The first stop on our Big Fat Greek road trip (blog coming soon) was Thessaloniki. Macedonia has been on our travel list for a while – mostly due to Chris’ extensive knowledge of Ancient Greece and its neighbours. Turns out, Northern Greece is really quite spectacular!
We stayed at the Park Hotel, which cost us £191 for 2 people for 3 nights including breakfast. It was in a great location: 15 minute walk to the sea front & close enough to the infamous restaurant/ bar district to still get a good enough sleep. The breakfast spread here was good and if you’re lucky your room will over have a view over the ruins next to the hotel.
After spending 48 hours in Thessaloniki, I think I would’ve struggled to entertain myself for another day. However, any less time than that and I wouldn’t have been able to see everything… So 48 hours is the perfect amount of time! I would recommend visiting over a weekend also, so you can make the most of Thessaloniki’s nightlife.
Cultural & Historic
Considering the location of our hotel, we walked directly to the sea front and found ourselves near Aristotelous Square. There isn’t much to see here unless you’ve travelled all the way to Greece for a Starbucks or TGI Fridays. Don’t go out of your way to see this area, but it makes for a good starting place for the walking tour I’m about to present…
From Aristotelous Square, you can walk along the spacious coastal path to find yourself at the White Tower. You will also pass the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle on this section of the walk – if you would like to understand a little more of the history of Thessaloniki. Be careful for tourist traps along the sea front and around the White Tower. Even with our experience, we had bracelets wrapped to our wrists before we could say “no, thanks”.
In high season (1st April – 31st October) the White Tower ordinarily costs €8, but the last weekend of September marks the European Days of Cultural Heritage and hence, all of the cultural museums in Thessaloniki were free on the weekend we visited. In low season the tickets reduce to €4, but there are also a number of other days & circumstances where you can enter for free or at reduced rates – you can check out the full list here. Alternatively there is a “combined ticket” for €15 which is valid for 3 days and includes entry to the following:
- The White Tower
- Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki
- Museum of Byzantine Culture
- The Rotunda
Although you get pretty good views from the White Tower, you can achieve equally as good views from higher up in the city. So, if you are tight on a budget, I’d perhaps give this one a miss. Instead, you can spend you time walking just past the White Tower to the statue of Alexander the Great. Which – for those who didn’t know, like me – is very important as Alexander the Great is hailed as the King of Macedonia.
Just a further 10 minute walk from the Alexander the Great Statue is the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki. Tickets to this museum match the price of the White Tower – so €8 in high season and €4 in low season. The website does not specify reduced prices or free ticket dates, but I would safely assume they also match the White Tower. This museum is great for providing an overall insight to the general history of the region, as Thessaloniki existed as a bunch of smaller communities for much of its history.
From the archaeological museum, I would recommend visiting the Arch of Galerius and the Rotunda on the way to overlook to Roman Forum. The website for the Rotunda states that the tickets at full price are €2, and this was one of my favourite parts of Thessaloniki! The Rotunda of Galerius is the oldest church in Thessaloniki, and is viewed as one of the most significant & important remaining buildings in the history of the Christian, Greek-speaking parts of the Roman Empire. The building did somewhat remind me of the Pantheon in Rome due to the unique dome-like structure…
If you are looking for somewhere to eat, we went to Γιόκ Μπαλίκ for some cheap & cheerful Gyros (click here for Google Maps link), on the route between the Archaeological Museum and the Rotunda. There is also a lovely café/bar at the top end of Forum called the Blues Bar. We stopped here for some coffee – which is highly recommended after a tough day of walking! From the Blues Bar you can head down Agnostou Stratiotou to view the Church of St Demetrios.
I hope by this point you aren’t too walked out! For the second day the itinerary is shorter, although you may expend more energy getting there. You may opt for a taxi, but we walked through this neighbourhood and I’m glad we did… apparently taxis are also hard to come by in Thessaloniki, but I will touch on that later.
