Overview

Introduction

We'd highly recommend a few nights in Thessaloniki at the beginning or end of your holiday to Halkidiki, which is very easy for us to arrange.

In many ways Thessaloniki feels like a big, modern, waterfront city, the second largest in Greece and with a far more cosmopolitan vibe than Athens. There are major shopping streets, lively laneways, a university with 150,000 students and a vast selection of restaurants and cafes. It is also a city with a turbulent past, a profound history of intertwined cultures, and a lasting legacy from its place at the very crossroads between East and West.

Founded in 315 B.C. Thessaloniki was named after a half-sister of Alexander the Great. Since then, the city has been dominated by whichever empire was in power, from Byzantium to Ottoman. You can explore several Paleochristian sites, the remains of a Roman market and theatre, Byzantine city walls and an 8th century copy of the Agia Sophia in Constantinople, the emblematic White Tower, and crowded alleyways and hamams (bath houses).

This mix of cultures comes alive in regards to food. Thessaloniki is renowned as the gourmet capital of Greece, with a cuisine that fuses Mediterranean, Balkan and Turkish sensibilities.

Thessaloniki is a city made for walking. Take an evening stroll (volta) along the waterfront, perhaps ending up in the narrow alleys of old Ladadika, home to a buzzing nightlife of authentic street restaurants and bars; visit one of the city’s thirty (30!) museums; take the bus to the Ano Poli (Old City) and from the very top look down upon the bustling city and glimpse, in the distance, across the sea, Mount Olympus itself.

There are no beaches within the town itself. However there is a very good waterbus service called Karavakia operating from the harbour to three beaches further around the Thermaic Gulf. These beaches are sandy, safe (some have a Blue Flag) and organised. The waterbus service is understandably popular, operates up to 5 times daily in each direction (takes 50-60 mins.) and cost 3.50 euros in 2018.

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Private Walking Tour in Thessaloniki

There is no better way to get under the skin of a city than on foot, and Thessaloniki is perfect as most of its major historical attractions are contained within a relatively small area. A walking tour can be pre-booked from any of our city hotels.

Your personal guide will meet you at your hotel and the tour will include all the main monuments (many of them listed by UNESCO) including The White Tower, the Roman forum, the Rotunda, Galerius Arch, palace ruins, medieval towers and modest Byzantine churches hiding rare treasures - all of which will give you an insight into this fascinating melting-pot of a city that once belonged almost equally to Jews, Greeks, Ottomans and refugees from Asia Minor to name a few.

  • Cost: £65 per person (minimum 2)
  • Duration: 3 hours
  • Included: English speaking guide


Not included: Entrance fees (namely The White Tower Museum €4 pp), shoe leather!

 

Full details - click here

Excursions to Pella and Edessa

Thessaloniki excursions

Excursions from Thessaloniki to Pella and Edessa 

The 58 acre palace complex of Pella was the birthplace of Alexander the Great of Macedonia and a court blessed by poets such as Euripides, Aratus and, of course, Alexander’s tutor Aristotle. 

In the 4th century BC, the regions of Edessa, Pella, Giannitsa (Giannitsa became important around 1372 during Ottoman occupation) and Vergina (original name: Aiges, first capital of Macedonian Kingdom – the second capital being Pella) were at the heart of classical Macedonia. It was Phillip II, Alexander The Great’s father, who began the transformation of Macedonia into a world power. In fact Vergina, the first capital is in the Imathia region but only 54 km south from Pella. 

At that time, Pella was at its height, the capital of the region and an opulent city with wide boulevards, well built houses with mosaic floors and a sophisticated water and sewage distribution system which encompassed the whole city. Originally by the sea (although eventually cut off due to the silting of the Axios, Aliakmon and Loudias rivers), the port and central Agora, the largest in the ancient world, were the business and administrative hub of the Macedonian Empire. 

After 200 years as Macedonia’s capital, the status of Pella was downgraded by the Romans and in 90 BC was devastated by an earthquake. The excellent Pella Museum, which is located on the site bears witness to the wealth and opulence of the city. 

The city of Edessa, the modern capital of the Pella region, is easily reached by train or car from Thessaloniki (90 km) and is located 48 km from Pella. A taxi between the two will cost in the region of €50 and will take about 45 minutes. If you have driven to Edessa from Thessaloniki then it is an easy drive to Pella. 

