Difference between revisions of "Thessaloniki"
Revision as of 10:46, 29 December 2012
Thessaloniki (Greek: Θεσσαλονίκη, Selanik in Turkish and Солун, Solun (Солун) in South Slavic languages) , also known as Thessalonica (pron.: /ˌθɛsəlɵˈnaɪkə/ or pron.: /ˌθɛsəˈlɒnɪkə/) and Salonica, is the second-largest city in Greece and the capital of the region of Central Macedonia.
At about about a million inhabitants, it is considered Greece's cultural capital, renowned for its festivals, events and vibrant cultural life in general and has recently been ranked by Lonely Planet as the world's fifth-best party city worldwide. More importantly, it is also a city with a continuous 3,000 year old history; preserving relics of its Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman past and of its formerly dominant Jewish population. Many of its Byzantine churches, and a whole district of the city in particular, are included in UNESCO's World Heritage list.
Thessaloniki is served by Macedonia International Airport (IATA: SKG) for international and domestic flights. The airport lies 15 km southeast of the city center and is connected directly with the following national and international destinations:
There are daily flights from Athens airport by Olympic Air  and Aegean Airlines  (50 minutes). During summer, both Olympic Air and Aegean Airlines have direct flights daily from Rhodes, Crete (Heraklion and Chania), Mykonos and [Santorini]]; while Aegean Airlines also serves flights from Corfu.
Astra Airlines  has scheduled flights from Chios and during the months of July and August there are scheduled flights from Mykonos, Santorini, Rhodes, Kos, Crete (Chania and Heraklion), Karpathos, Kythira and Zakynthos.
Connection to the city center
The airport is served on a 24-hour basis by OASTH (Thessaloniki Urban Transport Organization), with bus numbers 78/78A/78N providing direct access to the central passenger railway station of Thessaloniki, at Monastiriou st 28, and to the Macedonia InterCity Bus Terminal (KTEL), which lies in the west side of the city, at Giannitson st 194.
Bus number 78 has a frequency of between 15 min and 30 min during the day, while number 78A terminates at A.S. IKEA bus terminal, in the city's east. At night, the bus number changes to 78N and runs every 30 min through Thessaloniki, between the airport and Macedonia InterCity Bus Terminal (KTEL). (00 and 30 minutes past the hour from KTEL Bus Terminal, 20 and 50 min past the hour from the Airport).
The ticket costs €0.90 (see Get around: By bus) and the ride takes about 40 min from the airport to the city center. Concessions are available for students and seniors, were the tickets cost half price. Ticket machines are located on all buses but they do not give out change; while tourist info and ticket booths are located at the the central bus stations. Free Busline charts can also be found there.
Furthermore a tourist information office is located at Tsimiski st 136, a few minutes from the city's main landmark, the White Tower, and is open Monday to Friday between 8am and 8pm and 8:30am to 2pm on saturdays.
Taxi's from the airport to the city center cost about €15-20. Taxis are hard to find during peak hours between 7 to 8am, 2 to 4pm and 7 to 9pm, so plan early.
Regional train services within Greece (operated by TrainOSE, the Hellenic Railways Organization's train operating company), link the city with other parts of the country, from its central railway passenger station, called the "New Railway Station" located at the western end of Thessaloniki's city center.
Thessaloniki is served daily with the commuter rail servises of Proastiakos to Katerini-Larissa and Veroia-Edessa, and 6 InterCity (IC) trains and 1 night-train to Athens (via Platy-Katerini-Larissa-Palaiofarsalos-Domokos-Leianokladi(Lamia)-Leivadia-Thiva-Oinoi-SKA-Athens (approx 5h20min)). 2 regional trains provide daily services to Kilkis-Serres-Drama-Xanthi-Komotini-Alexandroupoli and 1 to Karditsa-Trikala-Kalampaka.
International connections to Sofia, Bucharest, Belgrade and Istanbul have been suspended in February 2011. A weekly train to Skopje came back in the Spring of 2012 but was cancelled again in August 2012.
There are normally employees at all major stations to facilitate transportation of disabled persons. Smoking is prohibited in all trains.
Be aware of these discounts and insist on them even if the TRAINOSE employee does not mention them at first.
Thessaloniki is connected via the intercity KTEL bus network of Greece with every corner of country.
KTEL Buses from/to Athens make the trip from/to Thessaloniki in about 6 hr 30 min, including a 20 min stop at a roadside restaurant with toilet facilities. Buses are air-conditioned.
