Thessaloniki, situated on the northern coast of Greece, is our favorite place to escape to in Europe. When living in Rome would drive us to the point of insanity, which it did quite often, Ash and I would hop onto a Ryanair flight for the low low cost of 28 euros round trip and head off to Thessaloniki. After our first trip to this vibrant city we were hooked and it became our safe place in Europe where stress was not allowed.
Ash and I love this city so much that if we committed a great international bank robbery, Thessaloniki is where Interpol would find us holed up. The city is filled with life as people spend their days sipping coffee, eating gyros, drinking cocktails and seeming to forget that they are in an economic crisis. The city walls are covered in murals and graffiti protesting against the bullying of the EU, the corruption of the Greek government and banks, Merkel, and of course, fascism. The anarchist spirit flows through this city as they refuse to change their culture and change their way of life. The city gets its vivacious anarchist spirit from the local university students that inhabit this wonderful city. Ash and I just found it easy to fit in with the way of life here and it was a must stop for us on this recent European tour.
Planning out our October and November trips Thessaloniki needed to be apart of our Greece itinerary somehow. We ended up squeezing in thirty two hours in this wonderful city. Was it enough time? No, but 32 hours in Greece’s second largest city was still better than nothing.
So for those of you who have never heard of Thessaloniki or are looking for a jumping off point for seeing Meteora, then why not consider visiting and spend 32 hours to eat local in Thessaloniki!
Eat Local in Thessaloniki
Irodotou Street 32
I think Alex and I dream of eating at Igglis at least once a month. This is our favorite place to eat in Greece and that’s saying A LOT because Greek cuisine is my favorite :). We first discovered Igglis on our very first trip to Thessaloniki back in 2011 and since then we have eaten here at least once every time we visit. The food is traditional Greek cuisine and the restaurant is always crowded with locals. Some of our favorites include the Greek pizza, roasted peppers stuffed with feta and the fava bean dip. We have not had a bad meal here and don’t expect to. Igglis is outside the center but if you are staying at Little Big House (our favorite hostel in Europe) it will be right down the street. Either way it is worth the trip up to. Igglis is a quality local restaurant that never disappoints. The prices are right too with almost all dishes under 10€.
Athivoli Cretan Cuisine
Cretan cuisine is some of my favorite Greek cuisine (and my favorite island in Europe!). I love the different regional specialties of the island especially dakos, a “salad” made of barley rusk, tomatoes, Cretan white cheese and olive oil. So whenever we have a chance to eat Cretan cuisine we take it. Athivoli, located in the heart of Thessaloniki, is chaotic, crowded, and full of Greeks conversing loudly over their meal. It’s everything I like about Greek restaurants! The cuisine is very similar to other Greek cuisine but has some standouts including the aforementioned dakos salad and the roast pork with potatoes. Also if you have never tried saganaki aka fried cheese, GET IT. I mean, it’s fried cheese; take every opportunity you have in life to order fried cheese!
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One of the foods that I can not pass up when I am in Greece is of course the famous gyros. I mean, sizzling pork severed in a pita with onions, tomatoes, french fries and tzatziki? Come on, how can you not love this? Alaniara was a brand new place that I found this last trip to the city. Ashley was sick in bed and I needed, no, I CRAVED a good gyro. I went off exploring and I stumbled upon this place. Alaniara Kota is a small modern hole in the wall that has full chickens roasting in the front. The owner’s name is Gregory and he is a very friendly man who prepared two amazing gyros to go. It look like his specialty is chicken but I personally can’t pass up pork. This was a total random find and I let my nose do the picking and it did not fail me that night. I have now found my regular gyros place everytime I go back.
Drink Local in Thessaloniki
Coffee shop on Filikis Etaireias
Thessaloniki is not lacking in places to get coffee. Drinking coffee throughout the afternoon is one of the most Greek things you can do. This coffee shop, which we could not find the name to, is located on Filikis Etaireias Street and it is a hard place to miss. The coffee shop is filled with local students hanging out drinking coffee and beer with outdoor seating spilling across both sides of the street. The shop itself, has a cool artistic scene as the interior walls are covered with beautiful street art. This was the first time Ash and I had stopped here and we are glad that we ran into it.
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Another great bar that looks out on to the harbor with a great outdoor patio with an inside that is rocking the urban modern style. The have large garage style doors that open completely up and allow you to enjoy some fresh air even inside. I spent my time drinking fresh daiquiris as we watched people stroll past us. They serve small tapas with the drinks and the prices are fairly reasonable. We liked that the bar is chill with electronic music being played by a live DJ so much we stayed for more the just one drink.
