The capital of the Lassithi region, Agios Nikolaos is a delightful coastal resort town just an hour’s drive from Crete’s capital, Heraklion. The town’s compact size nevertheless makes it a dream holiday destination, offering visitors an array of remarkable experiences and a taste of authentic Cretan hospitality. Our complete travel guide to Agios Nikolaos Crete will make you want to pack your bags right now.
A Complete Travel Guide to Agios Nikolaos Crete
The history of Agios Nikolaos
Located on what was once the ancient site of Lato pros Kamara, this picturesque coastal town, was a prosperous trading centre during the Archaic and Classical Age followed by further development during the Roman era. Today, Agios Nikolaos acts as a tourist hub for the small surrounding villages — which are approximately twenty in total.
The glorious town which welcomes visitors from all corners of the world is said to have been established following the fall of the Byzantine period (1204) when it was sold to the Venetians. It was here that the Genovese pirate Henry Pescatore, built the Castel Mirabello translating as beautiful view, the name which is still used till this day to describe the mesmerising views and the area.
The first tourism development in Agios Nikolaos started in 1960s when the first luxury hotel, the Minos Beach was built in the area and welcomed famous international celebrities such as Walt Disney and the crew of the original movie Apollo 13. Other luxury resorts followed, turning Agios Nikolaos into one of the developed tourism destinations in Crete. In the 1980s the name Elounda started to rise on the map of luxury destinations worldwide and until this day welcomes some of the world’s most discerning guests.
The famous landmark of Agios Nikolaos is the Voulismeni Lake which gently flows into the sea through a narrow canal and is the liveliest spot of the town. Built amphitheatrically around the lake you will find several hotels and restaurants.
What to do in Agios Nikolaos
Whether you are a history buff, foodie, adventure seeker or simply want to relax on the beach, Agios Nikolaos caters to all tastes and budgets.
The Archaeological Sites
Lato pros Kamara: ancient Lato is regarded as one of the most important and well-preserved cities of the classical Hellenistic period. The excavations are found right inside the city of Agios Nikolaos and it is said that the name comes from Leto who was the mother of god Apollo and Artemis, who was sent to Delos by Zeus to give birth to their twins.
Opening hours: 08:00-15:00, closed on Mondays.
Ancient Driros: this important city of Crete was built on the Mt Kadistos which is now home to Neapoli, located in the northwest part of Lassithi, approximately a 15 minute drive from the centre of Agios Nikolaos. The archaeological site which is only open during the summer months has two acropolises, an agora and the Delfinio – temple dedicated to god Apollo.
Minoan Palace of Malia: one of the most important and the third largest Minoan Palace of Crete, the Palace of Malia lies on the north coast of Crete, east of Heraklion. Findings say that it was built around the 1900BC and was a vassal of Knossos.
Opening hours: 08:00 – 20:00, closed on Mondays
Knossos Palace (Heraklion): this monumental archaeological site of Crete, is the most important Minoan Palace and the largest preserved palatial center which was inhabited from the Neolithic Period and is the oldest city in Europe. This is the site connected with the exciting legends of the Minotaur, the half man-half bull who was placed in the centre of the Labyrinth by King Minos of Crete.
Summer 08:00 -20:00, Winter: 7th January to 31st March 08:00 -17:00
Distance from Agios Nikolaos — approximately 1 hour by car.
Nearby Beaches of Agios Nikolaos
Agios Nikolaos is home to several beaches some of which are organised and others are remote.
Ammos beach: as the name implies this sandy beach is located right at the entrance of the Marina. This is an organised beach with umbrellas and sunloungers. This is a Blue Flag awarded beach.
Kitroplatia beach: located a short walking distance from the centre of Agios Nikolaos this is an organised beach with many tavernas and restaurants.
Ammoudi beach: one of the most popular beaches of Agios Nikolaos is located about a kilometre from the center. Located inside the cove, this beach is protected from the north winds. There are umbrellas, sunloungers and watersports activities. A short distance from the beach you will come across the Agios Nikolaos church, which is one of the few examples of early-Byzantine architecture and the city was named after it.
