The archaeological site of Gournia is located 19 km south-east of Agios Nikolaos. This area was covered by an ancient city which thrived during the Late Minoan Period (1600 - 1400 BC). According to the most ‘popular’ version, the area was called "Gournia" because of the ancient cisterns ("gournes" in Greek), located next to each house, used to feed the livestock. The decline of the city began in 1200 BC or, according to others, in 1450 BC when a large-scale fire destroyed the town. The most prominent of the finds, from the excavations conducted by American H. Boyd in the beginning of the century (1901-4), are the palace, the residence of the local administrator, the market and the grounds of the stone houses with the slate- paved alleys. The finds also include a number of ceremonial items, utensils and household tools, hinting at the area's history and daily life which is believed to have included stock- breeding, carpentry and fishing.
The archaeological site of Kato Zakros is located 108 km south-east of Agios Nikolaos. In 1901, the English archaeologist, D. Hogarth, began excavations in the area. The work continued in 1961 by professor N. Platon. The excavations brought to light significant antiquities, proving the existence of a thriving Minoan city that lasted to the roman years. Among the ruins of this ancient settlement one notices the palace complex, which was erected in 1600 BC and destroyed in 1450 BC, most likely by the tidal wave, caused by the eruption of the volcano in Thera (Santorini). The palace covers an area of 8,000 square meters and has 300 rooms. One can admire the slate-paved yard, the chamber of the circular cistern, the royal chambers, the storage-rooms, the banquet chamber, the ceremonial chamber, the workshops and the altar. Excavations at the archaeological site of Kato Zakros have cast light upon relics of the Late Palace period and many items used in worship, amphorae, sings in Linear A script and household utensils, all shedding light to the area's history. Near the palace area, ancient tombs of great archaeological value have been traced.
The cave of Milatos is located in the slope of a steep, deep ravine, a 3 km drive and 20' walk from Milatos. The cave has 8 entrances side by side (40 m long), while it covers an area of 2,100 square meters. According to the carved inscription above the left entrance, here, in 1823, the army of General Hassan massacred 3,600 men, women and children. Their remains were buried in a war memorial in the cave.
The three-aisle church of Panagia Kera is built near the village of Kritsa, 10 km south-west of Agios Nikolaos. The central aisle is dedicated to Virgin Mary, while the other two are dedicated to Agia Anna and Agios Antonios. The church's present form has been preserved since the 15th century, when its construction was completed, with the addition of the north aisle and the dome. The church of Panagia Kera is known for its precious Byzantine frescoes, dating back in the 14th and 15th century. Among the themes depicted here, are scenes from the Garden of Eden, the life of Agia Anna, the Theometoral circle, the Apocalypse, the Annunciation and the Last Supper, all done in beautiful and harmonic colours.
The Diktaio Andron (‘cave’) is located 52 km west of Agios Nikolaos, at an altitude of 1,025 m, on the north side of mount Dikta, near the village of Psichros. In 1900, the English archaeologist, D. Hoogarth, discovered inside ceremonial altars, architectural structures, statuettes, tables for offerings weapons, tools, pottery, seals, jewels and many other finds of great archaeological significance, which indicate that during the Middle-Minoan and Archaic Period, Dikteon Andron was a shrine to Zeus. According to myth, Rhea sought refuge there to protect Zeus from Kronos' rage. This is where Zeus grew up and drank the milk of goat Amalthia, under the supervision of Kourites and Nymphs and here is where he met Europe. The cave's entrance (14x8 m) leads to a large quarter (85x3x15 m) which is divided in four smaller compartments, filled with stalactites and stalagmites. In the background, there's a small pond where, according to myth, Zeus bathed and around which most of the offerings were found.
Mount Dikti, alias "Lassithiotika Vouna", is situated at the western side of Lassithi Prefecture. It is part of the Dinarotauric Arrow, has an altitude of 2,148 m. and consists of peaks such as Afendis Stavros or Agio Pnevma (1,578 m.), Virgiomeno (1,414 m.), Afendis Christos or Psari Madara (2,141 m.), Katharo Tsivi or Aliada (1,664 m.), Lazarus (2,058 m.), Louloudaki (1,163 m.), Koupa (1,187 m.), Megali Korifi (1,141 m.) and Platia Korifi (1,485 m.). These peaks form the plateau of Lassithi (402 sq. km) and one can get there from the villages of Agios Georgios and Male, or the monastery of Croustallenia.
The fort of Ierapetra, known as KALES, is located on the south pier of the ancient harbour. According to historians, it was built by the Venetians, probably in the early 13th century. It was a four-sided building with four towers on the corners and an indoor yard with a reservoir. The rooms were spread under the ramparts, as shown in older prints. It was renovated and expanded during the Turkish Occupation. Unfortunately, today, little remains of the constructions and the rooms of the top floors.
