The big-hearted city of the northern Greece

Warm and generous, Thessaloniki is at the same time historic and avant-garde, ideal for a city break or stopover and a fascinating mix of holiday memories.
Greece’s second city is unlike anywhere else in the country. It is both a sprawling urban centre and a cultural melting pot, where dreams, ideas, visions and trends percolate in an alternative, avant-garde scene. Its history is written upon everything that surrounds you: the White Tower, Nikis Avenue, Aristotelous Square, Mitropoleos Avenue, Tsimiski Avenue, the Ladadika district, Modiano Market, Bit Bazaar and the Old City. Just as you’ll enjoy the atmosphere in the cafes and bars, you’ll adore the choice of traditional tavernas and gourmet restaurants.

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A multicultural centre

Walking around Thessaloniki, you can trace the civilisations and people that have left their mark on this great city. The Palace, Triumphal Arch and impressive Rotunda (which formed the city’s administrative and religious centre in Roman times) offer an insight into the reign of emperor Galerius Maximilianos in the early 4th century AD. Meanwhile, the Jewish Museum recreates the life of the Jewish community in pre-war Salonica. And don’t forget to visit the former home of Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey.

Spend as long as you can exploring the narrow lanes of Ano Poli, one of the oldest districts of Thessaloniki, above the modern town. You’ll find numerous attractions, most notably castles and religious monuments: the Trigoniou Tower and Eptapyrgio fortifications, Ottoman monuments, the Vlatades Monastery and the Byzantine churches of Osios David and Agios Nikolaos Orfanos. This is the best-preserved district of the old city, with views of the Thermaic Gulf and (on clear days) Mt Olympus.

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A memory in every bite

Leaving Thessaloniki, you’ll take with you thousands of memories and a few (worthwhile) grams of weight. High-end restaurants and trendy dining options, as well as out-of-the-way ouzeries, tavernas and all-day restaurants, offer a feeling of foodie heaven. Istanbul and Pontos, the Balkans and the Mediterranean, Macedonia and Thrace… all these cultures will make their way onto your plate.

Thessaloniki’s cuisine is known for its meze (small plates intended for sharing) that the 1920s refugees brought with them from Asia Minor. They also brought the tradition of patsa (tripe soup) and Thessaloniki’s famous bougatsa (a sweet-cream breakfast pastry).

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Exploring the wine routes of Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki needs no excuse to raise a glass of the good stuff to life. So if you’re a wine-lover, there’s an extra special treat in store when you visit Greece’s second city. Just ask for a recommendation in a bar or restaurant and, odds are, you’ll be directed to a label from a winery just a handful of kilometers away.

What you’ll discover is that Thessaloniki’s vineyards are part of a network of Winemakers of Northern Greece, a group of wineries committed to advancing the name of Greek wines internationally. And we’re not just talking taste, tannins and body. When it comes to Thessaloniki’s winemakers, their goal is to make their wines a part of the city’s cultural footprint… every bit as much as its temples, markets, basilicas, castles, baths, mosques and art deco buildings.

So going on a wine tour is a great way to get to know the region. There are wineries within an hour’s drive in every direction. To the west, you reach Kalohori, on the outskirts of the bird-rich Axios Delta wetlands, and to the north are the vineyards around Langadas, in the foothills of Mt Ossa. And heading south, you pass the seaside escapes of Perea, Agia Triada and Nea Michaniona to perhaps Thessaloniki’s best-known wine-growing area, Epanomi, on the edge of the Thermaic Gulf. Many have been awarded protected geographical indications (PGI) status.

You’ll visit a winery that has incorporated a museum into its grounds (look for the collection of corkscrews and wine-growing tools) and another dedicated to changing the international perception of retsina (exporting Greece’s famous resinated wine to dozens of countries). And others have become 100% organic.

Touring the vineyards and cellars will give you an appreciation of the first-rate facilities, so make sure to book a wine-tasting session and choose which bottle you’ll be taking home with you.

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