Chavania beach: this beautiful sandy beach is located on the road towards Elounda, approximately 2 kilometres from Agios Nikolaos. An organised beach with several tavernas nearby.
Almyros beach: this is the largest and most beautiful sandy beach of Agios Nikolaos, located on the south side of town approximately 2.5 kilometres or 30 minutes on foot.
In the Kalo Chorio which translates as the good village, which is a 10 kilometres drive from Agios Nikolaos you will find the beaches of Agios Pantelimonas (Blue flag awarded beach), Voulisma (Blue Flag beach with white sand and turquoise waters) and Karavostasi (Blue Flag awarded sandy beach).
Outdoor Activities in Agios Nikolaos
The diverse landscape of Agios Nikolaos offers endless outdoor opportunities for nature lovers. Dotted with glorious mountain peeks and evergreen forests, Crete’s rugged landscape is a dream.
Hiking & Cycling Routes in Agios Nikolaos
The region of Agios Nikolaos offers several marked hiking and cycling routes which range from seaside trails to the ones passing through the wild side of the Cretan landscape.
Kolokytha Peninsula: we experiences parts of this trail from the sea on our day excursion with MV Diving. This circular route starts from Alykes in Elounda and follows the old paths which lead towards some remarkable beaches and significant archaeological and religious monuments.
One of them is the beautiful stone church of Agios Fokas, were we got off our privately chartered speedboat and enjoyed a delightful picnic overlooking the majestic Mirabello Bay.
Gorge of Andrianos: this hiking trail is 8.8 kilometres long and is a difficult route which is recommended to be done with a guide. On this route you can visit the cave of Marides as well as the village of Andrianos.
Horseback riding at Fourni horses
The charming village of Fourni is one of the best preserved in the region of Lassithi. Set in the heart of a valley just a 20 minute drive from Agios Nikolaos, Fourni offers visitors a glimpse into the Cretan way of life. Before our horse riding experience we sat down in a cute little coffee shop just across from the village’s church and enjoyed a cup of coffee with a cake (which was a delicious treat from the owner).
It was then time to saddle up and follow George and Evgenia, the lovely couple who own Fourni horses for a 90 minute ride across the wild Cretan landscape. Dolly my horse, although the shortest was always eager to get ahead but after following a few set of instructions, I managed to ride without any problem. You have to let the horse know who is in charge, before it takes charge. We stopped to rest near an old monastery to admire the beauty of the olive groves and the lush vegetation.
After almost 2 hours of horseback riding we returned to the stables and enjoyed a well deserved rest with a glass of chilled raki and freshly cut artichokes. The natural abundance and the simplicity of Cretan village life is something that will never cease to amaze me. To feel it you really have to experience it, and once you do — Crete will capture your heart forever, trust my words.
View this post on Instagram
I’ve been on a horse several times before but not for almost two hours straight! On our last day of the Lassithi region trip with @incredible_crete we got to experience the authentic Cretan landscape with @fourni_horses. Meet Dolly 🐴 she was smallest but yet the most active one. It was a fun experience for sure! Eugenia and George who run the business were great hosts and even though most of us were not experienced riders we felt that everything was under control! 😄Who has been horseback riding through the countryside? #passionforgreece #incrediblecrete #travelbloggersgreece
Guests staying in Elounda and Agios Nikolaos can also enjoy the pick-up service from the hotel to Fourni Horses and back.
Scuba Diving with Mediterranean View Diving Center
The seabed of the Mirabello Bay is wildly beautiful, adorned with caves, reefs and impressive formations of abysses.
The ancient city of Olous which was mentioned in Homers epics, was once one of the one hundred most important cities of Crete, and today most of it lies under the sea. As we crossed the small water canal underneath the little strip of land which links Elounda to Kolokytha, Michalis showed us the remains of the ancient walls which are visible on the seabed.
A private boat excursion can be arranged to offer visitors an array of both underwater and sightseeing experiences. We also visited the house where the famous movie scene from “The Fairy and the young lad” with a Greek movie star Aliki Vougiouklaki, was filmed in 1969.
The Mediterranean View Diving Centre is located on the premises of the Candia Park Village Hotel.
