Agios Nikolaos Lake View
Crete

Visiting Agios Nikolaos

Agios Nikolaos Sunset
The iconic view over Agios Nikolaos at the sun starts to set

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.

Boats on the lake
Boats on the lake – My first view of the lake left me underwhelmed

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.

Flowers planted in wheelbarrow
A wine bar by the lake with colorful wheelbarrows planted with flowers

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.

Agios Nikolaos Lake View
The iconic lake view in the daytime

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.

Europa Monument
The Europa Monument

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.

The Horn of Amalthea
The Horn of Amalthea in the daytime and lit up at night

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.

Agios Nikolaos Bay
Agios Nikolaos Bay

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.

The Sailer Taverna Food
Lunch at The Sailor

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.

View from The Sailer
View from The Sailer

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

Hotel view overlooking Agios Nikolaos marina
A room with a view, despite the car park!

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.

Picturesque alley from my hotel
Picturesque alley and steps leading from my room

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.

Santorini

Santorini – Some Things To Know

Caldera View

It’s almost 2 years since I was in Santorini, my how time flies!

I only went for 3 nights as a birthday treat to myself, and actually, this was what kick-started my solo-female travel obsession! It was as amazing as I imagined it would be, yes, just as beautiful as the photos show, but there were a few things I noticed that I hadn’t previously read about when doing my research… I hope my knowledge can take your trip from ‘amazing’ to ‘spectacular’ with a little insider hindsight!

Staying on the Caldera.

Firostefani

If you’re staying in Fira (Thira) or Firostefani on the Caldera (or within Oia for that matter) make sure you have extremely detailed instructions for how to get to your accommodation. Also, make sure you’re prepared for the walk to your accommodation and can do steps and narrow streets with your luggage. Transport cannot reach these tiny back streets, and Google Maps can’t cope with the Caldera streets at all, it just shows up as a green area — Worst than navigating in Venice and that’s saying something!!

If you’re lucky, your accommodation will send a porter so you can just follow him as he manhandles your luggage, if not it’s up to you to carry/drag it from the road and along the cliffside streets, up/down stairs and likely around in circles.

Luggage

Wherever you stay on the island, don’t take wheeled luggage. This is a backpackers paradise due to the cobbled streets. Ever try to drag a suitcase on cobbles? Me neither. After seeing so many people struggle I was so glad I was the girl with a sweaty back due to carrying the backpack!

Slippery Steps and Paths!

More than once I almost embarrassed myself by slipping and sliding down the path. Flip-flops don’t have the grip required to navigate the shiny flagstone paths, even more hazardous when you add a little rain to the mix!

Oia

Oia, Santorini

(Pronounced Ee-ya, not Oi-ya) this is the place on everyone’s must-see list. Check the timetable for cruise ships arriving/departing and try your best to avoid peak days/times.

I recommend getting up early to see this wonderful place. Do not enter Oia in the Summer at midday, you won’t be able to move and you won’t be able to enjoy it. The streets become full of multiple tour guides showing hundreds of passengers Santorini.

I caught the 8.20am bus into Oia on my visit which gave me about 90minutes of this fabulous place to myself (just shopkeepers opening up, wedding couples having photos taken and a couple of other tourists with the same ideas as me!).

Akrotiri Archeological Site.

Akrotiri Archaeological Site

Don’t bother visiting here unless you’re an archaeologist / dedicated historian. If you do go, pay extra for the guide. I like being a culture vulture but I’m sorry – I was bored by this place. You can see some doorways, a few amphora, the rest is just a warren of rocks that you’re looking down on from the walkway and it’s unclear what you’re actually meant to be looking at.

95% of the artifacts have been moved to the museum in Fira which is worth a visit. I feel bad for saying this but I wish I hadn’t of gone here – I wasted an hour and 5euro, should have gone to Ancient Thera instead!

Red Beach.

Red Beach Santorini

I went here because I’d never seen black sand and judging from the photos it seemed the most stunning of the beaches. However, I soon discovered that the majority of the photos you see of Red Beach have been enhanced to make the red a lot redder than it is. It was still great to pick up lava rocks and walk in the black sand but perhaps other beaches would have been nicer still.