On the Road bar
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The bar scene here in Thessaloniki is extensive and seems to be lively every night of the week. One of our favorite bars is the On the Road. It is located on the water and has a young vibe with outside seating and a large bar just inside down the stairs. Ash and I stopped here originally for the name but stayed for the crowd and the drinks. The inside is like a downstairs cellar with a bar that runs the length of the room on the right hand side leaving plenty of space to drink and socialize with the locals.
If you want to get off the water for a bit and head into town, Sarothron is a perfect bar to stop in for a drink. It is situated around one of the main restaurant areas of the city right near Athivoli so your are not far from a great dinner. The bar has two levels and has a kind of dive chic look to it. Like every place in Thessaloniki it has an outside patio as well. The place does get busy later in the night and people often reserve tables for their groups just as a heads up. We went before dinner time so it was fairly empty and we were able to enjoy a beer. This is a really cool local spot and when we passed it later on that night it was packed with young locals and tourists alike.
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Out all the paces Ashley and I have enjoyed this was one of the hippest places that we visited. They have a small outside seating area but the inside is where it’s at. The lighting inside at night is dimmed to give it that loung bar aesthetic. There is a live DJ playing music as the guest sit drinking beers and cocktails while enjoying small snacks. It was a lively crowd and very enjoyable as Ash and I relaxed on a couch near the DJ celebrating Halloween and Ashley’s early birthday. This is a bar that I definitely would head back to the next time we are in town.
Sites in Thessaloniki
While Thessaloniki is not brimming with ancient sites like Athens, there are ruins and different sites scattered across the city if you do not feel like eating and drinking all day. While you will find some Greek and Roman ruins in Thessaloniki it is more apparent to see the Byzantine side of the city along with some of its Ottoman past as well. Being located at the northern point of Greece, Thessaloniki was an important city for the Byzantine Empire which was based in Istanbul. As the city is walkable all these sites are relatively close together.
The White Tower
Located at the far point of the harbor you cannot miss this huge gleaming tower. It practically beckons you to take a stroll and come admire its facade. The tower was originally part of the Byzantine fortifications and was then reconstructed by the Ottomans to be used as part of their harbor fortifications. The tower took its name the White Tower when the Greeks reconstructed it after independence in 1912 and was subsequently whitewashed. Today the tower is the symbol of Thessaloniki.
Everyday life thrives in Thessaloniki’s main market which is located just off Aristotle Square. The market is filled with fresh produce, meat markets, and of course, FETA and OLIVES. If you want to see the most feta and olives you will ever see in your life than you have to check out this market.
Aristotle Square is the heart of Thessaloniki; here you can find Greeks gathered every night to meet up, shop and of course, grab a coffee. The square is very modern in the Greek scheme of things as it was not planned out until 1918 by Ernest Hebrard (the bar above doesn’t just have a random name…) because in 1917 there was a huge fire that devastated over ⅔ of Thessaloniki. After the devastation the Greeks noticed a lack of public squares in Thessaloniki which have always been vital to Greek life hence why Aristotle Square was created!
The Arch of Galerius
The Arch of Galerius is perhaps the most impressive Roman ruins in the center of the city. The arch was constructed in 303 CE by the Emperor Galerius (or rather Tetrach but this is a confusing point in Roman history) to commemorate his victory over the Persians. Only three of the eight pillars survive today but they are filled with impressive carvings and worth a look!
Of course Ashley and I think you should stay much longer than just 32 hours in this wonderful city. The world is a big place and sometimes you only have a short period of time. Make sure to enjoy all aspects of greek life here. Spend your morning drinking coffee along the water, eat some lunch at Igglis and then take the much needed siesta. After, stretch your legs and take a leisurely stroll back down to the center and explore the ruins, the markets, and do some shopping.
Enjoy the late afternoon with some more coffee and then pre dinner drinks. Head out for dinner and then finish the night enjoy this lovely youthful nightlife. Thessaloniki is a place to relax and really take the time to enjoy life. There is so much to do in this city. This guide is just what we think is a must do. The Greeks here take their time and really enjoy every moment of the day so make sure to do the same. Who knows maybe you will see us sipping on some fresh daiquiris in the sun overlooking the beautiful harbor. Will you join us to eat local in Thessaloniki?
Have you been to Thessaloniki? Tell us your story and recommendations in the comment section below! We would love to hear from you!
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