Where to Eat in Agios Nikolaos
Kon/nou Paleologou 24, Ag. Nikolaos, T. 0030 2841 025968
This authentic Greek meze style restaurant is located in the heart of Agios Nikolaos overlooking the Voulismeni Lake. The restaurants menu is nothing short of amazing serving both fish and meat dishes.
During our evening at this authentic Cretan restaurant we dined to our heart’s content. Some of the dishes that we tried are the hot Dakos which is not typical of this famous dish. The Dakos was served with a sunny side up egg and staka, which is a butter made traditionally in Crete.
We also had a fantastic mixed shrimps stew with mushrooms, the famous Cretan snails, squid and lamb. If you are looking for a delicious Cretan experience this place is highly recommended.
Minoos 5, Ag. Nikolaos , T. 0030 2841 023173
Overlooking the waterfront, Piato restaurant’s menu is based on the philosophy of serving home cooked creative cuisine with a Cretan twist. All dishes are prepared using locally sourced products and there are vegetarian and gluten free options too.
Where to Stay in Agios Nikolaos
Agios Nikolaos boast a range of accommodation options, from studios, to All inclusive resorts as well as stunning luxury 5-star hotels. No matter what kind of getaway you are looking for, here is our list of the ones that might have your name on it.
Daios Cove Luxury Resort & Villas
Vathi, Agios Nikolaos, T. 0030 28412 00 488
For those seeking the best money can buy, Daios Cove Luxury Resort & Villas is your private escape to paradise. From the moment you arrive, all your worries are left behind as the attentive staff takes care of the smallest details. The mesmerising views of the stunning cove will welcome you with its sweeping views at all times of day. You will be spellbound by the natural beauty for this place and the attention to detail.
During my stay I got a first hand experience of the Deluxe Sea View Room, this stunning 42m2 accommodation made me want to stay here forever. The spacious open plan bedroom and living room provides ample space for a relaxing holiday. The spacious marble-lined bathroom features a separate bathtub and shower.
Moving around the resort is equally exciting as you ride the funicular lift that takes you to all the levels of the hotel.
Breakfast is served in the Pangea restaurant with an elegant, contemporary design. The rich buffet breakfast offers a wide range of freshly prepared hot dishes, desserts, fresh fruits and delightful range of healthy options too.
There are plenty of other dining and wining options to suit the most discerning tastes, from on the sand dining at the Beach House, to savouring the best of the international cuisine at the relaxing Ocean Restaurant.
For an ultimate relaxing experience the GOCO Spa Daios Cove spanning across 2,500 sqm offers an extensive selection of carefully crafted beauty and wellness treatments.
This inviting resort is the perfect place to disconnect and to enjoy some serious downtime together.
Minos Beach Art Hotel
Agios Nikolaos, Crete, T. 0030 28410 22345
This 5-star hotel enjoys one of the prime locations in Agios Nikolaos. Minos Beach Art is a legendary hotel as it was the first of its kind when it opened in 1960s, shaping the future of the tourism industry in Agios Nikolaos. Today, this waterfront boutique hotel resembles an open-air art gallery. There are 51 stunning artworks placed all around the resort.
Set in a blooming garden, the overall ambience of the resort is a gracious mix of traditional architectural lines with minimalistic, boho-chic details.
Accommodation ranges from Double Rooms, to Seafront Bungalows, Waterfront Bungalows and various villa types. During my stay I experienced the Waterfront Bungalow accommodation, which are a series of bungalows located directly on the waterfront.
The boho-chic style accommodation features as open plan bedroom with living room and a spacious walk-in closet with a shower cabin. There is also a large terrace which offers magnificent sea views.
A delightful, rich buffet breakfast can be enjoyed at the Bacchus main restaurant serving a variety of hot and cold dishes, American-style cooked breakfast dishes such as pancakes and a selection of Cretan dishes too.
Several notable dining options are available for guests, to enjoy an exquisite holiday experience in Crete. The resort also features a fantastic wine cellar where guests can savour some of the best wine labels at the La Cave de La Bouillabaisse. This family friendly resort offers an array of experiences for guests of all ages.