If you catch the bus, note that you need to get off at the archeological site and walk along a parallel road to the white church, there you’ll pick up the trail to the beach. If you carry on down to the 2nd stop you end up at the wrong beach! Either way, be sure to wear shoes with good grip as it’s quite a trek across and down the rocks to get to Red Beach.

The Ferry Terminal.

Fira Port

It’s rather dire! The concrete structure shown above makes up 1 ‘departure lounge’. Another is a little better in that it’s actually a fully enclosed building with a vending machine inside – And I seem to recall toilets too, but maybe that was just wishful thinking after the disgusting toilets I’d just experienced in the taverna opposite!

There’s no need to arrive at the port early – There’s no check in or security and until your boat arrives all you can do is wait. There are a couple of tavernas but they’re super crowded, best to not stop here long!

Drinking Water – You cannot drink the tap water on Santorini. Be prepared to buy and carry a lot of bottles of water! I mean really. Most places tell you not to drink the water but here they actually mean it. Also be super conservative with it when you’re showering, brushing teeth etc, they have to ship it in!

The Crowds

Crowds in Oia

It’s to be expected, and to be honest, I was expecting it to be worst. It’s all about timing, and getting off the tourist trail!

As I already mentioned, if you want to explore Oia, do it early, before 10 am, otherwise you’ll be caught in the narrow streets with the cruise ship crowds as pictured above (this was my cue to leave!).  If you can manage it (I couldn’t!) get out at sunrise.

For sunset photos, pick your spot early. The tavernas with the best views, and indeed the streets with the best views get super crowded. If you bag a prime seat at 6.00pm, do not move until that sun has fully set, otherwise, you’ll regret it later!

In Conclusion…

Don’t let any of my ‘negatives’ or ‘warnings’ put you off going to Santorini, or even from staying on the Caldera, with wheeled luggage – Just be prepared and then you can’t get stressed – Though with the stunning views it’s hard to get too stressed!! This is Greece after all, siga-siga (slowly-slowly).

Crete

Visiting Crete – Top Questions from Travelers

I’m a host on Couchsurfing.com and often get asked travel questions for the Greek island of Crete. Sometimes I feel like I’m Tourist Information! So I’m finally writing down the top questions with answers into one place so that couch surfers, as well as other travelers, get the lowdown and some useful links.

Transport

How Easy Is It To Get Around Crete By Bus?

It depends on where you want to go!

It’s easy to travel by bus if you just want to visit the major towns or resorts. Heraklion/Rethymno/Chania intercity buses run every hour in Summer and Winter. There are also regular services to Agios Nikolaos, Malia, Sitia, Ierapetra, Plakias etc.

To get to the villages and tourist attractions (excluding Knossos which has a regular bus) it can be more difficult. Generally speaking buses to villages are scheduled for the locals with 2 services per day, 1 out, 1 in. These cater to the school kids and locals going to the market and usually leave early in the morning and get back late afternoon – This can be difficult for tourists as an overnight stay would then be required. Some villages offer a few more options during the week. See the bus routes and bus timetables on the KTEL site.

Is It Expensive To Get Around By Bus?

What’s your idea of expensive?! 

As of 2017, it costs:

Chania Bus Station

  • €6.80 Rethymno > Chania
  • €4.90 Rethymno > Plakias
  • €12.00 Heraklion > Ierapetra
  • €8.30 Heraklion > Rethymno
  • €7.10 Heraklion > Agios Nikolaos
  • €8.00 Chania Airport > Rethymno
  • €2.50 Chania Airport > Chania

There is no discount for a return ticket and no such thing as a ‘day pass’, basically no special prices, what you see is what you pay!

See this KTEL link for prices plus routes.

Can I Hitchhike Around Crete?

Yes! Though not seen so often this is an acceptable way to get from A-B, especially in remote areas where buses do not go. Just stick out your thumb and hope someone stops! I had a girl successfully hitchhike from the South coast to Rethymno and another managed to blag a lift from Heraklion port to Rethymno, despite the bus station being steps away! I think it’s easier for girls who are alone to get a lift, but I may be wrong!

