Agios Nikolaos is a pretty and popular town on the north coast of Crete and this page on Greece Travel Secrets covers its history, museums and beaches.
The port of Agios Nikolaos is one of the prettiest and most popular places on Crete. Justifiably so as it is beautifully located on the Gulf of Mirabello, retains some of its old mansion houses, has a beautiful fishing harbour and another inner harbour which is in fact a lake: Lake Voulismeni. All these attractions, and many more in and around the town, do turn it into one of the busiest places on Crete in midsummer, yet despite all this it manages to cling onto its own character.
Agios Nikolaos History
Agios Nikolaos was a thriving place in ancient times. It served as the port for the city-state of Lato, which was inland from here. It remained a port under the Venetians, who renamed it Agios Nikolaos after a 10th-11th century church of the same name. The Venetians named the gulf Mirabello: Beautiful View in Italian.
It's a nice day out from Agios Nikolaos to drive to the hill village of Kritsa to see its remarkable church of Panagía Kerá, and then on to the archaeological site at Lato, and back in a circular drive to Agios Nikolaos. Click here for more information.
The town declined a little under the Turks, who destroyed a Genoese fortress, but in the late 19th century it began to thrive again as a popular destination for travellers, something it looks set to remain. It is also still an important port, and you will find fishermen drying their nets in the harbour, and ferry boats coming in regularly from the Dodecanese, Cyclades and from Piraeus, the port for Athens.
The Harbour at Agios Nikolaos
The harbour is lined with shops, bars, cafes and tavernas, which make full use of their setting by charging prices that are expensive by Greek standards. If you want better food and a slightly more Cretan atmosphere, forego the setting and wander into the back streets. On the south side of town is a small beach and a marina, also home to some pricey restaurants. At the western end of the marina is the church of the Panagia Vrefotrofou, which dates back to the 12th century.
The Bottomless Lake
The Lake that acts as the inner harbour, Lake Voulismeni, is known as the Bottomless Lake. It has very steeply sloping sides and is certainly deep for its size, but its depth has been measured at 64m (210ft), which is a long way from being bottomless. It links with the outer harbour by a channel that was built between 1867 and 1871.
Overlooking the channel and in the Port Authority building is the town’s Folklore Museum, which is worth seeing for the examples of Cretan folk costumes, as well as the crafts of the island. Being large and with a distinctive character, Crete has a strong and unique folk-art tradition.
The Archaeological Museum
Agios Nikolaos also has an Archaeological Museum, slightly out of the centre to the northwest, which is one of the highlights of the town. There are several Minoan sites for the museum to call on, and it has a good display of recovered artifacts. One notable exhibit is the Goddess of Myrtos in Room II, found at Mochlos just outside Gournia. It is a drinking vessel made of clay and dating back to the early Minoan period. It was obviously used for fertility purposes as it has a neck and head that is clearly phallic but the vessel itself has two breasts shaped onto it.
The most unusual if unsettling exhibit is a skull which is thought to be that of an athlete as it was found intact complete with the golden laurel wreath which was traditionally given for athletics victories, and a silver coin to pay his fare to the ferryman for the journey across the River Styx to the Underworld. The skull was found near the town and can be dated by the coin to the 1st century AD.
Agios Nikolaos Beaches
Around the town the beaches themselves are not that good, but that does not stop them being busy for much of the summer. Better beaches are to be found at Elounta, and also at Ammoudi and Almyros on the road towards Sitia.
Where to Stay in Agios Nikolaos
Other Crete Pages
Driving central Crete in three days gives you time to see the highlights including the Minoan palaces at Knossos and Phaistos, the beaches and the Diktean Cave.
Matala Beach on Crete is a guest blog for Greece Travel Secrets from the We Love Crete website, inviting you to Awaken Your Inner Hippy in Matala, Crete.
The best Crete hotels include 5-star luxury hotels, historic and romantic Venetian palaces, and several hotels in Hania and Iraklion.
Ancient Gournia is a Minoan archaeological site between Agios Nikolaos and Sitia in Eastern Crete where the visitor can see evidence of a maze of back streets.
Greece Travel Secrets discovers Sitia, the main town in eastern Crete, with its relaxing waterfront, inexpensive hotels, good food, and nearby ancient sites.
The Battle of Crete during World War 2 inspired several books and took place with an airborne invasion over Maleme on the north coast of the island.
The best things to do on Crete and top things to see include the Samaria Gorge, the Minoan Palaces at Knossos and Phaistos, the towns of Chania and Rethymnon.
Greece Travel Secrets suggests where to stay in Eastern Crete with our favourite hotels in Zakros, Elounds, Sitia, Agios Nikolaos, Istron Bay, Myrtos, Neapolis.
Lonely Planet Crete is an excellent and thorough guide of almost 300 pages to the largest of the Greek islands.
Greece Travel Secrets visits the Zacharioudakis Winery near Ancient Gortina in southern Crete, and does a vineyard tour arranged by our guide from Go Crete.
Visiting Knossos near Iraklion is one of the best things to do on Crete, and this page has a history of the site with visitor information.
This Rouvas Gorge walk starts and ends in Zaros in southern Crete and should take three to four hours with a distance of eight kilometres or five miles.
This olive grove walk from Limnes to Vrises on Crete also takes you through orchards and gives close-up views of some of the island’s windmills.
Hiking the Samaria Gorge on Crete, one of the best things to do on Crete, by Greece Travel Secrets.
We visit and tour the Manousakis Winery on Crete with a wine-tasting and a chance to buy their tsikoudia, sea salt, olive oil and other goodies.
Elounda on Crete's north coast is a popular holiday town with a pretty harbour, from where you can take day trips by boat to see the island of Spinalonga.
The travel tale Our Hire Car in Crete describes what it’s like when you go driving in Greece and get off the beaten track, resulting in kindnesses.
The Samaria Gorge is one the longest gorges in Europe and doing the hike is one of the best and most popular things to do on Crete.
This Lasithi Plateau drive on Crete starts in Neapoli and ends in Malia, covering a distance of 80 km (50 miles) and taking two to three hours.
This tour around central Crete lists some of the area’s highlights such as the traditional village of Arolithos, Minoan remains at Tilisos, and Agioi Deka.
Greece Travel Secrets page on Phaistos or Faistos, the site of one of the finest Minoan palaces on Crete and is where the mysterious Phaistos Disc was found.
Crete (Kriti) is the largest Greek island and its main attractions include the Minoan Palace of Knossos, the Samarian Gorge, Chania and Rethymnon.
Chania is the main city in Western Crete with a lovely setting and a beautiful harbour as well as several museums.
The Snails House in Plouti near Phaistos in southern Crete serves the Cretan delicacy of snails, cooked in several different ways.
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