HIDDEN GEMS: unique and special destinations we love – Thessaloniki, Greece

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Greece is a country that has no shortage of amazing destinations.  Couples pick this spectacular seaside nation because of the beautiful islands, the turquoise water, and the incredible food and wine.  Families are drawn to relaxing boat trips, the history, unparalleled archaeological sites, and the world-famous greek hospitality.  Rightly so, Greece is almost always on top of our client dream vacation lists, and they aren’t alone. In the summer, Greece is one of the most visited countries in the world.

In a country so full of breathtaking sites, it’s an incredibly fun “challenge” to find a hidden gem.  A location that is special and worth visiting. One you didn’t even know would become your perfect travel memory.  We have one for you. Thessaloniki is Greece’s “second” city (after Athens). This seaside city is a destination that gets oftentimes (and undeservedly) ignored. So many traveler’s racing off to the islands instead of exploring the mainland.

The vast sea stretches across the whole of the city. Breathtaking views are everywhere. There is the perfect mix of ancient historical sites and unique landmarks.  The White Tower, an ottoman structure that once guarded the walls of the city, is the unofficial “symbol” of Thessaloniki.  The historical quarter is easily walkable. The many Byzantine churches, mixed with Roman and Sephardic Jewish monuments, make it an interesting spot to explore. Our pick is Agios Dimitrios, a beautiful Byzantine church with a wonderfully creepy crypt

The “old” or “upper” town district of Ano Poli is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a wonderfully preserved part of the city.  This area still has the typical narrow stone paved alleyways, old squares and traditional homes featuring old Greek and Ottoman architecture.  Ano Poli has historically been the favorite area of Thessaloniki’s poets, intellectuals and bohemians, and the area’s shops and restaurants keep this easygoing vibe still today.

Thessaloniki is also regarded as the cultural capital of Greece.  It is home to international film festivals, opera halls, open air amphitheater, and not one but two symphony orchestras. The local population loves going out to a concert or a show, its deeply ingrained in their culture.  

For those of us who put food and experiencing the gastronomy of a region at the top of their travel plans, Thessaloniki is a wonderful place to eat your way through a unique area of Greece’s cuisine.  The city is located along the Egnatia Odos (the ancient Roman highway from Italy to Asia). It also the southern tip of the Balkan Peninsula means that there are unique spices and preparations of dishes that you’ll only find here.  You’ll find local dishes that might seem Arabic or Armenian, and it’s a wonderful melting pot of gastronomy.  They don’t shy away from spices and they use ingredients typically “uncommon” in Greek food, like hot pepper and paprika.  Lots of specialties are sautéed in tomato, like the spicy meatballs called soutzoukakia Smyrneika. This dish reflects the unique culinary heritage of Thessaloniki, as it’s a dish that originated in Turkey.

The city also hosts some wonderful open air markets that are a feast for all your senses, and a great way to taste lots of different local treats.  For those that love a little more activity after dinner, this vibrant city is also famous for a host of popular and modern clubs, wine bars, live music venues and dancing that goes well into the early morning – it has the most bars and cafes per capita in all of Europe.

Thessaloniki isn’t a small city. Yet, in a country full of amazing sites, it’s one that gets overlooked by travelers searching for their perfect dream island.  For those on a Greek holiday, a few days in the lively second city of Greece is a memorable trip just the right amount of “off the beaten path”.

More Blogs on Greece…

Glorious Greece: A Client’s Perspective

Your Perfect First Trip to the Mediterranean: Greece

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