Founded some 300 years before Pella and the capital of the region before Pella, ancient Edessa (remains from the Roman times) was to be found a little below the current location of the city. In the middle ages, because of its advantageous location on the Roman Via Egnatia which connected the Adriatic sea with Asia Minor, the city was fought over by Bulgarians, Byzantines and Serbs.. The Turks then followed and in the second world war, with the Nazi occupation of Greece, half the city was burned to the ground in retaliation to the shooting of one soldier by the Greek Resistance. 

During the Salonica Front period in World War One, the region became a transit centre for the French troops who constructed significant infrastructure works such as the railway station and hospitals. Ho Chi Minh, the legendary Vietnamese leader, described it as ‘The City of Waters and Cherries’ as he was stationed there when serving with the French army during World War One. The city is located at the top of a 1,000 foot rock on which the ancient acropolis was located. 

Today, Edessa thrives on tourism (skiing in winter) and is a convenient base from which to visit the rich archaeological remains in Pella, Vergina and other ancient sites in the surrounding region. It is also a city of waterfalls. The Edessaios river, fed by two mountain lakes, gurgles through the city via canals and streams until it reaches the tree lined precipice and falls hundreds of feet into the fertile valley below. 

Overnight stays can be arranged in Edessa where there are several good hotels (Hotel Varosi Four Seasons/Hotel Hagiati) should this be required.

Summary of places to visit: 

  • Pella Archaeological Museum and Site,
  • Edessa city (central park with waterfalls – walking distance - the tallest is “Karanos Waterfall” ~approx 70m high).
  • Voras Ski Center (https://kaimaktsalan.gr/)
  • Thermal Springs and Baths, Loutraki Arideas (or Pozar) https://www.loutrapozar.info/en/contact/Pozar-Installations/ )

Day trip combinations from Thessaloniki: 

  • Loutraki Aridea (enjoy natural thermal springs) and Edessa in the afternoon.
  • Edessa city tour and Pella Archaeological Museum and Site (or vice-versa).
  • Pella & Vergina Archaeological Museums.

Thessaloniki excursions

Excursions to Serres

Thessaloniki excursions

EXCURSIONS FROM THESSALONIKI TO SERRES 

The first mention we have of Serres is from Herodotus in the 5th century BC. However, the city was founded long before the Trojan war, with estimates putting its founding at around the 2nd millennium BC. The ancient city had a very strategic location as it was built on a high and steep hill just north of the modern city. Serres is set in a dramatic landscape of towering peaks, dense forests, wetlands and fertile plains. 

During the 4th century BC, the biggest port of the Macedonians was Amphipolis at the delta of Strymon River. Alexander the Great gathered his fleet there, before departing for his Asia campaign. Today, Amphipolis is the talk of the town due to the importance of Kastas Tomb (Kastas is a hillock), a significant archaeological site that still keeps plenty of its secrets unrevealed. The findings of the excavations are exhibited at the Amphipolis Archaeological Museum. Some say that this is the tomb of Alexander The Great as it is 10 times larger than the tomb of his father Philip II in Vergina. The opening of the tomb is keenly awaited as it could be the archaeological find of the century. 

Like many of the northern Greek cities bordering the Balkans, Serres came under the Romans, then the Byzantines, followed by the Ottomans and then suffered under the German/Bulgarian attacks in the first and second world wars. The Jewish community was exterminated. The allies liberated the city in 1944 but there had been much damage to the infrastructure and little of Byzantine Serres remains. 

One of the oldest buildings approximately 12 km north east of Serres is The Monastery of St. Timios Prodromos of Serres. Located in a heavily forested area of plane, pine and cypress trees, this ancient monastery was built in 1270 AD and although damaged during endless wars, it is still a magnificent monument of Byzantine art. Its location is magical This monastery is inhabited by nuns who are responsible for maintaining the museum reflecting the history of the monastery and its wine making tradition. Here you will find priceless examples of Byzantine art. 

The Hermitage of Saint John The Baptist, 40 minutes’ drive from Serres has spectacular views of the plain of Serres, Lake Kerkini and the wetlands. Inhabited also by 40 nuns who look after the extensive vegetable gardens, fruit trees and cows, the Hermitage is a dependency of the Holy Monastery of Xenophon of Mount Athos. You are made very welcome at this monastery - traditional Greek sweets and coffee - which receives many visitors. 