There are a number of weekly departures to Belgrade (Serbia) in Thessaloniki and Athens, in the arrangement of the Greek and Serbian Agency. Ticket price in one direction from Thessaloniki to Belgrade is about €45. From Belgrade to Thessaloniki and the rest of Europe there are plenty of bus connections from the main bus station in Belgrade (or agencies).
There are a number of buses to Thessaloniki and Athens, every day, departing from most major Albanian cities. You can catch a bus from Tirana or Shkodra and travel all the way south, making stops in most major Albanian and Greek cities. Since buses stop to pick up and drop passengers in most major cities, you can catch the bus at those cities en route.
A number of local travel agencies in Skopje also arrange transport to Thessaloniki daily by car or minibus. These generally leave around 5AM, and cost around €25 for a day return (returning at 5PM) or a single (i.e. €50 if you want to come back on a different day from when you leave!) The travel agent at the back of the shopping mall by the Central Square arranges this departing from beside the Holiday Inn. Others depart from the bus station, or other locations around the city.
Simeonidis tours, N⁰ 14, 26th October St, . Their bus leaves at 5:30PM from Thessaloniki everyday except Sundays, and it takes about 5 hr to Skopje. There is one bus daily departing for Thessaloniki from the central bus station in Skopje. It departs at 6AM. Reservations are recommended.
One of the burdens for visitors and inhabitants alike is finding a parking place in the Tessaloniki Urban Area, so be prepared to either spend a lot of time looking for a space, or pay for space in the parking facilities, with prices starting from €4 for 3 hr. Don't assume you're safe from paying a fine just because locals flagrantly flout parking laws. Traffic congestion is a problem, largely due to double-parked cars, but generally fellow drivers and passers-by are helpful in showing you the way if you get lost.
Thessaloniki lies on the northern fringe of the Thermaic Gulf on its eastern coast and is bound by Mount Chortiatis on its southeast. The metropolitan area of the city extends around an area of 1,455.62 km2 (562.02 sq mi), which includes many beachside and hilly suburbs, while its densest part, which makes up the urban area of the city and what Thessalonians usually refer to as the "City of Thessaloniki", can be divided roughly into 3 parts, the northwestern, the central and the southeastern.
The central part, corresponding to the region that is inside the the Byzantine walls, forms the oldest part of the city and is divided in two parts, the central commercial and historic city center, were most tourist sites and interests, entertainment and educational facilities are located; and Ano Poli (also called Old Town and literally the Upper Town), the heritage listed district north of Thessaloniki's city center that was not engulfed by the city's great fire of 1917 and was declared a UNESCO heritage site.
The city center is bounded by the sea in the south, Olympiados street in the northeast (from which then the upper town begins), Bardariou (aka Dimokratias) square in the northwest and in the southeast by the University campus of the Aristotle University and the facilities of Thessaloniki International Exhibition Center.
Most roads in the city center are either parallel, or vertical to the sea. A simple rule that helps the visitor is that if the a street goes downhill, by following it, it will lead you to the sea. The biggest parallel streets to the sea starting from the sea are Nikis, Tsimiski, Ermou, Egnatia, Agiou Dimitriou and Kassandrou avenues. The important vertical to the sea streets, starting from northwest are Ionos Dragoumi, Venizelou, the pedestrian Aristotelous and Hagia Sophia and Ethinikis Amynis avenues.
Public transport in Thessaloniki is served by buses, operated by the Thessaloniki Urban Transport Organization (OASTH) which runs a fleet of 604 vehicles on 75 routes throughout the Thessaloniki Metropolitan Area. Tickets for the buses can be bought on the bus, at a Periptero (kiosk), which are located all around the city, and at an OASTH info point. OASTH services operate from 5 a.m. until right after midnight, while some lines have expanded timetables until 1 a.m. Line 78N to the airport, operates 24 hours and passes through Egnatia street.
There are three types of tickets:
Tickets bought inside the bus cost €0.10 plus. 24 hr tickets are only sold at OASTH info points.
Tickets need to be validated every time you get on a bus, except the 24 hr ticket, which is validated once for use within 24 hours. A 24 hour ticket is more convenient for tourists that want to move around the city, throughout a whole day and get to the airport next morning all on the same ticket.
1, 3 and 12-month cards for unlimited journeys are also available, while maps of the bus routes are available on the OASTH website. 
OASTH also operates a tourist line, (Bus number 50 (Cultural line)) and follows a figure-of-8 route past all the major tourist sights of the city. There is an English speaking guide aboard, who provides maps and information. The whole route takes 50 min, and it departs every hour on the hour from the White Tower. A ticket on this line costs €2. Several private tour buses also depart from the same area and follow a similar route around all major tourist sites.
By rent a car
If you want to travel by car in the city, rental companies can be found at the airport, while throughout the city there are a variety of car rental companies.
The northernmost Byzantine walls of the city and parts of the western walls are still standing, as is the city's symbol - the White Tower, one of the 16th Century. AD fortified towers - which is the only surviving tower on the seafront. The rest of the walls are in the picturesque Upper Town which offers a spectacular view over the bay, especially in the late afternoon. Take a walk along the enormous seafront promenade (about 12 km altogether). See the the Roman Forum excavations.
Visit the upper town for its traditional old houses, small cobbled streets, Byzantine citadel, the Eptapyrgion fort.
On no account should you miss the Byzantine churches built between the 5th and 14th century ACE, such as Agios Demetrios, (7th Century. ACE) and Agia Sophia (Holy Wisdome, 9th Century. ACE), and many lovely smaller ones in the upper town (St Nicolaos Orfanos is particularly worth a look for its frescoes), which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. One of them, the Rotunda, started life as a Roman temple of Zeus, built by ceasar Galerius, and is almost as old as the Pantheon in Rome. Next to the Rotunda, see the Arch of Triumph of Galerius and the ruins of his palace.
The city is also known as "the mother of Israel", due to the once flourishing Jewish community here, which existed from the Roman period and grew substantially after the Ottoman Empire took in Jewish refugees expelled Spain, Portugal, and Spanish territories in Italy; these Jews are known as "Sephardim". Sephardi Jews formed a significant percentage of the city's population and infrastructure until World War II, when, in spring 1943, almost all were deported by the Nazis to the extermination camp at Auschwitz, never to return. However, there are still two Synagogues, and you can see the Jewish Museum.
Also interesting are the Turkish public baths Bey Hamam, the Bezesteni (Ottoman closed market for jewellery and precious materials) the Alatza Imaret (Ottoman poorhouse) and Hamza Bey Camii (both restored and used for exhibitions).
The traditional central food market, with hundreds of stalls selling meat, fish, fruit, vegetables (sometimes cheek-by-jowl, an unnerving experience for North Americans), cheap clothes and shoes, flowers, herbs and spices, between Aristotele Square and Venizelou street.
Aristotelous Square-the biggest of the city-and the promenade with its cafes and restaurants.
Museums and galleries
Thessaloniki is home to many museums, mostly archaeological and ethnographic. The two big archaeological museums are in the city centre, under the OTE Tower at the CHANTH Square.
It is also useful to keep an eye on the website Museums of Macedonia  that covers the whole region.
The city has always been known between Greeks for its vibrant city culture, including having the most cafe's and bars per-capita than any other city in Europe (see: Drink); and as having some of the best nightlife and entertainment in the country, thanks to its large young population and multicultural feel. Trendy bars are scattered throughout the city and cater for all tastes, with many located on pedestrianized streets or along the coast, with sea views; while daily happenings and events take place throughout the city everyday.
Thessaloniki is also known for its picturesque uninterrupted promenade/waterfront, spanning for about 4.5 from the old port to the Thessaloniki Concert Hall. From the White Tower, the waterfront gets considerably bigger (called Nea Paralia) and along with the seaside walk, features 8 thematic gardens. During summer it is full of Thessalonians enjoying their long evening walks (referred to as "the volta" and is embedded into the culture of the city). There you will find people selling all kinds of food, bike riding, skating, fishing and a generally lively atmosphere with font the Thermaic Gulf and the port.
The Thermaic Gulf is a challenging place for yachting and sailing. Many days there are strong North winds but with low waves, making sailing a fun and joy for all sailors. There are three sailing clubs in Thessaloniki and world championships take place in the city every year. Thessaloniki has several marinas, most notably in Kalamaria, southeast of the city center, while a new one is proposed to be constructed right at the city center that will contain 182 mooring places. There are also many Yacht charter companies renting sailing yachts.
Thessaloniki is a major center of education for Greece. Two of the country's largest universities are located in central Thessaloniki: Aristotle University and the University of Macedonia. Aristotle University was founded in 1926 and is currently the largest university in Greece by number of students, which number at more than 80,000 in 2010, and is a member of the Utrecht Network.
Numerous public and private vocational institutes (IEK) provide professional training to young students, while a large number of private colleges offer American and UK academic curriculum, via cooperation with foreign universities. In addition to Greek students, the city hence attracts many foreign students either via the Erasmus programme for public universities, or for a complete degree in public universities or in the city's private colleges. As of 2006 the city's total student population was estimated around 200,000. Its young population and atmosphere provides for many learning opportunities, with classes and workshops on all interests being held all over the city.
