Shaking off its reputation for package-tour karaoke evenings and touristy clubs, this resort is rapidly transforming into a charming getaway for couples and families. These days, Agios Nikolaos (or Ayios Nikolaos) is a cosmopolitan destination with top-class harbour-side cafe-bars and restaurants.
Ideal for couples of all ages, Agios Nikolaos is an excellent base from which to explore the eastern part of Crete. The town itself doesn't boast any major historical or archaeological sites, but it does have one major curiosity: the harbour area's deep pool. Called Lake Voulismeni, it has many tales and legends attached to it, and was once believed to be bottomless. The lake is very beautiful and attracts visitors from all over the world, with its dramatic red cliffs.
Agios Nikolaos also has a fine Archaeological Museum, worth visiting for its growing collection of Minoan artefacts. The museum houses finds from the cemetery of Aghia Photia, dating back to 2300 BC. Besides the Minoan finds, the museum exhibits the skull of a young Roman athlete wearing a gold olive-leaf wreath, dated to the 1st century AD. Many visitors travel to the fortified islet of Spinalonga. The ruins once held Europe's last leper colony.
Good clothing and shoe shops, as well as high-quality jewellery stores are available in Agios Nikolaos. The street market is a good place to find clothes, plus traditional foodstuffs, local thyme, honey, herbs, fruit and vegetables. The resort is fashion-forward in many ways, with visitors and locals often dressing up in designer labels for a night out.
The Agios Nikolaos lake area is full of tourist-orientated tavernas that charge more for the location than the quality of the food. Aggressive waiters try to pull tourists into the restaurants, and a firm 'no' is sometimes required. That said, some of these 'advertisers' can be charming. The most fashionable places to dine out are along the harbour.
Agios Nikolaos used to be famous for its bar culture, when thousands of holidaymakers would flock over every year for a good party. Today, it still maintains a few 'touristy' bars serving up the traditional mix of 80s disco music, and a couple of British-style pubs and sports bars. The more modern and relaxed cafe-bars on the south side of the harbour tend to attract more customers, and are popular with locals as well as tourists, which makes them feel more authentic.
The area around the Agios Nikolaos resort is ideal for hiking, and the coastline lends itself to all kinds of watersports. Just about every kind of holidaymaker will find something to their liking.
Along with the sandy and pleasant Almyros Beach, visitors can enjoy a number of pebble beaches, which may be better on windy days. The resort's various hotels have swimming pools, tennis, basketball, and volleyball courts. The town council organises a programme of cultural events every summer season, some of which are staged in the small theatre on the lake.
Restaurants and tavernas down by the harbour tend to be pricey and party animals may be disappointed with the limited nightlife options in Agios Nikolaos.