Since I’ve moved here to Greece, I’ve always heard Thessaloniki to be a “cleaner, smaller and more beautiful Athens”. There, it is said that the women are the most beautiful; wearing their best clothes even when going out for a simple coffee with their παρέα/parea (group of friends). The people are said to be even more easy going and take life at an even slower pace compared to their Athenian neighbors (which is funny, since their idea of the hectic metropolitan Athens is for me, life at half the pace I was used to keeping back in the states). Everything is easily walk-able, which is super convenient for first-time travelers. For the history junkies, you will find a plethora of ancient ruins throughout the entire city. And of course… being a city right on the ocean does give an area that much more of an appeal.
Alex had a pool tournament over the weekend so that gave me an excuse to tag along and see for myself what the city had to offer…
And all that I was told was true.
Though the walk-ability of many characteristic European cities is what makes them some of my favorite places to visit, to venture out on your own and explore everything for yourself; as a first-timer, it can be a bit overwhelming to know exactly where you should start. But for the most part, most popular towns offer free walking tours. So I Facebook-ed “Thessaloniki Free Walking Tours” and found exactly that. After reading the straight five star reviews, I immediately messaged them to book my spot for the next available “city center” tour.
Georgios, our guide, I noticed had the strong intention to not just guide us through the highlighted yellow-brick roads of the city, but took us a bit deeper. Though he gave an entertaining and interesting background story for the history of the city and all the UNESCO World Heritage sites we passed; the honesty of his introduction to the Greek people of today, along with the good and the bad of their cultural habits, made this tour single itself out from many of the others I’ve taken. For those who are really into “avoiding the touristy stuff” I definitely recommend this one. It came from a uniquely, genuine and authentic perspective that I think gives curious travelers a very accurate view of where they are visiting.
As for my favorite part of the city however, we found trekking the streets on our own. Starving and confused, because I was determined to find this restaurant Georgios recommended to us; and Google maps was having too much fun taking us in circles.
Though we eventually found our lunch destination, I was even more so happy to discover…
Ladadika, which literally translates into “the shops that sell oil” has been the original bazaar area of Thessaloniki since before the Ottoman empire. When the Great Fire of 1917 devastated the area, Ladadika plummeted into a steady decline until the Ministry of Culture declared it a historical monument in 1985. It’s specifically European construction of colorful shops, huddled together over cobblestone streets, was preserved and revived until the spirit of old Thessaloniki could start to breathe again.
We could easily say we spent about sixty percent of our time in Thessaloniki here. It’s a very romantic area to stroll around and eat…
You’re probably wondering where you should eat then?
Our traditional Greek dinner of fried calamari, potatoes, tzatziki, shrimp saganaki and complementary milfay for desert… has been dubbed Alex’s favorite meal of 2017.
If it wasn’t against my moral consciousness to eat at the same restaurant twice in a city I’m visiting for a few days (for the sake of trying as many other good places as possible)… we probably would’ve gone twice.
Though it was debated.
If you also want to know what locals do in their spare time, you can say as a general rule of thumb… that if you lose a Greek, you will most likely find them at any nearby kafeteria (coffee shop) with their friends, rolling cigarettes and sipping slowly, slowly on frappes. And your chances of finding them before they move on to the next place are highly in your favor, since it’s tradition to stay for at least four hours.
Thessaloniki is no different… except they have the port 🙂
I make fun of Greeks for their extreme coffee habits… but to be fair, I’ve definitely adopted them. And I think I would be even more addicted to the coffee lifestyle if I got to enjoy it with the ocean in front of me everyday. It’s incredibly peaceful. Something about being close to the sea puts everyone at their best mood. Which is maybe why people here are that much more easygoing.
The port is everyone’s favorite part of the city… or at least where they spend most their time. Lined with dozens of coffee places, shops and tavernas… its really enjoyable.
If you’re not a coffee addict… I will suggest two things that even I could fathom replacing with that addiction. Fregio’s ice cream and famous Thessaloniki bougatsa.
Fregios was suggested to me by a friend I met at the pool hall during Alex’s tournament. When he said it was the best ice cream I will ever try… it immediately went on my list of places to go. And it was pretty. damn. good. We were those customers and raced in thirty minutes before they closed (sorry Fregios :/) because after a night of drinking, sweets or anything greasy is the best thing to end the night with.
Fregios is definitely up on my list of best ice cream experiences. Right next to the port, sitting on the wall, with our feet dangling above the water. Its a must.
Then there’s bougatsa. If you’ve heard anything about famous Thessaloniki cuisine, you are bound to have heard of this. Though to be honest… it didn’t stand out too much from other bougatsas I’ve had here in Athens. But warm, flaky pastry dough filled with sweet cream, topped with powdered sugar and cinnamon, is hard to not enjoy regardless of where you’re having it… its like Greek fair food. So, you simply can’t go to Thessaloniki without saying you’ve tried it.
In conclusion, I have to say for anyone wanting to try scenery other than the Acropolis or blue roofs and white houses on pristine beaches… Thessaloniki is definitely worth visiting for a few days. We for sure thought it was… especially when it came to the food 🙂