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My travels in Greece last summer opened my eyes to a level of beauty I thought only existed in Photoshopped postcards. Nay, Greece had cried to me as I sat and watched the sun set from the rocks off Hydra, I’m beautiful. For reals. And so far, it really has proven to be true.

Sure, Greece has its issues, perhaps now more than ever. But politics and economy aside, there’s a reason why this country was the birthplace of much philosophy, or Western art, and of all the things that so many other civilizations appropriated or were influenced by. Part of that is its inherent beauty and the vitality of its people.

Thessaloniki, the capital of Greek’s region of Central Macedonia, is, at its heart, a diverse city. Historically speaking, Thessaloniki–aka Salonica–was home to large populations of Jews, Turks, Bulgarians, as well as native Greeks. Today, it’s considered the cultural capital of Greece.

Having never explored northern Greece, the six-and-a-half hour train ride up from Athens was a pleasant journey; the scenery changed from arid to green in less than an hour, and by the time we arrived in the early evening, the city was hot but tempered by the breeze at the port.

We only spent a couple days in Salonica, but they were great days. Here are my favorite five things we saw and did there:

1-3: Thessaloniki On the Go Bus Tour: A bus tour constitutes three out of five? Really? Yes, really. Our hotel (which, by the way, was a FANTASTIC family-run place, I highly recommend you check out Hotel Atlantis if you’re ever traveling in Salonica, very helpful staff and comfortable accommodations for excellent prices) gave us this tip to try out the Thessaloniki On the Go Bus Tour. It’s just a regular hop on/hop off sort of deal, but it only cost 2 euro. The comparable one that met right next to it had the cheapest price of 9 euro. 

 We got to see the major parts of the city, and while in transit enjoy the lovely air-conditioned atmosphere of the bus, which was welcome considering how hot Greece can be. Taking this #50 bus, we hopped off in the neighborhood of Ano Poli, the old town and a part of Thessaloniki that was not destroyed during the city’s great fire in 1917. Vlatodon Monastery (1) was a peaceful place to see the city from afar, and still functions as a Byzantine monastery, so you can go to a service if you’d like. 
Just through the first arch into the old town is the Heptapyrgion (2), which was a fortress built in the Byzantine era. This would probably be a good place to watch the sun set over the city, but a wedding party was there getting photographed so we didn’t stay long. Here’s the view! 
Me at the fortress overlooking the city. Not a bad view, eh?

I like taking pictures of grapes. 

The cemetery at the monastery.

View from the monastery overlooking Salonica

A back street in Ano Poli
Travel secret: To get off the beaten path in practically any city, buy some snacks (fruit is our recommendation), find a residential area and a square or park, and people-watch while devouring your goodies (3). This is what we did in Ano Poli; we explored the neighborhood, which got us away from the generally touristed areas of the city. We found a little grocery store and bought some fruit, which is absolutely perfect in Greece, and watched families finishing their coffees in the plaza by our bus stop. A little slice of what life is really like for Salonicans. 

4. Dining in Ladadika: The area by the city center is broken into a number of districts. Many trendy tavernas and clubs are located in Ladadika, and we found a brand-new restaurant, Basilikos, that we loved enough to eat at twice. Nightlife in Thessaloniki thrives, and Ladadika seems to be where everyone starts their night, with dinner or a few drinks, and then maybe heads out to the clubs.

5. Down by the port: Waterfronts are generally a safe bet for things to see and do in a city, and Thessaloniki is no exception. Sunset by the water is not a sight to be missed, and there is plenty of seating available in public areas. If you want to dine or drink in style, there are also a few nice places right on the water, which affords a choice view of the city or of the Aegean Sea. For historical and cultural information on Thessaloniki, as well as a cool view, check out the White Tower. The audio guide is included in the price, and although it wasn’t necessarily my absolute favorite activity we did, it was the closest we got to a museum, so I learned a bit about the town by going.

From the White Tower

Sunset at the port

Street musicians in Aristotelous Square

Ever been to Thessaloniki? What was your favorite part?