The islet fortress of Spinalonga (right) is a half-hour trip by caique from Elounda; from Agh. Nikolaos one hour by excursion boat. The islet was detached by a channel from the promontory just as the promontory itself was detached from the mainland-by the digging of a channel-but in the case of the islet (much smaller than the promontory) the channel was dug by the Venetians in 1579, for the purpose of defending their fortress, which was built over the ancient fort of Olous. They were successful until 1715, when they were forced to surrender to the Turks (by treaty). After 1904, when the Turks were thrown out, the islet became a leper colony and remained so until 1957. It was the last leper colony in Europe.
The Aghios Nikolaos Ethnographic Museum (10am-1:30pm daily except Sat. and 7-9:30pm;.90 euros) is worth taking in stamps, embroidery, instruments, icons.
The Aghios Nikolaos Archaeological Museum (Tues-Sun 8:30am-3pm; 1.45 euros) is at 68 K. Paleologou, and houses finds from eastern Crete. There is a first-century skull with good teeth, with a gold burial wreath, stone vase with two demons, gold jewelry from Mochlos, the chicken goddess of Myrtos, a phallus-idol from Zakros dating from Neolithic times.
There is an annual arts festival in Aghios Nikolaos, which usually runs from late July to early September, with Cretan traditional dance troupes, Cretan choral groups, classical and modern plays (usually in Greek), and various concerts by Greek musicians and singers. Parties are sometimes given by the sponsors during the festival season (usually around midway and then at the end of September) as a way of expressing appreciation to all the foreign visitors who visit Aghios Nikolaos.