Miramare Resort & Spa
Gargadoros 72100, Agios Nikolaos, T. 0030 28410 86030
This hotel, bungalows and villas complex is designed for all ages. Perched above the area of Gargadoros, it offers a panoramic view of Agios Nikolaos town and Mirabello Bay. The hotel is located on various levels offering a wide selection of accommodation options.
During my stay at Miramare Resort & Spa I was accommodated in a One bedroom suite with a private pool, the open plan accommodation featured a separate living room with a large couch and a spacious bedroom with plenty of wardrobe space. The bathroom had a bathtub, however there are rooms with showers available too.
The hotel also operates on an All-Inclusive basis, and guest can choose from four dining outlets. The Bellavista buffet restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, where guests can choose to dine inside or outside with spectacular sea views. The resort offers an entertainment program for guest of all ages, tennis facilities, three outdoor and one indoor pool as well as a Spa centre where guests can relax and unwind after an active day in the sun.
Wyndham Grand Crete Mirabello Bay
Havania 721 00, Agios Nikolaos, Crete, Tel. 0030 28410 28400
This 5-star resort is a new addition on the Agios Nikolaos accommodation scene. The newly renovated Wyndham Grand Crete Mirabello Bay hotel features 311 modern rooms and bungalows, 5 restaurants and 5 bars, a Spa & Fitness center and a private beach.
Accommodation ranges from Double rooms, to Junior Suites, family rooms and Maisonettes with shared pools. Guests can enjoy an array of dining options on the resort’s premises. We had lunch here at the Elia restaurant which serves a selection of Greek and Mediterranean dishes ranging from Dakos to dolmadakia, meat and seafood options.
The outdoor area is shaded by a wooden pergola and branches of the olive trees.
Candia Park Village
Ag.Nikolaos, Crete, T. 00 30 28410 26811
This authentic Cretan family resort features all the facilities for a truly memorable family holiday experience. Set among the verdant gardens with blooming bougainvillaea and pine trees, the hotel’s colourful two storey houses resemble a traditional village of Sicily.
Accommodation options at Candia Park Village ranges from Family studio apartments, to superior family apartments and one bedroom suite seafront. There is a fully operational supermarket right on the premises of the resort, laundry facilities, a kids club and a Diving and watersports center.
Minos Palace Hotel & Suites
Ag. Nikolaos, 72 100Greece T. 0030 28410 23801
This 5-star adults only hotel is the perfect place for those seeking to escape the kiddie crowds. Stunning sea views, gorgeous landscape and dreamy pools, the Minos Palace Hotel & Suites is the ultimate choice for a relaxing holiday.
Accommodation ranges from ocean view rooms, to Superior Suites with sharing pool and spectacular waterfall suites with private pool.
Visit Elounda and the Spinalonga Island
We visited Elounda and the famous Spinalonga Island as part of our private boat excursion with MVDiving. Alternatively you can either drive to Elounda from Agios Nikolaos, the drive follows the coastal road of the Mirabello Bay (less than a 20 minute drive) from where you can take the boat tour to Spinalonga island or take the boat tour directly from Agios Nikolaos. (Nostos Cruises depart daily from the Agios Nikolaos harbour)
Elounda was once a traditional fishing village and today its name is associated with some of the most luxurious resorts on Crete. The historical landmark which lies just across from the town of Elounda, is the Spinalonga Island — due to its strategic location it served a number of roles during the centuries.
The great fortification was built by the Venetians in the late 16th century, in 1715 the Ottomans settled on the island and built their houses on top of the Venetian buildings. The island remained in the hands of the Ottomans until the beginning of the 20th century, until the 1903 when the Greek State turned it into a leper colony where patients lived at their own pace, and were responsible for their own earnings.
The leper colony on Spinalonga Island seized to exist in 1957 and for many years the islet remained uninhabited. The Spinalonga Island became world famous after it was used as a setting for the best-selling book “The Island” by Victoria Hislop.
You can either walk around the island and explore everything at your own pace (entrance fee €8) or join a guided tour with the cruise boats. Private luxury speed boats are also available for rent at the resorts.
