On the eastern coast of Crete, Aghios Nikolaos is a lively, well-established tourist resort, famous in the Sixties as a playground for the international jet-set. These days it attracts thousands of holidaymakers who love the picturesque setting.
Sandy beaches, busy nightlife and accommodation to suit all budgets are the other draws.
Despite its popularity, Aghios Nikolaos is still a charming place. There’s a lake right in the centre of town, linked by a small canal to the sea, with dozens of restaurants and cafés lining the shore. The beaches here, and along the coast, are lovely – and for shoppers there’s plenty of choice in boutiques around town.
Getting there/around Aghios Nikolaos
There are dozens of flights to Heraklion, the nearest airport, less than an hour’s drive away, and many tour operators offer packages to the resort. Crete is a big place and if you want to see something of the island, hiring a car’s a good idea, but there are local buses linking other towns and villages. There’s also a boat service to some places on Crete and other islands nearby.
Hiring a bicycle is a great way to explore the surrounding countryside – or even jump on a moped if that sounds too energetic. The roads are in relatively good condition, although you have to be careful as accidents aren’t uncommon.
Beaches in Aghios Nikolaos
There are several clean, well-organised beaches in Aghios Nikolas. The Municipal Beach, in the heart of town, is a protected pebbly bay, with plenty of shade, sunloungers and umbrellas, as well as mini-golf, a children’s swimming pool and a playground.
A little further out on the coast road to Elounda is Havania, a large sandy beach, or you could try Almyros to the south of the city, with shallow waters that make it a good choice for families. Surrounded by rushes and trees, it’s also an important nature reserve and birdwatching hotspot too. All along the coast there are pretty beaches and bays – hiring a car is a good way of finding some hidden gems.
Sightseeing in Aghios Nikolaos
For those interested in history the Archaeological Museum is a must – it’s the second most important in Crete, with a huge array of findings from the local area. There’s also a Folk Art Museum displaying art, fabrics and Byzantine icons.
Numerous churches are dotted around town – the small Byzantine church of Saint Nikolas is worth a look. The city was named after it and there are beautiful old frescoes and breathtaking views of the bay. Outside town, the village of Krista to the southwest is an interesting place with several Byzantine churches and the ruins of the ancient city of Lato Etera.
The city also organises a host of cultural events each summer. From theatrical performances to art exhibitions and dance shows, there’s always something going on.
Family attractions in Aghios Nikolaos
Although Aghios Nikolas is perfectly suited to children, it’s generally regarded as more of a place for couples and groups looking for a busy resort with lively nightlife. Lots of the hotels, however, are geared up for families, with children’s facilities and entertainment, and the beaches are clean, safe and family-friendly with plenty of water sports.
For a family day out head to the Star Beach water park and beach at Hersonissos. There’s everything from rubber rings on the Lazy River to banana boat rides on the sea, or bungee jumping for older daredevils.
Day trips from Aghios Nikolaos
A visit to the Venetian fortress of Spinaloga by boat is a popular excursion. Dating from the 16th century, the fort lies on a small rocky island off the coast near Elouda. From 1912 to 1958 it was a leper colony too.
Elouda itself is worth visiting – either by boat or road. The views over Mirabello Bay are beautiful. There’s a lovely lagoon and some of the ruins of the ancient city of Olous can be seen.
Eating out in Aghios Nikolaos
Greek food is a delicious mix of fresh salads, grilled meats, seafood and tasty bread. Meals often start with a range of small appetisers, called meze, including stuffed vine leaves and humous, and lamb kebabs and local fish feature widely on menus.
Aghios Nikolaos has a huge choice of restaurants with something for all tastes. There are lots of traditional tavernas serving Greek fare, but for the less adventurous there are English options, as well as everything from Italian to French. The area around the lake is the place to dine – its particularly atmospheric in the evening.
Nightlife in Aghios Nikolaos
Once famed for its wild nightlife, Aghios Nikolaos is calmer these days – but that doesn’t mean it’s in any way limited. There’s plenty to do after dark with dozens of discos and nightclubs for those who want to party into the early hours.
Eating out is the favourite pastime, followed by drinks at one of the many bars. There’s truly something for everyone, whether it’s an English-style pub or café full of locals you’re after. Live entertainment, from dance troupes to international singers, is plentiful, both in hotels and bars.
Shopping in Aghios Nikolaos
Agios Nikolaos has enough shops to keep dedicated shoppers busy for days. There are upmarket boutiques selling designer clothes alongside craft shops and market stalls. Look out for leather goods, ceramics, art and hand-crafted jewellery. The lively weekly market’s not to be missed either.