This is the largest little port town of eastern Crete has grown since the port expanded in 1965. Previously there was no adequate berths, and boats had to dock at Pahia Ammos to the east. After that, things took off and its really quite a pleasant place. The setting is dramatic, with an amphitheater-type village looking down on a round lake as well as the sea, and the stunning Mirabello Bay. There was, in fact, a port here in ancient times, called Lato, over-looking the islet of Agios Pandes, where the indigenous kri-kri goats live. Lake Voulismeni (left) (whose name comes from the Greek word for drowning), though often called 'bottomless' is actually 210 feet deep. It was connected with the sea in 1867 by the local pasha, having previously been stagnant.
Bars and eating places surround both lake and port. Touts ruin the atmosphere and will, much like lemmings encourage you to dine as you saunter around the lake which may be exited by stone stairways too so you don't have to run the gauntlet twice.
Desirable beaches are few and the better ones taken up by hotels. There is a small sandy beach at Ammoudi at the end of the Koundourou Akti, and on the other end of town near the bus station is Ammos. The public beach, which costs to go to, is crowded; but from there one can walk to Gargardoros Beach and to Almyros, the last being the best near town.
Better beaches are farther afield, notably at Elounda the the north, with its Spinalonga islet, and there is some scenic countryside in that area to explore on foot or scooter. The coast between Aghios Nikolaos and Elounda (12km/7.4 miles) is very beautiful, with marvelous views across the bay and of the islands in the bay, though expensive hotels occupy the coves below the cliffs. There is a Spinalonga promontory on the south edge of Elounda (not the islet!) with a bridge crossing an artificial channel to the Cretan mainland (dug by the French in 1897). There is a sunken harbor here, Olous by name, which was the port of ancient Driros (above right), to which there are excursions from Aghios Nikolaos. There is a wooden cult statue (supposedly made by Daedalos) of the Minoan moon goddess Britomartis here. According to myth, King Minos chased her incessantly all around the island for nine months until she threw herself into the sea and was rescued in a fisherman's net, from which set of events she earned the name 'Dhikyna' (a dhiktio being a net). There is a Byantine basilica near the canal with a floor mosaic depicting fish.