This month, we took a short trip to the Greek city of culture, Thessaloniki. With around one million inhabitants, it is the second city in Greece and the capital of the region of Central Macedonia. The city itself is a vibrant and bubbling mix of fascinating history and modern culture, all packaged into a compact area on the tip of the Thermaikos gulf. With long summers and mild winters, it is a lesser-publicised destination for a warm European city break.
We arrived at the airport on the Saturday and took a taxi to our Airbnb in the city centre. What we had not realised until our host informed us was that there was a public holiday on the Monday after we arrived, meaning that many of the shops and markets in the city were completely closed until Tuesday (top travel tip – check out public holidays before booking a city break!). So we decided to get out and explore the city centre a bit before everything closed for the holidays. The city centre itself is quite compact, laid out mostly in a grid format and we found it quite easy to get around most places on foot. Having the sea as a major landmark helps to navigate – as a rule of thumb, if you are going downhill then you are going towards the sea.
We had a fairly aimless wander around the city to get our bearings. The main focal point of the city is Aristotelous Square, and from there you can walk along the seafront. Although there is no beach, there are back-to-back trendy bars and restaurants all along the seafront between Aristotelous Square and the White Tower. The next streets up that run parallel to the sea are the main shopping streets. Just off Aristotelous Square is the Modiano market, which is one of the most traditional markets in Thessaloniki and is a true foodie paradise. Most of the stalls are selling produce: all types of fresh meat and freshly caught fish, cheeses (more types of feta than I ever knew existed!), fragrant spices, honey-drizzled pastries, sweets, nuts, wines and ouzos… it is a truly sensory experience.
In amongst all the food stalls are a few small tavernas where you can buy traditional Greek dishes. We had already decided to cook for ourselves that evening in our small kitchen so, restraining ourselves from buying everything in sight, we restricted our purchases to a 100g plump and juicy Kalamata olives, 150g of creamy feta cheese, a small punnet of cherry tomatoes and a can of tuna. See recipe below for what we made with them. We finished the day with a small beer at a tiny bar right where the local boats come into the harbour. This seems to be where most of the young people/students hang out and having seen the sunset views from sitting out there, it is clear why they are attracted to the place.
On Sunday, given everything was almost completely closed, we decided to visit a local waterpark which was good fun, with a lot of different water slides and pools.
On Monday, everything was STILL closed due to the holiday so did some more walking around the city centre. There are many historical churches dating back to Byzantine and even Roman times. These are probably best experienced by a bus or walking tour in order to find out more about the history of the places. However, due to the holidays we were not able to get onto any tours (unfortunately!). Two things that struck us whilst walking around the city were the street art, and the number of cats. We took so many pictures of both street art and cats that we did separate posts covering both street art and cats. We also visited the White Tower (€4 per adult to enter). Depending how well you understand Greek, I would recommend also paying the few extra euros for the audio tour, as all of the reading panels are in Greek. There are some great photo opportunities of the city and the seafront at the top though.
By mid-afternoon the sun was scorching so we decided to sample some of the myriad bars and restaurants in the city centre. We walked to a few places along the seafront and the walked up a small side street just north-west of Aristotelous Square called Katouni, which is full of small bars and bistros. To end the day, we took a short sea cruise on one of the three “party boats”. These boats leave regularly from right outside the White Tower. You don’t have to pay to get on, but there is a bar on board so you are expected to buy a drink. We did the tour at sunset, with some more beautiful views of the city. After that, we sampled the local gyros, (Greek version of the Turkish doner kebab) at a place called Mpoukia Mpoukia on the corner of Katouni where we were earlier in the day. It could not be classed as ahealthy meal but it was delicious and did a great job of soaking up some of the alcohol!
For the rest of our trip, we had taken a boat over the gulf to a small village/resort called Peraia. It takes about 45-50 minutes from the harbour or the White Tower and costs only €3 per person. There, we found sandy beaches, seafront restaurants serving freshly caught and traditionally cooked fish and a much slower pace of the day than the heat of the city. A few very lazy days on the beach later, and we headed home.
- 100g kalamata olives (or black olives), destoned and halved
- 150g feta cheese, cubed
- Small punnet cherry tomatoes, washed and cut into quarters
- Can of tuna, drained
- 160g pasta (we used wholewheat)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Black pepper
Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet and drain. Combine with the other ingredients. You could serve this with some fresh herbs e.g. parsley.