Where to Eat in Elounda
There are several tavernas and restaurants which dot the waterfront of Plaka overlooking the Spinalonga Island. For an authentic experience I recommend these:
To Rakadiko Tou Kamari — The Hope Restaurant
Mavrikiano Elounda, Crete, T. 0030 6972 295150
This authentic traditional Cretan restaurant is located in the village of Mavrikiano, located at the top of the hill overlooking the Mirabello Bay.
The view here at night is spectacular and the food is delicious. We tried everything from dolmadakia (stuffed grape leaves), apaki (Cretan smoked pork), special omelette and moussaka, just to name a few. Places are limited, therefore reservations are highly recommended.
T. 0030 2841 042075
To get to this spectacular location right on the water you will have to cross a little bridge to the canal. The restaurant serves only seafood and everything is fresh.
The best time to come here is during sunset, in order to fully immerse into the romantic setting and to soak up the mesmerising views. We tried a selection of seafood delights from shrimp saganaki to fried calamari, cuttlefish served with creamy fava and grilled octopus.
Reservations are highly recommended as this is one of the most popular restaurants in Elounda.
Nearby Daily Excursions
Holy Toplou Monastery
The Holy Monastery dedicated to Panagia Akrotiriani and St. Ioannis Theologos known as Toplou is the most historic and one of the oldest in Crete. Located in the north-east part of the island between Sitia and the famous palm forest Vai beach, a visit to this historical monastery is a wonderful day trip from Agios Nikolaos.
The impressive icons collection suggests that the main church was founded in the 14th century and that it experienced the peak of its glory which is reflected in the Byzantine paintings, also predicting that the monks of Toplou were highly educated people.
The monastery suffered severe damage in 1612 following a disastrous earthquake which hit Crete. It was then rebuilt and a cannon was placed to protect it from any future raids, which was financed by the Cornari and Mezzi families. The name Toplou implies that it was derived from a Turkish word top which means cannonball.
Today visitors can admire the wonderful collection of items preserved in the monastery, which play a crucial role in the cultural heritage of Crete. Here you will also find rare historical and ecclesiastical books.
The landscape of the vast valley surrounding the monastery is dotted with vines and olive trees. Toplou Monastery was making wine for the needs of the church and for the social events which took place at the monastery. The Hegumen (Abbot) of the Holy Monastery, Philotheos Spanoudakis took the wine production one step further, and in 2005 the monastery wines are produced with the use of modern oenological techniques.
More than 75 acres of organic vineyards are cultivated organically producing fine selection of local varieties such as Liatiko, Vilana, Thrapsathiri and Mantilari.
In 2019 the wines of Toplou Monastery have been awarded with Gold, Bronze and Silver medals at the Decanter World Wine Awards. The monastery also produces exquisite awarded olive oil which is produced from fresh and healthy crops with no chemical process.
Visitors can have a full wine tasting experience and also purchase the products at the store.
Contact details: (+30)28430.29630 | email@example.com
Tip: sit down for a delicious local meal in a small tavern right next to the monastery. The lovely owners will serve you their dishes of the day and make sure to enjoy the meal with a shot of raki or two. This is truly an authentic experience not to be missed.
This paradise on Crete is a small uninhabited island located on the south of Crete, approximately 9 miles from the shores of Ierapetra. You can visit the Chrissi island by boat which leaves from Ierapetra (approximately 40 minute drive from Agios Nikolaos).
View this post on Instagram
We found paradise here on this stunning island of Chrissi which translates as golden! We got here by a boat crossing the South Cretan Sea from the port of Ierapetra . This island is protected by Natura 2000 Networking program because of its natural beauty and the largest naturally formed Lebanon cedar forest in Europe! Thanks to @incredible_crete we got to witness this mesmerizing landscape! 💙 📷 @toddhata @travelbloggersgreece #passionforgreece #travelbloggersgreece #incrediblecrete
Chrissi is home to the naturally formed Juniper macrocarpa forest in Europe. This stunning golden beach has a few canteens and umbrellas and sunbeds which are available for rent.
Travel Bloggers Greece were invited by Incredible Crete to experience the Lassithi region. I would like to thank everyone involved for their hospitality and especially Elina Mikroulea for her hard work in making this Press Trip such a success. All opinions expressed are always my own.