Difference between revisions of "Thessaloniki"
Revision as of 09:46, 25 December 2012
Thessaloniki (Greek: Θεσσαλονίκη, Turkish: Selanik, Serbian, Bulgarian, Macedonian: Солун, Solun)) , is the capital of the region of Central Macedonia, and is, at about a million inhabitants, the second largest city in the country. More importantly, it is a city with a continuous 3,000 year history, preserving relics of its Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman past and of its formerly dominant Jewish population. Its Byzantine churches, 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. You can get a free busline chart 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 M-F 8AM-8PM, SAT 8:30AM-2PM, SUN closed. Maps can also be bought from the Ianos bookshop at Aristotelous.
The airport is also served by taxi to the city center which costs about €15-20. It's hard to find one during peak hours (7AM-8AM, 2PM-4PM and 7PM-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 with every corner of Greece.
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.
All train service from Skopje to Greece were suspended in November 2011.
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 tourists 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) and 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 kiosk (periptero), 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
There is 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.
Thessaloniki has a very active nightlife, as a 2007 New York Times article called it; "Seattle of the Balkans".
Thermaikos 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 here every year. Thessaloniki has several marinas with a new one containing 182 mooring places under construction in the centre of the city and next to Aistotelous square. There are many Yacht charter companies renting sailing yachts.
For fashion, Proxenou Koromila, Mitropoleos and Tsimiski. You won't find many bargains, but the shopping area is conveniently small and full of cafes when you get too tired. For cheaper clothing, check out Egnatia street.
Books and maps in various languages can be bought in stores such as:
Also in the 9th International Book Fair, that is held anualy in late spring, .
You can buy local food products, such as olive oil, sometimes at significaly lower prices than in nearby countries.
For eating out see the eat section below
For food specialities, go to Modiano market and try the Terpsis and Omega delicatessens (the most famous is Kosmas, but it specialises in Asian food). Any Greek will expect you to bring back sweets from Salonica, so try tsoureki, plaited sweetened breads for which Terkenlis is famous, and desserts (baklava and galaktoboureko) e.g. or Nikiforou on Venizelou street. The most famous of the baklava joints is Hatzis, but fame has not made it any better - it's become overpriced and not as good as in previous years.
For a morning or late-night snack, try Bougatsa pies: cream (sweet) or cheese (savoury) filling.
Sweets and pastry
If you like sweets, there are 3 typical pastry-shops you should try, typical of this city:
Best winter dessert: baked quince.
Other 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.
Local meal specialities
Go for a meal in one of the many downtown ouzo restaurants (ouzeri). Accompany your ouzo or tsipouro with a battery of small dishes - by far the best way to eat in Salonica. Particularly good are the fava beans, the octopus either grilled or in wine sauce and mussels (fried, or in pilaff, or with a hot cheese sauce, saganaki).
If you see "boiled vegetables' on the menu in wintertime, go ahead and order them- you'll be amazed at how good they taste. Another typical winter salad is politiki, a combination of shredded cabbage and pickles.
The area between Athonos square and Aristotelous street is full of taverns many of which 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
Durning the day the area hosts antique shops and cheapjacks selling anything useful or useless one can imagine. The evening it turns into a lively (and noisy) student hang-out that gets crowded on warm nights. Most of the shops are offering cheap wine, ouzo, beers and mezedes (=appetizers), and there are big differences in quality from shop to shop.
Kastra (Ano Poli)
Up the city’s hill, next to the Byzantine walls you can find the other tourist-trap of the city. Some quality places are here.
The old warehouse area near the port, around Morichovou sq., is chock-full of restaurants, bars and clubs.
An old district of Ano Poli hosting the eponymous tavern, along with some others.
Traditional fast food include sandwiches with gyros (pork meat), souvlaki or soutzoukaki (meat balls) offered in many stores for a little over €2.
You won't wonder where to get a drink in a town with this many bars. The city centre also has many bars and cafeterias spread throughout.
A beer costs €4-6, an alcohol drink €7-10 and a coffee €2.50-5.
Thessaloniki is by far the liveliest city in Northern Greece- maybe even the whole country. Most of the trendy bars at the old sea-front (Nikis Ave.) and around, many of the tavernas are either downtown or in the old city (Kastra). You can also find numerous bars and tavernas at Krini, an area in eastern Thessaloniki. If you want to check out what the whole bouzoukia scene is all about, try the clubs Pyli Axiou and Mamounia, at Vilka. You will also find a lot of night clubs, bars and restaurants in Ladadika, the neighbourhood with the old warehouses next to the port. The student area is around Kamara (the Arch of Galerius), home to many cheaper cafe's and bars.
If you will be in town during summer, take a ride on the floating bars plying the harbour. Every 2 hr or so they leave from the White Tower area for a short evening trip (30 min) in the Gulf of Thessaloniki. They play mostly ethnic and alternative foreign music.
Among the most popular places to drink a coffee or a beer are:
Aristotle Sq (Aristotelous)
The most popular tourist cafés and bars lie in the central square of the city and the homonymous street. One can find quiet cafes or noisy ones usually preferred by the young. Breakfast is also served, some restaurants are also available.
The center’s seafront avenue is full of cafeterias usually crowded around the clock, available for coffee in daytime and beer or drink at night.
Proxenou Kroromila St
Parallel to the seafront Nikis avenue is Pr. Koromila street with some cafés and bars.
Another place in the city with cafes and bars and a couple of restaurants
At the west side of the center lies the picturesque neighbourhood of Ladadika (meaning: oil stores). Named this way by the many stores selling oil arrived from the adjacent harbour. Formerly notorious district, recently renovated with many stone build warehouses now host 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) worth a visit. Quite controversial, some delicate restaurants and greek taverns are located in Morichovou Sq., popular during lunch time
Aretsou is located in the southeast part of the city, in the Kalamaria District. In the seafront Plastira Av. one can find delicate cafeterias which change to bars during night featuring loud music and hosting many young.
A place in Kalamaria district hosting delicate bars, restaurants and pizzerias. All of them along Sofouli street right next to the seashore.
Quite interesting are the boats near the white tower’s seafront, which make a short trip around Thermaikos gulf where you can enjoy a late night city view. 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 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 here. The old industrial centre has becomea place for entertainment for everybody. Many bars, clubs and cafes may remind you of Berlin, or English pubs.
There are many hotels in the area a few blocks north of Aristotelous. Some of these are a bit upmarket, but if business is slack it is worth shopping around - they might give you a good discount rather than turn you away.
There are many internet-cafes and several bars, restaurants or coffee shops that offer free wireless internet (wi-fi)
When being in Thessaloniki one should watch his/her pockets and travel documents as pickpockets are not rare, especially on buses during rush hour.
Also some people would feel very uncomfortable walking in the areas near to the Railway station durning the night, as there are several brothels there.
Tap water is safe and that's what people of the city drink. In some places in the city center you might get a slight "taste" from the water. That means that the tubes in the building are getting old, so you might want to buy bottled water.
Greece is a sunny place, and if your skin is light-colored, intense sunlight can be a serious danger. Use sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses.
Emergency phone number: 166
The classic trips out of Thessaloniki are: