Thessaloniki, is the second largest city and the cultural capital of Greece. While it is a popular destination domestically and to its Balkan neighbors , it is still somewhat an often overlooked destination by other international travelers. What if I tell you that with its 23 century of history you can find a plethora of structures and monuments from different eras. Will that pique your curiosity? What if i tell you they have lavender fields that will make Valensole purple with envy, would this catch your fancy?!
Are you now thinking of going to Thessaloniki?! Below is a little guide that I managed to whip up for you on our short stay there.
How to go to Thessaloniki
You can reach Thessaloniki by plane, car, train, or by bus.
Address: Thessaloniki Airport Makedonia, EO Aerodromiou Thessalonikis 55103
This is an International airport with connections to around 38 countries. Depending on the season it renders service to over 60 foreign cities and 35 domestic destinations in Greece including the islands. From the airport are taxis and KTEL buses that can take you to the center of Thessaloniki.
Address: Trainose, New Railway Station, 28 Monastiriou St., Thessaloniki
The train services includes transportation through intercity, suburban and even international services to some Balkan countries. For more information and booking click here.
Address: KTEL Giannitson 244, Thessaloniki 54628
The KTEL Macedonia bus connects Thessaloniki to major cities in Greece and even international route to major Balkan towns. Check for KTEL routes here. For international routes check here. OASTH (Organization of Urban Transportation of Thessaloniki) provides transportation service within Thessaloniki and the outskirts.
There are also private/independent bus companies offering services from Thessaloniki to various destinations which you can check with a local travel agency.
A direct flight from Athens takes around 55 minutes which is the fastest way but also most costly. Depending on the season, can cost from €30 to €100.
A train ride from Athens takes more than 4 hours with the first departure at 622am and the last one at 2245. A return ticket cost 75.40, one way 47.20
By bus the duration of the ride is more or less 6 hours. A regular one way ticket cost €39,while a return ticket cost €57.Click here for KTEL bus schedules between Athens and Thessaloniki.
We opted to take the bus, as time was not really an issue for us during this trip. We have been very impressed with the KTEL buses which we have used several times, so we didn't mind if this takes the longest to arrive in Thessaloniki. I love roadtrips and the countryside views on the way are so spectacular that time fly so fast. The bus is clean, in great condition, comfortable temperature, with free Wifi and usb plugs for charging.
How to go to the lavender fields
The lavender fields is located in Mesimeri, a village in the Thermaikos Municipality. From the city center of Thessaloniki, it takes approximately 30 minutes. You can drive, take a cab or bus to visit the fields. For utmost ease and convenience, driving your car is the most obvious choice but of course not everybody have this option. The taxi is a convenient but costly option. The public transportation is the cheapest but can be adventurous as the drop off point is not exactly in the fields, hence involves some walking.
What we did which we deemed to be the most practical is to combine taking a bus and then a cab to our final destination. We took bus 3K until Ikea which cost €2, and took a taxi to Mesimeri. It's a 15 minute drive from there. There is also the option to take the bus, Bus 88E have routes that pass near Mesimeri, but from the drop off, it entails more walking. As we were not familiar with the area and didn't want to miss the sunset, we decided to hire a cab instead. Do note that in Mesimeri itself, there are no cabs. So if you are not staying there for the night and need to go back to Thessaloniki, then its best to contract the driver to take you back or find the bus stop going back to Ikea or the center.
There are several lavender fields in Mesimeri, some of them are not in full bloom yet when we came. We ended up taking photos in two fields.
Mesimeri, Thessaloniki 57500
Latitude: 40° 24’ 4.542” N
Longitude: 22° 59’ 23.928” E
The lavender field by Gresense is the one I really love and possibly the most beautiful in Mesimeri as it's a combination of lavender and helichrysum fields. The juxtaposition between the yellow and purple is just stunning. This is a property of Gresense that produces essential oil, but they are sharing these beautiful fields to the public and letting us take photos at no extra cost. To show our gratitude it would be nice if we could patronize their product as well. For me this is a no brainer as I have always loved diffusing lavender oil. Check out their products here.
2nd location (Lavender View)
Latitude: 40° 24’ 24.516” N
Longitude: 22° 59’ 29.154” E
There is no label in this particular field, but in google maps it is tagged as the 'Λεβάντα view' (levanda view). A farmer who saw us taking photos actually suggested this field saying his granddaughter was taking photos here the day before and have awesome sunset view.
From the Gresense lavender field, if you turn right and follow the narrow street, you will reach a hill, passing the hill you will find the second lavender field at this point. This is a kilometer away from Gresense which is approximately 12 minutes walk.
If you love flowers as much as I do, then for sure you will love this purple paradise. The great thing about the lavender fields is that there are spaces/paths between the flowers so we can avoid hurting it while taking the photos. As always, be mindful and respectful of the property, if you notice the bees hovering will not disturb you as long as you don't trample over them or the flowers.
Attractions in Thessaloniki Center
Thessaloniki Seafront Promenade
Address: Leof. Meg., Alexandrou, Thessaloniki 54641
This is a short stretch of boardwalk but it will probably take you awhile to reach from one end to the other because of all the interesting things you will see along the way. Be ready to be enthralled, delighted and inspired as you see some historical monuments, statues, art installation, or sights of locals fishing, strolling along the way. Great sunset spot that is if you don't mind sharing it with several people. Below are some significant point of interest that you will find along the way.
