If you fancy a long weekend in the Greek city of Thessaloniki here are a few things you need to know:
You can get a taxi from the airport into town, it will take about 30 minutes and costs around 20 Euros. Alternatively, be like a local and get the 78 bus. It stops directly outside Arrivals and will take you all the way into the centre for just 2 Euros.
Take a city tour
There are lots of hidden historical gems in Thessaloniki so it’s worth booking a tour with a guide. Visit the White Tower (which used to be the Blood Tower as the occupying Turks used to behead their prisoners at the top of the tower allowing their blood to run down the stone walls, and the castle perched high above the city, wander through the quiet streets around Eptapyrgio Castle, and stop in the cool of the Vlatadon Monastery to admire the art. Have your photo taken as you pretend to get blown away at the large umbrella sculpture on the seafront, and admire the strength of Alexander the Great on his giant, rearing horse.
If you want to feel like a local – drink coffee. There are cafes and coffee stands everywhere. As long as you like it strong you’ll have plenty of choices. Drink it hot, drink it cold with ice – just don’t ask for a milky coffee. That’s definitely not the ‘done’ thing. A coffee will cost you around 4-5 Euros – but if you’re sitting down to drink it then it will always come with a biscuit (or two) or perhaps even a slice of cake. At La Plaisir on Aristotle Square my latte (yes, one of the rare places you can get a milky coffee) came with a slice of cake AND biscuits – all included!
Hang out at the Port
Although you’d never guess it from the road, the long concrete area that juts into the sea near the port is actually a great place to hang out. Don’t be fooled by the empty, deserted look of the place, off to the side and hidden from obvious view is Kitchen Bar – they have seats outside, under a large canopy, facing the ocean, and they do a great salad and fresh orange juice.
As a vegetarian you’ll have plenty of choice and are very unlikely to go hungry. From the usual pasta, risotto and pizza, to fresh salads, grilled cheeses and marinaded, griddled vegetables, you can eat until you’re too full to move! Greek mezze is good choice for vegetarians too (do specify that you don’t want meat) as you’ll get lots of delicious vegetable and cheese dishes to try. Check out Café Bazaar on Athonos Square.
If you’re vegan – you’ll certainly find it a bit more challenging. So head to Roots, a quaint vegetarian/vegan café not far from Aristotle Square and hidden among the other restaurants and cafes in the side streets to the east of the square. Portions are big, prices are cheap, food is delicious – but the chairs are a tad uncomfortable.
There are plenty of hotels to choose from but I’d suggest being close to the centre if you can. Try The Mediterranean Palace Hotel near the port. It’s quiet, is a short walk to the seafront and the all the action of the town, without being so close to the bars that you can’t sleep at night. It has good wifi, local olive oil toiletries, and a strong recycling policy. A breakfast buffet, with hot and cold choices is also included and staff speak good English.
Take a taxi to the Mediterranean Cosmos Shopping Centre. Lots of big brands and designer shops, plus local retailers offering both fashion and food. There is large food court area, plus plenty of cafes. Stay for lunch or dinner at one of the restaurants in the grounds of the centre. Enough to keep even the most ardent shopper occupied.
A free boat trip
Moored just in front of the White Tower are a number of ‘café boats’. Entrance is free, you just pay for your coffee or beer. Prices are comparable to the sea front cafes but don’t include the cake (shame!) – instead you get a free trip around the gulf (the bay, to you and I). Once every hour the boat leaves for a 30minute trip. Sip your iced cappuccino, soak up the sun, and let the sea breeze ruffle your hair. Opt for a sunset cruise and you’ll be out on the open water as the sun disappears below the waves throwing red spears of light onto the distant outline of Mount Olympus.
MEDITERRANEAN COSMOS SHOPPING MALL
MEDITERRANEAN PALACE HOTEL
About the Author:
Chantal Cooke is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster. In 2009 Chantal was awarded London Leader in Sustainability status, and in addition to co-founding PASSION for the PLANET. Chantal also runs a successful communications agency – Panpathic Communications.