Thessaloniki, the second biggest city in Greece by population, was the first stop on my 2‑week trip around Greece in June 2018. I only had one full day in the city, but found this just enough to see the highlights. As Thessaloniki was the city with the cheapest prices throughout my journey in Greece, it's also a great tip for budget-conscious travellers.
Here is all you need to know for a short trip to this Greek city gem…
Film Location Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki might not be known as a place where many, internationally well-known mainstream movies have been shot. However, the city hosts one of the most important film festivals in Europe every year in November.
The Thessaloniki International Film Festival showcases a great number of international and Greek feature-length movies, documentaries and short films.
Arriving in Thessaloniki
Compared to other European cities, transportation from the airport to Thessaloniki's city centre is super cheap. A ticket for the public airport bus X1 will only cost you 2 Euros!
You can get your ticket from the little booth at the bus stop and then have to stamp it inside the bus. Bear in mind, however, that many people will have the same idea, so the bus usually gets pretty crowded. If you would like to avoid that, you can always get a taxi, which should cost you around 20 Euros.
How to get around in Thessaloniki and beyond
If you stay somewhere central, you can easily walk everywhere. This is what I did, too. Otherwise, there are public busses.
As of June 2018, a brand new ferry from Thessaloniki to the Greek Islands of Skiathos and Skopelos has launched. During the summer season, the Golden Star ferries only take 3–4 hours from Thessaloniki to the gorgeous filming locations of the first Mamma Mia! movie (2008).
If you would like to visit the Greek capital Athens, you can hop on the direct train, which takes about five and a half hours and can be booked via the national Greek rail website TrainOSE. You can also fly from Thessaloniki to Athens with Aegean Airlines.
What to do in Thessaloniki
1. Join a FREE walking tour
To get a first overview of the city and an introduction to its history, I booked a "free" walking tour via Freetour.com. If you do the same and you liked the tour, don’t forget to give your guide a tip at the end.
2. Be in awe at the Orthodox churches
The dominant religion in Greece is Christian Orthodox. So the insides of the churches look a bit different than in other Christian countries and are thus worthwhile seeing.
I visited the Agia Sofia (on the square where my walking tour started) and the Agios Dimitrios (we stopped by on our walking tour and were given some free time to explore the inside of the church).
All churches in Thessaloniki are free to enter. You should, however, keep knees and shoulders covered and not visit while a lot of the Greeks are having their “Siesta” hours due to the midday heat (roughly between 1 and 5 pm). Photos are usually allowed, but without flash.
3. Soak up the city's history in the White Tower
The so-called White Tower ("Lefkos Pirgos" in Greek) is Thessaloniki's most famous landmark, so you should definitely stop by here.
In the past, the tower was the gruesome scene for several bloody executions, which is apparently why it was painted white at some point.
The inside of the tower houses an insightful exhibition about the history of the city. It is spread over 6 levels and on the very top level, you can enjoy a great 360 degrees view over the city and the harbour front.
Entry to the White Tower is only 4 Euros and includes an audio guide.
4. Dig into thousands of years of history at world-class museums
Up until World War 2, Thessaloniki had one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe. At the Jewish Museum (free), you can learn more about the heritage of Jewish life in Thessaloniki.
5. Take a "free" cruise
Ok, I got you there. The cruise is not entirely free. There is no charge to enter the boat for a short cruise (mine was about 30 minutes), but you are required to buy a drink. With prices starting from 5 Euros for a beer or fruit juice, I think the prices are still very reasonable though.
There a several boat companies along the main waterfront, so you can take your pick. The boats operate all day long and a sunset cruise is particularly romantic.
6. Take a selfie with Alex and feel like Mary Poppins
Just a few metres from the White Tower and the "booze cruise" harbour, you'll find a statue of Alexander the Great and the city's famous umbrella artwork.
The unusual landmark, created by the artist Giorgios Zoggolopoulos in the 1990s, surely is a great spot to take some Mary-Poppins-inspired pictures! 😉
7. Check out Thessaloniki's Cinema Scene
As already mentioned above, the renowned Thessaloniki International Film Festival takes places every year in November, so this might be a great opportunity for film fans to visit the city and see what's new on the international cinema horizon.
In the summertime, there are also several open-air cinema screenings throughout Thessaloniki.
Where to stay in Thessaloniki
I stayed at the Stay Hybrid Hostel. With 11 Euros per night in a 8‑bed female dorm, this was a real bargain. The Hostel is newly renovated, offers a nice rooftop terrace and friendly staff. The amenities were constantly cleaned and kept in good order. Plus, the hostel is centrally located, so you can easily walk everywhere.
For example to the Aristotelous Square (where the airport bus X1 arrives and departs from) and the waterfront harbour with the famous White Tower, umbrellas and Alexander the Great statue.
Where to eat and drink in Thessaloniki
The area around the Stay Hybrid Hostel offers some good choices for comparatively cheap meals. I had a great dinner for under 10 Euros at a taverna just a few steps from the hostel called GIOYVANOYDHS.
At a cute little Greek Café called EKLEKTIK, I enjoyed a lovingly prepared Greek breakfast with coffee (if you like, you can get the typical Thessaloniki-invented Greek Iced Coffee called Frappé), bread, honey, cheese and eggs – all for just 6 Euros (a special price for Hostel guests).
Unless otherwise credited, all photos by © Sonja Irani | filmfantravel.com
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