from waves. Being the water always calm and clean, it’s another beach preferred by families with children.
The small and quiet village of Istron, about 12 km from Agios Nikolaos, is home to Voulisma, one of Lasithi’s best beaches, ranking among the best on Crete. It’s also possible to reach Voulisma easily if you’re staying in the South (for example, Ierapetra is only 23 km away). Voulisma is one of the three different beaches in Istron. And it has become popular for its bright turquoise waters and stunning green landscape all around.
Voulisma (also called Golden Beach) is a very wide and shallow bay, with white, fine sand and every facility you need. You can rent sunbeds and umbrellas or visit the beach bar above for a lunch or a drink.
INSIDER’S TIP: Despite being such a picture-perfect place, for some weird atmospheric conditions related to tides and sea stream, whenever very strong winds blow from the North, the rubbish people leave on other beaches deposits here (who would say so from those pictures, right? In that case, it’s a good idea to move towards the east or choose a different shore for that day!
Tholos is a wonderful, rather secluded beach, not so close to Agios Nikolaos and therefore rather isolated.
Some people usually call the beach Kavousi, but several locals confirmed that the real name is Tholos, Kavousi is just (and only) a mountain village in the area (home to one of Crete’s oldest- but still productive- olive trees).
The beach is sand mixed with pebbles and as you can see from the picture above. It’s a very protected bay, repaired from waves and the wind. There are tamarisk trees providing shade and just one taverna in the area. This is another beach easy to reach from Ierapetra (23 km away) as well as from Agios Nikolaos (30 km away). The beach is on the road to Sitia, one of the last villages on the Mirabello Gulf before Mochlos.
Tholos Beach is a popular shore among naturism enthusiasts. If you want to check more beaches on which you can sunbathe naked, check this Insider’s Guide to Crete’s Best Naturist Beaches.
Mochlos is a pretty seaside village at the very end of the Mirabello Bay, about 27 km from Agios Nikolaos (50-minute drive on the coastal road to Sitia). It has a quiet beach and there are also a few nice tavernas nearby. Opposite the beach lies the little islet of Mochlos, famous for its archaeological findings dating to the Minoan period.
The island is barely 250 meters away from the beach and it can be crossed by swimming (provided you’re in good shape, please bear in mind that despite the sea usually looks calm, the area is known for the rather strong currents, so do exercise extreme care if you attempt to cross!).
7. Walk the pedestrian streets
There are a few pedestrian roads in the center of Agios Nikolaos which end where the lake meets the sea.
These roads are full of tiny souvenir shops, jewelry stores, bars, and cafeterias, and it’s a meeting point for visitors and locals alike.
One place we really recommend is Peripou.
Peripou is an alternative music bar with a rooftop area that has excellent views of the lake.
The bar is located is on the pedestrian street 28th October.
8. Go shopping in some of Crete’s best boutiques
Agios Nikolaos and the exclusive area of Elounda have gained a reputation around the world. In fact, Elounda is a place of choice for VIPs coming from the rest of Europe, such as actors, models or football players. For this reason, it’s possible to shop for high-end brands in many stores around the city.
Everything from luxurious bags and shoes, to exclusive pieces of jewelry, and – unfortunately – fur coats too can be found in different boutiques along Koundouou street and 25th March street.
9. Explore the sunken city of Olous and Epano Elounda
For those more interested in history and Crete’s past than in lazily lounging on the beach, it can be a good idea to spend your day combining a visit to the Sunken City of Olous, an excursion to Kolokitha, and an afternoon in the traditional village of Epano Elounda.
Olous was, in fact, one of the most important cities on Crete during the Minoan times. They minted their own coins bearing the images of Artemis and Zeus, usually holding a dolphin or an eagle.
Today, the remains of the city lie under the sea and parts of them are visible from the surface on a clear day.
After checking the area, you can explore the rest of the peninsula, including the churches of Agios Loukas and Agios Fokas, or head for the small village above Elounda.
The picturesque Epano Elounda (or upper Elounda, also known as Pano Elounda) is a small village on top of the modern Elounda. The hamlet is better-known for hosting the set of the TV series The Island (from the same book by English author Victoria Hislop, more info here).
Many of the houses used (and some even purposedly built) during the filming are still standing and can be seen from the outside (if you were a fan of the series or the book, you will be able to recognize some of the sets).
Other houses have been recently bought by private owners and have been restored with every comfort inside, but still keeping the old looks on the outside.
There are a couple of ouzeries and kafenia in the village serving traditional Cretan raki and delicious bites known as mezedes.
10. Sail to the leper island of Spinalonga
When visiting Agios Nikolaos, nobody should miss a visit to the nearby island of Spinalonga. It’s located about 15 km from the city center and you can access by boat either from the port of Elounda, the coast of Plaka or Agios Nikolaos.
On the island, it’s possible to learn more about the past of Spinalonga which worked as a leper colony until 1957. Spinalonga, which is also one of Crete’s better fortifications from the Venetian times, can be visited in an hour.
To learn about the history of the Leper Colony and about getting there, entrance fees, and opening hours, but also to plan a visit, check my complete guide to Spinalonga.
