4 Nights in thessaloniki
Thessaloniki (520 km. north of Athens) is the second largest town of Greece and the most important centre of the area. Built near the sea (at the back of the Thermaïkos Gulf), it is a modern metropolis bearing the marks of its stormy history and its cosmopolitan character, which give it a special beauty and charm. Take a tour in the centre of Thessaloniki and plan to visit its nearby destinations. Also, while being in Thessaloniki it is worth going up to Halkidiki. Although Thessaloniki – or Salonica as it’s more widely known – may be Greece’s second city, it’s certainly its capital when it comes to culture. This seafront metropolis, sheltered in a tight nook of the Aegean Sea, offers Roman remains, Byzantine glories, Ottoman alleys and a culinary tradition that makes Athens look like the backwater. Expect a buzzing atmosphere: the waterfront is lined with cafés, the walled old town (and former Turkish quarter) is woven with narrow streets and traditional tavernas and the city’s landmark, the enormous white Roman rotunda, is thronged with university students. Some of the best beaches in the Mediterranean are only an hour’s drive away, so why not couple this city break with a summer holiday? For those who prefer the milder months, the city hosts an international film festival in November. Thessaloniki may be the co-capital of Greece but it is the capital of entertainment and nightlife. In Thessaloniki, nightlife gets a new meaning and nights remain unforgettable. Just like all big cities, Thessaloniki offers many different possibilities for evening entertainment for even the most demanding travellers; from traditional to modern Greek music, and from jazz to rock and soul and any other kind of music. Thessaloniki's people, even more than Athenians, are night-loving people; even dinner seldom begins before nine or ten at night and most restaurants and taverns are open at least until 1am. Night life, meaning clubs and “bouzoukia” (clubs with live music where famous Greek artists sing), starts usually at 11:30pm and it lasts until the small hours of the next day. For the gambling lovers, the Regency Thessaloniki Casino is situated at 12th km Thessaloniki International Airport, about an hour by car away. Apart from the casino itself, it has a terrace with a breath-taking view, full cafeteria, bar and restaurant.
Start with Aristotelous Square, the city’s most central square boasting monumental mansions. The Ebrar Committee designed it after the devastating fire of 1917. It is one of the biggest and most impressive squares in Greece offering a view of Thermaikos Gulf. Under clear skies, you can see the Olympus massif in the far distance from the Square. Stroll down Nikis Avenue across the seafront, extending from the city’s Port (to the W) up to the Statue of Alexander the Great (in the E), lined with many cafés, bars and stores. It is one of the most popular promenade areas for locals and visitors alike. The White Tower (Lefkós Pýrgos) is the city's landmark. Visit the Palace of Galerius, comprising the Octagon (the throne chamber) and admire its renowned mosaics. Another site worth visiting is the Ancient Agóra and Byzantine Bath, close to Koule Kafe Square, dating back to the late 13th century, a rare discovery site of Byzantine Baths. Bezesténi is located in the Market centre (Venizelou & Solomou Streets) and used to be the trading place for luxurious textiles. It is a rectangular building with four entrances, built in the late 15th century. Don’t forget to visit the Harbour, the Customs house and the warehouses(1910). The buildings have been modified to be used as venues forthe International Film Festival and tthe Cinema Museum and the Photography Museum.
Towards the west (beyond the city’s outskirts) you will come across the preserved wetland habitat of the Delta formed by Axios-Loudias-Aliakmonas Rivers. This 320 sq. km area (including the regions of Nea Ayathoúpoli and Alykés Kitrous in Pieria Prefecture), is habitat to more than 270 bird species, many animal species –including the famous Axios wild horses, and more than 500 plant species. The "Management Agency of the Axios-Loudias-Aliakmonas Delta" offers a free guided tour in the area, which is protected by the Ramsar International Convention and included in the "Natura 2000" network.
Your next stop is Panórama (15.5kmSE), one of the city’s largest suburbs, built on the green slopes of Mt. Hortiátis. It offers a panoramic view of Thermaikos Gulf.
Up next is Sindos (14kmW), Thessaloniki’s Industrial Zone. The small hills on the plain are ancient burial mounds. A neolithic settlement with a cemetery of the geometric and archaic periods was discovered on one of the hills. Excavations brought to surface an impressive Macedonian tomb in Ayios Athanassios.
Another interesting place to visit is Thérmi (15kmSE). The excavations in Karabournáki have brought to light significant archaeological finds, thus strengthening the view that ancient Thérmi, an important Mediterranean harbour, was located in this area. The Thérmi mineral springs are brackish and are recommended for a vast range of medical conditions. The Thérmi Festival, featuring various cultural events, is definitely worth attending!
A little further
An intoxicating combination of blue and green. Shaped like Poseidon’s trident and sticking out into the Aegean Sea, Halkidiki is a treat for visitors. Lush green forests that reach right down to the beach; golden sunlight reflected in the turquoise waters; a traditional style with a rich gastronomic and cultural heritage. The charms of Halkidiki, the three-fingered peninsula below Thessaloniki in northern Greece, are at first glance easy to bypass. It's critics will tell you the public sites are nothing; that it has been sifted by archaeologists, brutalised by developers and is overrun by tourist from the Balkans, Britain and Germany. But, with no traffic, and easy to get to and drive around, Halkidiki does possess authentic attractions, even if the locals have not found a way to market these. To seize you by the shoulders to say that this is Aristotle's birthplace; that you must, whatever you do, visit his statue in Stagira or sit in the old village of Nikiti and taste a fresh coffee while glancing at the pine forests of Mount Itamos, which conceal the world's 'oldest living tree'. Or take a walk along Tristinika beach behind Porto Carras, or see the ruins of old Lerissos or Xerxes's canal. These are pleasures you must seek out for yourself.