It’s very likely that you haven’t heard of this place before- understandable. Greece is famous for Santorini, Rhodes, Mykonos, Athens… Thessaloniki? While it’s not popular with people from non-European continents, Thessaloniki still gets millions of visitors from Balkan countries every summer, mostly because it’s just a drive away and also cause it’s a cheap travel destination. It’s Greece’s second biggest city and even though it has the full package, it gets overlooked quite a lot.
When in Thessaloniki, slow down.
Here’s what you need to know about how things work in Thessaloniki. There’s a saying in Greek, “siga-siga”. It translates to “slowly-slowly”. That’s how everything goes in this city. People don’t rush for any reason. Try to walk fast on Tsimiski street and you’ll quickly realise that you look like an alien. Therefore, remember “siga-siga”. It’s ok to be late for events and common to wait in lines in stores for 10 full minutes.
Greeks are extroverted people.
The one thing that most people find surprising when they visit Thessaloniki, is the coffee culture. Not just the coffee itself, but the culture surrounding it. It’s a must for people to go out for a coffee with their friends AT LEAST once per day. Why? Well, the average Greek is a huge extrovert. They have to catch up with their friends- even though they caught up yesterday- and the day before! This is the reason that you can find a coffee shop everywhere. There are hundreds of thousands of them, for every kind of person. The most popular ones are on Leoforos Nikis street, right the sea.
What would a city that savours coffee so much do without its own coffee? Italians have espresso and so Thessalonikians have ‘’frappe’’. Yes, that’s a French word and it means “shaken”. This is a cold coffee that’s light and you’re obligated to drink it slowly. The funny thing about this coffee is that it was invented by accident, during the annual international exhibition of Thessaloniki, in the 1950s. If you’re visiting the city in September, it’s worth to pay a visit to. There’s all sorts of exhibitions, free food and of course, the museum of frappe!
If you’re a foodie, this is the place for you.
There’s a little bit of everything in Thessaloniki, and it’s more about the quality than the quantity and of course, it HAS to be cheap. You’ll eat the best tikka masala of your life but you’ll have to visit the same place if you want to eat it again. Besides foreign foods, Thessaloniki is quite famous for its own foods. It’s hard to say no to a “bougatsa”, a “melomakarono”, a “spanakopita” or a “trigono panoramatos”. You’ll see people selling a bread-type-of-thing all across the streets, called “koulouri”, it’s very cheap and delicious. If you’re in the mood for something more savoury, you can’t skip on the now worldwide famous “gyros”. Gyros is a warm piece of pita bread with tzatziki sauce that’s hugging freshly grilled pork with some fried potatoes, onions and fresh tomatoes. Everyone loves it and that’s why there are as many “gyradika” (= shops that sell gyros), as there are coffee shops. Furthermore, trying “mpakaliaros” (greek version of fish and chips), next to the port is also a must. Lastly, to wash away all the saltiness, I recommend trying some ice cream from freggio. These shops have hundreds of flavours and they’re all mouth-watering.
A city that never sleeps.
There’s tons of clubs and interesting parties happening every day. While most of them are located near the city center, the “best” ones, are all in an area called “Ladadika”. Just 400 meters away from the city’s main square- “Aristotelous”, it feels like a little city within the city. It’s a complex full of bars, clubs, pubs, restaurants and of course, the best street food in town! Though there haven’t been any major issues in the past, it’s best to watch out for yourself when you visit a place full of drunk people.
Get active, right by the sea.
Greek weather is lovely. There’s sun all the time, the temperatures are cosy and the wind makes you feel like you’re starring in a music video. Of course, people spend as much time outside as they can. The one place everyone visits, is the recently renovated promenade. Running with the sea on one hand, and the parks on another. Also, to your front you’re facing the famous white tower, while your back is turned to Thessaloniki’s huge Music hall. Who wouldn’t want to workout, rent a bike (also a funny 4-people-bike) or just take a walk there? A nice extra to the place, is all the artworks that decorate it, with the most instagrammed one being the famous umbrelas.
Go on a day-trip.
Thessaloniki’s mountain- “Chortiatis” is just a bus ride away and it’s a lovely, calm place to pick up some chestnuts, visit the refugee and try the best soup in town or simply enjoy nature. If you’re more of a beach-kind of person, you’ll be amazed by how amazing the beaches in Chalkidiki are. There’s a saying, “san tin chalkidiki den ehei”, which translates to “there’s no place like chalkidiki”. You get a total of 550 kilometres of beautiful turquoise beaches to chose from, and the closest one is around 30 minutes by car- if you skip the traffic.
So much history!
Though Thessaloniki’s historical background dates back to 315BC, the buildings are not preserved well- with a few exceptions. There’s an obvious contrast between the ruins and the newer buildings, that’s what makes Thessaloniki so special. I’d recommend taking a long walk in the “ano poli”, also known as the upper part of the city, where you can see many temples, citadels, the acropolis, the modiano food market and the old walls which used to guard the city. From there, you can get the best view of Thermaikos bay and mount Olympus. Many youths like to hang out around the walls at night and drink some beer. It’s considered one of the most romantic spots in the town. Thanks to the Ottomans conquering the city a while back, there’s ruins everywhere. Literally. In 1986, the first attempt to construct a metro line started. It’s 2018 now, and there’s no metro to be seen. Only the construction sites that are inconveniencing everyone- especially drivers. It has become a meme that the city will never see a metro and people are coming up with all sorts of creative jokes that are worth checking out.
I’m going to guess that you’re already looking for tickets to visit Thessaloniki. The good thing is that the prices remain pretty much the same- all-year-round, and many budget airlines have daily flights from there. It’s a romantic yet family-friendly city that loves to celebrate and let people express their interests loudly. More importantly, it’s friendly to everyone and people take the word philoxenia very seriously. So what are you waiting for? Thessaloniki is waiting for you!