I visited this town in the East of Crete twice in 2017, the first time as a weekend break, the 2nd as a brief stopover on my way to/from Sitia.
I enjoyed my visits but I was surprised at how little there is to see/do within the town itself — I’m a bit of a culture vulture who rushes around trying to photo everything so it was strange to be here and feel that I had seen it all on the first afternoon!! I spent a lot of time walking around mixed with leisurely coffee/lunch stops enjoying the views, people watching, I even managed to do some sketching!
Taking In The Sights
I had highlighted a couple of things I wanted to see on Google Maps before I left home…
Obviously, Lake Voulismeni was top of the list. Approaching it from the seafront I must admit I was a little underwhelmed… I’m not sure if that’s because I had recently returned from Venice, or if traditional fishing boats on the water are now just ‘normal’ to me.
However, this gorgeous wine bar next to the water (located on the back left in the image above) caught my attention and made me smile with its display of brightly painted wheelbarrows and colorful blooming plants.
I continued to walk around, snapping some photos of the boats, of the sleeping ducks, past the white church built into the rocks before climbing the steps which zig-zag up the cliff taking you to the tavernas and streets above the lake.
The sweat-inducing climb in the midday sun is worth it as you look down on this picturesque view. I took back my bad-mood and initial feeling of ‘is this it?’!!
The view, as you can see from my opening image, gets better as the sun goes down. There are benches and tavernas at the top where you can sit and rest and watch the world go by before walking back down and around.
Also on my ‘to see list’ were 2 sculptures…
Walking around the harbour (the harbour being different from the marina) the first statue I came to was this one of Europa.
You can read about ‘The Abduction of Europa’ here, quite an interesting story as it was only unveiled in 2012 and there’s a sister sculpture in Germany. However, I felt the location left a lot to be desired, it being situated at the back of a busy car park! It has a nice backdrop with the sea but it’s not a place to linger!
Continuing my walk, I came to the beautiful Horn of Amalthea.
This glass monument/sculpture was my favourite – I loved the sleek design and the colours when it’s lit up at night. I initially thought it was depicting the sea, in the shape of a wave, but I now learn it’s a representation of a goat’s horn – The horn of the goat that Zeus suckled. You learn something new every day! Still works better as a wave in my mind though 😉
Continuing my walk around the seafront, slowly making my way to the marina (which kind of feels like a whole different town) I discovered a short coastal path that connects the lake side of town with the marina side of town – A pleasant stroll getting away from the tourist hustle and bustle for a moment!
I hadn’t realised how steep Agios Nikolaos is! If you don’t walk the coastal route you’ll soon be faced with lots of steps as you navigate the backstreets, especially if entering the touristic centre from the outskirts of the new town (bus station area).
In the evening I went for a wander, half-seeking charming backstreets, but instead enjoying a coastal walk out of town, past some residential streets, past the sailing club, ending up at some out-of-town resorts, before walking back and taking a look around the shops.
Finding Food & Drink with a View
Migomis is sophisticated and romantic, labeled as a ‘piano restaurant’ it’s not your typical tourist taverna! And, it has the best view of the lake being centrally located above so you get the full view out to sea.
I just wanted a coffee, mainly going in to sit and enjoy the view as darkness fully descended and to see all the lights reflected in the water. I was fully expecting this place to be overpriced but it wasn’t – At least in terms of drinks, I can’t speak for the food. It had a great vibe, and listening to the piano was very pleasant. I was in the cafe side but the restaurant looked very classy, certainly somewhere I need to go back to for a romantic meal should the opportunity arise!!
I also found a delightful touristy taverna called The Sailor where I enjoyed a leisurely light lunch. It’s located halfway between the lake and the marina in a more quiet part of town on the seafront. I was drawn to it because it had a menu that was different — Greek salad and mousaka can soon become boring! I ordered the falafel and it was delicious, nicely presented too.
I spent some time sketching this view before and after my meal, you can’t quite see it in the photo but directly opposite is The Horn of Amalthea sculpture. The waitress took an interest in my sketching, without being overly intrusive.
On my second visit to Agios Nikolaos, I again went up above the lake, this time to the taverna called Zygos Garden. If you can get a good table with the full view this is the perfect place on a hot day due to the shady trees. (I was made to move to a table with an obstructed view because I was 1 person on a table for 4 despite the place being almost empty). The food was on the expensive side for what it was, but the location is lovely. I’d go back here for a drink for sure but would need to re-assess the food menu.
Staying by the Marina
I stayed at the Atlantis Hotel (a series of apartment block rooms instead of an actual hotel) for 2 nights. I was very pleasantly surprised with my room – I had a fantastic sea view over the marina. Yes, the marina car park was below, but that provided some people watching opportunities and was better than looking out on a brick wall!
Despite being at the opposite side of town to the lake it was a good location with tavernas, shops, supermarket, kiosk and bakery a couple of minutes away. I felt that this side of town was less busy and slightly less touristy… Signs of ‘everyday local daily life’ could be seen here in terms of the shops.
Entry into my building was via a keycard so it was very secure – Not something I’ve come across in Crete before! But this might have been due to the location — Reception and the apartment block with rooms were 2 different buildings, just around the corner from each other.
I’m not sure if accessibility is mentioned when booking but for anyone with mobility issues (or super heavy suitcases), it would be a problem — The entrance to the building is up a steep slippery slope (I skidded down it one morning) and some uneven steps, tucked away in a traditional side alley.
I was pleased with the room – It had the usual amenities including a fridge, a kettle, plates, and cutlery plus a tablet but this only seemed to show a map of the area – I couldn’t access any other features. The wi-fi worked perfectly. The bathroom was a regular family-sized bathroom almost as big as the room itself!! I had just 2 issues with the room, first how hot it got from having the midday sun on it all day. This was soon solved by turning on the aircon but initially upon entering it was like a sauna! The second problem… in the bathroom I came face-to-face with the largest cockroach I’ve ever seen. It was the height of summer so not unknown, the humidity of the room/bathroom not helping matters (it was not due to lack of cleanliness that I could see) so that freaked me out for a while and from then on out I was on high-alert (shoes on, light on, no getting up to pee in the dark!) and the bathroom door was kept firmly shut so ‘he’ couldn’t reappear in the bedroom.
Agios Nikolaos as a Destination
I certainly felt that Agios Nikolaos is missing the photogenic narrow backstreets, the historic architecture and generally the number of things to see/do compared with Chania, Rethymno, and Heraklion. If you’re visiting Agios Nikolaos on a relaxing beach holiday you’ll be fine, but if you’re a keen sightseeing culture vulture you, like me, will need to slow down and savour the moment – Sip a frappe while you watch the sea, look around the shops, enjoy a leisurely lunch overlooking the lake before you indulge in an afternoon siesta… Siga Siga as the Greeks say — Slowly, Slowly!
Ag Nik, as it’s known by Brits, is well placed for further sightseeing on the island whether by bus or car. I’d highly recommend using Agios Nikolaos as your base for a couple of nights, or longer. I caught the bus to both Ierapetra and Sitia from here, there are also regular buses to Heraklion, Elounda, Plaka, Hersonissos etc. Check out Agios Nikolaos bus times here.