When I was picturing heading to Greece, I always assumed I would hit Athens before any place else, or maybe even Santorini. But when the opportunity came up to visit Thessaloniki, I wasn’t going to say no. (Even though I had never heard of it!) What I found was a still untouched city free of American tourists with a wonderful underground culture and amazing food. Here are some tips for those who might be thinking of visiting the city of Thessaloniki.
Check in advance for hostels.
When I was there two years ago, there was really only one hostel available. As Thessaloniki becomes a more and more popular location for young people to visit, it tends to book up quickly. I stayed at the Hostel Studios Arabas—a funky spot with reasonable prices if you are looking for a shared room. I also went in the low season, so it was much less busy than it would have been in the summer. Booking advance can make sure that you will get a room when you want one.
Enjoy the city, but get out of it too.
Thessaloniki has a fun night scene for young people and lots of shopping. However, there is only one museum devoted to the beautiful ancient ruins in the center of the city. If you’re looking for history and culture, it’s not like other cities in Greece.
The good thing is that there are some ways to get out of the city and some fun sights not too far away. I went to the Pozar Hot Springs with a friend and Halkidiki beach.
Eat, eat, eat.
Greeks love eating. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a place where food culture is more lauded. As my friend Helen from Thessaloniki told me, “Eating is our national pastime.” With the euro so low right now, it would be a shame not to try out some of the delicious food options available. Greeks also have some amazing pastries unlike anything I’ve had anywhere else, and honey is a huge part of what makes it so incredible.
In my opinion, try all of it. Seafood, feta, whatever. Also, you must try the Greek version of the frappe—coffee culture is a huge part of Thessaloniki’s night scene, even more than drinking.
Be prepared for little English.
Surprisingly, I would have thought a major city would have some English speakers, but Thessaloniki had few people who could speak with me. I ended up speaking more French than English when I was there, which was a great learning experience. Also, at the time I went there were demonstrations going on. At first I was frightened because soldiers were walking around with machine guns. I couldn’t ask what was going on or what it was for, which would have been interesting to know.
Body language and a smile became imperative—the Greeks love to laugh and have a good joke. They’ll probably even pour you a glass of ouzo.