You don’t hear people talk about Thessaloniki often but those who do, speak of it with love and appreciation. It’s the second largest city in Greece, home to roughly one million people, a foodie capital of the country, and a city that has existed for over two thousand years. Since 315 BC to be exact. Just imagine that. This recent visit to Thessaloniki has left an imprint on my mind, much like those I other people I now too speak of this city with fondness and appreciation. So without further ado, here are four reasons and 45 photos to inspire you to visit Thessaloniki.
The trip was sponsored by the Charming Taste of Europeˆ, which did not review or approve the story.
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Food & Drinks
Thessaloniki has an easygoing attitude. There are not all that many tourists and the locals seemed to live their life vibrantly and fully. Cafes, bars, and restaurants are abundant throughout the city. The waterfront is peppered with open-air restaurants, some traditional, some modern, some are absolutely stunning indoor gardens. The inner city streets are similarly dotted with restaurants and bars. The two main entertainment areas Downtown are Ladadika (modern stops and concept shops, map link) and P. Petrakaki Public Square (a range of traditional patio restaurants, map link). These neighborhoods are bordering and you are more than likely going to stumble into them on your explorative walk.
As much as I wanted to eat my way through the city I was only able to take a small bite of this gastronomic capital but that which I tried has left an impact on my impressionable foodie palette.
Quick travel tip: Foreign phone plans can get pricey and SIM cards are not always easy to find so I now use an eSIM from AirAlo*. You only need one app, no hardware, and you can get an eSIM for anywhere in the world*.
A few favourites
Charoupi | Χαρούπι (map link), for example, is a stunning restaurant offering modern Cretan cuisine. The dishes, carefully crafted by award-winning chef Manolis Papoutsakis, are simple yet decadently rich. Mourga, on the other hand, is a traditional meze spot (map link). Here the menu is driven by seasonal ingredients and changes daily. Predominantly seafood-focused Mourga pairs their dishes with local wines in a moody, minimalistic environment.
Among the must-try dishes are the baked feta cheese square (crispy, decadent, drizzled with honey), zucchini chips, keftedes (meatballs), and shrimp saganaki (warm tomato, shrimp, and feta dish). The proximity to the sea of course also means that the seafood is fantastic. One must also always say yes to a Greek salad and indulge in a selection of cheeses: fresh, baked, fried, drizzled with olive oil, dipped in honey, and on and on… For dessert, there is an endless selection of crispy, sugary sweets, like baklava. Make sure to try the trigona panoramatos (the triangle).
Sidenote: Make the square at home, Aimée from Simple Bites has a quick and easy recipe.
No visit to Thessaloniki is complete without strolling the city markets. There are a number of them in the center woven through the city streets with open-air stalls packed with fresh fruit, vegetables, spices, nuts, and olives. The city’s oldest market Agora Modiano (aka Modiano Market, map location) has been revived as a modern indoor market open till 2 am. Here you will find a wide selection of vendors selling anything and everything from giant buckets of feta cheese and olive oil to local beer, freshly baked bread, wine, sweets, and kitchenware.
A note on beverages
The beverage world in the city is equally impressive. Among the long list of pubs and bars are also many wine bars and craft cocktail spots. The Nectar Distillery (map link) and Gorilas (map link) stood out to me the most. The Nectar Distillery is located at the top of a rather beautiful hostel (Zeus is Loose) and opens up on a breathtaking panoramic view of the city. Their one-drink-per-page menu is a selection of uniquely crafted, sustainable cocktails from savory to sweet. Gorilas is also quite casual and has a fun tiki interior. The cocktails are intricately detailed, built with in-house made infusions and other complex ingredients. This is mixology at its best and they have a shelf of awards to prove it.
Make sure to at least try some Greek wine. Between older producers and new winemakers, the selection is impressive. There are also quite a few traditional liquors, all of which are a cultural experience. Ouzo (dry anise-flavored aperitif), Tsipouro (grape-distilled spirit), and Mastika (sweet herbal liqueur) were the ones I was most commonly recommended.
Sidenote: Inspired by this adventure I’ve actually shared some easy cocktail recipes you can make at home in this post.
Culture & History
Thessaloniki is a port city in the Thermaic Gulf of the Aegean Sea. This location was seen as advantageous from the early days. Remnants of ancient Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman history are seen everywhere. The city was also a major trading route and one of the most important cities in the Byzantine Empire. So naturally, many rulers and emperors have left (or tried to leave) their mark here.