If you are a bird lover, then Lake Kerkini, Lake Kerkini National Park and the Lake Kerkini wetland information centre, an hour’s drive north from Serres is a must. The lake is considered to be one of the top birding sites in all of Greece. It is an important area for the passage, wintering and breeding of both waterfowl and raptors as well as for the breeding of migratory songbirds. The lake is surrounded by forests and mountains which provide nesting for eagles, falcons and owls. More than 300 species of birds have been sighted, 140 of which live permanently on the lake and the surrounding area. 170 species visit the lake to breed or stop-over on their migratory journey. 

Of course, a 40 minute drive north also brings you to the 1917 Macedonian front and Fort Roupel on the road to the Greek - Bulgarian border. For those interested in military history, the Rupel bunker is a highly interesting historical site. The fort fell in 1941 after a heroic and lengthy defence by a handful of Greek soldiers against one of the Nazi army’s premier divisions. A visit to the fort is a very moving experience and a fascinating insight into a part of the two world wars that is rarely taught in schools in England. 

Should you decide to overnight in the area, then we can arrange accommodation at the very characterful Guesthouse Oikoperiigitis (the eco wanderer) near Lake Kerkini or the Elpida Resort Hotel in Serres.

Thessaloniki excursions_Serres

Excursion to Kilkis

Thessaloniki excursions

EXCURSION FROM THESSALONIKI TO KILKIS 

This excursion - Kilkis is an hour’s drive from Thessaloniki - is aimed predominantly at those interested in war history but yet again this is beautiful countryside and not to be missed. Just the drive, almost to the border of what is now called The Republic of North Macedonia, is an excursion in itself, and enables you to enjoy the peaceful landscape of Lake Doirani which is the natural border between the two countries. 

Kilkis is now an industrial city but in the 4th century BC the city flowered under the growing power of Macedonia and it continued to play a strategic role under the Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans. 

But it is for its modern era that Kilkis is best known. The First Balkan War in 1912 resulted in the defeat of the Ottomans by an alliance made up of Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro. The Ottoman Empire was forced to hand back many European territories including Macedonia. Kilkis was strategically placed on the main road between Thessaloniki and the Macedonian Front. 

The alliance did not last long and Bulgaria and Greece, bitter rivals, faced each other in the Second Balkan War. The Hill of Heroes, overlooking Kilkis was a strategic point, where the Greeks in the three day battle between the 19th and 21st June 1913 captured the city from the Bulgarians and therefore stopped any advance towards Serres. 15,000 thousand soldiers died over those three days. A walk to the top of the steep hill and to the small museum there makes one realise the horrors of war and needless death. 

The victorious battle that changed the route of the war, took place in Skra hill in 1918. The village square at Skra was the meeting place where generals and politicians planned their war games, a fact easily proven by the collections and documents that are exhibited in a small war museum. Before entering the village, you can stop at the Skra waterfalls, a 20 minute walk down narrow paths into lush forest, for which the village is famous. 

During World War one there were two battles at Lake Doiran (40 minutes drive north of Kilkis) in 1917 and 1918 at which the allies stopped the advance of the Bulgarian army in its attempt to break through The Macedonian Front and invade Greece. 

Looking at the peaceful and beautiful countryside and the lake sparkling in the near distance, it is hard to imagine what happened here during the war. The beautifully and lovingly kept British Cemetery is a moving and stark reminder of those who died so far from their homes in this remote part of Greece.

Thessaloniki excursions

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Neil Brassington
Neil Brassington
Best time to go
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Time Difference

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Language

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Average flight times

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Jackie Gogonas
Jackie Gogonas

Those of our clients who have, over the last 20 or so years, visited Tolon in the Peloponnese will know Jackie; our very knowledgeable and passionate representative. Having decided to return to the UK, she has joined our reservations team and, needless to say, knows Tolon, a resort we have featured since 1973, inside out. It will come as no surprise to know that the Peloponnese is her favourite region in Greece.

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We promise that a member of our specialist reservation teams will reply personally to your holiday enquiry before 5.30pm if received before 12.00pm (Monday to Friday). Enquiries received after 12.00pm will be replied to within 24-hours (excluding Sundays).

If your enquiry is of an urgent nature, please telephone our dedicated reservation teams on the numbers listed below.

Our lines are open from 9.00am to 5.30pm Monday-Friday and from 9.30am to 4.30pm Saturday.

  • Greece: 020 8758 4758
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  • Portugal, the Azores, Spain, Italy, Sicily and Scandinavia: 020 8758 4722
  • Latin America: 020 8758 4774
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