Practical details to plan your stay
Where to eat in Agios Nikolaos
I had the luck to have as a travel mate a person who lived in Agios Nikolaos for several years. He was able to show me the best places to eat in the area, we visited the following restaurants and all of them were good for one reason or another.
Kon/nou Paleologou 24, Ag. Nikolaos
Probably my favorite in town. Karnagio serves stunning Cretan dishes different from what you would get anywhere else. The portions are huge and the ingredients local. Prices are convenient. You usually have to wait in line because it’s really popular.
Ther mezes are really very creative. Their hot dakos are unique. And, as their t-shirts read, if selfies hadn’t been invented, Karnagio would be your best memory from Agios.
Akti Atlantidos 3, Ag. Nikolaos
We arrived at Al Dente very late at night, dead hungry, after a full day on the road. They received us with incredible hospitality and made the kids really happy with super hamburgers and fries. Salads are really delicious too. Not the traditional Cretan cuisine, but more international and accommodating. I definitely liked it.
Piato Cretan Creative Cuisine
Minoos 5, Ag. Nikolaos
Piato serves a completely different kind of homemade Cretan cuisine. Do try their salads and starters. They also offer a wonderful wine list and several vegetarian dishes.
Koundourou 8, Ag. Nikolaos
If you’re looking for a great atmosphere and excellent seafood, then don’t miss Ble Katsarolakia. If you can, go for a table facing the lake and do try their delicious pineapple salad.
Kon/nou Paleologou, Ag. Nikolaos
Fysalida is a wine bistro located close to the lake almost next to Karnagio. If you are looking for something completely different, you won’t go wrong when choosing Fysalida. They have an exceptional wine list and delicious cheese platters.
Themistokleous 1-9, Ag. Nikolaos
This rakadiko (a place where they serve raki) is the perfect place for a quick lunch or an abundant table of Greek meze. Great meat, fish, and vegetarian dishes with a picturesque view of the sea. Paradosiakon is a very popular place for dinner in Agios Nikolaos
Stratigou Koraka 11, Ag. Nikolaos
This restaurant is located in a beautiful building and bit off the lake area. Completely vegan-vegetarian friendly and with interesting seafood dishes (to share!).
Epar.Od. Latsidas – Agiou Antoniou
One evening we decided that being in Lasithi and not trying the super famous souvlaki in Latsida, our trip wouldn’t have been perfect. Indeed, they served us some of the best meat on the grill I’ve ever eaten in Crete. And their sweet platter on the house was so big and varied that it left me speechless.
Best places to stay in Agios Nikolaos
If you still haven’t, do check my review of Porto Maltese Boutique Estate, the place where we stayed in Agios Nikolaos. It has a stunning service and the view from our room was magnificent. Since it’s usually fully booked, even out in the low season, down here there are a few other hotels that are worth checking when planning your trip to Agios Nikolaos.
Where to stay in Agios Nikolaos
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- Porto Maltese Boutique Estate is strategically located right in front of the sea, nice hospitality touches include a welcome lemonade in their traditional patio and freshly baked pies for breakfast. I really enjoyed my stay here and if you’re traveling also for business, their Wi-Fi speed is top. Check more reviews and book here.
- St. Nicolas Bay Resort Hotel and Villas is close to the area of Ormos. During your stay, you can enjoy their exclusive beach, the various pools, and the fantastic wellness center. You can book here.
- In Vasia Ormos you can get amazing views of the spectacular Mirabello Bay. This is an adults-only resort offering entertainment programs and themed nights. Check reviews and book here.
- Minos Beach Art Hotel is a superb 5-star hotel overlooking the Mirabello Gulf. You can book regular rooms or private villas.
Best places to stay close to Agios Nikolaos
If you prefer to stay in the beautiful nearby beach areas, check these:
Accommodation around Voulisma
If you’re still wondering where to stay in Crete, you might want to read this guide.
More things to do in Lasithi
- If you plan to head South during your trip to the East, check the best things you can do in Ierapetra, including beaches, landmarks, and nearby villages.
- Do you agree that a visit to Spinalonga is among the best things to do in Agios Nikolaos? Then, this complete guide to Spinalonga will definitely show you the way.
- With enough time to explore East Crete, why not dedicate a day to the Lasithi Plateau? Once there, don’t forget to stop for a visit to Zeus Cave, in the village of Psychro.
- Dedicate a day to discover the beaches of the East. Enjoy Voulisma, Istron, and Mochlos.
- Visit the nearby Archaeological Site of Gournias or your way to Sitia. Explore the monumental ancient olive tree of Kavousi, and venture in the stunning Richtis Gorge.
- Explore the best beaches of Crete’s extreme East: Vai, Itanos, Zakros, and Xerocampos.
- Discover one of Crete’s best wineries in Toplou Monastery.
Have you ever been to Agios Nikolaos?
This article is currently up to date and it includes my latest experiences in the area.
If you want me to write about other things to do in Agios Nikolaos, let me know in the comment section below!
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Top Things to Do in Agios Nikolaos, Crete
About the Author
Hola! I’m Gabi. I moved to Crete to explore the island all year round.
I love taking pictures and driving on the mountain roads of Crete.
I’m a beach freak and on this island, I’ve found heaven on earth!
The Tiny Book – Crete Travel Blog