From the White Tower on the waterfront to the Arch of Galerius which leads into the stunning Rotunda, past the Roman Forum and the many Hammams the city has a lot to say about its past. The best way to learn about it all is with a Walking Tour guide of course. The majority of the city was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1917 (which rumor has it was started with an aubergine in a kitchen) but was rebuilt over the years to be a thriving urban capital.
Some parts of the city can be explored on foot but the sheer scale of it seen from any high point will make it clear that you cannot get far on foot. A Hop-on Hop-off tour bus can be a great way to get around and see major cultural monuments like the city’s many museums, and castles, or get to the Ano Poli district.
The top and short are from Uniqlo*
The Breathtaking Views
The waterfront district is naturally the lowest ground but even from here you will be amazed by the views. Looking across the Bay you will see its vibrant culture in the open cafes. Looking up you will see a dense city growing up the hill towards the monasteries and towers. The White Tour has a 360° observation deck which for me personally was the first proper introduction to this big, great city.
Scenic terraces are very common in Thessaloniki as cafes, restaurants, rooftop bars, and coffee shops nestled on the hillside at Ano Poli. As of recently, there is also a really nice hotel bar, MonAsty Thessaloniki, that has an unmatched view on both sides of the city. No matter which direction you are looking in there will be plenty to see, especially during the golden hour.
The Day Trips
On the outskirts of the city, one can find quite a few lovely beaches but for a different view and experience there is a range of small destinations a car or a tour can take you to. My visit was focused on the fruits of Greece (more on that here) so our day trips included a visit to the stunning coastal town of Kavala and the quaint Litochoro at the foothills of Mount Olympus. Very different in their character both towns offer spectacular views and delicious food. Here are some other day trip ideas for your future visit to Thessaloniki:
Culture and history tours:
Day Trip to Ouranoupoli with Mt. Athos Cruise* – Mount Athos, 8 Holy Monasteries, Ammouliani Island, with time to swim.
Full-Day Train Trip to Meteora w/ Guide* – travel by train and see all 6 monasteries.
Day Trip to Pella and Vergina* – the birthplace of Alexander, two archaeological site visits.
Private Greek Cooking Class and at a Farm* – cook and dine with a local family.
Naoussa, Wine Tasting Tour, Private Day Trip* – city of Naoussa, waterfalls, park of Agios Nikolaos, Arkochori, wine tasting at Ktima Kir-Yianni.
Mount Olympus and Dion Full-Day Trip* – Mount Olympus, Dion archaeological site, the village of Old Panteleimon.
Philippi & Kavala – In the steps of St. Paul Private Experience* – Archaeological Site of Philippi, Saint Lydia’s Baptistery, and the Monument Apostle Paul in Kavala.
Day Trip to Kerkini Lake* – Greece’s most biodiverse wetland ecosystem with over 300 bird and animal species.
Beaches and lagoons:
Transportation to Blue Lagoon Day Cruise* – Blue Lagoon and Ormos Panagias, snorkeling, beach bar stop.
Edessa & Pozar Thermal Springs Private Day Trip* – Karanos waterfall in Edessa and thermal springs of Pozar.
Private Day Trip to Kassandra* – Kassandra peninsula, Hanioti Beach, the village of Afitos, Paul’s holy “Agiasma”.
Olympus Canyoning Course* – This is a guided canyoning trek on Mount Olympus.
For a more extensive list of things to do in Thessaloniki have a look at Solopassport’s article on Must-See Sights and Itinerary.
Footnote ˆ The Charming Taste of Europe is a three-year campaign promoted by the Vini d’ Abruzzo consortium and the Union of Sweet Bordeaux Wines, along with fruit producers in Greece’s Union of Agricultural Cooperatives of Kavala (Kavala COOP) and Agricultural Cooperative of Rachi Pieria (“Agios Loukas”), co-financed by the European Union. This campaign focuses on raising awareness of these high-quality products in the American market.
In the gear bag: In the gear bag: Fujifilm X-T100 with a Fuji XF50mmF2 R WR and XF 23mm f/2 R WR lenses and a DJI* Mavic Mini drone. To see the trip on Instagram scroll through #xoGreece23 and find a “Greece” highlight on my feed @katerryna.