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The town of Agios Nikolaos is a little different from the others in Crete. It manages to mix an atmosphere of bustle, sleepiness, art and leisure all at once upon the three hills that support it. It is also notable for being partly built atop the ancient remains of bygone homes and is within an area steeped in history and myth.
The town faces the sea on three sides - Kitroplatia Beach, the lake and port and the marina. The lake has inspired folklore, being a deep area of water connected by a small inlet to the sea. The lake is overlooked by restaurants, cafes and bars and is a meeting place for visitors and locals alike. Again there is a mix, there are noisy bars playing the latest club tunes, quieter and more secluded little cafes designed for conversation and lounging, fine dining restaurants, standard tavernas and more - all co-existing comfortably and with an air of companionable goodwill. Ferries travel back and forth between the open port just beyond the lake and there's a tiny bridge, behind which the very small island of All Saints can be seen.
For an excellent beach, visit Kitroplatia, which is one of the few that provides the benefit of a 'town centre' on the sea location, along with lovely cafes and eating establishments and apartments and hotels for tourists. A short stroll up to the square and along town will take you to the marina which houses glorious yachts and small boats alike and then stop for some delicious crepes.
There are small churches to visit and admire and a good range of shops offering local crafts and food products - everything from woven fabrics to leather goods, china, olives and wine.
Agios Nikolaos is worth a visit all year round. It tends of course to be the busiest in the tourist season of summer, but is mostly open in winter too, being a working town, rather than a pure tourist resort.
Some of the good locations include the Hotel Du Lac in the town centre, the Palazzo Apartments on the beach, which offer sea views and period architecture and the St Nicolas Bay Hotel which is small and luxurious, offering small self-contained villas. There are, however, a huge range of hotels directly along the seafront, by the marina and just away from the action too.
Why not visit the Archaeological Museum, which is small and easily accessible, to find out about the rich treasures of the region, including the early Minoan cemetary at Mochlos, Zakros Palace and Elounda and Lato. There is also a good collection of ancient coins and vases. Try too the folklore museum which has many lovely old textiles, photographs, handicrafts and other treasures to admire and learn from. Visit the harbour as well for excusions to the famous Spinalonga, the one-time leper colony.
If you want to travel further afield, try Kritsa and the Katharo plateau which has a wonderful geology, plants and climate. There is also the mythology steeped Dikteon Cave to explore. A little further afield you might wish to visit Sitia town which is even smaller than Agios Nikolaos and has a lovely esplanade, great walks, a sandy beach and some pleasant cafes to wile away an afternoon at! Other villages worth exploring include Mesa, Prina and Limnes.
If you like walking, there are many that go through the hills, beaches and villages and local providers run guided tours. For diving fans there is a centre near the lake and by the sea-front for scuba diving and there are golf courses too.
There are many lovely cafes and bars to enjoy and a good one is the mock styled 'Sir Francis Drake' boat where you can drink on board. Otherwise enjoy the local wines and some meze alongside the seafront or at the marina and find the restaurants where the locals go to for the best food and friendliest welcome.
The airport of Heraklion is around 64 km away and has various bus and coach transfers available, that run regularly to the towns and resorts of Crete. If you are staying in one of the larger hotels or complexes you may find that a pick-up can be arranged. Otherwise car hire is a good option - there are many booths at the airport including well known names such as Hertz and you will find that having a car offers you the freedom to explore the locality on day trips without being reliant on public transport, which is less frequent at night time particularly.