Discovering Greece’s City Breaks in Thessaloniki
Greece isn’t a country well known for city breaks, especially not at the moment, with the current crisis and rumours of riots dominating the news headlines. While the islands have the market on summer holidays sewn up, mainland cities like Athens and Thessaloniki actually make perfect city breaks year round;
A couple of weeks ago, I headed out to Thessaloniki with Blogtrotters Greece a group of more than forty bloggers from across thirteen countries to find out more about the country as a city break destination.
Thessaloniki may be ancient, with Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman ruins still standing between the ugly sixties and seventies buildings that dominate the centre, but this city is very much young at heart, with two of the country’s biggest universities and an 80,000+ strong community of students. Richly multicultural, academic, creative, and young, it’s easy to see why Thessaloniki was named European Youth Capital in 2014. Cobbled pedestrian sidestreets are lined with quirky independent boutiques heaving with vintage clothes or handmade jewellery, street art and graffiti tags burst out from the cream-coloured buildings, and there are bars and cafés everywhere.
Partying by night and browsing artist’s studios and cute boutique stores by day, all the while making the most of an eclectically multicultural food scene with a heavy Ottoman influence; this really is an ideal spot for a city break. And Greece, as a whole, is significantly cheaper than usual – particularly if you patronise the locally-owned business that so need your support – so it’s the perfect time to make the most of this country’s surprising city break scene. And it’s not all about the parties; ancient Thessaloniki full of fascinating history. We headed out to the crumbling City Walls with a local guide to get the full lesson, one which starts in 315 BC when Thessaloniki was founded by King Cassander of Macedonia and named for his wife, and travels through the various layers of occupation which have all left their indelible mark on the Greece’s culture. In spite of the rain, catching the golden hues of approaching sunset from the stunning Trigonion Tower in the North-Eastern corner of the walls was an incredible moment, while the views from the wind-swept White Tower on the seafront were spectacular.
Not far from the White Tower – an Ottoman relic no longer painted white but remarkably well-restored – is another of Thessaloniki’s most iconic sites, the umbrella sculpture by Georgios Zongolopoulos. A bizarre, towering structure of grey metal umbrellas looking particularly apt against the gloomy sky on my second day in the city, these lend themselves fantastically to photographs, perhaps the reason behind their surprising success as a tourist attraction. The day had begun with a fantastic food tour from Thessaloniki Walking Tours, followed by a much-needed coffee at a café overlooking the impressive Roman forum. Sufficiently fuelled up by super strong iced Greek frappé and ignoring the obvious threat of rain, I struck out for an afternoon of dodging downpours in search of street art, and was rewarded with some great finds. My highlight was a metal fence that had been decked out with brightly painted trainers that had been converted into cute flowerpots; as quirky and bizarre as everything else I came across in the city.
Finally, the unseasonable rain vanished on the third day, and the June sun came out in full force to welcome our group to dazzling Halkidiki. This is the other thing that makes Thessaloniki an ideal city break; just a couple of hour’s drive away are some of the paradisiacal beaches Greece is known for. We headed to Kassandra, the first of three peninsulas known as Poseidon’s Trident, where – much like in neighbouring Thessaloniki – the party atmosphere was inescapable, with luxurious beach bars like Lefki Ammos where we found ourselves welcomed by a beach of exceptional beauty. White sands and clear turquoise waters lifted straight from a glossy magazine, ice cold cocktails from the bar, and a live performance from a local band… it was an afternoon from a dream, and the perfect end to an insightful Greek city break.
The view from Lefki Ammos Beach Bar, Halkidiki
The political mood in the country may seem bleak, but the impression I got from the people I met, especially the local business owners, was one of determination, full of fiery Greek passion. The parties haven’t stopped yet, and if the fast changing city centres of Athens and Thessaloniki are anything to go by, this is a seriously adaptable country which will, I hope, get through anything. The situation is hopeful, things seem perfectly safe, it’s cheaper than usual and you’ll be sharing the country with far fewer tourists than normal, plus they really do need the tourism. So go to Greece, I say, and enjoy. You won’t regret it.
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Source: Emily Luxton Travels