Do You Know Any Good and Reliable Car Hire Companies?

Crete is awash with car rental companies! You’ll get a great price if you shop around when you are actually here. But if you need a car from the airport you can book online from the big companies as well as some smaller ones.

We have all the big names who have offices at the airports and towns, such as Hertz, Budget, Avis, Enterprise, Sixt, Europcar etc but also many, many independent companies. I highly recommend going with a local independent car rental company – Sometimes tour reps will scare people from going with these saying there is no insurance but this is not true (my Father worked for 3 car local hire companies over the years!) the reps only say that because they want to get commission from whichever company they are affiliated with.

What’s The Best Way To Arrive and Leave The Airport?

This depends on the time of day you will be arriving/leaving, but hire car is certainly the easiest/most direct.

Buses are cheap and fairly regular but they do not run 24 hours per day. This can mean sleeping in the airport overnight (Not Recommended) for early morning flights.

Taxis are expensive if you’re staying more than 30minutes away. A taxi to/from Rethymno to either Chania or Heraklion airport costs €100+ !!

Road In Crete

Things to See and Do

What Do I Need To See?!

In 1 word? Knossos.

But it’s so difficult to answer this question, everyone has different interests and it also depends on how long you have where you will be staying and if you have money for paying entrance fees! There are so many other articles on the web that cover this, Google and TripAdvisor will help you narrow it down. Whether you want to see churches and monasteries, do hiking and see gorges and caves, visit museums and archeological sites and other historical sites like the Forts, or visit the beautiful beaches, towns or mountain villages, Crete has something for everyone.

What Places Do You Recommend For Hiking and Nature?

Samaria Gorge is the first place many people think of, but Crete has so much more than that to be enjoyed. These are my go to sites when I want to get outdoors! Crete Nature Travel Guide (they also cover beaches) and Cretaholic Trails.

What Are The Best Beaches?

The ones advertised for their beauty are also the most crowded, so if you want to view these gorgeous places try to avoid the crowds for a better experience – Head to the beach early, early morning, or after 4pm when everyone else is on their way home, or even better, off-season when they’ll be empty!

Elifonisi, Balos Lagoon (pictured below) and Vai are the 3 beaches most advertised, you may also have heard (or seen on Instagram) Preveli Palm Beach and Seitan Limania.

If you want peace and a nice beach to yourself, avoid the town beaches and just drive… or scour Google maps/streetview!) You’re going to find your own piece of paradise without much trouble, just walk the other way when you see sun umbrellas, sunbeds, and burnt Brits!

Where and When

Which Crete Region Should I Visit?

First, I hope you realize how large Crete is! You cannot see this island in 3 days!

Personally, I love the Rethymno region, but I’m biased! I highly recommend you move around and see as much of the island as you can, especially exploring inland as well as seeing how the South coast varies from the North coast.

When Is The Best Time To Visit Crete?

Spring! Late March until Early May you’ll see the stunning wild flowers and tourist season will only just be starting so you’ll avoid the intense heat plus the crowds. Winter shouldn’t be overlooked either though we have no idea what the weather will bring – January 2017 brought snow to the coast which is practically unheard of! For me, the worst time is school holidays, especially July/August as the island fills up and the heat turns up, but everyone has different needs and ideas!

Are There Any Cheap Hostels?

I don’t know about prices but yes, there are hostels. Rethymno, Heraklion (no website?) and Chania plus Plakias . I’m sure other places have too if you do a Google search!

Where’s The Nicest Place to Stay in Crete with Beautiful Beaches and Not Too Touristy?

Since Crete’s main industry is tourism this can be difficult to avoid unless you travel off-season (November-March).

Avoid the North Coast resorts/towns and head South. Agios Pavlos (pictured below) has stunning views and is known for its beach but could be too cut-off for some people as despite having a hotel and apartments it has no shops and just 2 tavernas, also no bus service so a car is essential unless you hitchhike from the main road.

Agios Pavlos