1. White Tower
Address: Nikis Street, Thessaloniki
Dubbed as the 'symbol of Thessaloniki, the White Tower is a significant landmark of the city.
If you are a photo enthusiast then you will have a field day taking various composition and angles of the tower. Let your creativity run wild and experiment taking photos from every angle, streets, frames.
If you are a history lover, then go inside and learn about the history of Thessaloniki. The exposition is in Greek, but an audio guide in English is available. Well worth the cheap entrance fee.
Plus be rewarded by a spectacular view from the top floor.
2. Alexander The Great
Address: Alexander the Great Garden (Nea Paralia) , Thessaloniki 54621
Located in the promenade just a few meters away from the Tower is the magnificent statue of the highly revered Alexander the Great saddled on his horse Buchephalus, and his eight spears (Sarissa), the famous weapon of his army. With a towering height of 6 meters, you can certainly feel how majestic this monument is, truly fitting for a legendary king who changed the world and made history.
3. The Umbrellas by Zongolopoulos
Address: Alexander the Great Garden (Nea Paralia) , Thessaloniki 54621
Even before the umbrella art installation become a growing theme on cafes and streets around the world, this one in Thessaloniki has already been constructed and definitely takes the cake for being the most innovative and spectacular. A sculpture by George Zongolopoulos built on a floating platform is more than 20 years, is a favorite instagram spot in the city. At whatever time you chose to photograph it, it gives a different vibe with the different lights. Most beautiful during sunset, but also most crowded.
Cathedral Church of Hagia Sophia
Address: Agias Sofias, Thessaloniki 54622
Part of the fifteen monuments of Thessaloniki listed as Unesco World Heritage Sites. One of the oldest church and still standing impressively despite its antiquity, and beautifully restored despite suffering severe calamities. It's architectural design is derived from Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
Church of Panagia Chalkeon
Address: Chalkeon 2, Thessaloniki 54624
An 11th century Byzantine church that is also part of the 15 churches for the Unesco World Heritage Site. The red brick exterior of the church provides a nice contrast to the green trees and plants around it.
Rotunda of Galerius
Address: Plateia Agiou Georgiou, Rotonta 5 Thessaloniki 54635
Part of the 15 Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments in Thessaliniki listed under the Unesco World Heritage Site. A structure so sturdy that it has stand the test of times and various calamities.
Get captivated with the mosaics inside this massive structure.
Arch of Galerius
Address: Egnatia 144, Thessaloniki 54622
Right smack dab in the midst of modern urban structures is this massive eight-pillared gateway which is a few steps away from Rotunda. If only this arch could talk, imagine the tales it would tell having witnessed over almost 2000 years of history.
Address: Egnatia Street, Thessaloniki 54631
Also known as "Baths of Paradise" located 2 minutes away from Church of Panagia Chalkeon. This is said to be the largest and oldest Ottoman Bath in Thessaloniki that is still used for cultural events.
When to visit
Thessaloniki is a year round destination, with June to August as the peak of tourism.If you are focused on seeing the lavender fields your best bet is June. As we all know, its seasonal and doesn't last very long till they harvest it. We went June 15, and some fields are in full bloom. There are however some lavenders that are are just starting to bloom. As this is my first time to visit it, I'm not sure exactly how long it will last. I would suggest calling Gresense for information also for permission like we did.
Where to Eat
Dining in Thessaloniki is such a delight. Street food, taverns, are bountiful that finding a place to eat is easy peasy. Even more impressive is how affordable it is. In all three restaurants we dined, we didn't pay any more than €20 (for 2 person) .Affordable and delicious is how i want my food when dining out! Below are some places we dine.
Address: Mpalanou 4, Thessaloniki 54623
A cozy vegan/vegetarian restaurant. A place I highly recommend to everybody who love to eat not just vegan. The options are varied.
Τρεις κι εξήντα
Address: Agias Theodoras 7, Thessaloniki 54623
This is a totally random find while we are looking for a place to have lunch. Not sure if this restaurant have an English name, but a direct translation of its name would be "three.sixty". Cozy restaurant with al fresco dining. This is my favorite among the places we dined here, everything was cooked/made to perfection.
Address: Paparrigopoulou 15, Thessaloniki 54630
A highly recommended and rated restaurant in google, and I totally understand why. Fresh, homecooked meals with great service.
Must EAT Pastries:
Μπουγάτσα Σερρες (Mbougatsa Serres)
Address: Egnatia 88, Thessaloniki 54623
Bougatsa is not something new to me! This is part of my staple "food to eat", whenever I am in Greece. But the bougatsa in Thessaloniki is definitely top notch and this is to be expected as this pastry originated from here. We tried bougatsa in 2 places recommended by a local but this one is definitely my choice. Fresh, creamy, crunchy... absolutely heavenly.
Ελενιδη, Trigona Elenidi
Address: Dim. Gounari 13 Thessaloniki 54622
Another must try traditional pastry in Thessaloniki is the Trigona Panoramatos. And this shop having been around since 1960 is surely an institution when making this pastry. The creaminess of the custard perfectly combines with the crunchiness of the triangular cone. Surprisingly, its not as sweet as i thought it would be... very nice! Don't leave Thessaloniki without trying this.
To sum, I left Thessaloniki enchanted by the lavender fields, impressed by the history, touched by the hospitality of the locals ... and as the cafe owner told us, stay 2 more days and you are never leaving this place! He might just have been right.
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