You’ll head to the Trigonion Tower, Anna Palaiologina Gate & Portara that essentially build up to some of the remains of the old Ottoman city walls. From here you’ll head further up in the city to see the Byzantine Fortress that is the Heptapyrgion of Thessalonica. We didn’t actually get to see the inside of the fortress – we spend too long in bed following a night out on the town, and therefore only reached the fortress as the gates were closing for the day. But hey, it still looked interesting from the outside!
Restaurants & Nightlife
I didn’t realise this before travelling there myself, but apparently Thessaloniki is famous for its nightlife. And boy… did it live up to its reputation!
This area of town has some of the best nightlife set up I’ve ever seen. Katouni street hosts an array of beautiful al fresco restaurants – booked to the max. I don’t know how bookings work in this part of town but I would advise reserving a table if possible or arriving early (or late – people were settling down for dinner as late as 1am)!
Running parallel to this street is Egiptou. This was out kind of place – a street of bars dedicated to rock and alternative music. Just when you think that was all Thessaloniki had to offer, the next street over – Orvilou – is full of clubs and bars offering dance and house music.
Not only is this zone of the city bustling with a great vibe… I would go as far as saying that it is the safest feeling place I have ever been to for a night out. You would be missing out if you had travelled all the way to Thessaloniki without experiencing the spectacle that is her nightlife.
Entertainment & Shopping
The main shopping district runs along Tsimiski road, which runs parallel to the sea front. We didn’t explore this street in our weekend, but you can find shops such as Zara, H&M, Bershka & Stradivarius.
One unusual thing we did experience in Thessaloniki is the football. For those who didn’t know… Greek’s are famous football fans. Very passionate. We visited the PAOK stadium, whose dedicated fans are referred to as the “ultras” and arrive to the games in a herd of mopeds, flags, flares and horns. It’s a sight even if you aren’t going to the game. If you plan on going to a football game whilst in Thessaloniki, here are some etiquette points we picked up:
- The ultra’s have their own stands at the stadium. I wouldn’t recommend booking tickets in here unless you are also a hardcore fan.
- I would buy the cheapest tickets possible – no one sticks to their assigned seats anyway. We paid for mid-level priced seats and there was no way we were going to tell the fans to get out of our seats. I’d advise getting there as the game starts and pick an empty seat! There is no way I am treading on people’s toes as a tourist!
- Food is purchased at a cash handling stand, and then the receipt is used to pick up the food & drinks.
If you fancy escaping the city for a day, there are multiple excursions to Mount Olympus – which is just under 1hr 30min drive from Thessaloniki. The next stop on our road trip was in Mount Olympus where we went canyoning. I’ll explain more in an upcoming blog, but if this sounds like your cup of tea then you can contact Baseline on their website for available tours from Thessaloniki. Alternatively, there are options to take ferries from Thessaloniki port to other parts of Greece.
Taxis from Thessaloniki airport to the city are supposedly a flat rate of €20 but both times our journey cost us about €24. Whilst in the city however, we found it very difficult to find taxis in the city to travel around. You will have much more luck if your preferred mode of transport is via electric scooter. The scooter of choice in Thessaloniki seems to be Lime or Rise.
As for car rental, most car rental offices are close to the airport. We had a pretty bad experience with Goldcar here, after advertising misleading costs and threatening us into paying for more for insurance. We had to walk away from them, and crossed the road to Europcar, who we had absolutely no trouble with. We have previously listed our advice for renting a car abroad, there were some major red flags with Goldcar – and we actually had to refer to our own advice!
All in all, Thessaloniki is an unmissable city rich with culture and history. The nightlife is something to be rivalled, but also promotes a super safe feeling environment. The main takeaway is: I would happily travel here again, with friends, family, my partner or simply by myself. It seems like a destination that is flexible to your needs as a tourist!
Looking for somewhere to stay in Thessaloniki? Here are the top 3 best value hotels in Thessaloniki on Tripadvisor:
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