Lake Voulismeni or Xepatomeni is situated at the entrance of the port of Agios Nikolaos. According to mythology, here bathed Diana and Athena. It is 60 - 64 m. deep and its diameter is 137 m. In the late 19th century, Adossides Pasha linked the two sides of the lake, with a bridge. Today, along the lake, there are picturesque restaurants, taverns and coffee - shops attracting large crowds in the summer, while there is also a zoo near the southern end of the lake.
The Laographic Museum of Ag. Georgios is situated at the village of Agios Georgios, in Lassithi plateau, 50 km west of Agios Nikolaos. Here, one can tour the remarkable collection of utensils of daily life, tools, domestic items and woven-fabrics. In carefully decorated rooms, there are representations of a traditional workshop of basket-knitting, barbershop etc., all providing a multitude of information regarding the daily life and traditions of Cretan people.
The Kapsa monastery, located 5 km away from Analipsi, is built on a rock in a steep ravine, near the famous gorge of Perivolakia. The monastery was renovated in 1841 by Gerontogiannis, a thief who took the vow of monastic life here. Kapsa monastery belongs to the monastery of Toplou and celebrates on August 29th with a big fair.
The monastery of Toplou is located 83.5 km east of Agios Nikolaos. Dedicated to the Birth of Virgin Mary and to St John the Theologist, it is one of the richest monasteries of the island. It was originally called Panagia Akrotiriani (Virgin Mary of the Cape), because of the nearby Sidero cape. It took its current name by the Turks, because of its venetian cannon (top). The monastery was built in the 15th century, probably on the ruins of an earlier convent, it was plundered in 1530 by the knights of Malta and ruined in 1612 by a strong earthquake, to be renovated once again, before coming under Turkish Occupation in 1646. The exterior is dominated by a tall, Italian-style, bell-tower (1558) and a square wall (10 m high) around it. On the church's wall one can see an inscription of historic importance, referring to the peace treaty between the cities Itanos and Ierapitnos (2nd century BC). Inside the church, among other beautiful icons and frescoes (14th century), one can admire the famous picture "Great Art Thou, O Lord" which was created in 1770 by painter Ioannis Kornaros and the icon of Our Lady which - according to legend - was found in a nearby cave. The monastery is closely associated with the island's history. During the Turkish Occupation, it provided refuge to the persecuted Cretans and it housed a ‘Secret School’, a fact which caused the massacre of 12 monks in 1866. In the years of German Occupation, the monastery was used as the headquarters for the National Resistance movement of the area. The monastery celebrates on September 26th, when it is swarmed with pilgrims from all over Crete.
The plateau of Lassithi is one of the most beautiful areas in Crete. It is a green, fertile valley (817 m. altitude), covering an extension of 25,000 sq. km. full of cultivation of potatoes, garden and fruit products and almond - trees. The scenery's beauty is completed with the 10,000 windmills which are scattered here for the area's watering. The territory consists of 20 villages, while the capital village of Tzermiado has 1,000 inhabitants. Excavations at Diktaion Andron cave, at Trapeza cave, at Karfi and Plati, indicate that the area has been inhabited ever since the Neolithic Period. Later in the years, it was part of the ancient city of Littos which thrived. During the Cretan fight for liberty, during the Venetian Rule and Turkish Occupation, Lassithi plateau provided refuge to the persecuted fighters, a fact which forced the Venetians, in 1263, to forbid all establishment and cultivation in the area.
Spinalonga is a small islet, across the water from Elounda. Here, in antiquity, stood the powerful acropolis of the ancient town of Olounda. The islet was named "Spinalonga", some say, by the Venetians (Spina = thorns, Longa = away), while another version claims that it was named after the local expression "Stinelonda" (at Elounda). The islet of Spinalonga was supposedly joined with the land across, until - for reason of safety - the Venetians detached it by digging a deep trench. On the peninsula which is linked to the main land by the Poros isthmus, constructed by the French in 1897, there are traces of the ancient city of Olounda, an altar of the Geometric Period and ruins of a Proto-byzantine basilica with a remarkable mosaic floor. In 1579, the Venetians built here an invincible castle which, according to historians, had 35 cannons in 1630. Although Crete came under the Turkish Occupation in 1669, Spinalonga remained under Venetian Rule until 1715, when it was released to the Turk, Kapoudan Pasha. In the years of Venetian Rule, the islet provided refuge to the persecuted Christians. From 1903 and for half a century - until 1957 - it was a leper colony. In 1954, the islet was named "Kalidonia". Today, among the remaining buildings of the castle, one can see the rampart of Mogenigo, the front wall of San Michele, as well as ruins of Turkish houses.