Thessaloniki is renowned for its major shopping streets and lively laneways. Tsimiski Street and Proxenou Koromila avenue are the city's most famous shopping streets and are among Greece's most expensive and exclusive high streets; there one can find various fashion shops of international brands, boutiques and high end international department stores. For cheaper clothing, check out Egnatia street.
As Thessaloniki is considered the cultural capital of Greece, the city has also become a regular fixture for the book trade and booklovers. An International Book Fair  is held annually in late spring at the waterfront, there people can find books from new authors and on all topics.
Some of the city's best book stores, and places were you can find maps in various languages include:
Due to the fact that Thessaloniki remained under Ottoman rule for about 100 years more than southern Greece, it has retained a lot of its Eastern character, including its culinary tastes. Spices in particular play an important role in the cuisine of Thessaloniki, something which is not true to the same degree about Greece's southern regions. Greeks consider Thessaloniki a gourmet city - but bear in mind that this refers to the excellent local specialities and cheap-and-cheerful ouzo taverns rather than to haute cuisine or a range of foreign restaurants. The latter are best avoided in Thessaloniki.
Sweets and pastries
For any traveler to Thessaloniki, a Greek will usually mention how they expect you to bring back sweets from the city, as it is known for having some of the best in the country. Throughout Thessaloniki anyone can find a variety of places that sell: Tsoureki, a plaited sweetened bread, deserts such as Baklava and Galaktoboureko; and Bougatsa, the most famous pastry of Thessaloniki, with cream (sweet) or cheese (savoury) filling, which was invented in the city and has spread around other parts of Greece and the Balkans as well.
Some shops, where you can find the best sweets and pasties the city has to offer, include "Nikiforou" on Venizelou street, "Terkenlis" famous for its Tsoureki and "Chatzis" famous for its Baklava, but fame has not made it any better - it has become overpriced and not as good as in previous years.
For a carnivore's treat, places that serve, Gyros and Souvlaki with pork and chicken, are scattered all around the city. This is the best calories per money option, since with less that 3 euros you get a meal that, although not that healthy, can keep you going for many hours. Some of the best souvlaki meals at very affordable prices can be found at a place called "Derlicatesen".
Local specialities include Soutzoukakia, minced meat pellets that are either grilled (at the central market or rotisseries) and topped with chilli pepper flakes, or cooked in tomato and cumin sauce (Smyrna-style); and Patsas, a tripe soup, best tried late at night (or early morning). For seafood, in Thessaloniki you can find Gemista kalamarakia (Stuffed squids), Mydopilafo (rise with mussels) or Mydia saganaki (mussels in tomato sause).
Fast food and snacks
Most tavernas and restaurants located all around the city of Thessaloniki offer very affordable prices. Most can be found concentrated in areas listed below, that also serve as points of interest for any traveler into the city, where you can experience a lively atmosphere at night with the local population.
Thessaloniki's Ladadika borough is a particularly busy area in regards to Thessalonian cuisine, with most tavernas serving traditional meze and other such culinary delights. Right next to the port and around Morichovou square, it is full of restaurants, bars and nighclubs.
The area between Athonos square and Aristotelous street is full of taverns of which many are frequented by mostly young Greeks and tourists. Prices are usually low and the quality can vary greatly from tavern to tavern. Several restaurants have a small band playing local live music. Better to move around before sitting to eat, not only to choose the place, but to take a look at the old shops in the area selling fruit, spices, handmade small furniture etc. Many of the taverns in the area are tourist-traps, so choose a tavern where you see locals and preferably older people.
Bit-Bazaar and nearby streets
During the day the area hosts antique shops and cheapjacks selling anything useful or useless one can imagine. In the evening it turns into a lively (and noisy) student hang-out and can get very crowded on warm nights. Most of the shops offer cheap wine, ouzo, beers and Mezedes, appetizers that accompany your Ouzo or Tsipouro with a battery of small dishes - by far the best way to eat in Thessaloniki.
Kastra (Ano Poli)
At Ano Poli (also called Old Town and literally the Upper Town), the heritage listed district north of Thessaloniki's city center, many quality restaurants can be found next to the Byzantine walls, and some with views overlooking the city.
Tsinari (Ano Poli)
An old district of Ano Poli hosting the eponymous tavern, along with some others.
Thessaloniki has a very active nightlife scene and only recently it starting to become exposed internationally, with Lonely Planet listing Thessaloniki as the world's fifth-best "ultimate party city".
Cafe-bars are scattered throughout the entire city, which create a lively atmosphere everywhere you step and you can have a drink whenever you want, while trendy bars line up along Thessaloniki's entire waterfront from the old port, along Nikis avenue and down to "Krini", a southeast coastal district of the city.
