Discovering Unexpected Joy in Thessaloniki

I presume it’s mainly because it is overshadowed by its big brother, Athens, with its plethora of well-known tourist sites, though after spending a month in Thessaloniki, I think it has as much, if not more to offer the casual tourist, than Athens.When I touched down in Thessaloniki, I had no real idea what to expect, it may be Greece’s second largest city, but I reckon more people have heard of the small-ish islands of Corfu and Mykonos than the thriving metropolis that is Thessaloniki. At first glance, Thessaloniki doesn’t really seem to have many tourist sites, there’s a famous white tower on the promenade, which has a rather disturbing and troubled history, once used as a notorious prison and a scene of mass executions during the period of Ottoman rule in Greece. There’s also another tower, ‘Trigoniou Tower,’ which has an equally troubled history, but at least offers great views of the city.

I quickly found out though, that one of the joys of Thessaloniki is just setting off in one direction and uncovering gems everywhere, unlike Athens, where’s a sort of set route, the Acropolis, Temple of Hephaestus etc. In Thessaloniki, the best way to explore is to just set off into the suburbs and go hunting, even down the most innocuous of streets, you’ll come across cute little churches like this.

And if you love walking, Thessaloniki is the place for you, if you go in summer though, don’t bother braving the promenade in the middle of the day. Even with the sea breeze, it’s unbearably hot, plus you’re more than likely to be the only one out there. Thessaloniki is probably one of the only cities in the world that is, especially in the summer, busier at 1 am, than at 1 pm. Once the sun goes down though, locals stream out of their flats for their evening ritual, a stroll along the promenade. Also, there’s always a few festivals, from a free rock concert to a black & white art exhibit, there's plenty of actives to keep you amused along the way.

I did brave the promenade in the middle of the day, as you can see, I was practically the only one, and didn’t make that mistake again.

Lastly, if all that isn’t enough to make you book your flights and visit, I assure you the food will tip you over. Locals like to make the claim, that Thessaloniki has more bars per head than any other city in Europe, whether that is true or not, is certainly up for debate. From what I saw there were a lot of cafes and bars, whether up in the residential districts or down in the heart of the tourist town, on Aristotelous street, every corner was lined with bars.

I was told repeatedly when I was there, that the town's specialty was pork gyros, you can get this pretty much everywhere from the fanciest restaurants, to little take-away houses tucked away down the back streets. Often, especially in the takeaway houses, the menus aren’t in English, but just ask for gyros and they’ll know what you mean. It comes with either ketchup and mustard, or a sort of cream sauce, depending on where you go, and shouldn’t cost more than 3 euros. Be warned though, it is addictive. Here’s my fifty-ninth one…

By Callum Sanders-Loat