Thessaloniki also offers a wide variety of nightlife, from small to huge nightclubs with dance music, bars dedicated to rock music, jazz clubs and Bouzoukia, where you can experience Greek music and dancing. Large entertainment venues of the city include Pyli Axiou and Mamounia, at Vilka (which are housed in converted old factories). During summer, one can also find beach bars with lively music and serving drinks throughout the whole day and night, located at the city's southeast suburbs. The city's most known nightlife district is "Ladadika", there together with the many tavernas and restaurants, you will find the most known nightclubs and bars housed in old warehouses next to the port, while in the area around the Kamara (the Arch of Galerius) is home to many cheaper cafe's and bars, popular with the city's student population. Areas were most of Thessaloniki's nightlife is located at are listed below.
Aristotle Square (Aristotelous)
Being the center of the city, some of the most popular cafes and bars are located there. One can find quiet cafes or noisy ones that usually preferred by younger people. Breakfast is also served, some restaurants are also available.
Thessaloniki's central seafront avenue is full of cafeterias usually crowded around the clock, available for coffee in daytime and beer or drinks at night. Many bars also feature balconies with views towards the sea.
At the west side of the center lies the picturesque district of Ladadika (meaning: oil stores). Named this way by the many stores selling oil arriving from the adjacent port of Thessaloniki. Formerly a notorious district, it is today the city's most lively and vibrant areas, were renovated old stone build warehouses host some of the most known nightclubs with all sorts of music, including traditional Greek bouzoukia. Although not the favorite by Thessaloniki’s highest class (modern bouzoukia are not considered a classy kind of entertainment), they are definitely worth a visit for any traveler. Delicate restaurants and Greek taverns serving drinks are located around Morichovou square, and are also popular during lunch time.
Proxenou Koromila St
Parallel to the seafront Nikis avenue is Proxenou Koromila street and at night many cafes and bars spill out on to the streets. A few trendy jazz clubs can be found here.
Another place in the city with cafes, bars and a couple of restaurants, that spill out onto pedestrianized streets. A popular hangout by many Thessalonians.
Aretsou is located in the southeast part of the city, in the suburb of Kalamaria. Home to high end bars, cafés and entertainment venues, most notably on Plastira street, along the coast; featuring loud music and hosting many young people.
A place in Kalamaria with delicate bars, restaurants and pizzerias. All of them along Sofouli street, right next to the seashore and nearby the Thessaloniki Concert Hall. "Shark", one of the most exclusive nightlife venues of the city is also located in this area with views of the sea and central Thessaloniki.
For a drink on a boat, there are many "floating bars" that depart every 2hrs or so from the White Tower, and make a short trip around Thermaic Gulf, where you can enjoy evening and late night views of the city. Most of them play ethnic and alternative foreign music.
Mylos and Vilka
A set of high-range café, bars, restaurants, ouzeris some with live music located at the city’s west. Also hosting concerts, events, exhibitions, music bands, famous greek artists etc.
Valaoritou and Syggrou
Over the last 2 years a lot of Thessaloniki's nightlife has moved in these areas of the city center. The old industrial center has become a place for entertainment for everybody, with many bars, clubs and cafes that may remind you of Berlin, or London.
A beer in Thessaloniki costs €4-6, an alcohol drink €7-10 and a coffee around €2.50-5.
There are many hotels in the area a few blocks north of Aristotelous square in the city center. Some of these are a bit upmarket, but if business is down it is worth shopping around - they might give you a good discount, rather than turn you away.
There are many internet-cafes scattered throughout Thessaloniki, while a visit to most restaurants, bars and cafes in the city offer free wireless internet (WiFi). Several payphones are also located around the city and cards can be purchased for them from a Periptero (kiosk).
Thessaloniki is regarded a safe city but one should watch his/her pockets and travel documents, as pickpockets are not rare, especially on buses during rush hour. Also try and avoid the west area from the city center, and south of the Railway station, and especially at night on foot, as it has become a notorious area of the city. The police number of Thessaloniki is: 100
Tap water is safe and that's what people of the city drink, but in some places in the city center you might get a slight "taste" from the water, due to old pipelines in the buildings. For a easy mind, you might want to buy bottled water. Greece is also a sunny place and if your skin is light-colored, intense sunlight can be a serious danger. Use sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses.
Thessaloniki's proximity to places such as the national parks of Pieria and beaches of Chalkidiki often allow its residents to easily have access to some of the best outdoor recreation in Europe. Some classic trips out of Thessaloniki include: